Taking the long view Posted on August 22, 2011

Cardigan Bay, Harlech in the middle distance

Back from a week in Snowdonia. Chilly for August, but ideal for long steep walks. Our favourite, starting from our woods overlooking the Mawddach estuary, follows the ancient Harlech road from Dolgellau, more or less straight uphill (which is why hot weather is not ideal) to a ridge at 1800 feet.

You are walking through heather and reeds, with low gorse here and there; the track often a glittering rivulet under your feet. The gate in the wall at the top opens on a panorama of Snowdonia and Cardigan Bay, from Bardsey Island at the tip of the Lleyn peninsula to the west, to Snowdon itself almost due north. On the western horizon the hills of Wicklow are a faint line. To the east rises the smooth shoulder of Diffwys, to 2500 feet. Turn around and the long leonine ridge of Cader Idris forms the southern horizon, with our dark woods and the silver arrow of the Mawddach far below.

We took a rough scramble down a too-steep path last week, arriving at the woods hot enough to plunge straight into our pine-fringed tarn. But not for long; there has been no summer to take the chill off the black water.

The pace of growth in these woods, with 60 or 70 inches of rain a year, is constantly surprising. A great deal of the forester’s job is to discourage over-vigorous interlopers that take space and light from the main crop, whether it be spruce, larch, fir or the long term goal and point of the enterprise, oak and beech. I have a kill list, with the most pernicious weeds at the top: rhododendron and the invasive and useless lodgepole pine, mistakenly planted (it is useless timber) in the 1960s and self-sown everywhere ever since. Next come Lawson cypress (a similar story) and, sadly, western hemlock. Hemlock is one of our most beautiful trees, pale green, graceful, drooping, with a formidable straight trunk. The trouble is no one wants its timber.

Birch needs weeding because it comes up everywhere, fast, and its slender twigs can enfold and stifle the far slower oak. In fact nurturing oak, even pruning young trees (they have precious little sense of which way is up) is my most time-consuming job. I can spend all morning moving slowly through bracken and brambles liberating little trees, with a deep sense of doing good.

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