Monday, April 22, 2013

Same place, different pace

The view across the Severn Estuary
Many landscapes look dramatically different depending on the season and the weather, and – as I discovered this weekend – on the speed at which you happen to be travelling through them.

I’ve visited Newport Wetlands at Nash many times since it opened in 2000.

In fact, my very first trip to this popular nature reserve was in an official capacity. As the local reporter, I was charged with covering the launch event for the South Wales Argus. On that occasion, the nature reserve lived up to its name; the weather was appalling, torrential rain and high winds. Fortunately, I’d had time to dash home to grab my hiking boots and a waterproof jacket; the lady dignitaries present, however, were dressed formally in suits and high heels. The poor women spent their entire time outside battling to keep their umbrellas up and side-stepping large puddles.

Across the reeds is Uskmouth Power Station (there were once three chimneys)
Newport Wetlands was established by the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW) to mitigate the loss of the wildlife habitat in the area after the Cardiff Bay Barrage was built. The land now occupied by the reserve used to be an ash-covered wasteland owned by the neighbouring coal-fired Uskmouth power station  (where, incidentally, my dad worked for over 30 years).

After the ash was removed, the site was landscaped and it now covers salt marsh, reed beds, saline lagoons, wet grassland, and scrub. At high tide, the site sits below sea level and water levels are regulated to ensure the saline lagoons get enough sea water.

According to the literature, ‘Newport Wetlands and the adjacent Severn Estuary are home to internationally and nationally important numbers of wintering and breeding wetland birds’.

I was there on that first (wet) day
Newport Wetlands certainly attracts keen bird-watchers, however, my guess is that many local people, myself included, enjoy visiting because it’s close to the estuary (and therefore the sea), boasts a fantastic children's playground and has lots of nice trails to walk around.

There is a lot of wildlife, specifically birdlife, but without binoculars, it’s hard to spot species like the rare bearded tit, black-tailed godwit, little grebe, knot and whimbrel (if you do remember your binoculars but are still not sure what you're looking for, the Wetlands Centre offers plenty of useful illustrations and information). Unfortunately, without binoculars, the only birds we spotted this weekend were ducks and swans.

The lesser-spotted Newport swan (as seen without binoculars)
When I first bought my mountain bike, Harri and I cycled all the way from Rhiwderin to the wetlands on Route 4, a round trip of about 25 miles (a permissive cycle route runs through the wetlands as an off-shoot of the main route).

We’ve also walked the Wales Coast Path from Chepstow to Cardiff and the official route passes along the seaward side of the reserve as far as Uskmouth Power Station before heading past the Wetlands Centre towards Nash village. 

I’ve even enjoyed interval training sessions there with Lliswerry Runners. On a warm summer’s evening, what could possibly be more enjoyable than sprinting alongside the (almost) open sea, a salty breeze blowing gently against your skin and the sound of seabirds calling?

The rather wonderful East Usk Lighthouse
The only drawback is the number of midges on the attack – their favourite snack moi!

Anyway, the point I’m making is that all my previous visits to Newport Wetlands have been for the purpose of fast activities – running, cycling and hiking at Harri’s speed.

On Saturday, I meandered around the reserve with my long-time mate and for the first time, I noticed the small things. Like the strange rusty-looking sculptures with cut-out silhouettes of birds, like how incredibly straight the reens are and the massive size of the lens that some of the serious bird-watchers were using.

Anyone seen this bird?
We idled along the main trail (love that word, idled, even though I’m so bad at it) and then took a left turn to walk alongside the sea wall and past the lighthouse. There were people everywhere: couples, dog-walkers, young families. East Usk Lighthouse, in particular, seemed to be attracting lots of attention.

It gradually dawned on me that my natural walking speed is fast. And I like fast. I was finding it really difficult to slow down, to stroll, to dawdle, even when engaged in the hugely enjoyable task of chatting with a friend I hadn’t seen in months.

We left the main reserve and wandered along a metalled lane, then turned onto a grassy one. At the far end, there was a locked gate to climb and, as my friend hesitated, I bolted over it, again realising how accustomed the Walker’s Wife has become to an active lifestyle where covering large distances at speed and clambering over obstacles has become almost second nature. 

Stop that dawdling ... the cafe's about to close
We’d planned to linger over a cuppa in the café, but, astonishingly, even on sunny spring weekends it closes at 4pm, so we set off home (I’ll said it before and I’ll say it again, Wales can be SO bad at catering for tourists).

Our stroll had lasted for about two-and-a-half hours and I doubt we'd covered much more in miles. In terms of stretching the old muscles, it barely counted as exercise.

But for once I didn't care. I’d already run six miles that morning and, you know, sometimes it’s rather nice to view the world from the slow lane.

UPDATE: Newport Wetlands features in a recent BBC news article and video, which claims the Wales Coast Path attracted 1.6 million visitors last year. 

Did they really write that?

On our travels we often spot some hilarious writing, many typos and abundant translation mistakes. Here’s a gem from a leaflet titled, Caravan & Glamping in Carmarthenshire. Writing about the friendly staff at Jenkins the Bakers in Ammanford, the writer notes: ‘be warned, they will also make sure you leave with half a dozen deliciously Moorish [sic] welsh cakes!’

 I had no idea the Moors’ rule stretched as far as west Wales!


  1. Ha, Ha. Lovely close; lovely writing. Made me smile. Tony

  2. Thank you Tony. Newport Wetlands is a beautiful spot and well worth a visit if you're ever in the area (though definitely nicer on sunny, non-windy days!).


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