One of my most favourite places on the Mawddach is the ruined Methodist chapel and its cemetery in the foothills of Cader Idris. A place of silence and calm, it is also a place I associate with Geoffrey Paxton, quondam Head of Drama at Queen Mary’s who did so much to inspire a generation of actors and writers.
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’
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.
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
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.