We set off from Plas Tan y Bwlch station on the Ffestiniog railway, six of us and a dog, to observe springtime in the Vale of Maentwrog.
First stop was the 'rainforest' look-out, high above the River Dwyryd; the streams were still flowing but the trees and ground flora were thirsty for moisture and not showing off their luxuriant mosses and liverworts.
The track through the plantation was sheltered and sunny, with butterflies lighting on the wayside flowers. On the dark, needle-soft, moist plantation floor we found the heart shaped leaves of the marsh violet, the food plant for small pearl bordered fritillary.
We escaped the darkness and emerged into the sunshine, onto a cleared area where oats were once grown to nourish former smallholders and their stock. From here we could see the Tomen y Mur hilltop encampment used by the Romans and others - it has an amphitheatre!
The sparse acid oak woodlands on the slopes below the railway were alive with birds- flycatchers, warblers, tits, woodpeckers and overhead, we saw and heard choughs. The woodland floor was bursting with fern fronds and blaeberries and the blue sheen of bluebell was breathtaking. We walked past cottages and a willow sculpture with histories, a fortifed house with its own 'halt' on the railway and on up the slope towards the fascinating railway 'loop' at Duallt. Bog bean was in flower around the little Llyn beside the 'request stop'.
The train steamed into view and we climbed aboard for an 'overview' of our route back to Plas station.