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Letter from Tumble

25 Feb 2024 6 minute read
Photo by Morag Kitson

Seeking Spring

Morag Kitson

It is a clear, dry, warmish day outside as I pull into the little side road leading to Mynydd Mawr Woodland Park in Tumble.

The intriguing name apparently derives from a pub in the village which is located on a twistingly steep hill, and according to the Dictionary of Place-Names in Wales ‘was evidently a humorous allusion to its dangers for travellers.’

I’ve been meaning to come for a walk down here for a few weeks, but the recent heavy rains kept ruining my plans: not today though. Armed with my camera I am looking for signs of Spring.

I drive past the smaller car park near the entrance and continue down the road to the larger car park next to the picnic area.

As I drive, I pass a series of small ponds on my left, they are usually hidden behind dense foliage, and glimpse flashes of movement as birds’ flit from tree to bush to tree again.

Large white-painted rocks are lining the right-hand side of the road to keep cars out of the little rivulet that runs there, and also providing convenient viewing platforms for nosey robins to watch me pass.

I park, nose first, into a gap in the busy car park right at the start of one of the trails and opposite a string of silver birch trees that line the pond’s bank. I sit for a few minutes eating my lunch as I watch robins, blue tits, great tits, sparrows, and blackbirds flit, duck, and swoop between the trees and over the water.

Nearby there is an almost constant movement of people and dogs, first out of cars and now into them: the people, welly-booted, armed with warm hats and waterproof jackets of various colours, and the dogs grinning, with tongues lolling, as they drip muddy puddles onto towels laid on seats or in car boots.

This park has always been popular for dog walkers, and even more so since Covid as people learnt to discover what was on their doorstep and there is even the occasional horse rider or two.

My lunch finished, I retrieve my camera from the passenger seat and set up the longer of my two lenses: I am hoping to get some nice photos of birds today.

In a blatant conspiracy however, once I have the camera in hand, they taunt me by flitting into view and taking off again as soon as I spot them: calling to me and laughing with their friends among the winter foliage like it is the best game they know, just flashes of red and yellow and black and blue in the mossy green of the woods.

Somewhere near the car park someone must be having a wildcrafting session as wood smoke drifts through the trees, over the undergrowth of brambles: an evocatively scented grey-blue ribbon that winds through the almost motionless air.

I hear a heavy splash followed by a scolding human voice as I meander off of the main circular path and down one of the woodland tracks.

Photo by Morag Kitson

I’m drawn by the watery yellow sunlight painting in golden tones over vibrant green moss, making fairy mounds out of the root systems under the trees.

A stand of pine trees ripple the earth with their roots creating foot-high troughs and furrows: the peaks softly highlighted golden-green with shafts of sunlight and the dips crunch softly with their filling of pine needles and fallen cones.

All around me I hear robins calling. Turning I try to spot some, hoping one will pose for a photo opportunity: all I achieve is startling two rabbits, who disappear with a flash of white tails and long-legged rumps into a burrow under a fallen tree’s tangled roots.

The rich coal-black soil clinging to the roots is the reason for Tumble’s existence, as more than an odd farm or two, and in its two-hundred-year history the village has made quite the name for itself, especially with the Rebecca Riots in the late 1800’s.

According to the locals, some of whom have lived here for eighty or more years, Mynydd Mawr was always a woodland park of sorts, but I am sure the valley views have changed much since Jac Ty’isha roamed under these trees.

Photo: Morag Kitson

I continue my walk, roughly paralleling the main path around the park, as I squelch across the waterlogged, mossy blanket that covers the peat and black-gold rich ground.

I top a small rise in the woods as they open up onto a wide glade. Here, there is a mini BMX park for the kids and a few picnic tables.

I sit for a time just enjoying the valley view, imagining how it must have looked when the mines were open… black rents marking the drifts of the mines, the railway line that bisected the valley running from Crosshands to Llanelli (Llanelly as it was written back then) carrying its precious black cargo, the hotel, the workers lodge for out-of-towners, the horse-drawn carts, and for a moment I am there… hearing the rattle and thumps of the carriages, the Welsh voices crying out to each other over the bird song…

And then the spell is broken as a plane passes overhead and the sound of the nearby road reaches my ears.

Photo by Morag Kitson

I walk on, observing the trees just starting to bud with new leaf growth. As I am admiring this sign of the start of spring, ready to take photo evidence, two grey squirrels race by me.

They surge up and around a slender Ash tree to perch on impossibly thin, twiggy branches, near the top where they systematically start degloving these new shoots of leaves: removing the harder, protective coating, so that the leaves might be free to unfurl, to catch new, warmer, spring light that’s coming.

Gorse flowers bloom like miniature suns on prickly stems, the rainwater runs into chuckling streams, and high above me two red kites circle lazily on the thermals too far away for my camera to catch.

I complete my circular walk and arrive back at my car, happy that spring is finally, almost, here. And I drive away under the watchful eye of a nosey, camera-shy robin perched on a large, white rock.

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