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!

Over the Hill: 6

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 distant drone of farm machinery. The fragrance of recently cut hay mingles with fly repellant and hoof oil. Blackberry bushes are flowering, adding a creamy pink foam to the overgrown hedges, and I push aside long, waving brambles. It’s warm at eight in the morning but other than butterflies and biting insects, the lanes are blissfully empty without school traffic and before holidaymakers emerge. Nearing the crossroads by Crows Nest I hear the intermittent parp of brass instruments – not an oompah band in full flow, more like a practice session – and it has the pony stop, ears pricked, head and neck fully extended, eyes on stalks. After long minutes Storm decides that a baritone tuba and 76 trombones are not a precursor to monsters, and we trot on. A middle-aged man on a Power Rangers skateboard comes zooming down the hill but slows and grins, slightly embarrassed to be caught in the moment. I tell him he’s too old for kid’s toys and he takes in My Little Pony and my pink riding hat cover, and tells me much the same thing. Touché!
We make it as far as the riding school and cadge a comfort break. That’s hay and water for Storm and tea and gossip for me. The pony club have taken over the yard and Storm gets plenty of attention. I suggest maybe Storm and I could join in their activities for the morning and a deadly silence ensues as they scrutinise my face. I believe a mature child with a sense of humour is a wondrous thing, and if I ever see skateboard man again, I shall tell him so.
In Parc Mawr Woods the cool shade is welcome, if not the impossible incline. I dismount for a while and Storm follows me like an obedient dog until the greenery proves too much of a temptation and I have to chivvy him along. He still manages to steal snatches of grass and Rosebay Willowherb at every turn, and soon looks to be carrying a bouquet. Earlier in the week I spotted a badger on this same path in full daylight, but no such luck today. I continue to walk for a while – the oppressive heat between the narrow banks and the steep rocky going is more than enough for my friend to deal with, and he stops to drink at every watery trickle – up to the 6th century church on the old coffin route, part of the Pilgrim’s Way. When the church comes into view, we rejoin forces and canter for a short distance on the dry grass, before slipping through the church gate. The entrance isn’t made for horses and it’s narrow and awkward but poses no problem for a pony used to going through garden gates and other mildly unauthorised spaces. Storm immediately drops his muzzle to the ground and for a while the only sounds are of tearing grass, sheep, and the plaintive cry of a buzzard. I take a look at the well dedicated to St Celynin – reputed to hold great healing powers for children, and decide to take the long route home.
On the open mountain the sky is a stunning canopy of clear blue. It’s mostly downhill to Conwy and the elevation means there’s a breeze. Probably down to the fresher climate and the homeward trail but maybe my tuneless singing (Johnny Marr) also adds to Storm’s sense of urgency and he suddenly picks up the pace where the ground levels out. I egg him on and we fly over the ditches, scattering sheep. I guess I’ll always be an ancient little girl at heart.

More about St Celynin’s Church: https://janruth.com/2015/06/15/st-celynnins-church-in-the-hills/

 

Over the Hill: 3

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 gate by the cattle-grid on Sychnant Pass is so heavy I fear if I misjudge it the whole thing will swing into us before we can get through, but Storm seems to understand its brutal mechanism. Not so much the two men who tried to carry an especially long roll of heavily patterned Axminster into the church on Hendre Road. He still remembers the day we saw a real life pushmi-pullyu and casts a wary eye towards the building as we trot past; an incident which is known only to Storm and I as The Day of the Debacle at the Tabernacle. We continue the length of Hendre Road to the very top, where the lane narrows significantly with no passing places and it’s a bit like running the gauntlet, and so dark beneath the trees the camera flash goes off and momentarily lights up the back of Storm’s ears.
Meeting farm machinery here is the worst possible scenario. Inevitably, we come face to face with a tractor devouring the overgrown hedges and so double-back to a farm entrance to wait for the dragon to roar past. As we climb towards the open hillside, there’s a stillness which is somehow symbolic to the vast, historic wilderness of the Carneddau. And yet, it’s not silent. Birdsong, bleating, streams surging over rocks, the high-pitched whinnies of wild ponies. The route across the mountainside is slow going but Storm is familiar with the hard, rock-strewn tracks and I let him pick his own way until we get to a grassy stretch where we can canter.
For me, this is the best kind of riding in that it epitomises freedom and simplicity. And although my solo roaming is not without challenge, ostensibly it feels more natural to the spirit of the horse. I don’t venture off the tracks through any dense vegetation as there are reports of an increase in adders, and an encounter with one of these has the ability to turn the entire day on its head. We’re rarely, completely alone on this well-worn route into Conwy and soon come across a group of schoolchildren on a field trip. Oh, isn’t he sweet, isn’t he cute! The girls take turns to pat Storm. The boys hang back and only want to know how fast he can go. And it’s a day for mountain bikers. Some of them flying at great speed over the ground, the bikes not fully visible down to the undulating lay of the land. Storm imagines they must be riding horses and breaks into a canter. Another group are lost and want to know how to get to the stone circles above Penmaenmawr. And then, when we come across three men, braced in a line having a wee behind a drystone wall, they laugh and wave. We skirt the lake, drop down onto the Sychnant Pass again and the pony shoots across the inviting, flat area we call the ‘naughty-grass’, for good reason. The last canter facing home is always a strong one, but I find it wise to remember that it involves a telegraph pole and a perilous downward slope onto the road.
It takes us three hours to complete this circuit, including stops to chat, and time to stare. Back on home ground, Storm demands his Pot Noodle. This is a mug which looks like a Chicken and Mushroom Pot Noodle, and something we use as a measuring device for pony nuts. I think it originally contained a Pot Noodle Christmas Dinner. Obviously, this vile concoction was bought as a joke. Clearly, there’s a use for everything. Even heavily patterned Axminster.

 

 

Over the Hill: 2

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

P1000024-1Saturday morning is usually a good time to set off for the beach. Since the route involves passing by the local council offices and the secondary school these establishments need to be closed, otherwise they generate too much traffic and hullabaloo. Then there’s the tide times to consider and the crossing of two bridges; one a pretty, ancient thing over a railway line with perilously low stone walls. The other, less attractive obstacle spans the busy A55 dual carriageway. I always ride towards the middle of this one in the event of any sudden lateral moves. Thankfully Storm remains his calm, stoic self, despite Bank Holiday traffic passing beneath us at 70 miles an hour heading for the estuary tunnel.
Then it’s the housing estate – lawnmowers, garden parasols, a whining strimmer – and then the golf course. The golf course is potentially full of hazards since the pony is already deeply suspicious of squeaking golf trolleys, men in yellow pants, and the whipping noise of several clubs whacking balls; sometimes in quick succession. He dances on the spot a little to signal his disquiet, then  stares through the hedge at the practice area. We survive all of this and arrive at the beach only to stop dead at a line of big boulders. Boulders, he declares, are the work of the Devil. They cast shadows… they hide predatory things… It’s not as if he hasn’t seen boulders before, but we waste long minutes before he deigns to pass between two of these stone beasts as they slumber on the edge of the car park. Ok, human, so nothing bad happened. This time.
IMG_4015Once on the beach, we sink into the silt that borders the estuary before heading for the firmer, rippled sand towards the mussel banks. Thankfully, there are no marauding dogs on the horizon. On a previous visit my friend and I were plagued by such a pest. His owner watched with mild disinterest as his dog leapt around our horses’ legs, barking and snarling. We suggested he might want to call his dog away in case it got kicked in the teeth. Amazingly,  the guy seemed offended that we’d suggested such a thing. Today the area is quiet, only the chatter of oystercatchers and gulls, and the rush and slide of the tide. But Storm is fixated on the opposite bank, where much is going on with boats and kites. He only canters with any conviction when I turn for home and even manages to throw in a violent dodge round a pool of muddy seawater. 
Previous hazards prove curiously inconsequential on the return journey – boulders? I ain’t scared of no boulders – but we’re riding along the lower section of the bridleway on Conwy Mountain when a man walking two elderly dogs suddenly ducks down in the shrubs. I’m sure he thinks he’s being helpful, but the pony can’t fathom why he’s suddenly disappeared and slowly draws to a halt, head and neck up, ears pricked, everything tense – the equine equivalent of a dropped jaw. I guess his behaviour echoes my own, suspicious thoughts. In the end I shout and request that the man reveal himself. No, I quickly rephrase that and suggest he gets to his feet. He does, slowly, explaining he hadn’t wanted to spook the pony, and felt it might be a better idea to hide. I say the best thing to do around horses is to act normally rather than appear predatory and crouch in the bushes. We pass without incident but both Storm and I tut at the incongruity of men, and boulders.

Over the Hill: 1

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… 

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.