At last down to the Irfon again. There is still a volume of water, but hugely reduced. It is almost anorexic with bleached white stones in the bed of the river looking like the exposed skeleton of the river. A fly-fishermen wading out into one of the deeper channels, but his line caught in the overhanging branches and as he tried to untangle it a dipper sped by, his white breasts shining sunlight. Daffodils everywhere but beginning to fade. Celandine in full bloom and forget-the-not emerging. The sheep too are blooming. Many lambs follow their mothers, still tied to their woolly apron strings. In the field above the Cammarch this morning a buzzard sat preening himself on a gate post. Ewes would walk up to him and stare, just so he knew that he was being watched.
Snow has blown in from the north. Further afield we hear stories of people trapped by snowdrifts, but here is a light dusting on the Epynt before an afternoon fall leaves it white. But nothing in the valley that settles.
Snow and then rain has flushed the Irfon and it is filled with a steady green rush of water. In the fields next to the river lambs have arrived and as I walk by a troop of them bursts up from the riverbank shepherded by bleating mothers. The leaves are beginning to appear along the riverbank, one Sycamore tree looking as if it is aflame with its buds about to unfurl. Hawthorn is also emerging but the alder is slower. Where it has not been grazed the celandine is magnificent. Only a short walk possible but in their normal place the dippers were active and on my return a song thrush singing magnificently
Suddenly a bird appeared out of nowhere twisted in midflight and caught a large fly which was rising upwards. I realized with a jolt that it was a spotted flycatcher and my heart was filled with a sad, joyous longing. It is the first summer migrant that I have seen, I have been waiting for them for a few weeks now and was expecting swallows and swifts but this, one of my favorite birds, was a surprise. Yet I am also aware of the steady decline that migratory birds have been experiencing and something deep within me wonders, what with climate change and international environmental degradation, for how many more years will this valley experience the joy of summer visitors. I went on to search for the flycatcher on the banks of the Cammarch but saw nothing more of her, but flowers, blossom and leaves are beginning to burst forth in the warm afternoon sunshine and with the newly returned buzzing of the insects it is a delightful.
Down by the Cammarch a lovely blossoming of wood anemone clustered around a tree trunk surrounded by water. Elsewhere a violet grows on a tree trunk, blue against the gray bark. And the blackthorn is in bloom, beginning the long slow journey to sloe gin!
April 14 St. Guthlac's day
Geese have begun to make an appearance.
Flying up the valley from the southwest. Small groups of two or three, I wonder
where they have come from and where they are going.
In the little church of St. David's up in Cwm Irfon the first wedding of the year. Another sign of spring.
A cold bright afternoon merges into an evening of blue skies and long shadows over the river. Huge plumes of midges hover in the valley lit by the slanting light. House Martinst is have begun to appear, at least that's what I think they are -- dark, fast flying shape skidding through the valley on the way, presumably, to their nesting sites.
Earlier a walk by the river and the peculiar sight of a crow emerging out of the middle of the water. After a brief flash of water the river is, once again, low. I found the Environment Agency website today and it reports that water levels in the Wye at 25% of normal
This morning a swallow perched on the telegraph wire
In the afternoon we visited Abergwesyn in the far west of the parishes, surrounded by mountains. There are two churchyards here on either side of the Irfon. The last was closed in 1969 but the churchyard is resplendent with magnificent yews and an altogether extraordinary place. The footprint of the old church is still visible and a Celtic cross -- not ancient but some 12 feet high. A wonderful place, I thought, for an outdoor service. Crossing the river, which here is a shallow stream fringed by primroses, and passing what looks like a redundant nonconformist chapel there is the second churchyard. It, too, has a fine yew and the green leaves of emerging bluebells carpeting the far end. Most surprising is a small headstone commemorating Hugh Montfiore, the converted Jew and former Bishop of Birmingham who, so the headstone says "loved this place". I can understand why.
I am beginning to get acquainted with bullfinchs. They were a common feature of my childhood when they descended on my fathers apple tree, much to his consternation. Since then I have only had fleeting glimpses of them but now that the blossom has appeared they are to be seen everywhere and very handsome they are too. I love their proud red breasts and black scholars caps. Goldfinches, also, have become common, and occasionally there is the flash of yellow from the greenfinch. All I need is a yellowhammer to make my joy complete.
No yellowhammer but today a pair of bright yellow siskins in the crab apple
A walk around the lost field between the Irfon and Cammarch. It has been wet and the river is full. The primroses are delightful and down by the river the strange sight of a singular bluebell hanging over the water. Celandine is still in bloom although fading a little, perhaps, but the dandelions are in full flower; what an underestimated flower there are. Particularly in large droves they are spectacular, but perhaps suffer in popularity from driving their long taproot too deep into gardeners' lawns. The willow catkins have emerged and the blackthorn is in full bloom. I love this time of year when the leaves have not yet unfurled and it is so much easier to see the little birds in the trees. A delightful conversation today with a friendly blue tit in a blackthorn bush.
I thought, perhaps, I saw a cuckoo today flying over the Cammarch. Not sure, but one has been heard in the valley. I find the slow loss of our migrating birds continues to bring a shadow of sorrow to this most hopeful of seasons.
Very wet. The streams have reemerged in the fields above the Cammarch and the waters are raging. I was told today about the summer of 76 when the Irfon had been reduced to a trickle and could be damned by a man's backside!
I found this report on flooding in the Wye Valley River system
The sources of flood risk are:
• river flooding in the upper catchments of the Wye and Usk tends to occur rapidly due to the characteristic narrow, steep valleys. Lower down the catchments, the areas of flooding are more extensive;
• sewer flooding is fairly widespread in the CFMP. The following locations in particular have been affected by sewage flooding in the past; Ross-on- Wye, Crossgate, Llangammarch Wells, Llanddewi, and Llandrindod Wells;
The Wye and Usk CFMP covers an area of approximately 5,700 km2 and includes approximately 240,000 properties. The area is largely rural, but also contains some dispersed urban centres. There are 1,008 kilometres of main rivers from ten different rivers. This includes the Wye and its main tributaries the Lugg (including the Frome and Arrow), Monnow, Irfon and Ithon; and the Usk and its main tributaries the Lwyd, Olway Brook and Grwyne. Upland parts of the catchments are steep, mountainous, impermeable and fast responding. The profile flattens out downstream to become wide lowland floodplains with gentler meanders. On the Wye, natural water storage provided by the Letton Lakes attenuates river flows and during flood events reduces the peak flow downstream. Both the Rivers Wye and Usk, and a number of smaller coastal rivers drain into the Severn Estuary. The predominant land use in the catchment is agriculture, although there is some industry based around the major towns. The catchments are rich in biodiversity, both in terms of species and habitats. Approximately 16 per cent of the area is designated for its nature conservation value and includes 18 sites of international importance and more than 300 sites of national importance. Some sites have multiple designations.
Scattering their ashes, May 2000 and 2006
By Jan Montefiore
As celandines were giving way to bluebells,
thrushes were nesting and budding oaks gold-green
(summer comes slowly to the Powys hills),
Teresa, Pa, myself and Catherine
went up to Abergwesyn with Mum’s ashes,
to mossy leaning tombstones, massive yews
and banks marking the old church, long demolished,
from which my parents once took disused pews
(three for a chapel, one a garden seat).
On dappled shade and brilliant daisied grass
we scattered handfuls of her pinkish grit,
and soon we three will do the same for Hugh
who wished his ashes to be freed with hers
amongst the grass and violets, in May.