Monday, 30 April 2012

Ffestiniog Railway 30 years to Blaenau

Thirty years ago the Ffestiniog Railway re-opened all the way to Blaenau and there will be a series of special events from 5th to 7th May to celebrate the anniversary. It is also thirty years since the death of Colonel Campbell who rescued Plas y Dduallt from dereliction and did much to help the railway.

Farm buildings next to the house were used by the ‘deviationists’ between 1965 and 1973 during which time an estimated 10,000 bed nights were enjoyed. These days it is known as Campbell’s Cottage and is available for holidays. We are currently booked until 21st September apart from the weeks beginning 15th and 22nd June. Details at

In return for his help the Colonel gained Campbell’s Platform and the right to operate his own engine; aptly named ‘The Colonel’. The siding has gone but the private platform remains – guests to the cottage can stick out a hand and a steam train will grind to a halt. The story of his eccentric commute is told in a 1974 BBC documentary called 'The Campbells Came by Rail'.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Cruise round Anglesey on MV Balmoral

On 18th June MV Balmoral will sail round Anglesey, a six hour voyage with spectacular scenery for just £35. Should be on the bucket list for heritage enthusiasts. This is what it looked like when we did it:

Campbell’s Cottage is currently free for the week beginning Friday 6th July; indulge yourself with a private platform onto the world’s oldest operating steam railway. Cottage details at

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Stone age Fruits de Mer

A few miles away, near the Glaslyn osprey nest, there’s a natural rock shelter, protected by an overhanging cliff. A friend was climbing there one Christmas Day when he noticed a limpet shell in a crevice ten or more metres above where the sea would have been before the Cob.  How did it get there?

Limpets from three different sections of the site have been carbon dated to 7379, 9281 and 9349 years ago. Other shells have been uncovered as well as cockles, mussels and oysters and remnants of hearths where stone age man may have steamed his Fruits de Mer. A particularly Mediterranean version with mussel shells from a warm water species never before found in Wales. In amongst the shells are pieces of bone, probably from deer, which suggest that this was a temporary shelter for hunters on an expedition.

How the shells and bones have remained in tact is a stroke of good fortune. The natural acidity of the soil in much of north Wales would have caused them to disintegrate but the overhanging rock leaks lime thereby changing the chemistry and preserving the relics.

Over forty worked pieces of flint have been found and at the end of the dig this April a perfectly formed flint arrow head, probably from the bronze age. If this is the case, then it looks like the rock shelter was used over a period of at least 5000 years.  

Friday, 20 April 2012

Shaggy sheep

It looks like this sheep missed shearing two years in a row but will get a short back and sides this July.


Good for flirting. Young billies born above the railway line two years ago have crossed the track and started chatting with the females beneath the line. Their advances seem to be being encouraged; note the casual flick of the horns by the young female. But the much older billies, from beneath the line, are not impressed and find their massive horns good for posturing.

All horns are good for scratching and also for scraping bark off young trees ... just peeling off enough to grip between the teeth and have a decent snack of birch. I hope the warden does not see this film.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Weasel or stoat?

You never know what you might see through the kitchen window. Freshly stocked bird feeders and half coconut shells stuffed with fat and seed tempting the tits, chaffinch, woodpecker, nuthatch, yellow hammer, dunnock and squirrel.  Chickens scooping up the spillings. Touch wood no rats this year just wood mice and voles and ..... wow, it’s  a weasel.  It hopped onto the window sill, down to the patio then up into a drainage pipe.  I fetched the camera, tripod on the kitchen table and pointed it at the end of the pipe. Success. Out it came with a vole or mouse in its mouth then off behind planters and into the log shed.

My few seconds of video stretched with the slow motion facility ... but how do I know it was a weasel? I think there’s a touch of black at the end of its tail making it a stoat. What do you think?

Friday, 6 April 2012

Underground at Rhosydd

A local explorer come bee-keeper, historian and general enthusiast kindly took us into the safe bits of Rhosydd quarry. The scale of the workings is immense. We entered the long adit on level 9 treading carefully to avoid the deeper water draining outwards; a reminder that the five levels below are all flooded. This long adit took eight years to carve out with miners working from both ends ... no laser guided gadgetry, just Victorian engineering skills to pinpoint the seamless join. 

Here and there were what looked like bits of tree root on the floor, rusting strands of the cable that pulled slate wagons in and out on the rails. At the end of the adit, rails branched off in different directions, close to the connection with the five levels below. Slate from below was dragged upwards to level 9 by a water powered incline.

A large slab of slate on the floor, with chain attached ready for lifting onto a wagon, now painted with eight large yellow letters:
R O C K F A L L.

Until a couple of years ago it was popular and easy to walk the mile through adit 9 then up to level 6 and out of the West Twll (west hole) where the slate works had begun. Falling rocks have blocked this route although I’m told you can nip and tuck your way through if you know what you’re doing. No-one can vouch for how safe this might be.

For the extremely intrepid, with caving equipment, back up and a guide, there is the Croesor to Rhosydd crossover – just a mile in length but a good eight hours long if all goes well. I’m told it begins with a 200 foot abseil. Here’s a clip of the zipwire in use.

 Opposite the entrance to adit 9, across the cwm, is probably the most impressive engineering feat of all, an exceedingly steep incline for exporting the slates, at its top steeper than 1 in 1. Nothing was impossible to the Victorians.

Wild Wales at Campbell's Cottage

Campbell’s Cottage, surrounded by 200 acres of National Nature Reserve, is a great place to get close to wildlife. Whether it’s wild goats trampling through the bluebells, woodpeckers feeding their young or mother otter teaching her offspring to catch fish; you never know what you might see.  Some visitors come for the birds (great for pied flycatchers, redstarts, nuthatches and yellowhammers) others for bats (we’ve got a greater horseshoe) or for moths – in one week an enthusiast identified 180 different species of moth in the cottage garden.

Released 9th April 2012
Just in case you don’t see what you’re looking for, we’ve provided a copy of the Wild Wales DVD box set presented by Iolo Williams. The third DVD covers north Wales and ends with spectacular footage of the Maentwrog osprey diving into the Dwyryd estuary. After several attempts, he’s a bit young and inexperienced, he catches and repositions a fish mid flight, to be head first aero dynamic. He then flies at eye level past Portmeirion’s visitors seemingly oblivious to the natural spectacle.

April is the coolest month

After days of scorching sun we had a blizzard, heaping drifts of snow onto west facing slopes and boulders.  Before it melted we went exploring and playing. An April’s day in Val de Stiniog.