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Country diary: Suddenly the beech leaves are out | John Gilbey
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Country diary: Suddenly the beech leaves are out | John Gilbey

The buttercups are coming into flower in the churchyard of St Hilary’s, and a few dandelions have already set seed – the globular heads barely moving in the still morning air. Nearby, a metal plaque, slightly corroded by time and weather, celebrates Llanilar’s victory as Cardiganshire’s best kept village in 1965 and 1966. The church sits on a river terrace that falls away to the flood plain of the Afon Ystwyth, and a steep banked lane guides me down past brightly emergent beech hedges to the site of the old railway station.

Bluebells in flower beside the Ystwyth trail.View image in fullscreen

Beyond the gravel station yard, little remains to show that this was once an important railway line, joining mid-Wales to the south. The line here closed at the end of 1964, after massive winter flooding not far from where I’m standing severely damaged the trackbed and a bridge. The rest of the line lost its passenger service a few months later, fading into the past with so many other rural routes. Last autumn, a Senedd petition exceeded the 10,000 signatures needed to consider a debate in the Welsh parliament on the feasibility of reopening the line. Time will tell.

In the meantime, the remains of the track form part of the Ystwyth Trail, a valuable route reaching inland from the sea towards the upper reaches of the river. Today, bluebells form rafts of colour under the canopy of trees beside the track – while the river, still high but no longer in flood, chunters over the pebble riffles a few steps to the north. Crossing a short bridge, I get to overlook one of the many small tributaries that flow into the Afon Ystwyth – the Nant Adail – which curves sinuously beneath a new rush of foliage, bright with the fluid song of blackbirds.

With five miles to go I am just getting into my stride when I find the path ahead blocked with heavy steel mesh panels. A single sheet of paper hangs limply from the barrier, announcing that the trail is closed for remedial works – something my research failed to spot. Loudly cursing my poor planning, I turn aside to find another, much less attractive, path home – pausing only once, to enjoy the sight of two enthusiastic young collies expertly rounding up a flock of sheep.

Source: theguardian.com