Thursday, 28 May 2015

Optimists at Plas Heli

Lunch break for Team GB
Optimists are a class of boat raced by children up to the age of 15; every Olympiad will have raced an optimist. On the beach they look like bathtubs, about 8’ by 4’ with a blunt prow, but on the water they turn on a sixpence.

On 18th July 260 young sailors from 37 countries will blow into Pwllheli for the European Optimists Championship. Cardigan Bay, with its weak tidal streams and stable winds, has long been rated one of the top sailing venues in the world.

July also sees the opening of the Welsh National Sailing Academy, which will put Pwllheli on a par with Weymouth but with better mountains in the background. The new events centre has cost £8.3m and is nearing completion; a circular design with a huge exhibition space and an entrance tall enough to wheel in a large yacht with its mast aloft. Perfect for hosting a boat show. The upstairs restaurant also provides a great view across the sea towards Cadair Idris and beyond.

The centre is called Plas Heli and will be a welcome watering hole for walkers on this section of the Wales Coast Path. 
Plas Heli clad in Damplon plastic and Trefor stone

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Handkerchief Tree blooming at Plas Tan y Bwlch

Handkerchief Tree at Plas Tan y Bwlch
The Pocket Handkerchief Tree (otherwise known as the Dove Tree) Davidia involucrata was first discovered growing wild in China, towards the end of the nineteenth century. Seeds were sent back to the UK by Victorian plant hunter Ernest Wilson in 1901 and when it flowered in Britain for the first time, it caused such a stir that the leading nursery of the day (Veitch’s nursery of Chelsea and Exeter) could not keep up with the demand for plants.

One of the first Pocket Handkerchief Trees to be planted in Britain was at Plas Tan y Bwlch which is one of the (50) Finest Gardens in Wales. Yes, it’s official, it has been listed in the new book published by Tony Russell.

Other local to us gardens that feature in the book are Plas Brondanw and Portmeirion and, slightly further afield, are Bodnant and the intriguing Conwy Valley Maze Garden. The maze was created in 2005 and is said to be the largest garden maze in the world; this sounds well worth a visit but according to their website the garden is closed until further notice due to on-site works.

Tony Russell, author of the book, has recently moved to live in the village of Rhyd and is helping with the project to restore Plas Tan y Bwlch gardens following the devastation of the 2014 storm. He is also running courses at The Plas which include guided visits to several of his favourite gardens.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Tubular Bells of Maentwrog

Stan plays Tubular Bells
Maentwrog is a very special place in many ways including the tubular bells in the tower of St. Twrog’s Church. Most churches have tower bells, bells that are spun with a hammer on the inside, but Maentwrog is one of just a few hundred churches in the UK with tubular bells.

The set of eight tubular bells was installed in the 1896 restoration, according to Wiki, when the existing single bell was relocated to the old village school. The eight tubes vary in length from four to seven feet and are struck on the outside with wooden hammers connected to ropes that are attached to an Ellacombe frame in the bell ringing room, twenty feet below.  

Tubular bells are much lighter than tower bells and therefore well suited to our wooden church tower. They also cost less and more importantly all eight can be rung by a single bell ringer which means it’s easier to maintain the bell ringing tradition. It’s also a lot simpler to ring them, simpler than a team of eight pulling tower bells, and relatively easy to pick up the skill.

In our parish Stan has become the village bell ringer under the expert guidance of Paul who also performs in churches and cathedrals across the UK. Here they are demonstrating their art. Listen out for 'Pop Goes the Weasel'!

Monday, 4 May 2015

Visitors enjoying Sunday in Snowdonia

Having survived their mountain walk in the wind, sleet and rain, visitors Sam and Lou were keen to explore more of North Wales. So we started with a walk south, along the beach at Llandanwg. The further we walked, the more it sounded like Brands Hatch or Silverstone and I recalled reading something about Llanbedr Airfield getting permission to test out F1 cars – but I think the intrusive noise was the local car rally club whose event was starting and finishing at the airfield. It’s incredible to think that this airfield is one of the five candidates for Britain’s first spaceport – with three of the candidate sites in Scotland, the choice of Llanbedr must be quite a possibility, even though it’s in a national park.

Driving into Harlech I explained that this was one of the best views in Wales, with miles of pristine wave-washed sand, and the peaks of northern Snowdonia in the background. They took my word for it and after choosing bags of sweets at the corner shop we went into Harlech Castle. The new bridge and visitor reception are due to complete at the end of June; delayed by the discovery of old bones which are now in Cardiff to be dated. One of the staff suggested they would probably date back to the 1400s. Once the new bridge is opened it will make quite a spectacular entry, very accessible to everyone. However, I could not help but think the dark spiral staircases in the towers were an accident waiting to happen.

From here we drove to Plas Tan y Bwlch for excellent tea / coffee and cakes at the (relatively new) cafĂ© on the terrace, overlooking the vale. I can highly recommend it. Jars of honey collected from the hives at The Plas, managed by the Meirionnydd Beekeepers, were on sale. I also learnt that you can book a 2 course Sunday lunch (£12) which is served in the Oakley’s dining room – what a fantastic setting. We will give it a go next time I’m on cooking duty, maybe combine lunch with a walk and a train via Plas Halt.

The whistle stop tour included a brief stop in the muddy layby to see the Wooden Boulder by David Nash. The tide was in so only a small chunk was visible above the water.

Then it was off to Pont Croesor to catch up with the Osprey Saga. The story so far is that Mrs Glaslyn returned mid-March, but her lifelong mate failed to arrive and is presumed dead. She was wooed by Jimmy, a 3 year old toy-boy from Dumfries, but Jimmy was ousted by Blue 80, Mrs Glaslyn’s son from 2012. Blue 80 mated with his mum, and those in the know said that in-breeding was not a problem for ospreys. The next I knew was that Jimmy was back in favour.

When we arrived we learnt that both Jimmy and Blue 80 were no longer on the scene and that to date Mrs Glaslyn had laid four eggs, only one of which was still in the nest, and she was having nothing to do with it. Maybe none of the eggs had been fertilised?

The young males had been replaced by an un-ringed male who so far seems to be ticking all the boxes as a prospective suitor. It might be too late for a successful mating this year but the seeds may be sown for a successful bonding ready for next summer. If you want to keep up to date with the story there are daily reports with video footage on Facebook.

May Day in my Mind

How I imagined it
May Day weekend was cool, damp and grey. With first time visitors Sam and Lou, I felt obliged to organise some mountain walking and they felt equally obliged to humour me. Sue dropped us in the rain at Croesor and we walked all of 50 yards to Caffi Croesor, which I thought was closed, BUT NO, it’s very much open again. Wednesday to Sunday 10:30 to 17:30. or phone 01766 771433.

Finn and Lizzie were busy baking bread and preparing for the day’s customers; Caffi Croesor looks better than ever and it was tempting to abandon the walk.

Half way up to Rhosydd we were into slushy sleet either side of the path, not slippery, just wet and cold. As for the path, it was an impromptu stream in need of drainage channels to stop it washing away. We didn’t dwell long at the top and dropped down into Cwmorthin; isolated fingers in wet gloves with strong wind OUCH! Much warmer without gloves and with my fingers taking turns in my mouth.
The reality

The next part of the plan was to catch the up train from Tanygrisiau which we could see at the far end of the lake, its plumes of white smoke rising high in the wind, as we munched our sarnies. A special down train rolled silently into the station and came to a halt on the platform behind. And then it was our Fairlie, pulling the ten or so carriages, with its female guard, who had jumped out, walking alongside the slow moving train. As she approached, and we signalled that we wanted to get on, it was clear that the driver would not be stopping. As she hurriedly hopped back on she gave a sincere sorry.

Fortunately the down train was happy to put us into a cosy 1st class carriage and drop us at Campbell’s for hot drinks in front of a cheery fire.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Goats looking wonderful

I knew the goats were in the reserve, just below the house; Sue had seen them as she drove down the hill. I picked up a camera and collected a tripod from my car, then decided not to walk; I’d be less threatening inside a vehicle.

As predicted, they pretty much ignored me, and for about half an hour I watched and filmed as they worked their way towards the waterfall at the top hairpin. All seven of the family were present which was good to see. I’d not seen the young kids and their mum for a couple of weeks.

The aunt gave a good demonstration of climbing trees and sucking young leaves off branches. At one stage the mum demonstrated to the kids how to scratch yourself on the side of a rock; the kids haven’t quite got the hands of it yet!

Pied Flycatchers and Redstarts are back in force arranging their nests. So far no-one is making a nest where the Redstarts were last year, just above the front door. This film clip shows the parents delivering the food and the male removing the fecal sac.