Tag Archives: Llanuwchllyn

Another Story for Halloween

A couple of years ago I went to Wales for a holiday with my daughter and grandchildren.  We stayed in a remote cottage, a mile from the road and without any public lighting.

On the first night I was rather tired and went to bed early but sometime about one o’clock Kim woke me to say she could hear something – something fluttering.  I told her she was imagining things and that she should go back to sleep but then I heard it too.  A gentle quivering high in the beams, probably a moth I reassured myself but then Kim demanded man action so I got out of bed and turned on the light.  Oh My God it was a bat.  A bat.  A bloody bat!

Little brown bat

It was quite happy flying about in the blacked out room but the light send it into a delirious panic and it began to swoop about the room and jump from beam to beam and Kim started to shriek.

From under the shelter of the duvet Kim kept shouting ‘get rid of it, get rid of it!’and I was doing my best but as anyone who has ever had a bat in their bedroom in the middle of the night will know this is much easier said than done.  I was still half asleep and although I am in peak physical condition the creature was a whole lot faster than me.  There were various suggestions ranging from catching it in a fishing net to throwing a towel over it but it was moving so quickly that all of these suggestions were completely useless.

My one and only idea was to open the window and hope that it would find its own way out and in a huge slice of good fortune that is exactly what happened and it suddenly disappeared into the ink black sky.

There is a lot of folklore and old wives’ tales about bats such as:

  • It’s lucky to keep a bat bone in your clothes.
  • Keeping the right eye of a bat in your waistcoat will make you invisible
  • Carrying powdered bat heart will stop a man bleeding to death
  • Washing your face in the blood of a bat enables you to see in the dark.

I have to say that I like the idea of being invisible!

It is also said that a bat in the house means that it is haunted and the ghost has let it in…

Halloween Pumpkin

The following night I stayed up a little later but 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 “Granddad, Granddad, Granddad” 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 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 “Granddad” 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 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.

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.  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 pile on the roof of my car and I have absolutely no explanation for that unless it was some form of Druid exorcism.

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 quick to make the denial.

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

halloween-witch

 

Postcards From Wales

Castell y Bere Wales

Welsh Island RailwayLlechwedd Slate Cavern001

Wales, Final Days

Little Trains of Wales

“The lake (Bala) has certainly not its name, which signifies ‘Lake of Beauty’, for nothing” – George Borrow, an English nineteenth century travel writer.

As it happened the weather had seemed to settle down into a sort of pattern; it rained at night and in the day it was dry and the sun came out and that was perfectly fine by us.

As with any holiday, this one started slowly and then gathered pace towards the end and almost before we knew it, it was approaching the end of the week and fortunately the weather had one good day left for us.

The children wanted to go back to Aberdovey and try their hand at crabbing and there was no way of negotiating any sort of different day or amusement so we loaded the car and made our way back to the coast.

I had forgotten just what good fun this was, I hadn’t been crabbing for probably fifty years, I didn’t even take my own children when they were young, but we bought nets and lines and bait and made our way to the harbour to find a pitch.  The memories were flooding back so thick and so fast that it was like trying to mow the jungle.

We used bacon for bait and it was so successful.  Like most people I like a slice of sizzling bacon, usually between two slices of bread, but these crabs like bacon more than anyone or anything I know, either that or they are just plain stupid.  Within seconds we had our first catch and then over the next hour they just kept being pulled out of the sea with such regularity that it became monotonous.  I have never been deep sea fishing but I imagine a marlin or a swordfish is going to put up much more resistance than these dumb decapod crustaceans.

Aberdovey Crabbing

Eventually the children tired of easy fishing and I was glad about that because to be honest I was scared stiff about one of them getting over excited and falling thirty feet or so into the water and then me having to go and try and rescue them so I was pleased when they poured the poor things back into the sea (presumably to be caught again ten seconds later) and we made our way to a nearby pub for lunch.  I had a beer to calm my nerves.

Sally drove us back to Bala where the weekend excitement had started early (this being Friday) with a steam gala so she dropped us off at the station at Llanuwchllyn and swiftly left us to go into the town for some retail therapy.  Kim, by the way was so stressed by day six that she had taken the opportunity to stay at the cottage for some quality ‘me’ time.

The steam gala was a predictably amateurish affair with a few old cars and lorries and some rail enthusiasts selling books and running their model railways but the children enjoyed a second ride on the Lake Bala steam engine and if I am entirely truthful so did I as the engine called Maid Marion pulled the coaches alongside the blue waters of Lake Bala, at four miles long the largest natural body of water in Wales.

At the Bala terminus there were more memories for me because here was an old Routemaster London bus , the type my granddad worked on as a conductor out of the Catford garage in south London.  I am not sure what it was doing here in rural mid Wales but the children liked riding on the top deck and Patsy declared it to be exciting because it was ‘my first ever time on a double decker bus!”

I enjoyed Lake Bala and Wales, it was a simple holiday, the sort that I remember from my own childhood and from taking my own children away when they were young.  I am convinced that youngsters don’t need water parks and amusement arcades when there is a wide open beach and the sea, the countryside, a stream to fish in a thrilling steam engine ride.

Kim enjoyed it so much that she has decided that we are going to live there!

What simple pleasures make a holiday for you?

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 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.

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 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 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.

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.  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 pile on the roof of my car and I have absolutely no explanation for that unless it was some form of Druid exorcism.

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 quick 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, Trains, Beaches and Castles

Wales Landscape

The following morning we checked each other to be doubly certain that we hadn’t been turned into vampires and then we threw back the curtains and there was a wonderful surprise – this morning it wasn’t raining.

For the first time in twenty-four hours we were able to leave the cottage without being driven back inside by a deluge of rain like the ice bucket challenge so we grasped the opportunityand drove west towards the coast with a first stop at Dolgoch Falls to take a train ride on the Talylynn Railway down to the coast at Towyn.

The Talyllyn Railway is a narrow-gauge preserved railway in Wales that runs for nearly sixteen miles from the town of Tywyn on the Mid-Wales coast to Nant Gwernol near the village of Abergynolwyn. The line was opened in 1866 to carry slate from the quarries at Bryn Eglwys to Tywyn, and was the first narrow gauge railway in Britain authorised by Act of Parliament to carry passengers using steam haulage.

The line remained open even after the quarry had closed for business, and on 14th May 1951 it became the first railway in the world to be preserved as a heritage railway by volunteers.

Talylynn RailwayWaiting for the Train

The Talyllyn Railway crops up in the ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ books as the Skarloey Railway and most of the fictional locomotives are based on real-life equivalents.  The author, Rev. W. Awdry, visited the line on a family holiday in the early days of preservation and became involved as a volunteer soon afterwards.

The preservation of the railway was also the inspiration for the 1953 film The Titfield Thunderbolt, an Ealing Studios comedy about a group of villagers attempting to run a service on a disused branch line after closure. The script writer for the film, had heard about the preservation of the railway and spent a day there in 1951 looking for stories and inspiration and some of the early exploits in preservation were incorporated into the film.

The cost of the short journey came as an enormous shock – £12.50 return, you can get a thousand mile Ryanair flight ticket for less than that but once at the booking office I was committed and my young grandson would never have forgiven me if I declined the purchase at this late stage.  At least the children travelled for free.

So we took the twenty minute journey to the seaside as the engine effortlessly pulled the coaches down the side of the hill and steamed into the station.

With blue skies and sunshine we spent an hour or so on the beach, climbed rocks, collected seaweed and looked for marine life in the rock pools and the shallows.  It was so nice we could have stayed longer but we didn’t want to miss the last train back because that would have meant a problem getting back to the cars stranded at Dolgoch Falls.

Actually, I confess to being a bit of a ‘stress head‘ in these situations and whilst I told everyone that it was the last train I kept the information to myself that there was one final one an hour or so later.  Don’t tell them!

I Spy At The Seaside

The railway engine had to work a lot harder on the return journey because shortly out of Towyn the track began to climb and made its way into the hills towards the old slate workings.  Just like Thomas the Tank Engine its boiler was bubbling, its pistons were pumping and its fire box was fizzing as with puffy white mists of steam and thunder clouds of belching smoke it carried us ever upwards over bridges and viaducts before arriving exhausted back at the station.

As it pulled away towards Abergynolwyn we waved it goodbye and made our way back along a muddy track as the children amused themselves by jumping in the puddles to the car park.

It was mid afternoon but I wasn’t finished with Talylynn because I was on a mission to visit a site where I had last been in 1985 – Castell y Bere, a ruined castle just a short drive away.  In 1985 I had my first holiday after the birth of my daughter, she was only three months old and I thought she might appreciate revisiting the site she wouldn’t be able to remember.

It was quite a difficult drive to the castle and there was a bit of moaning from my passengers and I began to worry that it might be a disappointment but we arrived eventually and made our way to the top of a rocky crag and the extensive ruins of the castle.  It had once belonged to Edward I but in 1294 it was captured by Welsh forces and burnt to the ground.  Edward never rebuilt it, maybe he hadn’t renewed his home insurance policy and he abandoned this once strategic position to concentrate instead on his new defensive ring of castles that he was busy building all along the coast.

The visit was declared a success, the children liked it, Sally was interested in my stories and recollections and as we left and drove back to the cottage the sun was still shining.

Castell y Bere Wales

Have you ever been back somewhere to relive a memory?

Castell y Bere Wales 1985

Wales, More Rain and Bother with a Bat

Wales Sheep Rain

After a night of such heavy and unrelenting rainfall I couldn’t imagine that there was any more water left in the sky but sure enough when we woke in the morning it was still chucking it down.  Puddles in the yard where like duck ponds,  water was throwing itself over the overloaded gutters, the nearby river water was advancing dangerously close to the cottage and the black clouds over the hills draped menacingly like an axeman’s hood.  It looked very much like it was going to be anther very long day.

Kim put a life jacket in the back of the car and drove five miles to Bala for shopping essentials and came back with the bad news that there were warning lights flashing on the dashboard.  If it had been a hire car then I wouldn’t have bothered but this was mine.  I checked it our myself and it seemed to be a problem with the catalytic converter and as it was only an orange rather than a red light I chose to ignore it.

Shortly after breakfast I had a beer!

We were expecting Sally and the grandchildren to arrive sometime around midday but at two o’clock she phoned to say that she was hopelessly lost and her SatNav wasn’t working, things were going from bad to worse.  She eventually arrived at about four o’clock and it took her and the children about five minutes to rearrange the accommodation into the way they like it – rather like Belgium in 1940 after the German Panzer divisions had passed through on the way to France.

As we sat around feeling sorry for ourselves there was rain, more rain and then more rain and then a thunderstorm and the electricity disappeared for a moment or two, the sky was black, prospects were black and our mood was black to match.  To cheer ourselves up we lit the wood burner stove and sat around it and lamented a completely wasted day.  The children couldn’t go outside and this was almost as bad as being trapped in a car in a queue at the ferry terminal which was exactly the situation that I had changed holiday arrangements just to avoid.

Wales in the Rain

Just after evening meal something unexpected happened.  Jonathan spotted it first – a patch of blue, Blue, BLUE and miraculously  the clouds suddenly parted as though Moses himself was crossing the Red Sea, the sun came out and the yard puddles started to steam, the flood waters began to retreat and we were able at last to go outside in the fresh air.

It stayed fine now for the remainder of the evening but it was nearly dinner time and too late to go out anywhere but we enjoyed the rest of the day under clear skies and hoped that this would continue into tomorrow.

We went to bed but sometime about one o’clock Kim woke me to say she could hear something – something fluttering.  I told her she was imagining things and that she should go back to sleep but then I heard it too.  A gentle quivering high in the beams, probably a moth I reassured myself but then Kim demanded man action so I got out of bed and turned on the light.  Oh My God it was a bat.  A bat.  A bloody bat!

Little brown bat

It was quite happy flying about in the blacked out room but the light send it into a delirious panic and it began to swoop about the room and jump from beam to beam and Kim started to shriek.  The commotion woke the whole house and soon everyone had joined us to see what the fuss was about and still it flew madly around the room and once or twice got dangerously close I feared.

From under the shelter of the duvet Kim kept shouting ‘get rid of it, get rid of it!’ and I was doing my best but as anyone who has ever had a bat in their bedroom in the middle of the night will know this is much easier said than done.  I was still half asleep and although I am in peak physical condition the creature was a whole lot faster than me.  There were various suggestions ranging from catching it in a fishing net to throwing a towel over it but it was moving so quickly that all of these suggestions were completely useless.  Sally insisted that I do nothing which might endanger its life.  Jonathan went back to bed.

My one and only idea was to open the window and hope that it would find its own way out and in a huge slice of good fortune that is exactly what happened and it suddenly disappeared into the ink black sky.  Kim calmed down and I cheered her up by telling her that not everyone can say that they have spent the night with Batman.  Before I went back to sleep I checked my neck in the bathroom mirror for vampire bites because I didn’t want to be responsible later for sending my grandchildren to join the undead with a well intentioned good morning kiss.

There is a lot of folklore and old wives’ tales about bats such as:

  • It’s lucky to keep a bat bone in your clothes.
  • Keeping the right eye of a bat in your waistcoat will make you invisible
  • Carrying powdered bat heart will stop a man bleeding to death
  • Washing your face in the blood of a bat enables you to see in the dark.

I have to say that I like the idea of being invisible!

It is also said that a bat in the house means that it is haunted and the ghost has let it in but I will leave that story for a future post.  Finally on this point, stories say that if a bat flies into the house then it is going to rain and right now that seemed the most plausible explanation for the intrusion.

Have anyone else ever had an unwelcome visitor in the bedroom? Try and keep it clean!

Wales Rain Sheep

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