“ Situated in a beautiful setting at the confluence of the Marteg River with the River Wye in the Cambrian Mountains of Mid Wales. „
Gilfach Farm is a beautiful nature reserve set in the gorgeous Marteg valley, deep within the Cambrian Mountains near the Welsh town of Rhayader in Radnorshire. There has been a farm at Gilfach since the 15th century, and the centrepiece to the reserve is the Welsh longhouse dating back to that time. There is, however, evidence of human activity on the site dating back to the Bronze Age.
The farm is a traditional upland hill farm that has managed to avoid the 'improved' farming practices of the last forty years; it has been described as being stuck in a 'time warp'. For this reason, and since the 383 acre site contains a wide variety of habitats, it is a haven for wildlife. Gilfach Farm was purchased by Radnorshire Wildlife Trust in the 1980's and is now farmed organically.
The Radnorshire Wildlife Trust has worked wonders with their reserve. The longhouse is now a visitor centre, there are plenty of interpretation boards detailing this Farm's geology, history and wildlife, and there's a series of well marked paths covering the farm.
The scenery is simply stunning. The start of the reserve is on the banks of the crystal clear River Marteg where trout can be seen hunting amongst the weeds and rocks. The Cambrian Mountains surround the reserve, giving the appearance of privacy and seclusion.
The trails wind gradually upwards, towards the visitor centre taking the walker through grazed fields and oak woodlands, away from the valley floor. From the visitor centre, perhaps the best views are available by climbing the steep path out of the reserve, onto a hilltop which gives stunningly expansive views over the reserve, along the valley, and of the mountains beyond.
On a sunny day, this is a lovely place to be. Once away from the road, the only noise will be of the wildlife, the livestock, and, perhaps of a working tractor. A sense of peace and quiet pervades the place; it's easy to feel the cares of the modern world soaking away, as you explore further into the reserve.
It's worth making sure that you have stout, waterproof footwear. Some of the paths can be extremely wet, muddy, and slippery.
The wildlife of Gilfach Farm is incredibly varied. Mammals that live on the farm include badger, stoat, weasel, polecat, and you may be lucky enough to spot an otter cavorting along the River Marteg. There's a special hide on the bank of the river which allows an extended wait to see this elusive piscivore. While you're waiting, if you've visited in summer, you may be treated to the sight of a pied flycatcher bringing flies to its nest box outside the hide windows.
A disused railway tunnel on the reserve is inhabited by at least six species of bat including the large Daubenton's bat.
Birds are plentiful and varied at Gilfach. All the Welsh upland specialities breed on the reserve; spotted flycatcher, tree pipit, redstart, and wood warbler. Cuckoo and yellowhammer breed here also, as well as many of the commoner species. The endearing dipper can be seen living up to its name, dipping under the rushing waters of the river, searching for insects and crustaceans amongst the rocks on the river floor.
The highlight for many visitors will be excellent views of the red kites. This majestic raptor, with its reddish colouration, forked tail, and five foot wingspan, can be seen soaring over the valleys, often in pairs. If you're lucky, you'll witness the pair's display flight; with the birds talon locking, and calling as they court each other.
Insect life is varied, too. Many species of butterfly live here including small pearl-bordered fritillary, green hairstreak, and small heath. Dragonflies find the river and wet areas to their liking, including the aptly named 'beautiful demoiselle'. These 'living jewels' can be seen skimming along on a summer's day.
Getting to the reserve is easy; the farm is signposted directly off the main A470. There's a large car park here, with interpretation boards and paths leading to the visitor centre. You can drive to the visitor centre, but it involves a drive up a steep, narrow, single lane path, with few passing places. Parking is limited at the visitor centre, so I always park by the entrance.
At the visitor centre, you can tour the longhouse, watch some of the nesting birds through cameras attached to the next boxes, or get light refreshments and have a chat to the friendly staff.
The reserve is open at all times, but the visitor centre is only open weekends and bank holidays (although it is open, I believe, every day during the summer holidays).
This is then, a lovely place to visit for a country walk on a sunny day. There's so much to see and do, that you can easily spend the whole day here.
The farm supports a tremendous abundance of birds and animals within a comparatively small area.