Friday, 30 August 2013

"Secret" Gardens

The National Trust have just launched a series of videos on Britain's 10 best "secret" Walks. By secret they seem to mean "slightly off the beaten track", but they are worth a look nonetheless. North Wales is represented by a walk in the grounds of the Erddig Estate near Wrexham. You can find out more about it in the video above, (if you can get past the presenter's mispronunciation of the word Erddig, that is).

Rambling Events

The Caernarfon and Dwyfor Ramblers are planning a walk around the historic buildings of Dolgellau on the 5th of September, and a trip to Bardsey Island on the 10th, so if you were looking for an excuse to join, now's the time!

Martin Turtle Photography

Trip to Bardsey Island, Tuesday, 10th September 
Colin, the boatman, will be leaving Port Meudwy at 10.30 a.m. on 10th Sept.  This will entail meeting in the National Trust car park just beyond Cwrt farm by 10 a.m. prompt.  The crossing takes about 20 mins and we should have 3-4 hours on the island.  This is ample time to stroll round most of the island and picnic.  Apart from a packed lunch you will need the usual outdoor gear, plenty to drink and binoculars to make the most of the wild life.  Close encounters with seals guaranteed!  Also prepare yourself for primitive toilet facilities.

Bardsey is now owned by a Trust and the farm is managed by the RSPB.  It is a National Nature Reserve and a Site of Special Scientific Interest.  The bird observatory was opened in the old lighthouse in 1953.  There are the remains of a 13th century abbey (dissolved under Henry VII) as well as, allegedly, the bodies of several thousand saints.  It was, and still is, a place attracting pilgrims.  The short walk down to the cove and the crossing build a sense of anticipation and the island does not disappoint.

If interested please email ( or ring Margaret on 01286 660370 to book a place.  The cost is £30 payable on the day.  The boat holds 12.  As Bardsey Sound is potentially a treacherous stretch of water, the trip could be cancelled if weather conditions dictate. Margaret will be phoning Colin the evening before, so please check with Cadramblers website or ring me after 9 p.m. on the Monday.

Dolgellau Town Trail, Thursday, 5th September 
Did you know that Dolgellau has more listed buildings than any other town in Wales?  So it is worthwhile exploring some of its heritage and enjoying the catering facilities of a couple of special cafes!  (Save preparing that packed lunch).  It is also the most higgledy- piggledy of towns as plots of land were infilled during the boom time of the woollen industry in the early 19th century.  This, together with the surrounding hills and the river, results in fascinating vistas in all directions.  So bring a camera!

Please contact Margaret – details as above, to book a place and for more information.  We will travel on the T2 Bangor to Aberystwyth bus; 9.45 a.m. Caernarfon, 9.58 a.m. Penygroes by police station car park, (not 10 a.m. as in the walks booklet).  Remember the bus pass!

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Fancy a S.N.O.G.?

Rural areas like Snowdonia can often seem to be a bit lacking in opportunities for socialising. The Snowdonia Nights Out Gazette (S.N.O.G.) is a website which aims to redress this, by listing information on nightlife and events in the Snowdonia region. The site lists both regular and one-off events, as well as information on local bands and venues. You can also follow them on Twitter.

Countdown to Corwen

Just a quick reminder that the Corwen Walking Festival is fast approaching, taking place on the 31st of August and the 1st of September.

Many of the walks are free, but some do have an entry charge. You can find a programme here.

Peter is running one of our traditional Geocaching taster sessions, so if you would like to come along, please register on the Festival website.

Rush Hour at Mount Snowdon

All the main UK newspapers are carrying stories of how crowded Mount Snowdon has become. In particular they draw attention to this last weekend when great weather afforded superb views from the summit. I recently walked up the mountain in similarly good weather and there were walkers every ten yards or so all the way up. There have been calls by no less a person than Sir Chris Bonnington for walkers to consider climbing the Carneddau or the Glyder range instead. These are mountains which are equally challenging, and nearly as high as Snowdon, but far less busy "even on a Bank Holiday".

We can recommend parking at the new visitor centre at Ogwen, (where there will be lots of maps and routes available and where you can park your car). Richard Down, blogged about his experiences on a circular route taking in the summits of Carnedd Dafydd and Carnedd Llewelyn, back in 2009. Over the coming days we will be publicising some more of these routes.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Free Rambler's Training Day

If like me you are not fully aware of the range of work covered by the Rambler's Association then consider joining a special training day provided by the Ramblers at the Glandwr University in Wrexham on Tuesday September 13th 10am to 4pm. This is a pilot course for regional volunteers, a workshop where members can come along and learn more about the work of the Ramblers and receive training in their chosen volunteer role. 5 workshops will be on offer:

1.     Special Area Chairs Forum
2.     Ramblers Routes Workshop
3.     Rights of Way: A Beginners Guide to the Law
4.     Walk Leaders Workshop
5.     Promoting your group in the media

New Holiday Initiative on the Llyn

We have been heartened at the news coming out of Felin Uchaf that they have now launched a new form of holiday experience, the Tir y Mor (Land and Sea).

Felin Uchaf described itself as "a Visionary, Land-Based Social Enterprise pioneering a holistic approach to Education & the Environment, to Culture & Community and committed to Inspiring, Enabling and Empowering young people and their local communities." And now holidays are part of that vision. Visitors can stay in luxury self catering accommodation, very close to the Felin Uchaf complex, enjoy food cooked by their own chef and then receive instruction from highly qualified teachers in rural crafts, and the Welsh language.

Visitors will be joining a larger group, and will have every opportunity to join in volunteer activities as well as doing some more general sightseeing. This holiday breaks new ground, and we look forward to seeing how it develops.

Risso's Dolphins off Bardsey

To be quite frank I didn't know very much about Risso's Dolphins, until I hear that some have been spotted off Bardsey Island.

Thanks to the BBC's website, I now know the following:

Risso's dolphin facts

  • Their bodies are generally a grey colour, which is almost hidden by a pattern of white scars
  • Numerous scars are caused by their prey - squid - and also by other Risso's dolphins
  • They prefer deeper offshore waters and have been seen forming lines when hunting 
  • Risso's dolphins can dive to depths of around 1,000ft(300m) and remain submerged for up to half an hour
  • They can be found in temperate and tropical zones of all oceans
  • Male and female can grow to just under four metres long
  • They have blunt noses, rather than the pointed "beaks" that many other dolphins have
  • They tend to avoid boats, and are hard to spot
  • Source: Whale and Dolphin Conservation 

Friday, 23 August 2013

Dee Dolphin not as happy as we thought

Having hailed the health of the Dee ecosystem in a post yesterday, we now hear from the RNLI that they have had to rescue the Dee Dolphin because it became stranded on a sandbank. Apparently the Dolphin had become disoriented and confused, and really shouldn't have been so far inland after all.

The Dolphin was taken three miles off the coast of Rhyl to be released.

Alan Forrester, lifeboat operations manager with Flint RNLI, told Radio Wales the rescue boat was launched at Connah's Quay after the dolphin was seen "floundering" on a sandbank.

It was hoisted onto the lifeboat and carried down the river towards open water.

An animal welfare officer was also onboard.

"We've got what we call an ambulance pouch, which is a rolled up stretcher," Mr Forrester added.

"They laid that on the sandbank and rolled the dolphin into the stretcher and lifted it into the lifeboat.

"It's rather a large dolphin. It's lying there nicely, they've got buckets of water to keep it cool - everything seems to be ok at the moment."

The mammal was originally spotted by the public on Monday in Connah's Quay docks and became stranded briefly on Tuesday after turning to make its way to Flint and towards the sea.

Liverpool coastguard wanted to hold off a rescue attempt for as long as possible to avoid coming into physical contact with the mammal in case it is rejected back at sea.

A coastguard team was earlier deployed to the area to try to ensure the safety of spectators trying to catch a glimpse of the dolphin.

It is thought the dolphin swam up the river during the high spring tide.

It is rare for dolphins to be seen in the River Dee but a pair of porpoises were reported near Queensferry Bridge eight years ago.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Dolphins back on the Dee

It was something of a landmark in the restoration of the old industrial landscape surrounding the Dee (Shotton et al) that a Dolphin has been spotted swimming up and down the Dee in search of fish. This is a route of 30 miles up the Welsh river. Cyclists on the river bank saw the dolphin flip in the air as it swam up the Dee as far as Chester racecourse. There was speculation that the Dolphin had been thrown off course by the full moon, but as the mammal swam back up the Dee and then returned to Connah's Quay and seemed to be fishing happily, the availability of food seemed to be the prime reason. It is always a good sign of a healthy ecosystem when the predator at the top of the food chain appears to be thriving.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Fall in for the Walk on Wales!

Dedicated teams of retired and serving servicemen and women from the Welsh Guards will be walking the entire Welsh Coast during the Autumn. Their first program in North Wales is as follows:

DateStart - EndDistanceAscent
29 AugChester - Flint12.74 miles
178 ft

30 AugFlint - Prestatyn18.00 miles
111 ft

31 AugPrestatyn - Rhos-on-Sea 15.89 miles
248 ft

1 SepRhos-on-Sea - Penmaenmawr17.75 miles
1452 ft

2 SepPenmaenmawr - Bangor15.94 miles
943 ft

3 SepBangor - This is a rest day0.00 miles
0 ft

You can see full details at They are raising money for the Welsh Guards Afganistan Appeal and Combat Stress, so do please support them and join the walk if you can.

We could be in good company!

Storytelling at Felin Uchaf

The brave attempt to promote sustainable development, enterprise and traditional crafts continues at the Felin Uchaf centre, Rhoshirwaun, see Peter visited them on Wednesday the 14th of August in the Roundhouse for storytelling. The tales were titled "The Fairy Ointment" and describe the "Tylwyth Teg", or fairies of Welsh mythology. There were about 60 people there and for once the word spellbinding was appropriate.
The lighting of the fairy candles.

The opening of the fairy gate.

This is just one of the replica Iron Age huts being built by volunteers from all over the world. Although we call these Iron Age, in fact they represent the tradition buildings of Llyn over a much longer period - until the invention of gelignite created an abundance of stone, cob, wood and willow represented the main building materials and were used in different combinations.

The plans for Felin Uchaf are very ambitious and cover 28 acres. This is a scale model which can be seen in the roundhouse.

Good Weather on its way back!

We have had a number of low pressure fronts come over North Wales in the last week, the last of which comes through tomorrow, Saturday the 17th. Afterwards we are promised a spell of good weather and it is an ideal time to come over and enjoy our beautiful landscape. The Hedgerows are coming alive again with interesting flowers and the views during the changeable weather have been superb. One piece of advice, book in advance as it is a very busy season. Give us a call on 01758 760 532 if you need any help.
View of Yr Eifl and the Snowdonia range from Dinas in central Llyn.

The Yr Eifl range with Tre'r Ceiri to the right seen from Pentre in central Llyn.

Loostrife appearing in the hedgerows.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Class on the Llyn

I am often asked, "which is the best hotel in the Llyn region"? I always answer that Plas Bodegroes is clearly best for food and that the Porth Tocyn Hotel is best for views, but that Plas Dinas, near Caernarfon is top for atmosphere and historic links. The son of the house, Anthony Armstrong-Jones, was once married to Princess Margaret, and became the Earl of Snowdon.
Prince William, Duke of Cambridge recently hosted a private party there.

The rear view shows that it is a jumble of buildings from different eras, the first being Jacobean / Elizabethan.
 It was much improved in the 19th Century, and is still owned by a member of the local Armstrong-Jones family. In contrast, it did feature in a recent episode of "Four in a Bed" on Channel Four.
 The original furnishing and paintings still adorn the public rooms. 
 The house has a great vantage point over the Foryd, and along the coast to Caernarfon.

The gardens are very attractive and the whole setting is very tranquil, as it is a good distance off the main road. The only intrusive sound is the hoot of the Welsh Highland Steam Train in the distance.
Andy and Julian currently run the house as a hotel.

"They don't build 'em like they used to!"

Ty Unnos above Llithfaen, where the "Captain of the Mob" was arrested.
As you walk in the Welsh upland landscape, you may be surprised to see the settlements so dispersed, spread out without clear and compact village centres. Much of this is the result of illegal encroachments by cottagers onto the land held in common during the 18th and early 19th centuries in a period of rising population. These encroachments were accomplished by the traditional method of the “night house” “ty unnos”. It was the common belief that if a person could erect a house during the night and have smoke arising from its chimney by dawn, then he would be the legal owner of the cottage and the land around it as far from his door as he could throw an axe. A family could not possibly do this alone and without preparation so the ability to produce a house overnight was clear evidence of community support. In mediaeval times settlements would doubtless come and go as building on and farming the common was no escape from the Malthusian trap - it really only gave the people more room in which to starve. However in the 19th century when there was alternative work in quarrying and in shipping such settlements tended to survive and this helps to give the landscape a spread out appearance.

What limited the survival of the Tŷ Unnos houses was the Enclosures early in the 19th Century when the Common land was divided up amongst the various villagers and the landowners who had rights there. The long straight stonewalls characteristic of this area were built to partition the land. Where a Tŷ Unnos ended up on the land of a wealthy Estate there was “hell to pay” as the Tŷ Unnos tradition was not enshrined in law. Evictions followed and often these were resisted. Just down the lane in front of you survives the house of Robert William Hughes “Captain of the mob” who led the local resistance in 1812. The Dragoons eventually caught him hiding up above his chimney and he was tried, convicted and deported to Australia.

Iron Age built, and still here!

Every time I struggle up the hill to Tre'r Ceiri, I am still surprised to find the fort intact with clear entrances, a continuous wall and with the foundations of the huts still in existence.
Northern entrance which leads to the fort extension.
This photo shows the outer wall, and also demonstrates how the fort relates to the one at Dinllaen.
Circular hut foundations.

The site occupies 5 acres. The foundation walls of the 150 circular huts that made up the village can still be clearly seen, surrounded by the outer, protective stonewalls that in places are still 3 metres high. To the north there is an extension to the outer wall which may have guarded a cattle enclosure. The huts are between 3 to 8 metres in diameter and would have been the foundation for conical roofs of timber and reed. On the north side there are some larger rectangular structures-perhaps an aristocratic quarter. There appears to have been an open courtyard in the middle. The fort is believed to have been built around 100 B.C and occupied during the Roman Era until 400 A.D. However, the Cairn at the hill summit is much older and dates back to the Bronze Age. Opinions are divided as to the reasons for the fort’s existence 450 metres high on a windswept and inhospitable hill, amidst poor farmland and with no water supply within the fort [there is a spring just outside the postern gate but it's hard to imagine permanent occupation through the winter].

One theory is that it was one of a series of hillforts that were occupied for short periods only (but in considerable strength) by a mobile army of Celtic/Gaelic people coming from what is now Leinster in Ireland.Others argue that the positioning of hillforts across North Wales suggest some kind of local tribal groupings and that they may even have been more for show than war. These military groups were possibly what often passed for government beyond the outer fringes of the Roman Empire. No remains of substantial Roman buildings have been found further West than Segontium (Caernarfon) There was a watch tower on part of the Dinas Dinlle mound which related to one on Holyhead Mountain and the remains of a Roman marching camp at Derwydd-Bach(477454) which can be seen from Tre’r Ceiri, and there was a Roman Auxiliary fort Pen Llystyn, on the opposite side of the A487 adjacent to the camp, that was occupied from AD 80 to 130 ish. It's now been quarried away apart from a little bit of the rampart].

 It is just this side of the present main road, the A487, directly due West. The “celtic” army on your side of the border would have descended on the area, occupied the fort for a few days, terrified the locals, dispensed justice and mopped up any food surplus, and then moved on leaving perhaps a skeleton staff to maintain the fort and to maintain what the Mafia would today call “Respect” and an orderly border with the Romans. There is no evidence for any slighting or Roman occupation of Tre'r Ceiri and there was definitely additional building during the Roman period. Also Roman pottery from the site shows that they were trading with them. I suspect that after an initial bloody conflict the Romans came to some accommodation with the local tribes. After the conquest in about AD78 they started withdrawing troops towards the end of the century leaving only a small garrison, suggesting a peaceful but under the thumb type coexistence.

"Town of the Giants"

This is the English translation of Tre'r Ceiri - one of the best Iron Age Hillforts in Europe. But actually, the word for giants is "cewri" nor "ceiri". The word "ceiri" is the plural of the word "caer", as in Caernarfon which means fort. So Tre'r Ceiri actually means Town of the Castles, which doesn't have quite the same legendary ring.

It has two good footpaths leading to the fort which is situated on the summit of the southern most hill of the Yr Eifl range, often referred to (incorrectly) in English as "the Rivals". One route starts from a lay-by on the B4417. This is a steep ascent. The easier route can be started at the village of Llithfaen from where there is a road which becomes a lane, which becomes a track, that heads off north-west from the village. This is a 2 kilometre walk but the gradient is not severe. On a good day the views can be fantastic.

This is the WRONG hill, the highest of the three peaks.

The correct hill is the smaller one to the south east.
Halfway up and looking west. The Heather around here looks superb.
View from the summit looking east, with Snowdon in clear view.

Looking south across Cardigan Bay towards Cadair Idris.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Nice work if you can get it!

One of our jobs in North Wales is to host and guide visiting journalists. In the first week of August we hosted Dan Rubinstein, a Canadian Journalist who was writing a piece for Enroute magazine which is the house magazine for Air Canada. The weather was pretty good and such jobs are always a pleasure - especially as Dan was very well informed on the latest developments in walking across the world. Here are some of the places that we took him:

Plas Dinas Country House Hotel, just south of Caernarfon. A great place to stay if you want the feel, facilities and atmosphere of a house fit for the gentry. It was the home of the Armstrong-Jones family.
The Ty Unnos above Llithfaen.

Tre'r Ceiri Iron Age Hillfort.

St Beuno's Well.

St Beuno's Church, Clynnog Fawr.
In case you think that a week with Peter Hewlett is all about Iron Age forts, churches and posh hotels then rest assured that Dan was also taken to Glynllifon, Abersoch, Felin Uchaf, Bardsey Island and all the fleshpots of Aberdaron!

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Catering for groups

We have now invested in extra furniture and cutlery to cater for large groups in Manaros. We can feed up to 20 for a celebratory meal, either as a buffet or as a sit down banquet. For the first time in 2014 we have teamed up with a pilgrimage group who are on a training course. They are staying at the neighbouring house at the top of the field, Afallon, and in Manaros, but all meals will be taken in our house, with a caterer from Pwllheli doing all the cooking and ourselves doing all the hard work! If you have a group larger than 8, who want to eat together in Manaros and enjoy the facilities during the day then we can always find extra accommodation nearby so that the whole group can holiday together. If you want any catering, be it just breakfast or a celebratory meal made with local ingredients, then I would be happy to quote you prices and menus.

Bucket and Spade Heaven

Sometimes, those of us who work in tourism tend to concentrate on all the new facilities and activities that now abound. We now have 5 TVs in Manaros, WiFi throughout and a Wii console, in addition to 5 bathrooms! Perhaps we overlook the simple things, the things that we remember from our youth. Here is a photo of three of my grandchildren (all cousins) beavering away on a sand castle on Aberdaron beach.

Their parents did the same thing on the same spot some thirty years ago. Nothing to beat it. All is well.