Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Best woodland walk in Britain in the Vale of Ffestiniog

At the supermarket there were free copies of a Daily Mail supplement titled Britain’s Best Woodland Walks. I picked it up and, of the fifteen walks, one is right here on our doorstep. The guide is a joint production by the Woodland Trust and the Daily Mail with the centre pages given over to our walk. An integral aspect of the walk is of course a ride on the Ffestiniog Railway. The written suggestion is to take the downhill train from Tan y Bwlch station to Penrhyndeudraeth and walk back up but I’m sure you’ll be able to work out the alternative option.

You can create your own à la carte version of this woodland walk using the excellent leaflet on the Vale of Ffestiniog website which can be accessed here

Friday, 24 February 2012

Tate Modern in Blaenau?

Slate wrapped in cling film - could this be a Turner prize winner? Or is the Tate Modern on tour in north Wales?

We've had our fair share of rain these past few days and even slate sculptures need protection, particularly with fresh concrete curing on the inside. Wrapped in polythene and topped with tarpaulin it seemed to burst into a sweat with the welcome arrival of sunshine.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Sculpture and pavement poetry

High rise slate sculptures continue to sprout in the centre of Blaenau. The current spell of misty drizzle presents no problems whilst freezing temperatures a couple of weeks ago were no good for concrete work.

Another set of contractors are laying paving stones with a handy gadget that picks up each slab by suction. Excellent for precision work also kind on backs and fingers.

Every few steps there’s a line of Cymraeg on a slab of slate embedded in the pavement with a number. I think number 32 translates to ‘stone hearth’.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Best Day Walks in Snowdonia?

It’s always a bit subjective and I can’t help but be biased. Frontispiece overlooking the mouth of the Dwyryd, with Rhinogydd behind, was a promising start but, as a Moelwyn man, I’m sad to see Moelwynion get barely a mention.  Cnicht and Moel Siabod, yes, but what about Moelwyn Mawr and Bach?

As for the list of best bases, everywhere from Bala to Bangor to Tywyn but no Blaenau Ffestiniog – the 3rd largest town in Gwynedd and most central to the whole of Snowdonia. It might be excluded from the national park but it is most definitely at the heart of it all.

Putting aside my parochial prejudices it is a beautiful book which inspires me to get out and try new walks. Well illustrated and well-written with just the right amount of interesting detail.  

Inevitably a single volume is going to be a compromise compared to the 4 volume epic published last year  - Pictorial Guide to the Mountains of Snowdonia. But maybe I should see the absence of my home patch as a plus point, don’t want the crowds shattering the peace and wearing down the rocks.

Published 22nd March 2012 by Frances Lincoln. RRP £12.99.

For the discerning walker this is what the Vale of Ffestiniog has to offer

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Blaenau Downhill

There’s been talk about Blaenau’s downhill biking for a few years, with recent progress marked by the uplift road reaching towards the top of the mountain. But for me, on an icy, misty Saturday morning, this was the first time I got really excited.  Simon from Antur Stiniog and Ceri led about 30 of us up the mountain to see the work in progress.

Along the way were trails in varying states of completion and parked, with their buckets planted nose first into the ground, were the orange excavators. One of the drivers is Jason Rennie, famous for achieving the world record jump on a mountain bike of over 134 feet at Llandegla in true Evel Knievel style. Not just a digger driver but a devotee of the sport and this, along with the biking or motocross skills of the other operators, will make Blaenau’s downhill that much better.

Steeply cambered hairpin bends on high cliffs looked inviting, but the more I looked the more I thought this could be a spectator sport. At the very top a small mound marked the site of a ramp from which bikers will launch onto their chosen trail. For our descent we chose the steepest black run. The gentle start lulled us into a sense of false security but not for long, pretty soon we were peering into descents challenging in sturdy walking boots. 

Great care has been taken to design and create the downhill biking in a sustainable manner, not just in environmental but also economic terms.  With a choice of 4 trails of varying severity Blaenau will appeal to a wider cross section of bikers as opposed to other downhill centres where there is just a single extreme trail.  It will also be an all year round operation, albeit snow and ice will of necessity close the uplift road and trails. At the bottom of the trails in the car park will be the jump site (free of charge) next to the cafe with visitor centre and viewing platform above. Unlike other subsidised downhill centres, this one has been designed to be self-sustaining.

The cafe will sell basic foods for bikers but will encourage customers wanting meals to go down the road to Blaenau with a safe cycle route to aid them on their way.  It sounds like the whole business and biking community in the Vale of Ffestiniog has the opportunity to benefit.

Prices have not yet been fixed but it is likely there will be permits for a day, for a half day and for a ‘single hit’ – I’m not sure about the choice of words but this sounds like the option for me. Market rates will dictate the prices but the day ticket is thought to be in the region of £20 to £25 but best wait and see.

As we got closer to the bottom we came to the ‘sting in the trail’, basically a bridge up and over a path to propel you to the top of a rock with the straight on option being what looked like almost certain death 15 or more feet below.  There is an option to the left for those that feel like wimping out.

Plans and words can’t do it justice and, whilst walking the route brought the enormity of it home to me, I can’t quite imagine what it would be like on two wheels. There’s only one way to find out – I’ll put it on my bucket list.

For more information about this wonderful area click here. For more information about the downhill biking which should be opening this summer contact Simon and Ceri at Antur Stiniog

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Towers of Blaenau

Sculptures made by Howard Bowcott and his team were hoisted into position by a very large crane to make an impressive entry from the platform into the car park. Each tower is formed out of 15,000 individual slates pieced together with precision. Slates from Llechwedd interspersed with slabs from Cwt y Bugail which make great material for carving Croeseo Welcome etc.  

What a great way to arrive in Blaenau, alighting from the Ffestiniog Railway. It's 30 years ago that the line was reopened all the way to Blaenau. Short film below - don't you love the black glove hand signals!

As with all public art, opinions are divided between the enthusiastic and the ‘what a waste of money’.  I think it’s brilliant, an icon that could inspire great things by many people. And I don’t mean graffiti.

And if you want to see how they were built in the workshop .....

For more information about this wonderful area click here.