ALL ABOARD THE AU­TUMN EX­PRESS

Jour­ney through the cop­pery hues of a nar­row val­ley amid hiss­ing steam and blast­ing whis­tles on the Vale of Rhei­dol Rail­way, spot­ting rare mam­mals and lively falls, says

Countryfile Magazine - - Great Days Out - Julie Bro­minicks Julie Bro­minicks is a Snow­do­niabased land­scape writer and walker.

The Vale of Rhei­dol Rail­way was opened in 1902 to ex­port lead and tim­ber, and to im­port pas­sen­gers into the val­ley’s densely wooded heart. These days, a jour­ney on the steam train from Aberys­t­wyth to Devil’s Bridge is still the best way to ap­pre­ci­ate the ex­tent of Cwm Rhei­dol’s wood­i­ness.

From the mo­ment you set off in a bil­low of cin­ders and steam, goat-wil­low, hazel and ash flash by in a smashe­do­r­ange blur. You travel east, ever-higher, climb­ing through pre­cip­i­tous slopes of old-gold beech, oak, birch and spiky green conifers, un­til the val­ley nar­rows and en­folds you into its flick­er­ing cop­pery canopy.

On ar­rival, pas­sen­gers are still smit­ten by the My­nach Falls crash­ing into the gorge be­neath the glo­ri­ously Gothic Devil’s Bridge. The wood­land is, save the odd rhododendron, lit­tle changed since the re­treat of the glaciers. It’s a land pre­served by the ver­tig­i­nous slopes, slen­der birch and lichen-fis­sured ses­sile-oaks. Epi­phytes still reach for the light, just as they did 10,000 years ago when pine martens, an­other wood­land won­der, were abun­dant.

RARE MAM­MALS RE­TURN

Pine marten pop­u­la­tions plum­meted to un­sus­tain­able lev­els in the 19th and 20th cen­turies due to habi­tat loss and preda­tor con­trol by game-keep­ers. But they are thriv­ing again, thanks to the Vin­cent Wildlife Trust and to care­ful wood­land man­age­ment else­where in the val­ley.

Like us pas­sen­gers, pine martens also ap­pre­ci­ate this syl­van vale, which is more ar­bo­real in re­al­ity than a map sug­gests. On a map, the woody-green area around Devil’s Bridge ex­tends west then dwin­dles and dis­perses so that Aberys­t­wyth ap­pears to be swad­dled by pa­per-white fields. But many of the 59 pine martens brought to Cwm Rhei­dol from Scot­land over the past three years have mi­grated west, rounded Aberys­t­wyth, and trav­elled north to Snow­do­nia along the un-mapped woody cor­ri­dors of rail­way track, field mar­gins and river banks.

PEN­SIVE PAS­SAGE HOME

On your re­turn jour­ney from Devil’s Bridge, be­witched by steamy whis­tles and rocked by the rat­tle and shunt of rhyth­mic wheels, look over the river for a patch of ring­barked conifers by a lead­spoil tip above Cwm Rhei­dol Reser­voir. It was just here, in this bril­liant, gold wood, that, as if in ap­proval of wood­land re­gen­er­a­tion, the first kit to the newly translo­cated pine martens was born.

The Vale of Rhei­dol Rail­way – one of 11 ‘Great Lit­tle Trains of Wales’ – rises al­most 200m in just over 11 miles

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