Treasures and Tours at Chirk Castle

Arriving at Chirk Castle

Started in 1295, Chirk Castle was one of several medieval Marcher fortresses sited on the Welsh-English border to keep the Welsh under English rule. Last Thursday was a glorious spring day and ideal for a visit to this beautiful location. There’s a longish approach to the Castle from the village of Chirk. You pass the wrought iron gates commissioned  by Sir Richard Myddleton and built between 1712 and 1719. They were originally at the Castle but moved to their present location in 1888.

From the Reception Courtyard, where we booked for the first house tour at 11.15, we climbed up a short hill to the Castle itself. We took note of the gardens, admired the view and explored the Castle Courtyard whilst we waited for the Tour to begin. At 11.15 a small group of us assembled in the Cromwellian Hall where David gave us a brief history of the castle and changes brought about by various owners and architects probably the most famous being Augustus Pugin. Yes, he’s been mentioned here by Milady several times. His Neo Gothic style is particularly suited to this former fortress and it would seem that he had virtually free run with his designs at Chirk.

David in the Cromwellian Room

Picture in the Cromwellian Room made of bog oak inlaid with bone. It shows the Castle in 1735 and shows the Davies Gates in their original position.

Chirk Castle (circa 1720), from the north, by Peter Tillemans (1684-1734) also shows the gates made by Robert and John Davies

The State Dining Room was at one time decorated by Pugin but was redecorated in the neo-classical manner as it had been for Richard Myddelton, MP, in the late 1770s by Lady Margaret Myddleton

The 17th Century Saloon

The Pugin Corridor

… and a selection of his fireplaces complete with his trademark tiles :

… plus a couple of his chairs :

After our House Tour we it was time for a cup of tea and then we joined another enthusiastic volunteer, Nick, for his afternoon tour of the exterior of the Castle and an explanation of the architecture within Castle Courtyard. For example – Why are there Battlements facing into the Courtyard? Answer : Because Pugin decided it would be a good idea.

Chirk Castle Courtyard

Nick’s Architectural Tour

Chirk Castle Entrance

After another Tea Room visit it was time to see the Gardens …

Walking a Fine Line : Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

On Saturday I did something that I had long hoped to do and that was to walk along the narrow path beside the Llangollen Canal over the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. I first heard about this huge feat of Georgian construction (1795-1805) on a school Geography field trip to North Wales exactly 50 years ago. We were travelling from Norwich to Snowdonia and as we passed along the Dee Valley on the A5 through Llangollen Mr Powell told us about the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.

The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal World Heritage Site is an 11 mile linear corridor from Horseshoe Falls in Llangollen to Gledrid in Shropshire. The Aqueduct was the first great masterpiece of the civil engineer Thomas Telford and formed the basis of his outstanding international reputation. It is the tallest navigable aqueduct in the world at 126 feet 8 inches in height and stands on 18 tapering stone piers and has 19 arches which carry a narrow trough of iron plates for 1,007 feet. The trough holds 1.5 million litres of water and its name is pronounced Pont-ker-sulth-tay which  means “the bridge that joins”.

We parked at Trevor Basin where there’s a Visitor Centre, Boat Hire and Boat Trip businesses, and the starting point for pedestrians to walk over the Aqueduct. My views of Trevor Basin :

And so we set off over the Aqueduct and here are my views of it from all directions :

 

 

Ffestiniog Railway : A Magical Combination of Spectacular Landscape and Historic Railway

Ffestiniog Railway poster

Last Saturday dawned bright and sunny and the day stayed perfect in every way throughout. I crept quietly out of Gladstone’s Library at 10 past 6 in the morning and arrived at Porthmadog Harbour Station Car Park at about 20 to 8. This was a day to remember! I was invited by two friends who are patrons of The Landmark Trust to ride the Ffestiniog Railway and view the ruined property which the Trust are about set to restore in partnership with the Railway.

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In the Steps of the Saints : A Trail of Gower Churches

On a previous visit to South Wales I picked up an older edition of this leaflet. My original copy has no date and listed only 15 churches. The new leaflet now includes 17 the additional 2 being Wernffrwd, St David’s and Penclawdd, St Gwynour. Both in north Gower and neither of which we visited. Quotations, in italics, are taken from my Churches Trail leaflet.

Gower Church Trail

 

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A Chapel, a Diarist and a Book Town: a visit to Hay On Wye and its Environs

On Monday I arrived in Wales for a few days’ visit with a friend and former colleague who returned to her home country after spending most of her adult life in Leeds. I’m having a very relaxing few days interspersed with an expedition each day. Tuesday was most glorious. The sun came out and the temperatures rose and spring seemed definitely in the air. We managed a couple of short walks in “Waterfall Country”.

Sgwd Gwladus near Pontneddfechan

Sgwd Gwladus near Pontneddfechan, Neath Valley

St Mary's Church, Ystradfellte

St Mary’s Church, Ystradfellte

Sgwd Clun-Gwyn

Sgwd Clun-Gwyn, near Ystradfellte

By yesterday spring was over and it was winter again – misty, wet and cold. No problem, we thought, for today we have the pleasures of Hay-on-Wye, Wales’s own Book Town, in store.

On our journey to Hay we took two very short detours. The first was to visit the Maesyronnen Chapel. Fortuitously, the adjoining former minister’s house is now a Landmark Trust property.

Maesyronnen

Here is an extract from the History page from the LT’s webpage for Maesyronnen Chapel:

“A Chapel Founded just after The Act of Toleration

Here we have taken on the neat and tiny cottage, built before 1750 onto the end of one of Wales’s shrines of Nonconformity, the Maesyronnen chapel. This chapel, converted from a barn in 1696, dates from Nonconformity’s earliest days, when any suitable building was made use of for enthusiastic worship. It was probably used for secret meetings even before the Act of Toleration legalised such gatherings in 1689, which explains its isolated position. Services are still held in the chapel, which is cared for by Trustees, who asked for our help. By taking a lease on the cottage we hope we have helped give both buildings a future.”

Kilvert Memorial Clyro

Francis Kilvert Memorial in Clyro Parish Church

St Michael's Clyro

St Michael’s Church, Clyro

From Maesyronnen it was a short drive to Clyro and the former home of the Reverend Francis Kilvert famous for diaries recording his daily life and walks in the area. Kilvert was curate at Clyro when he began writing his diaries but he only lived there between 1865 and 1872. He lived at Ashbrook House which, until recently, had been an art gallery but currently the garden looks rather overgrown and unloved. Two plaques on the wall of the house record the fact that Kilvert lived here.

Ashbrook House, Clyro

Ashbrook House, Clyro

Kilvert lived here 1

Kilvert lived here 2

Read an interesting article here about Kilvert, the man, and his diaries.

It ends : “Sadly, it’s difficult to find copies of Kilvert in bookshops today. The one-volume abridgement, published by Penguin, and subsequently by Pimlico, has fallen out of print, while Plomer’s three-volume edition has long been unavailable. To celebrate the 70th anniversary, Cape should consider authorising a critical edition of the diary, drawing on the surviving manuscripts, as well as on the background information amassed by the Kilvert Society in the years since its foundation in 1948. That way we might have the opportunity to gaze afresh on the radiant, picturesque world of the Rev Kilvert.”

Kilvert's diary 2

Kilvert's diary

Well, all that has changed and we saw several versions of the diaries in Hay book shops in the full 3 volume format (for around £130+) as well as reissues of the abridged version, above.

Baskerville Arms, Clyro

Clyro is also the location of the Jacobean-style mansion built by Sir Thomas Mynors Baskerville a friend of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who borrowed his friend’s name when writing The Hound of the Baskervilles. The house is now a hotel and needless to say there is also a pub of the same name.

Prep for Hay

And so on to Hay itself. Despite planning in advance which shops to visit and preparing lists and so on I found that I was rather overwhelmed with choice. I realised that I am so dedicated a library user these days that I have less and less need to actually own books. It also seemed to me that in each shop we visited the value of each book was known and there was very little chance of a real bargain. However, that said, it’s an extremely pleasant way of spending a cold, damp Wednesday afternoon in March.

Hay Castle

Hay Castle

Richard Booth's Hay

Richard Booth’s Books

Inside Addyman's Hay

Inside Addyman’s Books at Hay on Wye

Honesty Bookshop Hay

The Honesty Bookshop, Hay

I bought only one title and that was from the Honesty Book Shop in the Castle precincts – all hardbacks £1 and all paperbacks 50p. It is a hardback copy of The Nutmeg Tree by Margery Sharp. It’s in pretty good condition and I’m pleased with it.

Milady Steps Out – The Beacons Way

I’m taking a brief trip away from the Boudoir to spend a few days here in Wales between Christmas and New Year. I have managed to include a gentle walk in the Brecon Beacons. We parked the car near Craig-y-nos Castle and approached the Beacons Way after a  meander around the Craig-y-nos Country Park.

Craig-y-nos Castle was the former home of the world famous nineteenth century Italian opera singer Adelina Patti (1843-1919). It stands above the steep ravine of the River Tawe.

Simon Jenkins, in his book ‘Wales: Churches, Houses, Castles‘, writes of her “She performed before emperors, tsars, monarchs and tycoons and was paid 5,000 gold dollars for one performance of La Traviata in Boston … The daughter of a Sicilian and a Roman, she first married Ernest Nicolini, Napoleon’s equerry, then a French tenor, then, at the age of 56, a 30-year-old Swedish ‘nobleman and masseur’.” Jenkins then asks “So how did this remarkable woman come to live in a dark and wet corner of the Brecon Beacons, in a house with Wagnerian name of the ‘rock of the night’?” This came about through her friendship with Lord Swansea who brought her to the Tawe Valley where she fell for the house. In 1878 at the age of 35 she moved in. The fresh air was good for her lungs. Ten years later she had a theatre built at the house and enjoyed entertaining locals and the famous alike. She died here in 1919 but is buried at Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

The house fell into disuse, was for a long time a geriatric hospital and is now a wedding hotel. The theatre still exists and is occasionally used for operatic performances.

Our walk took us through the country park which had once been the pleasure gardens of the house. It appears that these may be gradually being re-established. There are a couple of small meadows, a lake and a fishpond in the park but mainly it consists of woodland – beech woods, conifer stands, rhododendron walks and pine woods. Once out of the park the land, and the Beacons Way path with it, rises gradually and the view opens to reveal the Brecon Beacons at their finest.

Before returning to the car we called at the shop where I spotted an interestingly titled book about about Adelina Patti!