Disappearing Dreamscapes

Memories and reflections of an equine obsession 1968-2018.

Chapter 1: Spring

img_5069Higher House, Mottram-St-Andrew, Alderley Edge, Cheshire. 1976. Since I was the new girl, I was invited to join the regular Sunday morning crowd. Most of them were hungover, but the guy with his foot in plaster assured me that this wouldn’t be a problem. This same guy elected to ride Specky, the one-eyed hunter. No one questioned whether this was a wise combination, or not. No matter, spring was in the air along with the peal of church bells, and the day was full of promise. Masses of daffodils and crocuses, every shade of dark emerald green through to the palest of jade, chocolate-brown fields wet from heavy showers. I followed cautiously on a quiet bay mare called Babysham, which felt entirely appropriate on all counts. We turned off the road after some ten minutes and began to ascend a steep, sandstone track partially formed by huge boulders. Crouched low over Babysham’s neck, the climb presented a challenging scramble for four hooves – but all the horses took it at speed, experienced at keeping the momentum going and knowing exactly how and where to lunge around the rocks. Once the horses had caught their breath at the top of this escarpment, we would wind our way through ancient woodland, sometimes cantering along a criss-cross of tracks and leaping small logs along the way. The mare was light and forward, the company funny, and a whole new riding experience looked set to unfold. I was hooked… 
untitled design (8)-1Mary Dawson’s kitchen at Higher House was invariably a wonderful chaotic jumble; pans of boiling barley and sugar beet, wet jodhpurs steaming over the Aga, something in a bucket covered with a wet cloth. A chewed laundry basket full of puppies, a three-legged lamb in a box under the kitchen table. On the windowsill, a row of gin and dry martini bottles containing milk and fitted with huge rubber teats. Dogs, always dogs. 
Bee the greyhound dropped a size eleven shoe on my foot and looked up expectantly. Naturally, I hurled it as far as I could across the muddy garden. The dog merely tilted her head enquiringly until eventually, I was forced to go and retrieve the thing myself. I was less amused when I discovered the shoes belonged to Big John. I understand now that Big John may have been mildly autistic, but mental health wasn’t really acknowledged or talked about much in the seventies. Verbally, he was pretty non-communicative – but his favourite story, when he felt so inclined, was the one where he cycled to Macclesfield on a bike with no gears in less than twelve minutes. He was freakishly strong – which had its merits on a stable yard, but on the flip-side he was often in trouble for over-tightening things and once, for teaching Midnight Prince how to smoke his pipe.
Big John found great amusement in trying to pair-off my friend, Nicola, and I with the local vicar; engineering timings so that we rode out together. We always tried to get mounted up and off before the local reverend arrived, one eye on the driveway as we fiddled with girths and adjusted stirrups. The vicar drove an extremely flash sports car. I can’t recall the exact make and model but it was sleek and low slung, and he invariably struggled to climb out of it. He was an archetypical country vicar too, with buck-teeth, a loud voice, and a receding hairline. 
I loved all of this mild eccentricity, and stored it away for future use, for reasons unknown to me at the time, but anyone who has read my novels may well recognise my fictional roots starting to form.
Under her main hat, Mary Dawson bred racehorses as well as running a riding school. None of the hacks out were ever accompanied, she was too busy teaching and training. After a couple of visits and once I’d proven myself to be trustworthy, I was pretty much allowed free rein of the school horses. I bought a 1:25000 map and plotted dozens of routes, often riding out solo and I continue to do so now, although my dreamscape these days belongs to the Welsh hills – a significantly more remote playground than the cosy Cheshire green-belt I frequented then. My solitary riding across the hills here often attracts more than a raised eyebrow but this was how I learnt to ride well, and in hindsight how I learnt to fix problems of my own making. Back in the seventies and eighties, we never envisaged falling foul of an accident, and we never experienced anything we either couldn’t fix at the time, or learn from. We simply took responsibility for ourselves.
bridleway_at_ta071409_-_geograph.org.uk_-_191872Now, we live in very different times, governed by a whole plethora of health and safety rules. Common sense and trust aren’t allowed to develop and prevail. But the domain of the public riding school has changed beyond recognition – access to suitable land has become more and more restricted, many bridleways have gone, country roads have become racetracks, and crippling insurance costs reflect our blame culture. The artificial world of the indoor school has obvious advantages, but its rise in popularity through the eighties and nineties has also produced a generation of horses, business owners, and riders nervous of the real world. Does this combined social baggage add to the mass of anxieties we have become? I think it might. Of course, riding schools find it physically easier and more financially lucrative to allow one member of staff to teach ten riders or more in a confined indoor space rather than venture off-site and risk an ‘accident’. And in this decade there’s been a boom in children’s parties, coffee mornings, and ‘educating’ children having them learn how to fill hay-nets and muck-out. This is good, but only up to a point. 
I’m glad I learnt to ride more than fifty years ago. For me, it was a time when those personal dreamscapes felt real because we were allowed to experience them. Now, we seem to have lost a wealth of respect on our roads, and the ability to trust our own risk assessment of any given situation. Above all, we’ve lost a wealth of freedom.
img_5099Booths, Shaftesbury Avenue, Timperley 1968. The birth of an obsession. My new Australian friend regaled me with stories of her ponies ‘back home’. She owned the biggest collection of horse books I’d ever seen and The Observers book of Horses and Ponies, published around the year I was born, immediately went onto my Christmas list. I still have it. My imagination was further captured by Australian author Elyne Mitchell whose books – an unusual equine series set in the Snowy Mountains region of Australia – began to feature heavily in my teenage years.  In direct contrast to my friend, I grew up on a quiet, leafy council estate in south Cheshire, with non-horsey parents. I was an outdoor child, fuelled by books and maps. Rupert Bear, and Nutwood, the fictional idyllic English village. Enid Blyton’s Brer Rabbit and the Secret Seven books all helped to inspire an active interest in animals, the countryside, and the idea of setting out on an adventure. I liked to be on the move. Around the age of ten, my father would cycle 6 miles or so with me from where we lived in Cheadle to Booths place, where Pamela Rigby taught me the basics on a ‘yard’ consisting of a few acres of fields and a couple of caravans. It was open and flat, and despite the road running alongside, felt like a different world to a child with a good imagination. Not surprisingly, this entire area is now under concrete and the road is a roaring, incredibly busy dual-carriageway. 
Mr Booth, always seated in his maroon Jaguar, took the money. In 1968, an hour in the saddle under instruction cost ten shillings, aka 50p. Sometimes, Booth would put three-penny-bits between our knees and the saddle, promising we could keep them if they were still there at the end of the lesson. I don’t think I ever managed it! Now of course, gripping with the knees has long been ousted as correct or effective horsemanship. Copper prizes notwithstanding, Dad and I would cycle home afterwards, and my six-day wait would begin again. I started on the steady ones: Twinkle Toes, the grey, and Puffin, the roan, before progressing onto a smaller, albeit far wilier and more challenging Welsh Mountain Pony: Merrylegs. Twinkle and Puffin may have given me confidence and balance, but Merrylegs taught me how to ride. The adventure really began when I was considered proficient enough to leave the confines of the fields and join day rides to exciting places like Ashley, or on one occasion, a holiday in Hope, Derbyshire.
13086776_1330109263682491_2816158371117828582_o-1In the early seventies, Pamela Rigby relocated to Mobberley Riding School, Newton Hall Lane; a much bigger establishment with proper stables and an indoor school. I did continue to go as a child for lessons and even a few times in the late nineties when I took my son along for one of Pam’s holiday clubs. She kindly allowed me to hack one of her horses around the Cheshire lanes. The 16-hand middle-weight hunter was wonderfully schooled and a joy to ride, but the restrictions of those Cheshire roads just felt too confined for my roaming soul. Although I wasn’t part of this particular story, I love that Mobberley Riding School survived over 40 years and Miss Rigby enjoyed a long career at top competition level. The school only closed in the spring of 2016 but Pam is still very much in the business and now runs a performance and event venue at New Barn Livery in Knutsford; jokingly referred to as her ‘retirement project’. Pam was awarded the MBE in June 2013 for her lifetime service to people with disabilities. The site of Mobberley Riding school is now under redevelopment.
Once I was considered sensible enough to coordinate a bus ride into Stockport and catch a second bus to Offerton, I began to frequent Forsythe’s place at Offerton Riding School, Holiday Lane. This yard offered more scope in that we could ride – unaccompanied – on private land for something like £1.20 per hour. A horsey haven, nestled in the middle of suburbia. The beautifully kept whitewashed stables and the authentic Victorian buildings complete with iron hayracks and cobbled floors, the smell of the leather – all of these things felt deeply evocative – though I couldn’t explain why. Perhaps the history of those buildings and the thousands of dreams it all represented had somehow soaked into the foundations. 
Ken Forsythe kept a big desk diary with all the horses’ names running down the left-hand column, Flikka, Trigger, Sabre, Winston, Brandy, Romany, Charmaine, Piper… It was a foolproof booking procedure, and nothing much ever went wrong or got mixed-up, and nothing was ever cancelled. Ken always wore a shirt and a tweed jacket with his wellies, which seems ridiculously formal but we didn’t have all the purpose made outdoor clothing we have at our disposal now.
12247969_930323150385329_5394254703000343601_oRiding gear was mostly for show, rather than practicality. Anything other than a hacking jacket was often too bulky, or too long. Hats were not always worn, let alone air-jackets or back-protectors and high-vis tabards. Outdoor gear is probably one of the best improvements we’ve had since the early years – protective, lightweight, waterproof, high visibility, breathable clothing. I had a brown, second-hand riding hat for years, its only anchorage to my head being a loose length of elastic. I remember investing in a buff-coloured rubberised raincoat in the eighties which was the order of the day, but there was no ‘give’ in the material and the coat was so rigid it practically stood up by itself when I wasn’t wearing it.
12239235_930322440385400_7852286357869019351_oAt Offerton, there was a flat sandy area we were sometimes allowed to canter round,  sensibly. Trigger was always especially up for this, and although I was a pretty confident rider by then I parted company from Trigger a couple of times in spectacular style. He was the first young, finely-bred horse I’d encountered. He moved much more quickly than the ponies I’d grown up with, sometimes choosing to leap the pools of sandy water rather than plough through them, and he was especially adept at changing gear and direction. Sometimes, we were allowed to leave the confines of riding school land, cross the stream and venture along the banks of Poise Brook for a long canter, until the track petered out. We were always accompanied for this venture, I suspect because none of us were trusted to stop in time before we ran into the immaculate greens of the local bowling club.
untitled design (8)-1At the beginning of the eighties, the horses and ponies at Offerton were whittled down in preparation for Ken’s retirement – many of them sold privately or to Bank Farm Riding School, Poynton – which is still operating as a riding school, albeit only offering walk and trot rides. I do remember riding there a couple of times and galloping along the Middlewood Way on a horse with only fair-to-middling brakes, trying to slow down enough for the rest of the party who were miles behind. A sad coincidence that in 2017 my mother had occasion to stay in a nursing home just off Marple Road and I drove past the end of Holiday Lane in morbid fascination, lost in the nostalgia of it all and the terrifying march of time. Although in the grip of advancing dementia by then, Mum seemed to remember the day I led her around the fields on Brandy. Offerton Riding school closed at the end of the summer in 1981 and I read recently that the area is being further developed by a sand and gravel company. Sad to see that the stables and the buildings have all but collapsed, including those handcrafted Victorian stalls, now cluttered with rubbish and old shopping trolleys. The land is not built on as yet, but maybe it’s only a matter of time. The end of more than one bygone era… 
Still in the early seventies, someone I only remember as Rosemary, set up a small riding school at Bruntwood Park, Cheadle, alongside her boyfriend’s dog training business. This was great news for me as I could walk or cycle the short distance from home to the cottage at the top of Bruntwood Lane. Rosemary had half-a-dozen horses but I only really recall Ebony – a huge black cob, both in height as well as girth. Eric Broadhurst ran a security business retraining failed police dogs, usually German Shepherds. I remember one afternoon running around in one of those padded strait-jackets so the dog could leap at me and wrestle me to the ground. Eric’s career as a dog trainer gained considerable repute, being associated with Crufts along the way and enjoying a long working relationship with Granada Television training dogs for film and TV.
When Eric and Rosemary went their separate ways, Eric retained custody of Ebony. Fearful of the cob’s ever expanding size, I began to ride him at Eric’s request that I keep the horse fit. This was no mean feat. The world was one big smorgasbord to Ebony. He was a wise soul, patient, mostly plodding, and happy to be taken anywhere, if we didn’t rush him. I occasionally rode him home, across Brookfields Park, paddling through the Micker Brook, round the fields at the back of the houses and onto Brookfield Road where we lived. I left him on our driveway once while I nipped to the bathroom. I could hear my mother shrieking downstairs that not only had he eaten a tub of geraniums but he’d come partway into the hall, looking for me. Dad went looking for the camera. Clear evidence here that he always managed to chop our heads off. 
Sometimes my friend Barbara would join me on expeditions further afield, and we took it in turns to either ride the horse or pedal the pushbike – our packed lunches in the basket on the front. We attracted some verbal abuse and hilarity out and about through Cheadle Hulme and Bramhall, especially waiting in traffic at the lights where Ebony towered above the cars and peered through the rear windows of stationary traffic. Sometimes he’d choose to pee just as the lights turned green. He’d plant all four hooves, oblivious of honking traffic trying to get round him. And it could take a while, at least until the lights turned back to red – a torrent of foaming urine spreading across the tarmac. All credit to his stoic character, Ebony wasn’t fazed by anything we encountered on the roads. As part of his fitness regime we encouraged him to trot for as long as possible, especially uphill, and he did usually oblige – at least until whoever was on the bike began screaming for mercy. Barbara and I were very fit through those years, not sure how much impact it had on the horse.
11-14-2011_21During all of this I remember getting stranded in London in the spring of 1975 because I’d gone to see Led Zeppelin at Earls Court (with an unsuitable boyfriend, naturally) and missed the last direct train back to Manchester. The parents were furious. I think I arrived home just as the milkman turned up. A quick change of clothes, a note on the kitchen table and I was straight out again, Ebony’s halter swinging on the handlebars of my bike. I ditched the boyfriend not long after, kept riding the horse. Eventually, all that sustained trotting only produced the required slight sweat (mostly Barbara and I) and we moved on to cantering. Cantering only happened on Ebony’s terms, usually on the way back to his field. This was an idyllic meadow, full of big oak and beech trees – gone now, concreted over by a prestigious housing estate with properties hovering just below the million-pound mark. The park is hopelessly over-developed now boasting a boutique hotel and more car parks sprawling across what used to be an unlabelled open space of almost 100 acres. Another large chunk of this has been swallowed up by various superstores on the periphery…

This is an extract from the memoir My Life in Horses:

Continue reading: mybook.to/MyLifeinHorses

 

 

Llangollen: 1

A circular walk of 9 miles including 1,000 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, and this walk takes in some of its major points of interest ie: the ruins of Castell Dinas Bran, the Llangollen canal with its horse-drawn barges, and the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct (pronounced ‘pont-kur-suck-tay’). The town is known for its network of canals and no less than 21 locks. Built by Thomas Telford in 1805 the Pontcysyllte remains the longest and tallest aqueduct in Britain.

For those wanting something a little more challenging, it’s easy to increase the elevation of this route by including the optional walk up and over Castell Dinas Bran, which adds around an extra 1,000 feet of climbing. Castell Dinas Bran translates to English as: The Castle of the City of Crows. Perched on a conical hill above Llangollen 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. But don’t be fooled by the romance of it all, epic battles and crimes against king and country have plundered across these soils for centuries. If this was a walk through fiction, we could expect every genre under the sun.

More on the castle: https://janruth.com/2015/07/21/castle-of-the-crows/

  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 left, walk towards Castell Dinas Bran, following the markers denoting the Offa’s Dyke Path. Turn Left over a cattle grid and walk a short distance along the narrow lane to locate a kissing-gate to the right, just beneath Castell Dinas Bran.
  2. The optional path to the summit is clear. Alternatively, bear right and head downhill on the pasture between the gorse. Ignore the vehicle track to the right and keep following the basin/dip in the land as it heads towards trees. The path becomes clearer as it skirts around the base of Castell Dinas Bran and heads into a wooded area, with farm buildings up on the right.
  3. Pass through a wooden kissing-gate and continue along the obvious path keeping the fence-line to the right. (If you’ve chosen to climb Dinas Bran, rejoin the route here by taking the path to the right of a small mound and this will join the alternative lower path.) Pass through the metal Kissing-gate and continue along the cobbled lane.
  4. Turn left at the crossroads and continue past a couple of dwellings into a wooded area. Go through the gate at the end and into pasture land, where the track follows the ridge and arrives at another gate onto a narrow road. Turn left here and go over the stile ahead into farmland. Keep right.
  5. Bear left across the second field to a stile, then turn left through the gate where a footpath marker confirms you’re on the ‘Community Miles Route.’ At the next marker post, turn right and go through a metal gate to cross a field to a stile by a farm track, at Llandyn Hall. Bear left here, and cross in front of a row of cottages.
  6. Take the gate on the right up by the finger-post and walk through pasture along the ridge towards the line of trees, and on to a wooden stile. Turn right along the lane, passing some cottages, then go through the metal gate and descend on a wooded footpath.
  7. Go straight on to the end of this track and once at the road, turn right, then cross the road and take the stile onto the canal towpath by the lay-by. Follow the towpath then for almost 3 miles, heading towards the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.
  8. Leave the canal just after the fingerpost sign for the aqueduct at Trevor Basin via a long metal ramp. Cross the canal using the wooden bridge and continue onto the road at the top. Cross into Trevor Boat Yard for access to the aqueduct, pub, shop, cafe. It’s possible to walk across the aqueduct if you feel so inclined, but you do need a head for heights. Alternatively, head for the pub.
  9. Return along the same path back to the canal, but don’t cross over the wooden bridge and instead, continue towards a kissing-gate into a field. Walk to the next gate at the far side and turn left along an obvious footpath passing beneath the railway line. Turn right and begin following the Offa’s Dyke path markers as the path zig zags up to a set of stone steps and onto the road.
  10. Cross the road and turn left. After a short distance, take the first turning on the right along Trevor Hall Road. Where the road bends to the right, continue straight ahead on the private, unmade road signed for Offa’s Dyke. After a short distance, turn right into the trees at the footpath sign.
  11. Follow the ascending track as it eventually passes alongside grazing land and then into Trevor Hall Woods. At the fork in the path, take the higher path signed for Offa’s Dyke and continue to follow this route at the next fork where it indicates keep right.
  12. At the end of the trees pass through the wooden gate and turn sharp right to ascend the open hillside, keeping the drystone wall to your right. At the top, turn left and follow the driveway as it winds back up to Panorama Walk.

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

Over the Hill

My companion is Storm, an opinionated 12.2 hand British moorland pony. Our playground is the North Wales coast bordering Snowdonia National Park. 

P1000024-1There’s a dead banana on the Sychnant Pass Road, splayed flat like a dirty yellow star and embedded into the tarmac. The pony always drops his head to investigate, nostrils quivering. This is despite much nicer pickings amongst the stitchworts and bluebells along the verges and the tall hedgerows, heavy now with cow parsley and other delicacies dangling at nose level. But the downside in stopping amid all this abundant foliage is that we’re dangerously concealed along some sections of this narrow road, and I’m always happier when we get onto the open ground at Crow’s Nest. Sheep and feral ponies roam here, many of the Carneddau mares with foals at foot. The pony tends not to be overly interested unless there’s a young stallion in the vicinity, although I’m not convinced that making a noise like Scooby Doo is sufficient warning. 
We turn off Hendre Road into an unmade lane by Llechwedd, a route back onto the open hillside which is dogged by gates. Storm’s small stature is appreciated when it comes to jumping on and off, especially since there’s nothing remotely helpful to stand on. Even I can get my foot in a stirrup which is just a few feet from the ground and mostly stationary. (I’ve learnt to ignore his rolling eye.) We approach the second gate when the head of a lamb suddenly pops up… from beneath the cattle grid. My immediate thought is to applaud Storm’s lack of reaction and assume that if the lamb has fallen down there, then it must be able to get out. But as we draw closer, the lamb appears to be well and truly imprisoned. I slide off the pony and trust him to stay put, which he does. I try every which way to manipulate the lamb, but there’s no way he’s coming up through the bars of that grid. The ewe paces up and down, bleating pitifully. A neighbour says she’ll call the farmer, so not much more I can do.
More Carneddau ponies by the lake at Pensychnant, including a foal born during Storm Hannah; one I’d been concerned about in the rough weather, but all looks good in the sun. The pony picks up his pace facing home, and pounds up the road at full speed, shying at a pair of knickers in the hedge. The two mares he shares field space with, whinny at the sound of his approach well before he’s in sight. The smaller mare, Lady, is currently in season and in fat-camp (on sparse pasture) and this situation can be comical or exasperating depending on everyone’s mood. There’s often much calling and posturing between both gelding and love-sick, segregated mare. The older, taller thoroughbred, Ellie, misses her female companion and is mortally disappointed when I release Storm back into her space. She gives him a cursory head toss, ears flattened. Uh, it’s Pipsqueak. I guess he’s better than nothing. Go on, get out of my way! He generally heeds her warnings. It’s an entirely different scenario when Lady is around, since she actively seeks him out the moment he’s through the gate. Where’ve you been? Shall we groom each other? How about I nibble your withers? 
He strolls single-mindedly towards the water trough as if it’s a big American fridge, like he’s some hotshot stallion home from the office and he’s going to get a beer. Lady follows, and he slows up, turns to contemplate. Give me five minutes, can’t you? I’ve just got in from work. Been up and over hills all afternoon with the Old Biped… 

Part one of this memoir is now available to read for Kindle: mybook.to/MyLifeinHorses

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.

IMG_5607

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.

 

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.

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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.