Slimbridge is situated north of Bristol, very close to the Severn estuary, and is home to many different types of birdlife. It was founded in 1946, by Sir Peter Scott.
Our coach arrived at Slimbridge at 11:15, giving us time to meet the others of the party who had arrived by car, to have a coffee or have an initial look around the reserve.
We split into two parties of twelve for the guided tour of the Scott’s house. The volunteers told us about Peter Scott’s earlier life, as a hunter and painter, his wartime career, as an Olympic sailing medallist, but he is best known for his passion for preserving wild life, founding the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, and especially for creating the World Wildlife Fund.
Scott’s whole house borders a man-made lake, where Berwick Swans and many kinds of other waterfowl were only a few yards from the windows. I looked down, and there was a snipe only four or five feet away.
We were shown the Scott’s kitchen, looking very much of the 1950’s, with its range and an old-fashioned Belling 2 ring cooker. There were hand-written notes inside the cupboards and in notebooks and it looked as though the family could return at any moment.
We saw the dining room with its one long table, but were told that the Scotts usually ate on the small formica table in the bay window, where they could watch the birds.
We were also shown the study, where Lady Phillipa Scott had most of her effects and paintings.
Perhaps the most interesting room was familiar to any of us who had seen Peter Scott’s programmes on the television, with its painting easel, the wide panoramic view across the lake, and the extraordinary window which was built out in front of the house and extends about 8 feet in each direction, allowing an additional 6 of 7 people to enjoy the view, but not be in the room!
The tour took about 1 hour, and, as we were heading back to the main visitor centre, the guides asked us what we thought – as we were the first visitors to the house since the renovation! We have Peter Day (as chairman of the WWT) to thank for that privilege.
After the tour some of us went off to hear a talk about the re-introduction of the European Crane into the country (a couple of them could be seen skulking about on the other side of the pond) and then on to watch the otters being fed and playing in the water. These were North American otters rather than European, as European otters are nocturnal.
Other members of the party were more adventurous and walked across the flat site to one of the hides, where knowledgeable WWT volunteers pointed out interesting sites across the panorama. These included cranes beyond the sea wall, godwits, curlew, knot, dunlin, linnet with it’s distinctive “puppet on a string” flight pattern, an array of ducks and a fantastic fly past by a skein of geese at eye height and within metres away.
The coach left Slimbridge at 3:30 and we had a swift and pleasant journey back. Jonathan Pegler thanked Peter Day and David Powell for arranging such a successful trip.
We had an early start at 8am in Gerrards Cross, picking up the rest of our party at Amersham. After a brief stop on the M42 we drove on through the countryside and to Presteigne to visit the Real Wine Company for a wine tasting and paella. The company was established by Mark Hughes, who used to live in Gerrards Cross, but followed his dream to create his own specialist wine company. We sampled up to 12 delicious wines, and many of us ordered a few.
After lunch we drove north along swollen Severn. The previous weeks had rained pretty continuously and river levels were high. As we passed we saw that many of the fields were flooded.
Phil, our coach driver, drove us on to Montgomery, where we had 10 minutes to stretch our legs and to explore the market square and the Norman church with the tomb of Sir Richard Herbert (dating from the 16th century).
There followed a somewhat sleepy trip on to Oswestry as the effects of lunchtime’s wine made themselves known. We drove to Oswestry’s Premier Inn through stunning countryside, avoiding floods which had been prevalent only a few days before. That evening, some ate locally while others walked to Oswestry to sample the local restaurants.
Tuesday 18th June
The coach picked us up from the hotel, and we drove to Llanfair Caerinion station, where Jonathan had booked two carriages on the Welshpool and Llanfair Light Railway. The railway dates from 1903 and has an unusual 2’ 6” narrow gauge. We had time to look around the station and watch the engine (‘Countess’, one of the original engines) being prepared. The first part of our journey followed the path of the valley of a small river (the Afon Banwy neu Einion), where, Jonathan said, otters and king fishers lived. It took about 45 mins to cover the 8.5 miles to Welshpool. We crossed streams and small roads, with or without level crossing gates, admiring the countryside as we chugged along. When we arrived in Welshpool we had another chance to admire the train getting ready for the return journey. (More railway pictures.)
Our coach had driven on to meet us and we all climbed on to travel to Powis Castle. On the way there, Jonathan, acting as the most knowledgeable tour guide, gave us an extraordinary level of detail of the history of the castle, built in the 13th century by the Welsh prince (Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn), loyal to Edward I. By 1587 the castle was sold to the Herbert family. In 1784, heiress Lady Henrietta Herbert married Edward Clive, son of the famous Clive of India. Their son inherited the castle, on condition that he changed his name to Herbert. The castle remained with the Herbert family until it was passed to the National Trust.
A really impressive structure, the castle was built of local red sandstone, with wonderful views over the surrounding countryside. It was easy to see that the building was not only a castle but also a home. We entered smart drawing rooms, elegant dining rooms and formal bedrooms, all decorated with paintings of family members through the ages from the 17th century to the present day. A separate room was set aside to display some of the riches brought back from India by Clive, including Indian weapons and fine jewel encrusted figures.
The castle has beautiful gardens set within steep slopes and terraces revealing wonderful flower beds.
In the courtyard of the castle was a male peacock displaying and protecting his mate with one chick, the last remaining of clutch of 5. (Additional photos of Powis Castle in the gallery.)
That evening, after the bus had dropped us off, Jonathan took us on a conducted tour of Oswestry including the remains of the castle which was torn down during the English Civil War. In the memorial gardens we saw a statue to one of Oswestry’s famous sons,the poet Wilfred Owen, who was tragically killed in the last week of World War 1.
The whole party then met for an evening meal in the Wynnstay Hotel, making our own way home after discussions in the hotel bar. (More pictures of our evening here.)
Wednesday 19th June
We set off early to visit ‘Jones the Boats’ on the Llangollen Canal, where we all boarded a canal boat to take us across the famous Pontcysyllte Aqueduct – the highest aqueduct in the world.
The bridge was built in 1805 by Thomas Telford, and stretches for 336 yards above the River Dee.
It was a strange experience to be in a boat on the canal and to be able to look down over 120 feet to see the river and fields below with the drop just inches away from the side of the boat.
We traveled on until we passed through the Chirk tunnel, 460 yards long, turning around just before the Chirk Aqueduct. The tunnel is narrow, with only room for one boat at a time, and boats must show lights so that they can be seen by those coming from the other direction.
After the canal trip, we once again boarded the coach to visit Chirk Castle. The castle was originally constructed in the late 13th century by Roger Mortimer de Chirk under the orders of Edward I, in order to guard the Dee and Ceriog valleys. It was expanded and remodeled over the years and was bought by Sir Thomas Myddelton in1595.
The interior of the castle was varied in style. It was interesting to see the different tastes in different rooms and to see areas where the Victorian designer Pugin had made changes to restyle the Georgian features into what was then considered to be a more authentic new Gothic.
The gardens at Chirk are extensive, with clipped yews, herbaceous borders, a ha-ha and views over the Ceiriog valley. As we left Jonathan had two more sights for us.
The original gates included the Myddelton crest featuring a sinister looking red hand. There are several stories about the significance of the hand, most of them somewhat gory. The coach then took us back via the Llangollen canal, where we could walk down to the tunnel we had been through that morning, and then walk across the Chirk Aqueduct, crossing from Wales to England. This is another Telford bridge, this time crossing the Ceiriog valley, 710 feet long and 70 feet above the valley, this aqueduct runs alongside a later viaduct carrying the railway.
We set off to Brymbo Heritage site, which is really two sites in one. Brymbo is close to Wrexham, and is the site of an old iron works dating from about 1790. We split into two parties and were shown around the site where we were given a brief history of the development of the industry as well as being shown the original furnace and the old ruins of an even older coal mine.
Interestingly, Brymbo had another aspect. Recently, when the coal was being extracted by open cast methods, they found an ancient petrified forest beneath the coal. This originally grew as gigantic ferns and mosses over 300 million years ago, when this part of Wales lay on the equator! While walking over the site, we met some of the paleontologists working on the site. As we were talking to the leader, Dr Tim Astrop, another of his party picked up a stone lying on the ground and showed us a fossilised plant stem from 300 million years ago, saying that we were the first people ever to see this fossil specimen!
We were then driven over to Erddig Hall, another National Trust site. It was built in the late 17th century for Josiah Edisbury, but in 1733 it passed into the Yorke family. We were met by one of the guides who entertained with stories of the Yorke family (mostly Stephens and Phillips) who threw very little away, which was why the site had such a vast collection of artifacts. One of the last of the line became almost a hermit who removed the phones and the electricity. He used to sleep at night guarding the silver with a shotgun and a burglar alarm fashioned from carnation milk tins.
The Hall is also famous for its paintings, poems and stories of the servants who worked there. From the early days, portraits were made of some of the serving staff, maids, gardeners, gamekeepers and housekeepers and together with these there were descriptions or poems, often in a child’s hand, to describe the individuals.
The gardens at Erddig are extensive, based on the original 18th century formal garden. They contain a lake and a canal in addition to rose gardens, fruit trees, walled gardens and herbaceous borders.
We said goodbye to those of us who travelled by car and set off on the first leg of our journey, to Shrewsbury. We were met by our guides, who took us on a conducted walk around the town, looking at taverns and houses with connections to the Tudors, then a led us on a tour around St Mary’s, Shrewsbury’s oldest church, dating back to Norman times, to see the stained-glass windows. We completed the tour by looking at the medieval trades areas, after which the streets were named, and at the centre of the high street, where David III, Prince of Wales, was executed in 1283.
After lunch we boarded the coach and David Powell thanked Jonathan Pegler for all the planning and the incredible amount of information he had provided us with about the places we passed through and visited.
We finally arrived back home at around 4pm all feeling quite tired.
This year Gwyndaf added a visit to a local church to our Spring Walk.
We all met at the Red Lion pub in Little Missenden at 10:00 to order our lunches for later. Then 22 walkers set off on a 3 mile walk in the hills around the village.
We started off following the River Misbourne and in the first field we passed we saw a curious collection of animals – pot-bellied Vietnamese pigs, funny looking sheep that turned out to be goats and a magnificent turkey displaying for his harem of females.
In the next field we discovered an archaeological party surveying the field. They explained that they had detected signs of very old buildings (possibly Roman) close to the river and were tracing out the shape of the building with a view to a future dig.
We then followed the South Bucks Way footpath up the hill with wild flowers on either side. Janet John pointed out some of the flowers, and when we reached the top of the hill, she introduced us to the flowers and explained their common names.
From here we were able to admire the views across the Misbourne Valley.
The weather continued to be fine and we didn’t need our coats, as we turned back towards the village pub, chatting and getting to know other members of the society. We arrived back at the Red Lion just before 12:00 after walking about 3 miles. There we were met by others who had come for the church tour, and there were over 30 of us when we sat down to lunch.
The food proved to be very good, with a wide choice from sandwiches to belly pork and sea bass. We also had time to sample the beer and watch the carp in a pond in the back garden.
About 2pm we walked the hundred yards or so to the village church, The Church of St John the Baptist, where we were met by the vicar, the Reverend John Simpson.
We were treated to a guided tour of the church and told that the original church dates back to Saxon times (about 975 AD). It was then added to by the Normans and by successive villagers over the centuries. The original Saxon church is very visible and you can see where the exterior walls and windows were.
The highlight of the visit was to see the medieval paintings on the church walls. There are a number of pictures on various walls, but the main ones on the north wall of the church show St Christopher and cartoons of St Catherine showing scenes from her life. The paintings have been declared ‘of national importance’ by the Courtaulds Institute and have recently been restored after receiving a grant from the heritage fund. During the restoration even more fragments of paintings were found on other walls around the church, dating from the 13th century and through to the reigns of Elizabethan and William and Mary.
The vicar made an excellent and enthusiastic tour guide, pointing out so many features of this old church that might otherwise have been missed. Our tour lasted about 1 hour and we were very impressed to see such artwork on our doorstep. You can find out more about the church and its paintings here:www.lmchurch.org
Many thanks to Gwyndaf and Janet John for organising such a fun and educational day.
Tuesday May 15th – Our Spring Walk & Pub Lunch took place on a gloriously sunny day. How could it have been otherwise!
The members gathered outside the Swan in Ley Hill. This attractive old pub faces the open land of Ley Hill Common and was originally three cottages dating from the 16th Century.
Sam, the bubbly landlady, unlocked the pub and came out to meet us – so some much needed relief was had before we set off!
Thirteen members went off on the walk with another five joining us later for the lunch.
Passing the little village Memorial Hall the footpath led to Tyler’s Hill. This woodland is full of large deep holes from which clay was excavated for the local brick and tile making industry. We wound our way past and through these dips and on through open fields with distant views across the Chess valley, then followed a long, wide, but fortunately shady, path along a typical Chilterns “bottom”. Finally we strolled up through open parkland and woods to reach the far end of the Common.
Ley Hill Common is the home of a golf course, and here Ralph Broomby was delighted to re-make his acquaintance with a par three hole of particular difficulty with the green located in a valley well below the tees. After admiring this tricky golf hole we strolled back across the springy turf of the common to the pub.
During the walk we learnt how to distinguish the scented native bluebell from the oft-planted Spanish species, smelt and tasted the leaves of Garlic Mustard, and discovered the extraordinary reproductive strategy of the Cuckoo Pint (also known as Lords & Ladies).
Inside the Swan still has the wooden beams, inglenook fireplace and the old original stove. Fortunately padded cushioning has been fitted to the old beams though I still managed to bump my head on one beam. After a rest with drinks in the cool garden we went in for our meal. Tables had been thoughtfully arranged in a U shape for us. Very conveniently the landlady had taken main course orders previously and had set up a tab for the various couples and singles present. The meals were excellent and quite a few found the desserts irresistible. The Swan delivered good food and excellent service.
All in all it was a relaxed day out. We learned about bricks and how they are laid as well as some natural history. And we enjoyed the good weather in some lovely Chiltern countryside.
The Hambleden valley was the perfect location for the Society’s Spring walk on May 9th. It shows England at its very best with the idyllic villages of Fingest, Skirmett and Turville, beautiful rolling countryside and quaint pubs.
Sixteen members met at The Frog at Skirmett at 10 o’clock on a dry but quite chilly morning. As a large herd of deer grazed in the distance we were glad to get going. The walk took us across the valley, up a gentle slope through Adam’s Wood, passing a field of rare breed sheep and lambs. Even those of us with an agricultural background were unsure of the exact breed!
Through the bluebell woods
We were in luck as there was still a fine display of bluebells scattered amongst the trees. When we emerged from the wood we were greeted by marvelous views taking in the villages of Fingest and Turville below us. Turville is often used for filming episodes of Midsomer Murders and The Vicar of Dibley is set in the local church.
Gwyndaf explains the view
The valley and surrounding hills are a haven for wildlife and flora and one of the highlights of our walk was Janet enthralling us with her knowledge of the local wild flowers. As well as naming the myriad of tiny hedgerow flowers, which many of us had not even noticed, she educated us on the subtle differences between different species. Who knew there were so many species of buttercup! We all gave her our full attention suspecting there might be a quiz when we returned to the pub!
Even though we were given the option of following a shorter route we were all made of sterner stuff and completed the full distance of Gwyndaf’s 3-4 mile walk, returning to Skirmett via Fingest and its ancient church. This is a Grade 1 listed building with a tower dating from the early 12th century. Surrounding the church is a cluster of medieval and Georgian houses and cottages.
The Frog at Skirmett
We were all looking forward to our lunch at The Frog and we were not disappointed. The food was excellent and it was difficult to resist those tempting desserts!
Our thanks to Gwyndaf and Janet for organising such an enjoyable and interesting Spring walk.
Having followed the amazing directions provided by Peter, via Gwyndaf, a select party of eighteen souls duly arrived at the Wetland Centre in Barnes late morning on Thursday 13th October. We were met and greeted by the WWT Chairman himself, otherwise known to us all as Peter Day. Having downed a very welcome hot coffee, we then embarked on our tour, under the watchful guidance of Peter.
We were led through a series of avian habitats from around the world, which have been expertly created by the efforts of the Trust. It is astonishing what the workforce has achieved in less than twenty years by remodelling the redundant Barnes reservoirs and diligently planting an abundant amount of trees and shrubs.
Emporer and red Breasted Geese
Peter walked us round, demonstrating a very impressive grasp of the subjects and imparting his extensive knowledge. He managed to answer virtually all our questions, no matter how obscure or trivial they may have seemed.
We were blessed with a dry and mostly sunny day, if a little chilly. There was
always plenty to see, with new surprises round every corner. Some of the birds there we would not have expected to see, like the Egyptian geese. However, as Peter pointed out, these had originally been imported from the Middle East by some unknown person and the young had escaped from their collection enabling them to fly to places like the Wetland Centre as and when they wished.
Snooty looking Cranes
There is a constant threat from foxes and this has been largely controlled by surrounding the site with electric fences, extending up to three feet below ground, preventing burrowing. Incredibly they do not have a problem with squirrels or Canada Geese. The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, originally set up at Slimbridge by Peter Scott in 1946, is doing very valuable work in the
conservation of wetlands, their plants and waterfowl around the world. It is also providing an educational experience for many thousands of disadvantaged and other school children every year, some of whom we
saw, and they appeared to be having a very good time.
After lunch, in the excellent café, a number of us enjoyed seeing the Asian
otters being fed. Others enjoyed further strolls, taking in some of the hides
where the wild birds can be observed in peace and quiet.
All in all the visit to the London Wetland Centre proved to be both extremely
enjoyable and rewarding. A visit we are likely to repeat in the future. We thank
Peter Day very much for organising it and proving to be an excellent host.
Nineteen CDWS members assembled in Caernarfon on June 6 for the fourth expedition to Wales organised by Jonathan Pegler. We had warm, mostly sunny, weather and three full days of interesting activities which flowed on seamlessly from morning to evening, thanks to Jonathan’s meticulous research and planning and to Dave, our coach driver, who whisked us conveniently between each one.
We saw four castles, including three of Edward I’s “big four”. (We weren’t close enough to Conwy).
Caernarfon Castle itself was the highlight for me, because of its size, its completeness and the CADW guide who was a medieval history specialist and gave us instructive insights into what life in and outside the Castle would have been like in the 14th century.
Maldwyn Pugh and Jonathan Pegler at the top of Twt Hill above Caernarfon
We looked down from the towers of Harlech Castle at modern settlements built on what would have been the sea when the castle was reliant on ships for its provisions.
We also saw Beaumaris Castle, perfect in its symmetry and elegant design but incomplete, as we were told several times, because also in those times, governments ran out of money and could not afford big infrastructure projects.
Then there was Criccieth – a Welsh castle, not an English one, although Edward expanded it, and from where we could look across Tremadog Bay and just make out Harlech in the late afternoon misty sunshine.
Gwyn Owen at Criccieth Castle
For our gardens, we had Plas Newydd, given to the National Trust in 1976 by the 7th Marquis of Anglesey, although he continued to live there until his death in 2013, with its gardens sloping down to the Menai Strait. The first Marquis was one of Wellington’s senior officers and he lost a leg to French shrapnel in the closing hours of the Battle of Waterloo.
Plas Cadnant – hidden gardens
Also on Anglesey was the hidden garden of Plas Cadnant, a gem of a small early nineteenth century garden brought back to all its former charm, tumbling down wooded slopes to a stream in a rocky ravine.
Ann and Peter Lawrence enjoying a rest on “Ann’s Seat” at Plas Cadnant
When we visited Portmeirion, we enjoyed the eclectic mix of buildings and the gardens with picturesque views across Portmadog’s estuary.
The tourist office calls our mountain the “Electric Mountain” and we didn’t go up it but inside it to visit the Dinorwig pumped water storage power station. When the Dinorwig slate quarries closed in 1969, a project was conceived to use the site and the workforce to create a hydro-electric scheme in which water descending 500 metres through tunnels inside the mountain generates electricity during the hours of peak demand. The unique feature of Dinorwig is that all the equipment is capable of going into reverse and pumping the water back up again in the middle of the night using the surplus electricity of nuclear and coal fired power stations which have to run constantly 24 hours a day. Although it consumes four units of electricity for every three which it produces, it generates electricity when, for example, millions of people all switch on a kettle simultaneously at the end of a TV programme. When in standby mode it can react in 12 seconds to produce the electrical output of three nuclear power stations and switch off again just as quickly. We had an excellent tour guide here who helped us understand its important role in aligning electrical supply to demand over the whole of the National Grid.
Camouflaged Gull chicks
We enjoyed the beauty of the Menai Strait at sea level with a boat trip from Beaumaris Pier out to Puffin Island just off the eastern tip of Anglesey, where we saw plenty of cormorants and guillemots and a few puffins and seals.
We came back to view the fine nineteenth century iron work of Bangor Pier and looked up at Thomas Telford’s beautiful 1826 suspension bridge which conveyed the A5 to Holyhead and cut several hours off the journey from London to Dublin as the traffic increased substantially after the Act of Union with Ireland in 1800.
We had already crossed and recrossed to Anglesey several times on the modern Britannia Bridge. Originally built by Robert Stephenson to take just the railway to Holyhead in 1850, its wrought iron box section was destroyed by a fire in 1970 which took hold of the tarred wood inside. It reopened after reconstruction as a road bridge on a deck above the railway lines.
Menai Suspension Bridge, with snow
However on the last evening of our fascinating stay in North Wales, our wonderful coach driver Dave brought us back over the Thomas Telford 1826 bridge. We had time to get great views from above of the strong tide flowing out through the Menai Strait, because there was only 5 cms clearance between the wing mirrors of the coach and the stone arches over the road deck, so we went through rather slowly!
Cliveden is conveniently local and was an excellent choice for a Society excursion on May 19th.
The grand house, standing high over the Thames, is surrounded by gardens and extensive woodland. It is owned by the National Trust with the main part of the house leased to a luxury hotel group. An ideal place for our members to meet up and enjoy a convivial lunch, then take walks in the fresh air before returning for afternoon tea and a tour of the house.
Many members will have visited Cliveden before, but not so many will have enjoyed a guided tour of the house, led by a knowledgeable National Trust volunteer. Our party of twenty members discovered that there seemed to be two ways to become owners of such a magnificent residence. One was by family members consorting extremely closely with their King, whose favour resulted in titles and wealth. The other was for your family to develop housing in Manhattan and eventually become fabulously wealthy slum landlords. Even after the property passed to the National Trust its association with scandal continued as it featured in the “Profumo Affair” in the early Sixties.
We were impressed by the opulent interior of the property. The extremely ornate “French Dining Room” had been re-assembled after being transported from a French hunting lodge, and no expense had been spared on wood panelling, ceilings and pictures. As we wandered through the hotel and stood in the Great Hall we got a hint of the what it must be like to stay at this luxury hotel as a steady stream of staff passed by us on their service errands. On the banks of the river we saw their beautiful boats of wood and gleaming
brass, ready to be hired for trips along the Thames.
For those who were members of the National Trust, all but three of our group, the event was completely free. Though the Trust café did very well out of us during the course of the day!