Forest Drive

by Ann Brixey

Just past 6am, and the golden hour. The rising sun has brushed the fields and trees with gold. Birds are singing, and a few brave rabbits are scurrying about on the dew soaked lawn. A magpie swoops down onto a nearby bush; perhaps the gilt edged leaves have attracted him. In the next field near the fishpond, a heron waits patiently.Bluebell Walk with white tree trunks and blue flowers

Proudly spanning the rivers Severn and Usk, the two bridges connecting England with Wales glow in the morning light. Beyond the silver ribbon of water, the mist covered Welsh hills are calling to us.

“Bore da,” my husband greeted the toll taker, as we crossed into Wales via the, quieter, Old Severn bridge,

“Good morning,” came the reply in a broad Scottish accent.

Turning to me, he smiled, I shrugged.

A few minutes later as we approached the Chepstow exit, “Let’s go to the Valleys, or to Brecon Beacons,” I suggested.

” Hmm, we could take the Cwmcarn Forest drive this morning. We’ll go the old road, a bit quieter, don’t you think?” We left the motorway and headed westward to the South Wales Valleys.

Once part of Wales coal mining industry, Forest Drive, this hidden gem, has become a popular haunt of locals and tourists. Offering bike trails, walking paths, picnic areas, or for those wanting a less active way around, a seven-mile scenic drive.

“Bore da,” my husband said to the ranger at the entrance gate.

“Bore da, sut wyt ti?” came the reply.

“Thanks, we are great. Many people here today?”

“Dim”, then switching back to English,”no, it is fairly quiet, just a few cyclists. It may get busy later, mind.” His lilting Welsh accent was music to my ears.

“Diolch yn fawr,” we said as he gave us the brochure, and pass.

“Have a nice day, ” we smiled at his American response.

The ascent, along the heavily treed road, was gradual at first. Sunlight, filtered down through the canopy, randomly highlighting ferns, and bluebells like priceless artifacts.

Our first stop was at The Giants Court, a natural amphitheatre. A carved figure of Ysbaddaden Pencawr, King of the Giants stands at one end, on an obelisk nearby is the story of this Arthurian legend.

Standing quietly among the stately pines, we listened to the birds singing happily in the branches, the soft thrum of a bumblebee, and the distant bleating of a lamb. In this setting, it was easy to believe the Welsh legends and folk tales. At any moment a dragon, or Merlin himself, could appear from a hidden cave in the thickly wooded hillside.

The road became steeper as we continued. We passed two cyclists; one obviously more experienced, rode easily, the other struggled. At our next stop, they caught up with us. “Bore hyfryd,” came the familiar greeting. “Yes, it is a lovely morning,” we agreed.”

Mountain Walk; had been a favorite spot when we lived here several years ago. It was where we, and many others have started the easy walk to Twmbarlwm. We passed through the kissing gate, and started walking up the not too gentle slope. Views of the City of Newport, the rivers Usk, and Severn, and the Bristol Channel were shrouded in haze.

On clear days, Somerset, and the distant Mendip Hills are visible. Today, it was like peering through a scrim curtain at the theatre.

It is said, “There’s more sheep than people in Wales.” Today was no exception. On this gentle hillside, a large flock of sheep, grazing on the soft, dense grass, and a few rabbits were our only companions.

“Let’s go this way.” I nodded in agreement. We turned away from the mountain and its stone- age fort, to take the easterly path. We skirted a small wood and continued along the grassy hilltop. Despite being mostly on the flat, the track was not easy to walk on. Heavy rains and frequent use by motorbikes; had forged deep ruts in the terrain.

“Be careful, don’t twist your ankle. It’s a good job that there has been no rain for a while.”

“Oh yes, ” I replied, “then it would be tough going.”

We knew from experience how these ruts become raging torrents. In a remarkably short time, large pools can develop at the bottom of the even gentlest slopes.

The sweet smell of ferns, heather and gorse, perfumed the air. In the distance, a lamb seemingly lost, called plaintively for its mother. Several birds flew up out of the heather, but were gone too quickly for us to identify. A cuckoo called longingly from a nearby thicket, but never seemed to get an answer. Overhead a hawk swooped around us in search of a tasty meal.

“Definitely is a Bore hyfryd.”

I looked up at the thin, high clouds. The hawk was still there flying around, and a plane, even higher in the sky, headed west. “You’re so right, it is a beautiful morning.” I replied.

On such a day, amidst the mountains, in this tranquil place, you can imagine that you are the only people around for hundreds of miles.

Stopping at all of the other areas, walking or just taking pictures, took up most of the morning. “I am starting to get hungry, are you?”

“It’s about that time,” said Peter, looking at his watch. “Let’s see what the cafe at the visitors centre are offering today.” As we enjoyed our lunch, a robin and a blackbird, busily searching for tidbits kept us entertained. Later, we watched, via web cam, a goshawk as she fed the three chicks. Then by rearranging or discarding twigs, she tidied the nest. Hoping for the male to return, we waited, but to no avail, he did not come back.

“A walk around the lake would be nice now,” I said.

“OK, it’s this way; here’s the path that leads to the Lakeside and Bluebell Walks.”

Surrounded by woodland, the lake, with its mirror like surface is home to fish, insects and waterfowl. As we neared the waters edge, two families of ducks swam very close, seemingly to check us out. Several ducklings, curious, began to leave the water; a quick call from the parents soon had them all swimming away.

“Look over there, a kingfisher.” Peter raised his camera.

I tried to get closer, but true to its nature, this shy, colorful, little bird, did not stay around. Neither of us managed to photograph it.

Crossing a wooden bridge we wandered along the opposite bank. There we found a fern edged path leading into the woods. A carpet of bluebells, heads nodding in the soft, warm breeze, greeted us. It was a cool, inviting place to linger. A sudden rustling in the undergrowth and some small creature darted across the path, quickly disappearing into a hole at the base of a tree.

Back at the lake, there was quite a ruckus. Several other ducks venturing too close had disturbed the little families. Quickly the males, wings flapping, almost running on top of the water, shooed the interlopers away.

“If you want to go to the Beacons today, we had best be leaving.” Peter started walking to the car.

With a tinge of sadness, we left this lovely spot, to continue further into the Valleys to explore the Brecon Beacons. “We’ll be back soon,” I whispered.

(Authors note: All of the goshawk chicks are fully fledged and have left the nest.)

More photos can be found Here