Llangollen: 2

A circular walk of 9.5 miles including 2,100 feet of elevation overall (excluding Dinas Bran) Start Point: Panorama Walk, Llangollen LL20 8ED. Map References: SJ 2340243187 or Lat: 52.980530 Lon: -3.142302 

adult-blur-boots-1452784Llangollen is a small town in Denbighshire on the River Dee known for its network of canals featuring horse-drawn barges, and various sites of historical interest. This is a route of varied terrain including dramatic limestone escarpments, open pasture and woodland and a short section along the Shropshire Union Canal. There is an opportunity to visit Valle Crucis Abbey, founded in 1201 on the site of a temporary wooden church, Valle Crucis was the last Cistercian monastery to be built in Wales – check opening and entrance fees online. Or if you prefer more of a challenge, add an additional climb to the ruins of Castell Dinas Bran, adding around an extra 1,000 feet of elevation. Castell Dinas Bran translates to English as: The Castle of the City of Crows. Perched on a conical hill above the town it enjoys fantastic aerial views and despite its dilapidated state, commands not only a strong historical presence, but also one of love, legend and fairytale.

The route

  1. Park on Panorama Walk; a narrow elevated road with plenty of parking space and fantastic far-reaching views across the vale of Llangollen including the River Dee, the castle ruins, and the canal. Keeping this panorama to your right, walk away from Castell Dinas Bran perched on its distinctive conical hill, and take a left on the hairpin bend by the finger-post onto a steep grassy bank. (Ref: 52.981276 -3140336) Continue the ascent, ignore the metal gate, and walk to the left of the fence-line. Aerial views of Castell Dinas Bran, the limestone escarpments, and far-reaching views of the valley materialise to the left.
  2. At the next finger-post go straight on, continuing to follow the undulating track through heather and bracken, especially colourful in August. At approx one-and -a-half miles from the start point, pass through the metal gate by a signpost for the Llangollen Round. Follow the track as it begins to wind downhill and bears to the right. At end of this track, cross the stream and turn left at the signpost, continuing downhill. At the next signpost keep LEFT, ignoring the signpost indicating the route continues uphill. Continue downhill alongside the stream. Some easy scrambling then between a deep cleft in the rocks.
  3. Head towards a single-track driveway ahead but bear slightly right over a broken wall, and then turn right at the Offas Dyke sign by a white property, and follow the obvious track. Walk along this ridge for a short distance and then descend towards trees, keeping the fence-line to your left. Cross the stream and keep LEFT to descend slightly. Ignore all gates, and continue through the trees on a rough track to locate a stile on the left.
  4. Enter the pasture and cross diagonally, bearing left to locate another stile by the farmhouse. Turn left onto the road, then after a short distance look for an orange post-box set into a tree on the right. Turn right here to locate a stile and a signpost indicating the Clwydian Way. Follow this track through the trees, a stream to the left. Continue over the next stile and descend to another stile by the stream. After a short distance, cross a wooden bridge into open pasture.
  5. Walk through the fields on an obvious track to the farmhouse. Turn left at the road, then take the first sharp right into a driveway with a cattle-grid, by a finger-post signed for Valle Crucis Abbey. Follow this gradually ascending single-track road, passing two or three individual dwellings, until the road dissolves into a track through a wooded area. Continue through the trees to the fork, then take the lower righthand track, signposted for Valle Crucis. Look for a stile on the right, then take the next stile immediately to the left by a white property, and enter the open pasture.IMG_6035
  6. Keep to the fence-line on the right, and look for an old iron ladder stile set into the trees on the right, by a signpost for Velvet Hill. Follow the path as it descends through woods to a wooden bridge over the Eglwyseg River, and into a field. A caravan park and Valle Crucis Abbey is situated to the left. Take the stile by the house and continue along the driveway to the A452. Take a detour here to visit the Abbey, or continue the walk by crossing the road to go over a stile opposite, giving access to Velvet Hill.
  7. Once over the stile head up to the right and follow the steep track as it begins to bear right along a wide, steep grass path to the summit. Good views of Valle Crucis Abbey from here. At the top, turn left and follow this undulating route until all tracks begin to descend. It’s difficult to be precise about this section but generally head south/south-west without climbing any higher, to leave the hill via a stile by the road.
  8. Follow the short woodland track to the road junction. Turn left towards the main road, then turn right to walk along the main road a short way before turning first left towards Corwen on the B5103. After a short distance, take the steps on the left signposted for the canal. Cross the bridge, and descend the iron steps on the other side, then turn left and walk along the canal towards Llangollen Wharf, the River Dee to the right. After a mile or so, look for a blue sign: Please give way to working horses on the tow path. Exit the canal at this point.
  9. Cross Abbey Road (A542) and enter Tower Road. After a short distance at the crossroads, go straight on. At the top of this section turn left and follow the signs for Castell Dinas Bran. Go through the kissing-gate and take the lower track to the left by the fence-line. (Or take a short detour here and tackle the ascent to the castle ruins by walking up and over the hill.) Follow the fence-line path as it gradually ascends to a lane, signed Llangollen History Trail and Panorama Walk. Pass through the kissing gate (If you’ve walked down from the castle, pick up the route here) onto the lane and turn left, then right onto Panorama Walk and return to the start point.

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

Over the Hill: 11

My companion is Storm, an opinionated 12.2 hand British moorland pony. Our playground is the North Wales coast bordering Snowdonia National Park.
P1000024-1A sunny Sunday afternoon and it seems everyone is out and about. Some glide along via immaculate thoroughbreds and smart cobs. Then there’s us – the British comedy version pelting across the grass verges. It’s good to have a sense of humour about these matters, especially when it seems we’re faced with every conceivable hazard from the get-go. Glamorous horses aside, we’re faced with huge, rattling trailers and noisy motorbikes along the Sychnant Pass. But we negotiate these without incident other than a nervous scuttle and a rolling eye, only to round the corner and discover builders throwing slates off a roof into a skip. At the same time we’re faced with a flock of sheep swarming towards us like an arrow-head, herded along the lane by a Land Rover and a couple of loose dogs. screen-shot-2018-11-14-at-10-31-27-pmHis Little Lordship isn’t too concerned by all the extra curricular activity, but Her Little Ladyship is easily offended and Sue decides to take her up onto the adjacent grassy slope. Of course the situation isn’t directly comparable, but our chatter reminds me of the French and Saunders horse-riding episode where they do battle with the loves of their lives; Peter Pan, and Jigsaw. French is the middle-class girl, the classic all-the-gear-and-no-idea rider, and Saunders is the ubiquitous farm-girl, a length of binder twine holding her coat together. But it’s the endless, breathless commentary that makes me laugh.
She was frightened of something there, wasn’t she? Come on, Peter Pan, you can do it…
As we meander past the tabernacle, Sunday service is resumed to the point of foraging as we go. Blackberries for us, anything going for Peter Pan and Jigsaw. The previous ride in this direction was incredibly windy and His Lordship and I were severely pelted by hazelnuts and acorns, but today it is positively serene with just a golden hint to the trees against an azure sky. We begin the climb up to the sheep-pens above Henryd, where the single-track lane gives way to the open hillside, and then we’re on the grassy tracks of Tal Y Fan. We test Peter Pan and Jigsaw’s brakes with a short canter and suitably reassured, we head up over the track we call the roller-coaster. As the name might suggest, the undulations here can sometimes stretch the definition of fun.
A couple of wild Carneddau ponies lift their heads in mild interest as we set off at a brisk canter. We take a left past the silvery pond, hitch open the old iron gate and enter the estate. Pensychnant are re-wilding one of their hay meadows alongside the Pass, and a band of helpers are busy scattering hay. Traditionally, upland farmers in Wales always had a fenced-off wildflower meadow. They called it the hospital field – essentially using the herbs it contained as medication. The preparation looks hard work but what a wonderful sight it will be once established. We pause to offer an encouraging wave but Peter Pan and Jigsaw are in sight and smell of home ground, and are more than ready to pelt back across the naughty grass. The aforementioned fly-tipped bags are still in situ and Her Little ladyship balks at the plastic monsters lurking in the undergrowth. But much like Peter Pan it seems equine chivalry hasn’t aged one little bit, and His Lordship bravely takes the lead.
Come on Peter Pan, you can do it… the British Team are depending on us!

Barking Mad

A nation of animal lovers?

  1. In 2018 more than 47,500 dogs were abandoned by their owners in the UK. The animals all ended up in council pounds and more than 5,000 were later put down, according to the Dog’s Trust annual survey of 345 local authorities. It is estimated that around 20,000 dogs are put down in the UK every year. Why do we continue to breed dogs? I guess the answer is that we want specific breeds, fashionable breeds, breeds that don’t shed hair, breeds that look cute on Instagram. Maybe we should stop breeding dogs until all the shelters are empty? 
  2. Overbreeding and puppy factories have been blamed for the rise in stray dogs. Breeding dogs this way should carry a massive fine and a lifetime ban on owning animals. As an aside, I think all dogs should be identity chipped and licensed. The license to own a dog should enforce responsibilities such as training and exercising the dog appropriate to its breed.
  3. Don’t have a dog if there’s no one home all day. Most dogs are likely to become fractious, bored, obese, and naughty. Dogs are pack animals and need exercise, company, stimulation; and to be socialised with other dogs. Above all, don’t have a dog if you dislike walking, especially walking on dark winter mornings combined with cold rain. Most dogs need walking twice a day, not just at the weekend or when you feel like it. Using a ball-launcher instead is not a good idea. Consider how hard and fast your dog is running, turning, and leaping to catch that ball and then read about all the joint injuries this activity can cause. Walk the dog.
  4. Dog mess. More people do pick it up, but then they leave it hooked over a gate or discarded on the path in a plastic bag! Think about the implications to our environment.
  5. If your dog is loose and there are other dogs in the vicinity on leads, you must call your dog to heel or put it back on the lead. The dog already on the lead may feel vulnerable if a loose dog bounds up uninvited, no matter how friendly you think your beloved Rex is. The dog on the lead may be sick, old, not trained to recall, or blind, and the owner is trying to be responsible. When our elderly Labrador lost his sight he became nervous around other dogs and exercise meant lead walks only, but I’ve lost count of the amount of other dog-walkers who deliberately thwacked balls in our direction, and claimed that their big bouncy dog just wanted to play with him. Retractable leads can be just as useless in these situations. Not only do they break quite easily, but it’s common sense not to use them fully extended where there are roads, pedestrians, and other dogs, as essentially you are not in control – basically you have a semi-loose dog which can still run sideways, and barge too far ahead of you. 
  6. Dogs respond quite readily to simple voice commands and body language, so teach your dog to understand what NO means. And practise some recall obedience before you let the dog run free in a public space to be a nuisance to other people and their dogs, or attack livestock. Train the dog to walk to heel and/or buy a stop-pull harness – please don’t buy a choker chain. Reward the dog when he returns to you, rather than rant that it took too long or express what a naughty boy he is. He’ll be loathe to return at all next time! 
  7. Dogs are pack animals and are happier and less likely to become a problem if they feel secure in the family pack, ie: they know their place. If you allow the dog to eat from your plate and sleep in your bed, you are granting special privileges in the canine pecking order. This may or may not become a behavioural problem… but if it does become a problem, are you going to blame the dog?
  8. Why do some dog owners feel the need to dress their dog? Another social media spin-off? I’m not talking the odd hat or a quirky necktie for fun. Our Labrador looked especially dapper in a bow tie on special occasions, but he’d draw the line at being trussed up like a surrogate child, and so would I. Respect the fact that Rex is a dog and would prefer to be treated as a dog because that is what he understands. By the same token, children should be taught to respect Rex as a dog. When Rex is sleeping – preferably in his own bed – because then the message is crystal clear. But if Rex reacts adversely to being suddenly jumped on, are you going to blame the dog? If so, we’ve arrived full circle back to bullet point 1 in that an unhealthy proportion of abandoned dogs in rescue shelters have arrived there through behavioural problems created by their owners.

Over the Hill: 10

My companion is Storm, an opinionated 12.2 hand British moorland pony. Our playground is the North Wales coast bordering Snowdonia National Park. 
P1000024-1I wonder if Storm spent some of his summer on the set of Poldark. Employed by the BBC for Cornish authenticity, he’s been spotted either tied to a stake or trawling panniers up from the cove on several occasions. And then in the final episode he was ridden by Valentine Warleggan, a truly fitting finale for His Little Lordship. He had to get into mental and physical shape of course, and this morning I witness him continuing to practise his Pony Yoga. Roll to both sides, centralise and hold. Then sit up like a dog, forelegs straight out in front. Stand, shake, then flex each hind leg back as far as it will go. Arch neck and tail, hold for three seconds. Test ears. Shake thoroughly.
I hope Storm doesn’t retain any ideas above his station. Thankfully, other than a snooty harrumph at sight of his old halter on my arm, His Lordship follows me from field to yard obediently, if somewhat disconsolately. His mood improves dramatically when he realises Her Little ladyship is to join us, and whinnies his approval at sight of her saddle waiting next to his.
We take the sun-dappled bridleway onto Conwy Mountain. Always a strange vision when the moon is visible during daylight, and setting as the sun is rising. Today this occurs in a crystal blue sky, and the soft air temperature takes us back to summer. We’re soon reminded its autumn by profuse clusters of haw and rowan berries, and ruby rose hips entwined with blackcurrants, but there’s no humidity or biting insects so a real jewel of a day. As we approach the farm, the wind off the sea suddenly rushes full-on towards us and Her Little ladyship becomes anxious about Christine’s flapping cagoule. Careful removal of the offending object allows us to continue on our way, giving a wide berth to the sagging barbed wire where I previously snagged my jods. We dismount to negotiate the steep track down the mountain before continuing into the Pensychnant Estate, and then a thrilling neck-and-neck gallop on the roller-coaster grass has both ponies stretching for the final furlong. Lady is always gracious and allows His Lordship to take pole position at the last moment. But then on the next path I hear Christine shouting, snake! And so we slow to a walk and I learn that – unseen by myself or Storm – an adder slithered right behind us into the heather as we thundered past… close call!
At the top we pass through the gate and pause a while to catch our breath. The sea is like a mirror, and there’s still a mellow flush of colour across the Carneddau. Not another soul to be seen. As the main holiday period comes to an end it’s good to enjoy less cars and visitors, especially wild camping – an activity often leaving evidence of fires and litter. As we head alongside Sychnant Pass for the final canter, we come across a huge plastic bag suspended in the brambles disgorging fast-food trays, cans, and other debris – most likely thrown from a passing car. Storm swerves to a suspicious halt, all senses on red alert. It takes much firm persuasion to scuttle past, only to find two more of these rustling monsters further along the track. The ponies are spooked, but we arrive back at the yard with all potential hazards artfully negotiated. In fact we feel mildly victorious in surviving snakes, cagoules filled with wind, bags filled with rubbish, and sagging barbed wire. It seems pony yoga has some serious benefits…

Food for Thought

Feeding the World and Saving the Planet.

1. There are many opinions about how our food is produced and how the countryside should be managed, but some of the arguments are wildly inaccurate. When did we get so far removed from reality? For some people, the lack of exposure to nature is causing depressions and other mental health issues. Keeping hens and bees, growing food from seed and looking after the land and our animals is not only something we need to understand and protect, but is of tremendous benefit to our overall health. 
2. Farm animals are not slaughtered for their skins to make leather handbags, in the same way that sheep are not slaughtered for their fleece. The wool is a by-product of the meat industry and is vastly underused and undervalued. For some breeds of sheep, not shearing can bring great misery and even death via parasites. But the fleece has become almost worthless, and so understandable that some farmers cannot afford to shear. Those breeds which don’t need shearing are not always able to survive winter conditions on a traditional hill farm. 
3. It seems out of kilter in these planet conscious days that man-made fibres have overtaken the more traditional materials such as wool. Maybe we should get back to what is, after all a more natural product and helps to sustain the farming industry. As it stands, cheap imports rely on materials which are not always planet friendly and may even contain plastics. If the animal is bred for the food chain, then it makes ethical sense to use every part of that animal.
4. Farming and food production gets unfairly singled out for the mass destruction of animals. Extreme vegan activists are concerned about the exploitation of sentient beings. This is an admirable cause, but we are all guilty of the claims made against non-vegans by merely existing and going about our business. I don’t believe it’s tenable to take the food chain argument down to extreme levels. We kill animals when we drive cars, fly in planes, build railway tracks, farm grain, grow apples, hunt for pleasure, or mine sand. We alter ecosystems when we put up new housing developments and ship lentils across the world. We push native animals out of their environments all the time and being vegan doesn’t alter these facts. Being vegan doesn’t make you a paragon of virtue in relation to saving the planet. We all need to consider planning smaller families, recycling and repairing, taking less long-haul trips and driving smaller cars.
5. It’s good to have diversity in the food we produce. vegetarianism-vs-meat-1492553521If the population was all entirely vegan and reliant on a short list of ingredients, it would create yet another set of problems in trying to feed millions of people on legumes, nuts, and flax; and artificial meat substitutes produced in a factory. The entire countryside would be given over to vast swathes of specific crops. Controlling those areas set aside for growing crops such as peas, creates a need to control other animals eating or destroying that crop because to grow anything on a vast scale invariably means that something else is compromised. Over a five year period up to 2013 rice farmers in NSW killed 200,000 ducks in order to protect the crop.
6. As an aside, I think we do eat too much protein, especially red and processed meat, and probably not enough vegetables and fruit. Meat is not good for us in big quantities – but then, neither is anything else, including peas, beans and lentils. All things in moderation is a cliche for a reason. It makes sense to eat foods in season and produced locally so why not spend a little more and buy local, grass-fed meat, but eat it less often? Natural, sustainable, and local to the area where we live surely creates the right balance and is likely to be more suited to the land. Massive carbon emissions are created by long haul flights bringing out of season foods to the UK, invariably wrapped in plastic.
7. I’m not vegan or vegetarian, but that doesn’t mean I have no empathy for animals reared for the table. What we should be doing is looking to improve animal welfare ie: not importing animals thousands of miles in crates and lorries to meet their demise in another country, or supporting those products which are mass produced, such as eggs from battery hens. Eggs are cheap anyway so take a moment to read the labels, and buy local, free range. 
8. Our world population is too high – the root of all our problems – to restrict food production to a single type. The key to finding harmony between all the arguments, moral or otherwise, is respect and education. I think it’s great that some of the population are vegetarian or vegan, but it’s just as worthy of acceptance that the rest of us choose to eat meat, fish, and dairy. 

 

Over the Hill: 9

My companion is Storm, an opinionated 12.2 hand British moorland pony. Our playground is the North Wales coast bordering Snowdonia National Park. 
P1000024-1A fly-tipped fridge at the side of the road has Her Little Ladyship slowing to an uncertain halt. His Little Lordship masterfully takes charge, although he still needs encouragement and backup from both of his field-mates. Fortunately, early Bank Holiday traffic is pretty much non-existent on Hendre Road and the sky promises sun, and light, summery winds. It feels too soon to be thinking of cooler times, but all things flowering are dying off to leave small green buds and berries. From a distance the heather across the mountains remains a sea of purple, but like the bracken it’s already starting to brown at the edges. The hedgerows, especially the blue-black berries of the blackthorn have me in mind of harvest festivals, sloe gin, and Christmas jam. The rest of the countryside looks either hopelessly overgrown, or shorn to within an inch of its yellow life as final hay making gets underway. We push on to reach Parc Mawr Woods, grateful for the shade, and by the time we’ve tackled the steep bridleway up to the old church we’re thinking longingly about the aforementioned fly-tipped fridge being full of cider, strategically placed in a hollow somewhere and magically hooked up to the National Grid. Perhaps next time we should think ahead and lower some bottles into the nearby holy well of St Celynnin.
On the mountain, there’s a welcome breeze to clear the air of biting insects and we canter over the undulating ground, Storm heading-up our small group and taking a strong hold for a while, but when the incline increases he drops back to a walk. And then a strange sight as long, horizontal skeins of sea mist obscures our view and cools the air temperature. Sheep and ponies appear ghost-like and it seems surreal to look down on the sun-filled valley below, and yet not be able to see much beyond a few feet ahead of us.
Back on the yard, His Lordship appreciates a wash-down with a big car sponge, at least I assume he does. Hey, I’m not an old Vauxhall Viva! Any perceived indignity is instantly forgotten as I fill his bucket with a scoop of pony nuts and a handful of chop – this described as soft grass and alfalfa with a molasses coating. It smells divine. Rather less so Storm’s sweaty saddle pad, which sports a thick furry layer of loose hair. The previous time I washed a saddle cloth in the washing-machine my husband had to suffer a week of hair shirts, so I set to with a stiff brush and hang it on the line to air. We turn out Ellie and the two ponies, and Lady chooses a slightly uphill spot to roll. This looks slightly incongruous, like a precursor to misadventure. I hope they don’t get up to too much mischief in this field which is bordered by a variety of trees, and sections of less conventional fencing. Storm likes to explore – probably in an effort to breakthrough to the orchard, recent evidence being telltale scratches at chest height, and a shifty look. On occasion, he has been allowed to graze beneath the apple trees – minus any early windfalls – being the only pony small enough to fit beneath the low, gnarled boughs. One time he wouldn’t settle and I crept back to spy on him, like secretly peering through the school window after leaving a fractious child at nursery. And he stared right back at me, head lowered through the hedge. Hey, I’m not wet behind the ears, you know. All the apples have gone!

 

Over the Hill: 8

My companion is Storm, an opinionated 12.2 hand British moorland pony. Our playground is the North Wales coast bordering Snowdonia National Park. 
P1000024-1The heather across Conwy Mountain is at its most spectacular, highlighted with yellow gorse and dappled sun. A honeyed perfume drifts across the swathes of purple, lots of blackberries are already ripe and the drone of insects is especially busy. We have company. His Little Lordship and Her Little Ladyship have been an item for some time and they’ve occasionally exhibited varying degrees of oneupmanship. Storm doesn’t like being overtaken, in fact he doesn’t always tolerate another pony hot on his heels either and is quick to engage the equine equivalent of sticking his elbows out. This can take the form of dastardly cutting-up manoeuvres or last-minute swerves of direction. Even a strong leg and hand applied to the opposing side brings no real control to the situation. However, Conwy Mountain presents a slow amble uphill and the ponies are positively docile. We dismount to walk down the steep slippery footpath which brings us to the top of Sychnant Pass to cross over the road and pass through the gate to the Pensychnant Estate.
Immediately, Lady’s head is raised, both sets of ears are pricked forwards and there’s a subtle shift in Storm’s interest as his hooves make contact with a sea of grass. It’s an especially scenic bridleway, the heathery views enhanced by glimpses of the sea and the eastern coast of Anglesey. But the best bit is of course, good safe going for a canter. Girths checked, we set off at a brisk pace. In no time, the ponies are neck and neck until Storm surges ahead at the last moment. But there’s no bucking, squealing, or swerving, and the gradual incline affords a natural brake. The route meanders to the boundary at the top, where it merges into the foothills of Tal Y Fan and continues as the North Wales Path. The previous summer Storm and I were caught-up here in a huge group of elderly ramblers. No one seemed aware that a pony and rider had tagged on behind, until a particularly officious Tail-End-Charlie suddenly caught sight of us. Stand well back everyone! There’s a big ‘orse wanting to come through!
The walkers slowly turned to look, expecting to see a horse and rider twice the size of us. I impressed that there was no need for alarm, but the opportunity to entertain didn’t escape Storm. He certainly knew how to work a crowd – his immediate reaction being to display his manhood – and then to take a long pee. This seemed to go on for some considerable time, head and tail raised to the wind stallion-style until finally, all 12.2 hands of proud pony strutted past a long line of tittering spectators, the majority of them compelled to tell me that Storm was a boy.
No ramblers today. Only a scattering of wild ponies, and sheep. We turn left after passing through the old iron gate to head past the pond, then take another left to resume the downward trail above a slightly misted Conwy Valley. Like the subtle shift in the seasons it feels as if the ponies have established their hierarchy to one of calm acceptance. Even the final canter facing home across the previously acclaimed naughty grass fails to deliver any explosive action – an area where Storm has often continued to canter downhill towards a strategically placed telegraph pole. For the moment though, it seems Her ladyship and His Lordship are living up to the dignity of their respective titles. Or maybe they’re just lulling us into a false sense of security…