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. 


  1. I'm sorry to hear about your health issues, Claire. That awful travelling swelling must have been scary indeed ...
    I loved joining you on your visit to Llangelynnin Old Church and its stunning position high in the hills. Those blue skies almost makes me forget the sudden drop in temperature and neverending rain we have been treated these last couple of days. No ground frost here so far, thankfully.
    Bodnant Gardens have long been on my list and, judging from your photos, certainly doesn't disappoint. Fallen giants - a term I'm also using - always make me feel sad and wistful.
    Love the green glass, I have in fact two different sets, one of wish I picked up on a car boot sale in Wales!
    Keeping my fingers crossed for your upcoming photo shoot! xxx

    1. Thanks Ann. You would absolutely love Bodnant. One for next time..? The green glass was a bargain and brightens up a dull corner of the bedroom. xxx

  2. where´s my comment gone?
    something is wrong with blogger - lately it does put comments in the spam-file or just lose them.....

    1. I don't understand the blogger issue Beate. I often leave comments that are never visible. :-( xxx

    2. strange.
      but: totally love your photos of wales! absolutely stunning! <3

  3. That must have been stressful! My partner's family tends to have a reaction to penicillin, so I am thinking an allergy to antibiotics is not out of the question, but it is hard to know!

    What beautiful places! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi Laura, It was pretty scary that's for sure! Thanks for leaving a comment. I to read your blog and try to leave comments here and there, but the curse of blogger seems to erase them for some reason. I do enjoy your posts though! x

  4. I'm glad to hear that those strange effects have dissipated and that you're well on the way to recovery - it must have been rather scary. I love the headscarf, it really suits you.
    Your Welsh holiday pictures are absolutely fabulous, I adore the statuary at Bodnant especially.
    How gorgeous is that vintage trader? So stylish. I never understand people who don't make an effort to dress well when they're selling their wares, do you? xxx

    1. Thanks Vix. Not sure if you've been, but if you haven't, you would absolutely love Bodnant! I think dressing up is all part of the fun when trading. xxx

  5. Hello Claire, glad your eye is better and hoping your mom is doing ok too. Thank you for the tour of Bodnant. The remote church is stunning - oh the colours of the landscape in the view form the ascent - incredible!!! The vintage trader looks like a cool lady. Does your green glass glow under UV light? My mam has some uranium glass in her collection. Lulu xXx

    1. Thanks Lulu! I'm so glad we made it to the church (not a sentence I ever thought I would utter).
      I don't think our green glass is the glowing kind. I spotted some blue uranium glasses recently on eBay, made just down the road from us at Stuart's Crystal. They're amazing, but maybe a tad dangerous! xxx


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