A Brief Glimpse of Chirk Castle Gardens

Chirk Castle Gardens are as lovely (even in March) as the Castle itself is interesting. As you can see there are lots of yew trees and hedges all clipped to within an inch of their lives. All the hedges and topiary are 130 years old – and it shows in places. They are almost entirely English yew (Taxus Baccata) and it takes garden staff 6 to 8 weeks to cut with electric shears. Interestingly, two tons of clippings are collected each year and these are processed to make a cancer treatment. In the past all clipping was done by hand but there were many more gardeners then. These days there are 3 gardeners plus a full time apprentice and a team of part time volunteers.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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.