Friday, September 10, 2021

Love Island

My recent reference to our forthcoming island getaway was slightly tongue in cheek.  The phrase usually conjures images of cornflower blue skies and glittering mercury waves breaking onto sun drenched sandy beaches.  We had three nights booked on the island of Anglesey, just off the Welsh coast and the first time I made reference to it, we were dithering in the Autumn gloom and had resigned ourselves to a wet and windswept September break.  But guess what?  We got wall to wall sunshine and temperatures regularly peaking at 30 degrees.  

Making the most of our time away, we took the scenic route to our destination, taking in Llangollen and Portmeirion along the way.  I should perhaps record the trip in chronological order.  However, when it comes to editing photos from a trip away, order rarely comes into the equation.  Instead, I tend to cherry pick my favourites and attempt to recreate the atmosphere and essence of places that had a profound effect upon me. 

So this blog will be devoted to the time we spent on Ynys Llanddwyn, a staggeringly beautiful tidal island off the west coast of Anglesey and the original love island.  When we first visited on Wednesday morning, the island was inaccessible, so we decided to head back to our digs (a 15 minute car journey), enjoyed a leisurely lunch and returned a little later when the heat of the sun was a little less intense.   

It's a 40 minute walk to the island at the far end of a glorious sandy beach flanked by pines forming part of the Newborough Warren National Nature Reserve.  The pine forest approach to the beach reminded us of our time in Lacanau, the famous seaside resort and surfing hotspot on the French Atlantic Coast, but what Newborough beach lacked in waves, it more than made up for in scenery.  

To our right, we had views of the pine forest and sand dunes and to the left, an incredible vista of Snowdonia and the Llyn Peninsula.  

There was no low lying cloud or horizontal razor sharp rain, just pure, unadulterated views of mountain peak after mountain peak.

Ahead and curving around to the left, lay the mystery and promise of a once inhabited island retreat. This girl in her white beach outfit, reminded me of Sylvia Plath in her white bikini top and shorts and her famous quote: "I'm as solitary as grass."

Sylvia Plath photographed by Gordon Lameyer

Whilst I like to have some idea of places to visit when travelling somewhere new, I also hate to be too informed.  It's a tricky balancing act because we don't always have time to waste, but information is so accessible to us nowadays, it's refreshing to experience the feeling of exploration and the sense of wonder at a new discovery, even if it is a well trodden path.  So rather than a verbatim recount of the tourist information, I will give you the facts that fascinated me and hopefully a little of the essence of the place.

The island's name (Llanddwyn) originates from St Dwynwen, the Welsh Patron Saint of lovers.  She's the Welsh equivalent of St. Valentine and her feast day is 25th January.  

Dwynwen (pronounced dooIN-wen) was alive during the 5th century AD and was apparently the prettiest of the 24 daughters of a Welsh King named Brychan Brycheiniog.  She was also said to be very kind and had no shortage of admirers.  She fell for a prince named Maelon Dafodrill, but rejected his advances.  History is inconclusive as to the reasons for this rejection.  It was either because she intended to devote herself to God and join a nunnery or (and this seems to me more likely) because her father had betrothed her to one Maelgwyn Gwynedd, who was a much needed ally for her father and not a man to be crossed.  Whilst it is said that Dwynwen's true love, Maelon was content to just be with her, she was forced to reject his advances and the relationship ended.

Either way, Dwynwen prayed to be delivered from her unhappy situation and for the strength to forget her forbidden love.  In her dreams, she was given a potion which had the unfortunate result of turning Maelon to ice.  Still within the dream, she then prayed that she be granted three wishes:-  1) Maelon be defrosted 2) all true lovers find happiness and 3) that she should never again have to marry.   She somehow escaped to Llanddwyn island and lived out her days there, (as a nun or hermit, depending on which version you read) in perfect solitude.

Judging by the startled look in her eyes, I'm wondering if the effects of that potion had completely worn off when this portrait was taken.  

The island later became a place of Medieval pilgrimage.  Women could test the strength of their relationship by scattering breadcrumbs on the surface of the water in the old well, then laying her handkerchief on top. If the inhabiting eels disturbed it then her lover would be faithful.

Sadly, on arrival, we saw no evidence of the wild ponies I have since discover often graze on the island...just a farmer making hay.

This celtic cross, commemorating Llanddwyn Church which at the time was largely ruined and overgrown is inscribed with these words:  "They lie around did living tread, this sacred ground now silent - dead."

Our afternoon exploration of this island on an unseasonably warm September afternoon will stay with me forever.  This really is an enchanted island.  Even prior to my editing of the photos, I was struck by their soft light and magical, dreamy tones.

The second cross, visible through the ruined church arch, commemorates the death of Dwynwen. 

Four pilot houses built to house the pilots who guided ships through the treacherous Menai Straits and manned the island's lifeboat until 1903.

There are two towers on the island.  The larger one, pictured here, is the original lighthouse. 

The smaller tower is a day-mark signalling the entrance to Pilot's Cove.  Texture overload!

From these vantage points, there are several craggy islands inhabited by seabirds (notably cormorants) and basking seals.  One seal waved at me, but I didn't have my zoom lens and in any event, had recently read of the plight of UK baby seals, forced into the water before they are ready by over eager tourists and ultimately separated from their mothers and effectively orphaned, so was happy to keep at a safe distance.  

Instead, I focused my attention to the light play on the surface of the sea.

Here's the view looking back from the lighthouse to the commemorative cross.

According to legend, Dwynwen's dying wish in 465 A.D. was to be carried up to watch the sunset through a cleft in the rock which still stands to the north west of the ruined church to this day.  It's not hard to understand why.

I'm not a religious person, but some places are good for the soul and totally uplifting...and as St Dwynwen once said: "Nothing wins hearts like cheerfulness."  

Friday, September 3, 2021

Wake Me Up When September Ends

It's officially Autumn.  Although there is a great deal to look forward to at this time of year, I always feel a bit melancholy.  It's easy for me to explain why.  I have three valid reasons:  dark nights, the smell of decay and the clear and present danger of encountering a spider with more muscle tone than Popeye.  September is also the month we usually spend shivering in the evening gloom, piling on layers and refusing the put the heating on because we have been convinced by someone or other of the imminent arrival of an Indian summer.

Still, it's not all bad.   I'm not going to do a Billy Joe Armstrong and sleep right through.  We have the anticipation of a spectacular Autumn display, real ale by the fireside and blackberry and apple crumble to provide a warming layer of fat for winter.  Kicking off the Autumn/Winter season aesthetic, I've created this composite image from an ICM (intentional camera movement) photo of some twisted trees and a separate photo of a rookery.  What do you think? 

Another bonus for us is that the growing season is nearing an end; good news when you've spent many many hours this week chopping bamboo.  We've harvested enough canes to build a house worthy of a visit from Kevin McCloud and the Grand Designs team.

This hastily taken mobile shot was taken over halfway through.  In my eagerness to destroy the bamboo, I forgot to get a decent representative shot of before.  Suffice to say it was dense, encroaching on the lower part of the garden at an alarming rate and at least 12 feet high in places.

And now....let there be light.  

The fence will need a pop of colour methinks, but it's lovely to now open our back door and see more of the beautiful shapely oak tree (left in above image) and less of the Panda's paradise.

I thought this week I would share with you a very charming garden in the Worcestershire town of Bewdley, a picturesque Georgian town on the banks of the River Severn - around 25 minutes from us.  Bewdley, like many other places worldwide, has hit the news courtesy of flooding.  Huge flood barriers have been erected in recent years, but flood water breached the temporary barriers at Beales Corner on the southside of the town in 2020 and 2021.  

The garden I'm referring to is a stunning riverside garden belonging to this cottage, aptly named "Dunfloodin."  Can you see the little bird flying towards the doorway?  Just inside the porch, are some beautiful ceramic hanging pots full of bird seed to cater for the local winged population.

Before I show you more, you're going to need a little background information, which necessitates a riverside walk from Bewdley to Arley.

Heading out of Bewdley in the direction of Arley, we pass a fabulous fish and chip shop, a characterful pub, a few cafes and numerous pretty riverside cottages.  Here are the flood defences in action in 2019.

The River Severn carves through the landscape, offers many scenic walks and holds great appeal to paddle boarders and canoeists.  Spend a day on the banks of the Severn and your soundtrack will be paddles swooshing through water, birdsong and the soothing, nostalgia-steeped whistles of passing steam trains.

The banks of the river offer up numerous spots for old school picnicking.  


On arrival in Arley, you can feed the ducks...

...and mooch around the church and arboretum

There used to be a ferry from Arley.  Originally the old river ferry, it was the most northerly of the Severn ferries in Worcestershire and the last in the county to operate on the River Severn. The earliest references to the ferry are in the Close Rolls of 1323 and, in 1331, when it was referred to as ‘the Ferry within the bounds of the Chase of Edmund de Mortimer, Earl of Wyre’. In 1602 there is a reference to ‘a passage called the Ferry boate’ in the possession of the Lyttletons, who were Lords of the Manor of Arley at that time.

The ferry ran across the river until 1964 when it was replaced by the current footbridge, leading up the single track hill road, past the pub to Arley Station. 

There we like to hop on the Severn Valley Railway for the return journey if we're feeling lazy (and luxuriate in a first class carriage if the train isn't busy and the guard turns a blind eye).

So, back to the Bewdley garden.  Dunnfloodin on Dog Lane in Bewdley, is the last resting place of the Arley Ferry, the prow now established as a garden water feature.

I love everything about this garden.  The owners obviously have artistic leanings and have maximised what limited space they have.  Every corner and crevice is put to good use.  There's a mirror window to give the illusion of space.

A sunny aspect to allow for copious amounts of colour.

The sign says "It's not a shed, it's a summerhouse."

Naturally there are tomatoes.  I don't think there's a garden in Britain that didn't have a bash at growing tomatoes during the summer of 2020.

Access is by virtue of stone and gravel pathways.

The owners were nowhere to be seen.  Whilst I think they are well accustomed to people taking photographs of their garden, I wouldn't have lingered so long had they been around.  I would have at least struck up a conversation and asked for their permission.

An alternative route from the centre of town to the carpark on the outskirts is through Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Gardens; a small area of 8601 square metres just off the High Street (accessed through the Museum) within the conservation area.  

This sculpture serves as a reminder to dance like nobody's watching.  Actually I'm not sure I would impose that on anyone, but can appreciate the sentiment.

The wild flower area is divine...

...and an alleyway at the end passes yet more idyllic country cottage gardens packed full of David Austin roses

and, if conditions are favourable, real actual fairies.

Finally, the charity shop fairies were sprinkling their magic over me this week.  What does every wardrobe need?  An Indian made, sparkly, sequin-covered, beaded vintage statement evening jacket for the princely sum of £6.95 of course! I'm in love.

Not sure it's the best choice for a few days in Anglesey, but we may soon find out.  Have a wonderful week!

Love Island

My recent reference to our forthcoming island getaway was slightly tongue in cheek.  The phrase usually conjures images of cornflower blue s...