I spent yesterday morning on the very edge of Swansea between the motorway roundabout and Fforestfach shopping centre visiting the wonderful hidden valley where once Penllergare House had its gardens. Here major restoration works are underway with funding from Europe, the lottery, and a little help from EW so the volunteers can deliver their part of the work, they are once again revealing the designed landscape. This was my first chance to meet with the new staff members, Dave the project manager, Edward the woodsman and Faye who is managing the volunteers as well as my old friend and colleague Philip. As so many times this year when visiting projects I was very impressed by the calibre of the post holders who were all experienced and keen. The number of volunteers working enthusiastically around the new entrance area was a sight to be seen, moving and burning brash, sorting logs, pulling up brambles. This was a well motivated group, keen to see their vision for the park finally happening with the area brought back into management so it can be enjoyed for its aesthetic beauty rather than just as a rather rank and overgrown wilderness dominated by cherry laurel and other bullying plants. This is not a wild space, it has had the hand of man all over it, tweaking and enhancing what was already there and making some things that were not such as the lakes and cascades.
It is already a very popular place, particularly for dog walkers, with nearly 100,000 visits a year. It was once a maze of paths and steps and terraces and soon much that has been lost in the tangle of laurel and rhododendron will be back and the people who already use the area will have more space to spread out and enjoy the tranquillity of this oasis of calm in an almost urban setting.
My lingering impression of the day will be the smell of wood smoke drifting across the valley, so evocative of autumn. The steep valley sides makes this an excellent place for vistas. The picture below is from high up near the motorway and shows the Afon Llan as it comes out of the enormous culvert under the M4, I have never seen such a big pipe. Eventually they hope to enable people to walk through the culvert to enter the other half of the woodlands to the north of the motorway. One day people will be able to walk this route from Gower all the way to the Brecon Beacons. The area below the culvert will soon be returned to a lake of almost 3 acres.
This work has to be undertaken in the summer in order to disturb as little as possible the 2 types of rare lamprey that use the area. Without this work the lake will soon be completely silted up so no use to the lamprey at all.
The clearing of the paths has revealed many hidden features in the landscape such as walls and small cascades. Those long ago designers used the native bedrock to great effect.
Some of the areas are terraced to allow paths to run along the steep valley sides, these walls will need a good deal of work to stabilise them but this will be well worthwhile with new vistas now accessible to walkers.
Opening up the congested groundcover and removing some of the laurels is allowing native plants such as ferns and bluebells a chance as well as releasing many of the unusual rhododendrons so they can be rediscovered and brought back to prominence in the gardens.
I look forwards to supporting this group for the three years of the projects and well beyond. By making these spaces on the edge of urban space open and accessible to all we help people to appreciate the natural environment, improve their health and also give our native wildlife a diverse habitat in which to find their niche. Philip said to me people talk of awakening the sleeping giant at Penllergare however I felt, seeing the first layers of undergrowth being peeled back, that she may be big but she will be both delicate and beautiful. The kiss of the project leaders and volunteers is definitely going to awake a princess.