A Cyclist’s Love Affair with Wales and the Mawddach

The Editor is delighted to feature this wonderful memoir by the celebrated champion international cyclist and rally and racing car driver, Peter Procter.

Peter was born in Yorkshire in 1930, and as the nephew of Anne Loris Hill visited Blaen-cwm-mynach several times during and after the Second World War. Here he describes how it was on the trips to the Mawddach that he developed his climb crunching prowess in the saddle which helped him win the British championship in 1951.

Peter’s autobiography Pedals and Pistons is eagerly anticipated.

By Peter Procter

As a young boy, I spent several wonderful hot summers during the Second World War at my Aunt Anne’s rented farmhouse, Blaen-y-Cwm, high in the hills above the Mawddach in a hidden valley, the memories of which have stayed with me for the rest of my life. Overlooked by the mountains of Y Garn and Diffwys and facing Cadair Idris, the house was at the centre of a wonderful adventure playground for me: Bathing in the stream that passed close to the house, which had no running water other than a sink in the kitchen, fishing in the lake above, collecting bilberries and climbing mountains close by are the fond memories that have stayed with me throughout a long life. 

Living in Yorkshire and close to the Yorkshire Dales towards the end of the war, my best friend Edie Wright and I would ride our heavy cycles, generally used for going to school, to venture into the Dales, often staying overnight and camping rough, sometimes sleeping in a barn on top of the hay. Still, we often thought about cycling to Wales. One day I persuaded my friend to join me on what turned out to be a great adventure and the renewal of my love for Wales.

We were both fifteen years old when we planned our first “tour”. It looked so straightforward: Draw a line on the map and follow the nearest route to it. All those wonderful sounding names would appear, such as Betws-Y-Coed, Blaenau Ffestiniog, and many others, although I was familiar with some such as Dolgellau and Penmaenpool and I even learnt to say the longest name in Wales, Llanfairpwllgwyngyll etc, which I can still repeat today. We would learn very quickly that the old saying the longest way round is the shortest way home is very true when living in the hills and mountains, as our routes would always appear to take us over the steepest hills. 

Starting near Bradford in West Yorkshire, our route would take us to Chester -80 miles, where we would stay in a Youth Hostel (YH), then on to Llanberis via  Caernarfon -90 miles (B&B) -then Dolgellau (B&B) for two nights – a barn somewhere between Dolgellau and a Warwick B&B, total 130 miles – thence Lincoln (YH) 89 miles- York (YH) 80 miles and finally home 42 miles, a total of some 550 miles plus many more on our days off.

We were determined to visit castles on our tour, so our route included Conway, Caernarfon, Harlech, Warwick and Lincoln, so we had undoubtedly educated ourselves in so many ways.   

We started in bad weather that never left us for the whole trip, and our heavy bikes, with hefty saddlebags attached, were not ideal for long days in the saddle, and we were very late arriving in the youth hostel in Chester. A strong westerly wind and rain slowed our following day’s ride to Llanberis, but a three-night stop with climbs up Mount Snowden was a great joy. We were surprised to find our pub B&B allowed us to drink beer, and we would both remember feeling very queasy on fish and chips and a pint of beer at 15 years old: a lesson well learnt.

We had arranged to stay with my aunt at Blaen-Y-Cwm for two nights, and it was so good to see the farm again and show my friend all the places I had explored in the past. My Aunt fed us so well with food that replenished our spirits, as food in 1939 was rationed and not very good in pubs and Cafes. For one meal, all we could afford on our tight budget was egg on toast which turned out to be dried egg powder, possibly the worst food I have ever eaten. We were often wet through with the constant rain, and I remember our “dinner” in our stay in the barn was a loaf of bread and a small tin of potted fish paste- part of the tapestry of life, I suppose!

Early in our adventure, we came to realise that we had plotted a route that was frequently the shortest but often over the worst terrain, so our progress was slower than it could have been, but we had to make the best of it. However, towards the end of our adventure and leaving Lincoln, we faced a howling gale and an 80 miles ride to York. Although on a tight budget but knowing that Lincoln was on a good train line to York, we spent our last money on rail tickets and arrived in York in style. I always remember the youth hostel as it had Georgian windows with their many glass pains, and the task we were given was to clean all the downstairs glass before we could leave the following day. However, realising that this was unfair and would have taken hours, we sneaked off when we felt we had done our penance to ride home.  

Tired but much fitter than when we had set out, we were determined to visit Wales again, and so for the following few Easter holidays, we would return, but on a new bike. 

Little did I realise it at the time, but these adventures would be the foundation for a short but quite successful career as an international cyclist years later, but that is another story. 

On our return, I started to think about a change of transport, for I realised that my old school cycle was not ideal for serious cycling, and having started working, I raised funds to buy a beautiful Claud Butler tandem. Edie and I soon found that we could ride much longer distances, and so, on our next visit to Wales, we missed out the stop in Chester and rode straight to Llanberis. The Easter break was only four days long, so we just revisited some of our favourite places in the time we had, and we would repeat this for some years. We never forgot those happy and carefree days of our youth and about which we would often reminisce years later.

There came a time in my life when the love affair with Wales came a little under pressure when I had to do two years of National Service in the Army—stationed at first at Oswestry where I had to carry out eight weeks of “square bashing”, as the drill was called. Then it was on to Rhyl for continuation training for the Korean War. Many nights were spent sleeping rough on manoeuvres on the hills above Tonfanau, and although it was hard work at times, I have to say I loved it. After all the training, I was posted to Formby in Lancashire, and I found that all that cycling in Wales had paid off, and I spent the next two years in the saddle racing for the Army.

Since those days, I have visited Wales many times, and I have taken my wife to show her Blaen-Y-Cwm, although not for some years now.  I am so grateful to my Aunt Anne for introducing me to Wales and that beautiful secret valley over the Mawddach.     

11 November 2021                                                                                                                                                                                                               

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….

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. 

The Engineers of the Mawddach

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….

Tragedy at Bontddu Hall

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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.

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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.

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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….