To be within walking distance of the Hafod Estate is the reason I chose to live in Pontrhydygroes, a small, rural village in Ceredigion, Wales, U.K. How do I begin to describe my feelings whenever I stride out, stout boots on my feet, rucksack on my back and camera ready to capture every detail as I walk along the many footpaths.
There is so much more to the Hafod Estate than the stunning landscape; it is steeped in history, records show there was a dwelling of a substantial size situated here at least as far back as the reign of Elizabeth I. This may seem surprising considering the isolated, inhospitable location but the surrounding area is rich in minerals so is graced by the presence of some grand properties. Over the centuries the main dwelling at Hafod was rebuilt and remodelled; the most renowned mansion being owned by Thomas Johnes who inherited the estate in 1780. He and his wife, Jane, and daughter Mariamne lived there and were responsible for creating a classic ‘Picturesque’ Landscape which was fashionable at the time. Footpaths were constructed around the estate on varying terrain ranging from gentle riverside walks, suitable for the ladies, to steep ascents to dramatic waterfalls tumbling down the rugged hillsides on the ‘Gentleman’s Walk.’
Sadly, after Mariamne’s untimely death at the age of 27, Thomas and Jane Johnes spent less and less time at Hafod. After a number of subsequent owners and tenants, the mansion fell into disrepair and in the 1950s was blown up as it was considered a danger to the public. However, since the 1980s, some footpaths have been restored and new ones laid as people realised what had been lost and it is thanks to them that I am able to enjoy these beautiful walks today. The Hafod Estate is magical to visit throughout the year-its beauty changing with the seasons.
One winter, after a fall of snow, I set off to witness the Hafod clothed in its winter gown of white. It looked like Narnia and I half expected to see some mythical creatures appear from behind the snow-laden branches! For about an hour I didn’t see another person-not even the imprint of someone’s boot in the snow, only the footprints of animals and birds. I felt as though I was trespassing on their private winter wonderland. Suddenly, I heard joyful laughter and witnessed a very excited family sledging down a field in the distance. It was like walking into a scene on the front of a Christmas card!
I didn’t venture onto the higher paths that day as it was difficult to distinguish where they were at times, but played safe and walked across the fields and along the river bank. Sitting in the snow to drink my flask of steaming coffee was even more of a special treat than usual. The sun was struggling to show its face but shyly hid behind the snow-laden clouds. The sheep no longer looked white against the snowy landscape; they were heavily in lamb but luckily not due to give birth yet; hill sheep lamb later, in the early spring to try and avoid the worst of the winter storms.
My next visit was in the spring; my favourite season! The buds were breaking on the trees, newborn lambs clinging to their mothers and the Hafod Estate was waking up from its winter hibernation. Once again I didn’t see anyone else for a while; the solitude was so peaceful and restful. Whenever I do meet others I always stop and say hello. Everyone I have met has greeted me and often we chat about the beauty that surrounds us, then, go our separate ways.
Walking on your own is the best time to listen out for birdsong, especially in the spring. On this occasion I was rewarded with the sound of a woodpecker hammering on a tree trunk, the melodious call of a blackbird and the mewing of the Red kites soaring in the sky. Outside Hawthorn Cottage, also known as Pwll Pendre, a cherry tree was bursting with blossom and the pond no longer was covered with ice.
During a second visit, later in the spring, the bluebells and rhododendrons now were adding to the palette of colour. I know that many consider Rhododendrons to be an invasive alien species but I love them in this country estate setting. They elegantly framed the footpaths which lead to Mrs Johnes Garden. This is an oasis of formality in the wilderness of the surrounding woodland and has only recently been renovated; the grand arches sitting comfortably next to the moss-covered stone walls. On this particular day, the skies were azure blue and dotted with fluffy cumulus clouds-perfect for taking photos!
Spring came and went and now it was high summer. This time I walked with a friend and showed them the waterfalls on the ‘Gentleman’s Walk’ which took us right up the hillside. En route to the waterfalls we walked through ‘Mariamne’s Garden’, with its white wrought iron benches and rustic gate, then down the slate and stone steps to the Bedford monument, treading carefully amongst the purple heather. I could picture Mariamne, in her flowing gown, tending the flowers she grew, as she was a knowledgeable botanist.
We crossed the river at the ‘Alpine Bridge’ whilst gazing at the towering clouds which looked as if they were about to shower us with their load of rain. After clambering up the steep footpath we were rewarded with three sets of waterfalls, tumbling relatively gently to the river Ystwyth below as we had not had much rainfall for a while. The most spectacular was the ‘Cavern Cascade’ where the falls are viewed from inside a cavern accessed by a short tunnel hewn out of the rock. It was an amazing sight even in midsummer and I just couldn’t wait to photograph it after either heavy rainfall or frost. The route back to the car was via the ‘Ystwyth Gorge’ with its famous chain bridge (only two people at a time allowed!) The size of the potholes scoured out of the rock indicated the force of the river when in flood!
Then it was autumn ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’-Keats. My friends and I were lost for words at the bronze and gold leaves shimmering in the sun on a perfect, still day with a hint of winter to come in the air. A few, brave red campions were struggling to bloom in the rapidly shortening days but, in sharp contrast, the fungi were in their prime on the woodland floor and clinging to the branches of fallen trees. The pungent smell of decaying leaves filled the air and there was no doubt that summer was over. The waterfalls and streams were fairly full after rain earlier on in the week. I felt happy yet sad at the same time. We had a long walk that day and trod most of the footpaths as if to say farewell to the fourth season of the year. The next time I was to enter the Hafod Estate was on the 26th of December, Boxing Day and it was winter once again.