Tawny Clark slows down with the birds & the trees at Llyn Brianne & RSPB Gwenffrwd Dinas
After a sleepless night of camping, we’ve spent a magnificent, albeit seemingly endless day meandering along the winding roads around Llyn Brianne reservoir, at the southern edge of the Cambrian Mountains.
We’re still in Carmarthenshire, just, and I’m struggling to fathom how we’re only one county away from home. In places, it’s so reminiscent of the lakes of New Zealand’s South Island that it pulls at a deep longing to return to a place so very far away.
We have several stops to stretch our legs, search for (but fail to find) red squirrels in the dense swathes of conifer plantation, visit remote churchyards, skim pebbles, and make thorough use of the frequent mountainside pull-ins to marvel at innumerable jaw-dropping vistas.
Standing atop the UK’s tallest dam is somewhat of a vertigo-inducing experience. At three hundred feet up, I distract myself with the swallows. They swoop and glide above the vast rubble structure and dive diagonally downwards, flying along the giant waterslide of the spillway.
We’ve spotted a goosander among the wildfowl on a quiet tributary, and a buzzard, which came into land on a hillside directly adjacent to a pull-in, where we leapt from our vehicle to properly admire it.
One of our last stops of the day, before we must rather begrudgingly head home, is the nearby RSPB Gwenffrwd-Dinas Nature Reserve.
A boardwalk entices us from the carpark, alongside a peaceful, shimmering brook. Today’s pace hasn’t exactly been speedy to start with, but there’s a noticeable gear shift now. Everything slows.
Like a mobile phone set on a wireless charger, my subconscious seems to automatically connect to the energy here. My weary mind quietly begins to recharge, as we shuffle our way along the walkway.
In mere minutes we’re weaving through alder woodland, inhabited – alongside alder – by vast, knotted oak trees.
The mosaic patterns in their deeply fissured bark, appear almost like dry-stone wall. Each gap, every tiny niche, capable of concealing a wealth of invertebrates, which in turn sustain the exciting diversity of birdlife that can be found here, including pied flycatchers and restarts.
As we inhale the wonderous scent of bluebells, I spot a bird with a distinctive habit for which it is so aptly named – a treecreeper.
With the focus of an imminent deadline, it repeatedly gathers nesting materials and stuffs them hurriedly into a gap in a tree where bark has begun to peel away from the trunk.
After what seems like no time at all, the walkway ends abruptly. We’re faced with a sudden decision, left, or right?
Directly ahead is a steep, wooded hillside, dripping with deliciously green oaks and sumptuous bluebells, which quintessentially sprawl outwards and upwards, into seeming infinity.
We head right, to the bank of the River Tywi, which, at seventy five miles, is the longest river to run entirely within Wales.
A delightfully rustic bench serves as a focal point for the dramatic view across the river to the stark, craggy mountain beyond, but alas, it’s already occupied.
Carpark signage pre-warns that the following section of pathway is quite a scramble, although, the nature of ‘a scramble’ is somewhat subjective.
Sometimes terrain turns out to be disappointingly tame, other times you find yourself clinging to the edge of a slippery precipice, crying for help, and praying your end will be swift.
Since having children, I’m not a particular fan of the latter; certainly not when they’re jumping frivolously about, captivated by a stick, balancing along a slippery log, or any manner of attention-grabbing activities which distract from impending peril. Fun, nevertheless.
They’ll learn caution for themselves, but also, adventure. And aside from the endlessly repetitive phrase of mothers everywhere, ‘Be careful,’ it’s wonderful watching children experience the thrill of living on the edge, skirting the dangers and delights of the natural world. Observing how naturally they find their own amusements. There’s only one rule here, ‘Be careful.’ (And take your litter home…obviously!)
The path is mid-spectrum on the ‘scramble’ definition. It’s rocky, muddy in sections, and plenty of places where caution is required. Nothing too drastic though.
With no-one else in sight, it’s a chance to get lost in a human-free world, while the burbling river transforms into a chorale of crashing, splashing swirls as the water cascades precipitously alongside us.
We’ve ventured into a deep cleft, gouged out between mountains by a distant glacial past, where heavy rainfall continually carves and reshapes the rocky waterfalls and eddying plunge pools of this spectacular gorge.
Eventually, returning from our scramble, we’re delighted to discover the charming bench vacant. We sit appreciatively, taking time to absorb the ambience of soothing water beneath moody sky.
It’s hard to tear ourselves away from such calm serenity, but we have a new mission now. Food.
Back on the boardwalk, I catch a fleeting glimpse of a great spotted woodpecker. It flies to a tree some distance away where my view is obstructed by the burgeoning canopy.
I wait patiently for its reappearance, but I’m instead afforded only a second treecreeper (or the same one again). I’ll have to return for the pied flycatchers, wood warblers, tree pipits and redstarts which are perhaps the true avian highlights here.
We round off our trip with tea at the quirky Towy Bridge Inn, a short burble downstream in Rhandirmwyn. We leave the pub with full bellies and an air of sadness that our weekend jaunt has come to an end.
As we return to the car, I point out bird feeders which someone has strung up beneath the bridge over the river.
Almost immediately, a dipper flies from the nearside bank up to one of the feeders. It’s swiftly followed by a second – before the pair dash away downstream into the cooling dusk to bring our adventure to a close.
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