Holiday Highlights: North Wales

Last week we all traipsed off to North Wales for five days, much fun was had by all but the focus here is on the botanical.

Heathland Highlights

On the second day of our trip we thought we’d see how the little ‘uns coped with a Big Old Hill, so we headed down the road to the Llyn Peninsula and made our way up Yr Eifl and the adjacent Tre’r Ceiri Hillfort. As hills go they’re not huge, but they command fantastic views and, being right next to the sea and possessing rocky summits, assume a commanding presence that belies their relatively modest height. Botanically speaking, these hills are completely dominated by heathland. From sea to summit, the hills are cloaked in purple, making it particularly valuable from an ecological perspective.

heather holiday highlights
This heathland is an example of maritime heathland which, along with montane heathland, is one of the few situations where the heathland is completely natural. A lot of heathland is linked with human activity albeit often dating back as far as the Bronze Age.

The habitat in question was dominated by Bell Heather (Erica cinerea) and Heather (Calluna vulgaris), along with Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) and Gorse (Ulex europaeus) in varying amounts.

As well as making a home for themselves in the salt-laden winds, these plants provide a home for a number of other plants and animals. There were numerous informal flocks of small birds keeping themselves busy in and above the heath. I’m afraid I can’t tell you what they were as they were too fast moving to pick out any particular features. Similarly, various butterflies fluttered by.

Back to things I’m slightly more knowledgable about (although that’s not saying much), in amongst the heathland were a few plants that caught the eye.

First up, this charming little patch of Bog Asphodel (Narthecium ossifragum) was a nice little find:

Second, the occasional clumps of Tufted Bulrush (Trichophorum cespitosum) were a whimsical presence on the landscape:

For reasons I can’t quite explain, they add a certain Western (as in the films) quality to the scene.

Next, European Goldenrod (Solidago virgaurea):

Goldenrod holiday highlights
Finally, a fairly ubiquitous presence lower down was Tormentil (Potentilla erecta) and equally ubiquitous on the rocky scree at higher elevations, English Stonecrop (Sedum anglicum):

All in all, it was a great place to explore, both from a plant point of view and from a landscape and history point of view. The hill fort offered some excellent combinations of these things all in one place:

Slate Quarries and Sessile Oaks

Another highlight, from a plant-y perspective, was a very damp trip to Dinorwic Slate Quarry. We only scratched the surface of this huge site but even in the small area that our damp bodies and tired little legs managed to wander round, there was plenty to see. The old buildings are slowly being reclaimed by the surrounding woodland:

In amongst the trees I found a few populations of Cow Wheat (Melampyrum pratense), a plant I’ve not come across before:

It’s a hemi-parisitic plant, so it gets some of it’s nourishment from the roots of other plants. It seems that the jury is out on which particular plants at makes use of; here it was growing in and around various grasses.

In the slate walls and buildings I spotted a few cheeky Navelworts (Umbilicus rupestris):

They’d finished flowering, so the papery remains of the flower stalks poked out of slates, alerting passers by to their funny little leaves hiding in the cracks.

Here’s a couple of pictures to give you an idea of the place:

Ferns, Mosses and Lichens

Finally, I’m no expert so I don’t know names etc., but Wales is wet enough to support an interesting mix of bryophytes. Here’s a selection of my favourites:

That brings to an end of the botanical side of things. Of course various other activities were pursued whilst we were on holiday: paddling, castles, trains and such:

Holiday highlights

Much fun was had by all!

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