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.
A fellow enthusiast of all things Mawddach recommended Four Fields, Five Gates by Anne Loris Hill. It’s a wonderful story of how three women teachers renovated a ruined shepherd’s cottage in the hills above the Mawddach during and after the Second World war and their adventures with the landscape at Blaen-cwm-mynach. I particularly enjoyed the references to places I know so well like the George III at Penmaenpool and ‘the little station’ where the Anne and Mat arrived from Oxford.
Gruffydd was born in Dublin in 1055 to a Welsh father and a Norse mother.
He died in 1137 at the age of 81 – a remarkable feat in itself given the times in which he lived and the career he chose.
Jim described the various raids led by Gruffydd from Ireland against a variety of enemies, his incarceration in Chester castle for twelve years and his support for the Celtic Church.
Gruffydd also reapplied the laws of Hywel Dda and his reign brought a period of stability to Gwynedd.
The talk was followed by the AGM which concluded with the existing committee members being re-elected en block.
Refreshments, including cheese and wine, rounded off a very pleasant evening.The society’s next talk will be on 8 October.
Paul Walton will be speaking on the subject of ‘Marians on the Mawddach: An English School’s Love Affair’.
The talk will be held in the memorial hall and will begin at 7.30pm.”
The night before we were due to set out on the Three Camps Exercise, a pass-out was granted. The group was split into two parties. Several of us walked into Barmouth and decided to visit a local pub where the owner correctly judged our age and we were only allowed soft drinks. So, we did, and for the grand sum of 6d, drank Lime and Soda, played darts and enjoyed ourselves.
We returned to Farchynys, had a warm drink and so to bed.
Waking up early the next day, we were expecting to depart following breakfast, but we were held up and kept all together in the lounge area of The Coach House. A CCF NCO strolled amongst us asking if we had anything to declare or to admit. Lime and Soda and darts – not earth shattering, is it?
Colonel Phil Bull and John Burgess appeared after about an hour with a true hoard including cigarettes, matches, a dead slow worm (courtesy of Mr Do-it-by- the-Book from an earlier tale), and a large number of petrol pump price labels and other garage point of sale materials.
Before the days of electronic signage, the price at the pump was shown by means of circular price labels stuck onto the relevant pump. The other group had travelled to Bontddu and visited the pub. The owner there was less concerned about underage drinking and had served our colleagues. Unfortunately for them, this was where Phil Bull and John Burgess drank and before leaving Farchynys they always rang ahead to tell the owner they were on their way. Encouraged to leave by mine host, the boys walked back towards Farchynys and crossed the road to the local petrol station in Bontddu where they relieved the pumps of their price labels: thus, creating -at least temporarily- a petrol price-free zone on the Dolgellau to Barmouth road.
The perpetrators were duly punished, and we all got on with our Three Camp Exercise.
Note: In 1967, petrol was 5s 5d a gallon or 27p in today’s money.
One of the more curious landmarks of the Snowdonian landscape are rock cannon, known in Welsh as cerrig cannon.
Often found gathering moss at viewpoints like the one above located on the Farchynys headland, rock cannon are man-made firing points made with stone with holes specially drilled for discharging gunpowder – readily available of course in the slate quarries of the Harlech dome. Apparently, a powder-filled goose feather quill was used as a fuse.
Rock cannon explosions would mark important events such as the arrival of VIPs to the area or to celebrate national news such as the the accession of a new sovereign or the birth of a royal baby.
The example at Farchynys was probably created by the Bollington Mill owner Edmund Lomas Oliver who with his extended family spent many happy years on the Mawddach before the Great War.
For more information on rock cannon, see The Rock Cannon of Gwynedd by Griff R Jones, 2002