Posted on 30 Comments

Wonderful Welsh Woods

Woodland paintings

It’s that time of year again. When the slanting sun makes you believe that spring is just around the corner. Snowdrops and crocuses are flowering in parks and in the woods. We spent the last two days revisiting my favourite stretch of Gower woodland. It follows the stream that meanders from Ilston along the Ilston Cwm to Parkmill (the stream then it crosses the A4118 and winds its way into the sea as Pennard Pill). You can see it on an interactive map of Gower here .

Map of Gower
Ilston to Pennard

Yesterday, we revisited the Parkmill end of the woods (you can read about the Ilston end of the woods here). These trees are technically part of Kilvrough Manor woods, although Kilvough Manor itself, is quite a distance off on the other side of the A4118.  The woods have been here for hundreds, if not thousands of years. The trees are “ancient semi-natural and broadleaved, made up of a canopy of Ash, Oak, Beech, and Elm, with a Beech plantation”.  They have given me years of inspiration for painting.

Photo of woodland near Gower Inn
Woodland near Gower Inn

Very early spring is my favourite time of year because the sun cuts through the bare branches and illuminates the ground. The shadows create an exciting combination of colours; the beech leaves on the ground are an interesting orange and mauve, and the rich brown earth is almost a dark purple, that reminds me of a dairy milk wrapper.

Cadbury's Dairy Milk
Diary Milk purple

In the past, I have usually visited this part of the woods in the morning. I feel almost stupid when I see how different it all looks in the early afternoon.

Painting of Gower Woodlands

Of course, nature is a giant sundial. The trees cast shadows in different directions, depending on the time of the day and the time of the year. If you come too early the trees nearest the car park lies in darkness, as the sun has not risen above Pennard.

Painting of woodland
Pennard Pill

If you come too late the same trees are in the shadow of the hill that rises up beside the stream to the west. When the trees are illuminated it’s very exciting. It’s like an incredible show that is switched on and off, depending on the light.

Painting of woodlands
One impulse from a Vernal Wood.

As the river meanders along the valley the path crosses it by a number of sturdy bridges. I have painted many of these over the years. There’s the 1950s concrete and metal railings one, nearest the Gower Inn.

painting of woodland bridge
Bridge Over Ilston River

From both sides, if the light allowed it.

Painting of Bridge in woods
A Bridge in Ilston Cwm

There is a beautiful wooden bridge, further along, that resonates with walkers’ footsteps as the stride across it.

Painting of woodland bridge by Emma Cownie
The Bridge to Parkmill
Oil Painting of woodland bridge
The Bridge

In the summer, when the stream is low, I have waded through the water under this bridge and listened (troll-like) to the sounds of people walking above.

Yesterday was a day of epiphanies. I stood listening to the wonderful cacophony of birdsong and soaked in the sight of the light catching the leaves I realised that what made this place so special was its sheer age.  People have walked along these paths (and crossed older, long gone bridges) to reach the places of worship for many many years. Over 300 hundred years ago a Baptist chapel was built by this bridge by John Miles and people travelled from miles around to reach it. At Ilston, much further along the stream, there has been a religious cell, or church since the 6th century. These woods have been a place of contemplation for centuries, and it feels like it. Modern people may or may not contemplate religious matter, but it is difficult not to get drawn into contemplating the rhythms of the natural world.

Gower Woodland
Light Catching the leaves

For me is the moss that marks this woodland apart from others.  The moss catches the slanting light and the trees almost look like they are wearing halos.

Trees of Parkmill Valley
Light Catching the Trees

In some parts of the wood, the moss is so thick they cover the tree like padding.

Gower Moss
Thick Moss

Moss is odd stuff. It is a plant, with stems and leaves, but no true roots and no flowers. It needs damp conditions to reproduce. The moss grows so thickly here because it’s very damp in South Wales, it rains a lot. The stream also creates a lot of dampness. The moss absorbs huge quantities of water. It actually helps to soak up rainfall and create a locally humid environment. There’s also lots of lichen on the trees. This is a good sign as it only grows where there is clean, unpolluted air. Lichen, apparently is not a plant, although plant-like. Its sort of fungi.  Lichens amazingly are some of the longest living things on the planet. They grow very slowly and live very long lives, a bit like the ancient yew tree in Ilston churchyard.

Lichen in Gower
Yew Tree in Gower
Ilston Yew Tree

To give you a feel for the beauty of the place I have uploaded a couple of short videos. The splashing you can hear in the first clip is my dog, Biddy walking in the water, hoping that I will throw a stick for her.

Here she is!

Biddy (Look I have found a stick for you to throw!)


Join my mailing list to keep up with the latest paintings.


30 thoughts on “Wonderful Welsh Woods

  1. i can see why you were so inspired to paint these beauties

  2. I’ve always loved to explore forests and woods I’ve come upon and both your pictures and paintings brings those memories back. Thank you, Emma.

    1. What I love about forest is that they remove you from modern life and (worries). I always feel better for walking amongst the trees.

      1. I know what you mean. I could use a handy forest these days.

  3. This was such a joy to read. I love your woodland paintings in all the different light conditions. You are right! Trees are nature’s sundials. Love that you see the purple of Dairy Milk! The videos too were fab.

    1. Thank you, Ali. When the sun comes out, it is just perfect!

  4. Very enjoyable to see these. What a lovely part of the world to walk through and I love seeing how you “see” it and then recreate it in your painting.

    1. It is a beautiful walk. The joy of nature is that it changes and is different every time I visit. There are different flowers, more or less leaves, different birds singing. The joy of the other day is that there were no planes flying. Gower airport is close by and at the weekend there are lots of noisy single engine planes flying around!

  5. I admire your talent (and skill, of course!) at breaking down these complicated woodland scenes into the bare necessities for appreciating their color and form.

    1. Thank you, Alli. My approach to the woodland paintings has ended up being quite different to other subject matter, I not sure how I ended up that way. It is semi-abstract. Or the closest I get to it anyway!

  6. The first of the paintings is my favourite, Emma. I often find woodlands depressing in the winter, when the trees are bare and you have a soggy carpet of leaves, but a shaft or two of sunlight brings it all alive. 🙂 🙂

    1. Yes, the sunlight changes everthing!

  7. Gorgeous nature and art, but especially great that you added a photo of Biddy who I have searched in vain in the videos! 😉

    1. Yes, you can only hear Biddy splashing by in the video. Mitzy was there too but she wasn’t making a noise.

  8. being in a old growth forest is like coming home

    1. That’s a beautiful way to describe it. I quite agree, Wayne.

      1. thank you Emma. When we look into a fires flame and we are spellbound. It reminds us of our past. Our ancestral DNA harkens us and is constantly calling us back to where we came from.

      2. I could not agree more…the older I get the more I long for woods and seashores, away from cities and in amongst nature.

      3. I just got back from my remote cabin! Had a wonderful time!

  9. The way you are painting woods makes me feeling happy

    1. Ik ben blij dat ze je gelukkig laten voelen. Ze laten me ook blij voelen!

  10. […] first photo is the most joyous. Wandering around the woods (read more about this very special place here), taking photos and marveling at the light. On this day the light was perfect. I was delighted by […]

  11. […] trees off in the distance are hundreds of hazelnut catkins, catching the light. What I love about this ancient woodland is that, although its managed, and trees are cut back, and paths kept clear, fallen trees are […]

  12. Superb work Emma. I live near this location and must commend you on your knowledge of the spot. M

    1. Thank you Marcus. You must visit the lovely woods. I cannot any more as I now live in Ireland, but I miss those woods.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.