top of page
  • Writer's pictureDee Crute

Silent Valley Nature Reserve:

A micro adventure where nature meets history.

Early Spring Landscape with sun coming through clouds
Silent Valley © Dee Crute

I asked. You chose, and I obliged.

Woodland, it is!

To those not entrusted with this secret code, allow me to explain — and worry not, no initiation ceremony is required — I am just referring to the Instagram poll results through which my dearest friends chose the destination of my adventure.

If you wish to be bestowed with such power… scroll down to access Insta and follow to be in the known!

But where was I… Ah, Woodland!

This time, I chose something from the Wildlife Trust (WT): Silent Valley in Gwent.

Easy to get to if you drive, a 10 – 30-minute walk from the nearest bus/train stop if you choose public transport.

The site, including its access and car park, is really well cared for, all thanks to the Gwent Wildlife Trust (GWT)! 

The Reserve is not wheelchair friendly, although there is an easily accessible green area by the car park. I recommend it during dry and sunny weather for a mini nature adventure or picnic session overlooking the Valley!

Robin bird perched on beech bough
Robin © Dee Crute

I became surrounded by a bird song right away after leaving my vehicle!

Mr Dunnock – a grey-chested sparrow-sized gentleman 'wearing' brown streaked tuxedo and sporting red eye – greeted me with a charming squeaky ditty song, only to be joined with my favourite mellow twiddling of Blackbird. And, I swear I heard the characteristic 'cheweeoo' of Chaffinches too!

gnarly beech on a bank of the stream
Her Majesty Beech © Dee Crute

But let's get to the business of figuring out this Reserve's habitat! My clever book—Britain's Habitats, a field guide—told me there are about three types of Beech woodlands, but further examination proved there may be more than one type of habitat in the Valley…

To figure it out, we will need:

  1. Soil sample (please do not dig… and not much is required)

  2. Rough sketch where is what, or what is where – the species of trees, that is, and other flora.

  3. Some local geology reading.


You could take pH strips with you and stick them in situ - in the soil - and voila.


You could also follow GWT's plenty of information plaques at the site.

It all depends on you and how much time you have!

But on this day, I really wanted to get into it!

At first glance, I could see a dense stripe of trees in the Valley below the car park and rising slopes donned in a snowy blanket! Getting a feel of the area, I moved along the path leading down to the valley floor, where I could hear the burbling of The Nant Merdogg stream, a tributary of the River Ebbw draining the deeply incised South Wales Valles.

If you know me, you know what's coming: rocks.

Geology—my new obsession—is not only fascinating but also gives us a complete insight into the history of the land. And so, underneath our feet, we walk over Carboniferous bedrock around 350 million years old. The name stems from the very lush and green period, which died out and transformed into coal. Apart from the black gold, we could also find mudstones (think of mud made into a rock), ironstones, and siltstones (very hard rock made of sediments).

Atop this bedrock, we can also find lots of sand, gravel and clay – all thanks to glaciers coming and going, leaving more deposits behind. Glaciation was also responsible for the U-shape of the South Welsh Valleys.

stream and a tree
The Nant Merdogg © Dee Crute

While approaching the burbling sound, I beheld a picturesque scene—a shallow but swift stream flowing over the boulders enclosed by gentle banks upon which stood imposing and magnificent 300-year-old Beeches. Their roots reminded me of Ents' moss-covered gnarled feet, and I instantly felt like a protagonist in Tolkien's story.

I carefully examined the banks, recognising green polypody and liverworts contrasting with rusty-coloured soil echoing local geology.

This contrast between rust and green is omnipresent on all levels—here in the undergrowth, understory, and canopy: green mosses covering grey fissured barks of Beeches and evergreen Holy with copper Beech leaves still clinging to the memory of autumn.

I abandoned my crouching position in the stream (this time, without rump dipping - let's say I have some experience in this endeavour...) and approached the immense Beech drinking from the wash. Her thin, greyish-brown twigs zigzagging at nodes with slender, pointed, and orange-brown buds told me that she was about to awaken from the winter slumber and unfurl her leaves.

The 'chrrrrrrrt' rattle of Great Tit diverted me from her majesty the Beech, and I followed the call only to be joined by 'siu tiu' of the Coal Tit. Before I adjusted my camera's focus, the cute badger-heads and their larger blue-green cousins vamoosed out of my sight.

Resigned, I followed the wooden stairs only to spy a huge fallen Beech. I could not pass it by! Beech woodlands beam with fungi such as boletes, agarics, and chanterelles in autumn, but you can find other species throughout the year. Having investigated the dead wood, I found most of the fungi rotten, save for some beautiful specimens of Southern Bracket covering the trunk, which reminded me of a fairy folk village. The ground was blanketed in masts – prickly Beech nut enclosures.

Blackthorn winter twigs with buds
Blackthorn Winter Twigs © Dee Crute

Farther up I went, the woodland became thinner with more Blackthorns and Hazels. While examining the winter twigs, I was accosted by Siskins! This time, I was able to capture them! Although with poor photo results. But I also spied something else – the woodland opened, revealing the remnants of dry-stone walls. These open areas used to be meadows belonging to local farms. The lost farmsteads of Silent Valley are now only extant in the archives in the form of maps, photographs and paintings. I was unable to date those almost forgotten upland farms, but the online archives gave me some clues. 

The following can be found on the Cwm and Waunlwyd Community Archive Website:

 1) Marilyn Hilgartner's painting of Pen Y Crug Farm in The Silent Valley or Cwm Merddach, from 1950, depicts the whole homestead and dry-stone walls.

2) The Old Mill Farm photograph shows the rather dilapidated building dated 1906.

3) The photograph of Cwm Merddach from 1900 looking in use.

4) The 1800 map, titled "Map of the Early Farms," depicts Cwm Merddach and many other surrounding farmsteads.

gnarly roots of beech
Ent © Dee Crute

The rural uplands changed rapidly with the expanse of the coal mine industry, the shadow of which we can still see in Cwm Colliery level tips, remnants of wagon frames, and most notably, the Marine Colliery Pumping Engine, which is visible from the road en route to the Reserve (if you are travelling northward A4046 keep your eyes peeled upon approach to the roundabout past Marine Colliery - it can't be missed!).

Today, I traversed along the dram, or coal tram line, atop the level tip. The whole area is now covered in heath, save for where the ground is exposed—and with it, its black history.

The dram line went through a mixed woodland, but I did not record the trees as I got distracted by the greatly missed blue skies, stunning vista, and fond memories of Sussex Downs.

The wave of nostalgia broke against a rock I tripped over, almost losing my footing but for the walking sticks! I followed the path from which I could clearly see the Valley below. 

Each of its levels has a different history and habitat: 

At the bottom are two ancient beech woods, Cwm Merdog and Coed-tyn-y-Gelli, and mixed woodland with open areas and remains of lost farmsteads on its sides.

Nearer to the top are the remnants of a mining industry now reclaimed by nature and covered by heathland.

In a land so compact as Silent Valley, I was more aware of such striking differences in habitats.

Once at home, I checked the soil pH from the bottom of the Valley, which proved to be slightly acidic. But my thoughts were going in two opposite directions: how beautiful the Reserve must look through each season and how nature can reclaim what humans destroyed.

And that's all, folks...


Further Reading

  1. Learn more about Silent Valley on the Gwent Wildlife Trust website and Blaenau Gwent Council leaflet bestowed with beautiful photography

  2. Explore Welsh history with Cwm & Waunlwyd Community Archive

  3. Discover and support Ymddiriedolaeth Natur Gwent (Wildlife Trust Gwent)

38 views2 comments

Recent Posts

See All



A beautiful depiction, in words and pictures, of this area which I have heard about but never visited, I too have autism, and also - increasingly - agoraphobia, which means I don't get out much these days, but my own local haunt is the Clyne Valley near my home in Swansea. So much natural beauty here in south Wales. Keep up the good work! Jez. (Jeremy Inglis Photography - Home)

Dee Crute
Dee Crute

Awhh thank you Jez for your kind words! I'm so sorry to hear about that! I understand, I don't think I have agoraphobia but if I stay at home too long due to anxiety I get into outdoors paralysis as I call it and leaving home is almost impossible. And when I gather courage I literally shake from anxiety.

Do keep an eye on near future project that's almost finished - The Introverts Adventure Club - it's for people like us!



bottom of page