Wednesday, 30 June 2010


Originally built in 1283 and a sister castle to the one across the bay at Criccieth, Harlech Castle has the honour of being at the heart of the longest known seige in British history, which lasted seven years between 1461 and 1468 while under the command of Constable Dafydd ap Ieuan. The War of the Roses was raging and the Lancastrian forces inside the castle held out long after other garrisons had caved in. Eventually, famine forced their surrender to Lord Herbert of the Yorkist faction, but only after the negotiation of favourable terms.

This was not the first seige to be endured by Harlech Castle, but the length makes it memorable and the event was recounted in a famous Welsh song; "Men of Harlech" or "The March of the Men of Harlech" (in Welsh: Rhyfelgyrch Gwŷr Harlech), which has become the regimental march of several regiments associated with the country, including two from Canada and two from Australia. It has also featured in several films; most notably the 1964 account of an event in the South African Boer War "Zulu".

There are several versions of the song. To hear it in English, follow this link or if you fancy hearing the Welsh, as sung by the Treorchy male Choir, try here.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Harlech Castle

One last topic from last years holiday in Wales and this is Harlech Castle!

I've been past Harlech Castle many many times (on train, car and foot) and seen it from the shores of the Llyn Peninsula across the bay, but I had never actually been in it until last year and I was surprised to discover how much of the castle is actually remaining. The photo above shows the twin gate towers.

The walls are still strong enough to be walked...

and this is the view from the top of the tower.

Its elevated position makes it very defendable! This is the northern edge of Harlech. The units with skylights are on a new industrial estate and I think that the white building across the road is part of the local secondary school. The loop of road in front of it is definitely a bus stop; marked with the words SAFLE BWS.

The sports field has rugby posts (what else?!) and there is the inevitable caravan park alongside the far edge.

Spot the train in the station? It's heading north towards Porthmadog, then down the Llyn Peninsula (seen across the bay) to Criccieth and the end of the line in Pwllheli.

Good view, fascinating history; Harlech Castle was definitely more interesting than I expected it to be :)

Monday, 28 June 2010

Rheilffordd Ffestiniog

I think I confused a couple of people. When I say 'I'm still in North Wales', I should really say that my blog is still in North Wales; term has not yet ended here and I'm firmly stuck at home & work for another 4 weeks. The current pics are from last year. I began by telling a story about Yr Wyddfa and then just continued in Wales, which is a place I love!

My blog (and me in my head) is still firmly on the Blaenau Ffestiniog Railway which, after crossing the Cob and passing the engineering works at Boston Lodge, turns away from the sea and follows the line of the Afon Goedol, climbing steadily as it goes.

In total, the track climbs over 700 feet along its thirteen and a half mile length, including turning a complete spiral at Dduallt, purely in order to gain height. For a lot of its distance, the railway clings to the edge of the mountainside but towards the top, it passes through a number of short tunnels.

The railway is mainly single track, but the stations at Minffordd, Tan-y-Bwlch and Tan-y-grisiau allow up and down trains to pass. Tan-y-Bwych is also a water stop for up trains.

Just before the terminus at Blaenau Ffestiniog is the village of Tan y grisiau, with the hydro-electric power station fed by the waters of Llyn Ystradau. This was constructed in 1957 by the Central Electricity Generating Board and the creation of the lake caused the flooding of part of the railway track.

When the Ffestiniog Railway Company restored and re-opened the line, a deviation had to be built to skirt the shores of the lake. The line of the old trackbed is still visible, disappearing into the water and re-emerging to approach the mouth of the now plugged Old Moelwyn Tunnel.

'Tan y grisiau', is Welsh for "below the steps"; the steps being the stepped slate mine workings up the side of the mountain. On Christmas day 1918, the mine workings collapsed. Disaster was avoided only because all of the village were in chapel. An hour earlier, there would have been many hundreds of miners crushed under the fall of rocks.  

Approaching Blaenau, slate built Welsh cottages crowd the line, their gardens adding a little splash of colour to a very grey, slate dominated landscape...

and waterfalls tumble down the steep hillsides within a few feet of the carriages...

until the train reaches the top of the line.

If you are particularly interested in steam railways, especially the narrow gauge variety, you may like to look at the Rheilffordd Ffestiniog website.

And if you ever visit Wales, I would strongly recommend a ride; though you my prefer to park in Bleanau and travel downhill first. There's more to do during a stop off in Porthmadog.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

The Cob

And this is the view from the window of the Ffestiniog railway carriage as it crosses the Cob.

Firstly, looking inland over the 7000 acres of reclaimed Traeth Mawr, with its flocks of wandering sheep, to the rising mountains of the Snowdonia National Park.

The road can be seen running alongside the railway track, but at a lower level. Until March 2003, vehicles were required to pay a toll to cross the Cob. The price of one shilling was fixed in 1807 and it's decimal equivalent of 5p continued to be paid until the newly formed Welsh Assembly bought the Cob and scrapped the toll. The stone built toll booth can still be seen at the Boston Lodge end of the Cob.

Now looking on the seaward side at the mouth of the Afon Glaslyn which forms the entrance to the harbour, here seen at low tide.

The estuary is a haven for waterbirds, and twitchers come here to see such species as wigeons, curlews, and the rare grebe. At times the merlin can be seen hunting here in the Winter and a flock of whooper swans overwinters nearby. There are also plenty of the more common sea birds, like sandpipers and oystercatchers.

Saturday, 26 June 2010


I'm still in North Wales, and this is Porthmadog.

Porthmadog is a small coastal town with a population of around 4,200; a figure which increases significantly on a typical holiday season day as the town is flooded by visitors who trawl the craft and souvenir shops, eat in the cafes, go active at the local leisure centre, walk around the harbour or drool over all things steam train.

The town itself is not very old. It came into being after 1811, when William Madocks built the Cob. The Cob is a sea wall which successfully reclaimed a large area of Traeth Mawr for agricultural use. Traeth Mawr (Big Sands) was the tidal estuary of Afon Glaslyn (River Glaslyn), an area riddled with quicksands into which travellers were rather too regularly known to have sunk! Parts of Traeth Mawr had already been reclaimed piecemeal, including a chunk by Madocks on which the village of Tremadog now stands, but the Cob was on a much bigger scale and diverted the course of the river, which then proceded to carve out a new deep channel, creating a seaworthy natural harbour.

The Cob now holds the main road into Porthmadog from the south (A487), the track of the Blaenau Ffestiniog Railway and a cycle path which forms part of the Lôn Las Cymru, national cycle route.

The town itself grew up on the reclaimed land near the harbour, meeting the workforce needs of the wharfs built to ship the local slate being carried down from the quarries and mines of Ffestinniog and Llanfrothen; to the extent that, in 1873, over 116,000 tons were exported through Porthmadog in more than a thousand ships! The end of this trade effectively occured with the first world war, when the lucrative German slate market was lost, and the mainstay of the town today is the tourist industry.

Personally, I have a bit of a love hate relationship with Porthmadog. The town is in a beautiful setting, it has some great memories, the harbour is attractive, the smell and sound of the steam trains lure me in... but, it is just SO BUSY! The high street is like a slow crawling caterpillar of noisy, smelly vehicles and walking down the pavement is like being in Derby city centre on a Saturday morning.

In summary, Porthmadog is wonderful - in small doses!

Friday, 25 June 2010

Welsh Highland

It doesn't always rain in Wales. This is last year and the same campsite as the flooded picnic area. The mountain is called The Elephant. If I look carefully, I can see the resemblance.

The Elephant was the view from the front door of our tent. This was the view from the back...

The railway is the Welsh Highland, which claims to have the most powerful 2' gauge steam locomotives in the world.  It currently runs 23 1/2 miles from Caernarvon to Pont Croesor, snaking around the foot of Snowdon and over the Aberglaslyn Pass; but the intention is to open the last section of track down to Porthmadog and link up with the Blaenau Ffestiniog Railway, thus creating a 40 mile journey through some spectacular countryside in and around the Snowdonia National Park.

I loved having the railway so close, but I must confess that, as the guy ropes of our tent were right up against the foot of the barbed wire fence, the early morning train sounded like it was going to drive straight through our inner and it was just a tad disconcerting when we were listening while lying in bed :)

Thursday, 24 June 2010

W is for a wet week in Wales

So it rained! It may not be the best weather for a holiday, but it does have its up side. Without the rain, we would never have seen scenes like these...

The waterfalls on Yr Wyddfa were in good flow... was the River Glaslyn near Beddgelert.

The force of the water was incredible.

And back at Betws Garmon, there was a small lake where the campsite picnic area was meant to be.

Typical that the sun should shine on the day we went home :)

I'm linking this post to Jenny Matlock's Alphabe-Thursday. To read more w contributions, click here.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010


The Sygun copper mine is a mile from Beddgelert in Snowdonia, within the Gwynant Valley and close to Snowdon itself.

The origins of the mine are unclear. Remains of a Roman fort have been discovered nearby, so it entirely possible that  minerals were extracted in their day. It is a matter of record that seventy inhabitants of Beddgelert were employed there in the eighteenth century, and in 1836, ore extracted from Sygun had been sold for £2,800, warrenting the building of a crushing mill at nearby Afon Glaslyn.

Most of the copper in Sygun was extracted by drilling bore holes, which were packed with gunpowder and ignited. Pillars of rock were left to support the roof and wooden floors and stairs were built for access. The blasted rock was loaded into large buckets called kibbles and then transported out of the mine on a metal tramway.

The mine changed hands several times and continued to be productive until its eventual closure in 1903. If you have seen the film 'The Inn of the Sixth Happiness', charting the life of Gladys Aylward, you may be interested to know that Sygun was briefly re-opened in 1958 to create the set of the Chinese village.

After that, it lay quiet until 1983, when it was restored in preparation for public opening as an attraction in 1986.

For me, the most attractive and interesting feature of the mine was the stalectites and stalegmites, caused by the dripping of iron ore filled water through the cracks and crevices in the rocks. They created beautiful orangy-brown curtains.

And the reward for having climbed the 45 metres of stairways, is the glorious view down the valley...

...perhaps a little more visible on a dry day :)

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Criccieth castle

As I've strayed into Wales, I'll stay there for a while. Why not? It's one of my favourite places on earth :)

Criccieth is a small town of just under 2,000 inhabitants, the majority of whom are actually Welsh; and Welsh is the predominant language spoken. The town is on the south coast of the Llyn Peninsula, which sticks out into the sea just below the Isle of Anglesay (Ynys Mon).

This is Criccieth castle, strategically placed on its own rocky promontory overlooking both town and sea.

You really can't miss it as you drive down the south coast of the peninsula. A bend in the road (just past the layby with the good views of Moel y Gest) and there it is; standing proud on the skyline. It's been over twenty years since the summers when I used to be on team at the Abersoch Holiday Mission a little further down this coast, but the sight of Criccieth castle still gives me the tingle of excitement which I associate with my Abersoch days. It's a 'nearly there' kind of thrill, which is totally unfair on Criccieth because the whole family had two excellent camping holidays here when the boys were little and this summer will be the sixth consecutive year that one or both boys have been on Pathfinder/CYFA activity camp in the town.

The castle itself was built in three phases over a relatively short period of time in the 13th Century. There is some dispute as to who exactly built what, but the most common consensus is that the first two phases were constructed by native Welshmen Llywelyn ab Iorwerth and Llywelyn ap Gryffydd, and then additions were made by Edward I & II.

The original purpose of the castle was to strengthen the power base of Llywelyn ab Iorwerth in North Wales, particularly against the growing encroachment of the English (still a perrenial problem). The location of the castle by the sea would have allowed for supplies to be brought in to feed a Welsh garrison and a lookout on the castle walls would have been able to see from the mountains of Snowdonia to the far curve of the peninsula, as well as across Cardigan Bay to the castle at Harlech.

The inner ward with it's fortified gatehouse and murder holes was added to by Llywelyn ap Gryffydd who built an outer ward with a dividing series of courtyards, all of which would have to be crossed before reaching the inner gate. In addition, his new outer gate was defended by a large rectangular tower, two, or possibly three, storeys high.

In spite of all this fortification, in 1282-83, Criccieth castle fell to Edward I and English rule began. To emphasise his dominance in the area, he immediately began to refortify the castle, adding an extra rectangular tower and rebuilding the gatehouse towers built by the Welsh.

The castle came under seige in 1295 during the rebellion of Madog, but although both this one and Harlech came under serious threat becasue of their distance from any other English stronghold, supplies were brought in from Ireland by sea and eventually a relief force arrived to supplement the existing garrison and put down the rebellion. Among other things, the relief force brought 18 crossbowmen and 2,500 crossbow bolts to be shared out between  the two castles.

The military significance of Criccieth castle came to an end with the advent of Owain Glyndwr, who, in 1404 captured the town, sacked the castle and set it on fire.

Today, what remains of Criccieth castle is managed by Cadw, which is the Welsh Assembly Government's historic environment division, and it's well worth a visit; even in the rain :)

Monday, 21 June 2010

Yr Wyddfa

I posted this photograph yesterday and said that there was a story behind it...

The view is taken looking back down Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) towards the two lakes (Llyn Llydaw) near the bottom of the Miner's Path.

Two summers ago, Ben went on a camp in Criccieth and Mark and I took our tent to a beautiful site at Betws Garmon, between Caernarvon and Beddgelert. We planned to stay a week, doing a variety of activities, including climbing two mountains; Snowdon and Tryfan.

For the first few days, it rained. We visited Criccieth castle in the rain! We visited Sygun Copper mines in the rain! And we travelled on the Ffestinniog Railway in the rain! Then, one morning, we woke up and it wasn't raining.

Into the car went the rucksacks, food, waterproofs, boots, emergency stuff etc and off we set. We parked at Pen y Pass, booted up and started to climb. It was certainly harder work than I had remembered it being the last time I climbed the mountain; Mark was definitely tempering his pace to suit mine! Mind you, around twenty-two years had elapsed, so I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised. Still, the scenery was beautiful, the air was fresh and I was having a great time. Most important of all, it wasn't raining...

That is, it wasn't raining yet! About nine tenths of the way up, I felt a spot, then a spatter and then it was a scramble to don full waterproofs before the heavens opened! Undaunted, we slogged on to the top. No cafe open, it was closed for refurbishment that summer (Mark has been up twice since and tells me it's very smart now!). I think we stayed on the top for about 30 seconds max! The camera didn't even come out of the rucksack. No point; unless to capture the three metre visibility of grey!

And so we began the descent. I can't remember how long it took us to climb back down, but I know that it continued to rain steadily all of the way. Good waterproofs notwithstanding, by the time we regained the car, we both looked as though we had taken a fully clothed bath!

Unfortunately, life in a tent doesn't present many opportunities for drying wet stuff unless the weather is obliging; and it wasn't. Mark's boots sat on the dashboard of the car for three days before they were properly dry again. As a result, the only other fine day of the whole week was spent on the beach, and Tryfan never was climbed. Mark will put that right before long, I'm sure!

Please don't let me leave you with the impression that I was miserable. I wouldn't take back that day for anything. It was great!

And, just in case you think I'm exaggerating about the rain, this is the camp site picnic area on the day we left to come home...

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Derby Peregrines

A quick extra post for those people who remember me telling you about the Peregrine Falcon chicks on Derby Cathedral Tower.

Over the past week, both chicks have fledged, making their first flights from the tower. They are now roving around the area and being spotted perched on various high points on or above buildings. To see lots of brilliant still photographs, plus a video of the moment of take off for fledgling number two, follow this link to the Derby Peregrines blog. (The moment of take off is wonderful!)

One hundred things

And now for something completely different (as they used to say in some old TV programme or other, vaguely remembered from when I was young).

I saw this on a friend's blog and decided to have a go; just as a bit of fun. The photo relates to one of the hundred. Not difficult to suss which one :)

Also, I have to confess to having Anglicised it a bit. If you want to see the original on Eden House Update, click here.

How much have I done ?
If you're interested, copy and paste these 100 things to your blog. Highlight the ones you've done, in colour. (I've highlighted in yellow: random remarks in red)

1. Started your own blog

2. Slept under the stars (Only in a tent)

3. Played in a band

4. Visited a tropical island

5. Watched a meteor shower

6. Given more than you can afford to charity

7. Been to Disneyland/world

8. Climbed a mountain (Several, over the years, mostly in Wales or the Lakes.)

9. Held a bird of prey

10. Sang/played a solo

11. Bungee jumped

12. Visited Paris

13. Watched a lightning storm at sea (Over Morecambe Bay. Very spectacular it was too!)

14. Taught yourself an art from scratch

15. Adopted a child

16. Had food poisoning (Puke - rather too recently for comfort!)

17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty

18. Grown your own vegetables

19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France

20. Slept on an overnight train

21. Had a pillow fight

22. Hitch hiked

23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill

24. Built a snow fort (Strictly speaking, it was a castle, but as we haven't really had forts in England since the time of the Celts & Romans, I've counted it as an equivalent.)

25. Held a lamb

26. Bathed in a river

27. Run a Marathon

28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice (Would you count a punt in Cambridge?)

29. Seen a total eclipse

30. Watched a sunrise or sunset

31. Hit a home run (Is that the same as a rounder? Near enough - I'm counting it!)

32. Been on a cruise

33. Seen a major waterfall in person

34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors

35. Lived as part of a religious community (not on holiday)

36. Taught yourself a new language

37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied (This is really difficult. Of course it'd be nice to have more money, but I am satisfied with what I have and don't think that having more would actually make me feel more satisfied.)

38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person

39. Gone rock climbing

40. Seen Michelangelo’s David in person

41. Sung karaoke (not using the machine & stuff, but yes if you count a good old fashioned sing song)

42. Seen a geyser erupt

43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant

44. Visited Africa

45. Walked on a beach by moonlight

46. Been transported in an ambulance

47. Had your portrait painted (By a child for the school website)

48. Gone deep sea fishing

49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person

50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris

51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling  (Only the snorkeling part of this though)

52. Kissed in the rain

53. Played in the mud

54. Gone to a rock concert

55. Been in a movie (Not exactly a movie - A training video)

56. Visited the Great Wall of China

57. Started a business

58. Taken a martial arts class

59. Visited Russia

60. Served at a soup kitchen

61. Volunteered for a charity

62. Gone whale watching

63. Been given flowers for no reason

64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma (I'd do so very happily if they could invent a method which didn't involve needles!!)

65. Gone sky diving or parachuting

66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp

67. Bounced a check (cheque)

68. Flown in a helicopter

69. Saved a favorite childhood toy

70. Visited the pyramids

71. Eaten Caviar (Disgusting stuff!)

72. Pieced a quilt (needles again!)

73. Stood in Tiananmen Square

74. Toured the Everglades

75. Been fired from a job

76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London

77. Broken a bone

78. Been on a speeding motorcycle (Thankfully, not for long!)

79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person

80. Published a book

81. Visited the Vatican

82. Bought a brand new car

83. Walked in Jerusalem

84. Had your picture in the newspaper

85. Read the entire Bible

86. Visited inside your nation's seat of government

87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating

88. Had chickenpox

89. Saved someone’s life

90. Sat on a jury

91. Met someone famous

92. Joined a book club

93. Lost a loved one

94. Made a baby

95. Visited a famous battlefield

96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake

97. Been arrested

98. Owned a cell phone  (That would be a mobile then!) :)

99. Been stung by a bee (Actually, it was a wasp, but 3 separate times, so I'm going to count it for the pain content!)

100. Built a house out of mud! (Not a real one.)

I highlighted 44, including a handful which I would prefer not to have had to highlight. If you want a go, just for a bit of fun, copy and paste. Hope you enjoy the game.

BTW Did you spot the number which the photo relates to? Not too difficult was it?! Actually, there's a story behind that photo. I might just share it tomorrow :)

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Back to the beginning

Dropping back down into the woods, there was more evidence of people. Children have obviously had a good time here, swinging over the water. It's just the sort of thing I loved to do when I was a child. I wonder how many have dripped back to their cars soaking wet, being chunnered at by their parents!

And one more photo of rhodedendrons to finish the walk.

The narrow lane in which I was standing to take this photograph, runs between the Ramblers Retreat and a house named Earls Rock and formed the very beginning and end of our walk. The lake pictured is marked as private property and quite clearly belongs to Earls Rock!

This is a slightly darker picture from the beginning of our walk (before the sun graced us with its presence). I'm looking up the lake and you can see the house at the end.
What a beautiful place to live! And I would SO have a kayak to take on that lake - and maybe a rowing boat for a hot summer afternoon, to relax with a good book and a glass of something refreshing! Anyone care to join me?

Friday, 18 June 2010

Old stone walls and bluebells

I think that this particular dry stone wall could do with a wee bit of attention, but aren't the bluebells gorgeous! I particularly love the little pools of sunlight.

I couldn't resist adding a link to YouTube for this children's poem, The Old Dry Stone Wall by Ann Perrin. It's just the kind of thing which we imagine children would think when looking at a wall like this. Enjoy :)

I wonder what might live in this one!

Thursday, 17 June 2010

V is for view

Having recovered from the unexpected scare, laughed about it and followed them across the field, we decided it was time for our packed lunch; and can you think of a more delightful spot to eat in? What a beautiful view!

The hills rising in the far distance are the Staffordshire moorlands, while between us and them is the Churnet Valley, with its mixture of woodlands and farms. The meadow is full of buttercups and cow parsley and the dry stone wall separating the fields is a typical feature of the upland British landscape.

Dry stone walling is a dying art, but my grandad and uncle were/are good dry stone wallers. There is a lot more involved than you might think and a well built dry stone wall will last for a couple of centuries, in spite of the absence of any kind of cement. The shape and line of the wall have to be carefully plotted and each stone needs to go in just the right place to achieve its purpose. It is said that, once picked up, you should never put a stone back down until you have found the perfect place for it.

This dry stone wall is limestone, being the underlying rock of the White Peak area of the Peak District National Park, but alternatives are used in other parts of Britain.

I'm linking in this post with Jenny Matlock's Alphabe-Thursday. For more 'V' contributions, click here.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

The view with the hidden surprise

Out of the woods and across a field, we joined the track which led from the small village of Newton to Threapwood farm. Once again, the rhodedendrons were in evidence as we turned towards the village.

Just short of Newton, we turned aside onto a footpath which cut across fields and eventually arrived at this stile...

This was the best viewpoint in our walk. The Churnet Valley stretched away into the distance, with fields and rolling hills basking under the warm sunshine.

But not everything was basking. As we climbed over the stile, we surprised a whole line of sheep which were pressed right up against the fence, lying in the narrow band of shadow. I don't know who jumped most; us or them :)

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Bright yellow buttercups

While yesterdays rhodedendrons were most likely the result of selective planting by the Earls of Shrewsbury (probably from the fifteenth one onwards), what waited for us in the fields where we emerged was purely down to nature. 

I love to see a field full of bright yellow buttercups. They remind me of so many things from childhood; the daft little game that we used to play where we decided whether or not someone liked butter by holding a buttercup flower under their chin and looking at the reflection; making daisy chains (don't ask me why buttercups should remind me of daisy chains - they just do!) and, above all else, Parwich Wakes week.

A 'Wakes' is like a village carnival with a fancy dress parade, hill run, travelling fair and all kinds of competitions. It lasts a full week and the one at Parwich (a small village in Derbyshire) was an integral part of my childhood. Somewhere, I still have the certificates for winning the fancy dress competition in successive years; my mother being very creative and good with a needle and cotton. I also have memories of the penny slot machines with the pull down handles (well before the days of the gaudy flashing lights and electronic beeping!) and also, the swingboats. I'm not even going to try to explain swingboats. Much better to take a look here!

But why do buttercups remind me of the Wakes? Because the bungalow where my grandparents lived, on the edge of the village, was backed by a field and, when Wakes week came around, that field was always full of bright yellow buttercups!

Monday, 14 June 2010

Of Scot's pine and rhodedendron

Once through the fields, we followed the old carriage road around the side of the hill and turned off to weave up through the woods again; this time, surrounded by the tall straight trunks of the Scots Pine, which towered above us as we climbed.

The path was edged with ferns and brambles; a whole carpet of green, in the midst of which were beautiful patches of bright pink and purple rhodedendrons.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Old Furnace

These are the cottages at the hamlet of Old Furnace, referred to yesterday. Further research tells me that the furnace which operated on this site was the first in the north and one of the earliest in England. It was built by Lawrence Loggin from Leicestershire when, after the death of the sixth Earl of Shrewsbury in 1590, the mineral extraction rights were opened up to outside interest by his widow Bess of Hardwick.

 The stone to build the furnace was brought three miles, from Hollington, by mule, down an ancient trackway which still runs below the field next to the cottages.

From where this photograph was taken, the old packhorse trail is in the darkness approximately eight feet below the trees on the left.
Today, the cottages at Old Furnace are private dwellings, but the annex (the roof of which is just visible to the extreme right of the first picture) is let as a holiday cottage and has been awarded the Environmental Quality Mark by the Peak District National Park Authority, in recognition of the work done by the owners to aid conservation in the area.

If I didn't live in the area, I would consider it a lovely place for a holiday!

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Industrial heritage

Dimmingsdale has not always been the quiet retreat  it is today. Like many of our rural beauty spots, it has an industrial heritage. The earliest were woodcutters, harvesting wood from the forest, corders to chop and shape it to an appropriate size and colliers who built and tended the specially constructed, oxygen-free fires to produce charcoal.

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, a smelting industry grew up, with stone being brought in from what is now the Peak District. The furnace in Dimmingsdale would smelt the rock to extract the lead and iron ore it contained. The locally produced charcoal fed the fires, and water from the streams was used to power the bellows and hammers. The scene would have born little resemblance to how it is today!

Throughout this time, the land had been owned by successive Earls of Shrewbury. In the early nineteenth century, the fifteenth Earl of Shrewbury took up residence. By now the industry had died, leaving the valley to return to its natural state and, seeing the beauty of the area, he built the Towers at Alton.

Although the forest is once again full of natural beauty, as we walked, we could spot evidence of the industrial past; the many criss-crossing trackways, the names of the dwellings at the valley head (Old Furnace Farm, Furnace farm, Old furnace - a bit of a clue there then :) ), the damming of the river and this water channel...

The grooved ramp coming in from the left was the final section of a flat bottomed trough which appeared through a drystone wall. This was just below 'Old Furnace' and was obviously feeding water back into the stream after its power had been harnessed.

I'm finding it interesting to reflect on how, so much of what I take at face value, has been shaped and changed by the past.