Thursday, 21 June 2012

Lost Routes in Wales

Did anyone see Griff Rhys Jones at 7pm last night on BBC1?
The program was Britain's Lost Routes, and episode 4 last night followed the route of mediaeval pilgrims from Holywell by the river Dee to St David's Cathedral in Pembrokeshire. If you missed it you can catch it here on the BBC iPlayer.

The landscape was glorious and Griff and his 4 companions have fun bathing in holy water, winnowing wooden staves, foraging for food and trudging along one of what they call "The forgotten routes that made this country."
It was all great fun though a little superficial and, because many of the pilgrimage routes are now main roads, much of the journey was undertaken in a Range Rover.
Later in the week Peter will be reporting on some of the places in North Wales featured in the program and unearthing more information and indicating circular walking routes from these places which can make the base for a great day out in North Wales. Watch this space!

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Man’s best friend

Sheep need to be constantly monitored and checked for disease and damage. This means rounding them up from the high pastures on a regular basis. A good dog is vital for this and farmers vie with each other to breed and train the best dogs. Competitions are held throughout the year and are a joy to watch. This dog at the Nantgwynant meet on June 17th was set a big task in this huge field but didn’t quite make it in the allotted time. There is a North Wales Sheepdog Society and the next trials are at Llanfairfechan  on August 12th and 13th. See

Faecal egg counting? Get a life!

There are better ways of spending a Sunday, but using this microscope to count the number of nematodes and tiny insect eggs in sheep faeces is actually very important. Too many and the sheep will not prosper and will need to be chemically treated or the pasture ploughed. It is all part of a cycle. Infected sheep will infect the pasture with their droppings and this will go on to infect other sheep from the infected grass. In extreme cases the stock on the pasture will need to be replaced by cattle. These remedies are expensive so monitoring accurately the rate of infection is an important task.

The days when the wool cheque paid the rent

Traditionally the summer gathering of sheep from upland pastures and the shearing was an occasion of commercial and social significance. This was neighbours co-operating.  Wool fetched a good price and the wool cheque could pay for the farm rent in a good year. Shearing was done by hand and this allowed for a greater deal of discretion by the shearer as to the length of wool that should be left on the sheep to help it survive the winter. Nowadays the wool cheque hardly even covers the bill from the shearing contractor and sheep are often trimmed far too short and cut in the process of using mechanical clippers. Hand clipping means that the depth of cut can be closely controlled.

Here at Hafod y Llam they are demonstrating the old skills of hand shearing. 
These ewes have a longer coat than would have been the case with mechanical shearing.  This is important because sometimes a sheep escapes the gathering and has to be sheared later in the year.

Gotcha! Peter mugged in a field.

I became aware of the good work of the Snowdonia Society when I visited their HQ at Tir Hir, the Ugly House, on the A5 just north of Betws y Coed. But it wasn’t until I met Margaret Thomas and other members of the Society at the Dry Stone walling competition at Hafod y Llam that I was actually joined up by these wonderful volunteers. The Society had sponsored the Competition and their team of volunteers were busily preparing the food for the hungry competitors. Such enthusiasm is infectious and it feels an honour to be part of such a group which works to ensure that the beauty and diversity of the National Park's landscapes, wildlife and cultural heritage remain for present and future generations to enjoy. Have a look at their website on and consider joining them also.

How do you make a walking stick?

Len Porter from Llanberis exhibited at the Hafod y Llam farm open day and explained to me the intracacies of walking stick making. The shaft is made from saplings of hazel, hawthorn or blackthorn cut in deepest winter when the sap is down. These are then steamed straight and left to dry for 12 months. The tips are made from brass and the crook is made from horn of ram, Indian buffalo or wild goat. The trick is to boil the horn for about 40 minutes which makes bending the horn very much easier. Further decoration in the form of carvings can then take place. Prices vary from £60 for a basic crook up to £150 for a decorative top. Should a Father’s Day present be needed then look no further kids!

Hot work at Hafod Y Llam

The Dry Stone Walling Association held a competition on Sunday at Hafod Y Llam, Beddgelert. It was hard work just watching! The task was for each entrant to dismantle and then renovate and rebuild a one yard section of dry stone walling to the height of 4ft 6 inches by the end of the day. With no mortar involved, the skill lies in the careful placement of stones and the application of basic principles to produce a structure held together by its own weight. The large footing stones are placed in a trench and great effort is made to keep these to the same height and to make a width of one yard. The second tier, “the first lift,” is of medium stones with smaller stones above in the “second lift.” Stones are set with their length into the wall and “2 on 1” and “1 on 2” similar to bonding on brickwork so that no running or vertical joints form. Wedges hold each stone in place. These are inserted at the stone’s back to prevent movement. This  “doubled” wall has two skins of building stones, with the middle packed with “hearting”, smaller stones carefully placed to prevent movement of the backs of the building stones and hold the wedges ion place. Between the first and second lifts you will normally find “through stones”, long stones stretching right across the wall tying the two skins together.  Walls are wider at the base and taper to 20 inches towards the top. This slope is called the “batter” and the resultant A shape adds stability to the wall. The top of the second lift is levelled off with small stone to provide an even base for the coping, upright stones securely wedged together to give a durable finish to the wall and a difficult surface for sheep to walk on. There were 4 different classes of entry, neighbours worked co-operatively and the judges watched the work all day. Prizes were donated by the Snowdonia Society. This is a very serious business and if you fancy trying it out then try a weekend Basic Introduction or a Taster Day

Launch of the Dandelion Café at Craflwyn

This National Trust owned place, Craflwyn, just outside Beddgelert has now opened as a classic British tearoom, one of a chain attached to HF Holiday locations and run under lease by HF.  According to the marketing speak, the emblem, the Dandelion, says it all. “Cheerful, light, unpretentious and with the ability to bring a smile to everyone’s face.” Open from 10am until 4pm it offers Fairtrade products, Suki style teas, an alcohol licence, a light and classy ambience and beautifully cooked food-full lunch, light meals of snacks. Sunday lunch is £10.95 for 3 courses. Brilliant staff, cakes and Snowdonia cheeses. It officially opened yesterday and I called in for tea after the Farm Open Day at Hafod Y Llam and very good it was.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Batty Schemes

Many of the UK's native bats are sadly threatened by loss of their habitats, and the spread of the road network. Many bats fly at low height, and so a very vulnerable to being hit by vehicles as they cross roads. This has lead to the creation of "Bat Bridges" over several new roads in the UK. These are made from wire mesh or steel girders and were believed to appear to the bats' sonar as similar to  hedgerows and other natural features which bats tend to use as navigation aids. Following the bridges would hopefully induce the bats to fly at a safe height above the road.

A bat bridge was recently built across the new Porthmadog by-pass at a cost of £650,000 to the tax payer. This has proven controversial with local residents, who would have preferred the money be spent on a foot bridge so that children and the elderly could safely cross the road to access local walking routes.

To add to the controversy, a study by Leeds University has concluded that the bridges are ineffective. The bats do not seem to recognise the artificial structures and instead ignore them, continuing to use their old routes which puts them in harm's way when they cut across roads.

The paper’s lead author, PhD student Anna Berthinussen, said: “Many bat species forage up to several kilometres from their roost, so our road system is an ever expanding network of life-threatening hurdles the bats must overcome. Our findings raise concerns about how we can build or improve roads without impacting on these protected species. We need to find solutions that really work and suggest that alternative designs are investigated and, most importantly, tested more effectively than they have been in the past.”

Thursday, 14 June 2012

New Safety Initiative in Snowdonia National Park

The Snowdonia National Park Authority is trialling a plan to place markers with grid references on stiles and gates. The idea is for lost walkers to regain their bearings by looking up their location on a map. More seriously lost walkers will be able to report their position more easily to the rescue services if needed.

One of the National Park Wardens, Gruff Owen commented: "The idea originally came from local mountain rescue teams. The markers are being placed on pre-existing stiles and gates so temporarily disoriented walkers who've brought a map and remember their geography lessons will easily be able to pinpoint their position. I hope the markers will also serve as a reminder for some to polish up map and compass skills."

For more information see the Snowdonia National Park website.

Refuelling Station for Walkers!

Tea Shops aren't always welcoming places for muddy-booted ramblers. Not so the Tea Station in Northop, Flintshire. The owners Susan and Nigel Price-Williams are happy to welcome all-comers for a nice cuppa. Keen walkers themselves, Susan and Nigel are also happy to welcome cyclists and motorcyclists, and have facilities for storing bikes at the rear of the shop.

The shop is in a grade 2 listed former police station opposite the church in Northop. If you need to get in touch their contact details are:

The Old Police Station
Church Road

01352 840 863

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Aelwyd a Gymhell - a welcoming hearth beckons

This is an inscription which greeted me on my arrival at Plas Penucha near Caerwys.

I had a meeting concerning the North Wales Pilgrim Way which lasted late into the evening. So I took the opportunity of staying overnight at this unusual 4 star farmhouse B&B. The place is extremely restful, spacious and elegant. A far cry from the Travelodges into which the office often books me!

The present structure is Tudor and has been in the hands of the same family ever since. It was altered and improved in the arts and crafts era when Lloyd George himself was a great friend of the family.

It is surrounded by farmland and has a super garden looking out over the Clwydian Hills.

I had another meeting after my splendid breakfast so the Flintshire brochure was as close as I got to walking that day. But the house is only a mile from Offa's Dyke so this place will make a great port of call when I tackle the Offa's Dyke Path later this year.