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.
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.”
In 1963, Phil Bull volunteered several of us to attend Farchynys to assist at the first Parents’ Open Day. The drive was, as usual, uneventful with the obligatory stop at the tea rooms in Welshpool – always worth a trip on its own.
On arrival, guess what, we had heavy rain, just like we did on all subsequent visits, here was coined the legendary phrase “Is it raining at Farchynys? – Yes, it farchyn ys.”.
We bedded down for the night, eagerly looking forward to the next morning, awoke early to a good breakfast and a tidy-up, to await the arrival of the parents.
I was assigned car park duties in the field at the front of the house, which the heavy rain had turned into a bog.
Parents with cars were slipping and getting stuck in the quagmire, and I was getting soaking wet pushing cars in the chaos: I wished I was back in Walsall.
Apart from this, the day went well and was followed by many subsequent visits, including CCF long weekends camping in local farm fields.
I also remember the delights of the café hidden in the forest that was run by a mother and her four daughters; the night of the horrendous gale when one section got lost in the wilds, and two others had to spend a night in a barn; and the round-the-estuary race for cadets, when I posted a record time.
For more than fifty years, Queen Mary’s people have been venturing in the mountains of Snowdonia from their base at Farchynys. The most recent pictures featured here in colour consist of a group of avid adventurers preparing for their imminent trekking challenge in the Himalayas.
Chris, an Oxford friend who helped me with some research on outdoor education for the book shared these photographs of his trip and this note:
“Prompted by your work on your book last year we made our first camper trip of the season to Snowdonia this week. Although, we thought it spring, on the Mawddach, the season was still Winter. Here are some photos of us and friends en route, we actually completed the circuit of Cadair Idris Cwm which was a first for us”
It is fifty years to the day since I first saw the Mawddach glinting in the late Autumn sun. Our trusty blue Commer minibus, complete with transversal bench seating had successfully navigated the pass at Dinas Mawddwy and the hair-pin riffs of Fiddler’s Elbow, and with the aluminium catering trays of Mrs Watkins’ fried fish and baked-bean-splattered mash still skidding around our feet, had come to a temporary stop in Bontddu to pick up the milk. Shortly afterwards, we had arrived at the majestic but dangerously uneven main drive to Farchynys.
I hadn’t been lucky enough to visit during my first year at Queen Mary’s, but aged 12 and accelerated into the Alpha stream, I was one of a party of third formers visiting the Coach House under the charge of George Brudenell, our easy going Year Master and his Physics Department chum, the ever-wry Ernie Watson. One of them pointed out the two granite and slate buildings perched half hidden and forbidding on the hill to our left of the Dolgellau to Barmouth road. Then, with assorted bumps and skids-on-gravel, the minibus had made it up the drive, passed the rhododendrons of the Hall and stopped outside the Coach House.
No sooner had the front door been unlocked then I experienced the Coach House’s unique aroma: a mélange of damp, overcooked vegetable and burned carbon. As the more experienced hands raced upstairs to secure the best bunk positions in the dorm, others were pushing refectory tables together to make one giant table tennis court, while an enterprising Prefect was opening up the weekend tuck-shop, packed for travel in a large biscuit tin. This contained the Kit Kats, Mars Bars and Wagon Wheels necessary to maintain morale over the coming hours.
The darkness came, and for boys from an industrial town, this was a darkness absolute and rare -the kind that torches and fireworks are made for. But for now, it was time for supper and the return of the fried fish, mash and baked beans which like us had made it all the way from Sutton Road in Walsall.
It was later that evening, after the group had done the washing-up that I made the first strategic error of my Marian career. I casually let it be known that in the morning we should check the post-box as there might be something for me as it was my birthday. The possibility of receiving some extra spending money had clouded my better judgement and I soon discovered that sharing this piece of information was not conducive to either a peaceful or an undisturbed night’s sleep in the dorm. It was an unforgettable first night at Farchynys.
Today I’d like to share a wonderfully evocative piece of writing describing some adventures during the July heat on the Mawddach written by DoubleSkinnyMacchiato, the celebrated coffee blogger – who in the interests of full disclosure also happens to be my daughter, Bex: