Saturday, September 17, 2022

Farewell Summer, Hello Autumn


Long time no speak!  It feels particularly autumnal here right now.  I've already consumed the lion's share or not one, but two, crumbles (an apple and blackberry and a cherry), have had hairy encounters with a couple of muscle-bound spiders and the nights are most definitely drawing in. 

Betws-y-Coed, "False Autumn", August 2022

Events have conspired in recent weeks to keep me from the keyboard.  I'm now pretty familiar with the labyrinth of corridors and departments that is our local hospital after accompanying Mom to various appointments and also suddenly being called in myself for a minor op I had been waiting almost a year for.  

I went in bright and early a couple of Sundays ago and almost had the ward to myself.  The staff were attentive and thorough and by lunchtime, I was done.  So far so simple I thought.  Not so.  I was prescribed a course of antibiotics - a belt and braces approach to infection avoidance, which I started taking later that day.  But on Wednesday morning, I noticed I had what appeared to be a black eye.  As I examined my reflection in a mirror, the area around my eye was swelling before my eyes (well my good eye), transforming me into the Phantom of the Opera.  

I hurriedly arranged an appointment with my GP and was told to stop taking the antibiotics and immediately start taking antihistamines, as there was no infection in my wound.  I had a tense 7 days, waking each morning and wondering where the swelling would be that day or if it would worsen.  It seemed to move around my face each morning until eventually, it dissipated.  I was told that it could possibly have been a reaction to the antibiotics, but that such swelling is also a very common reaction to illnesses such as flu (I have had a sniffle).  Who knew?

My latest look was born of necessity until my stitches were removed.  

I have also been busy organising my forthcoming photoshoot, which, now falls on a designated UK Bank Holiday, courtesy of Queen Elizabeth II's funeral.  Mercifully, not one member of our little team of suppliers has backed out.  We've all invested far too much time and effort to abandon our plans at this late stage.

Consequently - and with our first Autumn ground frost this morning - it seems like an age ago that we were basking in the balmy Welsh sunshine.

I'm going to rewind to the final couple of days of our getaway and our pilgrimage, on foot from the village, to one of the most remote churches in the UK, Llangelynnin Old Church.  Positioned high on the hills above the Conwy Valley, some 900 feet above sea level, the church is dedicated to a local Saint, St Celynnin who lived in the 6th Century and probably established the first religious settlement on this site.  

The views on the ascent were stunning.

It's hard to convey the isolation, but I did my best with some wide angle shots and a short video.

Within the church grounds, lies the Holy Well.  It's possible that this was used by the Saint in the 6th century as a water supply or to baptise those who converted to Christianity.  As time passed, locals believed the water to have magical healing properties, particularly for sick children.  Clothing belonging to the sick children would be tossed into the water.  If they floated, it was assumed that the child would recover.

People lived in the uplands before the wooded lowlands were cleared and the present hill tracks would have been the main routes in Celynnin's time.  The church as it stands today dates from the 12th century and was in regular use for worship until 1840 when a new church was built down in the valley.  In 1932 and 1987 major restorations of the church were carried out and now services are held here during the summer months and on special occasions.

The porch is 15th century with an unusual squint window in the east wall.  The porch roof was repaired with purlins of yew, which may have grown in the now almost tree-less graveyard.

The threshold and hinges of the door are believed to be 14th century, although the door itself is a later addition.

The nave is the oldest part of the present church, dating back to the 12th century.  The benches are 19th century.  Hanging on the wall of the nave there is a bier that was used to carry the remains of the dead to their final resting place.

The chancel is probably 14th century.  You can just glimpse the remains of a boarded barrel roof in the photo above.

This fascinating skull and crossbones detail was discovered a when layers of time and whitewash were removed, revealing the Ten Commandments in Welsh.

Back outside, the clouds were playing to the camera...

...and I managed to capture a beautiful sunburst.

The North Wales Pilgrims' Way framed by the churchyard entrance.

A special place indeed...and for the record, after this particularly energetic workout, I should have doused myself in water from that Holy Well to ease my aching thighs for the next few days.  For more on St Celynnin's, here's a short video.

Wild, Windy Worship. - YouTube

Of course, we couldn't leave this part of Wales without paying a visit to Bodnant Garden, an NT managed, Grade I listed horticultural gem comprising 80 acres, just 10 minutes' drive from our cottage.

It was founded in 1874, developed by five generations of one family and given to the National Trust in 1949.  The garden's founder was Henry David Pochin, a Leicestershire-born Victorian industrial chemist credited with inventing white soap.  He became a successful businessman, mayor and JP.  His wife, Agnes, was from a wealthy Scottish family of ship builders.  

Originally just lawns and pasture, Pochin and his employee Edward Milner redesigned the land around the Georgian manor house, relandscaping the hillside and valley, planting American and Asian conifers on the banks of the River Hiraethlyn to create a Pinetum and reinforcing stream banks to create a woodland and water garden in the valley.  

It was here we encountered this fallen giant (originally planted in 1887 and standing over 50 metres tall), one of 50 lost in Storm Arwen back in November 2021.  

The enormous team of 20 full time gardeners were hard at it, burning rubbish just out of sight from visitors.

In the upper garden, a Laburnum Arch was created and glasshouses to house exotics.  

From 1905 to 1914, five terraces were completed; an enormous undertaking of manual labour involving the levelling of hillsides, movement of earth and the construction of granite buttress walls to protect the tender plants being introduced from overseas.

The much photographed Pin Mill building on the Canal Terrace was added in 1938.  Originally built as a garden house in 1739 in Gloucestershire and later used as a pin factory and then a hide store for a tannery, it was rescued from decay by Henry's grandson - Henry McLaren, who dismantled it, brought it to Bodnant and rebuilt it brick by brick.  

As you might expect, there was a fountain or a statue at every turn.

Situated on a steeply winding path running from the valley to the terraces, was the family Mausoleum. Sadly it was closed to visitors on the day of our visit....  

....but I did manage to get a glimpse inside through the impressive entrance door panel grills.

Throughout the 1900s the continued development of the garden was a partnership between three generations of the McLaren family - Henry, Charles and Michael.  Charles' sister, Dr Anne McLaren, was one of Britain's leading scientists.  She pioneered techniques of reproductive biology, which led to IVF and cancer research.  The current owner is Michael McLaren, who inherited in 2003.  He is a practising Barrister, working in London, but continues to act as garden manager.  A family of high achievers for sure, but also philanthropists.  It's not lost on the volunteers and locals just how much they are indebted to the McLaren family, who have saved huge swathes of the Conwy valley from development.  

Bodnant is hands down the best National Trust garden we've visited to date, but one visit just isn't enough to grasp the scale, detail and myriad plant species on display.  We shall return.

I'll leave you with a few random photos from the past couple of weeks.  First up, a photo I am calling "Portrait of a Stall Holder" captured at an Antiques Fair at Hartlebury Castle in neighbouring Worcestershire. I loved her vintage style, which was well suited to her life as an antiques trader. 

She is also the proud owner of this cool ride, a 1959 Edsen Villager Cruiser.

I helped fund her expensive running costs by purchasing some vintage decorative green glass tableware for the boudoir.

Also green - and I suppose quite decorative - is this punk amongst caterpillars.  Feast your eyes on this fuzzy noodle of fun!  It's a Pale Tussock caterpillar and the first I've ever seen!  Spotted outside our 

Take care, stay warm and I'll see you soon. 

Monday, August 29, 2022

The Beatles and The Stones

I thought I would share with you a little more on our trip to Wales.  A couple of things Wales has in abundance: stone and sheep.  The crumbling old farm building pictured above, was only a minute's walk from our front door and in this corner of North Wales, sharing your garden with sheep is not uncommon.

I must give a timely shout out to our faithful VW old "new" Beetle, that somehow continues to serve the needs of two six foot plus males, an adult female and a week's worth of luggage in transporting us here.  Not for us the gas guzzling people carriers or cars on steroids as I think of them.  No, when we holiday, we'd rather squeeze almost everything we own into a two door car shaped like an insect and sit with our knees raised up to our ears!  

Before anyone points out the titular spelling error, there will be reference to one of the Mersey Beat pioneers coming up, but I digress.  It transpires that the bug is very adept at making small items disappear.  On the third morning of our holiday in Wales, we managed to lose the sacred front door key, after forgetting rule number 1, which was to leave it in the key safe upon leaving the property.  Luckily, our son had stayed behind for a couple of hours (inexplicably he didn't fancy accompanying me to an old graveyard) and was able to let us back into the property.  

Not much to report on the 19th century church incidentally.  It is no longer used for worship, the stone signage indicating the new occupant's business there.  

The building is now being used as an artist and sculptor's workshop and was cordoned off to the public.

Back to reality, a frantic couple of hours passed as we hunted high and low - the pressure and our heart rates increasing ever so slightly when, in the midst of this search, the owner emailed to check if everything was OK.  Finally, after retracing our steps around the graveyard and after the forty third check of the car's interior, Gareth found the key lodged between the driver's seat and the seatbelt.  Phew!

Here are some village views and glimpses of the hills surrounding our valley.  Everywhere you look, the land is divided by stone walls and many of the older buildings are made from what is known as "rubble stone."

However, perhaps the most impressive local stone building was Conwy Castle, a mere 15 minute drive away and an exceptionally well preserved medieval castle fortress.  Built by architect Master James of St George at the bidding of Edward I in a staggering 4 years between 1283 and 1287, the cost of the build was an eye watering £15,000.  Here's our first glimpse, as photographed through the windscreen.

The 13th century castle walls encapsulate the town and accordingly, you are never more than a few steps away from a view of the castle walls.

I'm really not good with heights and as the entry fee principally invites access to the castle's numerous towers, it would be entirely wasted on me.  Instead, we opted to separate.  The two boys elected to walk the castle walls around the town, as I stalked them through the streets with my camera.  For the record, I did try.  I got as far as the top of the first level of rusty iron access steps before spotting this rather nervous looking dove sheltering in the castle wall.  A kindred spirit?  As the steps felt a little creaky and wobbly and had gaps between them (another big negative for me), I swiftly descended to the safety of the street.

As I did so, I spotted this crucifixion statue outside St Michael's Catholic Church, just as the afternoon sun passed over, rewarding me with this glorious sunburst.  

This marble tablet, depicting the two Marys and created by G. Rinvolucri, is one of twelve adorning the town walls.

Dating back to the mid twentieth century, Rinvolucri was an Italian architect who came to Wales originally as a prisoner of war.  He lived and worked in the Conwy area and designed several Roman Catholic churches in the area.  The aforementioned church was built in the inter-war period as it is not shown on the 1913 Ordnance Survey.  None of the sculptures is signed or dated, but all have dedications.  

The work is Grade II listed for its special interest as a fine mid 20th century devotional sculpture forming the focus of the group of distinctive tablets, all of exceptional quality, on the medieval town walls.

Mercifully, I made the right call in not joining the boys on the town walls and instead, stalking them with my camera through the Conwy streets.  

The consensus was that the walk was, in parts, "terrifying" with the safety barriers next to useless and very easy to topple over.

In complete contrast, we opted to visit the coastal town of Llandudno, situated on the Creudynn Peninsula pushing out into the Irish Sea.  It takes its name from the town's saint, St Tudno. 

Llandudno epitomises British seaside resorts and just about ticks every seaside tradition and is perhaps a quieter, more sedate, slightly old fashioned choice of destination as opposed to somewhere like Brighton for example.

Saint Tudno is said to have been one of the seven sons of King Seithenyn, whose legendary kingdom, Cantref y Gwaelod in Cardigan Bay, was submerged by tidal activity.  According to the theory, Tudno studied at St Dunawd's college in the monastery of Bangor Iscoed, in order to make recompense for the drunken incompetence of his father, which had led to the loss of the kingdom under the waves.

As the story goes, Tudno headed to the great limestone outcrop jutting from the peninsula, known as the Great Orme... bring Christianity to its people.  Tudno originally lived as a hermit in a cave, utilising a nearby spring, before building up his church from there.  Nothing remains of the original 6th century church, but its 12th century replacement, named after Tudno, still stands today...

...with its spectacular adjoining Great Orme Cemetery and imposing headstones, which opened in 1903.

This extensive off shore wind farm in the Irish Sea, was visible on the horizon from the cemetery site.

Much of the town as we know it today came into being in the Victorian era.  The Great Orme itself, standing at 207 metres tall, is home to several large herds of wild Kashmiri goats, descendants of a pair given by Queen Victoria to Lord Mostyn.  

Now, if I thought for one second that Llandudno is an adrenalin-free zone, I swiftly revised that opinion on our drive up and around the Great Orme, taking the dramatic toll road.  The stop and start nature of our ascent was particularly hair-raising and a fully functioning hand brake was essential when giving way to The Great Orme Tramway, which also services the route to the summit.

For those who want to go even higher, there is a cable car option for the return trip.  As you might expect, I was quite happy to photograph these from ground level.

The views winding our way back around the toll road into town were spectacular.

Copper mining, fishing and agriculture were the town's principal sources of employment, but these days, Llandudno is a traditional coastal tourist "fun town".  From slapstick puppet Punch and Judy shows (which have 16th century Italian origins and have remained popular on these shores)... the 700 m long Grade II listed pier (the longest in Wales),

complete with amusement arcade, fun fair, ferris wheel...

...souvenir stalls, cafes and eateries.

This scene on Llandudno's sea front, photographed from the pier on our trip, must lurk in countless photo albums from decades gone by.  Unusually for me, I over exposed it slightly and added a little grain in the edit, to capture that simultaneously timeless and time faded feel.

On the sea front, there were abandoned pushchairs as parents and children revelled with wild abandon, in the unprecedented warm Welsh sunshine, skimmed stones and paddled in the sea.

All life is here.  

Back in town, that other famous "Beatle" - a gilded John Lennon, was spotted posing with tourists, alongside his wife, Yoko.

A girl was making her way through a cloud of bubbles....

...and in the summer of 2022, locals eschewed summer getaways in favour of a staycation.

But soon, the party (and summer) will be over.  This lady already has her mind focused on the impending cost of living crisis.

But before all that, there's still time to linger in sunny season a little longer.  I'll endeavour to conclude the Welsh travelogue next week.  I can't promise there won't be another church.  For an atheist, I do seem to spend a lot of time frequenting old churches and graveyards, but trust me, this one's special.

Farewell Summer, Hello Autumn

  Long time no speak!  It feels particularly autumnal here right now.  I've already consumed the lion's share or not one, but two, c...