Ten Epic Train Journeys

The Guardian recently listed the ten most epic train journeys in the world. Here’s the list:

1. Jungfraubahn, Switzerland
2. Dovey Junction to Pwllheli, Wales
3. Jasper to Vancouver, Canada
4. Windhoek to Swakopmund, Namibia
5. Chicago to San Francisco, USA
6. Kristinehamn to Gällivare, Sweden
7. Belgrade to Bar, Serbia & Montenegro
8. Cape Town to Johannesburg, South Africa
9. Bangkok to the River Kwai, Thailand
10. Alausi to Palmira, Ecuador

There’s exalted company we’re in! The little line that runs round the bottom of our cliff ranks with some of the most exotic (i.e. far away) places in the world.

Here’s what they had to say about it:

From the lonely request stop at Dovey Junction, the Cambrian Coast line clings to the shore of Cardigan Bay so closely it is often damaged by sea storms. Chugging for the best part of 2½ hours along one of Britain’s most scenic railway lines, trains traverse the half-mile-long, 150-year-old Barmouth bridge, which spans the Mawddach river. They then pass lovely Portmeirion on the far side of the sandy Dwyryd estuary, and offer up choice views of Harlech and Criccieth castles. • Explore Cambrian Coast rover, adult £12, child £6, family £21, arrivatrainswales.co.uk

Now if someone had the nous to couple up a big brash steam locomotive to a train on the line it would transform the entire Welsh economy overnight.

Drystone Walls and Trees

One of our pine trees has shifted in a high wind and its root movement has toppled fifteen feet of a five foot high drystone wall. It’s an expensive business living with trees and drystone walls.

Key the strimmer said he had a mate who could help out. Mates are always cheaper than professionals, so I asked him to pop over.

Emrys arrived very promptly with his sidekick. Obviously the tree had to come down before the wall was repaired. There was a lot of sucking of teeth and shaking of heads. “Big tree, mind,” said Emrys. His mate nodded thoughtfully.

“Was it Gwyn?” he asked. I nodded. “Odd name for an Englishman,” he mused. “I’m Welsh,” I retorted, repressing a flush of irritation.

“OK,” he said. “£800.”

“When can you do it?” I asked. They exchanged glances. “We could do it tomorrow. Shouldn’t take more than a day or two.”

I’d found the Eddie Grundy of Harlech. “Right,” I said, “the maximum I’m prepared to pay is £400. There’s no way you can meet that price.”

Immediately he reduced his price to £600. This was getting insulting. I walked away, after thanking him for coming over.

The following day I had the tree taken down by a professional tree surgeon for £120. He logged it and took away the trimmings, leaving me with a lovely stack of branches to cut up for firewood.

Farmer Barry came round to look at the drystone wall. “£200?” he hazarded, knowing full well it was an outrageous rip-off. I shrugged and assented. He’d done a great professional job on another of my drystone walls a couple of years ago.

So that was that. Emrys’s £800 worth of work over two days was reduced to £320 over four or five hours. I went to get my new chainsaw. It started very quickly, idled at 5000 rpm for a minute then seized solid. I couldn’t turn it over.

I took it to Major Owen in Penrhyndeudraeth, and they read its obituary over the phone to me this morning. The replacement parts would cost more than a new chainsaw. “But it’s brand n …” I began, then I remembered that my ‘new’ chainsaw had come with the insurance for the flood which triggered fotoLibra — fifteen years ago.

So. Tree down, £120. Wall rebuilt, £200. New Stihl MS-180 chainsaw, £235.

It’s still cheaper than Emrys. And I get a new chainsaw thrown in.

Best in Travel 2017

Here are the Top 10 Regions in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2017:
Choquequirao, Peru
Taranaki, New Zealand
The Azores, Portugal
North Wales, UK
South Australia
Aysén, Chile
The Tuamotus, French Polynesia
Coastal Georgia, USA
Perak, Malaysia
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.”

Well, well.

Barkloughly Castle

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


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!


Aga ffarwel

Goodbye old Aga (1968 – 2016) and diolch yn fawr.

Aga OB

A Remarkable Coincidence

I (Gwyn) was having a huge office clearout in April 2016. As I emptied a fat file into the WPB, an Indenture of Sale fluttered out. It was the record of the purchase of Murmur-y-Don by my hên nain Jane Williams in 1923. As we knew, she bought it from a Mr. T. Wilks. We discovered his name was Thomas; we discovered he lived in Ewshot House, Ewshot, Hampshire, 250 miles away from Harlech.

So I rang my niece Emily.

Because five years ago, unaware of any connection, she bought Ewshot House, Ewshot, Hampshire.

I remain, literally, gobsmacked.

And there’s more: Emily immediately launched an investigation into Mr Wilks, and discovered he was a leather manufacturer. He had two sons, Spencer and Maurice, who played here in the garden and on Harlech beach. They grew up and went into the motor industry. Spencer became Managing Director, then Chairman, of Rover Cars, and a few years later so did Maurice.

In 1946, on Maurice’s farm on Anglesey, the brothers invented the Land Rover.

Things we’ve learned as a result:

  1. The house was named Murmur-y-Don before hên nain Jane bought it.
  2. It wasn’t the Standard Motor Company, it was the Rover company.
  3. Mr Moore wasn’t the Chairman of the motor manufacturer, it was the sons of Mr Wilks.
  4. Murmur-y-Don was a formative experience in the lives of two young boys who went on to create one of the most iconic marques in motoring history.

A Truly Remarkable Coincidence

This is one of the most remarkable coincidences I have ever come across. Certainly the most extraordinary coincidence involving me.

Cleaning out my office this morning, I found a copy of an indenture of sale dated 1923.

It related to Murmur-y-Don, which was bought by my hên nain (great-grandmother) Jane Williams in 1923, from a Thomas Wilks of Ewshot House, Ewshot, near Farnham, 250 miles away.

Ewshot House, Ewshot, near Farnham was bought a few years ago by my niece Emily and her husband Alex Vaughan. We spent last Christmas there!

I am gobsmacked.

WiFi Cameras

Homeowners are constantly bombarded with ads for ‘wifi cameras’, clever little CCTV-type devices which you can plant around your home and which will broadcast live footage to wherever you choose, so you can relax in comfort 250 miles away while watching burglars trash your house.

There are other, sunnier aspects of the devices. You can watch the weather, and in the case of Murmur-y-Don we could check that the sea’s still there when we’re away.

They’re now so small and cheap that you could fit one unobtrusively in every room.

And here comes the big problem, the elephant in each corner.

If we were to do this, what’s to stop us spying on our guests, or — even more unsavoury — playing at Peeping Tom?

Obviously we’re not going to be doing that. But now I’ve put the thought in your head, what if we were to announce in large letters on Murmur-y-Don’s Airbnb site that we have made a deliberate decision NOT to install wifi cameras in the house, so guests will have complete privacy?

Wouldn’t every other rentable villa, apartment, flat, house, palace, cottage, castle &c have to follow suit and make the same declaration?

Otherwise the assumption would have to be that those owners who don’t make the declaration HAVE installed cameras and they ARE looking at you.

Should I put the cat among the pigeons?

The Royal Commission …

Garth Stables

Garth Stables

… 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:

Garth Hall

Garth Hall

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:

Garth Window

Garth Window

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.

Historic buildings and monuments around Harlech

Historic buildings and monuments around Harlech

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.


Round window work

We’ve had a huge amount of restoration work done on the round window: curved glass panes replaced, rotten wood replaced, coat after coat of fresh paint applied and it looks fabulous, I think you’ll agree. But the painter forgot that we use Lizard and white paint, not just white! It will look even better once it’s completed.


Round Window looking South

Round Window looking West

Round Window looking North