The first couple of week in August is the time when we get most visitors to Gower. It’s weekend, and heading west along the South Gower Road, I get stuck in traffic at the turn-off to down to Oxwich. Although it’s not yet mid-morning, I’ve hit the queue for the car park on the beach. Once free, I head away from the coast, seeking seclusion in Gelli Hir wood.
It’s a quiet off the beaten track sort of place, there’s room at the entrance for me to park, and I would be surprised if I met another soul in the wood. The partly ancient woodland is one of several owned by the Wildlife Trust, and dates back to the 16th century. Gelli Hir, meaning Long Grove, is a mixed, wildlife-rich, broadleaf wood, tucked away in a shallow valley on the north side of Fairwood Common. The remains of the old shooting grove are still here, and play a vital role in maintaining its variety of wildlife. In winter the woodland paths can be very wet, but on a bright, sunny August day, they’re bone dry.
The late morning sun lights up the grove, enticing butterflies to take to the wing. Speckled woods tumble in the air, competing for sunny glades, and there are tortoiseshells, commas and many large whites. But it’s the silver-washed fritillaries I’m really looking for. They’re not easy to find, but I know a couple of massive trees where I sometimes get lucky. A favourite tree where I could guarantee this wonderful butterfly was felled years ago, the wood used to improve the footpath. Folly maybe, but it did at least open a new sunny glade. There are no fritillaries in the glade, but I find them high in the canopy, moving about quickly and rarely settling. By the path a thistle attracts another, settling with time enough to see the silver streaks and delicate lime green on the under wing.
The pond in the middle of the wood is getting overgrown again, it’s such a labour-intensive job keeping it clear, but well worth the effort. There are good numbers of dragonflies again today, so many blue-tailed damselflies, a few wonderful common darters, and a single male southern hawker.
I leave the wood as I came, alone, but with my senses back in order.