Coedydd Maentwrog National Nature Reserve and Ffestiniog Mountain Railway Walk, Gwynedd, North Wales

If you like nature and/or steam railways, this is a post for you. 😊 Please read on…

Many people, in the UK at least, will be aware of the narrow gauge railways which were once used to ferry slate from the mines and quarries in North Wales to Porthmadog for onward shipment around the world. Some of those historic steam trains are now being used by the Ffestiniog and Welsh Mountain Railways to take holidaymakers from Porthmadog to either Caernarfon or the old mines themselves at Blaenau Ffestiniog. However, not many, including me before I went on this walk, will know that the area is also noted for some of the last Atlantic oak woods in Europe.

The Coedydd Maentwrog Nature Reserve is described as one of Wales’s “rainforests” and, like all rainforests, is considered of global importance. Conditions here are perfect for the growth of 200 (yes, that’s two hundred) species of mosses and liverworts and 120 sorts of lichen. (Who knew that there were that many on the planet, let alone in one small wood in the corner of North Wales and how do the experts distinguish the difference? 🤔) In addition the woods are home to over 286 different kinds of small moth and the area is the UK stronghold of the rare Lesser Horseshoe bat.
(The numbers are truly amazing, don’t you think?!)

In the gallery below, I’ve captured a few images of some moss and lichen as well as some flowers but I’ll leave you to work out what sort they might be. 🤔

As for the route, Judith and I set off from the car park next to Llyn (lake) Mair and walked up a path which runs, for the most part, alongside the railway track, until we reached Dduallt station, where the track does a complete 360 degree loop. We waited there until the next train arrived and we watched the happy, waving passengers go by! (We were just like The Railway Children!! 😊)

We walked back the same way and, on the way, as a special treat for you steam train enthusiasts, I took a video of one of the trains passing by. 🚂 Note that the first two carriages are two of the first ever (and possibly last remaining) fixed wheel carriages built in the UK. At the time, the engineers were worried about the carriages toppling over on the narrow gauge. So, firstly, the carriages are very short (so that they could go around the bends – it was only later that bogies were added at either end to allow the carriages to be longer and the wheels to ‘turn’ independently) and secondly, the passengers sit with their backs in the centre facing directly outwards, (to keep the centre of gravity over the centre of the tracks). You live and learn. I hope you enjoy!

Footnote: All of these images were captured on 11th October 2021.

Butterflies and bugs…

I promised you some butterflies from my last few weeks in Switzerland and here they are…

All of the photos below were taken near to our chalet in Evolène, on either the 23rd or 24th August or 1st September. Although I have seen a few since arriving in Wales, (most notably a Peacock, a Tortoiseshell and a Comma), I’m definitely going to miss the abundance and variety of these little beauties… 😌

Becs de Bosson Cabane from Evolène, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland (Part 2 of 2)

Even from the Pas de Lona, the Cabane de Becs de Bossons looks tiny and it’s still a good walk to get there. However, it’s well worth the extra effort as, on the way, there’s more Edelweiss growing along the crest than anywhere that I’ve ever seen in Switzerland. (See pics 1 & 2).

Like most mountain huts, the cabane is situated in a fabulous location, with glorious views to the east, south and west. (See pic 6). From there, my plan was to go over the top of the Pointe de la Tsevalire (at 3,025m / 9,925ft) but, even in August, there was quite a bit of snow covering the path, so I took the much easier route which traverses around the south side. From there, on a fine day, you can even see Mont Blanc. (See pic 12).

The descent took me back to L’A Vieille, where I retraced my steps home to Evolène. Oh, how I miss those blue skies!!

Becs de Bosson Cabane from Evolène, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland (Part 1 of 2)

I thought I only had a couple of posts to catch up on, but a quick flick through my old photos, yields at least four more (not counting this one and part 2). Still to come we have a short trip to Lake Maggiore, a few butterflies, a walk up the Pic d’Artsinol with the Pounders and the Swiss Ironman… (This was not completed by me you understand, though I may yet tell you about the outcome of the Sierre Zinal ‘race’, which I mentioned waaaay back in May…)

It was with this event in mind that, as part of my training, I decided to do one of the more challenging walks on my list – to the Becs de Bosson Cabane. As you will see from the Route map and profile at the end of the gallery, it’s around 20.5km or 13 miles long and has an overall ascent of over 1,700m or 5,600ft.

The route itself is straightforward… After reaching Volovron, along the track leading out of Evolène, the path climbs through the woods. Emerging slightly to the right reveals a view of the small hamlet of L’A Vieille and a wide panorama down towards the Rhone valley. (See pics 16 & 17). From there, the going gets steeper and steeper, until you reach the Pas de Lona, where we will leave this walk until tomorrow… (I’m such a tease! 😊)

Col du Tsaté and Col du Bréona from Evolène, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland (Part 2 of 2)

We left our walk yesterday at the Remointse de Tsaté. From there, the path ascends, quite gradually at first, to the Col du Tsaté. (See pic 1). The route then goes right and I believe there is a way directly up and over the ridge to the Col de Bréona. However, I wasn’t sure how difficult it was, in terms of climbing or scrambling (or how precipitous), so I took the ‘safe’ route that I knew, which traverses slightly down then back up to the unnamed peak at 2,985m (9,793ft). The views from there are spectacular. (See pics 5 and 6).

On the descent to Les Haudères I encountered many more butterflies – making at least 18 different species altogether on this walk. The ‘best’ of them, from a rarity point of view, was the Dusky Meadow Brown, shown in pics 11 and 26. My book says they are vulnerable but, thankfully, as we see here, they seem to be thriving in the Valais. 👍👍

You will not be surprised to read that I will miss this abundance of butterflies. 😌

Col du Tsaté and Col du Bréona from Evolène, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland (Part 1 of 2)

My apologies again for the delay in posting these images, but my feet have hardly touched the ground since we arrived in Wales. Six weeks already! Where does the time go? (I do know of course – visiting and being visited by family and friends and a few games of golf in between, but I’ll not bore you with all the details). So, without further ado, let’s catch up where I left off…

On the glorious 12th (of August) I set off to walk from our chalet to the Col du Tsaté then along the (mainly side of the) ridge to the Col de Bréona and back again. It’s a walk I’ve done before, but never in this direction. As you will see the skies were perfectly blue and the butterflies were out in force. 😊

Part 2 tomorrow… (I hope).

Arrived in North Wales…

My sincerest apologies for being off the radar for the past month or so, moving house is bad enough, but moving countries has its challenges. There’s been more admin signing out of Switzerland (e.g. changing addresses and cancelling health, accident, house and car insurance) than signing in to Wales (though getting car insurance has also been a bit difficult, due to our Swiss driving licences). And crossing the border, especially out of France, with a van load of our belongings, turned into a bit of a nightmare. (We had to empty almost all the van, which took a day to load, to prove that we had no migrant stowaways). But we’re here now and all is well…

As you will see from the above header photo, we have a lovely view and plenty of wildlife has been to welcome us to our new home. There are 3 buddleia bushes in the garden, so several butterflies have visited over the past 3 weeks, as has at least one dragonfly and a very friendly pheasant. The previous occupant had obviously fed him as he comes running when you open the kitchen window. We’ve called him Phil. (He looks a bit bedraggled below as it was pouring with rain the other morning).

I still have at least 2 Swiss walks to post sometime, but I thought you might like to know that Jude and I are still alive and well… 😊

Yet More Bugs and Butterflies from the Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

With just under 3 weeks to go before we leave these ‘shores’, I’m fast running out of time to catch up on my posts. I have two long walks and a short holiday to catch up on and, with all the packing and organising, you may well be reading about them when we’re settled in North Wales! (I’ll have plenty of time then, as it’ll no doubt be raining!)

Anyhow, I’ve again been out taking some photos in my local ‘hotspot’ (also known as a car park and a trench to catch any rockfalls) and here are the best of the bunch. My apologies for not naming them but time is short…

All these pictures were taken on either the 8th or 9th August.

Butterfly Photography

As I was looking through my Val de Réchy Walk photographs, I noticed a sequence of images which I thought some of you might find interesting. I know there are a number of people out there who like the butterfly pictures and I think the sequence below sort of shows how I go about capturing them. By pure chance, the sun was in exactly the right position to show my gradual movements towards the butterfly.

Essentially my technique (if that’s what you might call it) is to take a photo from afar, to help identify it, in case it flies off immediately, as they often do! But then to move closer and closer (quite slowly, so as not to spook it) while taking pictures all the time. As you can see from the shadow, it’s just a point and shoot camera, which is held out at arms length (often thrust forward to within 3 or 4 inches of the subject and sometimes while trying my best to balance on my other hand!) At this point I really don’t know whether the camera is focusing correctly or not. Indeed, the final cropped image was taken from the photo numbered …6339. The rest of the unused images are usually deleted.

Also, I checked the timings of the first and last picture and, to my surprise, they were only 16 seconds apart. (And my mate Pete complains I take too long taking photos, or was that take too many photos!? 🤔)

The sequence is best viewed in Gallery mode, by clicking on the first image and then paging (right arrow) to go forward.

Val de Réchy Walk, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland (Part 2 of 2)

Following on from my post yesterday, which started in the small village of Trogne… The route took us up through the woods and across the alpage to the Pas de Lovegno (@2,695m or 8,842ft) before descending towards Lac le Louché. From there the path meanders down the left side of the Val de Réchy, passing the wonderfully named Gouille de la Grand-Rionde (which is just a small pond, but it provides any would-be photographer with the opportunity to capture one of those classic mountain reflection shots – see pic 3). Eventually a left turn takes you up and over the Col de Cou (honestly, you couldn’t make up better names if you tried!) and then another left brings you back along and down the east side of the Val d’Hérens.

It was part way along this path that I encountered the most butterflies that I’ve ever seen in one place – all puddling away and completely oblivious to my presence. (See pics 16 & 17). The vast majority of them were Small Blues (which actually are more brown – and you can see just how small they are by pic 15) but there were quite a few others in there to make things a little more interesting.