Saturday, 25 February 2012

Nordic Walk!

I was signed up for a Nordic Walk once again, if you have read my first ever blog entry you will know that I had intended to join a Nordic Walk before but unfortunately the weather decided against that! However, today it was to go ahead and I was a little anxious- I don't remember the last time I walked 6 miles in one go!

Caroline Moncrieff runs Ffit Cymru, a company which holds walking groups and fitness classes and she had invited me to join one of her weekly Nordic walks. Again, forgive me if you have already read my blog on Nordic walking but here is a quick 'copy and paste' reminder of how impressive it is-

This new pastime was created in Finland, where the people were possibly slightly dissatisfied with the traditional method of walking! However, (again) my ignorance shines through as Nordic Walking seems to have many health benefits as it uses 80% of our muscles, strengthens our breathing capacity and heart function, helps us lose weight, is good for our joints etc etc... basically it seems pretty beneficial and  an activity  not to be missed!

Kitted up with my poles!
So there we go, Nordic walking talks the talk or even walks the walk and I was about to put it to the test. The walk I was joining was from Porthmadog to Portmeirion and back again, the route can vary depending on the weather, and it was muddy fields that determined our route that day. I met the group at a car park in Porthmadog where I was kitted up with my poles. I was given a quick lesson on how to walk with them, this was more difficult than I expected. When walking you must keep the poles behind you and believe me it is quite a skill. It took some concentration but I was soon in my stride.

The group of walkers were all ladies although I was told of a few men who do sometimes come along. They really were lovely and during the six mile walk I managed to enjoy a conversation with quite a few them. The walk was beautiful (how could it not be- it’s in north Wales!) and the weather improved as the day went on.

We walked along the ‘Cob’ bridge in Porthmadog to the Italianesque village of Portmeirion (somewhere I hope to blog about in the future). If you aren’t familiar with the attraction, it really is a sight worth seeing. I have been many times before and really appreciated a new way to explore somewhere I’m so used to. We stopped for a well-earned cup of tea and more chat before we set off back.

The group walking through Portmeirion

The group walking through Pormeirion

It was a lovely return journey but I began to feel the strain of walking with poles on my arms- something was working. I really enjoyed walking with these ladies and I realised what a fantastic social activity Nordic walking is, and that is the most important lesson I took from the day. Somehow I managed to walk 6 miles, do 15,000 steps and not even realise how hard I worked, laughing and talking to other group members was a fantastic distraction. If you are new to the area, fancy a new hobby or want to make some new friends then I strongly advise  joining a Nordic walk- I know that I will be going again!

Me with some of the group members

It is now the next morning and my arms are a little tender shall we say. This is one of my favourite activities I have participated on during my ‘exploring North Wales blog history’, quite simple yet very satisfying!

To find out more from Caroline on Facebook then search for 'Ffit Cymru'.

Friday, 17 February 2012

The Outdoor North Wales Forum.....Oh, and I'm a speaker!

Glasdir Conference Centre, Llanrwst
Oh dear....I have been asked to present at the ‘Outdoor North Wales Forum’ at the Glasdir Conference Centre, Llanrwst which is only a few days away. My topic to discuss is ‘Social Marketing - does it really work for outdoor businesses?’  Social Marketing is obviously something that I am becoming more familiar with each day, I’m happy to discuss its benefits and how useful it is for business with anyone who wants to know, but in front of circa 120 people I’m not so sure!!!

The team that arrange the forum
Let’s be honest I am terrified. ‘Public speaking is speaking to a group of people in a structured, deliberate manner intended to inform, influence, or entertain the listeners,’ ( to me, this just reads as ‘public speaking is speaking to a huge room of people who are judging everything you say and expecting you be fascinating and entertaining maybe even funny and definitely nerve free ...... Oh lord what have I got myself into?! I’m already nervous, my palms are sweating and my stomach is literally doing somersaults (it’s a real thing) and the forum is over a week away, what will I be like on the day?!

Karen Plumb speaking last year
It is my employers, Walking North Wales who arrange the forum and when I was first asked to take part I was pleased to have the opportunity. Last year’s forum was a massive success and I have heard some fantastic feedback and read some of the talks which sound interesting and professional.  Although this is fantastic news, for me it is just a sign that the room will be full of many eager listeners expecting more of the same! This year’s forum is about to sell out already, great for Walking North Wales but my fears are worsening.

I am heartened that this is such a reputable event and that I am lucky enough to be a part of it. Some of the topics and presentations of the day sound interesting and include ‘Making a living from Niche Markets’ and ‘Building walking trails - The Ardudwy Way and The North Wales Pilgrim's Way’, if only I was just a spectator! There are even workshops held in the afternoon, I am coordinating one of these too, but luckily this is more hands on and with fewer people so I can cope with that!
Jojo Mains from the RNLI will be speaking this year

 The forum really is a great place for outdoor businesses in the area to meet and find a central point to discuss the way the market is going and I am really excited to be there. I hope that I do Walking North Wales justice and my presentation goes well, wish me luck and if I survive the day I’ll let you know how it goes!

For more information find The Outdoor North Wales Forum on Facebook or visit their site

Thursday, 16 February 2012

My first Geocaching Experience!

My colleagues are involved in a sport that is very new to me- geocaching. I’m not sure if I’m speaking to experienced ‘geocachers’ or not, so for the benefit of novices like myself I will just give you a brief overview. To me, (emphasis on me there- this is not a definition of Oxford dictionary accuracy by any means) geocaching appears to be a high tech treasure hunt, with the use of GPS systems players locate ‘caches’ which are hidden off the beaten track. These caches contain small gifts and treats and a log book, all you need to do is replace the present you take with something else. These are only small trinkets such as keyrings, toys and pens, but it’s all quite fun and an alternative hobby to pick up. You can see if there are any ‘caches’ to be found in your area using an interactive map like that on the website- you might also find a better explanation on there too!

That morning my colleague from Walking North Wales had been assigned the task of hiding caches for the upcoming half term holiday- it does seem to be an activity that appeals to children and gets them enjoying the good old outdoors! After visiting Holywell the week before, I wanted to see more of North East Wales and asked to tag along…..
We had been assigned a few specific places to hide caches so I already had an itinerary for the day. If you are interested in taking part in that area, you might not want to read this, or on the alternatively  it might be a good idea to so that you can get a few clues! We picked up the caches at Loggerheads, an 80 acre country park filled with beautiful riverside and forest trail. We searched for a perfect spot to hide the box, just plonking it on the side of a path is not good enough, they have to be quite well concealed but not buried and we hid ours some logs in the wood. Done, my first cache had been recorded!

Walking throught the woods
Next the hill, Moel Famau was on our agenda. I had never been there before and must say I was quite impressed. I have found a new appreciation for the outdoors since starting this blog, I have always enjoyed gentle walks but, now I actually found the thought of walking up the hill quite exciting.  The hill and country park of Moel Famau is located within an area of outstanding natural beauty, and outstanding it is! Despite my growing interest in more challenging walks , I still chose an easy route  up the hill. There are several trails to choose from, all easily signed and well maintained with different difficulty ratings. The route we chose was the Numeracy Trail and we hid a cache along off the beaten track where the views are stunning. If you like the sound of Moel Famau then is a good, unofficial source for more information.

At Basignwerk Abbey

Next up was the Greenfield Valley Heritage Park and Basignwerk Abbey Park which, if you have read my Holywell blog entry, you will know I have visited before. This is a beautiful abbey with a strong connection to St Winifride’s well and I was happy to make another visit to hide a cache. Following this, we drove to Bodelwyddan Castle which is set among 260 acres of beautiful grounds so there was plenty of space to find a hiding place! The castle is open to the public for most of the year but we somehow managed to choose a day that it was closed so couldn’t go in for a look around, probably for the best as we had lots to do! The history of the castle originates back to before 1460 and is hopefully somewhere that I will blog about soon. However after that tempting snippet, if you now cannot wait until that is written then take a look at!

Hiding a cache

Bodelwyddan Castle

Outside the gaol

Our last cache was to be put on the grounds around Ruthin Gaol.  I love exploring old buildings and would love research buildings such as this gaol further. The gaol is open from April-October; however, from the little I know about it, I do know that I want to return- perhaps I could do a ‘gaol special’ blog next time! I found a great site to learn more about the gaol and according to this site there has been a prison on the Ruthin Gaol site since the seventeenth century and it is the only purpopse-built Pentonville style prison open to the public as a heritage attraction, impressive stuff.  Ruthin is only somewhere that I drove through quickly that day (not too quickly of course), but from what I saw it seems very pretty and the town and gaol seem to be worth another visit.

And that was is, job done!  I was glad that I had gone on the trip to plant the caches and see more of North East Wales, and I might even try a spot of geocaching in the area now...although I might be at a slight advantage!

Monday, 13 February 2012

A (mini) Anglesey Adventure!

I was in Bangor and had an hour or so to spare and I had heard great things about the Anglesey Coastal Path so I thought I would go and experience just a little of it for myself. I thought this would be a more productive and satisfying use of my break- I had thought to go to the shops! I didn’t have time to do the whole path, or even enjoy a shorter section, so just to give you a flavour of what this incredible island has to offer, I condensed a few sights into my short time there.....

I firstly decided to be a bit of a tourist and go to the ‘town with a long name’! Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch is one of the longest place names in the world, having used my favourite source (Google!) I have found it to be either second or third on the list, depending if the Thai name for Bangkok is counted. Whichever opinion you share, it is clearly quite a mouthful and the town is worth a visit, even if it is just to take your picture at the train station like myself!  From the town you can see ‘The Marquess of Anglesey's Column’, one can even walk up the 115 steps to the top, I imagine that the views from there are stunning, but alas no climb up the steps for me, unfortunately (or quite conveniently) I just didn’t have the time! The column was made in 1815 and the statue of Henry William Paget, Earl of Uxbridge, first Marquess of Anglesey was later added in 1860. He was second in command to Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo where he was unlucky enough to lose his leg.

Anglesey has incredible views and even when stopping at the side of road, the view of Menai Suspension Bridge is unbelievable. I actually stumbled across a scene being filmed for S4C’s ‘Rownd a Rownd’ when I parked up in a lay-by, not a bad spot to choose by the location manager there!  I was driving around the area to take some impressive snaps of somewhere new. On the journey I passed ‘Kate –rose’ the Waitrose supermarket where Kate Middleton was pictured shortly after the royal wedding, I popped in quickly but she wasn’t there, as Prince William is away in the Falklands I thought I could keep her company and take her for a quick drink at ‘The Bridge Inn,’ a lovely little pub by the bridge that I had come across.....oh well, her loss I suppose!
The film crew!

So back to the point in hand, as I was exploring the coastal path for a beautiful picture I struck gold. St Mary’s church has the perfect location looking over the estuary. During my time working for Walking North Wales and researching the area, from my Facebook photos (find our page- Walking North Wales), it seems that I have visited quite a few churches and graveyards recently, this has not been completely intentional but they just seem to have the most beautiful settings.

The view from the Graveyard

So my whistle-stop tour of Anglesey does not do it justice I’m afraid. I was not sure whether to write this blog post on it, however I hope that like me you now want to go back and see more!

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

My day out to Holywell!

I was attending a meeting in Flintshire and felt I should make the most of my time up there and find somewhere to visit.  I was advised that Holywell was a good place to see, somewhere I yet again knew very little about!

St Winefride’s Well has been a place of pilgrimage since the seventh century and is the oldest continually visited pilgrimage site in Great Britain, so I thought I should take a look. After visiting St Mary’s well near Aberdaron (if you would like to learn more then please, read the blog post about it!) I was intrigued by ‘Pilgrimage’ and eager to study it further.  In comparison to St Mary’s Well, The Well Chapel of St Winefride has a far more serene and traditional setting, both incredibly beautiful but so very different.  Unlike St Mary’s Well which is set among craggy rocks on a cliff’s edge, St Winefride’s Well lies in highly maintained grounds within a beautiful chapel and is slightly easier to access- there was no need to check tide times during this trip!

St. Winefride’s Well is said to be the most famous healing well in Great Britain and the waters  are reported to cause miraculous cures, I was feeling fine and healthy that day so unfortunately I could not test this theory. The legend behind the well is quite entertaining and stems from the failed seduction attempt of a Chieftan named Caradoc upon a Winefride, Gwenfrewi in Welsh, the daughter of a local prince named Tewyth. Unfortunately Caradoc did not seem to take rejection very well and as she ran away toward a church built by her uncle St. Beuno he cut off cut off her head. Where her head fell a spring of water sprouted and it is that place where the well can now be found. Luckily for Winefride her uncle prayed (profusely I imagine) and placed her head back on her body and she came back to life! The ending of the story was not so happy for Caradoc as he sunk to the ground and was never seen again.  It is said that this tale was not written down until 500 years after her death and therefore may have been embellished slightly, but I shall leave it to you to make up more mind, I personally quite like to believe it!
Statue of St Winefride

I hope that this blog entertains you and will hopefully encourage you to visit the places that I have if you like the sound of them, I do not therefore wish to report the entire history and details of where I go. However I must explain that the architecture of the Gothic perpendicular chapel that surrounds the Well is rather stunning and frames it perfectly.  I am no expert in architecture or religious building but I couldn’t help but be impressed by this one.
The incredible architecture surrounding the Well

It seems that I among some rather remarkable people to have visited the well, including royalty such as Richard I, Henry V and Princess Victoria. Rumor also had it that certain key figures visited the shrine to discuss the Gunpowder plot in 1605. It is clear that the Well is considered an important pilgrimage site and, if like me you have now been converted to research the subject I would definitely recommend a visit here.

I still had time before my meeting and therefore drove five minutes down the road to Basignwerk Abbey, a place which has strong links with St. Winefride’s Well. The Abbey itself is set in the beautiful Greenfield Valley Heritage Park and is in slight ruins, which I felt only adds to its character. I was the only person there for a while and it was such a tranquil place to wander around.  The monks at Basingwerk were confirmed the possession of the Well and Chapel in 1240 by David ap Llywelyn and cared for it for almost 300 years until 1537 when the monastery was dissolved.There really is an fascinating background to St Winefried’s Well and and Basignwerk monastery and if anything I have mentioned has interested you then I would certainly encourage you take a visit.
Me at Basingwerk Abbey

Pantaspah Franciscan Friary Retreat Centre and St David's Church
My time there however was over and I was advised by a kind couple who run the gift shop and ticket office at the Well to visit Pantaspah Franciscan Friary Retreat Centre. I had just enough time to take a quick peak and it was definitely worth it. The Frairy is beautifully maintained and although I was not a guest staying at the retreat I found it easy to appreciate the quietness and serenity.  Pantasaph’s St David’s Church is quite spectacular and is a place I’m eager to see again. If you are religious the centre run’s all sorts of programmes for those wishing for some quiet to time to reflect and pray and  they also have a seeker’s programmes for others who wish to learn more about Catholic Spirituality. If you are in fact one of those people I would say ‘go fo it!’ as it’s a fantastic spot! For more information see

I was then on my way to my meeting and the surrounding countryside of Holywell is amazing. I travelled back home through the Denbighshire Moors which were covered by snow and I must say I think that the drive home was arguably the highlight of trip. The stunning surroundings made my journey one that I did not want to end and despite seeing some incredible buildings that day, I realised that the Welsh countryside is difficult to compete with!

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Plas yn Rhiw

After my Go Below adventure I was hoping to take part or visit a slightly less exhilarating attraction, and luckily the Walking North Wales group were very kind! I am embarrassed to say that I had never come across Plas yn Rhiw before, however one of the reasons I am writing this blog is discover the beautiful secrets of North Wales, and I certainly found one today. This amazing National Trust owned house has parts dating from as far back as the 17th Century, I say parts because, as you walk around the house you wonder through time from one century to another.

I had heared of  the ‘Snowdrop weekend’ taking place on the 4-5th Feb, and thought I must visit and see what the fuss was about, I didn’t realise that I was in for such a treat. I was introduced to Llifon Jones, the resident gardener who took me on a tour of the beautiful gardens where I was able to see the incredible snowdrops firsthand. This really is a special flower and the delicate snowdrops blanketing the ground underneath a canopy of branches truly is worth a visit. The view from the gardens overlooking the ocean of Cardigan Bay is spectacular and I was rather jealous of Llifon’s ‘office’!

                                                                         The Snowdrops

I do not have a great knowledge of horticulture I’m afraid, however that didn’t mean I couldn’t enjoy the delightful garden, in fact I believe it made it even more interesting. Llifon explained that most of the plants on the grounds are not indigenous to this country and many originate from exotic places such as South America. One area of the garden however is extremely Welsh - the budding orchard. Plums, pears and apples, all of which are native to the area grow there. In fact,  certain apples are only found in this area, the diamond apple which only grows in a cottage garden in Dyffryn Ardudwy can be seen in the orchard.

This weekend the gardens are open to the public and this is a fantastic opportunity to admire Llifon’s work, the breathtaking view and the precious snowdrops. The Plas itself opens next month for visitors; however I was kindly shown around by Mary the curator, a local lady who is incredibly interesting and clearly has a love for the house. She can offer tours of the house for groups which is something I will most certainly do in the future.

The establishment has a long history and it is now being preserved as it was during the time that the last owners lived there.  Eileen, Lorna and Honora Keating were three unmarried sisters originally from Nottingham who lived in the house with their mother Constance. In 1938 the estate was on the market for £600 and unfortunately the house was in a state of disrepair and the garden wild. Lovingly with the support of their good friend Sir Clough Williams-Evans of Portmeirion the sisters restored and saved the house and garden and it became the incredible place you can visit today. Despite coming from so far away, the family had fallen in love with the area and endeavoured  to preserve the natural beauty of the Llyn Peninsula, the locals now seem to possess a deep gratitude for all that they have done.

Lorna (the second sister) was the last to die in 1981, however when learning the Keating family history  with Mary today I was incredibly interested in Honora, the youngest sister. She was awarded an OBE for her incredible work with the council focusing upon Maternity and childcare, her beautiful paintings are to be found all over the house and I got the distinct feeling that she was the driving force behind the family. Even during that same afternoon I conducted my own research on Honora Keating and visited the three sisters’ grave at Llanfaelrhys as she is such an intriguing character.

The siters' grave

This blog will never quite portray how charming and modest this house is and despite the fact that most of the furniture is covered until next month I still enjoyed exploring around.  I was shown some fantastic paintings by R.S. Thomas’s wife and Mary explained that you can see the contents of the cupboards and drawers from a link on the National Trust website . Sir Clough Williams-Ellis’ influence is clear in both the house and gardens due to quirky features such as doors and roofless outbuildings which make the property so unique.

A quirky image on the kitchen wall
The chance to view the Snowdrops this weekend should not be missed, even if you don’t usually visit opens gardens I really feel that the grounds have so much to offer and anyone would have a fulfilling experience, especially if the weather is as glorious as it was during my visit! Llifon Jones the gardener will be discussing the event on S4C’s Wedi 7 on Friday 3rd Feb and I’m sure it will be an interesting watch. The house is certainly worth coming back to see and I’m so pleased that I was able to learn about its history and the fascinating stories of the previous owners.  

During the 1950s the Keating sisters gave the house to the National Trust and I am personally extremely grateful!