Just a ten minute walk from my home in Pontrhydygroes (Welsh for the bridge of the ford of the cross) are some beautiful woodland walks. In Medieval times the paths were trodden by Cistercian Monks on pilgrimage to Strata Florida Abbey (Ystrad Fflur in Welsh-the valley of flowers) at Pontrhydfendigaid near Tregaron. Later, during the nineteenth century, twice daily, at dawn and dusk, the footpaths endured the pounding of the boots of the miners on their way to and from a backbreaking day’s work at the Lisburne lead mine.
Today I stand on the Miners Bridge, suspended above the Ystwyth Gorge and think how fortunate I am to be crossing it just for pleasure and at a very leisurely pace. I decide that this is not the day to take the winding path climbing up the hill with panoramic views across the Ystwyth Valley because it is my favourite time of year-bluebell time and these will be more plentiful on the lower path. In previous years I have somehow always missed seeing the bluebells in full bloom in this part of the wood, as it is quite shady and they flower later than elsewhere, but this year I am determined this is not going to happen.
Standing on the Miners Bridge with the river rushing below me, listening to the melodious birdsong and admiring the fresh new leaves clothing the trees, my spirits soar; I always feel so free when I go walking and leave all my worries behind. There’s no mobile phone signal either-total freedom! I walk up the gentle incline onto the forestry track, the sun casting shadows in the dappled shade, and realise that spring has well and truly arrived. Picking my way cautiously across the cattle grid I am now almost within touching distance of the bluebells. I quicken my pace as I approach the beech wood and am not disappointed.
What a sight! The area, drowning in a sea of bluebells, is far larger than I anticipated and dotted everywhere, like flecks on the waves, are starry snow white stitchwort flowers. I pause to catch my breath, inhale deeply…perfect! Their perfume is unique and cannot be compared with any other. The sun is playing hide and seek behind the fluffy, white cumulus clouds. I sit and wait and take photographs throughout the fluctuating light conditions and observe how the colour of the flowers changes accordingly.
Moving on carefully through the woods I discover a tumbledown, moss covered wall and marvel at how nature has taken over what once was an impenetrable barrier. On reaching the forestry track again I walk across to a clearing to admire the view across the fields framed by the graceful branches of oak and beech then retrace my steps over the cattle grid. The narrowing path continues downhill through some lime green beech, the sun filters through and young ferns unfurl, adorning each side. A newly fledged Robin hops along in front, trying its best to fly to avoid my approach and eventually realises it will be safer to flutter to the side and hide in the undergrowth.
Coniferous woodland lines the path now and all that will grow under its dense canopy is an array of primitive mosses with bilberries craning their branches seeking the sunlight on the perimeter. Soon I’m back on the track leading to the footpath sign to the Miners Bridge and can hear a waterfall tumbling down to the river. The footpath here is quite steep and rocky and the woodland is dense, with little sunlight penetrating through the glossy new leaves; this is why there are plenty of delicious edible fungi to be found here in the autumn.
Once again I stand on the bridge, check my watch and wonder how I managed to take almost double the time I should have to complete this short walk. I look at the number of photographs I have taken on the way and recall sitting amongst the sea of bluebells waiting for the sun to put in an appearance and there’s my answer.