Coed Nant Gain - Ancient Woodland

I am sitting here feeling a bit sorry for myself with a sore throat and a muzzy head that has kept sending me back to bed for the last couple of days.  This evening I have manged to get up and sit by the woodburner but I am still feeling dopey and dozy and lethargic.  So I thought I would distract  myself by telling you about a visit last weekend to a rare and beautiful place.

Coed Nant Gain is a piece of ancient woodland near the village of Cilcain in Flintshire.  Its owner, Iliff Symey, has devoted the last twenty five years of his life to caring for this place which he calls "old growth ancient woodland".  Ancient woodland in England and Wales is defined as woodland which has been in existence since 1600 or before.  This woodland is much more than four hundred years old, possibly thousands of years and certainly stretches back into prehistory.  This wood was in existence when the iron age hillforts such as Penycloddiau and Moel Arthur which sit above my farmhouse were occupied way before the Romans came.  It sits on the side of steep valley  (nant is a brook or small valley in Welsh) so it has not been a wood which is easy to work and this perhaps accounts in part for the way it has been left undisturbed for so long.  Read Iliff's article and look at his website which explains the origins of the wood and his approach to its care far better than I could.

The North Wales Wildlife Trust had been looking for volunteers to help with the planting of an ash dome in a natural amphitheatre within the wood.  Iliff is concerned to protect the genetic stock which forms his woodland so all the saplings to be used would be lifted from the wood itself and moved to the dome site.

Tree trunks have been laid in a circle to produce natural seating and in the centre of the open circle is an area of  flat ground which contains a fire basket.  The plan was to add to the ash saplings which were already forming part of an arc around the centre of the amphitheatre to create most a of circle.  As they grow the ashes will be woven together to make a dome.  The only other dome like this  that I know about was created by the artist David Nash  If ours looks anything like his in thirty years time that would be wonderful, whether or not I am here to see it.

Working in a wood of this age and planting trees which will be here long after you have gone is oddly calming. 

Here is one of my trees.  Behind it you can see the stones which came out of the hole.  It is good to know that I am not the only one whose land is full of stones.

In front of the amphitheatre the ground falls away steeply to the stream in the bottom of the valley.  The wood is full of ash, beech, oak and holly.  At this time of year the beech in particular is glorious.

It was a strange day, snatched from ordinary working and followed by too much driving across the country and a rush of work and feeling unwell.  I am not sure I have processed it yet.  The sight and smell of the wood, the colours, the faint scent of decay, the sound of the leaves underfoot remain with me though.

I am glad there are places like Coed Nant Gain  in this country still and people like Iliff obsessive enough to give their lives to their care. 


  1. What a lovely place. Get well soon, Moll.

  2. Fantastic post, fabulous place. I was writing about wildlife trusts just yesterday - great organisations.

    But the woods, that's what inspires most.

  3. I'd love it there. Not sure about the dome though.

    Feel a lot better soon.

  4. I've never seen anything like that dome - it's incredible. What a privilege to be a part of something like that, even in a small way.
    Hope you're feeling better soon. Loved the photos.

  5. Oops - sorry for confusing you with Moll again, Elizabeth. Get well soon anyway!

  6. Sorry you're a bit sniffly these days. Hope you're soon up and about.

    What an amazing story, and delightful pictures. Preserving woodlands; what a charming work that Iliff, and you, and others are dong. We need such places — even sacred spaces.

    Blessings and Bear hugs.

  7. Do hope you will feel better soon - if not you know the remedy from reading my blog! Certainly the illness has not affected your ability to deliver beautiful and thought provoking posts which always have a strangely calming, meditative effect in the middle of a busy day. Deep breathing - that is what one wants to do in an ancient woodland and that is perhaps why I enjoy the Mill so much with its similarly ancient woodlands, old enough to have hosted Asterix and his bands. Anyway, get well soon.

  8. It sounds a beautiful place - an ideal setting for the dome. I like the idea of planting a tree that will bre there long after I have gone. A pity that the survival of such areas often depend on dedicated individuals.

  9. An ancient wood is a place that inspires reverence and awe....or so I have found. The only ancient forests I have personally seen are the California redwood forests...breathtaking in so many ways. I had read of David Nash in Roger Deakin's "Wildwood" and so it was great to see his ash dome at the link you provided. Wish I were able to easily come visit this beautiful and magical Coed Nant Gain of yours!

  10. Being from the US, I was sitting here expecting to be introduced to a co-ed named Nant Gain. This was so much nicer! (No insult intended to co-eds.)

  11. What a wonderful place and how good to know that it is being protected and cared for. The beech trees are wonderful at the moment aren't they? We have beech woodland round here too, much of it ancient, and I have been enjoying the colours over the last few days. Hope you feel better soon.

  12. Ancient woodland - what a privilege to see, and how glad we are that some does survive.

  13. Trees bring so much solace. What a wonderful feeling: To feel that you are creating something beautiful for a future generation to enjoy. Rather unlike the current economic news, which promises nothing but future disasters.

    I've been reading quite a lot of Alan Garner recently, and his descriptions of Welsh and Pennine landscapes were brought to mind by your pictures.

    Thank you, Elizabeth, for your comment on my post. Every now and then you have given a glimpse of various difficulties and I ENTIRELY understand about the privacy issue. My father is starting to really be pulled down by his dementia -- my parents were here for five weeks in early autumn -- and I would love to relieve my own feelings by talking about it, but I just couldn't. My parents read my blog, as do many of their friends, and they would find it an unbearable invasion of privacy. What I meant was slightly different; more the need to always put on a positive face.

  14. What a wonderful place and how good to part of its story. It is good to know there are people like Iliff ensuring its continuity.

    We should all plant more trees.

  15. Hi Elizabeth,

    Thank you very much for your sweet comment on my blog! I enjoyed reading it very much. You live in a beautiful part of Wales. The woodland on your photo's looks beautiful. It's good that there are people who care for places like Coed Nant Gain. It must feel special to have planted a tree of your own there.

    I hope you feel better soon!

    Take care,


  16. Get better soon Elizabeth, I had a cold last week, and woke up this AM with the back of throat soreness and stuffed head. It's miserable.Guh! But, I wanted to thank you for sharing this gorgeous an magical woodlands with us! So beautiful, and yes the caretaker of that woods is a saint in my mind. As are all the good folk who come and help, and give their love and time to it. One thing I admire about where you live is the right of way to walk across the land. Here the land is all private, except for the State or National Parklands, and you can't just "Ramble" of an afternoon on walking paths through the country. Unless you want to be shot for trespassing. Get well, and thank you again for sharing your adventures.

  17. This cold seems to be doing the rounds both Adrian and I have had it and my parents... such a nasty thing a cold. I hope yours is gone soon and you will be feeling bright and bubbly again. As always I loved reading your blog, the woods are very beautiful and look like a wonderful place to spend time. You really choose a lovely day to go with the blue sky and a great Autumn day.

    Keep cosy and get well soon.
    Janet x

  18. Lovely post Elizabeth. I just love all things woodland. Hope you feel better soon. Hot toddies are warming and soothing.

  19. Our grandchildren and their grandchildren will enjoy the woods and open spaces we look after now Thankyou from us all !
    P.S. And Get Better Soon ..... how about chicken soup ? It does wonders for the throat .

  20. Sorry about your lurgy. What a beautiful wood. Walking in such places always leaves me feeling both calm and envigorated, I can only imagine what working in one would be like. We have a similarly ancient wood near to us, which has probably only survived because it is always wet thanks to the Avon and heavy clay soil. It is an entrancing place, in the way I think only really old woodlands can be. It has a lovely abandoned willow hurdler's hut, but no dome.

  21. What a wonderful place. I love mountains and forests; it is a pleasure to find others who love them, also.

  22. A very interesting report. I was there you show my picture on this page but I did not fully understand the aims. Oddly I was trying to find the name of the stream which I now assume is the Nant Gain? I have a host of photos taken on the day but my only contact is Iliff Symey so don't know if you got them. Or which of the group who were there on the day you are. I am the guy third picture bottom centre. I missed the play this weekend although their earlier and have seen the play enacted before.

    I use Minus to publish pictures and AV's which is registered under my radio call sign of GW7MGW. Would love to learn more. But can't afford trips to Poland!

    All best sure your better now. I am tiring to get a series of photos through the year. But identifying what I see is not easy. Would love to learn more.


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