Tag Archives: Lake Bala

Wales, Beach Picnic and Mary Jones’ Bible

Aberdovey Beach

In the morning it was raining again but I am a great believer in that old saying – rain before seven, clear by eleven” and sure enough the clouds cleared away shortly after breakfast so we loaded the cars with beach games and a picnic and made for the coast.

I was taking everyone to the seaside town of Aberdovey and I was looking for a beach that I used to go to several years ago.  I found it straight away and led everyone along a precarious footpath that crossed a railway line and then two fairways on a golf course until we reached the shelter of undulating sand dunes overlooking a wide sweeping bay of perfect caramel sand and placid blue sea.  As soon as I was back I remembered that this is one of my favourite beaches of all.

The children loved it here of course, running on the sand, paddling in the sea, optimistically fishing with nets, building sand castles and knocking them over again and then eating cheese and grit sandwiches for lunch.

Suddenly the weather changed.  Inland was a flotilla of white sails skipping across the sky as though taking part in a regatta but approaching us from the west there was a fleet of steel grey battleships and they were coming directly towards us, torpedo tubes armed and guns blazing.

We packed our bags as quickly as we could and ran back to the cars across the golf course and the railway line and back to shelter but as soon as we arrived at the car park the sharp rain stopped and the clouds passed by so we laughed about that and drove into the town for an ice cream.

Aberdovey Wales

Despite the weather improvement no one really wanted to go back to the beach so we stayed a while and then drove back to the holiday cottage stopping off for a while in the town of Bala.

This reminded me of the story of Mary Jones’ Bible…

This is the story of Mary Jones from my Bible Studies exercise book when I was about six years old.

Mary Jones was from a poor family who lived near the Cader Idris mountains in the village of Llanfihangel-y-Pennant near Abergynolwyn .  She was born on 16th December 1784 into a family of devout Methodists and she herself professed the Christian faith at eight years of age.

Having learned to read in the circulating schools organised by a man called Thomas Charles it became her ambition to possess a Bible but there was no copy on sale nearer than Bala – twenty-five miles away. Having saved for six years until she had enough money to pay for a copy she started out one morning in 1800 and walked all the way to obtain a copy from the Reverend Thomas Charles, the only man with Bibles for sale in the entire area.

According to one version of the story Thomas gave her the bad news that all of the copies which he had were sold or already spoken for and Mary was so distraught that Charles spared her one of the copies already promised to another, that is rather like click and collect purchases on line, click, go to collect and its not there!  In another version, she had to wait two days for a supply of more Bibles to arrive, and was able to purchase a copy for herself and two other copies for members of her family.

Mary Jones' walk

According to tradition, it was the impression that this visit by Mary Jones left upon him that inspired Thomas Charles to propose to the Council of the Religious Tract Society the formation of a Society to supply Wales with Bibles.

Mary’s Bible is now kept at the British and Foreign Bible Society’s Archives in Cambridge University Library. It is a copy of the 1799 edition of the Welsh Bible, ten thousand copies of which were printed at Oxford for the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge.

How much of the story is true will probably never be known.  However, Thomas Charles undoubtedly used the story to persuade the Religious Tract Society to establish a new organisation, the British and Foreign Bible Society.  This came into existence in 1804 and over the next two hundred years distributed thousands of Bibles to people all across the world.

The society – often known simply as The Bible Society – still distributes Bibles to places like India and Africa.  It  is an ecumenical and non-sectarian organisation and the story of Mary Jones and her determination to own a Bible is central to its creation, its continuing ethos and to its work.

In the town the two girls spotted a ‘Paint a Pot’ studio and pestered like mad to go inside.  Kim and Sally abandoned me and although I wasn’t too enthusiastic I took them inside, paid the price, selected our pots and started to paint.  I became so engrossed that two hours later Sally came back to find us wondering why it was taking us so long.

It had been a good day, but after we had cleared away the saucepans and dinner plates it predictably started to rain again!

Lake Bala Wales

Wales, Slate Mines and a Ghost Story

Wales Weather

The good weather didn’t last, in the night it poured with rain again and in the morning the sky was grey and overcast.  Over breakfast I decided that that this would be a good day to go underground.

So we drove thirty miles or so to Blaenau Ffestiniog which, in one of the wettest countries in Europe has the added dubious distinction of being the wettest town in Wales.  It is famous because it produces not only the finest slate in Wales but also the whole world.  The town sits on a rich vein of Ordovician slate about a million and a half years old and which according to Wikipedia “is a fine-grained, foliated, homogeneous metamorphic rock derived from an original shale-type sedimentary rock composed of  clay or volcanic ash clay or volcanic ash and free from impurities and fossils is the finest grained foliated metamorphic rock ever found” – so now you know!

Welsh slate was so good that it was once exported all around the World but the industry started to fall into decline in the middle of the twentieth century and in the face of inferior product competition from Spain and China the mines closed, the water pumps were shut down and the chambers flooded, the industry declined and just never recovered.  There is now only one working slate mine in the whole country.

Llechwedd Slate Caverns

The Llechwedd slate mines in Blaenau have been reinvented as a visitor attraction and we bought our (expensive) tickets and took Britain’s steepest passenger railway, with a gradient of 1:1.8 or 30° into the bowels of the earth and a forty-five minute tour of the subterranean tunnels and the chambers.  There were stories of the hard life of miners, how the caverns were used to store national treasures in the Second-World-War and how today it is used to store and mature Welsh cheddar cheese before it is sold in Sainsbury’s supermarkets.  We bought some in the shop on the way out – it was really good!

We were back at the cottage by late afternoon and with the sun making a belated appearance I took the children net fishing in the river across the field.  They seemed to enjoy it even though we didn’t catch a single thing for our supper so it was a good job that we had some fish fingers in the freeezer as a back up!

Fishing for Supper in Wales

I was rather tired tonight so shortly after Kim had gone to bed I said goodnight to Sally and walked along the corridor to the bedrooms.  Part way along someone called out “Grandad, Grandad, Grandad” three times and assuming it was one of the three children I went to their bedrooms and asked who was calling me – all three were fast asleep, very fast asleep.  I went back to Sally and asked if she was trying to trick me but she denied it.  I went back to the children and in the corridor passed a cold spot that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand out like porcupine quills.

This was a “Blair Witch Project” moment. Let me remind you that this cottage was very, very remote, a mile from the nearest road and the night was as black as tar.  It was a ghost, believe me it was a ghost.  Do you remember my story about the bat and how if they fly into a house it is because they are haunted and the ghost lets them in?

I was scared, Sally was scared but Kim wasn’t scared at all and told us not to be silly and just go to bed.

All was fine until about one o’clock in the morning when I had a tapping noise that woke me up.  I heard footsteps downstairs and thought one of the children must be walking about so I went to investigate.  In the corridor I heard soft and measured footsteps in front of me, the voice said “Grandad” and as I followed into the black treacle darkness I said, “who’s there, who’s there?”  but when I checked the bedrooms Sally and all of the children were all still fast asleep, very fast asleep.  As I turned to leave something cold brushed past me like a floating whisper and touched me gently on the cheek.

I was scared, very scared!  I put all of the downstairs lights on and fled back to bed, closed the children’s bedroom door, closed our bedroom door (as though that would make a difference) and pulled the duvet up under my chin and listened while the footsteps and the bumping noises continued.  I felt sure that my hair would turn grey overnight. Kim didn’t stir. Sally and the children didn’t wake.

ghost Wales Cottahe Llanuwchllyn

This has happened to me before.  Once in a remote Posada in Santillana del Mar in Spain we were left alone for the night, there was no one else there and we both heard something walk along the corridor outside our room and stop for a moment outside of our door.  Two nights running.  Even Kim agrees with that ghost story.

You may not believe me either but in the morning there was another spooky thing when I discovered fish heads and crab claws in a neat pyramid pile on the roof of my car and I have absolutely no explanation for that unless it was a sign from the Mafia (Luca Brazzo swims with the fishes) some form of Druid exorcism or a warning by Welsh Nationalists.  The gate that hadn’t been closed for several years was also firmly shut!

Let me tell you as well that on every one of the next few nights I woke in the early hours and never once did I hear another noise in that house and I never felt the cold spot again.

Also in the morning the owner of the cottage came to see us and we asked the question about the haunting.  Very quickly she denied it and said that we were being silly but we all thought that she was just a little too hasty to make the denial.

Have you ever stayed in a haunted house or seen a ghost?

If you like spooky stories I have another one here.

Wales, Change of Plans and Taking a Weather Risk

Rain In Wales 1

Earlier in the year I had made plans to go on holiday with my daughter and grandchildren and my son and we had chosen a holiday cottage near Boulogne in Northern France.  I like it there.

Longvilliers Holiday Cottage

As the Summer approached there were more and more delays crossing the channel as a consequence of striking French ferry workers and large numbers of migrants attempting to cross from France to the UK.  I love my grandchildren very much but the prospect of being stuck in a traffic jam for up to twenty-four hours with them was just to awful to contemplate so when the critical moment came to make the final payment I cancelled and transferred the holiday to a cottage in mid Wales.

I was surprised that I was so easily persuaded to book a holiday cottage in Wales because most of my holiday memories of the Principality involve precipitation.  In 1972 I went to University in Wales and rather than books I spent about 50% of my student grant on raincoats and umbrellas.

When I was a boy we used to go on family holidays to Borth in Mid Wales and stay in a caravan.  It always rained and all through the night there was a stready pitter-patter of rain on the biscuit tin roof and everywhere seemed damp and cold.  Later we used to go the Plas Panteidal holiday village near Aberdovey and although the accommodation was an improvement the same could never be said for the weather.

In 1986 I went to Wales for a holiday to the Hoseason’s Holiday Village in Carnarvon in North Wales and it was so cold and so wet that we gave up on the fourth day, abandoned the holiday and drove all the way back home.

After a gap of twenty-five years I was ready to give Wales another chance and in 2011 booked a holiday cottage in Cardigan in South Wales.  Things seemed promising as the spring and early summer got off to a fine start with the hottest April on record followed by the driest ever May and the meteorologists predicting a long hot summer and a certain drought.  Now, I didn’t particularly want a drought but I did rather hope that these fine weather conditions would continue a little longer through into the middle of June.

Unfortunately I was going to be disappointed and a week following a BBC1 special programme on the drought crisis everything changed and it rained every day and instead of picnic hampers and swimming costumes I needed anoraks and umbrellas!

I said that I would never go to Wales again but four years later I found myself preparing once again for a week of uncertain weather.

Getting to Wales was not easy.  First of all I had to drive two hundred and fifty miles back from Scotland.  When I left the Scottish Borders the weather was wonderful, crisp blue skies and a burning sun.  When I arrived home in Grimsby it was quite possibly the hottest day of the year so far and the plants in the garden were wilting under the midday sun.

And so we set off, driving west towards more blue sky and golden sun and the car’s air conditioning system belching out a stream of icy cold air.  I was so optimistic that I even forgot to pack a rain hat or an umbrella.  I should have known better.

Sheep in Wales 2

Almost immediately that we crossed Offa’s Dyke somewhere near Wrexham there were single carriageway roads with ever widening puddles and bleak gloomy conditions ahead as heavy grey clouds stuck like stubborn Velcro to the tops of the Welsh hills.  It rained in Llangollen, it rained in Corwen and it rained in Bala and it was about now that I was forced to concede that we probably wouldn’t be having a barbeque this evening.

Kim had never been to Wales before and with a preference for Mediterranean sunshine, balcony life and al fresco dining I sensed that she wasn’t too impressed.  She wasn’t too happy either when for no good reason I took an unnecessary detour for the final few miles along a single track road and got hopelessly lost.

Eventually however we reached our remote holiday cottage destination in the village of Llanuwchllyn where there were only sheep for company and by some minor miracle the clouds broke and the sun spilled some temporary golden light onto the surrounding meadows.  It still wasn’t barbeque weather but it was nice enough to sit outside and enjoy a glass of wine.

We were the first to arrive, my son was an hour or so behind and lost somewhere along a remote mountain pass and my daughter had delayed her arrival until the following day.

The fine weather didn’t last very long and by the time Jonathan arrived we had been forced inside by the steady advance of grey clouds and heavy rain.

Later we went to the village pub for evening meal and drove back along the narrow lanes in rainfall of truly biblical proportions, hammering down and bouncing off the car roof like shrapnel.  It rained like that for most of the night, raindrops like lead weights crashing into the slate roof and pouring down over the gutters and drain pipes like a mighty waterfall.

As I lay awake listening to the surging river nearby swollen by the heavy rain and bursting its banks and the avalanche of water cascading off the roof I was beginning to wonder if perhaps I had made a terrible mistake!

Heavy Rain in Wales