It was in October in 1978 that Babs and I first enjoyed the luxury of one of the great County class inns of the Principality, when we passed our honeymoon in the shadow of mist crowned Cadair. We enjoyed cocktails in the Blades Bar, four course dinners in the Dining room and Irish coffees in the Resident’s Lounge complete with roaring fire and knitting dowagers before repairing to our room complete with four poster bed. Only the Bri-Nylon bedding disappointed, and then only for a second….
Memories of a Fusty Week
David Etherington, the eminent QC and Captain of the School had a profound effect on many of us at QM in the 1970s and was a huge fan of the Mawddach and Farchynys. He wrote this marvellous memoir of a fusty week in the summer of 1971 when he helped the staff which included the much-loved Ken Yates. It was originally published in The Marian. Google has not been able to throw any light on Dr. Williams’ Medicinal Compound which today would not probably pass the risk assessment.
First Year Field Course – Summer, 1971
Setting out on a day which would not have disgraced a Hammer Films production, the Vice-Captain of School and his Successor-to-be set off to join Messrs. Yates and Cumbers and a party of 16 first formers for a week at Farchynys. The opportunities for fieldwork provided by this area of unspoiled natural beauty were exploited to the full, and proof was afforded of the old Welsh adage: – “Too many inexperienced cooks will never make broth.”
Each day, the boys led by KIY and a walking stick, set off armed with all kinds of fiendish equipment, which appeared to consist largely of washing lines and bits of painted wood. One day was spent studying the distribution of organisms between high and low tide near to the Boathouse, and later in the week, a visit was paid to Shell Island to examine the different plant and animal populations in rock pools. Our lunch was consumed on the beach, and in one clumsy case, consisted very largely of the beach! Barmouth Harbour was invaded for an afternoon, and the mud although most uninviting to humans, was discovered to contain several interesting types of worms and molluscs. One of the innumerable Joneses was almost left up to his knees as an offering to these amazing creatures.
Evenings were spent in writing up material and examining specimens. One boy in particular became remarkably proficient in the use of microscopes. Ample time was given to leisure, and Round-the-Table tennis became increasingly popular as the weeks sped by. The ‘Black Dwarf of Mongolia’ scored a notable triumph over the Kitchen sink. Thursday’s programme read: – “An attempt will be made on the summit of Snowdon.” – Thanks to Mr Cumber’s foresight, that attempt succeeded. The day was blazingly hot, and Mr Cumbers brought with him a large bottle labelled Doctor Williams’s Medicinal Compound – a white, thick and potent mixture which saved the whole group from suffering the death which fate usually reserves for heretics, and yet fate was not to be cheated…
Whilst engaged in cutting up wood for goal posts, that self-same Chemist, who had not learned what biology really involved, mistook his finger for a branch of rhododendron and had to be rushed to Dolgellau hospital. The fate of the evening meal rested with the History side of the School and, despite minor difficulties, the food if late, was eminently edible.
The final day was spent in clearing up a week’s mess and preparing the final meal. Yet more cooking tips were to be served up. For instance, if making ten-second potato in bulk, NEVER add the powder to the water. Having done so Etherington did a Galloping Gourmet* out of the kitchen and offered up a prayer to Saint Jude, the patron Saint of lost causes. Fortunately, our prayers were answered, and we left with the customary distended intestines.
All of this has been written with the prejudice of an historian, but the week proved that such ventures could play a vital part in the future life of Farchynys. Many thanks are due to Messrs. Yates and Cumbers for the immense amount of hard work put in, which helped to make the week so successful and enjoyable. Mr Yates wishes to express his thanks for the support of Lavender and Etherington and we would all like to thank Clifford for his contribution to the venture.
David Etherington (VI RFF)
…. and newly appointed Chancellor of the Diocese of London
*The Galloping Gourmet was the name of one of the first TV chef programmes hosted by the dashing Graham Kerr with help from his wife Treena
At the boundary….
I have known Stephen Tarbuck for over 50 years since we started together at QM in Form 1Z in 1967, and then grew up as young men, hot-housed in the Alpha stream. It gives me such pleasure to introduce these memories of his trips to Farchynys some of which I was lucky enough to share.
My first experience of Wales must have been as a three year old boy. I had been in hospital with a burst appendix and my parents took me to Twywn to convalesce. I think I can just about recall this and some other very early memories.
I was lucky enough to be granted a place at QMGS in 1967, and with my parents, I went to the Farchynys Open Day in my ‘fustie’ year. Not a great year for me, as I had to revert to short trousers, a source of great embarrassment. I was also armed with a brightly coloured school cap that I had to ‘doff’, if I saw Masters out of school. Other strange new habits included eating mountains of warm jam doughnuts and currant buns at morning break time, and having extra portions of school dinners, at the end of the lunchtime service. Happy days.
As noted by another Marian on these pages, availability of chances to visit Farchynys were actually few and far between. I was not probably that keen to go during those early formative years anyway.
I was not in the Combined Cadet Force and wasn’t a cross country runner either. But I did finally make three visits, between 1970 and 1972. The first visit was very memorable for the intriguing novelty and unique feel of the Coach House. It must have been the first time I encountered Spaghetti Bolognese and Beaujolais Nouveau. New aspects of my greater education were slowly opening up before me.
Each trip had its own special drama. Being pelted with snowballs by the Bala ‘Boot Boys’ and other such memorable episodes. Being away from home for the first time without my parents, was also an important rite of passage, however minor that may seem now. I also enjoyed going off exploring the headland on my own, or was it in a small group?
One trip involved an expedition to conquer Mount Snowdon. We had years to prepare, studying every contour of Snowdonia on the O.S. maps in Geography lessons, before being let loose on the real wilderness. On a cold damp day, we did make it up to a very spectacular point, with a drop dead gorgeous panoramic view, complete with a drop dead sheer drop of what seemed like thousands of feet. The last stretch to the summit involved clambering over some very slippery scree. Half of our party wanted to go on, half was more cautious for reasons of self preservation. I think there was a democratic vote, and the ‘yellow bellies’ rightly carried the day.
I am so happy to have enjoyed and survived my schooldays Welsh ‘outdoor experience’. It was one the starting points of my deep love of landscape, leading me on to a lifelong love of Wales, Ireland and Scotland in particular, where we got married and so very nearly settled in 2005. Visits to Orkney, the Highlands and a belated exploration of the Lake District have given me a true sense of the majesty of Creation. I believe the Celts say that these are the places where the boundary, between here and beyond, is at its ‘thinnest’
Steve Tarbuck OM 1967-1974
The Waltons splurge in the Hall’s 40th great year
One of the few benefits of the Lockdown confinement has been the opportunity to rediscover the mountains of material lurking in cupboards and storage boxes and to begin a modest little meander through the sedimentary material found therein. Like this 1985 flyer in mint condition from The Bontddu Hall Hotel which promises terrific Dinner Specials such as Baked Leg of Lamb with honey and Halibut en Papilotte, available to be washed down with wines supplied by George Duboeuf and Dienhard of Koblenz. Sadly, I can’t now remember what we ate, but I know I left with a couple of bonus bottles of Clos de Vougeot, bin ends on sale from the Cellar that night and which severely dented what was left of my annual bonus from The Creative Business.
Celebrating National Poetry Day
Tonight I walked along the estuary of my youth,
Saw watercolour landscapes of hope and fear
Watched the family outline in the surf,
Smelt the kelp and tasted salt once more,
Heard the white noise of waves breaking at the bar,
The tinkle of dinghy bells,
The relentless nagging of the gulls,
The flap of ice cream banners in deserted cabins,
And witnessed the sun’s last defiant blaze,
As a crescent moon rose above Tyrau Mawr.
A damp granite evening
Waiting at the old signal box
In an empty street
A pocketful of birthday cash
We were eating posh nougat
We pronounced it the Anglo-Saxon way, of course
Shivering, happy and ambitious.
Far away, in a world without lockdowns and the cat and mouse games of track and trace, enlightened companies organised team building events for their staff and close associates and much fun was enjoyed by all, with past performance celebrated and future plans brainstormed.
My own company The Value Engineers was no exception, and we enjoyed many adventures both at home and abroad including several trips to the Mawddach Estuary, probably, it has to be said, due to the conscious bias of its Queen Mary’s educated CEO.
We camped in the foothills of Cadair, cycled the Mawddach trail, drank Moonshine spirits dancing to a Celtic Bluegrass band, abseiled from the granite rocks of Barmouth’s Panorama, paddled in the sand-art shallows of the estuary at Bontddu and danced the night away in Black Tie to Duran Duran – well at least a cover version performed our own house band, The Bluffers.
Whilst a long car journey from The Thames Valley followed by camping in the morning rain beneath Tyrau Mawr was not to everyone’s liking, I can attest that our adventures on the Mawddach really helped nurture the culture of The Value Engineers, and by way of fair exchange, the place won more than its fair number of brand strategists’ hearts: such is timeless magic of the Mawddach.
Back in the now contemplating the shortcomings of even the most inspiring of Zoom events, let us hope that all businesses can soon enjoy once more the tremendous benefits of socially proximate summer conferences and training events in the Big Outdoors. And if you need it, I know the number of a very good Celtic Cajun band….
I was desperately sad to hear of the fire which engulfed Bontddu Hall on Friday morning and claimed at least one life.
Bontddu Hall is one of a number of places along the Mawddach estuary which has a special place in my heart. I have vivid memories of a team building event in the 1990s held by my company, The Value Engineers, which inevitably featured our house band, The Bluffers, working through a host of familiar Abba and Oasis covers in the cocktail bar after a hard day cycling along the old railway track and paddling in the warm June mudflats below the Hotel’s splendid terrace.
This was one of the hotels run by the Hall family who had created in a Birmingham mayor’s country retreat, a civilised and comfortable place to escape the madness of the city. The profile from the 1958 Ashley Courtenay Let’s Halt Awhile is a fair reflection of what I experienced when I stayed there on several occasions before it closed as a hotel.
And when the Hotel closed, Babs and I were lucky enough to be amongst its final diners, paying rather more than the 12/6 featured in the 1958 menu for an excellent dinner of Merioneth black beef. I was also successfully tempted to buy (to take home!) the final 3 bottles of Clos de Vougeot which the Hotel cave was offering at an everything-must-go special price.
I do hope Bontddu Hall will be restored to its former glories….
There are many calls on budgets, but education in the great outdoors should be seen as a key investment and not a cost. We should not sit in silence as these great places of learning and experience are being dissolved.
The Mawddach Estuary at Penmaenpool, October 7th, 2019.
The quote is taken from The History of Barmouth and Vicinity by Miss Jones
After 45 years since this family photoraph on the battlements, I’m delighted to be returning to Harlech Castle to give a talk to the Historical Society.
It’s on Tuesday evening at 7.30 in the Assembly Rooms opposite the Castle.