54 year old Alistair Aitchison is probably not the most popular person to pass through Harlech. He may be the owner of an opaque Gibraltar company which owns two of the most noticeable buildings in the town after the castle — the old St David’s Hotel and the residential tower block for Coleg Harlech, the only skyscraper to be built in a National Park.
Both big buildings, next door to each other on the main A496, are derelict and very shabby.
Eight years after permission was granted to demolish the hotel, work still hasn’t started.
Parts of the roof have collapsed, windows are rotting and the site blights the town.
In 2009 the Snowdonia National Park Authority granted conditional planning permission for it to be torn down and replaced with a 130-bedroom hotel with 76 holiday apartments — but the developer did not proceed with the project.
Then in 2014 a further application was approved and despite SNPA receiving assurances from the developer work would commence on the new development, nothing of any significance has happened, except for the partial construction of a bat tower.
Local councillor Caerwyn Roberts said the bat building had to be built before demolition can start, although even that has stalled.
He continued: “It is fast becoming a source of major concern for the people in Harlech.
“The same owners also own the former Hall of Residence site, the tower block, and that is also empty.
“Between them they are holding Harlech back, we’re not happy and we find ourselves very limited in what we can do.”
Aitchison Associates may be registered in Gibraltar, but Alistair Aitchison’s address is Buckingham House, Myrtle Lane, Billingshurst, West Sussex, RH14 9SG.
Here are the Top 10 Regions in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2017:
Taranaki, New Zealand
The Azores, Portugal
North Wales, UK
The Tuamotus, French Polynesia
Coastal Georgia, USA
The Skellig Ring, Ireland
See that? North Wales is fourth! There’s lovely, yes?
Lonely Planet’s editorial director Tom Hall said: “We included North Wales in this year’s list of top ten regions because it deserves to be recognised on the global stage. It’s a stunning area with a vast array of activities on offer to keep travellers entertained. North Wales has also become a haunt of in-the-know foodies, so however visitors get their kicks, once they’ve worked up an appetite, they’ll also be well catered for. North Wales is a gem and should be on every traveller’s radar.”
As it’s old Will Shakespeare’s 400th deathday this year I have been enjoying more of the Bard than usual on radio, TV etc. but I have yet to see or hear my favourite Shakespearean speech — Richard II sitting on the ground and musing about the transience of power.
So I had to look it up. I’ll give it to you in full in a moment, but firstly let’s look at the stage directions for Act 3 Scene II.
SCENE II. The coast of Wales. A castle in view.
Drums; flourish and colours. Enter KING RICHARD II, the BISHOP OF CARLISLE, DUKE OF AUMERLE, and Soldiers
KING RICHARD II
Barkloughly castle call they this at hand?
Richard has just sailed over from Ireland. Shakespeare’s geography could be a little hazy at times — he gave Bohemia a coast and he notoriously took a boat from Verona to Milan — but Barkloughly simply doesn’t exist. Richard names it directly, so Shakespeare wants to place the scene, but he gets it wrong. It’s clearly not Berkeley Castle, because that’s not in Wales, let alone on the coast, so let’s look for candidates — OK, let’s just investigate one candidate, because there’s no need to look for more.
The Welsh terminus of the royal route from Ireland to Wales, as related in the Mabinogion, was Harlech. There was a Welsh castle here of which no trace now remains. The English fortification must have been built on top of it.
Shakespeare could have heard the name Harlech spoken and transliterated it as Barkloughly. Apart from the -ly at the end, the assonance is the same: Harlech — Barklough.
Just south of the castle was a promontory with the best view on the coast of Wales, a rocky outcrop with a castle in view where courting couples used to come in the nineteenth century to watch the sunset.
Much to the annoyance of those courting couples an Englishman came along in 1907 and built a house on the outcrop. That house — you’re way ahead of me — was Murmur-y-Don.
So my contention, my firm belief, is that WS sat Richard II down on the spot where I’m sitting right now, typing this, and gave him one of the finest speeches of all time. It goes like this:
For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings;
How some have been deposed; some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed;
Some poison’d by their wives: some sleeping kill’d;
All murder’d: for within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court, and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp,
Allowing him a breath, a little scene,
To monarchize, be fear’d and kill with looks,
Infusing him with self and vain conceit,
As if this flesh which walls about our life,
Were brass impregnable, and humour’d thus
Comes at the last and with a little pin
Bores through his castle wall, and — farewell king!
Cover your heads and mock not flesh and blood
With solemn reverence: throw away respect,
Tradition, form and ceremonious duty,
For you have but mistook me all this while:
I live with bread like you, feel want,
Taste grief, need friends: subjected thus,
How can you say to me, I am a king?
I’m sitting on History!
… on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales can be found online at http://map.coflein.gov.uk.
I cannot believe I’ve only just found this site. It’s FABULOUS — if, like me, you love poring over truly excellent Ordnance Survey maps — proper maps — dotted with locations of the most fascinating buildings and monuments in the country.
I came across the site when I was looking for images of Garth Hall, the fantastickal Moorish folly built by Richard Mytton in 1809. Even though the house was only slightly run-down it was demolished by an enlightened and far-seeing council when I was one year old.
To get a flavour of the place, the picture above is just the stable block:
and here’s one angle of the house with the porte-cochère:
and for those of you who are fed up with me going on about plastic windows and flat modern glass, here’s yet more proof of how right I am:
Just look at the life in that window! Every pane reflects a different scene; each uneven pane of glass glitters and gleams with life in a way no modern flat, soulless window of plain panes could begin to match. We live in a more efficient but less beautiful age.
Yet the Revd. Mytton would gaze with wonder at the RCAHMW site (all these images are screen shots taken from the website). The maps are astonishingly detailed and you can zoom in to 500 feet, and every building or monument of interest is marked with a red dot. Highlight the red dot (rather clunkily, sadly, by using a marquee tool from the toolbar) and you can read the full listing description of the site and often see photographs of it, ancient and modern.
Here’s the area around us in Harlech. Look at the number of sites! I can see what I’m going to be doing this Easter weekend.
You may question what historic buildings and monuments might be found in the sea. That occurred to me too. They are the wrecks of the good ships Castilian, Turkestan and Charlotte, as well as a Supermarine Spitfire XVI TE435.
I had no idea.
Our poor old 1907 weathervane rusted into place over 40 years ago, the wind always coming from the East South East.
I found some wonderful weathervanes online, made to order. I scrolled through and found a Welsh Dragon — perfect for Murmur-y-Don. It wasn’t cheap at all, but I bit my lip and ordered it.
When it came, I was delighted. It was galvanised to protect it against the salt air and breezes we get on this coast, and it was white, all ready to be painted scarlet. Which I did; coat after coat after coat.
We took it up to Harlech and got a guy to take the old weathervane down. He went up, came down, and went away to get his mate. After half a day the two of them struggled down with the monster.
We compared the old and new weathervanes.
Old WV: 5 foot 5 inches tall, weight three-quarters of a hundredweight.
New WV: 2 foot tall, weight nine pounds.
Much shaking of heads.
So here’s the old weathervane sandblasted, painted with white Hammerite and reinstalled.
At least we know where the wind is coming from now.
The little Red Dragon WV will be installed on the garage all in good time.
Don’t I cover the most thrilling subjects?
In the week that Pont Briwet reopens after being closed for 20 months and almost crippling the local economy, I’m going to write about gutters.
For years I have been hankering after cast-iron gutters hand-made by J & J W Longbottom of Huddersfield. I bought my air bricks from them, and they cost a fortune. But I can see they will last my lifetime plus a century more.
Longbottom’s gutters do, however, cost ten to twenty times as much as their nasty plastic alternative. And they need to be painted with red oxide primer, then Hammerite, then undercoat, then whatever gloss colour I choose — twice. Then that has to be repeated every two to three years.
I had the soffits round the kitchen replaced with wooden soffits. I undercoated the boards twice, then gloss painted with three coats. I then left them to dry for a year, not because I wanted to but because the bloke I’d employed to put them up never showed. I chased and chased. He wouldn’t answer his phone, his email, letters, anything.
Finally, 14 months later, he confessed he’d gone to work full time for Lord Harlech, the bloke who used to fix my Aga. He delegated the job to his mate Charley.
Charley was a right Charley. He reckoned the job would take three days. I paid him in advance. It took him six days, and I think even I would have done a better job. He used ordinary steel nails to hammer the fascias home. We’re on top of a cliff overlooking the sea, ff sake. You breathe salt here.
By the time I saw the finished job, a week later, all the nails had rusted. I don’t know what I can do. I won’t let that man near my house again.
Of course he’d broken all the gutters in taking them down. I simply do not have the cash for the superb Longbottom guttering, so I bought some cheap white uPVC gutters from Huws Gray down the road in Dyffryn Ardudwy.
I put them up myself. May I repeat that? I PUT THEM UP MYSELF. Me! He who splinters wood by glancing at it. He who thinks nothing of emptying a priceless box of brass screws down an immovable drain cover. He who is frightened of heights on the second rung of a ladder. I did it!
It was surprisingly easy, aided by the fact that the gutter round the kitchen is so low I could fit it standing on the good solid ground. Also aided by the fact that plastic guttering is incredibly easy to work. It took me just over an hour, and can I tell you? — it looks great. You couldn’t tell it from cast iron.
Until you touch it, of course.
You’l need a strong stomach for this one. You’ll be able to read about our constant
— altercations with aunts, Andrew, animals, authors …
— battles with the builders, the bin men, the Barclay twins, the bank, burrowing mammals, BT …
— confrontations with the council, the clergy, the Co-Op, the castle …
— disputes with the doctor, the dentist, the drain man, the dietician …