At the 2018 Christmas gathering, our hosts, Bill & Sue Jones, asked that as a gift, they would prefer a donation to the Woodland Trust for trees to be planted at Parc Mawr.
Following the Society’s Oswestry trip in June, Bill & Sue drove on to see how the trees were doing. Here is their report:
Parc Mawr is on the very steep easterly facing side of the Conwy valley. It is an ancient 84 acre woodland occupying a very prominent position in the landscape. Historically, the wood was managed most probably as a high forest, with gradations between upland oakwood and ash / elm with a hazel understorey. The woodland is now a valued local amenity for walking and horse-riding, boasting a network of permissive and public rights of way and fantastic views.
Woodland Trust’s focus is on thinning the exotic species introduced by humans and restocking with native woodland.
We walked up the steep path along Grove 1 which is where the 6 CDWS trees were planted. Our path went roughly North South along the steep slope and was therefore a little more manageable, crossing an old byway leading to the ancient Llangelynnin church. This is the North Wales Pilgrims Way (linking Basingwerk Abbey with Ynys Enlli (Bardsey Island)) and passes through the site from the south: a further information panel is provided near this route, at the bottom of the byway.
Along our walk we had glorious views over Conway Valley including to Dwygyfylchi (where Kay Day hails from), and Conway Castle.
The Woodland Trust had forewarned us that the trees were already planted and that they did not mark the trees in any way to preserve the natural beauty of their woods. We saw very many young trees but none that could be specifically identified as saplings. Therefore, in the event we could not identify the CDWS new trees since they were interspersed with existing trees and growing rapidly.
So, having walked over a mile in and then back again, we did not specifically see our trees but had a glorious walk through lovely fresh woodlands listening to bird song and looking out on to wonderful views in the sunshine. Here is a map reference for the site at Parc Mawr.
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.
The coach came to pick us up from Gerrards Cross at 7:45 – an early start! After picking up the rest of the party from Amersham, we set off for the two-and-a-half-hour journey to Bristol. Jonathan Pegler had planned and organised the event, and gave us an overview of what to expect and what to look out for as we travelled along the motorway.
Rain started falling as we headed west along the M4, but we were very lucky as it held off for the rest of the day, until the return journey.
Muriel & Ann with Suspension Bridge in the background
Our first stop was at the famous docks, stopping at the Cumberland Basin, in front of two massive bonded warehouses built in the style known as ‘Bristol Byzantine’ which were used for storing tobacco. Jonathan had taken us to see ‘Brunel’s Other Bridge’. Now disused, it was a swing bridge across the Avon in 1849 and predates the famous Clifton Bridge. Jonathan explained that the floating docks were created by digging a man-made ‘cut’ to divert the Avon, and putting lock gates across the original river to create a harbour where the level of the water could be preserved.
We walked around the Basin to reach the Underfall Yard. This is a small museum, originally a boatyard, then the centre of a sluice system (the underfalls) which helped remove silt and mud. It now contains exhibits showing how the docks were used, how the locks worked and how water pressure was utilised to work cranes, locks and other machinery.
Sue & Bill Jones at the Underfall Museum
The party spent a happy half hour or so examining the exhibits and playing with the models.
Kate shows how the locks work
We then all trooped off to board our sight-seeing boat for a tour of Bristol harbour. This was fascinating. Our guide took us right through the city from the Cumberland Basin to Temple Meads Station with many detours going through crowded shopping streets, quiet residential areas and some areas where the harbour had not been developed.
SS Great Britain
Most of us crowded into the front of the boat to get the best view of exhibits like Brunel’s SS Great Britain, old dockside warehouses, breweries and churches, whilst we were told about the history of Bristol and its trading past.
The boat dropped us off at Welsh Back, which was the area which used to be where Welsh goods such as slate were traded.
Jonathan led the party up to St Nicholas Market, where we dispersed for an hour or so, grabbing a bite to eat at one of the restaurants or from the street food stalls or making the trip over to see St Mary Redcliffe church with its soaring gothic columns.
Corn Exchange Clock with 2 minute hands
At 2pm Jonathan re-convened the party and led us around some of the sites of central Bristol including the famous Corn Exchange, with its two minute hands showing both GMT and local time, and the ‘nails’, small columns or tables where deals were transacted, hence the term ‘paying on the nail’.
View of Bristol from the Suspension Bridge
After the tour, we climbed back onto the bus and travelled on up to Clifton, to walk over the suspension bridge and wander around the village, enjoying the coffee shops and large number of interior design studios.
We started our journey home with a ride around the Clifton Down area, a large open green space with great views over the Avon and across to the port at Avonmouth and some very impressive looking houses.
We set off back along the M5, with views of both Severn Bridges in the distance, and with Jonathan completing his story of Bristol with details of other sites that we hadn’t managed to fit into our schedule.
We arrived back at about 7pm and Colin Picton proposed a vote of thanks to Jonathan for putting in so much effort and planning for our trip, making it so informative and enjoyable.
Chiltern Welsh Society – Trip to Aberystwyth 18-22 June, 2018
An early start for the Society – 8 a.m. saw the Gerrards Cross Group welcomed by Mike- our driver from Mid Wales Coaches. Once all on board with pickups from Little Chalfont and Amersham the 20 + souls motored West. The first stop was Ludlow. What a brilliant medieval town. Everywhere the architecture was impressive. Our visits to various lunchtime hostelries confirmed that most of the interiors of the buildings were somewhat ‘higgledy piggledy’ ……. a reflection of the 15th century.
By late afternoon we arrived at Aberystwyth- greeted by dismal weather and high winds. The group was joined by a further 6 free spirited members of the Society – so we were 26 having the opening Dinner at Medina- the nearest thing to an Istanbul Restaurant that most of us had seen. This was the first taste of friendly staff and very good cuisine; such events and venues were repeated on all subsequent evenings at other establishments.
In the morning our first port of call was the National Library of Wales. We were treated like royalty with an outstanding guide and an endearing helper ensuring stairs were negotiated and lifts made available. The National Library is far more than ‘it says on the tin’ ; it is a wonderful archive of Welsh history, culture and indeed a repository of all things Welsh. We all had an injection of joy and pride from the visit. The 200 staff should be very proud of how they are looking after the legacy in their custodianship. We had the privilege to see the Kyffin Williams Art Exhibition. Though the paintings were somewhat melancholy (see illustration) – the mood and atmosphere of the North Wales mountains is brilliantly captured.
The afternoon visit to The Cliff Railway and the Camera Obscura was abandoned as the railway was not working and the ONE repair engineer was indisposed- so plan B was introduced; a visit to Cae Hir, – a Welsh Garden with Dutch history. A 6-acre garden – the dream of Dutchman Wil Akkermans – now an elderly Welsh speaking gentleman. An afternoon for all of us to remember- some visitors even managed a scone (A WHOLE ONE ) tea ! We returned to Aberystwyth and enjoyed a walk around the Castle in glorious afternoon sunshine.
Wednesday morning soon arrived and we embarked on our boat trip from New Quay- to look out for dolphins and seals. To say the trip was rough would be an understatement- the sounds of all sea birds were drowned by the screams from the amateur mariners. I do not recall if we saw any dolphins! We returned to terra firma and progressed to Llanerchaeron House; a John Nash villa – the Regency architect responsible for the Royal Pavilion at Brighton and Buckingham Palace. The walled garden and picturesque lake were a delight – on yet another cold dank Summer’s day. On the way home Aberaeron shared its excellent afternoon teas – with the select few.
Next day the steam train to Devil’s Bridge- with a carriage totally assigned to the Chiltern Welsh. The scenic panorama is breathtaking – Wales at its best! Anyone in doubt about the beauty of Mid Wales should book a trip on the Rheidol Steam train. At Devil’s Bridge there is a choice of walk, – one of 210 steps the other nearer 680 steps. Hafod House, nearby offered refreshments – if you had enough time to wait, and wait …………We then visited Strata Florida Abbey, translated from Latin – simply ” Vale of Flowers”. Strata Florida, built around 1164, quickly became not only a site of huge religious significance, but also a natural home for Welsh culture. You only need to admire the majesty of the huge carved West door to appreciate how impressive the building must once have been.
It is worth recording that Aberystwyth is a GEM awaiting to be found and enjoyed. See one further photo – Aberystwyth Sea Front. The entrepreneurial cocktail bars, St Paul’s Methodist Chapel – now an elegant bar, plus the BBQ restaurant, Pyscoty – boutique eatery, Ultracomida – outstanding Tapas Bar, – were all a delight and contributed to a most social ending to every evening. We will return.
The journey home was a fitting end to the Mid Wales visit, – a comfort stop in the delightful Builth Wells and then experiencing the beauty of Chepstow – the Castle – built on cliffs above the River Wye and an appropriate reminder of the Castle grandeur of the Principality.
Well done Jonathan for again organising such a rewarding trip.
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.
The coach picked us up from Gerrards Cross and Amersham at 8:45 and 9am respectively (only a little bit late). Altogether we had a party of 28 in a large coach with plenty of room, and sitting up high we were able to see all the countryside over the hedges.
As soon as we were on our way, David Powell told us of a change of plan – Trinity had declared themselves closed for the day, right at the last moment, so we were going to St John’s and Clare colleges instead.
The weather was fine and sunny, which was a great bonus. We arrived at Cambridge just before 11am, having made good time on the way and were met by our two guides Ann and Helen.
On Jesus Green, by the River Cam, we split into two parties for the tour, and walked along the river bank to Magdalene Bridge. This was our landmark as it was next to both St John’s and the punts.
St John’s College was founded by Lady Margaret Beaufort (mother of Henry VII) in 1511, and images of her can be seen in many places within the college grounds. One of the largest colleges in Cambridge, its entrance with the Great Gate is suitably impressive with a large statue of St John above the coat of arms of Lady Margaret. The curious animals depicted are yales, mythical animals with swivelling horns!
One of St John’s claims to fame is that it was the college where, in 1588 William Morgan translated the Bible into Welsh (well before the English publication).
St John’s has numerous courts, each built in a different century. We stopped for a group photograph in the first court dating from 1520.
Our guides took us through the various courts explaining their architecture and the source of their funds. We crossed the Cam to see the Bridge of Sighs, named after the original Venetian bridge. It leads to the Victorian Gothic New Court both of which were built in 1831.
From St John’s we proceeded past the gates of Trinity and along to Clare College, the second oldest of the Cambridge colleges, founded in 1326. In fact, much of the college was rebuilt in the 17th century, to accommodate the newly built King’s College Chapel, though work was paused during the civil war. We visited the chapel with its impressive altar piece by Cipriani and an unusual octagonal antechapel.
Nearby is a bust of Sir David Attenborough – with a shiny nose – it has become a new tradition for students to rub his nose for good luck!
Probably the highlight of the visit to Clare was the Fellow’s Garden. This was re-designed in 1947 by Professor Willmer, whose artist’s eye added swathes of colour and carefully planned vistas to the two-acre site, all along the bank of the Cam. We were really lucky with the weather and the sunshine showed the gardens at their best.
We finished our visit back by King’s College Chapel, the tour had overrun, but nobody minded. We were then free to do our own thing for the next couple of hours.
This showed the real variety of tastes within our Society. Some hurried off to see the display of illustrated manuscripts from all over the world on display at the Fitzwilliam museum, or managed to fit in a tour of King’s Chapel.
Others spent the time wandering around the city, finding nice places to eat and admiring the rest of the college architecture.
While yet another group dashed off to visit one or more of the famous pubs!
Whatever the destination, there was still time to fit in a spot of punting – either with a guide or self-propelled.
By 4:30 people had meandered their way back to the footbridge over the Cam by Jesus Green, where our coach was waiting. David had to act as ‘whipper in’ to those who were enjoying a last minute ice cream.
The coach left on time, with only a last minute delay in Amersham making us late. Everyone agreed that it was a great day out.
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!
Early morning, 16 October 2015: a party from the Society set out for London to visit both the BBC and the Fullers Brewery. The coach dropped us in Portland Place, outside the BBC, in good time for security checks and a coffee; and in New Broadcasting House we formed two groups to start our tour.
The first stop was above the news floor, a familiar view for TV watchers. Having seen how UK and World news services are produced, we moved to the One Show studio, which was much smaller than it appears when the TV show is transmitted. It’s quite amazing how they get so much done in this limited space.
CDWS at The One Show Studio
In contrast to the TV facilities we visited the beautiful Art Deco Radio Theatre, which not only is the venue for many music concerts but also has been the home for famous comedy programmes ranging from The Goon Show to the News Quiz.
In order to encourage us to participate in “live TV” our guides allowed volunteers to present news reports and weather forecasts. And then, to ring the changes, we saw some items of historical and artistic interest; and were reminded of some past events which highlighted the BBC’s important place in UK history. By this time we had been outside in the impressive courtyard and had now reached the creatively named “Old Broadcasting House”!
Back to participation, we took roles in a scary radio play, with sound effects and a gruesome climax. It gave the volunteers a chance to experience microphone technique and instant acting.
Overall the time seemed to go quickly although our guides always seemed to have time to answer our questions and give us context. At lunch afterwards there was general acclaim for the enjoyable tour.
We left Central London for Chiswick in order to do our tour of the Brewery. Again, in two parties, we saw how water, barley, hops and yeast are skilfully combined to produce London Pride and a range of other beers, exported now to over 60 countries. Fuller Smith and Turner, the full name of the company, is still a family run business which recently acquired Gales Brewery in Sussex.
Inevitably the tour ended in the bar for a trial of the products – what a hardship! It was then left to Derek our coach driver to cope with the Friday evening rush hour traffic and get us safely back to the Gerrards Cross and Amersham drop-off points. Well driven; and the tour was very well organised and led by Graham Beavan, who certainly deserved all our thanks.
Trip to the Brecons
Colin, our coach driver, picked each group up at the allotted time and we set off for our five day trip to Brecon. We made good time and were able to stop in Burford for a quick look around and a coffee. Then on to Monmouth, which proved to be very rain swept, for a longer lunch stop. The local conveniences proved to be an excellent place for us to shelter, while waiting for the coach to return to take us to Tretower Court and Castle. This was a beautiful medieval building, all the more atmospheric in the swirling mists. We were given a lively talk and then allowed to stroll around for a while before heading off to the Castle Hotel, Brecon, where we were booked to stay.
During the coach journey, Jonathan began to enlighten us with the varied stories of some of the historic families we would be following during our tour, in particular, Sir David Gam and his lovely daughter Gwladys.
Not everyone knew of The Castle Hotel’s illustrious past, having been chosen by Alex Polizzi of Hotel Inspector fame to turn it around! The most infamous room was Number 18 and by coincidence, Colin and I were the lucky guests to be allocated this room! All however, was well!
The following morning, after an ample breakfast, we set off for Hereford Cathedral, where we had the opportunity to see the famous Mappa Mundi, the Chained Library and a copy of the Magna Carta. We had also all been given the chance to choose either the tower tour or the garden tour, both of which were wonderful. Whilst here, we had the opportunity to listen to an organ recital or to continue looking around the cathedral.
From there we travelled to Talgarth Mill for a tour of the working flour mill and an opportunity to have afternoon tea. Here the guides were both very enthusiastic and knowledgeable but at times had to admit defeat due to the ‘Barry effect’, when one of our group, who was just so curious to know all about the mechanical workings, plus accurate measurements, made them struggle for answers!!
The following morning we departed for Hay on Wye where we had ample time to explore the town with all it’s many retail opportunities. From there we travelled back to the Regimental Museum of the Royal Welsh in Brecon and we had a lengthy talk by one of the resident regimental historians.
Most of the group then walked down to the Monmouth and Brecon canal to the narrow boats where we cruised part of the way along the canal, through peaceful countryside at a very gentle speed! For the return journey several of the group decided to walk swiftly back, to work up an appetite for dinner!!
On Thursday morning we set off for Aberglasney Gardens, via Llandeilo, which happened to be the birth place of one of our party, strangely we couldn’t find the blue plaque! Aberglasney Gardens were beautiful in their early autumn splendour. To begin with, we had an enlightening talk from one of the guides, then were able to explore at our leisure before continuing to Newton House and Dinefwr Castle.
Here we had two enthusiastic young guides who, with their lively repartee, informed us of the history of the house, the castle and grounds. The brave, or foolish, were allowed to climb up onto the roof of the house to get a wonderful view of the estate, including the famous white cattle and the deer. Some even managed the climb to the top of Dinefwr Castle, which was close by, for more wonderful views.
Our final day took us to Abergavenny, where we visited St. Mary’s Priory and saw the remarkable carved Jesse Tree and the Millenium Tapestry and finally put a face to the name of Gwladys, as she lay serenely carved in marble, in the chapel.
The next stop was Raglan Castle, where we were able to climb towers, explore dungeons and enjoy the wild, windswept scenery and take many photos.
The final visit which Jonathan had organised was to a wonderful vineyard, Ancre Hill. Here the owners gave interesting talks about growing grapes, wine tasting and their vision, which has allowed it all to happen. Extremely interesting plus the wines and cheeses were quite delicious.
So back on the long road home which became even longer due to local accidents and excessive Friday traffic. However everyone was agreed that we had enjoyed our Brecon trip due to excellent planning by Jonathan and the friendly company of the Chiltern Welsh members who attended.