Day out: Whitehill Down, Carmarthenshire

Take a twilight walk through a little-known meadow in Wales, where orchids rise and bloom alongside great burnet, star sedge and swathes of yellow rattle

Wildflower meadow

You’ll find Whitehill Down sandwiched between the A477 and the Afon Tâf, halfway between Sanclêr (St Clears) and Lacharn (Laugharne).

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Drivers might miss it, but Wales Coast Path walkers will not – the path goes right through the down.

Yellow flower
Yellow rattle is known as ‘the meadow maker’/Credit: Alamy
National Trust Images

Whitehill Down landscape

Whitehill Down is a SSSI of ancient meadowland and marshy grassland with high floral density that supports a richness of invertebrates, amphibians, mammals and birds – 176 species at the last count. Its administration, too, is historic. Although the Laugharne Corporation (established in 1291) is largely ceremonial these days, it still oversees civic suits and rights to cockle-beds, grazing and ‘strangs’ (strip-fields). Whitehill Down’s strangs, divided by low earth baulks, are no longer cultivated, but they are still allocated to burgesses and managed as meadow in partnership with Natural Resources Wales.

White flower
Look out for the white lesser butterfly orchid, which is fragrant at night/Credit: Getty

Whitehill Down wildlife

Whitehill Down shimmers. It invites your eyes to glide over its undulations, while its soundscape caresses your ears – bird calls, gull mewls, hedge-muffled traffic, and the glorious droning of insects. Yellow rattle, Arctic eyebright and great burnet seethe in a flowering-grass sea, while star sedge, false fox-sedge and water pepper thrive on wetter soils and marsh where cattle dip their heads to drink. 

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Rosy twilight kisses the river, saturates the sky and doubles the meadow’s tints. At dawn, buttercups are heavy with dew. Legs are slapped and boots plastered with precious seeds. The meadow is still here, real, not a thing of the past. At its wet margins, yellow iris spears cracks in the boardwalk, and orchids, like purple queens, sit crowned on their cushions of green.