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Samhain is a mystical festival rooted in ancient Gaelic tradition. Samhain is a Gaelic word which means (literally) “summers end”. The ancient celts divided the year into only two seasons. Samhain is pronounced a little differently in different countries, so it is “sow-in” in ireland, “saveen” in Scotland and “sow-een” in Wales. It is definitely  not pronounced “sam-hane” as it is by many in the USA.

It is an ancient festival with celebrations keyed to the end of the harvest, the shortening days and the coming of winter. Since ancient times in the Celtic culture, October 31st. has also been celebrated as a feast for the dead and also the day that marked the New Year.

This time of year marked the beginning of the cold, lean months to come; the flocks were brought down from the hills to live in sheds until spring. Some animals would be slaughtered and the meat preserved to provide food for the winter. All the harvest was gathered in; barley, oats, wheat turnips, apples etc. From November the Faeries would blast every growing thing with their breath, blighting anything that remained.

In addition to the agricultural significance, the ancient Celts also saw Samhain as a very spiritual time. October 31st. is exactly between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice, and was considered a very potent time for magic and communion with the spirits.

The “veil between the worlds” of the living and the dead was said to be at it’s thinnest on this day; so the dead were invited to return to feast with their loved ones; welcomed in from the cold, much the same as the animals were brought inside.

The name Hallowe’en is derived from “all hallows eve”. When Christianity arrived in Celtic countries the church discouraged the fortune-telling, magic and communing with the dead as “evil”. A day of celebration of all the Saints of the Church, on November 1st. was created in the hope of displacing the old “pagan” customs. The celebration was called All Saints day, and the night before it came to be called All Hallows Eve, or Hallowe’en.

Many ancient festivals included bonfires, and Samhain was no exception. At Samhain a “new” fire was kindled for the New Year and brought into the house for good luck. The flickering candles inside hollowed out Turnips (or Pumpkins) were also thought to help the spirits who were abroad that night to find their way.

“Trick or Treat” ….. going from door to door for money, sweets or food has evolved in the USA. It is a more recent development and may have evolved from a number of traditions.

Because this was the beginning of the New Year, divination, or foretelling the future, and looking toward the coming year became part of the practice. Many of our hallowe’en traditions, such as bobbing for Apples, were originally part of the foretelling of the future. baking cakes containing “lucky tokens” also originated at this time, and is now used in some areas at the new year on January 1st.

Some of the things that were done to foretell the future included:-

Girls would place Hazel nuts along the fire-grate, each one to signify one of her suitors. She would then divine her future husband by chanting, “If you love me pop and fly, if you hate me burn and die”.

Several divinations used the Apple, the most popular Samhain fruit. “The Apple and the mirror”. Before midnight sit in front of a mirror in a room lit onlt by one candle or the moon. Go into the silence and ask your question. Cut the Apple into nine pieces. With your back to the mirror eat eight pieces then throw the ninth over your left shoulder. Turn your head to look over the same shoulder. You will see an image or symbol in the mirror that will give you your answer. (When you look in the mirror let your focus go “soft” and allow the patterns made by the candlelight, moonlight and shadows to suggest forms , symbols and other dreamlike images that speak to your intuition).

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Saturday 25th. August dawned bright, with mist hanging over Afon Conwy. The sun quickly burned off the mist and I set off a few miles up the valley to Llanrwst where my days walk was to start.

Y Pont Fawr and Tu Hwnt i'r Bont at Llanrwst, 22 Aug 09.

Y Pont Fawr and Tu Hwnt i'r Bont at Llanrwst, 22 Aug 09.

The bridge across Afon Conwy (Y Bont Fawr) was built in 1636, reputedly by Inigi Jones. The building at the western end of the bridge is Tu Hwnt i’r Bont (beyond the bridge). This cottage was built in 1480 and for a time served as a courthouse for the town. It is now a tea room owned by the National trust.

My walk started just across the road from Tu Hwnt i’r Bont and the first half mile or so took me along the banks of Afon Conwy.

Looking back to Y Bont Fawr and Llanrwst, 22 Aug 09.

Looking back to Y Bont Fawr and Llanrwst, 22 Aug 09.

Afon Conwy looking towards Betws y Coed, 22 Aug 09.

Afon Conwy looking towards Betws y Coed, 22 Aug 09.

After a short walk alongside the river I cut across the fields towards the forest.

Gwydyr forest is on the eastern flank of the Snowdonia National Park. It covers an area of about 17, 915 acres (28 square miles) and has lots of paths, mountain bike trails and horse ridind tracks.

The first mile or so into the forest was pretty steep as the path climbed up away from the valley, but there is a viewpoint part way up where you can sit at a picnic table and have a rest and a drink (and very welcome it was too).

Looking down the Conwy valley from the viewpoint, 22 Aug 09.

Looking down the Conwy valley from the viewpoint, 22 Aug 09.

After a short rest it was back to the climb. More gradual now as I took the main forest track which is much used by mountain bikers.

This wasn’t the path I’d intended to take, but just before I reached the top of the hill I came across Caerdroia. This is a community project carried out by people who live in and around the forest. As it happens they were holding an open day and I was able to get a welcome cup of coffee and a sit down, all for the princely sum of 50p.

A sculpture at Caerdroia, 22 Aug 09.

One of the sculptures in the labrynth, 22 Aug 09.

A giants table and chair in the labrynth, 22 Aug 09.

A giants table and chair in the labrynth, 22 Aug 09.

As you walk around the labrynth you are met by sculptures and strange objects. Today there were story-tellers and lots of other things going on. I wish I could have stayed longer, but I still had a long walk ahead of me. More information about the project can be found here; http://www.golygfagwydyr.org/achievements.php?page=2〈=e

Now though I had to carry on, up the last short part of the climb. I was now heading for Llyn Parc and soon got my first glimpse of the lake hidden deep in the forest valley.

Llyn Parc hidden in a deep forest valley, 22 Aug 09.

Llyn Parc hidden in a deep forest valley, 22 Aug 09.

Llyn Parc is a natural lake, but the southern end was dammed to raise the level for use of a nearby lead mine. The lake lies 664 feet above sea level and covers an area of 22 acres. It’s a long, narrow lake, lying in a “V” shaped valley.

Llyn Parc, 22 Aug 09

Llyn Parc, 22 Aug 09

After a walk along the shore of the lake I followed the stream at the southern end for a short way. This is the outflow which was used by the lead mine, and there are still relics of the mines around the area.

Relics of mines can be seen all over the area, 22 Aug 09.

Relics of mines can be seen all over the area, 22 Aug 09.

Remains of lead mine beside the waterfall, 22 Aug 09.

Remains of lead mine beside the waterfall, 22 Aug 09.

Now I walked along the shore of Llyn Parc, then it was back to climbing up away from the northern end and heading for another small lake and some more ruined mines. Walking along the forest tracks there were signs that autumn is not far away.

Lots of bright red Rowan berries, 22 Aug 09.

Lots of bright red Rowan berries, 22 Aug 09.

Leaves are already starting to change colour, 22 Aug 09.

Leaves are already starting to change colour, 22 Aug 09.

As well as the signs of autumn though, there were also some colourful edges to the forest.

Colour at the forest edge, 22 Aug 09.

Colour at the forest edge, 22 Aug 09.

After a climb and walking around the hillside I then got some great views.

The view of Moel Siabod and the Snowdon range, 22 Aug 09.

The view of Moel Siabod and the Snowdon range, 22 Aug 09.

The view across the forest towards Llyn Crafnant, 22 Aug 09.

The view across the forest towards Llyn Crafnant, 22 Aug 09.

Cloud over the Snowdon horseshoe, 22 Aug 09.

Cloud over the Snowdon horseshoe, 22 Aug 09.

Now I was almost at Llyn Sarnau. This is a small shallow lake with reeds growing along a lot of it. It’s one of the smaller lakes in the area, covering only 3 acres. As I approached it there were dozens of buuterflies flitting around the edge of the forest. Unfortunately they don’y like to stop and pose for photos, so I only managed to catch a quick shot of one. I regret to say that I’m not really up on butterflies so I won’t even try to name this one.

Llyn Sarnau, 22 Aug 09.

Llyn Sarnau, 22 Aug 09.

Butterfly, 22 Aug 09.

Butterfly, 22 Aug 09.


Now it was just a short walk to another derelict mine, the Cyffty.

The derelict Cyffty mine, 22 Aug 09.

The derelict Cyffty mine, 22 Aug 09.

I’m not sure how long a walk it is from Betws y Coed, but the miners who worked here would walk each day from Betws and Llanrwst before a hard days work in this mine. They must have been tired out before they started!

It wasn’t reliable work either. Often it relied on the weather; wet weather could flood the mine and dry spells could mean there was no water to drive the machinery. When they couldn’t work they didn’t get paid, so many of the miners would have small holdings or work on farms too, to help eke out a living.

Downhill now, I set off again. Not too far away is another old lead mine, the Hafna.

The remains of the Hafna mine, 22 Aug 09.

The remains of the Hafna mine, 22 Aug 09.

Part of Hafna mine, 22 Aug 09.

Part of Hafna mine, 22 Aug 09.

After having a look round the remains of the mine I set off again, downhill towards Llanrwst. Before I got back down into the valley though, I took a slight detour to see a lovely little waterfall.

The Grey Mare's Tail, 22 Aug 09.

The Grey Mare's Tail, 22 Aug 09.

This is The Grey Mare’s Tail. It is known in Welsh as Rhaeadr y Parc Mawr, but this name is rarely used. The falls are in a lovely wooded glade at Coed Felin Blwm (Lead Mill Wood). It’s well worth making the 200 yard detour to see it, and it lies in a nature reserve so there are other paths to take too.

The Grey Mare's Tail, 22 Aug 09.

The Grey Mare's Tail, 22 Aug 09.

The Grey Mare's Tail, 22 Aug 09.

The Grey Mare's Tail, 22 Aug 09.

It’s a steep climb back up to the lane after visiting the falls, but from the top I got a good view of the Conwy valley.

Looking down the lush Conwy valley, 22 Aug 09.

Looking down the lush Conwy valley, 22 Aug 09.

And then it was back to Llanrwst and the sort drive home. It had been a long day and I was glad it would only take a few minutes to get home.

Gwydyr forest is just one more place where there is a lot to explore, I’d only seen a small part today. More information about the activities, trails etc. can be found here: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/gwydyrforestpark

It’s one more place for you to visit; great scenery, history and a labyrinth, what more could you ask for?

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There are lots of wonderful churches in north Wales, even the ruins give a feeling of times gone by. That being the case I thought it was time to show a few of them, though there will be more to come at a later date.

A good place to start, I think, is St Margarets church at Bodelwyddan, a landmark for anyone travelling down the A55 from the north-west of England.

The marble church, Bodelwyddan

The marble church, Bodelwyddan

Commonly known as the marble church, it stands  alongside the busy A55.

It was erected at a cost of £60,000 by Lady  Willoughby de Broke in memory of her husband.

Consecrated by the Bishop of St Asaph in 1860, the  tower and steeple are 202 feet high.

The name “marble church” comes from the 13 types of  marble used for the interior.

Interior of the marble church.

The marble church.

The marble church.

Rug chapel, near Llangollen.

Rug chapel, near Llangollen

Rug chapel, not far from Llangollen, looks very plain from the outside.


It was built in the 17th century by Colonel William Salesbury


As you approach the chapel it looks small and plain…….but inside is the wonder of this little chapel. The interior has wonderful carvings, stained glass windows and decorations.

Rug chapel interior.

Rug chapel interior.

Stone cross at Rug chapel.

Stone cross at Rug chapel.

A stained glass window, Rug chapel.

A stained glass window, Rug chapel.

St Trillo's chape, Rhos on sea

St Trillo's chape, Rhos on sea

The chapel of St Trillo, Rhos on sea.

The chapel of St Trillo, Rhos on sea.

The chapel of St Trillo at Rhos on sea is right on the promenade.

It was established by the Celtic saint who’s name it carries, in the 6th century. It was heavily restored about 120 years ago.

It seats only 6 people and is said to be  the smallest chapel in Britain. Services are still held here once a week.

The original well of St Trillo can still be seen in front of the altar.

Interior of the chapel.

The church of St Mary and All Saints, Parish curch of Conwy.

The church of St Mary and All Saints, Parish curch of Conwy.

The church of St Mary and All Saints is the Parish church of Conwy.

It was founded in the 12th century as part of the Cistercian Abbey of Aberconwy.

When Edward 1 decided to build his great castle and walled town at Conwy the abbey was moved to Maen, further up the valley.

Part of the north wall is said to be part of the original abbey.

St Mary's and All Saints church, Conwy.

St Mary's and All Saints church, Conwy.

The church of St Tudno nestles is a hollow on the north side of the Great Orme at Llandudno.

It was built in the 12th century on a 6th century christian site.

The area around the church is popular with bird watchers.

St Tudno's church, Great Orme, Llandudno.

St Tudno's church, Great Orme, Llandudno.

St Tudno's church, Great Orme, Llandudno.

St Tudno's church, Great Orme, Llandudno.

Valle Crucis Abbey is not far from Llangollen.

Building started in 1201 and it was gradually added to over the years.

Valle Crucis Abbey, near Llangollen.

Valle Crucis Abbey, near Llangollen.

Valle Crucis Abbey

Valle Crucis Abbey

The chapter house, Valle Crucis Abbey.

The chapter house, Valle Crucis Abbey.

In 1535 it was ranked as the 2nd richest of the Cistercian monasteries.

The chapter house is where monks would gather for  prayer before going about their daily work.

A sepulchral carved stone.

A sepulchral carved stone.

Gwydir Uchaf chapel, near Llanwrst.

Gwydir Uchaf chapel, near Llanrwst.

The Gwydir Uchaf chapel is close to Llanrwst.

It was built next to his summer house by Sir Sir Richard Wynn, in 1673.

Though quite plain, the chapel is well known for the wonderful painted ceiling depictiong the creation.


Interior of Gwydir Uchaf chapel.

Interior of Gwydir Uchaf chapel.

The church of St Grwst stands on the banks of Afon Conwy at Llanrwst.

It is dedicated to the Celtic Saint Grwst, and dates from the 12th century, though it was rebuilt in 1470.

The church of St Grwst, Llanwrst.

The church of St Grwst, Llanrwst.

Llangower church stands on the banks of Llyn Tegid  (Lake Bala).

It was dedicated to St Gwyr, but has now been  abandoned by the church of Wales.

What a shame that another lovely little church is  falling into disrepair.

Llangower church, on the shores of Lake Bala.

Llangower church, on the shores of Lake Bala.

This derelict 12th century chapel is another reminder of past times.

It is at Lligwy on Anglesey, and close by are the remains of a Romano-British village and a Neolithic burial chamber.

Lots of history in just a small area.

Ruined 12th century chapel, Lligwy, Anglesey

Ruined 12th century chapel, Lligwy, Anglesey

There is so much history in north Wales, not just the old churches, but castles, standing stones and burial chambers. Anyone with any interest in history should spend some time here.

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WOW!!  Getting to the end of September and suddenly summer is here. It’s Saturday and Monday is officially the end of summer, but today is another warm day. Not blazing sunshine but very pleasant nonetheless. 

I haven’t been across to Anglesey for a while so today I’m going to Beaumaris Castle. This is different to other castles built by Edward 1, as it was built on a marsh, not raised on rocks. Building started in 1295 and Beaumaris was the last royal stronghold to be built in Wales by King Edward.

The plan of this castle took full advantage of the flat site, not fettered by the usual constraints that shaped the castles of Conwy and Caernarfon (being built on rocky outcrops). It was built using a concentric-walls within walls-principle with four rings of formidable defences including a wide water-filled moat. 

Beaumaris is not as immediately impressive as some other castles, and is not as well preserved as some, but it is a formidable place.

When building work finished in the 1330’s many parts of the castle were not completed, but it is easy to see what an incredible place this was.

This is the outer west wall and the wide moat, the first obstacle facing anyone trying to get into this place 

 

 

 

 This is the south wall and moat with the “Gate next  the Sea”. Where the wooden bridge now leads into  the castle would have been a drawbridge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

To the right hand side of the Gate-next-the-sea is the dock. The channel leading to the Menai Strait has been filled in, but ships would sail up the channel and dock here. The metal rings where they would tie-up can still be seen in the walls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 The Gate next the Sea. This gate contained the first of  15 obstacles to deter any intruders. 

 First was the drawbridge, then 2 parallel “murder-  slots” over the gate passage, then a heavy two-leaved  door.

 After passing through the door is a right-angled turn  to the door into the barbican, it’s interior commanded by a shooting platform running around 3 sides.

 

 

 

 

Once through the gate you enter the outer ward, the open space between the lower walls and towers of the outer curtain and the massive walls and towers of the inner curtain. Here you can see the eight-sided layout of the castle, and it’s complex construction. 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

The north gatehouse. Still an imposing structure, originally the plan was for it to have been about twice this size, with another storey and another 5 windows. 

 

 


 

 The south gatehouse, with the Menai Strait behind.  Not as complete as the north gatehouse, but  probably intended to be almost identical.

 The inner ward covers an area of three-quarters of  an acre, and in 1295 would have been full of huts to  house the workforce.

 

 

 

 

The northern section of the eastern curtain wall. The great hall would have been built here, but little remains of the exterior. There would have been a number of rooms here, and this area would probably have been the main residential suite. 

In the left hand corner was the north-east tower, and on the right-hand side the chapel.

To the right of the north-east tower are the remains of two huge fireplaces, so there were obviously two storeys here.

To the right of the fireplaces is an arched doorway which would have led to the chapel royal.

 

 

 

 

 The chapel royal occupies the first floor of the tower  which stands halfway along the eastern curtain wall.  It has lost it’s colour and fittings, but is still one of  the highlights of Beaumaris today

 

 

 

 

 

 On the left is the ceiling of the chapel royal.

   On the right is the wall passage leading to the    chapel.

 

 

 

 A number of these stone diaphragm arches still  remain intact. They were capable of supporting  a heavy floor, so another chamber would have  been at second floor level.

 The remains of a fine hooded fireplace, which  would have been in a first storey chamber.

 


 

 

 The view looking south across the Menai Strait  towards Snowdonia.

 

 


 

A reconstruction of how Beaumaris may have looked had it been fully completed.

Illustration by Terry Ball, 1987

© Cadw

 

Beaumaris is not the huge imposing fortress stood on a rocky outcrop, but is impressive just the same.

It is wonderful to see the planning of these fortresses, and how mpregnable they were with imaginative defenses built into them.

It is also a wonder that they are still standing, maybe not complete but we can still see the workmanship that was used. How many of todays building will still be standing in 700 years time I wonder?

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Finally I’m adding a post of a day out I had in July, one of the very few nice days we’ve had since May. Anyway, for a change I decided to have a few hours in Conwy, which is only 3 miles from where I live. 

 

Conwy is a small town dominated by a magnificent castle, and enclosed within town walls.

The castle is one of the ring of castles built in north Wales by William 1, to keep the Welsh subdued. Work started in 1283 and it was completed, along with the town walls in 1287.

Originally the walls were rendered and were white. It must have been a wonderful but frightening sight in those days.

 

The town was laid out in a grid pattern within the walls, and retains the same pattern today. Much of the town is still within the walls. 

The picture on the left is the smallest house in Britain, which is on the quayside. It is 10ft 2ins high, 6ft wide and 8ft 4ins from back to front. Very few people cn stand upright in it’s rooms, but the last permanent occupant was a local fisherman who was over 6ft tall!

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

The picture on the right is Aberconwy House which dates from  the 14th century. It’s a rare example of a timbered stone built merchants house and it i said to be the oldest  dwelling in Conwy.

 

 St Mary’s Church is the only building which pre-dates the castle, well part of it does. It is built on the site of a Cistercian Abbey dating from 1185.

Part of one of the walls are said to be from the Abbey, which was moved further up the Conwy valley to Maenen when William chose this place to build his castle.

 

 

 

 


 

 

The statue of Llewelyn the Great is in Lancaster Square. Llewelyn was a great Welsh Prince and founded the Abbey in 1185.

 

 

 

 

 


 

 And so, on to the castle, which still dominates the town and the surrounding area.

 

This is the Kings tower, where William 1st had his personal chambers.

 

 

 

 

Also in the Kings tower is his personal chapel. It’s not very big, but then it was for the King and his personal retinue. He probably didn’t use it when others did, because above it is a little watching room. Here the King could sit and watch proceedings through a small window.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To the left, the slightly curving room is the Great Hall. It is 150ft long, and is curved rather than the usual rectangular shape because of the shape of the rock outcrop on which the castle is built.

The smaller room at this end of the Great Hall is the castle chapel.

 

 


 

 

 This is just a photo to show how thick the walls are. 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

From the castle you can look down onto the suspension bridge across Afon Conwy. The bridge was built by Thomas Telford in 1822 and was a toll bridge. It was in use until the new road bridge was opened in 1958.

The other bridge which can just be seen is the tubular Railway bridge which was built by Stephenson in 1849.

Two great structures which try to compliment the castle, and certainly don’t detract from it.

 

The town walls are 3/4 mile long and are still mostly intact except for a short stretch by the quayside. You 

 can take a very pleasant walk around the  walls.

 

 The original gates in the town walls are still  in use, and as you can see, they were not  constructed for modern traffic. It just adds  to the attractiveness of this World Heritage  Site. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 From the new road bridge is a great view  down the estuary. In the background is the  Great Orme, where Llandudno nestles beneath it.

 On the right is Deganwy, with it’s marina.  The strange shaped hill is the remains of an  ancient castle.

 And so it’s back home, and the wonderful  sunset behind the castle which I see from  the end of my street.

 


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