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.

The Rock Cannon of Farchynys

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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

 

First Night, November 3rd, 1968

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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Minibuses : Ancient and Modern

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A brand new minibus  being handed over to Richard Langton, the Head  by Andrew Donaldson and Seema Sikka of the Queen Mary’s Association who raised £22000 to fund it and rather splendid it is too. A far cry from the from the first minibus of early days of Farchynys as this extract form the book illustrates:

From the very first meeting of the QMGS Welsh Centre Management Committee in April 1963, transport was on the agenda. “Possible options to be explored for transferring parties to the Mawddach included by train, by hired bus or by school transport.” Fairly immediately it became clear that a minibus was the only feasible option and looking into the capital cost of hiring, buying and insuring one became a key task of the Committee. After test drives of three alternative models, a Commer 14-seater with slatted seats became the favoured choice and was purchased for £836 3s 6d. Thus, did White-Knuckle Coachways come into existence.

  As a valuable new asset, a standing order was passed that “no boy in the school would be allowed to drive except in the event of absolute emergency”. That didn’t stop boys playing with the letters of the Minibus and rebranding it as a Rommec. QM has owned many minibuses over fifty years and the White-Knuckle Coachways rides have become a defining part of the experience.