Moel Findeg

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Earlier in February I ventured out for a walk on the hills in North Wales to celebrate my birthday.  It was the day after a severe storm which had brought trees and some power lines down and whilst the force of the winds had dropped we didn’t venture onto the high mountains but explored a corner of the lesser known Clwydian hills.

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The Clwydian range is only half an hour’s drive away from Wirral being located in north east Wales.  The range runs from Llandegla in the south to Prestatyn in the north dividing the valleys of the River Dee and River Clwyd, with the highest point being Moel Famau at 1,817 feet (554m).  The range is designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty.

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The summits of the Clwydian hills provide extensive views across north Wales, to the high peaks of Snowdonia, eastwards across the Cheshire Plain, Peak District and towards Manchester and Wirral and more distantly Liverpool to the northeast.

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For this walk we started from Colomendy Outdoor Education Centre near Loggerheads on the Mold to Ruthin road and walked through woods and past old and still active quarries around the old mining village of Maeshafn.

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Some of the paths were blocked with fallen trees and where they crossed many fields they were a quagmire of mud given the high rainfall we have had this winter.  Our lunchtime stop off point at the Miners Arms in Maeshafn had to be abandoned as the pub was closed having no electricity supply due the gales.

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The ‘high point’ of the walk was ascending Moel Findeg which has some extensive views for quite a small hill.  Views of Moel Famau, Foel Fenlii and Moel Eithinen can be clearly seen from the top of the hill.  The area is a local nature reserve and was saved from quarrying some years ago when local residents raised the funds to buy the site.

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Walking down from Moel Findeg we passed an eerie old disused farmstead before we descended back down to the valley from where we started.

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We arrived back to our starting point with the gentle glow of late afternoon winter sunshine.

Easter in Heswall Dales

I’ve been delayed in uploading my photos from Easter time but finally got around to it today.  On Easter Sunday it was a bright but cold morning and I ventured out onto Heswall Dales in the Wirral.

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Heswall Dales are on the north eastern side of the Dee Estuary.  They are an area of lowland heath of around seventy two acres a short distance out of Heswall town centre.  I walked through a narrow lane off Thurstaston Road behind what is now Tesco who built on the site of the old Liverpool Children’s Hospital whose grounds extended down to the Dales.  Following the path up and down over rough ground you eventually climb up onto a larger tract of open heathland.  When you get onto the higher ground you are rewarded with panoramic views of the hills and mountain ranges of North Wales across the River Dee.  Moel Famau still covered in snow could be seen clearly in the early morning haze you could just see the tip of Mount Snowden in the far distance to the left of Moel Famau.

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Over to the west sailing dinghies in the River Dee estuary could be seen with Burbo Bank offshore wind farm in Liverpool Bay in the background.

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Heswall Dales is one of the series of western lowland heath plant communities occurring on the Triassic sandstone outcrops of Wirral.  The area possesses both wet and dry heath, with birch and oak scrub, and some plant species which have a very localised presence.  Together with its associated wildlife it represents an important refuge in the ever expanding urban environment of the Wirral.

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The heathland was recognised in 1979 as the second best remaining example of lowland heath in the Merseyside area, Thurstaston Common a bit further up the peninsula being the best regarded site locally.  The area was designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its heathland habitat by the Nature Conservancy Council which is now known as English Nature.  In 1991 Heswall Dales was given the status of a Local Nature Reserve (LNR).

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The area has both wet and dry heathland with the dominant plant being Heather (Calluna vulgaris).  Drier areas of heath contain a mix of Bell Heather (Erica cinerea) and Western Gorse (Ulex gallii).  The gorse species is mainly distributed across the western part of Britain and is of regional significance here.

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The mixture of Birch scrub and European Gorse is an important habitat for breeding birds.  Gorse provides excellent cover for birds such as Wrens, Yellowhammers and Chaffinches.  On this morning a female Kestrel was hovering nearby its eyes fixed on its prey in the heathland below.  I stood still for some minutes and managed to get a photograph before it flew off to another part of the Dales.

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At Easter the Gorse bushes were in full flower their yellow blooms being one of the earliest flowers of the year.

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Heswall Dales has birch and mixed woodland in the valleys running through the site with heathland on the large broadly level area that runs though to Dale Farm at the north of the site.  The Contryside Ranger Service of Wirral Council in 2009 received funding from Natural England to carry out a restoration project to reinstate the lowland heath habitat.  They cleared the encroaching scrubland of bramble, birch and bracken which had spread and was blocking out the sunlight to the native heather and bilberry.

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In order to keep this natural habitat there is a requirement for ongoing management of the Dales and the Countryside Ranger service depend on volunteer days when members of the public help out.

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I continued to walk on to Dale End Farm Dale Farm which provides a day service for adults with disabilities and mental illness, giving people opportunities to learn life skills through the therapeutic use of horticulture.  From there I walked back onto Thurstaston Road ending my morning’s walk.

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On Moel Famau

Moel Famau (which means ‘Mothers Mountain’ in English) is the highest hill, at 1,818 feet, within the Clwydian Range of North Wales.  Moel Famau lies between Mold and Rhuthin on the border between Denbighshire and Flintshire in North Wales.

Moel Famau Country Park surrounds the hill which has been classed as an ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ since 1985.  The park covers an area over 8 km² and is managed by Denbighshire Countryside Service.  The area is home to wildlife such as Red Grouse as well as the endangered Black Grouse, European Stonechat and Eurasian Curlew.  The area is surrounded by several well-preserved Iron-Age hill forts on the nearby hills.

The Forestry Commission manages the neighbouring forest as a sustainable conifer plantation for timber production and tourism.  There are many paths which cut through the Forestry Commission plantations which form an apron around its lower slopes.

We walked up the hill from Coed Moel Famau Forestry Commission car park.  Walking up through the plantations and past many areas that have been cleared which look like wastelands with tree stumps and timber cuttings strewn across the ground.

The paths are well used by walkers and mountain bikers and being a bank holiday weekend there were a lot of people out on the hill.

There are lots of streams flowing off the hill to feed the River Alyn.  Lower down the hill timber foot bridges allow you to cross them without getting your boots wet.

As we got higher we left the forest behind and walked up through the heather and heath land.  We then joined part of the northern route of the Offa’s Dyke National Trail to reach the summit.  Offa’s Dyke Path was opened in the summer of 1971 and links Sedbury Cliffs near Chepstow on the banks of the Severn estuary in South Wales with Prestatyn 177 miles away on the North Wales coast which could be seen to the North West of the summit of Moel Famau.  The trail is based on the dyke which King Offa ordered to be constructed in the 8th century to divide his Kingdom of Mercia from rival kingdoms in what is now Wales.

The summit can easily be seen as you ascend from any direction as you can see the large stone structure which has been built on the summit.  This is the Jubilee Tower which was built in 1810 to commemorate the golden jubilee of King George III. Designed by Thomas Harrison of Chester, it was to be an Egyptian styled obelisk, built in three stages. The tower was never completed.  In 1862 a strong storm blew it down. It was partially removed to make it safe and what you see today are the sturdy remains of the Tower.

Much of the North West of England and Wales can be seen from the summit of Moel Famau. This includes parts of Cheshire, Merseyside, Denbighshire and Flintshire. On clear days, the mountains of Snowdonia can be seen to the west and we could see the prominent mountains of Cader Idris and Snowdon in the haze today.

The Irish Sea could be seen to the north, and to the East Liverpool, Chester and Winter Hill on the West Pennine Moors near Blackburn and Bolton.  On good days you can see the Blackpool Tower but unfortunately not today in the haze.  We could see the west side of the Wirral peninsula in the middle distance from where we set off this morning and where we would return to following our descent.