A Combined Cadet Force Trek into the wilderness, a lesson in Welsh and a hidden café.

Another great tale from Mac Tonks

“We were on the three camp sites CCF trek, and arrived at our first destination without problem. We made camp, walked a couple of miles to the nearest village and had a drink in the pub…. great! We returned to camp as night fell and then into our tents and sleeping bags.

It was freezing, and we had to light our gas stove (no health & safety in those days) to keep warm; next morning we were up like larks but the stream that ran through our camp had, in places, frozen over.

We ate our breakfast rations and had a brew. Mr Do-it-by-the-Book decided he needed the toilet (there’s always one) whilst the rest chose to use proper toilets or wait till we returned to Farchynys. Off he went, entrenching tool over his shoulder and toilet paper in hand, looking a lot like one of Snow White’s helpers.

There, in the corner of the field by a dry stone wall he dug his toilet and proceeded to use the same, when suddenly the farmer, who had decided to visit us, popped his head over the wall, Bore da, he called to the squatting individual.

The farmer continued up to our party and asked if we were okay and then continued on his way. Our colleague returned and told us what had occurred: ‘The farmer said something to me in Welsh, but I do not know what it means –  it was Bore da.’

‘Ah that’s easy,  Bare a**ed’ we said.

I do not know how many Welsh Good Mornings he had before he realised what Bore da actually meant.

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The following day whilst moving on to the next camp, we were walking alongside a large forest when our leader, a great map reader, discovered a track running through the forest which would save us time if we followed it.  Into the forest we went: a dark foreboding place, the only light that fell was on the track we walked.

Around about two miles in, we spotted smoke and as it grew nearer we realised in was from a cabin that looked like something a frontiers-man had built. A closer inspection revealed that it was -of all things- a café. Inside, we all duly went and a middle-aged lady took our order for four breakfasts and four mugs of tea.

Each breakfast was served by a different young lady – all of whom were charming and we spent over a couple of hours chatting to the lady and her four daughters. The food was great, the company good but do you know that no other group ever found that place or even we on subsequent visits. Even the locals who we asked hadn’t a clue what we were talking about.

Did we imagine it?”

Mac Tonks QM 1962-67

Andrew remembers the very first arduous training camp at Farchynys

“I guess I must have been one of the first boys to visit Farchynys.

Certainly, I remember well the first Arduous Training camp…. Do they still do that?

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I think it was 25 miles a day with full pack and sleeping out. In any event, it was a tough one, with bad weather, and we eventually returned to the Coach House quite late. A few of us including Ian Stockley (aka Sox) and I, and possibly one other, decided to go to the pub in Bontddu or possibly hitch to Dolgellau.

In any event, we got back seriously late, to be met by Mr Burgess who instructed us to remain outside, eventually throwing down the keys to the minibus complete with its wooden slats and no sign of blankets. A fitful night followed, broken only by Sox falling asleep over the steering wheel and setting the horn off. Morning arrived, eventually, and we were allowed into the Coach House to feed and prepare for the 14-mile run.

I think it was there that I realised I could run a bit, as after all that, I believe I actually came third!”

Andrew Lees QM 1962-69

Editor’s Note: Ian Stockley led a highly characterful life after QM and died in 2018.

 

 

The Pokémon Professor remembers the MOG bed

“I was at QMGS from 1973 to 1980, and I was fortunate enough to get my name down for a number of trips to Farchynys, especially, when as a sixth former, I went as a helper taking first-year pupils for their first visit to the Coach House.

One particular memory was the MOG bed.

Some years before, an unknown pupil had painted the word ‘MOG’ in luminous paint on the wall by one of the upper bunks in the dorm. Even after painting over it, the word could still be seen as soon as the lights were turned out. When first-year pupils were taking their inaugural trip, we would talk on the minibus and assure them that they would be okay staying away from home…. unless they were the unfortunate one to get the MOG bed. What or who was MOG nobody knew, but the mention of it instilled fear in them. Until lights out on the first night of a trip, no one knew who was sleeping in the MOG bed, but as soon as the word became visible, the unfortunate was identified, and immediately he would be on the receiving end of a salvo of pillows.

There was another time when, after lights out, we made a collection of discarded cans by sending pupils down the fire-escape with torches to find cans which had been thrown out by pupils on previous visits. It was all done quietly, and I recall we soon had a collection of over sixty, which on returning to the dorm, we stacked on one of the dorm beams. Amazingly, we completed this task without alerting any masters until eventually, after hearing loud laughter and applause, Mr Yates came into the dorm to see what the noise was about. He walked down the dorm and stood beneath the beam looking up at the cans when one bright spark threw a pillow and hit the stack smack in the centre, bringing down a rain of cans upon him. Mr Yates wasn’t best pleased, but it served him right for catching a huge spider earlier that evening and putting it under the kids’ noses to scare them.”

 

 

 

 

Glenn Pugh

Scout and Pokémon Professor

QM 1973-80

Mac Tonks remembers the first Parents’ Open Day

 

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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.

 

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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.

Happy days indeed!

 

Mac Tonks QM 1962-67

Spring on Cadair Idris, April 2019

 

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”

The Second Master’s Passion for Locos

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“I’m not sure how many Marians know that David Fink, the school’s biographer, history teacher and Second Master was also a devoted railway enthusiast. A small group of us who visited the recently purchased Farchynys found out quickly enough when we went on a visit in early January 1965. We were a small party of geography students on a mini field trip to Mid Wales.

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The accommodation was pretty basic I remember, and the weather was bleak and sleeting. David Fink thought he would cheer us up and took us to the refreshment room at Machynlleth, to indulge his passion for Great Western Manor class steam locomotives and to get us some hot food, the best buffet steak and kidney pies in Wales. A real treat.  We saw the Cambrian Line locos firing up in the yard, then it was off to Bala Junction, scheduled for closure on 4th January, but retrieved for a few more weeks.

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We felt we were pioneers at Farchynys. Happy days, never to be repeated”

Nick Sanders QM 1958-65

The Hidden Basque Church of Southern Snowdonia

St Philip’s, Caerdeon launches a campaign to raise £120,000

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“Hiding in the mountains between Barmouth and Bontddu is a church of extraordinary individuality and importance.”

These are the opening words of the latest Director’s Report of Friends of Friendless Churches who with the The Petit Society  have been steadfast champions of this wonderful church that was closed in 2014.

Described variously as of rustic Mediterranean, Alpine or Basque influence, it sits curiously against the Cambrian backdrop of southern Snowdonia.

Bill Tilman, the famous explorer, rang the highly unusual bells here using a large wheel on the North side of the church, and Mrs Mai Clarke (Mai the Milk), one of The Coach House’s greatest friends now rests at the bottom of the steeply sloping churchyard with her husband Desmond.

St Philip’s was also a special favourite of John Anderson’s, Second Master and C.O. of the Combined Cadet Force who always made it up the hill- whatever the weather- to worship on Easter Sunday.

The church was originally a private chapel belonging to The Revd. W.E. Jelf who asked John Louis Petit, an old Oxford friend, to design it. Philip Modiano, the leading light of the Petit Society has just published a superbly illustrated guide to the man who was a one-man campaign against the Neo-Gothic which dominated so much of mid-nineteenth century ecclesiastical architecture.

The Friends of Friendless Churches have been approached about taking St Philip’s into  their care: “It comes with a large repair bill that we shall have to  raise: over £120,000 is needed to make this building watertight and safe.”

For more information or to get involved in the campaign, please do visit these websites:

Friends of Friendless Churches

Petit’s Tour of Old Staffordshire – The Book

 

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Polymathic Cake for The Mawddach’s Best Critic

There is no better walk than from Barmouth to Dolgellau, than Dolgellau to Barmouth!

One of the most quotable judgements on the beauty of the Mawddach estuary was made by John Ruskin, the eminent Victorian critic and polymath who was born exactly two hundred years ago today.

In his lifetime, his thought leading provocations won him the admiration of Gandhi, Proust and Tolstoy, but today, two centuries after his birth, we are also appreciating the brilliance of his foresight, the diversity of his creative instincts, and the strength of his commitment in putting into practice his ideas about the environment, work and society.

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The Guild of St. George, which today we might describe as a not-for-profit organisation, was created by Ruskin to challenge the excesses of Victorian capitalism and the obsessive pursuit of money. With the simple aim of creating a more thoughtful society, The Guild attracted many followers, including one of Barmouth’s greatest philanthropists, Mrs Fanny Talbot who of course gifted Dinas Oleu to the National Trust.

Ruskin described Fanny “as a motherly, bright, black-eyed woman of fifty with a nice married son who is a superb chess player. She herself is a very good one, and it’s her greatest indulgence to have a written game with me. She’s an excellent nurse, and curious beyond any magpie that ever was….”

In 1872, Mrs Talbot gifted twelve cottages on Barmouth Rock to Ruskin’s Guild, and one of the first tenants was Auguste Guyard, known locally as the Frenchman. Guyard shared Ruskin’s views about sustainable communities and had himself tried to create a commune modele in France.

In the Guild’s rulebook for tenants can be found the standing instruction that on the Master’s birthday, cake was to be eaten, and so 200 years after his birth, we will be wishing him happy returns of the day and eating some appropriately polymathical cake, but our celebratory Mawddach walk from Barmouth to Dolgellau will have to await our return to the Rock.

A Wonderful Relief Map of The Mawddach made by N.T. Sanders of Caersws

This wonderful artefact was displayed originally at the Lion in Dolgellau and for years at the George III at Penmaenpool. I am delighted to have saved it for the nation! It faithfully represents the land as surveyed in the 1/25,000 Ordnance series and has inspired many an adventure around this incomparable estuary.

The George III’s Note on the Map:

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