Oh no! not another post industrial site?

Afon (river) Cothi

We were looking for a couple of not too far apart campsites in mid-Wales and decided to combine a third trip to Rhandirmwyn with a few days on the National Trust site in Dolaucothi, where there’s a chance to visit a gold mine that was first opened by the Romans. What we didn’t realise until we read the information boards at the campsite was that the site itself is built on a disused opencast mine. Having said that, there’s not the remotest sign of its previous history – excepting the horrendous difficulty of getting a peg into the ground. I guess potential visitors are put off by the lack of facilities – no showers or loos – and possibly by the apparent absence of even a pub in the village. We did take a look for it but notwithstanding the sign offering a warm welcome for visitors it looked as if it had died in its sleep during the lockdown. We only have three neighbours on the site and they’re all the frantically energetic types, burning off the miles on their bikes in the intense heat.

Last evening we sat entranced by the sounds of Ravens in the midst of a fierce dispute. A Song Thrush dazzled us with his repertoire of short phrases and squeaks from an oak tree just above our heads – I particularly liked the cover version of the Red Kite call worked into the more fruity flutey bits – I bet that’s a great pulling phrase for the females. A buzzard that looked more like an eagle ranged over us in his imperious way and then dived like a stooping peregrine at some unfortunate animal beyond the trees. A robin perched, waiting for careless crumbs; a tree creeper crept up a nearby tree and a Green Woodpecker took off behind the campervan. It’s a post-industrial arcadia. Today we took the official walk alongside the river Cothi and Madame spotted a Pied Wagtail in the stream. Ten minutes later she spotted what she was sure was a red squirrel. This was an unconfirmable sighting because it was so brief and against the light, but the Dolaucothi Estate is a part of the project to protect and restore the Red Squirrel population hereabouts and we’re barely half a mile beyond the boundary. The last time we saw Red Squirrels was on a campsite down in Les Dombes in France.

The trip to the gold mine happens tomorrow and interestingly the acting warden of the campsite also doubles up as a guide there. We chatted for a while and he said they do Victorian tours as well as Roman tours and so it sounded to me as if the mines were re-worked by the Victorians who were often careless about the polluting effects of mine waste. So – there being no cloud without a silver lining – I’ll be looking out for any specialist plants growing amongst the slag. I did a quick check on the species list for this immediate area and it’s surprisingly small when compared with the whole county list.

These sites are marvellous evidence of the capacity of the natural world to heal itself after the grave damage caused by industrialisation. However this has taken a century or more to accomplish and with a looming climate catastrophe we just don’t have that much time.

I had a revelatory moment during the Song Thrush performance when I turned off my new hearing aids (God bless the NHS) and I realized that I couldn’t hear the song at all. At the last test the technician told me I am now moderately to severely hearing impaired. I know that when she fitted the new ones I boasted that I’d just keep them in all the time like I did last time. She gave me one of those undefinable looks and said she thought I’d take quite a while to get used to them. As I left the hospital I was almost overwhelmed by the noise and for a couple of weeks I was absurdly emotional when I heard quite ordinary sounds that I’d not heard for years. Even the sound of a kettle boiling in the kitchen would be unendurable. Now, taking them out at night is a nasty shock.

The photo on the right is of a Lady Fern; markedly softer than the Male Fern or Bracken. I hardly know a thing about the Pteridophytes mainly I suppose because they all look the same until you look at them properly. On the left are three photos of Wood Avens – Geum urbanum, also known as Herb Bennet. Now Bennet is often spelt Benet and is a contraction of Benedict – the founder of the Benedictine order of monks. This made me sit up because next week we’re going on a field trip to woodland on the site of an ancient friary, with the intention of searching out medicinal plants that may have survived the centuries since the dissolution of the monasteries.

The drug companies and the medical profession are outwardly dismissive of herbal medicine, but that doesn’t stop them from trialling the plants used by traditional herbalists in search of useful chemical compounds because, as we all know, plants are little organic chemistry laboratories and many of the most powerful drugs are derived from plants, or synthesised to imitate the work of nature. It’s baking hot here and Madame is snoozing outside under the awning. Later this week we’re moving across to Rhandirmwyn where there’s a tasty abandoned lead mine. It’s also going to rain. I love these post industrial places – they’re so beautiful – honestly. My cup overfloweth!

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