Cross Country at Farchynys

Philip Davies who joined the QMGS staff in 1974, was a tremendous enthusiast for Farchynys who developed a real love for The Coach House and the Mawddach estuary, and chose to spend some of his retirement in a holiday home at Fairbourne. An immensely private man but with the driest sense of humour, Phil was a thoughtful linguist and a great runner. Known affectionately as The Veg, Phil ran the Farchynys marathon on many occasions and after successfully completing the London Marathon in a good time, became known to the boys as Runner Bean. He also completed the Great Farchynys Cycle Ride three times and briefly held the Staff record for the fastest time. He also invented the fiendishly difficult Farchynys Quiz and remains one of the all- time great Marians on the Mawddach. This is a small piece he wrote for the Marian in 1989.

Cross Country Weekends

On arrival at Farchynys a few minutes is given for unloading the minibus and unpacking, and then the call ‘Get ready!’ goes out and everyone dons athletic kit for the short Friday run to Bontddu and back. It’s about a mile and a half each way and you have to go past the pub once called the Halfway House to touch the milk bottles just outside Mrs Clarke’s house. The fastest will be back in well under 20 minutes but some of the non-runners may even be tempted to cut the run short. It can be a little frightening in the winter when it’s very dark and the car lights dazzle. After showers, we sit down to the meal on hearing Mr Jackson’s stentorian ‘Come and get it’. The rest of the evening is free, perhaps occupied in the summer by a walk and as always lots of table tennis.

Saturday morning is the time for the main event of the weekend, The Farchynys Run. Time is of course allowed after breakfast before starting on the half-marathon distance run which is about 13 miles. All pile into the minibus and travel to the bridge that Bontddu is named after (it means black bridge) where the water runs down from the mountain. If there are many participating, they may be up to three starts, the slow ones leaving first so that the group does not get too far apart. 

From Bontddu the road climbs steeply if you’re not too fit and goes gently downhill to cross the bridge at Penmaenpool, the first wooden bridge in the course. Then a long climb through deeply treed country following the estuary but much higher. The hill seems to be unending until at last there’s a steep downhill section into Arthog, after which a flat section leading to Morfa Mawddach station and the huge Barmouth bridge which carries the railway line and pedestrians. There is another steep rise from the bridge back into the road at Barmouth and ready for the home section in which the undulations seem like steep hills if you’re tired. The finish is back at the Coach House at Farchynys.

Everyone is timed and there are records for all years. The fastest was in one hour and the slowest 4 hours. It’s a beautiful run, and the writer has managed it 17 consecutive times. 

After tea, Saturday evening is much like Friday evening.

Sunday morning has varied: at one time a relay was held – quite exciting if you don’t want to let your team down, or a run along Barmouth beach or along the Trawsfynydd road. 

As always much of the Sunday morning is taken up with packing.

Beautiful scenery, fresh air and a good degree of fitness and training for the cross country are all to be enjoyed. A few of the runners have made top-class athletes, but all doing the run must have achieved a good degree of fitness. 

PGKD 

The Marian 

January, 1989

A Dream Finally Realised!

The Traverse of the Rhinog Ridge 

Today’s post has been contributed by the one and only Steve Law, a star contributor to the grand narrative of the Marians who flourish on the Mawddach.

Steve describes how a few weeks ago, he finally achieved a personal ambition with the help of Kodi Beveridge-Smith, Oxford Historian and a recent Captain of the School.

Steve’s account shows how there’s arduous training and there’s the Traverse of the Rhinog Ridge.

Everyone has a dream of some kind, which usually consists of a challenge.  Mine has been 40 years in its realisation: The complete traverse of the Rhinog range.  This is an area of mountains in southern Snowdonia, which offers a rare opportunity to be away from the crowds and trek through some really wild country. 

The route always starts from or finishes at Barmouth; the finishing/start point can be Talsarnau or Llandecwyn in the north.  Why would I want to walk the 25 or so miles and ascend the 7500ft to complete the traverse across some of the most remotedesolate and pathless moorlands that is only 3 miles from the nearest road?  The answer is in the three key italicised words because they aren’t common outside of Scotland.  With my walking partner – Kodi Beveridge-Smith, we would be self-sufficient and move essentially “Alpine-style” – minimum food, a bivouac tarpaulin and a wild camp.  Since first walking part of the route on my MLC training in 1979, other segments for the preparation of the 1982 Iceland expedition and several times in the years that followed, I had maintained a hankering to walk the entire route in one go.  That hankering was intensified after completing the Taith Ardudwy Trail in 2019 with Kodi.  I’d attempted the whole ridge in 2008 at the tender age of 54 and just failed 2 miles short of Barmouth.  Physically better prepared this time, but 13 years older, I set off with Kodi on the 10th of August in bright sunshine, mindful that our second day could be challenging just in terms of weather.  We were, however, well equipped for whatever was thrown at us . 

Alpine Style

Day 1 involved a slow ascent from Barmouth up to Dyffwys at 2106’ over 8 miles.  The views off the ridge were superb, and we were going well.  The main problem was carrying enough water for the whole day as there’s nothing on the ridge.  Hydration is the key to walking well, and because of the heat of the day, it proved a problem in the latter stages of the descent off Diffwys; I was beginning to cramp up.  We arrived at our wild campsite at Cwm Hywel quite late but in great spirits as neither of us felt completely drained. We ate our rations and made numerous hot brews. The night was made a little more difficult because the wind strengthened, and fine drizzle began to fall.  We survived it but were a little damp. 

Day 2(15 miles) was longer than Day 1(10 miles) and required the ascent of Rhinog Fach & Fawr: a trek over a very isolated pathless section to Clip, where we would ascend to re-attain the final and most desolate part of the ridge, which would take in Ysgynfarnogod and Foel Penolau.  The problems associated with the final section are mainly boggy areas, bare rock surfaces, and above all, short boulder-strewn or rock step ascent/descents across narrow ravines. It was raining steadily, and the wind was blowing strongly from our arrival at the summit of Rhinog Fach to nearly blowing us off the last part of the ridge. 

Ysgynfarnogod Trig Point – strong winds

 Each descent was steep and made more difficult by the foot placings on rock being wet and concealed by heather or bracken.  Each footstep had to be carefully placed, making the task physically tiring and mentally taxing.  Such were the weather conditions that we had to modify our intended route for a safer, acceptable alternative from the Roman Steps to Clip.  Time was slipping by; I had train times up until the last one at 21.09 from Llandecwyn.  We were getting behind.  Our final descent off a high flat area – Dyffwys, was incredibly steep, and the lower parts were a jumble of boulders hidden by waist-high bracken.  Finding the final path to take us off was difficult; the light was fading, but the rain had stopped.  A two-mile walk down a metalled track lay between us and the train back.  A glance at the watch showed that we wouldn’t manage the distance in the 35 minutes we had left to cover it. 

We arrived at LLandecwyn very tired but utterly elated that we had finished. A phone call to a taxi firm in Barmouth allowed us to be back at the campsite by 22.25hrs for a shower, change, and a meal of fillet steak and chips washed down with a celebratory bottle of bubbles.  It had taken us 25 hours of walking to complete the traverse and 25 minutes by taxi to return. 

Any report will always describe the problems and hardship. It takes time to realise just what has been achieved.  For Kodi, it was the hardest walking he’d completed outside the Himalayas.  In my case, finally achieving my dream, especially in walking the route in the reverse direction to usual and managing it, at the age of 67, with what I would consider to be some ease.  Kodi and I tried to discuss our initial feelings as we walked down the track; one mutually agreed point was that neither of us had moaned once nor stated that we wouldn’t make it to the end.  One comment from a young man we met on Rhinog Fawr gave me great heart.  He asked what we were doing and then how old I was; I told him, and he exclaimed that he just hoped he would still be able to do the Rhinog Ridge at the same age.  I took the compliment in the way it was intended. 

My sincere thanks go to Kodi for being a great companion and a source of determination when things were becoming really tough.  We formed a great team for two people of such disparate ages. 

My walking dream had been achieved at last. 

Steve Law                                            

Thanks for filling the gap, George and Nicholas

(And getting the story started)

It’s difficult to overestimate the impact on society of the Protestant Reformation and the Dissolution of the Monasteries which followed it. Monasteries and friaries had played such an important part in everyday life especially in the areas of education and social care.

As hundreds of years of prayer and learning came to a surprisingly swift and brutal end, a generation’s education was under threat. Fortunately, there were a number of people who were determined to do something about it, and amongst these were Nicholas and George Hawe, two prominent Walsall townsmen who sought out Queen Mary Tudor, then on her way to Winchester Cathedral to marry Prince Philip of Spain, and asked permission to found a new grammar school in her name.

The Free School of Queen Mary, Walsall was founded by Letters Patent on July 2nd, 1554.

Four hundred and ten years later, another group of Walsall townsfolk continued the philanthropic tradition and gave generously to found the school’s Welsh centre at Farchynys, creating a wonderful tapestry of experience and learning for Marians on the Mawddach.

We hope this will resume soon as we are freed from the miseries of COVID.

For those whom like a good narrative arc, it is interesting to see Mary Tudor’s Welsh ancestry in her version of the Royal Arms. Floreat!

It’s 1890, and the ladies are walking from Cadair to Barmouth along the Mawddach railway line.

How many wildflowers do you recognise?

The hillwalking adventures of four late Victorian schoolmistresses whose names were Margery, Christina, Constance and Leonora are captured in their marvellous 1890 monograph, Through North Wales with a knapsack. In this extract, the intrepid ladies have climbed Cadair and on descending, having taken tea with a charming couple in Arthog before resuming their hike, heading for Barmouth before sunset.

Leaving Clan-y-wern, after a chat with the kindly hostess, we were directed to follow the railway line to Barmouth. It seems very common practice hereabouts for people to do this. One train passed us; it was curious to be so near. The line traverses some waste ground, partly bog, partly sand, partly ditch and wholly beautiful with wildflowers, among which were: the yellow iris, bullrushes, meadow sweet, loose-strife, red, white, and sea- campions, hemp agrimony, vetches, ling, hawkweeds, ragwort, and many others which made a beautiful foreground to the solemn mountains beyond. From the long bridge which spans the estuary, we had a splendid view both ways – westwards, the setting sun, red and glowing; eastwards, the estuary narrowing between ranges of hills and peaks of all tints of purple.

Saluting The Earl of Merioneth (also known as the Duke of Edinburgh)

Since 1956, youngsters have discovered the benefits of life adventures courtesy of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme and following the opening of the Farchynys Coach House in 1963, many Marians have gone on to earn their Gold Award on challenging expeditions in Snowdonia with the help of inspirational leaders like David Hart. I am glad to be able to share the plan for this hike dating from October 1986, and captured in the famous Farchynys logbooks. A great legacy for the Duke.

Golden Memories of the Lion Royal Hotel

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….

St. Jude, Dr.Williams and the Galloping Gourmet

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

Thin Edge

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

Dinner at Bontddu Hall Hotel, 1985

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.

Poems of Place: Abermaw

Celebrating National Poetry Day

August, 2013

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. 

November, 1968

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.