Set in the lovely Marteg Valley just north of Rhayader, Gilfach is a 410 acre hill farm nature reserve, owned and managed by Radnorshire Wildlife Trust for the benefit of wildlife. The farm is a mosaic of habitat including traditional hay meadows, rocky outcrops, rhos pasture, wet flushes, hill-side scrub and oak woodland, and is of course hugely rich in flora and fauna.
Follow the walking trails through meadows peppered with anthills, look out over the valley with its glorious views and spot a dipper on the River Marteg as it tumbles down through the reserve and over the waterfalls - where in November you might just glimpse a leaping salmon.
Most people park at Marteg Bridge (just off the A470 about 3 miles north of Rhayader) but alternatively you can drive on through the reserve, turning right down the lane to the Old Farmyard and Welsh longhouse (rented to tenants) where there is a small car park, visitor information and toilets.
There are some lovely waymarked trails to help you enjoy Gilfach, and good picnic spots too. This is a working farm, so you are likely to see farm animals on the way. Dogs are welcome but please keep them on a lead to reduce disturbance to farm animals and wildlife.
The Nature Trail takes a circular route round the reserve, following the river upstream past the otter hide, up the lane and out along the Monks Trod with very fine views of the valley. It takes about 1½ hrs at a leisurely pace and goes close to the Old Farmyard and longhouse. The shorter ½hr Oakwood Trail goes from the picnic area at the Old Farmyard, taking you through the woodland and back through the meadows.
Also near the Old Farmyard is a short easy access trail - newly upgraded, with a picnic bench overlooking the valley. Follow the sign for Tyn Shimley out of the farmyard.
There is also a fine stroll from Marteg Bridge up the sheep track to the viewpoint and burial chamber, from where you can either walk back on the road or continue on down to the river and the Nature Trail. The Wye Valley Walk and the Gwastedyn Church Trail also pass through Gilfach.
Please take care and wear boots appropriate for walking. Our paths are often uneven and sometimes quite steep. There are gates and kissing gates but no stiles to cross on the trails. Mobile reception is very poor.
The traditional barns are now a 'Nature Discovery Centre' with information and exhibitions about the reserve. The 'byre' (attached to the longhouse) and toilets (including disabled) are open all year for visitors, and there are picnic benches too. The centre is generally open in the summer holidays and sometimes in the week and weekends. Light refreshments are usually available. We rely on volunteers for this so we apologise if you find it unexectedly shut.
If you are visiting with a group, please give us a call on 01597 823298 to find out if the visitor centre will be open and let us know an approximate arrival time and numbers so we can be prepared!
Radnorshire Wildlife Trust organises wildlife walks and children's activities at Gilfach every year - check out the Events page on the website for more information.
Gilfach is a traditional Radnorshire hill farm that has remained unimproved since the 1960's. Radnorshire Wildlife Trust purchased the farm back in 1988 and with fantastic support from volunteers, spent the next few years renovating the longhouse and barn; restoring the ancient field boundaries and developing a management plan that puts wildlife at its heart.
The farm is registered as an organic holding and is entered in the Tir Gofal agri-environment scheme and the Better Woodlands for Wales scheme. A local farmer works in partnership with us to manage the land for conservation, grazing it using traditional breeds like Welsh black cows and local Welsh mountain-cross sheep. Currently there are some black, horned sheep that look more like goats! These are a black Welsh Mountain/Hebridean cross.
The freehold of this 410 acre (166 ha) reserve was purchased in 1988 with very generous donations from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, Countryside Commission, World Wide Fund for Nature, Oakdale Trust, W.A. Cadbury Charitable Trust and many other charitable trusts and individuals.
The reserve is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and falls within the larger 'Gamallt, Gilfach Farm and Macheini uplands SSSI'. This area is also a Special Protection Area (SPA) for birds, and the River Marteg from the waterfalls downstream, is part of the River Wye Special Area of Conservation (SAC).
The meadows contain a range of ancient grassland species, including Dyers Greenweed, Moonwort, Adders-tongue Fern, Mountain Pansy, Parsley Fern, Heath Dog-violet, and Eyebright. A large number of Waxcap fungi (Hygrocybe spp.) are found across the reserve. The Gilfach nature reserve is particularly rich in lower plants, with 413 species of lichen found to date.
The species list for birds is currently 73 of which 55 species breed. Breeders include: Dipper, Grey Wagtail, Common Sandpiper, Pied Flycatcher, Redstart, Wood Warbler, Tree Pipit, Raven, Whinchat, Stonechat, Linnet, Yellowhammer, Siskin, Redpoll, Marsh and Willow Tit, Stock Dove, Wheatear, Bullfinch, Buzzard, Kestrel, Barn Owl, Spotted Flycatcher, Meadow Pipit, Skylark. Other visitors include: Curlew, Merlin, Red Kite, Goshawk, Sparrowhawk, Peregrine, Goosander, Kingfisher, Reed Bunting.
Insects abound; along the river, Beautiful and Banded Demoiselles and Common Red Damselfly can be seen. Common Green Grasshopper and Bloody-nosed Beetle are frequent in the grasslands. Butterflies include Ringlet, Small Copper, Small Heath, Green Hairstreak, and Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary. The old railway cuttings are a great place to spot butterflies. In 2009 the rare Welsh Clearwing moth was found on the reserve, the first record for Radnorshire, Since then more signs have been seen of it on the mature silver birches that dot the reserve.
Larger mammals on the reserve include Otter, Polecat, Stoat, Weasel, Badger, Fox, Hare, and Hedgehog. In 2009 water voles were recorded on the river for the first time, spreading out from a local colony. Bats hibernating in the railway tunnel include Daubentons, Natterers and Brown long-eared among the six species recorded on the reserve.
The farm was definitely in existence by the end of the fifteenth century though there is evidence of human activity stretching right back to the bronze age. The 'Monks Trod', an ancient road that once connected the Cistercian monastries of Strata Florida in Ceredigion with Abbey Cwm Hir, near Rhayader, runs through the reserve from Marteg Bridge. The old trod can be seen in places where it runs parallel with the road, but its route was disrupted by the building of the old Mid-Wales railway.
The longhouse at Gilfach was rebuilt in the fifteenth century and has a fine timbered gable-end - see it from the footpath to the side of the house. As was usual, the family lived at one end while the animals lived at the other, and it was still like this when abandoned in the 1960s. The longhouse is now listed as Grade II* and is occupied by private tenants who are also the voluntary wardens for the reserve. Only the byre is open to the public.
NGR: SN 965 717
Follow the A470 between Rhayader and Llangurig. Approximately 3 miles north of Rhayader and 7 miles south of Llangurig there is a well signed road junction to 'St. Harmon and Pantydwr'. The turning is also indicated by Brown Nature Reserve Signs.
Park here at Marteg Bridge and walk around the reserve on the Nature Trail, or visit the Nature Discovery Centre by driving on through the reserve for ½mile before turning right (just before a cattle grid) onto a narrow road. Follow it down over the river and up the hill to the small car park. Trails are waymarked and link the various parts of the reserve to the visitor centre.
Cefn Cenarth woodlands; Rhayader Tunnel