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 .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
From both sides, if the light allowed it.
There is a beautiful wooden bridge, further along, that resonates with walkers’ footsteps as the stride across it.
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.
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.
In some parts of the wood, the moss is so thick they cover the tree like padding.
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.
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!
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