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Sunday, 27 January 2013




The Ghost Stones




The distant hills of Gyrn Goch and Gyrn Ddu with Tre Ceiri Hill Fort in the middle distance taken from the summit of Yr Eifl.


The Lleyn Peninsula has me in a draw, I have recently rediscovered how wonderful the landscape is and how easy its accessibility is too, despite the rather jaw dropping fact that if you lived at the tip of the peninsula at Aberdaron and required medical attention in Ysbyty Gwynedd, it being the local hospital, it entails a journey of 42½ miles by road and can take up to one and a half hours, or ten minutes in a 22 Squadron Seaking helicopter, a pleasing though if you are ever in need of emergency aid, but it does make you think that you are rather in isolation.
The trip had already been aborted three times before a success was finally achieved, the first attempt ended almost where it began, I had planned a trip to climb Gyrn Ddu and Gyrn Goch, two small but deceptively steep hills whose flanks tumble into the sea via Clynnog Fawr and Trefor. I had passed their bases more times than I can remember but had never explored the tops, they had never been that high on my tick list for some reason despite being so close to home, but a trip up to the iron age Tre Ceiri Hill Fort on the Rivals with my friend John drew me to them as they bathed in the sunshine in the crystal clear light, I had used Google maps to have a look at the terrain as I often do these days if I am planning a trip and it revealed a fascinating landscape with some interesting rock formation and several prehistoric remains.
I had been given a small volume that my friend John Cantrell had published on walks in the Lleyn Peninsula and the circuit around these two peaks looked like a nice afternoon jaunt.




1st Attempt.

I parked on the old road at the village of Gyrn Goch and set off rather in haste and without reading John’s description in detail, I remember the text mentioning a path up the left hand side of the conifer plantation so I duly set off at a fair pace and took the left fork in the track as described, I followed the river for a short while and got to thinking that the path although very distinct was not much used, after a struggle to cross the river via some very greasy boulders I was confronted with chest high bramble and ferns, fighting my way as best as possible in Dr Livingstone style I quickly got the impression that my way was not the right way, by now the path was virtually nonexistent, up ahead I could see a dry stone wall and what looked like a 5 bar gate so I continued my struggle, I eventually reached my goal and my ears were filled with heavy breathing, I knew I had struggled through the undergrowth and had just joined the ‘bus pass’ set but I wasn’t that unfit surely, I reached the top of the wall and looked over it only to be greeted by a large mouth full of huge teeth wide eyes and nostrils that were snorting at me rather menacingly, I was face to face with a woolly faced alpaca, in fact the field was full of them, also rather weirdly, in the middle of the field was a 1960’s Triumph Herald. It had also started to piss down. A strange Pythonesque feeling came over me as to how unreal it all was, I turned turtle and headed back the way I came through all the ferns and brambles, to top the day my boots were leaking too, not a good day.



My rather wet and snarly friend



2nd Attempt.

Now I was laughing, I had checked my maps and reread John’s description, in one of the chapters to the walk he mentions a 100ft waterfall that tumbles from the edge of the cwm, this waterfall has kept itself a secret as far as I could make out, I asked several of my colleagues who were regular mountain walkers if they knew of this cataract hiding amongst the trees, nobody had heard of it and there didn’t seem to be any mention of it anywhere either so off I set once more. This time I at least found the right start and set off up the farm track
The BBC weather forecast was not promising too good a day but what the heck, nothing ventured etc,
I got as far as the forest clearing and the heavens opened, but I could hear the roar of the elusive waterfall so carried on, the track now became nonexistent and I found myself heading towards the falls, after what seemed an age I caught a glimpse of  it through the downpour and the dense undergrowth and decided that they would have to wait for another day, I was now at the wall which leads to the open countryside and the hills beyond so I decided to at least make a low level round trip by returning along the old wall that acts as a boundary to the woodland. The hills beyond had long ago vanished into the mist and it was getting wetter as the day progressed. The path was very wet, very boggy, it was still pissing down and my boots still leaked. Soaked and rather dejected I headed for home.



3rd Attempt

My wife Clare gave me one of those looks that says it all without actually saying much at all, not the bloody waterfall again, don’t bother it’ll rain anyway.
I had tried to convince her and myself that these trips to the Lleyn were a much better proposition at this time of year than heading for the higher hill of Snowdonia, I had regaled her with amazing facts that Snowdon can average 200 ins of rain a year but the Lleyn only averages 37 ins a year, so the law of averages had to be on my side, --- she laughed.
I set off once more and this time headed in a slightly different direction by heading into the woodland itself along the workers track which followed the stream and hopefully the waterfall too, this time I met a man and his dog, the first sign of any form of life I had encountered on my trips so far, the dog, a huge American mastiff eyed me up and sniffed about rather alarmingly, I fell into conversation with the owner who said, ‘he’s gentle enough, don’t worry’, (they all say that, or “he doesn’t bite” don’t they). The rope that the dog was attached to was thick enough to hold a trawler steady in a storm, always a worrying sign; any animal that needs to be linked to a hawser should be in a cage!! It turned out during our brief conversation that he had only had the animal two days and was getting it used to its new territory, hmmmm




I was carrying a black Manfrotto tripod which does rather resemble a rifle if you carry it across your chest, so the beast might have thought we were off to hunt Moose or whatever American mastiffs hunt.

I bade him and his dog, which was now leaning against my legs and looking at me wistfully as if we had been hunting buddies all our lives, a good day and set off in search of the cascade.

After about ten minutes I was having second thought about my plan to thrash my way through the bracken and laurel growth and a lot of horrendously wet and slippery ground just to find the falls but I carried on regardless, eventually after much grunting and more Dr Livingstone style jungle bashing I found it, well sort of found that is—by hanging off the trunk of a laurel bush I could see the top third of it as it tumbled into the steep sided valley, at least it did exist but getting to it was nigh impossible and a tad risky too, to top it all it started to piss down and my boots were still leaking.

I carried on upwards and did the usual low level round trip and lo and behold the rain became a drizzle and eventually just a slight dampness, on the descent past the forest I came across the remains of an old medieval field system and the tumbled rocks of some dwellings which were an added bonus to the day.

I took a few shots on the camera and headed back to the car, I was getting well acquainted with the area by now.



The remains of the medieval field systems on the lower slopes of Gyrn Goch





4th Attempt

Even I was getting a bit fed up of trudging up the forest path to gain the open moor but at least it wasn’t raining, yet!!
Once more I headed up the track and gained the boundary wall and headed for the summit of Bwlch Mawr and after a good brisk 20 minutes I was on the summit, It was from this top that the landscape opened up and I was amazed how bleak and open the vast expanse of moor actually was, to think it was only a short distance from the road it felt like being in the middle of the Carneddau. From here you can make out the dry stone walls which are an incredible feature of this area, they literally extend for miles in all directions, are all in extremely good condition and are as straight as a die, apparently they were erected early in the 19th Century by the workers who were employed by Lord Newborough** whose estate covered a vast area of the Lleyn and beyond, the amount of rock that has been moved in this very open and exposed bit of moor to create these walls is mind boggling as is the skill and quality of the workmanship.




The cairn on the lower summit slopes of Bwlch Mawr looking across to the peaks of Gyrn Ddu and Gyrn Goch.

Also on this summit there were what looked like the remains of Bronze Age burial cairns and dug into the  cwm between here and the next summit of Gyrn Ddu are the remains of Clawdd Seri a raised dyke which is mentioned in local records as far back as 1200 but probably again dated from the Bronze Age. The whole area seems to be covered in the remains of long lost settlements.



Wall builder’s shelters?

After gaining the summit of Bwlch Mawr and doing a bit of exploring amongst its very rocky summit I headed along the wall to gain the next peak, this wall is a spectacular affair and is as straight as an arrow for a good mile, nothing gets in its way and it doesn’t deviate at all even when it confronts a pile of rocks but just carries on over and through like a knife slicing its way through the hillside. I was aiming for the lower summit of Gyrn Ddu and I did attempt to a shortcut across the moor to try and make a bee line for the gap in the wall and then straight up the hillside, after fighting my way through bog and tufts I could see why the path followed the wall for most of its length and I returned to the original track after a short deviation, the path here also becomes a section of the Lleyn Coastal Path before it breaks away to skirt the base of Gyrn Ddu before heading to Trefor and The Rivals and beyond.


The short section of ‘double wall’

On reaching a turn in the wall you are suddenly confronted with a short section of double wall as in a drovers track, this section has no relevance to the rest of the walls which are all single and high, this section is no more that 100 meters in length and ends as suddenly as it begins, another mystery!
From here you head up the path towards the lower summit of Gyrn Ddu where another wall heads off into the distance, as it reaches the lower summit is rather dramatically rides defiantly over the very centre of a huge burial cairn and undoubtedly the wall builders utilised the material available that was close at hand.



The lower summit of Gyrn Ddu where the wall slices its way through the Bronze Age cairn

A slight wind got up and flurries of snow began to fall, between the two summits are more signs of human habitation in the form of the remains of a dwelling, there is not much left but it seems to have been a single roomed house or ‘hafod’ the Welsh word for a summer shelter, where shepherds would remain with their flock during the summer seasons, I contemplated stopping here for a brew and a quick bite to eat but felt rather isolated but not quite alone.






The remains of the ‘Hafod’ between the summits of Gyrn Ddu


 I quickly reached the summit which is very rocky and reminiscent of the Glyderau and their boulder strewn summits and decided it was time for some nourishment, I dropped down to the lee side of the wind and brewed a cup of tea and ate my sandwich, I also had the comfort of the sea view which was a respite after all the walls and moorland. The next summit was Gyrn Goch and was the final top on the tour, it was a pleasant slope along another wall, this wall had an alarming lean of about 70° for its whole length and had obviously been constructed purposely in this way, possibly to act as a deflection to the gales from the sea and not a barrier against them, but it did give some shelter from what was now a biting wind, this was a pleasant little summit and again not a sound, no bird song or bleating sheep or the bark of dogs from the village way below



 The great leaning walls of Lleyn

The silence was overwhelming until the ghost stones whispered into the winds as I finally faced the final slope and headed for home I wondered how much life was entwined in these now deserted hillsides, there were bronze age burial cairns, ditches and dykes from the dark ages, long abandoned farmsteads and field systems and the long oh so long dry stone walls that dominated the landscape slicing their way over the moor and rocky summits without as much as a slight avoiding turn till they veered off, mostly at a perfect 90° angle and headed off up another slope to create another boundary.
Will I return to this open and sky wide expanse of hillside again? To that I can positively say yes and fairly soon too but on a blue sky day with the sun shimmering off the waters of the bay and Skylarks and Ravens diving and tumbling and I will make sure that I have company other than the ghost stones and their long lost souls whispering to the wind.



Looking across to Gyrn Ddu from the final summit on the round, Gyrn Goch.

**The Baron had his residence, Plas Glynllifon only a few miles away from these moors and guarded his lands for his own use; it is only in recent times that the area has become accessible with the advent of the CRoW* act and is now open access land, long may it remain so.
(*Countryside and Rights of Way Act, 2000)


 The peaks of The Lleyn Peninsula on a spectacular evening.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012


Cwm Pennant

A late evening call from my friend John and a quick check on the BBC Weather was enough to call off the planned walk for the next morning, low cloud, drizzle, poor visibility etc, but as is often the case it would have been better to look out of the window, the morning was glorious with a warm breeze and a cloudless sky, the best laid plans of mice and men eh! With my list of household chores duly ticked off and the day looking better by the hour there must be a 'to do' tick before the girls get back from school.
There was a 'Derelict Barn' scene that I had wanted to take an image of for ages and the sun would have been just right and the visibility was crystal clear so I headed off in the vicinity of Penygroes to drop off a note with Joe the gas delivery driver and then the  new A487 to my barn spot, big disappointment, the barn looked great and the light was perfect and there were even some perfectly sited livestock to add drama, the only thing spoiling the scene were traffic lights, council waggon's, a huge tarmac eating machine and nowhere to stop, hell.
Another slight to the mind and eye and to anyone who wants to take an image of the peaks of the Rivals and the Lleyn Peninsula are three new wind turbines that have sprouted up in the name of renewable energy and a quick buck to the land owner no doubt, it will soon be impossible to take a photograph of a landscape or seascape without these hideous monstrosities
So I carried on to the next available turning space and then had a thought, Cwm Pennant, haven't been there for years and never with my camera, don't know why, this was a too good to miss opportunity.

Just past Dolbenmaen a left turn brings you on to the very narrow lane that leads to the head of Cwm Pennant some three miles further. The road sort of pulls you along very easily and tempts you to want to know what's around the next corner, the road follows, as many old roads do the path of the river Dwyfor that flows gently from the slopes of Moel Hebog, Moel Lefn  and Moel yr Ogof that look down into the bowl of the valley on all sides, there is no escape from here to the Gwyrfai valley on the other side except by a steep uphill trek over 'Bwlch y Ddwy Elor' and down to Rhyd Ddu, my birth place. The very name 'Bwlch y Ddwy Elor' gives this place a feeling of antiquity and 'Hiraeth' it translates as 'The Pass of the Two Biers' and I remember my grandfather telling me tales that he had been told of the struggles that took place to carry the dead from one village to another over the hillside, swapping the 'biers' on the summit ridge and then carrying the deceased down to the chapel for burial whilst taking the empty bier back until it was required another time.This gap in the col is itself at 427 mtrs above sea level so a sombre journey carrying a deceased family member especially in winter months must have been a hard and sorrowful undertaking.The link between Rhyd Ddu and Pennant must have been significant and I assume because there is no cemetery in Rhyd Ddu the dead were buried in the chapel in Cwm Pennant, it seems a long way and difficult to fathom why such undertakings would take place in so remote a spot.



The day I was there, despite it being a glorious Autumnal day the chapel looked forlorn with a somewhat 'down in the dumps' feeling to it,the path into the graveyard was overgrown and it took some effort to open the gate, on inspection the guttering was falling off the sides and the door was well and truly bolted, I suppose it rarely gets much use these days and the relatives of the dead and buried have moved to pastures new leaving their ancestors in pastures old.
Looking at the stones I came across some very old inscriptions and one was dated 1632 and 1636 respectively for a young couple , the woman being 20 years and the male  (her brother/husband?) only 22.
Strangely, nestled amongst all the dark slate headstones there were some newish white marble ones which stood out like sore thumbs, although the slate quarrying here ceased many years ago and must have originally supplied the headstones I found it rather sad that they had to resort to importing such an alien rock to a valley full of slate.



























“BLOWS the wind to-day, and the sun and the rain are flying—
  Blows the wind on the moors to-day and now,
Where about the graves of the martyrs the whaups* are crying,
  My heart remembers how!

“Gray, recumbent tombs of the dead in desert places,
  Standing stones on the vacant, red-wine moor,
Hills of sheep, and the homes of the silent vanished races
  And winds austere and pure!

“Be it granted me to behold you again in dying,
  Hills of home! and I hear again the call—
Hear about the graves of the martyrs the pee-wees crying,
  And hear no more at all.”

                                              Robert Louis Stevenson 

*Whaups: Curlews




There can be no doubt that this valley is one of the most beautiful of all the mountain valleys in Wales and the poet Eifion Wyn who grew up in the area has two lines in his poem 'Cwm Pennant' which has found its way into Welsh folklore , "Pam, Arglwydd, y gwnaethost Gwm Pennant mor dlws? A bywyd hen fugail mor fyr?"    roughly translated it says: ‘O Lord, why did you make Cwm Pennant so beautiful and the life of a shepherd so short?’
These few words sum up the whole of Cwm Pennant and its geology, industry and the very people who live here and existed amongst the most dramatic backdrop possible.

If you are to be interred anywhere then this sacred spot would be hard to beat, you can rest in peace for another millennia without the though that there may be a chance you could be tarmacked over or have a huge wind turbine shaking the ground you lie in, it just seemed a safe place to be with its grazing sheep and gently flowing river to keep you company and only a raven's tumbling flight to the summits of spirits, where you would be amongst the sleeping warriors awaiting their call to arms once more.













The Autumn colours were overwhelming and the silence rather difficult to get used to, there were no jets flying despite the clear skies and no farmers on their quad bikes to break the solitude and in all the time I was there i met only two others who had cycled up the valley from Garndolbenmaen.we chatted for a few minutes, mainly about their ongoing battle with a huge wind farm development that was going to despoil their village near Welshpool and had caused great divide between folk who had been friends and neighbours for many years before the development raised its head. after putting the world to rights we went our separate ways, they to explore the upper reaches of the cwm and I to head back down the valleys winding track.



























I stopped at the little bridge that crosses the Dwyfor higher up the valley to take some shots, the pools here were perfect for a spot of summer swimming or just about paradise for a picnic lunch, on the whole six mile round trip I hadn't passed another vehicle at all and stopped here to have a brew from the flask, I got to thinking about the rivers name and why do so many think of it as Dwy (two) for (sea), it doesn't make sense for it to be called a river that flows to two seas and the head of the cwm has a spur off called Bwlch Dwyfor and it is from here that the river has its source as well as the flow off the peaks.,after some research I discovered that its name derives from 'Big Holy River' and there is a tributary, the River Dwyfach, the 'Small Holy River'.a spiritual spot indeed.
There are some magical names doted around the cwm: Rhwngdwyafon- Betweentworivers, Cwm Llefrith- The Valley of Milk,  Cwm Sais- The Englishman's Pass it all sounds a bit 'wild west' and probably stems from the pioneers who came here to mine the ore and quarry the slate, leaving behind them some great signatures which will live on for future generations to ponder over.

























Hut Circles and House Platforms abound throughout the landscape which shows that the valley was much utilised prior to 'modern man's' exploits to extricate the ore and the stone, it must have been a perfect shelter for iron age settlers and agriculturalists from the middle ages drawn by its  abundant timber sources and the constant supply of water, once the timber clearance took place and the ground being even and fertile due to past glacial deposits it was ideal for settlement and animal enclosure.The sea was also within close proximity and easily accessible for fish, shellfish and seaweed for drying and composting, so with all its attributes this cwm provided the perfect natural and secure enclosure that was needed.
Although I had to return home I was reluctant to leave such a beautiful place having spent such a short time here, I could have easily spent the whole day exploring its hidden gems, mind you it was a stunning day compared to the last time I was here, some 25 years ago, we came to 'do' Hebog from the Pennant route but the more we climbed up the road the worse the weather became and on arriving at the head of the valley it was more typical of a day that had been forecasted at the beginning of this tale, that particular day we quickly turned turtle and headed to Criccieth for some stunning ice cream, it must have been an age ago as Cadwalader's at the time were like Henry Ford, 'you can have any flavour you like as long as it's Vanilla' as that was the only choice available.Evening meal was Fish, Chips, Peas and Gravy from the 'Castle' chippy opposite, the fish suppers were so good here that my climbing buddies Gary and Bob and I drove all the way from Liverpool one evening just for that and then all the way back, 200 miles round trip, you'd need a mortgage for the fuel alone for that these days let alone the Fish Supper.

If you need some solitude and an escape from the crowds, especially in midweek and the sun shines down on you then take a trip up to Cwm Pennant, bring a flask of Quarryman's tea and some sandwiches on big hunks of home made bread and get into the spirit of the place,you won't  be disappointed I can guarantee you, of course don't tell any body else about it.











Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Llangelynnin Church

 Llangelynnin Church



Had a quick trip with my mate Paul to this little church high in the hills above Conwy, a place I've wanted to visit and photograph for a long time but never got round to it for some reason. This church can be found at OS Grid ref:- SH751737.the access is via a narrow single track road from Tal y Cafn and Henryd village and is clearly sign posted from the road.There is limited parking at the end of the road.


Llangelynnin Church (Welsh: Eglwys Llangelynnin) is possibly one of the remotest churches in Wales , and is amongst the oldest; the church at Llanrhychwyn further up the valley, is a little older. Saint Cylenin to whom the church is dedicated lived in the 6th century and probably established the first religious settlement here. It lies at a height of just over 900 feet above the village of Henryd in the Conwy valley, in the shelter of Tal y Fan (610m), a small hill to the south-west.
A small and simple building, it probably dates from the 12th century (although some sources cite the 13th century), and was probably pre-dated by an earlier church of timber construction.



The porch was added in the 15th century, and has an unusual 'squint window' in the east wall.  Repairs to the porch roof were made usingYew wood, and therefore it is quite possible that these came from the churchyard, which at one time contained trees. The door hinges and threshold date from the 14th century, although the door itself is more recent.
The nave is the oldest part of the church, dating from the 12th century, and the present chancel was added later, probably in the 14th century. Originally the nave would not have been paved, as it is today, and indeed, the rear of the north chapel remains unpaved even today. The roof contains dark oak rafters.
The north transept was added in the 15th century and was known as Capel Meibion, the "men's chapel". The window at the back of the chapel was a more recent addition.This name may derive from the drovers who passed by and shelterd and worshiped at the church, the 'Capel Meibion'would allow the local congregation to be separate from the drovers whom they though of as not the most clean and trustworthy of visitors.
Opposite the north transept, a south transept was also added, probably in the 16th century. This was called Capel Eirianws (meaning "Plum Orchard", the name of a local farm), whose owner possibly had it built. This chapel was demolished in the 19th century, but some remains are still visible from outside.
The present east window dates from the 15th century, and replaced a smaller 14th century window.
Since demolition of the south chapel (and the gallery) in the 19th century, the church has changed little.

Artifacts

The twist-turned altar rails and the altar screen date from the 17th century. The removal of a pulpit to the left of the altar revealed inscriptions on the east wall, and further removal of whitewash revealed the Creed the Lord's Prayer and theTen Commandments, in Welsh. The inscription "Fear God and honour the King", together with scrollwork, can clearly be seen today, as can a skull and cross-bones! this may not be aluding to pirates but to the drovers as many drovers grave stones have skull and cross-bones carved on them The Welsh version of the Lord's Prayer, on the sill, is hardly visible, after vandalism.
The remains of the rood screen in front of the more recent lectern date from the 14th century, and would have separated the nave from the chancel. The church once had arood loft and gallery, and the remains of these can be seen in on the nave walls, and from the beam at the back of the church. The gallery was demolished in the 19th century.
The reader's desk possibly dates from the 16th century, although the door is more recent.
The wooden benches in the nave date from the 18th century, although at least one bench in the church dates from 1629. One bench (at the front of the north chapel) still bears the initials R.O.B., this being the Reverend Owen Bulkeley, a former rector, who died in 1737. A church terrier of 1742 records a particular bench which was used by women only.
Just inside the church, on the wall, is a holy water stoup used until the 19th century for making the sign of the Cross. At the back of the church is an octagonal font, which probably dates from the 13th or 14th century. The bell has no inscription and its date is therefore unknown.
On the wall in the nave is a bier, used to carry the dead to the churchyard.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

A Short Walk Back to Childhood
Me in 1962

My eldest daughter Hannah had another round of never ending “A level” study, she was incarcerated with her open books strewn about her and the formulae of some chemical experiment scrawled on a crumpled piece of paper.  My wife Clare was at work so Faye and I had the day to ourselves, on such a rare and still autumnal day we toyed with an ascent of Mynydd Mawr or the Eilio Ridge from the back of the house but decided that we would like to share this with the others so we stored them away for another day.
We chose to spend a few hours exploring what to me was very familiar ground and what to Faye were her family roots. I made a courtesy call to my Aunt Peggy who now lives in isolation in Bron y Gader, the family farm house in Rhyd Ddu, where my great grandparents’ chose to build their house and live and farm the slopes of Eryri, it was here that my mother was born and I too came into the world in the same bedroom with its undisturbed view of Snowdon and her surrounding sisters, Moel Cynghorion and Yr Aran, the mountains of longing. The land surrounding Llyn y Gader was where my grandfather farmed and scraped a meagre life from the sheep and few cattle that he had. It was here in the village that he met my grandmother Elizabeth, who lived in Clogwyn y Gwin, a farm not more than a mile from Bron y Gader.
Clogwyn y Gwin ran to 1000 acres of hard and windswept crag strewn hillside which in summer would catch the setting sun and glow like a shimmering fire, its name in English translating to “The Cliff of Wine” which was the colour of the hillside in the setting sun. Its dry stone boundary walls stretching to within a hairs breadth of the very summit of Y Wyddfa itself.
On this day, the 15th of October, on a brilliant sunny autumn afternoon we stopped a while at the small church in Betws Garmon where my parents and grandparents are buried, today was my father’s birthday and more poignant to me it was also hid death day. My father and I had often walked the route we had chosen today and most if not always he also carried his camera, like father like son I suppose.
We parked the car at Bron y Gader and kitted up with camera bag and rations of chocolate biscuits and an apple or two. As soon as we walked through the kissing gate, a new affair and wholly different to the old gate that my grandfather had put there and my Uncle Jack and I had repaired on numerous occasions I had the feeling of being on home soil. Our first call was to the water well that now lies hidden under an access bridge to the field, the icy cold waters still weep into the stream that winds its way into Llyn y Gader, and it was from this well that my mother, grandmother and her mother in law before her would carry the water to the house. I showed this to Faye and my thoughts went reeling back to when I too as a child would scoop the crystal water out to drink in cupped hands.
I pointed out to Faye that the slate slabs that were our footpath through the “Gorse” were laid by my great grandfather and kept in good order by my grandfather and then my Uncle Jack, its long narrow slates now cracked and sinking into the acidic peaty waters unloved and wholly uncared for, I will remember this path for the rest of my lifetime as its route, though short was always an escape to excitement to me as a child. The “gorse” was home to Curlews who would nest amongst the hummocks, walking towards the lake shore with my grandfather to fish or patch and paint, always a “Battleship” grey for some reason, the rowing boats. We had to take care as to not disturb the birds or tread on their nests, sundew plants were an endless source of fascination and I would search them out and tease them to close with the end of a piece of rush. How many Curlews now pick their nesting spot close to where the Sundew grows, none of either bird or plant most probably. At the height of summer grass snakes would often be disturbed from their slumber and would glide away towards shelter as we approached.
After the end of the slate slab path we reached the river Gwyrfai and the boundary to this edge of our farmland, it was here that as children we had a swing tied to the bough of a huge Ash tree which would allow the brave to swing Tarzan like over the fast, to us, flowing water, it was at this exact spot that I found a First World War bayonet, in all probability dropped during training by a young soldier, for they all seemed to be young in my mind. Its pommel and hilt sticking out between two rocks, as I described this to Faye I wondered how long if at all the young soldier survived the horror he was to face on some god forsaken battlefield away from this “Harddwch” (beauty) I was astonished to notice how shallow the river was and how narrow too, as a child it seemed that we were swinging over a vast space and distance
From here we walked on till we reached the “Cob”.
The waters of the lake were mirror still and a lone fisherman ploughed his boat across the lake and cast a fly, a “Haul a Gwynt” (in English, “Sun and Wind”, which is the name of my house a few miles from Rhyd Ddu) as he slowly drifted back, aided by the undercurrent that flowed from the lake to the river Gwyrfai, this reminded me of my time in the village school and of the poetry we learnt.
Sir T H Parry Williams, one of Wales’s eminent poets and scribes who was born in the school house that my family had built, and was the first to win the double award of chair and crown at the national eisteddfod penned a poem entitled “Llyn y Gader”, in it there are a few lines that sing in that way that Welsh writing does:

Ni wêl y teithiwr talog mono bron
Wrth edrych dros ei fasddwr ar y wlad.
Mae mwy o harddwch ym mynyddoedd hon
Nag mewn rhyw ddarn o lyn, heb ddim ond bad
Pysgotwr unig, sydd yn chwipio'r dŵr
A rhwyfo plwc yn awr ac yn y man
,
Fel adyn ar gyfeilorn, neu fel gwr
Ar ddyfroedd hunlle'n methu cyrraedd glan.
Ond mae rhyw ddewin â dieflig hud
Yn gwneuthur gweld ei wyneb i mi'n nef,
Er nad oes dim gogoniant yn ei bryd,
Na godidowgrwydd ar ei lannau ef, --
Dim byd ond mawnog a'i boncyffion brau,
Dau glogwyn, a dwy chwarel wedi cau.
T H Parry Williams (1931)
                                                        
                                                         There is more beauty in these mountains
Than is some bit of a lake, with only a boat
And a lonely fisherman, who is whipping the water
And rowing a touch now and again.

The fisherman in that poem is my grandfather Edwin who was at school with T.H.
Today’s fisherman we were to later find out had been a friend of my mother’s who now lives in the old woollen mill by the river where our swing was as children, we watched him in the distance from our elevation on the cob with such clear light that we could see the rod and line whip and the gentle fly float in the air to land on the still water to effect a small ripple, on the foreground rocks a cormorant watched the fisherman and the water with steely eyes, no rod , line or fly was needed by him as he effortlessly plucked a small trout from the shallows . A gentle breeze then disturbed the surface of the waters causing our human fisherman to drift gently on the waves, the other guy just stuck to his rock and shook his head from side to side before another dive took him from our sights. 


Two Fishermen

Off the edge of the “Cob” we wandered down to the water’s edge and skimmed stones from the flat topped slate tips that jutted into the lake, laid like the outspread fingers of a hand, the gaps between them acting like sheltered docks, I taught Faye to skim the flat slates just as my grandfather had done for me, it was only when I returned home that the thought entered my head that we were touching stone that my great grandfather had touched, I wondered if he had also skimmed the perfectly flat penny sized discs  as he sat here resting  a while after a day’s labour on his walk home to Bron y Gader, or sat with an enamelled flask of milky tea with home baked bread and butter churned from the milk of his own herd. I recollect my Nain making loaves of bread in the kitchen, where she had an enormous earthen ware pot with a perfect round slate lid in which she proved the mix till it was ready to go into the ovens on either side of the range. These loaves would always have a top crust as black as the coal in the range which heated the ovens. My job was to churn the buttermilk in a barrel with a lid that was screwed tight by four clasps; the bright yellow butter was then blocked and imprinted by wooden pats with a flower carved in relief upon them, wrapped in greaseproof paper and sold to the villagers.


 Llyn y Gader

My Aunt Megan and I would walk along the “Cob” daily after school to tend our flock of hardy small bodied Welsh Mountain sheep that we kept on the farm, or the half dozen Welsh Black cattle that we kept for milking, her of such small frame and wild hair gathering the sheep or dragging an ewe from some cleft in a rock or stuck in the river as if she was picking up a small child, of which she never had. I remember struggling along it one very bitter winter, a cut throat razor wind slicing down from Drws y Coed, wearing wellingtons that Nain had bought me in the shoe shop in Caernarfon which were as cold as the snow which we were breaking through, in all my times of climbing mountains or ice climbing in the Alpine regions I have never experienced such numbing cold as much as I did through those “Dunlop” wellingtons. The bitter wind of that day is as vivid now as it was over 50 years ago, Megan with a huge sack of hay almost as large as her, to feed the ewes that were kept on the slopes of the hill, me running behind her trying to keep up, she was a fast walker who crossed terrain like a dervish whirl. I can still see in my mind’s eye the snow banked up against the dry stone walls where ewes had gathered for shelter, snow drifted over them in a thick blanket and only a small entrance hole of melted snow tubes where they had broken through with their warm breath, some would not survive the coldest nights and would be dragged out and later buried or carried back as a heavy carcass to be disposed of in softer ground. Megan would spread the hay out for the ewes in the shelter of an old slate splitting shed that had been constructed by my great grandfather as part of his plan to extract slate from this hill side. The sheep knew when and where the shelter and feed would be and they gathered round like expectant children waiting for the handout.
This quarrying venture came to nought and it produced a very meagre quality slate and was soon abandoned, despite the construction of a raised cob to carry the dressed slate from the quarry to the Welsh Highland Railway that had a station at Rhyd Ddu, several cutting sheds and shelters, the entire track and trucks and other paraphernalia that turned this otherwise gentle hillside into a venture that “would make our fortune”.
The shed I remember as a child had a roof and was open at both ends and acted as an ideal shelter during the coldest weather for the ewes and often their offspring too during lambing time, the day that Faye and I were there the roof had all but gone, the timbers and huge pine joists cracked like huge bones, splintered and sharp. All but a few of the roof slates were missing or lay broken on the floor but on the ground by the gable end there was a grey ridge tile still intact and in exactly the same sunny spot that I remember sitting on as a child. I sat again today amongst this detritus of dreams.
The small quarry behind, now overgrown, green  and lichenous was where we came to when one of the cattle, a young heifer with a coat as black and sheened as wet slate was  spooked by a thunder clap one stormy night and had fallen or leapt over the precipice only to land on a huge sharp spike of slate, she was still but barely alive when we arrived with the vet who had to put a shot into the groaning beast, I was not allowed to see the done deed but remember the echoing sound of the gun in the amphitheatre of the quarry.
Faye and I wandered towards the small stream where there was the remnant of a powder house, now only two walls and surrounded by fallen pines, we used to keep tins of marker paint here for the ewes that would be released onto the hill after shearing, the bright red thick and viscous paint daubed on reluctant brows by me as my grandfather held the ewes between his strong thighs with their eyes wide and glaring and darting for a way out, once marked they would bound away only to stop and look back, their faces with the red mark like an Indian goddess in the middle of their brow.

The Powder House

We sat on a small grassy knoll and ate our apples, it was here that I had placed a memorial slate slab, carved and carried here by me more than twenty years since and dedicated to my greatest of friends Bob, we had shared our lives as youths and young men in Liverpool and climbed and drank our way through our lives as if we would live forever, Bob and I often came here to this spot, it was always one of his favourite places and he said he belonged here and felt a great connection with the spirit of the place. If we were staying at my parent’s cottage in Rhyd Ddu we would walk along the “cob” in moonlight to watch shooting stars in the blackest of nights whilst we sat atop one of the many large boulders that were thrown willy-nilly on the hillside, many times we would bring our rock boots and chalk bags and boulder away a whole afternoon pushing the limits as we “spotted” one another for a fall, we did numerous problems on these rocks and left them unrecorded, I was told recently that they are now graded and guide booked and claimed by others.
When we buried Bob in a cold Anfield cemetery a few days after he had inexplicably taken his own life in a cruel and harrowing way, I kept thinking about our time on this little patch of hillside I called my own, two days before his suicide we had climbed up to the summit of Pen Llithrig y Wrach on the Carneddau hills on a stunningly clear day and talked about his return to Liverpool and a restart of life on the rocks and hills, Bob came late to owning his own transport and didn’t pass his test till his mid thirties, he was always full of surprises and turned up at my house in Liverpool one day on a huge (brand new) BMW 1200cc Motorbike, it was on this bike that I waved him farewell as he went to sort out his return from London to Liverpool, that wave was the last I saw of him and the next morning he was found dead in his bedroom. What possesses a man to leave behind such warmth, love and friendship can never be fathomed out and left me in turmoil.
I put the bitter memories away and turned from Bob’s memorial stone to catch the light mirrored off the waters and leading my eye to the summit of Snowdon, sharp and clear on this day. Faye was sitting on a small knoll eating an apple, her jet black hair throwing highlights as the sun caught a glimpse of her face as she turned, I could only think of my mother who would have come here with her father in very similar circumstances as us, to enjoy a walk and take in the surroundings as her father tended his stock, as I returned to my haunts of so many years, tending the flock as a child, walking, climbing, taking pictures. When I was here in the heady days of the early 60’s I never thought that I would return with my own child in tow and wondered silently whether it was as magical for her as it was for me.
Eventually the fisherman rowed over to a sheltered little rocky outcrop that acted as a natural anchorage to speak to us, it was the exact spot that my grandfather and I had tied our boat up all those years ago. It was then that we found that he had known my mother really well and it was from him that I had purchased a box full of old climbing guides many years back, small world even in such a big open space.
The dwindling warmth of the day set us on our homeward journey and we began to retrace our steps along the “cob” with the fading light throwing huge shadows over the lake as the sun dipped behind Y Garn and dropped into the bay behind the hills. On reaching the car we decided on one quick visit to another childhood haunt before we set for home, although Faye and I had been to Llyn y Dywarchen on many occasions this visit seemed to fit in with the theme of the day and all the reminiscing that was filling my mind, it was as if it would cap the day off and end it all on a magical note, literally that is.




                      
 Pioneering Spirits

Llyn y Dywarchen has always held a grip on me since childhood and was a place that I and my friends from the village school in Rhyd Ddu would escape to on summer evenings to explore, play “Cowboys & Indians” with homemade bows and arrows cut from some innocent Willow or Ash that grew on the farm, the cowboys would invariably loose despite being armed with Mattel’s latest “Stallion 45” with real leather holsters, I doubt “Cowboys & Indians” has been played by anybody for about 40 years, not PC or some such.
We arrived at the small car park where as a child I remember the remains of the old Drws y Coed farmhouse, we parked and took a short stroll to the dam and then round the edge of the lake. I tried to retell to Faye the stories that my grandmother would tell us if we said we were off to the lake to play, she would sternly tell us to take the greatest care and be watchful at all times as the “Tylwyth Teg” would be keeping a keen eye on us, this was meant as a warning to be careful I suppose but we were always a bit unsure if we were ever alone up there by the lake. The “Tylwyth Teg” is a mystical race of fairy people who reside in the valley and live very close to Llyn y Dywarchen and were known to take on human form to mix with the local people, one tale which is famous and oft repeated is that a local farm hand saw one of the beautiful fairies and fell in love, they married and she was to stay with him in his world as long as she was never struck with iron, one day as they were returning to the farm the horse they were leading reared up and the iron stirrup struck her on the face, she immediately disappeared never to be seen again. Sitting on the high knoll with the sun slowly setting the story still had me enchanted, Faye reckoned that I had read too much of “the Lord of The Rings”
As the darkness fell we gathered ourselves together and headed back down the valley and home, on arriving we found Hannah was still revising and Clare was preparing a fine goulash.
It had been a magic day in more ways than one and I for one felt as if I had laid a few ghosts to rest and maybe Faye had gained a new insight to her heritage. I felt strangely calm and very elated about it all and felt as satisfied as if I had just closed the cover on a rather good book.




Beware the “Tylwyth Teg”             Llyn y Dywarchen and Snowdon