Country diary: Harlech, Gwynedd | Environment | The Guardian


A red-throated diver takes off. Photograph: John Cancalosi for the Guardian

The sands of the two estuaries, and the danger of them, once known begin to exert a powerful fascination.

Their ever-changing nature, the brief time available for instinctive assessment of viability in a crossing, the sudden surge of the tide, the sculpted allure of the submarine sand bars by which the wide river channels can be crossed, the textural variation from sinking softness where you leave a trail of footprints shin-deep across raised banks to the hard, wave-corrugated reaches where the tides drain last and first begin to surge – all this is irresistible and perilous allure.

A quarter-century ago I used to walk here daily with the sculptor Jonah Jones. The nature of change across the mouths of the two rivers was matter for our everyday conversation. I’m drawn back here often by memory of his sweetness of character, and through this receive gifts.

On a rare fine evening this week I walked down from the old church by way of Clogwyn Melyn and then far out on to Traeth Bach to fetch up close to Trwynypenrhyn. Nowadays I never see anyone else this far out. On a squall-raised hummock I sat and took out my glass, in the deep channel alongside a group of birds.

As I focused, the giveaway retroussé bills of red-throated divers came into view – four speckled juveniles, and two adults still in magnificent summer plumage. The male caught a dab in the shallows, thwacked it against the bank, explored all angles for the swallow, dipped it in water again for lubrication and eventually, after 10 minutes of effort, got it down.

He stood upright and triumphant in the water, flapping his wings, a low sun catching at his white underparts, at the dove-grey and rusty carmine plumage, gifting me thus one of the visionary and imprinting moments, redeeming my last memory of these beautiful “rain geese” on the estuary – the corpse cast carelessly aside, its throat shot quite away by a “sportsman” among the saltings of the opposite shore.


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