Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Pilgrimage Walk this Saturday

This Saturday there will be a pilgrimage walk as part of the Diocese of St Asaphs' Year of Pilgrimage. A pilgrimage trail will be launched by the Bishop of St Asaph at St Michael's Church, Llanfihangel Glyn Myfyr on Saturday the 28th of September.

After a service in St Michael's church, walkers can choose one of 5 routes to Llantysilio.

If you do decide to join the pilgrimage, please remember to bring good walking boots and all weather clothing, maps and drinking water, and to make transport arrangements.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Reluctantly Converted

Generally speaking walkers are not in favour of the motorisation of our beautiful outdoor spaces and we get a lot of correspondence from Ramblers who are trying to keep out the ever growing menace of 4by4s on bridle ways and narrow lanes. However they know that big events do bring serious money into the economy and also that big events have an international dimension which brings Wales to the notice of people overseas. Here at Walking North Wales we have no brief to promote golf, but today we have 6 walkers from Bremen near Hamburg who contacted us for a walking holiday because they had seen photographs of Wales when the Rider Cup was held in Newport. Accordingly, we welcome Wales Rally GB which is to take place between the 15th and the 17th of October. Over these 4 days the forests of North Wales will come alive with the thundering roar of highly tuned rally cars. The crews will take on 22 stages, the majority of which are new. It starts from Conwy Quay for an overnight stage in Snowdonia. There will be an opportunity for a family day out by visiting Chirk Castle and Kinmel Park on Saturday the 16th of November.

All change for Air Sea Rescue

The sight of the large yellow Sea-king helicopters has for many years been a reassuring one for walkers. The prime duty of these RAF helicopters is to rescue RAF airmen if and when they end up "in the drink" - that's out at sea, rather than the officer's mess. But 90% of the time they offer their service to emergency cases in the mountains or along the coast to injured and stranded walkers and seafarers. Those of us who walk the Snowdonia mountains would normally expect to see at least one on a full day out. The service was closely associated with Prince William for 3 years. However from 2016, everything changes. Two Sikorsky S-92 helicopters will be based in a new hangar at Caernarfon Airport alongside office and mess facilities. This will be operated by Bristow Helicopters. There will be no connection with RAF Valley. The planning application for this new hangar is now being considered. It looks like creating 35 new jobs in Gwynedd but this will be to the disadvantage of Anglesey where RAF Valley has looked after the aging fleet of Sea-kings for something like 50 years.

Artist's impression of the new hangar.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

The Royal Palace of Aberffraw

I went in search of the royal palace at Aberffraw. There is a heritage and accommodation centre at Llys Llewelyn, and very good they are too. However these are barn conversions from 19th century stone buildings. The church promised something historic, however it has been heavily restored and is generally locked, although I am told that there is a fine Norman arch within. Most of the rest of the buildings in the village are 19th and early 20th century. It is not until you go into the heritage centre (where there is also a good shop and a tea room) that you can read up about the way the village looked in mediaeval times.

St Beuno's Church

This is the layout of the original royal palace. No.1 is the church, No.2 is the main court building, No.3 is the Chamber Block, where presumably the royal party slept, No.4 is the outhouse, which I took to be the latrine, No.5 is the stables (in mediaeval times only the very wealthiest has horses), No.6 is the store house where goods taken as taxes would have been stored and No.7 was the brewery, which was essential to purifying the water.

This is an artist's impression of how the palace would have looked in mediaeval times. Archaeologists have revealed traces of a wall and ditch / moat around the heart of the older part of the village which dates back to Roman times.

Note the position of the church and the bridge above. This was not a palace for the whole of the kingdom of Gwynedd. Monarchs and the court were peripatetic, they moved around their territory collecting tribute and taxes by way of food to sustain themselves and so these commote centres were in several locations in Gwynedd. It was the job of the local minor elites and their surfs (bondmen) to maintain the palace in the monarch's absence.

The royal palace at Aberffraw ceased to exist after the defeat of Llewelyn the Last. King Edward the First redistributed the lands to his own followers and this later led to the rise of the great local families - Bodorgan, Bodawen etc. The stones and timbers from the palace were dismantled and taken to Caernarfon, and were incorporated in the great castle there, a castle that was a tribute to another line of kingship altogether.

View of the village from the south west. Note the position of the church at the extreme left on the horizon.

The bridge is still intact, and crosses the river Fraw which runs from east to west.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Walks around the Ancient Churches of Llyn

I treated myself to this new book by Christopher Nichols, where he shares with us his favourite walks on the pilgrim routes to llyn. He takes us to the churches of saints such as Cybi and Tudwal and points out Llans, holy wells, and the churches where the pilgrims would stay on their journeys to and from Ynys Enlli. The book is illustrated by black and white photographs and there is a description of each of 13 walks, and there is a thumbnail sketch of a map for each one.

At £6.50 you can't expect coffee table book type photographs, or detailed maps. You would need to buy a 1:25,000 explorer map, which would work well alongside the book, and you could take your own photographs for record. As readers of this blog will know, I have covered many of these themes in my own jottings, but I have to say, it's a beautifully written and concise book. Add it to your Christmas list. Available from Carreg Gwalch Press

Mesolithic Activity at Trwyn Du

I was out walking near Aberffraw and following the course of the river to the sea, which emerges onto a beautiful beach which I am told is the favourite beach of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Those of us with an eye for archaeology (like the Duke's father) would be drawn to the headland to the north side of the beach - Trwyn Du (in English "Black Nose" or "Black Headland")

The river Fraw winds its way beautifully into the sea and is popular with all manner of wading birds.

Newborough Warren lies to the south of the river Fraw

I had a beautiful view of Bwlch Mawr, Rhyd Du and the Yr Eifl Hills.

I saw Snowdon in the distance, but immediately in front of me was a bronze age burial cairn - some 4000 years old. But I was interested to read later that this was extensively excavated in 1974 when it seemed threatened by coastal erosion. Underneath this bronze age burial mound was a mesolithic occupation deposit dating back 8000 to 9000 years ago. Those living at the site during this time would have been living in a river valley some 7km from the sea. 5000 pieces of flint, points and scrapers and stone axes were discovered. It was clearly a flint napper factory, a place making tools 3000 years before agriculture came to the area.

This is what the dig looked like in 1974.

Hearts of Oak!

I was visiting Holyhead for yet another cruise ship arrival and came across a historical re-enactment group, see An enthusiastic group of people interested in the times when Britain ruled the waves and Welsh sailors were a common sight in Nelson's Navy.

The group preparing the cannon outside the excellent Maritime Museum in Holyhead.

Preparing the powder.

Keeping the flame burning on a rope wick.

Stand back and cover your ears!

This was a serious noise from a very small cannon. I can hardly imagine what it must have been like on a Man of War, with perhaps a hundred guns firing out and a hundred guns firing in!

This is a wooden square plate which made stacking ye olde dishwasher much easier! And made them easier to store aboard ship for rough weather. Despite all the tales of scurvy and worm ridden biscuits, sailors were among the best fed of all the fighting services. They needed to be because constantly climbing the rigging and hauling ropes was exhausting work. Hence the expression "a square meal". See also the limes, which helped to prevent scurvy - hence the British sailors were often described as "Limeys" by the rebel colonists.

 The team were able to demonstrate the use of side arms and telescopes.

Close quarter fighting aboard ship was often fierce, and sailors would board enemy ships well prepared, but would sometimes discover that nearly everybody aboard ship was dead already, blown to bits by the guns, whose cannon balls would create a deadly cloud of splinters.

The team really new their stuff about cooking in the days of Jack Tar, and had a side of salted beef, which did not look appetising.

This is the 24 hour watch schedule which would have been familiar to Welsh sailors in times gone by.

Closed for refurbishment

The YHA Pen y Pass Youth Hostel has been closed for a £1.3m investment which will create another world class youth hostel in Wales, doubling the existing accommodation and offering en suite accommodation, private family rooms, a licensed restaurant and education facilities. There will be a disabled access bedroom and 14 additional new bedrooms. Once complete the hostel will have 27 bedrooms, 16 of which will have en-suite facilities, providing accommodation for 111 people.

It's all part of the plan to create world class hostels in fantastic locations. Doubtless they will have to increase prices to fulfil this ambition. Where will walkers of modest income stay then, I wonder? 

Monday, 16 September 2013

Seal of approval?

Visitors to Bardsey are often struck by the large number of seals that make their home there. Seals numbers are recovering well since the Conservation of Seals Act was passed in 1970, and there are no natural predators in UK waters.

However in other parts of the world, seals are not so lucky. In northern Canada and Alaska, their list of predators includes man, as seals are apparently quite good to eat. Although seals have a thick layer of fatty blubber, the muscle tissue itself is very lean, making them quite a healthy source of protein, particularly for isolated communities of native Canadians who are too far north to keep livestock. Presumably Bardsey island dwellers in times gone by would have used the seal oil to light lamps and perhaps also eaten them. Does anybody know? If so, let us know in the comment section below. I have looked up recipes on the internet and found this from 1955 -

Farewell to the Prince

One of the things that has brightened up life in North Wales in recent years, and certainly created visitor interest, has been the tour of duty that Prince William has made at RAF Valley on Anglesey. Along with his wife Katherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, he has enjoyed working in a place where he has not been treated as a celebrity. They have been left to live an ordinary life, to walk the beaches and visit the local sights and shops. You may have noticed the news that Prince William is now retiring from his role as a helicopter rescue pilot based at RAF Valley on Anglesey -

I'm sure everyone in North Wales will wish the Prince and his family all the best as they move into a new phase of their lives. They have certainly done a lot to raise the profile of Anglesey in the media. Lets hope we can continue to take advantage of this higher profile to keep up this increased level of tourism.

Burton Breast Care Fund

Last weekend we were very happy to host a group doing a sponsored walk for the Burton Breast Care Fund. There were 11 walkers, all associated with the Branston Golf and Country Club in Burton on Trent. They stayed overnight in Manaros and the local B&B Dolfor 2 and enjoyed a fine evening meal at the Ship Hotel in Aberdaron. After a hearty breakfast, cooked by myself, I dropped them off in our minibus at Penllech beach from where they walked the total of 20 miles back around the coast path to Aberdaron, which took them a total of 8 and a half hours. On a day when there had been rain overnight, and a lot of wind, that was a creditable achievement. They had the foresight to bring a minibus and so were able to end the walk with a glass of champagne. Cheers to them!

Aberdaron Beach

Path above Whistling Sands

On the North Coast


Porth Meudwy
Group shot, just before setting off

On the way down to Penllech beach

Monday, 9 September 2013

10 Circular Walks on Anglesey

Anglesey County Council has published an excellent booklet detailing 10 circular walks around the island, that make us of its world famous coastal path. The walks are also available on their website.

The 10 walks are:

1. Brynrefail

2. Cemaes Bay / Bae Cemaes

3. Holyhead Mountain / Mynydd Tŵr.

4. Llaneilian

5. Bull Bay / Porth Llechog

6. Landdona

7. Rhosneigr

8. Brynsiencyn

9. Pentraeth

10. Rhoscolyn

A truly Coastal Path at last!

Visitors to the Llyn Peninsula will have been aware that the Coastal Path actually deviates from the true coast line in a few locations. This was a particular problem for the section just east of Porth Oer / Whistling Sands, which unfortunately large inland diversion away from a very beautiful stretch of privately owned coast.

However, thank to a lot of hard work on the part of Gwynedd Council, who have negotiated access with the landowners, walkers are now free to enjoy this fantastic stretch of coast. The council agreed to install new fences and path furniture in exchange for access, so the farmers had the benefit of improved stock fences, while walkers get a well marked path in some of the best coastal scenery in the UK.