Thursday, 31 May 2012

Eyes along the Coast

Walkers along the Wales Coast Path in North Wales may have noticed an increasing number of what appear to be look-out stations, old coast guard stations which have been empty for some time but are now manned by volunteers who offer their services free of charge and are supported totally by public donation. They have already assisted in a number of potentially hazardous incidents along the coastline. Along the coast path there is always a danger of accident, tripping, falling or being carried out to sea. So far the stations in North Wales are Porth Dinllaen (pictured), Pwllheli, and Rhoscolyn. If you would like to support these volunteers or join them then go to

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

New Geocache Trail at Penrhyn Castle

The National Trust are looking for a volunteer to help them set up a new Geocaching trail in the grounds of Penrhyn Castle near Bangor. If you would like to have a go, contact them by phoning 01248 353084 or emailing

Ballast Island

One of the special features outside the harbour at Porthmadog is a man made island called Cei Ballast. This was formed by pebbles and rubble deposited by sailing ships when they arrived at Porthmadog to pick up slate in the 19th Century. This slate was delivered to destinations all over the world. A sailing ship was prone to capsizing in high winds if it did not have cargo to lower its centre of gravity. Consequently ships would fill their holds with rocks from wherever they had unloaded their slate so that they would be stable for the return journey. If you have an interest in geology you can identify rocks from all over the world on the island.

Eisteddfod on Llyn

Peter called yesterday at the tent village that is appearing at Parc Glynllifon. On the 4th of June this year the Urdd will be holding their national Youth Eisteddfod there. For those who don't know, the Urdd is a youth organisation which encourages young people to take on activities and socialise through the medium of Welsh.
Eisteddfodau are an important part of Welsh culture. They are essential poetry and music competitions. This year's National Eisteddfod takes place from the 4th to the 11th of August in the Vale of Glamorgan. This event focuses on Welsh poetry, and has two prestigious prizes, the Crown for best free verse, and the even more sought after Chair for best poem in strict meter verse or Cynghanedd.


Peter took these photos yesterday of the Rhododendrons at Parc Glynllifon and Plas Glyn y Weddw. They always look gorgeous at this time of year, but their is a darker side to these plants.

Rhododendrons are not native to the British Isles, but were introduced as ornamental plants from Asia and Eastern Europe during the Victorian period. The most vigorous of these is the species Rhododendron Ponticum, which has become an invasive weed in Snowdonia, Scotland and parts of southern England. R. Ponticum is an incredibly vigorous plant that rapidly shades out slower growing native species such as laurels and sapling trees. Each bush can release thousands of viable seeds which can take root in tiny cracks and crevices in rocks, and can also spread by sending up suckers from their roots. There are many hillsides in Snowdonia swamped with dense thickets of R. Ponticum. The dense shade and acidic leaf litter created by the plants are completely hostile to other species. "Rhodi-bashing" or clearing hillsides with groups of volunteers has become a constant battle for big land owners such as the National Trust and the Snowdonia National Park. Often the only way to ensure the plants are dead is to chop them down, then inject each trunk individually with weedkiller. The Snowdonia Society regularly organises Rhodi-Bashing days, during which volunteers get to vent their destructive urges in a good cause.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Ich bin ein Berliner!

This is one of the phrases in German with which Peter is familiar, and is appropriate to quote here because Peter went to Manchester Airport on Sunday to collect Roland and Wolfgang who are journalists from Berlin. Visit Wales asked us to show them the best parts of the new Wales Coast Path so we drove them along the north coast and here are a few photographs to mark their visit.
As the summer sun goes down over Conwy it illuminates the castle beautifully. 
By the time we reached Caernarfon the sun had already set, but Wolfgang has far better photo kit than Peter, so he has made more of the shot of Caernarfon Castle's illuminations.
Wolfgang was fascinated by peninsulas and here is Porth Dinllaen, a peninsula on a peninsula.
Wolfgang and Roland were interested in how the Wales Coast Path was made and enjoyed talking with Quentin Grimley who has worked hard on this project for the last five years, and all credit to him for making it happen.

They are on their way!

Two intrepid walkers, Adrian and Dave, have set out on the Pilgrim's Route from Holywell in Flintshire to Bardsey Island, see They are doing this as a sponsored walk in aid of Chrysalis which is a very worthwhile children's charity. They have hit a period of exceptional weather so do keep up with their blog to see how they are coping. The main pilgrimage this year sets off from Basingwerk Abbey on Sunday July 1st at 1pm. If you fancy joining them for a part or indeed the whole of this route over the course of 12 days then do look at And also see our blog of May 9th.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Why are we waiting?

Many of you have told us that you have had trouble leaving comments on Peter's blog posts. As far as we can tell, the reason is because the text box where you can write your comment takes a few seconds to appear after you click "Add your comment", and when it does, it is often below the visible portion of the page, so you have to manually scroll the page down with your mouse to see it.

When the text box does appear, it asks you who you would like to comment as. If you don't have a Google account, or just don't feel like leaving you name, you can select Anonymous from the drop down list. Then when you are ready click "Publish".

I hope that helps. We're very eager to hear your feedback. As you can see from the photo, Peter needs to know that all his hard work is being appreciated ;-).

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Offa's Dyke

Don't forget the Offa's Dyke path! With all the publicity surrounding the Wales Coast Path it is important not to forget that North Wales contains the northern section of the Offa's Dyke path, a recognised national trail which runs roughly along the eastern boundary of Wales. It was built by King Offa of Mercia in the late 9th Century to mark out his westernmost boundary with the tribes of the "Wealah" (which translates as the foreigners). A name which later gave rise to the word Wales. You can find more information in the videos below.

Video 1: Offa's Dyke, the Movie.
Video 2: Offa's Dyke, a local perspective.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

The Mouth of Hell? Really?

Stretching out north west from the Cilan headland is Porth Neigwl or Hell’s Mouth. This is a treacherous place in a south westerly gale and a rising tide and has claimed numerous shipwrecks over the centuries. In 1629 a French ship carrying members of the aristocracy was lured towards the rocks by local lights and the survivors killed and butchered. Two local men were hanged for this foul deed, but, unsurprisingly, seafarers came to dread this stretch of coast. Apart from wreckers on land there were pirate ships at sea in the 17th century (often associated with the local gentry) as well as Arab traders who in one raid on Holyhead captured over 100 persons for the white slave markets in North Africa. In 1858 a ship called The Twelve Apostles got into difficulties in Hell’s Mouth. The captain sent out a famous signal to the insurers Lloyds of London- “Twelve Apostles making heavy water in Hell’s Mouth”.

On a fine day in May it was difficult to imagine such threats. This is now a famous surfing beach with its own webcam.

On a superb summer’s evening a sea mist suddenly appeared which made the sea and the sky and the land all merge together in a shining glory. 
The beach at Hell’s Mouth is approximately 4 and a half miles long with good firm sand and makes for a wonderful place to walk and rest the mind. No signs to follow, no impediments, just the sea and the sky all around you.
Looking for signs of shipwreck, this is all I could find. It looks like part of the boiler of the 12 Apostles which sank in 1858.

Porth Ceiriad

West of Penrhyn Du is Porth Ceiriad, so named after Caer Pared Mawr Fort which is in the distance of the photograph below. It was an Iron Age fort with extensive defenses even though it enclosed only one sizable hut housing one large family and their animals.

It is hard to imagine now but had you stood on these cliffs around 8000 BC and looked across where Cardigan Bay is today you would have seen nothing but plains and forests. This is before sea levels rose to what they are today. Fossilized tree stumps found in the bay from this period could be the source of the Welsh legends of the lost lands of Cantre’r Gwaelod (the Lowland Hundred), a legendary sunken kingdom. It is said that the sunken church bells of this kingdom ring out in times of storms and danger.

As good as it gets?

To celebrate the opening of the first of the major new stretches of coastal access on Llŷn, Simon and I decided to take advantage of the good weather yesterday and to walk the Cilan headland/Hell’s Mouth section of the Coast Path. This is the large headland to the south of Abersoch. The section from Porth Tocyn round to Porth Ceriad has now been opened up to walkers.
The first surprise was to discover that “great minds think alike” and that Quentin Grimley, mastermind at CCW of the Coastal Path initiative, had decided to take the day off and walk the path also. Here he is with wife Karen and their young son.

The second surprise was that the beaches of Porth Tocyn, where we started out, were all but deserted-despite superb weather. Come on in holidaymakers, the water is lovely!

The third surprise was to see a pod of dolphins in the St Tudwal roads area. They were too far away to photograph properly and never came much above the surface-but they were there alright.

The fourth surprise was just how much physical work had gone into this project. Here is a photo of the new path out to Penrhyn Du from Porth Tocyn. The locals call it the Runway.

But the main surprise was the beauty of this landscape that has now been opened up for visitors. This photo of Simon has the St Tudwal islands as a backdrop. Whilst on this walk I met up with Rhys Jones of Gwynedd Council who gave me the good news that other sections of the coast are to be opened up soon. Then this path around the Llŷn will genuinely be as good as it gets.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Missing words puzzle

Here is an inscription on the side of the base of the high cross on Bardsey. I can’t make out the missing words. Any clue please?

The wonder of bird ringing on Bardsey

Bardsey is owned freehold by a charitable trust, but the main lease is held by the RSPB and the Island also has an active Bird Observatory. So, the study of birds is an important part of island life. To help with this there are many nets in which birds are trapped, bagged, identified, weighed, recorded and then ringed for future reference. From this information a picture can be established of trends in bird life, longevity, migration patterns, population growth and the like.

First the bird is identified and aged and checked for any previous ringing.
Then the bird is weighed
Meticulous records are kept

The birds are then released and seem none the worse for wear.

Them’s big birds!

Bardsey is a rare place of peace. Birdsong, the hum of bees, the moaning and sniffing and audible passing of wind by the seals mingles with the crashing of the sea. Then suddenly the RAF scream in with 50 odd Hawk aircraft.  “Luftwaffe!” exclaims our Belgian visitor, Chris. The sight may have appalled a pacifist or a more contemplative soul, but it impressed me with its precision and the display of power, and the tribute that it will be part of for the Queen’s Jubilee. “My goodness” said Chris “In  Belgium the airforce has only 3 aircraft!”

20,000 Saints? You must be joking!

This cross is a reminder of the 20,000 Saints said to have been buried on Bardsey Island. Why 20,000? In 1000 years of pilgrimage that is less than one per fortnight. It was a popular place of pilgrimage for people who were sick. It was the destination of a walk of healing wells. No wonder that so many died here or en route and subsequently had their bodies brought here. I can believe the figure of 20,000 or thereabouts. One thing is for sure, there are no Saints left on the mainland!

But why were they Saints? This walk of holy wells had a special feature (I won’t call it a selling point) which was that all pilgrims engaged on the journey, should they die on the journey or on the Island itself, then they would be excused all their sins and be able to enter the Kingdom of Heaven without going to Purgatory on the way. They would be free of all sin. In other words, Saints! Unsurprisingly, any pilgrim who thought that he was near to death chose to stick around the Island and wait for the inevitable. This boosted numbers considerably. They became the first tourists in North Wales. Not much repeat business though!

The porch of heaven

One of the best parts of our job here on Pen Llŷn is to introduce visitors to Bardsey Island. Last Wednesday was perfect weather and I had Chris Vercruysse and Monique with me from Belgium, our Kampeertoerists.

The seals around the Cafan always intrigue visitors and the sight of the gentle back of the mountain is in sharp contrast to the view from the mainland. This is a world of its own.
Here they are jostling for space as the tide goes down.

And here they are popping up to look at us.
The profusion of wild flowers is another feature. Here is an early appearance of Thrift.
The remains of St Mary’s Abbey, built by Augustinian monks, is a reminder that this place has always had a religious identity-one that stretches way back into pre Christian times. It was called the porch of heaven because people thought that this could be a taste of what heaven would be like. If not like this, then what?
Here is Peter hard at work explaining the presence of 10,000 pairs of Manx Shearwaters on the Island. If Monique was still listening she deserves a medal!
The mainland (and all that superb coastal walking) is spread out before us.
The lighthouse is now automatic and (with GPS) increasingly redundant, but it makes a fine sight from the mountain as we climb up past the Abbey and the Chapel area.
The birdlife is superb. Here are choughs in flight. And yes, it is a long way down!
The party gathers by the cafan. The ferry boat if the yellow one. You climb abroad from dry land. It is then delivered to the water in a cage on a trolley.
Many visitors fear that the crossing will be rough, but the boat whips through the waves for an exhilarating journey homeward.

Llanfair Pwllgwyngyll - finally, the truth behind longest name in the world!

This place never fails to amuse visitors. It is a great place to bring visitors as they arrive from Bangor Station or from Manchester Airport because it enables them to address the Welsh language and try a few words for themselves. The original name in 1254 was recorded for a small township as Piwllgunyl later spelled Pwllgwyngyll which means the hollow (pwll) where white (gwyn) hazel (gyll) grows. A church dedicated to St Mary was later built so, in 1536 we have Llan (place of saint) Vair (Mary) y pwll (at the hollow) Gwinghill.
If you are still with us, the appendage gogerychwwyrndrobwll-llantysiliogogogoch was deliberately coined to ensure continued prominence for a temporary railway station and freight yard about to become redundant following completion in 1850 of the Brittania Bridge. The fabrication credited to Thomas Hughes of Mennai Bridge (d 1890) is based on features in the immediate landscape-go (somewhat), ger (near), y (the) Chwyrn (wild), trobwll (the whirlpool) of Pwll Ceris in the Mennai Strait. Llantysilio is an allusion to Llandysilio near Mennai Bridge while gogogoch is an echo of Ynys Gorad Goch in the Strait and of nearby Llandysiliogogo Card.
Even though it was all a fabrication, the name has stuck and the freight yard is now a car park and the gift store and cafe thrives now as never before.

Boy! Did you ever see such a place?

We have some walkers from Oregon and the Carolinas in the U.S. with us at the moment. I picked them up from Bangor Station and en route to Nefyn we called at Plas Glynllyfon. And they were impressed. Big time! It was the seat of the Barons Newborough, the Wynn dynasty also from Bodfean and now of Rug. Built in the mid 19th Century it exudes class and wealth and sits amidst impressive grounds. There is nothing else like it on the Llŷn. The introduction of death duties and the social impact of two world wars made it increasingly difficult to support the big estates, so in 1948 Thomas John Wynn sold the site to timber merchants from Meirionydd who felled much of the woodland. They subsequently sold it to Caernarfonshire County Council and it became an agricultural college. Glynllifon College is now part of Coleg Meirion Dwyfor a sixth form college of higher education. The main house looks empty, but it is gradually being converted into a hotel and restaurant.

If you fancy a good meal or tea in classy surroundings then this is for you. The garden remains a Grade One listed garden with Giant Redwood and Cedar trees. There are arboretums, modern sculptures, a child size mill folly, a Mausoleum, a Hermitage gothic folly, a children’s boathouse and fountains and cascades, and a craft centre, design workshops and a café.

Which one is Snowdon?

Well, none of the above! I had been pointing out the distinctive summit of Snowdon all week to our French visitors. It can be viewed from many parts of the Llŷn and from the A55 corridor. When time came for a close up view the mist came down. Oh dear, maybe next time.