A walk in the woods


Halloween and a day off work. A scary amount of housework and indoor jobs need doing, but the day is beautiful, clear, still and warm for October, so forget the indoor jobs (again....) and head out for a walk in the autumn light.
An easy local walk, with parking near Canaston Bridge, just off the A40 at grid ref SN065153. When the new road was built here in 2011, there was foresight to make a small car park where the road from Llawhaden drops down towards the A40. An underpass from the car park takes you easily and safely towards Toch Woods and the flood plains of the “Cleddau Ddu” or Eastern Cleddau.

So we park and descend under the road bridge on an accessible path. The dogs know this spot well and spend time sniffing about for familiar scents, but eventually follow me down the path. The path is flat for a few hundred yards, with the flood plain on the left and the morning sun glinting off the river in the distance. The path crosses a stream where provision was made for wildlife to navigate the A40 when the bridge was built. The labrador likes to take a plunge here, but always waits for the gate to be opened so I can check for wildlife first!
Shortly after the bridge we enter Toch Woods proper, where the path rises and the colours today are awesome. Scrunching through the leaves – first oak, then beech, later ash and sycamore - I marvel at nature’s many hues. The vibrancy of the autumn leaves contrasts sharply with the dog’s black sleek coat.

We start the climb up the muddy track and reach the beech tree at the top of the hill – a landmark that my breathing rate will slowly now return to normal! Easy to imagine the tree as a fairy grotto, although it looks rather more sinister in the winter.
The dogs fail to notice a squirrel cross the path. I worry about their lack of awareness sometimes! A terrier, greyhound or lurcher would not have missed that for the world, but labradors just aren’t interested in having to work for their food. They pick the scent of it up long after it has shot back into the woods.

The hill is still and peaceful today, the low morning light hazy. Birds sing, and the river gurgles below me as it curves round the base of the slope.
Then we descend towards Blackpool Mill, still empty but majestic, with the back drop of cirrocumulus clouds in an otherwise blue sky. We take the left at the bottom of the hill at Pickle Wood and cross the smaller of the two stone bridges, then onto the larger bridge (Blackpool Bridge, grade II listed built about 1825) which spans the Cleddau Ddu as part of the old estate drive to the Slebech Estate, but now is only used by pedestrians, dog walkers, cyclists and the occasional horse.

Despite the glorious light and the cobalt sky, it is easy to see why this branch of the Cleddau gained the name ‘black’, as the water reflects nothing, not even the buzzard lifting itself from a nearby hedge and taking flight over the green field. The buzzard isn’t hunting this morning, and the dogs pay no interest as it swoops along the path, as they are so used to seeing these beautiful birds in Pembrokeshire.
The field nearby often contains sheep, but is empty today. Signs advising owners to keep dogs on leads are necessary here as there have been incidents of sheep drowning after being driven into the river by marauding canines. As a dog-walker in a rural area I know the responsibility is mine, and mine alone, to not let my dogs out of my control in these areas. However many dogs are not kept under control, and a field full of sheep is just one temptation too much. Most don’t mean any malice, they ‘just want to play’, but sheep are prey animals and see dogs as predators so will automatically run as a flock, causing massive stress which can lead to loss of lambs and worse. As a dog walker, you cannot let this happen.

Back at the bridge I can now see Blackpool Mill in its full glory, and the light today has brought the serious photographers out. With the permissive paths here it is still a privilege to be able to get close to this stunning but stark building. I remember eating ice cream at the (now closed) cafe as a child, and my first cat was rescued from here and, imaginitively, named ‘Millie’. Whilst I am reminiscing the dogs have been ‘milling’ around near the leat, but they didn’t fancy a dip on this occasion. A holly bush dripping with red berries stands on guard by the lane.

We turn around and head back the way we came, tackling the hill at Toch Woods once more. In total 2¼ miles, but the walk can be extended easily into Minwear or Canaston Woods from the Mill. Or if you want a circular route, and don’t mind walking on the road, take the unamed road east from the end of the drive at Blackpool Mill, walk about a mile then take a left before the road joins with the A4075. Pass some cottages to another underpass, then turn left and walk the 100 yards or so back to the car park.

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