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/

 

Christmas at Pensychnant

For the peaceful appreciation of nature.

Despite driving, walking, and riding past this place for many, many years I’ve only recently visited Pensychnant House and I’m ashamed to confess that the lure of home-baked cakes was one of the primary drivers.

24255021_1556180557799582_1168942086629676364_oThis isn’t a National Trust or Cadw property attracting an entrance fee (although contributions are always encouraged), nor does it house a lot of cordoned-off untouchable valuables. What it does offer is a real, modern experience of a Victorian house. This is partly down to the fact that the house is still very much lived in. The log fires are burned for a great many reasons. Today, Pensychnant works primarily as a conservation centre; holding exhibitions by local wildlife artists, organising guided walks, and of course, the annual Christmas fair when the Welsh dresser is laden with vast quantities of home-baked cakes. The Billiards Room is also available to hire for meetings. Although traces still remain, the original spectator area has since been removed. The idea of ladies watching the men play billiards was pretty much unheard of in those times, proving that the original resident, Stott, was pretty forward thinking!

The Turbulent History of Pensychnant. Today’s resident warden, Julian Thompson, has much to share about the history of the estate. The original house is a simple farmhouse dating from about 1690. Because of the existence of a second storey – probably originally accessed by an exterior stone staircase – it suggests that this would have been the property of a family of some means. Interesting that the draught generated between the front and back doors was utilised to winnow corn, and later, Stott affectionately christened the boot room in this part of the house as the Wellington Room. But it’s the Victorian extension built in the Arts and Crafts style (started in 1877 by Stott) which makes Pensychnant so unique.

Stott & Sons built about a fifth of the cotton mills around Lancashire. Surprisingly, the house had a central heating system from new, and in 1923 it received an electricity supply. Built initially as a holiday home for the Stott family, Abraham’s wife was less impressed with the house, particularly its rural location. Fearing he’d never encourage his family to move there, Stott fell into something of a depression about his investment. He reputedly left candles alight in vats of paraffin in the farmhouse, and took his absence. His desperate plan failed, since residents of nearby Crows Nest Hall spotted lights in the windows and went to investigate. Amazingly, Stott managed to escape being charged with arson despite harbouring not one, but three insurance policies about his person! In 1882 the wealth and standing of this hugely influential family clearly held the greater power.    

When the mill industry collapsed, Pensychnant was sold to the Collins family before it passed to Doctor Tattersall of Conwy. Then, like the stuff of fiction, something wonderful happened when the great grandson of Stott bought back the entire family estate in 1967. Although the estate continued to function as a working farm, Brian Henthorn Stott regarded it as a nature reserve too and as well as planting hundreds of trees; primarily Welsh oak, birch, rowan and holly. He installed a great many nesting boxes and the variety of birds remains prolific, especially the cuckoo. In Victorian times there was a brisk tourist trade in nearby Penmaenmawr based on collectors travelling from all over Britain to see the Pensychnant moths. There are still two species in residence today, so rare they occur nowhere else in the world…

Pensychnant Today. Sitting in 148 acres of conservation land, Pensychnant house is heavily concealed from the access lane on Sychnant Pass (the mountain road which runs from Conwy across to Penmaenmawr, where it eventually joins the A55 expressway) but if you’re interested in local countryside conservation or historical properties, or if you’re simply looking to escape the modern world for a couple of hours, Pensychnant is well worth a visit. For me, the elegant shabbiness of the house adds a richness not quite quantifiable in words. I guess it has atmosphere. And yes, of course there’s a ghost… the maid, who was murdered by the gardener in the chauffeur’s room.

Brian Stott established the Pensychnant Foundation before he died in 1997.   

The Pensychnant Foundation

The Pensychnant Foundation (a registered charity) was established in 1989 by Brian Henthorn Stott to: manage the Pensychnant House and Estate as a conservation centre and nature reserve; for the benefit of its wildlife; and to foster the public’s appreciation and understanding of nature and nature conservation. The house hosts an on-going exhibition of wildlife art by some of Britain’s most talented artists. Proceeds from the sale of drawings or paintings support the charity’s conservation work.

More information about Pensychnant and its programme of events can be found here: http://pensychnant.co.uk/home.html

Words and photography by Jan Ruth

Chocolate Erotica

Erotica: (from the Greek ἔρως, eros “desire”) is any artistic work that deals substantively with erotically stimulating subject matter. All forms of art may depict erotic content, including painting, sculpture, photography, drama, film, music or literature. Erotica has high-art aspirations, differentiating it from commercial pornography.

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How dark can you take it?

High art. Does this apply to chocolate? In my opinion, it applies more to chocolate than a lot of literature. And if chocolate was graded according to fiction then surely it would have to be erotica? Award Winning Cathryn Cariad Chocolates are most certainly the high-art end of chocolate creation, removing themselves from the crude porn of supermarket chocolate bars and divulging our senses of the most sophisticated chocolate experience.

1385363_482502991848463_161612903_nCathryn Cariad chocolates are not bound by the conventional selection box either. Be prepared to delve into several sub-genres and rest assured that chocolate dragons will be someone’s erotic fantasy, but as you may expect, romance takes the biggest bite. And not just the chick-lit love of chocolate shoes and Champagne bottles – but a diverse and satisfying array of fillings expertly coupled with either white, milk or dark. Where to begin? Clearly, all of this needed researching thoroughly!

220px-Cocoa_PodsChocolate has enjoyed longstanding stories of magical and mythical properties, so it’s only fitting that the name of the tree it comes from, Theobroma Cacao, means “food of the gods”. Ancient Mesoamerican art, depicting cacao gods and goddesses, rituals, and cacao in sacred caves and mountains, indicates the cacao tree may have been seen as connecting the gods and humans, heaven and earth. It seems perfectly fitting then that chocolate trees flourish only in the hot, steamy tropics; more specifically in a swathe roughly 20 degrees north and south of the Equator.

Mujer_vertiendo_chocolate_-_Codex_TudelaOf course, before the raw product arrives in Snowdonia the beans are harvested, fermented, roasted and graded according to quality. The process continues when the ‘nib’ is extracted and ground. This is called conching and produces cocoa and sugar particles smaller than the tongue can detect. The length of the conching process determines the smooth, sensuous quality of the finished product. After this, the chocolate can be liquefied, ready for blending and moulding, and the final seduction can begin.

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Recently, I had the very great pleasure of meeting Master Chocolatier Cathryn O’ Connell, the founder of the award winning cottage industry in the heart of Snowdonia: Cathryn Cariad Chocolates. The products are handmade in a rather beautiful setting overlooking the Moelwyn mountain range and within earshot of several vocal hens, and more than one cockerel (all of whom, for ease of identification are named Brian). The local steam train tooted and chugged across the mountain in much the same way it had done for over a hundred years, as we talked about Snowdonia, the history of Cathy’s amazing property, books and … chocolate. 

Ah, the chocolate room of pleasure! The full chocolate experience should start with light kissing: creamy white chocolates filled with lemon and Welsh lavender from Rhayader. Or maybe you’d rather explore the delicate laciness of wild elderflower. Too sweet? Progressing onto milk chocolate is a comfort zone enjoyed by many and the fillings are not quite so innocent and teasing. Homemade butter caramel and Welsh vanilla sea-salt. Purple Moose Ale, Brecon gin… Sooner or later, we arrive at the penultimate. The Dark. Warning: this strength of chocolate erotica is highly addictive. Rich, controlling, surprisingly diverse and not so sweet.

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Dinner party mystery game. Want to play? First, employ a silk blindfold to concentrate the taste buds and raise the selected truffle to nose, and then palate. Now, can you identify the exact combination? Is it sloe gin with a secret layer of raspberry jelly, or maybe the dragon-roasted coffee? 11188231_10204823515609570_1145162359249804135_nYou surely wouldn’t mistake Welsh Dragon chilies with cinnamon and nutmeg – rich, aromatic spices with a kick of heat from the chilies – just the way the Aztecs liked it, apparently. And for the more experienced or to confuse the senses of a seasoned taster, try innocent virginal white chocolate and Welsh honey from Arthog, ruthlessly coated in devilishly dark chocolate. The masked one! Without a doubt, Cathryn Cariad Chocolates are an imaginative selection box of mystery and fantasy. It can most certainly be romantic and erotic. It has historical roots and global appeal, but will only perform at its best when we understand the science fiction of it all.

Try a dark, dark salted caramel and wait for the full sensory experience, or a creamy milk truffle filled with blackberry brandy… go on. It would be criminal not to.

Web: http://www.cathryncariad.com/

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Cemaes Bay

A circular walk of 10 miles including 1,500 feet of elevation overall. Start Point: The wildlife reserve car park at Trwyn yr Wylfa, Cemaes Bay, Anglesey. LL67 ODH. Map References: SH: 35619-93789 or Lat: 53.415189  Lon: -4.474820 

adult-blur-boots-1452784A circular route utilising much of the Anglesey coastal path. Spectacular scenery – on a sunny day the area takes on a Mediterranean feel with bright turquoise seascapes, coloured rocks, soaring white gulls, and if you’re lucky – seals and porpoises. Worth noting that it’s possible to shorten this route by making the start point at Cemaes Bay village at point 3 and reducing the overall mileage by approx 4 miles, without missing the most scenic parts of the walk.  

There’s plenty of historical points of interest in this area too, and the best place to see the Gwna Melange – an unusual combination of ancient rocks created by an underwater landslip. In fact, the whole of the island is a designated European Geopark so a veritable playground for those interested in geology, including White Lady’s Rock; a triangular-shaped slab of rock which once formed part of an arch but was quarried extensively in Victorian times for its quartz. Only ruins remain of Porth Llanlleiana, used for the production of china clay, and further on, evidence of the area’s industrial heritage in the form of winding gear which was used to lower quartzite, used in the production of bricks, down to the works at Porth Wen. Production ceased at the start of WW1 but the site is still an evocative piece of history in a breathtaking setting.

The route

  1. Take the footpath by two brick pillars and pass through a metal kissing-gate, walking up through a small copse onto the headland. The way may seem indistinct here as planning for a second phase of the power station has altered the landscape. Walk towards the sea and head to the right, passing through several wooden gates whilst following the blue coastal path markers – towards a small cove and the outskirts of Cemaes village.
  2. The route continues close to several coastal properties. Still following the blue coastal markers, take a gravelled path to the right, turning right again at the finger-post sign. Walk between the stone walls then turn left down a slope to the shore. The blue markers are set into the pavement here and lead up through the village.
  3.  In the centre of Cemaes village, turn left at Bridge Street, opposite Ye Olde Vigour pub. Bear left at the next finger-post towards the harbour, and a short promenade. Turn left at the National Trust finger-post signed for Llanbadrig and Penrhyn Mawr, and follow the steep track up between blackberry bushes, passing through a wooden gate onto the headland.
  4. Go through the next wooden gate to the right, which leads down a dip and back up the other side, passing an old kiln set into the hillside. Continue to follow the track until you reach White Lady’s Rock. Turn right here towards a wooden gate, arriving on a single-track road.
  5. Turn left on the road and walk a short distance to reach Llanbadrig Church: the oldest Christian site in Wales. Locate a stone stile consisting of steps set into the boundary wall of the church and climb over this – turning right – to pick up the coastal path again along the headland.
  6. From here, it’s a straightforward walk along the cliffs, the route eventually dropping down towards Porth Llanileiana via steep steps. Climb the zigzag path back up the other side to reach the top of Dinas Cynfor and the ruins of a hill fort, and a watchtower. Distant views reveal the Skerries, Middle Mouse, Point Lynas, East Mouse, and on a clear day, the Isle of Man.
  7. From the watchtower, follow the headland again, the route dropping down towards Hell’s Mouth – a deep inlet – and back up the other side. Cross a wooden stile and climb a steep winding track to the top of the hill. From here, follow a wide, grassy track as it heads towards Porth Wen bay.
  8. The brickworks come into view on the left – if you don’t mind exploring uneven ground it’s worth scrambling down to take a look – otherwise, continue along the grassy track, passing through a gate and following the route as it bears right and then left, eventually ending at a single-track road. Turn right. Walk for almost a mile, then on a right-hand bend look for a footpath on the left.
  9. Go over the stile into fields, passing over a stream via a wooden bridge. The footpath is clearly marked and continues through a section of private garden then once through the next gate, keep right along the lower footpath. Continue until this path ends at a single-track road. Turn right then at the T junction, turn left and after approx a mile, you’ll be back at the harbour in Cemaes. Retrace your steps back to the car park.

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