Visitors to Isfryn often ask us for ideas of things to do, and we’re always happy to share ideas.. If you’re coming to stay and you’d like a fascinating and unusual way to spend a day, then I’d recommend visiting Yr Hen Efail forge for a day with Lez. It’s at Aberllefenni, just 5 miles from Isfryn via a beautiful and mountainous road through the forest. (The landlord of a local pub describes this road as ‘a bit American Werewolf’! If you travel it in the dark, as we do often, you can see what he means…). The forge is on the site of the old slate quarry, and continues to serve its original purpose (‘Yr Hen Efail’ means ‘the old forge’ in English). Lez is a man of many skills, being a former stone mason as well as a blacksmith. He is an excellent teacher – clear and patient in his explanations, and well able to deal with someone like me who has no experience of anything remotely like blacksmithing! His Introductory day lasted for around 5 hours, and in that time, I learned some serious respect for the art and craft of blacksmithing and had a very enjoyable time to boot.
I think this is a particularly rewarding experience because at the end of it, you emerge with a product of your labours that has genuine value and will last more than a lifetime. I came out with a poker for our fire. It was laughingly dubbed ‘the dinky poker’ because of all the scars left on it by my wildly inaccurate hammer skills, but I loved that, because it’s the very essence of something personal and handmade. If you’d like to include a day’s Introduction to Blacksmithing, in your holiday, you’ll need to contact Lez and book in advance. You can find out more at his Facebook page, The Celtic Forge.
My finished poker is on the right. the one on the left is a splendid thing made by Lez which we’ve owned for some time. A bit beyond my skill levels!
Over the last few months we’ve been ticking off the local walks in the walking guides we leave in Isfryn. Two of the classics are the Old Precipice Walk and the New Precipice Walk. Between Christmas and New Year we did the Old Precipice Walk in perfect sunny winter conditions and then nipped over to park near the middle of the New Precipice Walk (which we’d walked back in November) for some sunset photos.
The Old Precipice Walk, close to Dolgellau, is a mostly flat circular walk of about 3 miles that loops high above the Mawddach river providing stupendous views of the Coed y Brenin forest and the Mawddach estuary before returning via the beautiful Llyn Cynwch.
As you can see, we didn’t have a bad day for it!
The walk gets its name from the fact that it was originally opened in 1890 and it was a popular walk for the late victorians. I wouldn’t say there are many precipices per se, but drop on the right down to the Mawddach river is pretty steep.
As you continue round on the (rocky) path the views of the Mawddach Estuary get better and better…
As the route swings back towards the car park you pass Llyn Cynwch
It was so still that it was actually hard to work out where trees stopped and reflections started…
As we still had time we decided to drive over to the best viewpoint on the New Precipice Walk for some sunset photos. The ‘New’ is only a couple of miles away from the ‘Old’ on the other side of the river and a bit further downstream towards Barmouth. I’ll do a post on the rest of the walk another time. The whole of the New Precipice Walk is longer and more strenuous than the ‘Old’ but the highlight of the route is another high level traverse with yet more stunning views of the Mawddach Estuary – you can drive to this section of the walk so you can easily nip up for the views:
Today’s walk was to Pistyll Gwyn ( The White Gusher!) waterfall deep in a hidden valley above nearby Llanymawddwy. It’s the first day when we’ve walked with snow on the higher peaks around us, and a small amount of icy snow where we walked. Winter is coming!
This is our objective at the head of the valley
Along the way, we encountered this strange spawn on the wet ground and the internet seemed to hint that it’s unfertilised frog spawn, but the time of the year is wrong for this, so the research continues….
The options for this walk are a relatively easy 2 mile there and back route to the bottom of the falls (although it does include a rather interesting crossing over a stream which features stepping stones and a piece of scaffolding pipe, fixed horizontally between the banks to hang on to!). As we’ve had a couple of days of heavy rain/ hail/snow in the hills, the crossing was about as exciting as you’d want it to be! Sadly, we forgot to photograph it. When you get to the bottom of the falls, you have the option to add another mile to the trip and take a steep and narrow sheep-path up the side of the falls to the top. We took this option and it was well worth it, even with a rather slippery, muddy descent, some of which I accomplished in a very undignified sitting position as I was favouring a somewhat injured knee! VERY muddy waterproofs are even now in the wash…
The guide book that we have in Isfryn recommends waterfall walks for rainy days as the waterfalls will be at their best. However, this does mean that everything underfoot is VERY wet and there is a certain amount of bog-trotting and crossing small streams guaranteed.
On a clear day, the view down the valley would be lovely. The picture doesn’t give a true impression of how steep it is.
We really enjoyed this walk, and it’s definitely one that we’ll repeat.
It has been the most glorious autumn with wonderful weather, and we’ve done our best to make the most of it by walking every day. Lots of our guests come here to walk, but not everyone wants long, strenuous days in the mountains. We have a variety of walking guides in Isfryn, several of which have shorter routes with no high mountain ascents, but still offering the chance to get into the hills for a few hours and see stunning scenery. We’ve been road-testing the guides and making notes of any changes or inaccuracies in them, so that our guests can more easily follow the routes. Great excuse for some fantastic outings!
This is beautiful Bearded Lake, which according to legend, is home to green-clad fairy-folk, who graze their magical white cattle on the shores before returning to their home under the water. It’s easy to reach by car (we took a short diversion on a trip home from the supermarket!) and the walk is a lovely loop of just a couple of miles. As well as the lake, you’re rewarded with some stunning views over the Mawddach Estuary.
A walk from Darowen (just 15 minutes’ drive from Isfryn) takes you to the site of an ancient hilltop fort and offers some beautiful valley views.
A walk along the cliffs from Aberystwyth to Clarach Bay offers wonderful scenery and, on the afternoon that we walked, a spectacular sunset.
A ramble at Corris Uchaf took us past a fantastic model Italian village created by local man Mark Bourne. A trip to Italy in the late 70s inspired him to turn his garden into this amazing folly. It’s a hike up a steep lane to get to it, but worth the trip. You can’t get into the garden, but the view from the road is great.
A walk around Dinas Oleu in Barmouth gave us views over the town and the spectacular bridge to Fairbourne. Dinas Oleu was the first tract of land ever to be gifted to the National Trust.
Torrent Walk at Brithdir is always an autumn favourite. The beautiful broad leaved woodland displays a show of gorgeous colour and stands of birch that Klimt would have loved.
A walk at Bontddu was not in any guide, and provided a bit of excitement. We set off in sunshine, navigating a route from an OS map, but it wasn’t long until the rain clouds gathered over us, even though there was the most beautiful silver sunlight over the distant sea.
Our route took us past the face of an abandoned slate quarry, which looked a fine and interesting spot from a distance, as the photo below shows. That was right up until we got there and found crumbling ledges, inches wide, above sheer drops. Steve could have scrambled down, but we decided that retreat was the better option!
The footpaths shown on the map were nowhere in evidence on the ground on the route back. We found ourselves picking our way through a couple of miles of tussocky bog, crossing multiple streams and clambering over walls as both rain and darkness began to fall. We were very thankful for head torches, good waterproofs and Steve’s navigational skills! We had at least had a beautiful sunset before the rain set in. Our car was at the far end of the lake pictured below, and it seemed to take a long, long, dark and soggy time to negotiate our way to it. The only option was to retreat to a warm pub for well earned beer and crisps!
These were just a few of the lovely walks that have made this a fantastic autumn. This really is the ideal place to be if you love spending time outdoors. There’s something stunning round every corner and even the shortest walk can make that stop at a cosy hostelry on the way home feel justified.
As we’ve wandered around this area, I’ve been struck by just how many beautiful, remarkable and ancient trees are here. Often, they stand at the boundaries of fields, sometimes acting as gate posts, sometimes living on as the last ghost of a long lost cut and laid hedge. Some have roots that flow down banks like liquid metal. Some have swallowed up sections of wire fence of chunks of slate. Others have developed their own ecosystems, becoming hosts to fungi, thick-stemmed ivies and other plants. Each one is a real piece of living history, hundreds of years in the making, and I love them. Here are just a few….
What a start to the month! Beautiful, blue-skied, sunny days, warm enough for breakfast al fresco on the terrace.
Last night, we enjoyed one of the real beauties of living here: the dark skies and thousands of visible stars. We had a lovely stroll a couple of miles to the pub ( just so we could earn the sticky toffee pudding that followed dinner) and then walked home down the unlit lane, not bothering to turn on our torches but walking by starlight alone. We were treated to the sight of a beautiful meteor and had the Milky Way stretched out overhead all the way. Despite spending the whole walk gazing raptly upwards, we managed not to fall into any ditches (unlike the same walk home on New Year’s Eve, when my navigation skills were not quite as sharp – but that’s another story!) and have resolved to take out the SLR camera and a tripod and set them up to take long exposure photos of the stars wheeling overhead. If we get any decent photos, they’ll doubtless appear here….
Time for a brief break after a great but very busy couple of months, so last weekend, we closed Isfryn and took ourselves off the The Good Life Experience festival in Flintshire. It’s a great and eclectic mixture of music, poetry, tree-climbing, cookery, archery, butchery, pottery and much more and we had a great weekend.
The festival is organised by Cerys Matthews and friends and we went along to listen to her chat, sing and read poetry – all of which she does rather well.
We listened to Ben Fogle talking about his various adventures, and to the Flint Male Voice Choir, whose enthusiasm and musicianship earned them a standing ovation and a crowd of dancing kids in front of the stage, proving that you can dance to anything! I’d never heard a male voice choir attempt Bohemian Rhapsody before, but they did a creditable job, even if their pianist looked like he was moments from a coronary trying to render the guitar solo on a small, electric piano!
We had a great laugh joining in a swing dance lesson with the brilliant Swing Patrol, whose energy put the entire crowd to shame, and didn’t show ourselves up too badly.
A more chilled interlude was spent watching somewhat anarchic coracle water polo being played by festival attendees, with rather more capsizes than goals.
After taking in some excellent bands (and rather good drinks) at the Black Cow vodka saloon…
we got ourselves some delicious food and it was time for a stroll home to our tent on what was the most spectacular moonlit night.
The music on Saturday night was excellent, with Diabel Cissokho and his band producing some outstanding Senegalese music.
The final act of the night was Fanfare Ciorcarlia from Romania. This is a band of brass and woodwind playing guys who, not to put too fine a point on it, are mostly not in the first flush of youth, but their playing was just staggering. They arrived on stage (about 12 of them) saying ‘We’re going to have a party!’ and proceeded to play the fastest, loudest, and most stunningly together brass music I’ve ever heard. The tent was full of dancing people in moments, and the evening ended with the entire band in amongst the dancing audience and still playing. The photo is out of focus because they were never still!
All in all, a really fun weekend.
With Linda away on hols with her mum for a week I took the opportunity to visit a museum that we’d seen a sign for months back, The Internal Fire Museum of Power. Someone had mentioned that there was a little diesel engine museum nearby so, putting 2 and 2 together, I was expecting a couple of sheds with some information boards and the odd truck engine… Oh no!
This place is a marvel (for engineering geeks at least) – the smallest engine is probably a Rolls Royce V6 tank engine, and it goes up to a whopping great 20ft long 30-ton monster. The vast majority of the engines work and there are several running at all times which lends the display halls (there is a maze of 3 or 4 of these) the distinctive aroma of engineering workshop. I was particularly taken by the 4000HP jet engine and generator set (shame it wasn’t running at the time).
Many of the the engines were used in the early 20th century for small scale elecricity generation and would have been connected to a generator. If DC rather than AC power was needed then a mercury arc inverter was the bit of kit you’d need back in the day. I’d never even heard of such a thing, but they’ve got a working one at the museum and I think I want one! It’s a man-high cabinet containing a bonkers glass sculpture with a pool of mercury in the bottom and studded with carbon electrodes; press the button on the wall and, with a clonk of relays and then the buzz of an electric arc, a blue light erupts from the electrodes and the mercury in the bottom – this thing is perfect for bringing out any mad scientist tendencies in you!
As well as chugging diesel engines and whirring flywheels there’s a working telephone exchange, a display of vintage radio equipment, and a small cafe and shop (complete with an electric organ, for some reason). When I visited in early September a further hall of exhibits was close to being ready and lurking around the back there’s a polytunnel full of yet more stuff for a further hall when funds allow.
It’s around an hour and a quarter from Isfryn, on the other side of Aberystwyth and so would fit well into a day visiting Aberystwyth, the Rheidol steam railway or the Red Kite centre at Bwlch Nant Yr Arian.
What a great Bank Holiday weekend we have had. On Saturday, we had all the very eccentric, good natured and rather bonkers Welsh fun of the 31st World Bog Snorkelling Championship at Llanwrtyd Wells. I thoroughly enjoyed being a participant with Steve and friends Steve and Carol as a fantastic team of supporters. My vote for costume of the day went to the man with a home made toilet on his back, although the belly dancer was a close second!
Still clean and dry at this stage and looking the picture of sartorial elegance!!
Ready for the off…
Isn’t mud good for the complexion??
Hurrah! All done
and a froggy medal and bedraggled but very happy look to show for it
The World Alternative Games that happen in Llanwrtyd Wells throughout the summer are recommended for anyone who wants a good laugh. They include Toe Wrestling, Wife Carrying and Husband Dragging, Finger Jousting, Space Hopper Racing, Man vs Horse Racing and Gravy Wrestling!
On Sunday, we had a change of pace and went to our really excellent Dinas Mawddwy local show. It brings together the whole community in a very happy day, showing the best of produce, animals and crafts interspersed with the glorious anarchy of Terrier Racing and informal sports.
Having just moved to the area last year, we visited the show and promised ourselves that we’d have some entries this year. I was disproportionately delighted to get two third prizes for lemon curd and photography!
On Monday, in glorious weather, we spent the day exploring the Rhinogs, some of the least walked mountains in this area. On a glorious Bank Holiday Monday, we saw less than a dozen people all day. The views in every direction were stunning: out across to Portmeirion and Porth Madoc in one direction, over the Snowdon range on another and out to the Berwyn Mountains in a third. The tops of the mountains of the Llyn Penninsula were in sight, floating unreally above cloud and sea and we met some very impressive wild mountain goats. Indeed, the whole top of the mountain had a rather warm and musky scent of goat about it! The Rhinogs have a reputation as somewhat trackless, and if you wander off the fairly well trodden Roman Steps path that simply leads over a lovely pass, then it’s hard to argue against that view. They are woven with sheep and goat tracks that wander through tussocks and bogs and frequently peter out, and the descents over boulder fields were not too friendly on my arthritic knee, but for all that, if you’re prepared to bushwhack a bit and make your own paths, the Rhinogs offer a scenic and very un-crowded day out that is well worth having. We walked for 6 hours or so, then drove home along the coast in golden light as the sun sank slowly over the sea. We really did contemplate a sundown swim, but the urge was beaten by the lure of cold beer on our terrace after a hot day. A perfect end to a great weekend.
These beautiful pictures were offered to us for our blog by our lovely guests Paola, Volker, Luisa and Michele who were with us earlier this month. They spent a wonderful day in the Ganllwyd Nature Reserve, which is about 9km north of Dolgellau and is part of the National Trust’s Dolymelynllyn Estate. The Show Me Mid Wales website says of Coed Ganllwyd:
“The reserve at Coed Ganllwyd includes a steep wooded gorge with high tumbling waterfalls. The main attraction for many are the spectacular Black Falls or Rhaeadr Ddu on the Afon Gamlan.
The woodland forms part of a larger Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and is part of the Coedydd Derw a Safleoedd Ystlumod Meirion/ Meirionnydd Oak woods and Bat Sites Special Area of Conservation (SAC).
The wet climate that feeds the falls also provides the moist conditions in the gorge to make this the richest site for mosses and liveworts in north west Europe. The rocks and treetrunks are festooned with the green and grey growths of these lowly plants.
The trees largely escaped the fellings through two world wars and survive as an excellent example of the ancient oak woodland of this part of Wales. But it was used and managed woodland nonethless, with the large trees once being favoured for ship and house building, while the smaller coppiced poles found a multitude of agricultural uses or were burnt for charcoal. Oak bark was harvested for tanning on a large scale.
These old trees and their descendants are home each summer to that most distinctive of Welsh woodland migrants, the pied flycatcher and a host of other woodland birds. This reflects a plentiful food supply, particularly of insects, though jays are partial to acorns. The uncommon brimstone butterfly is found on the Dolmelynllyn estate in association with its food plant, the alder buckthorn.”
To our guests, the area was The Enchanted Forest, and it’s not hard to see why.