When you think of Blaenavon world heritage site you might be forgiven for conjuring images of heavy industry, coal mining and railways. Whilst these are of course all true what might not come to mind quite so readily are the miles of walking trails or wide variety of wildlife which has moved back in to colonise once barren valleys. I too have fallen foul of these preconceptions, and really should know better, so imagine my surprise when exploring Coity Tip and stumbling upon a completely new butterfly species (for us at least).
Essentially a vast pile of waste produced by an ironstone mine sunk in the 1840’s, today Coity has been transformed into a patchwork of scrubby heathland and succession woodland, perfect habitat for the Dingy Skippers buzzing around our feet. In all there must have been at least five individuals in the small area we discovered, not bad going for a post-industrial landscape.
More Dingy Skippers were to be found along the line of the Pontypool and Blaenavon Railway, the main reason for our visit as it happens, as well as several Common Blue battling to feed in the face of a stiff breeze.
In truth the whole area was alive with insects and birdlife which were all an added bonus on what turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable day exploring the railway. At just over three and a half miles in length the journey cannot be described as long but it packs in so much including friendly crew, brilliant scenery and, on our trip at least, an exquisitely turned out Andrew Barclay loco dating back to 1914. Having made our round trip under steam we spent a few hours walking alongside the tracks, soaking in the atmosphere and photographing the regular movements.
Now if you’ve read my previous post from our abortive broken rail trip on the North York Moors Railway, you might be thinking that surely lightning couldn’t strike twice, could it? Well thankfully no, at least not quite. Instead of the infrastructure failing on us this time it decided to go the whole nine yards and simply burst into flames. A quick call to the fire service soon had things under control but judging by the number of burnt patches along the route I suspect this might be a fairly regular occurrence with conditions continuing to remain warm and dry.
Grass suitably singed we rounded off the day with sightings of Red Kite, Buzzard and Willow Warbler but nothing was going to surpass those delightfully unexpected Dingy Skippers.