Wetlands ho! (well, almost)

Anyone spending time on a wonderful sunny day in Newport should always at some point venture down to the Wetlands.  This is a lovely area which opened in 2000CE to mitigate losses of wildlife from the opening of the Cardiff Barrage.  The area is beautiful and means a very relaxing walk and cup of tea in the Visitor and Education Centre.  The vast majority of people venture there by vehicle, however, being currently carless I’m reduced to the mighty two feet.

There’s a great juxtaposition in Newport between high industry and rural areas.  The two are very strange bedfellows and the route, whichever way you go, takes you either through retail parks or en route to the remaining steelworks in the area and the power station.  It’s quite a strange, yet reassuring, feeling that within just a few steps you’re in the countryside walking along country paths, while just a short distance away the presence of local industry is all but obsolete in the silence of the surrounding wildlife.

I’d ventured onto this walk a few weeks before and decided then I’d do more exploring at some point soon.  As not having a car I was destined to walk the familiar route over the City Bridge (or the SDR Bridge, or new Bridge as it’s more locally called) and up Corporation Road which was once the site of the Orb Steelworks, now the site of yet another familiar looking housing estate called Lysaght’s Village.

City Bridge, or SDR Bridge

There are far easier routes to take, however this seems to be the one I’m destined to stick with due to the fact that walking along the dual carriageway towards Leeway isn’t the most thrilling of walks and the route gets me to the quiet much sooner.

Today seemed a bit busier and, as usual, there’s a learner driver who’s not taking much notice of any pedestrians in the area (the instructor seemingly oblivious also) and I’m dodging a car careering way too fast towards the kerb where I’m stood waiting to cross the road, only to have them reverse into me further up when they’re attempting a 3 point turn.  I’m happy to escape onto the path and away from the humdrum of activity on the road behind.

It was a bit of a surprise to see how much the reeds had grown walking along the coastal path, as such it felt like the chorus of bird song was even more prevalent in the baking sunshine.  I hadn’t really noticed before that Newport certainly has a lot of buttercups.  I was tempted to do the old test but remembered I couldn’t see under my chin so decided to leave the harmless buttercup to enjoy the sunshine.

Buttercups Galore!

I remembered a turning off along the path from the last time I walked this route, it seemed further this time but I remember seeing someone emerging from it last time and wondered where it went, so off I went to investigate.

Much of the route is along the Great Traston Meadows where the reeds are swaying in the cool breeze and I’m reminded of that old Flake chocolate advert which gives me a craving for a Flake but I’ve only a nut bar and my bottle of water, which isn’t the same really.   It’s at this point that I decide to try one of those ‘nature’ shots from below the reeds, which I didn’t think was too bad considering the spot I’d decided to choose was the site of mass sheep droppings and didn’t really want to kneel down.

Portrait of a buttercup in Landscape

It was after venturing into the next two fields that I’d finally decided that I really didn’t have a clue where I was going, I saw the steeple of St Mary’s Church in the near distance and continued towards there as I knew at least there’d be civilisation and a road to somewhere!  After walking along a field with some stern looking cows, which I thought best to keep a discreet distance from I finally emerged into a field behind the Waterloo Inn and the gateway back to civilisation, which to my bemusement was blocked by a rather belligerent sheep who I decided to christen Nigel.

Nigel

Finally, after what seems like an eternity which involved some prudent and careful negotiations from both parties I’m finally allowed to pass through the gate and rejoin the rest of civilisation.  It’s at this point that I realise it’s quite a walk back, there’s not a bus due for a while and I didn’t have any change anyway.

I decided, rather foolishly, to walk back along the old Nash Road, which I’d forgotten isn’t exactly walker friendly, however traipsing back to where I thought I was going was enjoyable and a few people did offer lifts on the way (although one lady did say “good” when I politely refused the offer).  For what seemed like an age, although only about 15 minutes I saw a sign of familiarity that was Great Traston Meadows and a feeling of relief that I was finally getting back on route to the Wetlands.

Through the gate I ventured like a weary old man in the sweltering heat who’d only had a nut bar to eat and back towards the familiar site of the wind turbines in the near distance.   It was amazed at the amount of Blue Damselflies flitting from reed to reed, their bodies reflecting the sunlight giving them a glow against the brownness of the reeds.  I tried to take a photo but they were too fast for me and only managed to get a photo of my finger and afterwards the inside of my trouser pocket, neither of which are particularly noteworthy.

I did however get an ok shot of a Southern Marsh-orchid (I think), growing resolutely amid the reeds and buttercups, I tried to do my best nature photographer pose with my phone camera but my aching legs and creaking back after miles of aimless wandering soon put paid to that.

Southern Marsh-orchid, I think.

Finally, I emerged back onto the original track and back onto the route to the Wetlands.  It was only a further 10 minute walk, but my ‘detour’ added an extra hour and a half onto what should have been a simple walk.  For some reason the John Landis film ‘An American Werewolf in London’ sprang to mind when I reemerged back onto the path and counted my blessings, although it wasn’t a full moon, and I was in Newport.

At last, the path ended and the sign appeared directing me straight ahead to the Wetlands, only to be informed that it’s a further two miles, and not only that it’s two miles down the road that I’d previously walked up. It was at this point I’d realised that if I’d stayed on the road for another 50 yards I would have found my destination!  Oh well, next time!

After what seemed like an eternity of wandering through buttercups hunger was getting the best of me and I decided to walk back, back along the same route I shouldn’t have veered from in the first place.  I decide to open my second nut bar, which had mostly been crushed under my water bottle so looking even less appetising.  Nut crumbs seemed to be falling everywhere and in the heat I wondered if I was like some pie eyed Pied Piper leading the wildlife on some nut crumb frenzy back to civilisation while the hum of the wind turbines above me reminded me of the Visitors shuttlecraft from the 1980’s TV series V.

I decided next time I’ll take a map, or just stick to the path.

Tom Stanger
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Founder and Editor of Pilgrim House, currently researching folklore and early Welsh Christianity and curator of the archives of the lost village of Pontyddim.

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