The Roman Rivals

A circular walk of 5 miles including 1,800 feet of elevation overall. Start Point: The car park at Porth y Nant, Llithfaen, Llyn Peninsula, Gwynedd. LL53 6NU.  Map References: SH 353440 or Lat: 52.967993 Lon: -4.453934 

adult-blur-boots-1452784This walk includes three modest peaks known collectively as Yr Eifl, or The Rivals. Some scrambling required down to the remains of an Iron Age hill fort, but nothing especially challenging and much of the route is on good clear pathways forming part of the coastal network. On a clear day, the views from Garn Ganol reach as far as the Isle of Man, the Wicklow mountains in Ireland and the Lake District, as well as the whole of Cardigan Bay.

An area rich in ancient history, the smallest and most northern summit is Garn For. The central (and tallest) summit, Garn Ganol, features a cairn and a trig point, and those extensive coastal views. The eastern summit, Tre’r Ceiri, is home to one of the most well-preserved Iron Age hill forts in Britain. There was an extensive survey in 1956 from which evidence of occupation during the Roman period dated from 150 to 400 A.D. And at the start of the walk over the Graig Ddu cliffs, there are views of Nant Gwrtheyrn and the remains of three quarries which were established in the area during the 1860s. During the late nineteenth century the village of Porth y Nant consisted of workmen’s houses, a shop, a bakery, a mansion, a school, and a chapel. Sadly, once the quarries closed around 1950, the village was abandoned and the buildings fell into disrepair. Today, the beautifully renovated site hosts the Welsh Heritage Centre and down to its stunning location, it’s also a popular wedding venue.

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The route

  1. From the car park, head up the wide stone track as it winds gradually towards the pass between Garn For and Garn Ganol. Garn For is an optional climb and the way is mostly along man-made steps forming part of the quarry and communications station. The real climbing begins when you pick up the clear track heading towards Garn Ganol, and the way is clear to see snaking towards the summit.
  2. Towards the final third the path is strewn with boulders and some negotiation is required to make the final climb; mostly bearing left to locate the narrow path. This winds up to the summit, then turn right at the top to find the cairn and the trig-point.
  3. From the trig-point, begin to descend on a path heading in an easterly direction towards Tre’r Ceiri. At the bottom, pass through a kissing-gate by a footpath sign and continue across the flat, marshy area covered in heather, bilberry and cotton grass.
  4. The final ascent to the fort is an easy climb as you head up towards the perimeter wall, at one point passing through a wide entrance with stone ramparts. From the summit it’s easy to see the formation of the original fort.
  5. Return along the same route, but then turn left in a south-westerly direction as you reach the final section of the boundary walls, where a clear grassy path hugs the base of Garn Ganol. Pass through the metal kissing-gate and continue ahead along the grass track by a footpath sign.
  6. Before the white cottage take the right fork and head upwards, continuing on a wide grass track. Then at the top, turn right as you reach the wall and keeping the wall to your left, follow the track back down to the car park.

The described route is a guide only, it’s always advisable to use a map or a GPS device.

Rhoscolyn

A circular walk of 6 miles including 750 feet of elevation overall. Start Point: St Gwenfaen Church, Holy Island, Rhoscolyn, Anglesey.  Map References: SH 277765  or Lat:  53.257636 Lon: -4.584517 

adult-blur-boots-1452784This is an easy circuit taking in a section of the Anglesey Coastal Path along the headland from Rhoscolyn to Silver Bay. Enjoy far-reaching views of Snowdonia and the Llyn Peninsula as well as rugged cliffside scenery reminiscent of Cornwall. There are numerous inlets and coves, and many small offshore islands, including the Ynysoedd Gwylanod or ‘seagull’s islands’ upon which stands the Rhoscolyn Beacon – a tall navigational marker erected to warn ships of the treacherous rocks. The Rhoscolyn coast is well known for its natural arches that the sea has carved out of the cliffs. They are called ‘Bwa Du’ the black arch, and ‘Bwa Gwyn’ the white arch. There are many interesting folds in the rocks of the sea stack, and strands of hematite pink in the cliff walls. The walls of the cliffs here are an extension of the geological fault that can also be seen on the coastline at South Stack, the faults being formed by the opening-up of the Atlantic Ocean and the separation of Europe from North America around 140 million years ago.

A little to the west of the village is a mediaeval well dedicated to St Gwenfaen beside which are the remains of a drystone well house. The local church in the village itself is dedicated to the same, female saint and was first built in the 6th century. Gwenfaen is also associated with the well on Rhoscolyn Headland. This medieval well contains two chambers with seats below ground level fed by an underground spring. It is said that Gwenfaen had powers to cure diseases of the mind.

The route

  1. Park by the church and turn right along the single-track road which continues as a track past a property called Lodge Bach. On reaching the ‘private’ sign, take the stile to the right and pass through the fields aided by kissing-gates. At the final gate, either turn left or continue forwards over a ladder stile and then turn left. Both routes head through the gorse towards the coast. Look for a large white property standing prominent on the skyline.
  2. Once through the gorse, bear left to a kissing-gate on the coastal path and follow the headland on a well-defined grass track. Anglesey Coastal Path signs denote the way and it’s difficult to stray off the route here. Continue for around a mile towards the NCI Beacon. There are good views towards Snowdonia and the Llyn Peninsula. Take up the route again as it heads downhill towards the bay.
  3. Pass through a kissing-gate which leads away from the headland, and continue to follow the coastal path markers between stone walls to arrive at several dwellings overlooking the bay. Turn left at the distinctive Boatman’s Cottage by the finger-post, and walk across the beach. At high tide, look for steps to the left, allowing access to the car park. Exit the beach by the small car park and turn right at the finger-post. The route passes through gorse bushes and wild roses, keeping the bay to your right.
  4. Ignore the arrow at the end of the path and instead, go straight on and pass through the gate to arrive at a driveway. Turn left, then right at the end of this driveway as denoted by the finger-post. Go through the kissing-gate at the next finger-post, onto the open heath. Follow the coastal path signs along the headland as it winds towards Silver Bay.
  5. At Silver Bay walk across the beach keeping the forest to your left. At the end of the fir trees, take the steps into the forest and continue along a sand trail. Bear left then along a wooden walkway over boggy ground to a kissing-gate. Walk up through the grazing land towards a cluster of low cottages, and take the kissing-gate at the top.
  6. Pass into grazing land and follow the well-defined farm track which meets a single-track road. Walk for one mile along the road: turn right at the first junction. At the next junction, turn left and walk past the campsite on the left, and at the final junction bear right and the church is clearly visible ahead.

The described route is a guide only, it’s always advisable to use a map or a GPS device.

 

Disappearing Dreamscapes 8

Continuing memories and reflections of an equine obsession 1968-2018

Chapter 8: Storm Force

Debbie and Fraser had always kept pigs at Merchlyn but on this occasion they were behind the hedge alongside the road, and there were plenty of them. The noise and their smell was unmistakable on the breeze. Pigs are historically a natural predator of anything equine and since my mount was a New Forest pony – one of our ancient native breeds – and since the forest had also been the historical habitat of the wild boar – maybe Emily already had a strong fear of all things porcine in her DNA.
imageMost horses recoil at the smell of pigs but Em’s reaction was unprecedented. There was no way she was walking past that hedge. The frustration of it! I tried gentle coercing, I tried firm coercing. I tried for twenty minutes to walk her past those pigs but my efforts only resulted in the mare trying to spin round, or threaten to rear. Not good. She was wild-eyed by the time my husband caught up with us on his road bike – maybe a lucky coincidence he’d chosen the same route as us, or perhaps he’d not agree. I decided to jump off and lead the mare, thinking that once we were downwind of the smell she’d get over the whole incident.
But even after half a mile she was still prancing, snorting, sweating, and rolling the whites of her eyes. And I felt less in control walking by her side than I had been on her back, but remounting proved tiresome as she continued to spin round, head up, nostrils wide, eyes bulging while she scanned the horizon. I just couldn’t hold her still long enough for me to get a foot in the stirrup, and so I had to resort to standing on a low wall and then somehow launching myself across the saddle while husband led her past. Somehow, I scrambled on and we pranced along the lane while I struggled to get both feet in the stirrups and gather up the reins, realising that the only other route home to avoid the pigs was up through Parc Mawr. Husband wasn’t happy about this, but I sent him on ahead to open the gate for us and we had a silly conversation about why I was riding Em in the first place. Well, because I loved her and anyway, she’d never done this before! He sighed, duly propped up his bike by a tree, hitched open the heavy gate and shook his head as we skittered through. Bikes don’t have any of these weird issues, he muttered.
I reasoned that if Emily fled through the woods and we parted company then at least she wouldn’t be able to get onto the road. Once inside, I allowed her to shoot up the steep path right to the top – not something I’d usually ask of a horse but I was unsure whether to risk the lower path as its gentle undulation might encourage flight. And I wondered if the extra energy required to climb to the top might help to take the edge off her fear. Not one bit. At the top, I made her stand to recover, flanks heaving and running with sweat. Eventually, we turned right and headed through the trees and the mare stayed in a traumatised walk the entire time until we arrived at the far entrance, where another fit of anxiety meant she wouldn’t allow me to open the gate. Instead of standing close to the handle, she backed up the bank and shook her head, as if I was asking too much of her, or maybe she felt too close to her source of discomfort again, since technically, we’d doubled back on ourselves. Judging by her distended nostrils, I’ve no doubt she could still smell the objects of her distaste.
Reluctantly, I dismounted yet again in order to lead her safely through the narrow entrance, then we had another dance in the car park, her reins slippery with sweat. I led her into the RDA yard hoping to find someone… anyone… to either hold the mare still or give me a leg-up but typically, I’d hit on a Marie Celeste moment. Not having a better idea, I clambered onto the picnic table while Em stood four-square, ears and eyes fixated in the direction of the pigs. Back onboard, I chose the long route home along the lanes hoping she might relax and cool off, but no… even back on home ground in the barn she remained so wound up that I struggled to unfasten the tiny buckles of her bridle and loosen her girth in the fading December light. She looked as if she’d had several buckets of water thrown over her, her long winter coat drenched in fear.
IMG_20171206_130255514_HDRThroughout all of this, I surprised myself by remaining calm and matter-of-fact. I have no idea where this mindset came from but it proves that in times of serious stress it is possible to engage mind over matter and deal with the immediate situation. At no time did I feel especially worried about Em’s behaviour and I believe it was this mindset that allowed us both to arrive home safely. She was simply frightened. If I’d panicked or got cross with her, I suspect the mare would have panicked, too. But then, like the drawing of a hypothetical line, we had several days of snow and ice, halting any progress either backwards or forwards. I did ride Em again but she wasn’t the same. Her fear began to manifest itself in other animals, and she felt constantly anxious and grew nappy and difficult, just in case I faced her in the direction of Public Enemy Number One. I suggested to her owner that we employ animal behaviourist Guido, to help. Jayne agreed it was our only option, but then over Christmas we had another discussion leading to Jayne’s decision to retire Emily once again. I did understand her reasons as they echoed some of mine – mostly the potential cost – but it did seem such a sad waste of a lovely mare.
20180101_115748I wasn’t sure what came next, but then Wizard happened. Down to the generosity and goodwill of the community, New Year’s Day saw me astride a Welsh Section D gelding belonging to Penny Wingfield. To the uninitiated, Welsh ponies and cobs are divided into four types and Section D is the big guy. Everyone told me I’d love Wizard but my gut feeling was slightly at odds with this presumption. In company I’m sure he rode quite differently, but for me, Wizard was a little on the strong side and, combined with the elevation in his gait, I did occasionally feel compromised, especially during those tricky downward transitions on uneven ground.
A handsome horse, Wizard was rather taller than ideal for me but I rode him solo twice a week for around three months, and we mostly rubbed along, although once on the open hillside by Pensychnant Lake he tried his best to get the upper hand, especially when we turned for home. Several people walking dogs stood well back, slack-jawed with apprehension as we whizzed by at a gallop rather faster than I would have preferred. Wizard could be a joy to ride but occasionally, he’d argue over my directional decisions. One day he planted his feet for some fifteen minutes in Parc Mawr before agreeing to move forwards. Later, by way of revenge, he managed to execute an especially sudden and athletic pirouette at sight of an Asda bag in the hedge, and I hit the tarmac. During this rude eviction the air vest sprang into action with a loud pop, and I rolled across the road like Mr Blobby. I don’t know if Wizard was horrified at the sight of an inflated me or the sudden noise I’d emitted, but he clearly thought it safer (and way more fun) to scarper at this point.
IMG_20180130_125845068_HDROther than feeling mildly winded and stupid, I was completely unhurt but I did worry about Wizard – who’d disappeared without trace. I asked every passing car if they’d seen a large, black cantering horse but no one had… what the hell? Had he jumped a hedge into a field? Hitched a lift in a passing trailer? Maybe he had wizardly skills in disappearing acts… but no, a couple of urgent phone calls confirmed that he’d arrived safe and sound at Merchlyn Forge a mile away and was enjoying a hay-net courtesy of Debbie Youngson. Relieved, I accepted a lift from a passing farmer travelling the same way and Wizard was duly collected and ridden home. All things considered I decided to retire from the charms of Mr Whizz, deciding there and then that prospects for rambling solo across remote places weren’t looking good. Jayne Moore and Penny Wingfield were the nicest of horsey owners and I felt mortally disappointed that neither of their horses had quite worked out for me. Fair to say that husband was by now thoroughly perplexed as to why I insisted on this path of dangerous recreation. The simple answer is that of course these events don’t represent the full picture. When equine partnerships work well, it’s quite simply the best feeling in the world. Husband wasn’t convinced, but he duly replaced the £17 cartridge in the air jacket.
30221443_1681116171972686_2240036748665028608_nIn other equine areas, I experienced rather more success. The Welsh Institute of Therapeutic Horsemanship (WITH) ran a two-day EFL (Equine Facilitated Learning) training course for those wishing to qualify as an assistant to a trained therapist. Unlike the RDA which is mostly about physical disabilities and riding the horse, EFL is all about mental and emotional well-being; about assisting clients to discover ways of helping themselves through the medium of interacting with horses. Some of the research supporting this sounds improbable and someone with long-term depression or post-traumatic stress disorder could be forgiven for feeling skeptical, but in the vast majority of cases it works, and it’s effective for those suffering a variety of diverse mental health issues.The session plans developed by WITH are also beneficial for those who want to develop skills in leadership, communication, and confidence. Put simply, it can give someone the courage to look in the mirror and love what they see. Horses accept us for who we are, and because they are never incongruent they can also encourage us towards healthy change. Undoubtedly, there is something on the inside of a horse that is good for people and, sometimes it’s as simple as the endorphins produced from aligning our human heartbeat to that of an equine heartbeat.
AP CertificateIn preparation for my training course in April, I took a refresher lesson in lunging with Wendy Tobias-Jones of Conwy Community Riding School and head coach for Conwy Gogarth RDA. As a WITH assistant, my role would be to interpret the reactions of the horse during the therapy session. In order to facilitate this, I might be expected to demonstrate skills in free-schooling, using a round pen, or lunging. Nutmeg proved an interesting partner and it took a while for my coordination to remember how to handle a long schooling whip and a lunge line with a lively horse on the end of it. The real bonus though was the natural horsemanship session we did at the end, aka the Monty Robert’s join-up technique. And the ‘feels’ were undeniable when Nutmeg – free from all restraint by then – chose to follow me so closely I could feel her breath on the back of my neck. For anyone suffering with confidence issues I defy them not to feel a surge of joy and power when a horse chooses to react this way of its own free will. And it’s a valuable insight into how an equine mind is programmed to that of trust and survival, and how it can affect our own persona. In that moment, Nutmeg saw me as a clear leader.
I completed and passed the preliminary WITH course at Bryn Gaseg, Anglesey, and later in the year went on to assist Jackie Williams help a client suffering with PTSD by practising the EFL programme. The results were astonishing. More on Jackie and Bryn Gaseg: https://janruth.com/2017/11/18/with-or-without-you/ 
Gift Horse Cover MEDIUM WEBSome of these experiences went into GIFT HORSE: A time-slip novel about the choices women make, the healing power of horses, and the consequences of human error.  Of course, I’ve touched on horse-whispering techniques, therapies, and mental health issues in the Midnight Sky series, and part of Gift Horse is a natural continuation of that theme, one which this time connects more directly to my main character. Caroline is a product of her sheltered upbringing. In direct contrast her flatmate, Niamh, is part of a loud, sprawling Irish family – including the gorgeous but licentious Rory O’Connor; Caroline’s nemesis. Unfortunately, Caroline is intent on pleasing everyone except herself, and there’s a price to pay… I hope my so far modest experiences with equine therapies adds some reality and richness to the story.
But what of my own story? I’d almost given up hope of a regular ride but in late April I received a tentative message… something about a share in a pony and would I be interested? A pony I knew rather well from my days of riding with Debbie Youngson, a pony who in fact still resided at Merchlyn on livery. Storm. A trial ride was arranged and one summery evening in May I rode to the Ty Gwyn pub in Rowen, where husband arranged to buy me a shandy. When Storm tried to follow me into the pub I knew we were going to get along just fine. Now, that one looks a lot safer, husband declared knowledgeably, pint in hand. 
31949754_1959582137385249_6916507564159008768_nA Dartmoor who looked more like an Exmoor with a cream muzzle, a dun coat with a cream belly, black legs and a black mane and tail. A pint-sized pony with a big personality, Storm was a force to be reckoned with. At something like 12.5 hands I wasn’t too worried that I looked out of place on him thanks to my short legs, but at 9 stone I was probably at his top weight. Down to the best motivation I’d had in a while, I lost a stone over the course of that summer and came to appreciate the ease of jumping on and off a pony exactly like I used to when I was twelve. Actually, I probably looked about twelve from the rear in my pink hi-vis, but all well and good if this image had motorists extra cautious on approach. I can only imagine their thoughts on passing me though and maybe glancing in their rearview mirror to see a colourful, child-sized rider in her sixties. But none of that mattered. Difficult gates lost their power to determine a route. Dismounting and mounting was easy peasy, no need to look for a rock to stand on or hop about while an impatient horse tried to move off. Sometimes, though, Storm would turn and look at me when I stuck my foot back in the stirrup. Come on, old woman get on, get on! But generally he was undeniably forgiving.
Through a hot, dry summer, we roamed the hills, the woods, and the lanes around Henryd and Rowen. He’d go anywhere I pointed him, never spooked, never napped, and other than drawing the line at sharing passing space with dragons (aka massive tractors and trailers) he exhibited a sensible approach to anything we encountered. He showed a passing disdain for the pigs, but nothing more. Occasionally we’d come across a stubble field with an open gate and we’d canter across it, easily hidden behind tall hedges profuse with summer foliage. Storm was always up for a spot of mild mischief, and I knew I had a great partner in crime when he pricked his ears at the prospect of galloping over mildly forbidden ground. Beyond cantering, though, I generally let him set the pace. Parc Mawr Woods and Tal y Fan is hard on ridden horses and ponies; the ground rough, the inclines steep. Sometimes, I’d dismount and we’d walk side by side, both of us panting in the dry heat. But there were specific places where he liked to gallop, especially on level grassy areas or sometimes uphill, and I let him fly. I never pushed him, but then I doubt he would have allowed me to.
This typical pony personality extended to the field where he escaped on a regular basis. Merchlyn favoured strip grazing; a method of rotating the land using electric fencing. Unfortunately the height of this was set at chest level for the horses and didn’t really accommodate Storm, who easily slipped underneath. He had no shame in performing this act before my very eyes, tossing the length of tape up and over his head, pausing at the mild zap across his withers before continuing on his way to pastures new with a defiant little trot and a wary eye. I’d often find him knee-deep and big-bellied in long grass and buttercups; the equine equivalent of gorging on a Michelin Star menu. Sometimes, he’d tear round the perimeter of the forbidden paddocks and throw in a buck. The livery horses, some of whom could easily step over the sagging tape but wouldn’t dare, looked on in bewildered admiration.
But there came a time when his escapes led to a difficult situation at Merchlyn and his owner, Sue, decided to have him back home, just a few miles away in Conwy. This was a good move for me since the Sychnant Pass was my old stamping ground with fond memories of Pinewood Stables and Conwy Mountain. The terrain is a little less harsh by the coast and the variety of tracks offer plenty of freedom for mountain and beach riding. Storm’s new pasture was a secluded area of land behind a neighbouring property. As a bonus there were two mares in close vicinity, one of whom he liked to watch closely through the hedge. Discovering the hollow beneath the trees where he’d lain down to sleep, was the stuff of childhood fiction. Close by, the beehives hummed, the occupants busy with a variety of pollen in the gardens and beyond. Rich and dark, the honey gleaned from these pickings created a hillside garden in a jar, the perfume and flavour a distinct floweriness combined with the earthiness of our local Welsh heather.
Storm’s grazing was easily managed, along with occasional supervised spells in the orchard; an atmospheric, rambling place with disused greenhouses, several low, gnarled fruit trees, and a variety of overgrown vegetable beds. When arrangements were made for Storm to move in permanently with the mares, his domain was complete. Not that he saw himself as a small, 16 year old gelding. For a while Storm’s behaviour was more that of a virile 16 hand stallion. The older, taller, thoroughbred mare took no notice of him whatsoever, while the younger, smaller mare enjoyed egging him on. When she came into season and riding necessitated that he leave her side, Storm would stop and call to her at random moments in random places, head high and ears pricked. His voice was astonishingly deep and resonant for such a small pony and it reverberated through his body like the call of the wild to the point where occasionally, we’d attract the attentions of a wild Carneddau stallion checking out any possible opposition.
In late autumn we noticed that Storm had a protruding front tooth, a bit like Nanny McFee. The equine dentist was summoned and Storm duly sedated, his drowsy head resting on a sturdy stand so the dentist could prop his jaw open and have a good look. It looked quite a brutal procedure when the wobbly tooth was extracted but Storm didn’t flinch an inch and we couldn’t help wondering what else we needed to do to him while he was in such a dreamy state. His back teeth got a good filing down and we had instructions not to allow him to eat until the sedation had worn off, and not to ride him in a metal bit for a couple of days. I heeded the advice about the bit and decided to ride him the following day by improvising and attaching his reins to his halter. What could go wrong?
IMG_4932I didn’t chance riding along the road, not even for a short distance, but wandered up the Muddy Lane Bridleway onto Conwy Mountain. Storm heeded my every command, what a good boy! Even during canter he allowed me to slow his pace and change direction and I only had the clumsiest of aids since his reins were attached to his big, comfy padded halter. But then we turned for home, and, oh boy, did he have some fun with me. I had no idea he could actually gallop that fast. It was like a switch had been thrown. We set off up a gentle incline by Pen Pyra Farm at a fair canter, gathering in momentum without slowing as we turned to the right and picked up a long track across a flattish area peppered with rocks and undulations. Usually he’d slow here and we’d catch our breath, but not this time. Shallow ditches and uneven ground whizzed by at a swift pace. I shifted my weight and used alternate pulls left and right. Nope, no effect whatsoever. He was at light-speed by this time, head well down into his noseband, and some elderly guy with a dog stepped back off the track just in time. Bloody hell, love! I garbled an apology. Storm did eventually slow up, luckily just before we began to descend, although he was full of himself and jogged me all the way home. I laughed at his nerve but by the time we’d arrived back at the yard he’d lost his cockiness and just shoved me with his head. What are you talking about, what bolt? You’re making a storm out of a teacup!
When I was young I used to think that I’d be doing very well indeed if I was still riding at the age of 60. And the close of 2018 concluded 50 years in the saddle, so I’d reached a special anniversary. But rather than these times be about Disappearing Dreamscapes, it was more about rediscovering those areas of my childhood which epitomised the simple freedom of riding in the countryside. Exactly like it used to be.

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About this Series

The first four chapters of Disappearing Dreamscapes represent 30 years from 1968-1998 and are split over four seasons based on diary entries through 1979. Chapters 5-8 represent 20 years from 1998-2018 and are recorded chronologically.

Conwy Valley Lakes

A circular walk of 9 miles including 1,400 feet of elevation overall. Start Point: Opposite Trefriw Woollen Mill, Main Road, Trefriw LL27 0NQ.

adult-blur-boots-1452784Llyn Crafnant and Llyn Geirionydd are two of the largest natural lakes in the Conwy Valley (both around a mile long) and together, they make for a scenic, varied walk along mostly well-defined paths as part of the Trefriw Trails network. It’s possible to shorten this particular route and reduce the elevation by skipping the climb up from Trefriw and parking instead at either of the designated lakeside car parks.

Spring and autumn are especially rewarding seasons to enjoy this route due to the colour diversity of the trees, the bluebells and the wild garlic. And the falls by Trefriw Mill are especially spectacular when in full spate. Crafnant takes its name from ‘craf’, an old Welsh word for garlic, and ‘nant’, a stream or valley. The lakes run parallel to each other but a mile apart, being separated by Mynydd Deulyn, known as the mountain of the two lakes. Like much of Wales, the Crafnant valley has a long association with mining, and the Pandora Mine and Klondyke Mill (1900-1911) was for a short time an industrial lead ore enterprise. There are few, if any, fish in Geirionydd; quite likely the result of poisoning from the adjacent metal mines. However, the lake boasts a number of literary connections: Ieuan Glan Geirionydd (1795–1855) was born on the banks of Afon Geirionydd, and renowned for his poetry and hymns. Taliesin (c. 534–c.599), was a 6th-century Welsh bard, and the earliest poet of the Welsh language whose work has survived. Taliesin lived on the shores of Llyn Geirionydd, and this is also where many say he is buried.

The route

  1. From the parking area, turn right along the main road then cross opposite The Fairy Falls Hotel and enter the side street, where a Trefriw Trails sign directs you along a footpath to the left. After a short distance, take the right turn indicated by another trails arrow alongside the river and follow the path as it hairpins back on itself, before crossing the bridge.
  2.  Turn right after the bridge along a short path and then at the end, turn right onto a road. At the T junction, turn left, then look for the footpath sign into the woods. Follow the path for more than a mile as it climbs steadily towards Llyn Geirionydd, the way marked by yellow trail markers. At the rocky knoll there’s a good view of the remains of Klondyke Mill.
  3. The route continues over a stream, then up to a wooden gate. Continue on the trail until you reach the final stile which brings you to the outskirts of Llyn Geirionydd. Either walk along the single-track road to the left of the lake or take a right turn at the head of the lake and take the footpath along the far shoreline, close to the water’s edge.
  4. If you choose to walk along the road, take the first right after the end of the lake, then follow the footpath posts denoted by a footprint as they head up into the forest. If you’ve chosen to walk along the shoreline, then both routes conjoin here. Follow the forest track as it winds up and bears right.
  5. Once over the stream, cease following the markers and take a right turn up through the trees to arrive on the forest road again, then pick up the blue markers. Bear left and head towards the next marker nestled in the grass verge. Follow the directions up into the forest and walk along the track which climbs up through the fir trees, then descends towards Llyn Crafnant.
  6. Before the final stile on the track, turn left as indicated by several trail markers and follow the well-defined path within sight of the lake. Pass through the kissing-gate at the end then turn left at the single-track road. At the end, pass through the gate and turn right.
  7. Follow the stone path as it passes through another gate and then turn right to cross over a wooden bridge just before a dwelling. Continue along the stone path as it follows the natural shoreline of the lake. At the head of the lake, turn left onto the single-track road with the stream to your left. At the car park entrance, also on the left, look for a right fork denoted by a footpath sign and follow this wide path as it climbs up towards a gate.
  8. Pass through the metal gate and stay on the forestry road but ignore the sharp right-hand turn and go straight on, following the yellow markers to take a stile into a wooded area with slate heaps either side. The path here undulates through a wooded area and some of the way is hampered by tree roots and boulders. At the fork, take either path as they both conjoin later on at a ladder stile over the wall by a stream.
  9. Once over the wall, the path is distinct again as it heads back up towards Llyn Geirionydd and passes the monument dedicated to Taliesin on a rise to the left. Once back at the lakeside turn left and pick up the trail from point 3 to retrace your steps back to Trefriw.

Add a little bit of body text

The described route is a guide only, it’s always advisable to use a map or a GPS device.

Telegraph Valley Steam Train Linear

A linear walk of 7.5 miles including 1,600 feet of elevation overall. Start Point: Snowdonia Parc Pub on the A498, Waunfawr, Caernarfon, LL55 4AQ. Map References: SH 52664 58825  or Lat:  53-66210 Lon: -4.202379

adult-blur-boots-1452784A pub at the start and the finish coupled with free parking and a short train journey, makes this route a walk of convenience with plenty of scope to stretch the legs in-between. Much of the climb is at the start of the walk, heading up to the point where walkers bound for Snowdon separate from those heading towards Llanberis along Telegraph Valley. The area is named after the first Marconi long-wave transmitting station in Britain, the remains of which are still in situ. Good clear paths throughout, requiring only a modest amount of navigation towards the end of the walk as the Slate Trail leads one back to the start through areas of rough pastureland and the outskirts of Waunfawr. Evidence of the slate industry is strong across the landscape, with the Dinorwic quarry clearly visible above Llanberis and Llyn Padarn.

The origins of the Welsh Highland railway – the oldest railway company in the world – can be traced back to the Nantlle horse-drawn railway in 1828 connecting the slate quarries at Nantlle with Caernarfon, a distance of about eight miles. It was converted into a standard gauge railway in the 1860s. Eventually the line was developed to reach Portmadoc, a journey of 25 miles from Caernarfon, where it then connects to the Ffestiniog line. The romance of the steam and the rattle of the carriages provides a historic atmosphere which feels completely fitting to Snowdonia’s heritage, and the route passes through some spectacular scenery. Times and ticket prices available online. If you’re a North Wales resident, it’s well worth purchasing a member/loyalty card for discounted trips.

The route

  1. Cross over the bridge to the railway platform. Take the train to the Snowdon Ranger. Note: this is a request stop so be sure to inform the guard. Leave the train at the Snowdon Ranger stop, then cross the train track to join the Snowdon Ranger path. This is clearly denoted as a stone track passing behind some farm buildings and then zig-zagging all the way up to a distinct fork.
  2. Turn left towards Llanberis. Pass through the gate and, keeping Snowdon to the rear walk straight on as the route descends gradually through Telegraph Valley; until after the 4 mile point you reach a single-track road.
  3. Turn left. Continue up to a stile and follow the well-defined path as it climbs towards the disused quarry by Donen Las, Groeslon.
  4. Walk between the slate heaps on a stone track which changes to a single-track road heading down towards Waunfawr. Look for a finger-post on the left at Caer Corlan , also signed for the Slate Trail (yellow arrow) and the North Wales Pilgrim’s Way.
  5. Walk along this permitted driveway and after the two dwellings pass through the gate and turn right at the Slate Trail sign. Continue to follow the yellow arrows.
  6. As the path descends, look for a Slate Trail post to the right and pass over a wooden bridge via two metal gates into rough pastureland. Keep straight on with the stone wall to the left. At the single-track road turn left downhill.
  7. Pick up the yellow arrows again, taking a right turn down a footpath through more rough pasture, passing through kissing gates and the rear of some properties to arrive at the junction of several driveways.
  8. Go straight on, picking up the North Wales Pilgrim’s Way sign by the footpath. At the single-track road, turn right for a short distance towards some properties before taking the footpath on the left. Turn left at the end of the path and after a short distance along the main road, the Snowdon Parc is on the left.

The described route is a guide only, it’s always advisable to use a map or a GPS device.

Disappearing Dreamscapes 7

Continuing memories and reflections of an equine obsession 1968-2018.

Chapter 7: Home Ground

Springtime in Parc Mawr Woods. Snowdrops first, then maybe a few daffodils poking through the leaf mould and all around the insistent drilling of a woodpecker. But when it’s time for the wild garlic and the bluebells to flower, the fairy grotto effect is in full force. At the main fork in the path, the lower track returns walkers or riders to the lane. Alternatively, another ten minutes of climbing elevates one beyond the tops of the fir trees to reveal far reaching views of Conwy valley and the river. Pass through the rider-friendly gate and take the steep bridleway – usually studded with primroses by the close of March – and sheltered by ancient, gnarled trees, to arrive at the old church. Progress is slow as it’s a rocky route, often gushing like a healthy brook through the winter, during a wet spring, or after snow. Drystone walls border the way, forming a narrow passage to the church of St Celynin – a sixth century saint. One of the oldest churches in Wales, horses would bring coffins along this way to their final resting place. Beyond the church the open countryside is much as it was thousands of years ago, predominantly inhabited by Carneddau ponies, sheep, and birds of prey.
IMG_5013I’ve known this area for a long time. I’ve admired it in bright sunlight, and in the chill dusk of winter. And I’ve seen it sprinkled with snow and bathed in moonlight beneath the stars. I’ve also looked with longing at the hoofprints pitted along these tracks, thinking how wonderful it must feel to be able to observe such ancient wildness from the back of a horse, but I’ve had to accept that the public riding school as I used to know it, was pretty much finished. Other than my short list of places which meant long-distance travelling and an overnight stay to make a riding trip viable, there was nowhere to ride beyond an indoor school.
midnight-sky-series-coverMeanwhile, writing had been extra productive, including two sequels in the Midnight Sky series. Aspects of these books represented how my equine obsession developed by exploring areas which not only appealed to me as a writer, but reflected an interest in alternative training methods and therapies. It also opened a variety of different doors which not only drew me deeper into my community, but affected a subtle change in me, too. One of the early triggers for this came from watching Guido Louis Leidelmeyer on a couple of occasions back in 2016. A stunt rider, and an equine behaviourist, Guido’s methods come from that broad spectrum described as Natural Horsemanship.Once upon a time the British Horse Society was the only equine reference on the shelf. Everything one needed to know would be laid down in black and white, somewhere. There were rules. There were standards. These inflexible, uncompromising ways are becoming old-school. Every horse, every person, is an individual. How any one combination of horse and rider works together, is not always black and white. I think we’ve always known this, but it’s never been quantifiable. Real equestrian skill comes with understanding what works for one, might not work for another, and how to apply that knowledge. Sometimes it’s only a feeling, but instinct can be more powerful than any how-to manual. Guido suggests we train in silence. Our gibberish means nothing to horses. Body language is how animals read us much of the time. After all, it’s how they survive in the wild and communicate with each other. Understanding more of this language, or engaging whispering techniques, can teach us not only about the relationships we have with our horses but much of the time a good deal about ourselves, too. You might be able to fool a stranger with a fake smile, but a horse will know the real story. And in essence, the horse remains the most truthful of teachers since his agenda is never compromised by incongruent behaviour. 
10982448_877878988921417_4697274201469467442_nAs with any relatively ‘new’ subject which comes along to challenge the old ways, there will always be extreme versions and there will always be con-artists, but if the desired result is achieved without distress for the horse and no one gets hurt, then it’s good enough for me. I’ve watched Guido manage to clip a nervous horse he’s never met before in the space of twenty minutes. The owner had tried everything. As West Taylor (science-based horsemanship) also reiterates, it’s not always about the stuff, it’s often about us. It’s about our perception of the problem and not allowing it to manifest into something bigger than we can handle. At times though, outside influences are so strong we literally dabble with life and death.
More on Guido: https://janruth.com/2015/01/25/sweet-nothings/
DSCN5324A road traffic meeting in Conwy’s Guild Hall in the spring of 2017 only came about after a tragic accident – much like closing the door after the horse had bolted. A driver ploughed into the back of a horse and rider in broad daylight, and although the rider only sustained severe bruising it resulted in a broken leg for the horse which had to be destroyed on the spot. The driver didn’t even stop. That rider could have been me. She was experienced, mature, wearing hi-vis, and riding a quiet horse. The Sychnant Pass is mostly single-track, winding, and with variable visibility. Sheep and wild ponies roam loose across the area and common sense should dictate speed and behaviour. I’ve watched children trying to remove their ponies from Pinewood’s fields with traffic whizzing past at 60mph… The guild hall was packed, standing room only, and the debate was heated. Some of the stories were hair-raising, and in some cases the ignorance, the sheer disregard for someone’s life, quite breath-taking. The conclusion was that the speed limit on the Pass should be cut from 60 to 40 mph – other than where it already dropped to 25 – and large hazard signs employed. On the whole traffic is pretty calm in this beautiful, scenic place, but I’m aware at all times that it only takes one careless driver working to an impossible schedule, or someone under the influence of drink, stupidity, ignorance, or drugs, to change that.
HenrydOur world is often one of fear and disappointment and reading or writing fiction is good escapism, or at the very least a powerful medium to channel thoughts and emotions. But I also needed to escape the isolation and unhealthy aspects of writing, sitting, and thinking. Then I came across a mobile phone number and some scant information about trekking pinned to a supermarket notice-board. The yard was in Henryd – a couple of miles away from me at Merchlyn, a beautiful old forge with Victorian stables and stone barns. And so in the spring of 2017 I found myself cantering between those banks of bluebells in Parc Mawr woods on Debbie Youngson’s thoroughbred, Trudy, aka The Intruder. Not in the first flush of youth, the mare was still an eager accomplice whenever we rode up to the old church and back down the steep, winding lanes where a short cobbled bridleway brought us back round to the woods again. Or we’d loop through Rowen village, past the pub and the telephone kiosk – which is now home to second-hand books, plant cuttings, business cards, and a defibrillator. Then a left turn brought us past the Dutch Pancake House and the Water Gardens. The horses sometimes spooked at the Water Gardens. During busy times there could be a long line of fisherman behind the hedge and we had to be aware of sudden movement, or the sound of whipping and plopping lines. I wasn’t so keen on the road riding despite the scenic nature but the kinder, drier weather of late spring promised longer mountain rides, so this was something to look forward to. And it was undeniably lovely to ride through those woods.
Riding circuits around the local villages it didn’t go unnoticed that there was a schooling area by the entrance to Parc Mawr, attached to Tanrallt farm. I’d been researching disabled riding for a theme I’d introduced into Strawberry Sky, only to discover that this very locality was used by Conwy RDA group – and they wanted volunteers. What better way to research a subject than to be actively involved in it? Not only this, it would place me into a familiar environment, a situation which I hoped could produce mutual benefits. And so one spring morning I walked from home across the fields, through Rowen Woods and up to the top of Henryd village to watch a session in progress and meet the team. IMG_20170920_114641288_HDRStraightaway, I felt there was something real and organic about this upbeat, positive community. Above all, it was run for the benefit of the people who used it, rather than for the sole purpose of making money. It’s much how I’d begun to approach producing the books I wanted to write, because much of the time ebook publishers are about trends and making cash rather than producing something of substance and quality, so this parallel ethos appealed to me and I committed to Wednesday mornings with ease. Getting involved with people who are disabled or disadvantaged in some way is a great leveller. Curiously, I began to feel less stressed, able to concentrate for longer, and generally experienced a better frame of mind. Was that down to the horses, the environment, or the people? I like to think it’s down to the unique combination. 
More on Conwy Gogarth RDA: https://janruth.com/2018/10/26/rda-our-conwy-community-collage/
When the weather improved, Debbie and I – often joined by Gill who had a horse on livery at Merchlyn, and Angharad, Debbie’s business partner, rode longer circuits of Tal Y Fan. Bessie, the black cob mare reminded me of Kirby and she was probably my favourite, although the mare was nervous if not following another horse. I really liked Storm, too, the small pony with the big personality, and Martha. Sadly, just as I was settling in to the possibilities of adventure, Debbie’s personal circumstances changed into one of an uncertain future and despite sporadic rides through the summer, I had to accept that yet again there was some familiar writing on the wall. 
But as my involvement with the RDA grew, so did my connections to local equine people, and the secretary for Conwy Gogarth RDA, Carol Moore, soon introduced me to her three cob geldings Snowman, Freddie, and Fergus. Carol’s yard was tucked away in Rowen Woods, part of the estate known as Glyn Parc. Formerly a tourist attraction, Glyn Parc used to be a rare breed farm prior to the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001. Some of the original sheep have been retained to cross-graze the pasture, but the place is now primarily a livery yard and a holiday cottage. I wasn’t unfamiliar with the area as it’s criss-crossed with public footpaths amid an idyllic setting – lush with flora and fauna, orchards, peacocks, and doves.
Fergus, the rather Rubenesque coloured gypsy cob with a classic apple-shaped bum, reminded me of my unease riding the aforementioned Paddy. His rolling gait and the tendency to lower his head in canter wasn’t the best physical fit for me and my short legs. Snowman, adopted by Carol and previously owned by a riding school, was less forward-going than his step-brothers but essentially a sensible, genuine sort. A stoic character in excess of a portly 16 hands, mounting and dismounting was always going to be a major problem for me, but generally he was a gentleman to handle, even dipping his head low enough for me to pass his reins and the martingale over his head, although fastening his girth wasn’t quite so easy! Adept at escaping his loose box, one always had to ensure both bolts were rammed home and the feed bin out of sight.
Freddie, the lighter, slimmer skewbald horse felt pretty perfect, although this came at a price. Freddie had an unusual personality. Sometimes ticklish, he did his best to avoid being groomed, but much depended on his mood. I guess one might say he was mildly unpredictable and not always the easiest to handle. He certainly had a twinkle in his eye and he did test me initially, but Freddie was great off-road and remarkably athletic, reminding me of the aforementioned Ted. A sporty chap, Freddie was always happier in the lead and occasionally he’d put in a disgruntled buck if he found himself behind one of his stable-mates. And then one fateful July day, Freddie and I parted company. We’d enjoyed a good long ride with Carol and Fergus, and we’d done all the arguably risky bits across open countryside without incident other than a couple of playful bucks, but nothing unseating.
We were on the final sun-dappled canter track along the bottom of Parc Mawr, heading for home, tired, happy and bowling along behind Fergus but steady, relaxed. We weren’t too close to Fergus, nor were we too far behind and our pace couldn’t be considered as excitable. Any spooky outside influences were less than negligible. One second I was listening to the birdsong and wondering what to have for dinner and the next I was on my back looking at the tree-tops. Freddie was nowhere to be seen. One of my stirrup leathers dangled on top of a bush. What the…? Usually under these circumstances there’s a couple of seconds to consider impending doom as one slithers down the right or left flank, braced to hit the soil. But this time… nothing. Once I’d got over the shock, I staggered to my feet without too much creaking but I knew instantly I’d badly bruised my coccyx the second I began to walk.
A concerned Carol materialised from the opposite direction, leading both horses and full of questions but I had no explanation for what had happened. To this day I still have no idea how Freddie managed to evacuate me with such lightning precision, if indeed, that had been his agenda. I did remount (standing on the wall by the scout hut) and rode back to the yard, leaning forward rather more than I should – but driving home afterwards included swear words, especially where too much clutch action had me gritting my teeth. The injury took at least a month to fully heal and the inconvenience of not being able to drive or sit for too long, and the very real fact that my accident could have been so much worse, prompted me to invest in an air jacket. Unlike the old, stiff and restrictive body protectors which I’d resisted for years, the air jacket is the cutting edge in equine protection. It consists of a light tabard style ‘jacket’ which is worn over all other clothing and attached to a D ring on the saddle via a bungee cord. If the cord becomes forcefully detached then the jacket inflates, cushioning any fall to the ground.
imagesA fairly hefty sum to purchase initially at around £400, it’s still a small price to pay to prevent broken bones or another bruised coccyx, and I also had to bear in mind my recent diagnosis of border-line osteoporosis. The only caveat is that it is so light I forget I’m wearing it and therefore forget to detach the bungee when dismounting. I’ve jumped down off Snowman with it still attached and obviously, the taller the horse the bigger this problem can be! Stretched taut, it’s the very Devil to unhook from the ground, in fact it’s easier to remove the entire jacket. I’ve never made so many notes to self… Remember to unhook the blasted bungee cord!  
Four weeks after the fall I was back in the saddle. I’d taken to riding Snowman and came to enjoy his predictable, steady pace. We rode for almost four hours one warm afternoon in late summer, taking the route which swings left after the old church and around Craig Celynin before following the lower flanks of Tal Y Fan, and enjoyed some long grassy canters despite the number of uncooperative gates along the way, held up with the ubiquitous ancient rusting wire and frayed baler twine. Then we took the green lane back to the village, plucking blackberries from the hedges along the way. I loved these occasional long rides through the hills, but there were changes in the air. Snowman’s owner talked of taking him back, another young horse came onto the yard and the equilibrium of our small group felt disturbed. A shame also that the close bond of ‘the boys’ meant they wouldn’t ride solo, at least not for any substantial distance and I wasn’t sure if the restrictions created by these various arrangements were going to suit me long-term.
When the offer of riding Emily – a prematurely retired New Forest pony – cropped up in October, I took my leave from Glyn Parc and decided to rise to the challenge of bringing the mare back into work. Em lived on a hill farm at the top of Henryd not too far from the old church, so access to the Carneddau couldn’t have been easier, or more attractive. Driving up to my allotted parking spot, though, was often like running the gauntlet and one needed to be prepared to reverse downhill or uphill, the usual ditches and stone walls running to either side. Wild, and beautiful, the hill farm was perhaps the opposite to Glyn Parc in terms of cosy convenience and ease of execution. But I soon came to realise that none of that mattered. I relished the challenge of nurturing a proper bond with this mare, a mare I knew would ride out without the security blanket of other horses. Already, I felt we were two of a kind. Em wasn’t completely unfit having access to several acres of high ground and typical of Welsh hill farms, none of it was level. IMG_2098The configuration of various field gates was awkward, though, and sometimes it was no mean feat to remove the mare from the field without disgorging her pony companion and several hundred sheep at the same time. However, I set to cleaning her neglected tack with oil and saddle soap. We began with ten-minute ambles down the lane. Because of her change of shape since she’d last been ridden – she was clearly more rotund than she should have been – I did get a few problems with her saddle slipping but a new, rubberised saddle pad and a longer girth seemed to fix this. And it soon became clear that Em wasn’t averse to being put back into gentle work, in fact she felt keen to get going so I began to extend our walks in various directions. Only once did she plant her feet and test my intent. We were up by the old church and she still wasn’t shod so I wondered if her sudden stubborn streak had anything to do with the anticipation of scrambling over the rough stream bed further on. I hadn’t intended to take her that far but it took some insistence from me to have her going forward again. I let her turn for home only when I decided she could, and by way of protest she put in a funny little buck and the sort of canter only a tubby, unfit mare could do.
By the time we’d got into November Em acquired a full set of shoes via Fraser Youngson from Merchlyn and we enjoyed longer rides, building up to an hour-and-a-half every other day. She felt good, and slowly the mare was able to sustain a strong trotting pace up some of the gentler hills so I felt we were well on our way to a future summer of fun. She was sensible through gates, unfazed by vehicles be it farm machinery, refuse trucks, motorbikes. Although she had plenty to say about other horses, maybe down to her being turned out in an isolated spot for a number of years, but every equine we passed in a field had to be commented on in the form of snorts, whinnies, and goggle-eyed stares – as if she’d forgotten there were other horses in the world. But she’d go wherever I pointed her, never shied, bucked, or misbehaved. I could approach a group of ridden horses and ask her to stand while I chatted, and she’d walk away again in the opposite direction without a fuss. And I never had any trouble catching her, despite the acres she had at her disposal. Sometimes she’d be perched on top of a knoll, mane flying in the wind like Black Beauty, surveying the far-reaching views from her elevated estate. She’d watch me toil towards her, halter over my shoulder as I climbed against the wind, eyes and nose streaming with cold. And then one day in December I knew we’d really started to bond when she uttered a deep wicker of recognition and walked towards me, dropping her soft muzzle into my cold hands. It felt mildly euphoric, but sadly this lovely sense of mutual trust pre-empted a truly nightmarish day. The day of the pigs…
Continue reading: https://janruth.com/2019/04/27/disappearing-dreamscapes-8/

About this Series

The first four chapters of Disappearing Dreamscapes represent 30 years from 1968-1998 and are split over four seasons based on diary entries through 1979. Chapters 5-8 represent 20 years from 1998-2018 and are recorded chronologically.