Padarn Country Park Iolo's Great Welsh Parks


Padarn Country Park

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There are over 30 country parks in Wales.

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Thousands of people visit them every year.

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Some are old estates of wealthy landlords...

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..some are old industrial sites.

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The parks are usually close to towns,

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and that's because they've been set aside for us to enjoy

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on our doorstep.

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But what I like about them most

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is that they're great places for wildlife.

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If you keep your eyes open, you will see some great sights.

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I'm on Llyn Padarn.

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It is the second largest natural lake in the whole of Wales

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and it lies at the northern edge of the Snowdonia National Park.

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And all around me here you can see some of the high mountains.

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And in the distance over there is the highest of them all, Snowdon.

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And today, the lake is in the centre of a fantastic country park.

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Padarn Country Park is next to the town of Llanberis,

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the departure point for the Snowdon Mountain Railway.

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The country park is set in a stunning landscape

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surrounded by mountains.

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It has been largely created on the site

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of the old Dinorwic Slate Quarry.

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It's a busy tourist destination

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and the National Slate Museum is also based in the park.

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Slate mining on a vast scale began here during the 19th century.

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At its peak, Dinorwic employed more than 3,000 men,

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and it was the second largest

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opencast slate producer in the world.

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These workers were working, in effect, on cliff faces

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on one of the highest mountains in Snowdonia.

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I can only imagine the hard conditions these men faced

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during a working day.

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At the time, it was pretty much the only work available in the area,

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and this is where most men would end up for virtually their entire lives.

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Like many old industries, slate mining eventually declined

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and, in 1969, Dinorwic Quarry closed.

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Much of the quarry was acquired by the local county council

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to protect it as an industrial heritage site

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and for the creation of a country park.

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BIRDSONG

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There are some footpaths through this quarry.

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You've got to stick to the path

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because it's quite a dangerous place, really, but listen to this.

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Listen to that. BIRD CALLS

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Can you hear that? That's a fantastic early-morning call.

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And if you come here in late March, early April, you'll hear this.

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It's a ring ouzel. Now, a ring ouzel now is one

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of the most sought-after birds in the whole of the UK.

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All the birders say, "Oh, I'd like to see a ring ouzel."

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And here's one singing, just behind me.

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And now is the time, late March, early April,

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because they are just back from North Africa,

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and this is a male establishing his territory here.

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And he's picked the perfect spot,

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because he is right on the edge of a sheer cliff there,

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and he's got the quarry like an amphitheatre,

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all around him. So that song is carrying for kilometres,

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and any female nearby is going to think,

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"Oh, there's a male around."

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In she comes. But fabulous!

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Just don't hear that anywhere near often enough these days.

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Dinorwic Quarry was a huge site.

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Some of the working levels were high up on the mountainside

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at around 500 metres above sea level.

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Although the scars of the old industry are still here,

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nature is gradually reclaiming this beautiful landscape...

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..and it's a perfect place for mountain goats.

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They're not naturally wild and they're also not native to Wales.

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They were brought here by different people centuries ago

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and over the years they escaped, and today roam much of Snowdonia.

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Padarn Country Park is probably one of the best places to see them and,

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during early spring, you'll be sure to see young kids.

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TRAIN WHISTLE BLOWS

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The trains of the old quarry

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have been lovingly restored by Llanberis Lake Railway,

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which is one of the attractions of Padarn Country Park.

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This locomotive is being prepared for service by Jenny Gorton.

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-Hiya.

-Hiya.

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You're lighting the boiler?

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Yeah, lighting it, getting the fire going to get the steam for the day.

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And I see on here it says 1922.

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Is that when she was built?

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That was the year she was first built in Leeds, yeah.

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Wow! Cos they're beautiful things,

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they really are lovely-looking things.

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They've got a heart and soul, haven't they?

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You're right, they have. And your job, then, is...

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What are you? An engineer of some kind?

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-I'm the chief engineer here.

-Chief engineer?

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So my job's basically to look after the engines.

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So, if anything goes wrong, you and the team then

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have to make sure that it's fixed and that they're going back again?

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-That's right, yeah.

-And now, of course,

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they run along the edge of the lake here.

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Yes, along from Llanberis

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in the village opposite Snowdon Mountain Railway

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-right to the far end of the lake.

-How many of these are there?

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I see you've got three out here now.

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Well, we've got these two steam engines, there's the diesel...

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-Oh, right.

-..that we use to get the coaches out in the morning.

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-Yeah.

-And then we've got a third steam engine, just like these,

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which is currently being rebuilt at the moment in our workshop here.

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And would all of these have worked here originally?

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Yes, they all came from the quarry.

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-Did they?

-They were all bought, when the quarry closed, by this company.

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Wow! And do you know what?

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You've looked after them really, really well.

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I would imagine they're in better condition now

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-than they were when they were working.

-Quite probably.

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They had a hard life in the quarry and the emphasis was more on getting

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the job done than keeping them in immaculate condition.

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During early spring, birds are beginning to nest in the park.

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These bluetits have found a perfect place in the workshop building.

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But the best place to find nesting birds

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is in the ancient woodland on the east side of Llyn Padarn.

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BIRD CALLS

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It's amazing that these trees have survived two centuries of mining,

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but, thankfully, this woodland is largely untouched,

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and it's a nesting site for one of Wales' most important migrants,

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the pied flycatcher.

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They're lovely birds.

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They really are smart birds, these pied flycatchers.

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The male and female are very different.

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He's striking, a really striking black and white.

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She's more camouflaged, really, sort of brown and white.

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And morning's the best time, not just because now's the time

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that they sing, they'll find a perch and they'll advertise territory now,

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but their nest-building takes place in the morning as well.

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And she, at the moment, she's looking round,

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she's looking for old leaves,

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she's looking for bits of grass to line the nest.

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Many of the pied flycatchers that come from Africa to Britain

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every spring end up in Welsh woodlands,

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particularly in these ancient oak woodlands of Snowdonia.

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If you come here during the first week in May,

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when the leaves have not fully opened

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and when the migrant birds have just returned,

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you'll also hear and see another lovely bird

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in Coedwig Dinorwic.

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WARBLING TWEETS

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Can you hear that call?

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That's a wood warbler.

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It's another migrant and it's literally just arrived in now,

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the last day or two.

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That's a more familiar song, this lovely descending song, its call.

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And they'll perch up,

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quite close by often in these woods,

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and it'll sing and sing and sing and sing and sing

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until it attracts a mate.

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And if you want to see these, now's the time to come,

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before the leaves arrive.

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You'll get lovely views.

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A lot of people say about warblers they are not very interesting birds,

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but the wood warbler is actually quite a beautiful little bird.

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There he goes again. It's a lovely song.

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It's a colourful sort of yellowy green colour

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with a bright white belly.

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It really is a lovely bird and I always think, with the wood warbler,

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that it's a sign, not just of spring,

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but the fact that summer isn't far away.

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Although this beautiful ancient woodland

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was largely unaffected by mining, you'll find

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some old quarry buildings hidden away amongst the trees,

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and they were sited here for a very good reason.

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This is where the gunpowder was kept for the quarry.

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I'm with local historian Gareth Roberts.

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It's sitting here, on its own, in the wood.

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Yes, it's holding such dangerous, volatile...

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Well, it's basically nitro-glycerine powder.

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And it can blow up...

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..on anything, any heat, that sort of thing.

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So it needed to be tucked out of the way?

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As far away as possible.

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And here we are, here's your first clue about the volatility

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-of what's being kept in here.

-Look at the thickness of that wall!

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-Look at the thickness of that.

-Look at that!

-Yeah, yeah.

-Wow!

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And the other thing, it's double walled, double hulled.

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Oh, I can see that, yeah.

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So you can actually walk around in like a little

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corridor sort of thing.

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There's another one in here.

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So there's another compartment.

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-No windows.

-No, no.

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There is one there but that doesn't go out, OK,

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because that's a double-hulled wall over there.

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Now, the thing that happens here is that the roof, when it was roofed,

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was deliberately weak so that if there was any explosion here,

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the power of that explosion would go upwards into the air

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instead of sideways. It would go sideways, of course, as well...

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But the thick wall and the double walls would prevent that

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-as much as possible.

-So the whole reason for the double wall is that,

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if these walls explode,

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the first wall takes away the strength of the explosion as much as

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possible so that by the time it hits the second wall,

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it then dissipates the explosion even further.

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-Wow!

-So, hopefully, it encloses the explosion as much as possible.

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And these things, they'd explode.

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Well, this one hasn't, obviously, because it's in pretty good shape.

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There's probably, underneath us, another foot, maybe two,

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there's probably also a slate floor to try and keep this stuff

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as cold as possible so that...

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Because, you know, we get hot summers, just like everywhere else.

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What's fascinating now, it's been abandoned for who knows how long,

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but nature's taken over.

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You've got maidenhair, spleenwort everywhere and,

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if you look behind you here, look at that,

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you've got a wren building a nest. Look at that! Isn't that brilliant?

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Nature is taking over many of the quarry's relics,

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and the old work levels

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are favourite places for slowworms, our legless lizards.

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Local wildlife guide Gareth Jones monitors them.

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And look here.

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-No, I can't see any.

-No, no, nothing.

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OK, let's put that one back down.

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So, when do you come to monitor these usually, then?

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Oh, I caught my finger under that one!

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I usually come about...

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..end of March onwards.

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So that's when it starts to warm up, does it?

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-Yeah, yeah.

-They're going to be out and about?

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A nice big flat one here.

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If you lift that one,

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I'll have a shufty underneath, see what we can see.

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Oh, wow!

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-There's two there.

-What a beauty!

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Oh, there are, yes.

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Wow, look at that! I tell you what, I won't touch them.

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-That's a big female there.

-There's one, look. Look at that!

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That's quite nice. That's a young female.

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That's a big old female, isn't it?

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Look at the size on her!

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Tucked in perfectly.

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Wow! That is a beauty.

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And female because of the line down the back.

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Black stripe, yeah. The males have got, like, blue diamonds

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-all the way along the middle.

-Oh, have they?

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Oh, little beauties!

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And, of course, here is ideal for them.

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It's an old industrial site

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but it's got all these flat slates everywhere,

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-so it's perfect.

-Ideal.

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Lots of places to hide and lots of food, Gareth.

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Obviously plenty of slugs and ants here for them.

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Yeah, because there are ants everywhere here.

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I mean, she's in the perfect place.

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All she's got to do is lie there and open her mouth every now and again,

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let the ants go in, chew on those and say, thank you very much!

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Llyn Padarn is around two miles long

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and reaches depths of up to 30 metres.

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It's amongst the deepest lakes in Wales,

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and it's a special site in the country park

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as it is one of the few lakes in Britain where you find

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Arctic char, a rare fish that's a living relic

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from the time when the lake was formed soon after the Ice Age.

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They are one of the park's hidden secrets.

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Above the surface,

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the lake is better known for its outdoor pursuits.

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It's one of the prime spots in Snowdonia for water sports.

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Sorcha is one of the instructors on the lake.

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-Hiya.

-Hello.

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-Paddle boarding?

-Yes.

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I had a go at this last year. I was rubbish.

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SHE LAUGHS

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Don't fall in, whatever you do.

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You were rubbish? I can't imagine you being rubbish.

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I was. No, I was rubbish at it.

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I don't know. I just couldn't get my balance on it.

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So, what's this? This is a class you're taking, is it?

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Yes, just a bit of instruction, really,

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just going through the fundamentals of stand-up paddle boarding.

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Having a bit of a play about, really.

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And you've got the kayaks and the canoes out as well.

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-Yeah.

-Is the lake good for this or would you be better off on the sea?

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Oh, I think the lake's fantastic to learn in and to teach in.

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It's a very sheltered area and provides a great environment

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for beginners as well as people who want to kind of progress their level

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but in quite a very safe environment,

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because all of these lagoons around here are very sheltered.

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But then, as soon as you break out of these lagoons on a very choppy

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or windy day, you do get a whole different type

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of environmental issues, kind of like wind,

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and you do get a little bit of a kind of baby waves

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that you have to deal with.

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So the currents do tend to be created as well,

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so if you did want to push yourself as well...

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The lake is perfect for all levels.

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And, I suppose, if things do go wrong, all that's going to happen,

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you're going to go from here to the far side.

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And that's not even that far.

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Most people swim over to that side and back on a daily basis.

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And the great thing about the lake is it's really shallow

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the whole way round, so you can walk round the whole lake

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and never really be committing to anything too dangerous.

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And it's nice, it's really nice

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to see so many people coming here and taking advantage of the lake,

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-you know, it really is.

-And as soon as the sun comes out as well,

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it's like a little hive for everyone.

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You get loads of children down in the pontoon, playing about,

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and loads of swimmers.

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I think it's wonderful.

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And that's the nature of a country park - it's for everyone and,

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although it's busy, particularly during the summer,

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it's big enough for some quiet spots.

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At the Snowdon end of the lake, you'll find Dolbadarn Castle.

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It was built by Llewellyn the Great during the 13th century

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to guard the main route through Llanberis Pass.

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For such a busy park,

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there's actually quite a nice quiet bit here.

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It's the river that flows from Llyn Peris just over there,

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with the mountains around it, into Llyn Padarn down below.

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It's a very slow-moving section of river

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and it's very good for insects.

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You'll have different hatches at different times of the year.

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You'll have your caddis flies hatching out,

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you'll have your mayflies hatching out,

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you'll have your midges as well.

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And that means that, whenever you come here on a warm, still morning,

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just like it is now, lots of insects above the water.

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And what's interesting is that four, five, six, maybe,

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swallows have come,

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probably ones that are nesting in the old slate buildings there.

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They've come down here to feed, and you see them skimming...

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Here's one now. Skimming over the surface of the water, beak open,

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literally hoovering up all of these insects.

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It's a brilliant place for them to just come and feed.

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One flooded part of the old quarry is used for scuba diving training.

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I can testify that this is very deep,

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cold water as this is where I learnt to dive.

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Geoff Williams was amongst the last men to be employed here

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when it was a working quarry.

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It's a fair old size as well, isn't it?

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It's only when you come in and stand like this

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you see how big they are. Now, you worked here?

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Yes, I started in '63 and I did my apprenticeship.

0:20:010:20:06

It closed in '69.

0:20:060:20:08

-Doing what?

-Slate making.

0:20:080:20:10

Out of the blocks you had the slate.

0:20:120:20:14

You had to split them to start with

0:20:140:20:17

for roughly the first year, probably,

0:20:170:20:20

but if the teacher said that you'd passed,

0:20:200:20:23

then you had to trim the slates.

0:20:230:20:24

So it was a long apprenticeship, then?

0:20:240:20:27

-Yes.

-As an old quarryman yourself, it's now a country park.

0:20:270:20:31

-Yes.

-And it's being used again for different things.

0:20:310:20:35

Does that please you, the fact that it's still being used?

0:20:350:20:38

Yes, of course.

0:20:380:20:40

It's a lot better than being kept to go downhill, really,

0:20:400:20:44

with nothing here to do.

0:20:440:20:46

There are climbers, there are divers in the lakes here,

0:20:460:20:50

there are cycle paths all along the side of the quarry,

0:20:500:20:53

places to run and keep fit and things like that.

0:20:530:20:56

Not as busy as it was but still fairly busy.

0:20:560:20:58

Very busy, yes.

0:20:580:21:00

It's nice to see, I think, that it's become a country park,

0:21:000:21:04

and the people can come. Yes, they can enjoy the peace, the solitude,

0:21:040:21:07

the wildlife, but they can learn about the history as well.

0:21:070:21:10

Yes, they can.

0:21:100:21:11

I've come down to the shallow end of the lake here now

0:21:470:21:49

and just look at that dramatic scenery behind me.

0:21:490:21:53

And the moods here change constantly, especially now.

0:21:530:21:56

As we come into autumn, it looks more threatening,

0:21:560:21:59

the wind has picked up and it's quite a bit cooler as well.

0:21:590:22:02

And I've come down here because some friends who fish the lake,

0:22:020:22:05

they tell me it's a good place for otters.

0:22:050:22:07

Now, they are mainly nocturnal, especially here.

0:22:070:22:10

You don't see them by day very often but, down towards this end,

0:22:100:22:13

it's more sheltered and you get flatter rocks as well.

0:22:130:22:17

And what I'm going to do is I'm going to have a look

0:22:170:22:19

and see if I can find signs that the otters have been there,

0:22:190:22:22

maybe bits of fish, maybe some spraint.

0:22:220:22:24

So we'll go down and have a look.

0:22:240:22:26

Here we are, look. This is perfect.

0:22:340:22:37

I've picked up my trusty trail camera here,

0:22:370:22:40

and you can see the marks,

0:22:400:22:43

old spraint marks here,

0:22:430:22:45

where it's coloured the rock a little bit.

0:22:450:22:48

Quite a few of them, actually. Some fresher stuff here, too.

0:22:480:22:51

Look at that there.

0:22:510:22:52

See that? That's very fresh otter spraint.

0:22:520:22:54

That's still wet, actually, that one.

0:22:540:22:57

Yeah. Phew! That's definitely otter spraint.

0:22:570:22:59

So, what I'm going to do is put this up here,

0:22:590:23:01

maybe pointing towards the end here, and if anything comes up anywhere...

0:23:010:23:05

That's the joy of these, if anything moves on here,

0:23:050:23:08

this'll get it while I'm snoring away in my bed, hopefully.

0:23:080:23:11

Right, let's get this set up now.

0:23:110:23:13

'The next morning, it was time to see

0:23:330:23:35

'what was caught on the trail camera.'

0:23:350:23:37

So, really interesting stuff going on here last night.

0:23:370:23:40

Quite a bit of activity as well.

0:23:400:23:42

There we are. It's an otter, just leaving the stone here,

0:23:440:23:47

going into the water,

0:23:470:23:49

going on to that stone and then going over and back into the water.

0:23:490:23:53

Quite brief, quite brief, but that was at 1am -

0:23:530:23:56

pitch-black then, of course.

0:23:560:23:58

Let's have a look at this next one now.

0:23:580:24:00

That's quite nice. That's just again very, very brief.

0:24:000:24:03

That was a camera I put on that rock, looking this way.

0:24:030:24:06

You can see the camera, this one, on the rock,

0:24:060:24:08

and the otter just going into the water.

0:24:080:24:11

So they obviously visit this regularly.

0:24:110:24:14

I would imagine what's happening is that they're coming on here

0:24:140:24:17

to spraint. There's some very fresh spraint there.

0:24:170:24:21

That was from last night,

0:24:210:24:23

so one of the otters coming on here

0:24:230:24:25

would have just sprainted, I think, there.

0:24:250:24:28

Got one more to have a look at.

0:24:280:24:30

Oh, look at that. Look at that! Right up to the camera.

0:24:300:24:33

Oh! Think we can safely say that's a male,

0:24:330:24:36

a rather well-endowed male there!

0:24:360:24:38

And I'm pretty sure that that would have been him coming right

0:24:380:24:41

where I am now, sprainting, leaving his mark,

0:24:410:24:44

warning any other otter, look,

0:24:440:24:46

there's already an otter on this territory, keep away.

0:24:460:24:49

So he's sprainted there and he's gone back into the water.

0:24:490:24:53

That's really nice, right by the camera, too.

0:24:530:24:55

Let's have a look at this last one.

0:24:550:24:57

All right, there's another... Oh, two otters!

0:24:570:25:00

Oh, that's nice! Look at that.

0:25:000:25:01

It's a dog otter up on here and a female otter just down here.

0:25:010:25:06

They've both gone into the water, diving down, away they go,

0:25:060:25:09

and they both go off together.

0:25:090:25:12

Well, that's really, really nice.

0:25:120:25:13

That's lovely, seeing both of them like that.

0:25:130:25:16

We shouldn't be shocked either, really, because when I was a lad

0:25:160:25:19

otters were quite rare, but this part of North Wales,

0:25:190:25:22

this was their stronghold, even then,

0:25:220:25:25

and there would have been otters here back then as well.

0:25:250:25:27

So they are doing really well, here.

0:25:270:25:29

It's a lake, it's got a lot of fish here, it's ideal for them,

0:25:290:25:33

but that's absolutely brilliant.

0:25:330:25:34

There's some lovely views of otters there.

0:25:340:25:37

As we move later into the autumn,

0:25:460:25:48

the fruit-bearing trees that have spread up the old slate tips

0:25:480:25:52

add colour to what was once a grey landscape.

0:25:520:25:54

It's a fantastic autumn for berries, especially for rowan.

0:26:000:26:05

I've got a rowan behind me here,

0:26:050:26:07

and it's absolutely laden with these bright, bright red berries.

0:26:070:26:11

And now that we are into October

0:26:110:26:14

we've got these winter thrushes arriving from Scandinavia,

0:26:140:26:17

and we've got probably a couple of dozen redwing in here, beautiful,

0:26:170:26:21

small, about the size of a song thrush maybe,

0:26:210:26:24

with this bright red underwing.

0:26:240:26:27

And they are coming in... Here's one now, just landed on a berry there.

0:26:270:26:30

They are coming in, feeding on berries, gorging themselves,

0:26:300:26:33

not staying for long,

0:26:330:26:34

then they'll go off and they'll digest those berries,

0:26:340:26:37

and they come back and feed up again.

0:26:370:26:39

And sometimes, when you get large numbers,

0:26:390:26:41

they'll strip the whole tree and then move on.

0:26:410:26:44

Many of these redwing will hang around Padarn Country Park

0:27:020:27:05

until the berries have all been eaten.

0:27:050:27:07

They will then move on to look for a new crop in another area

0:27:090:27:12

and overwinter in Wales before returning to Scandinavia to nest

0:27:120:27:16

the following spring.

0:27:160:27:17

Llyn Padarn behind me here and, of course,

0:27:280:27:30

the otters we saw were right down the far end.

0:27:300:27:32

They are probably tucked away in a holt somewhere now.

0:27:320:27:35

And this ancient woodland here, oak dominated -

0:27:350:27:38

that probably hasn't changed

0:27:380:27:39

for hundreds of years, I don't think.

0:27:390:27:41

And this, it's a real place of contrast.

0:27:410:27:44

You've got natural beauty, iconic landscapes,

0:27:440:27:47

probably some of the most famous landscapes in the whole of Britain,

0:27:470:27:51

and then you've got man-made scars.

0:27:510:27:54

Man has literally carved out the mountainside here.

0:27:540:27:57

And now, of course, this is a place of leisure,

0:27:570:28:00

this is a place for walking, for biking, for climbing.

0:28:000:28:03

I wonder what the old quarrymen would think of that.

0:28:030:28:06

Iolo visits Padarn Country Park next to the town of Llanberis at the northern edge of Snowdonia. The park, which has been created on the site of an old slate quarry, is set in a stunning landscape surrounded by the highest mountains in Wales. During spring, migrant birds from Africa arrive. Ring ouzel, one of the most sought-after birds in the whole of the UK, sing above the old slate tips. Wood warblers and pied flycatchers establish territories in the park's ancient woodland, which has survived two centuries of mining. Hidden in the woodland, there are derelict buildings that were once used to store gunpowder. The old quarry work levels are favourite places for slow worms - our legless lizards. The trains of the old quarry have also survived and have been lovingly restored by Llanberis Lake Railway. Llyn Padarn is the second largest natural lake in the whole of Wales and is one of the prime spots in Snowdonia for water sports. By night, otters use the lake and the deep water is home for Arctic char fish.


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