Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Changing face of Blaenau Ffestiniog

The big crane was in the station car park today hoisting massive chunks of slate sculpture into position. Using block tackles the first piece was tilted to just the right angle then lowered through the scaffolding, around the concrete reinforcing rods and onto its plinth. Precision work. Larger pieces followed and the work is rising out of the ground. I'll be back in late July to see the final pieces go on top. Below is a film clip of this stage. Earlier stages of the project can be seen in The Workshop and at the Station Entrance.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Nightjars in the Vale of Ffestiniog

What does a nightjar sound like? If you want to find out, first of all you need to locate a male nightjar.  According to the RSPB there are just 4,606 of them in the UK between May and August. They sing at night and like heathland - which is not necessarily the easiest surface to walk over in the dark.  But the heath at Gwaith Powdwr has smooth pathways and a guide, Rob Booth, to take you to the right spot at the right time without scaring the birds away.

Rob will be leading a nightjar walk on Saturday 30th June and on Friday 6th July starting, presumably from the entrance to Gwaith Powdwr, at 8:30pm.  There is a charge of £2 for members of North Wales Wildlife Trust (NWWT) and £4 for non members. Please call Rob or the NWWT office on 01248 351541 if you would like to take part. 

If you can’t make it, turn off your lights, turn up the volume, close your eyes and listen to the film above. The birdsong and call is courtesy of BirdVoice which produces great products for people like me struggling to make sense of who is singing what.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Trail marathon at Coed y Brenin

There was only one way to find out if I could do a marathon and a new one on my doorstep at Coed y Brenin seemed the obvious choice. ‘Trail’ sounded so much more appealing than road; although at the time I did not realise trail would translate into 3,959 feet of altitude gain.

A strong breeze kept away the worst of the midges as the organisers outlined a revised course. Torrential rains had forced a new route to be marked at the last moment. Then it was into the starting funnel, ‘The Final Countdown’ blaring out of the speakers, and Iori, the wildlife ranger, started us with a blast from his twelve bore. 
For the first mile there was much shuffling of the pack as runners settled into their pace, conversations were struck up and there was a steady, easy going atmosphere as we ambled along. After an hour and six miles into the trail, front runners of the half marathon went pounding past on a thin, steeply downhill path laced with slippery tree roots – having started 30 minutes later than me they were obviously going twice as fast.   

What we lost in altitude into that deep gorge was regained by an exhausting haul up the other side. Once more on high ground we were able to take in distant views towards Cadair Idris but low cloud meant only a local would know that. At Tyn y Groes, friendly assistants handed out snacks and drinks at one of the many oases along the way. Beginning to feel a bit weary I chanced a gel, a pouch of instant energy, but I won’t be using them again.

Twelve miles in two hours’ my new friend from Edinburgh told me, reading off her high tech gadget. For her this was just a training run for a sixty four mile event around Mont Blanc. Much as I enjoyed her company I explained that I needed to drop down a gear and off she went. This was my black spot with legs feeling heavy. I was now at the furthest point I’d run before. If I could get through the next six miles I’d have a good chance.

The following stretch seemed to go upwards for ever and I wasn’t the only one walking the steep bits - and later on the not so steep bits. Four young women passed me chatting as they went. There was talk about the Champagne being on ice. One said she’d have some tonic with her first gin. Printed on the backs of their T shirts:
Never under estimate
the strength
of a woman

Don’t f@#k with
one who enjoys
running 26.2 miles

My heart sank as the route took us back down that deep gorge and up the other side but then it was steady running once more. My companion at this stage was a woman from Abergavenny, also doing her first marathon. Knee bandaged and pumped with pills after an early fall she was determined to reach the finish. Whilst I was looking forward to a hot bath, supper and a couple of beers in front of Euro 2012 she had the prospect of feeding four young children at their campsite.

Flapjacks and a few words of encouragement buoyed me up for the final stretch. After crossing a river one of the helpers said ‘well done, just over a mile to go’.  I think he meant just a mile of uphill, it was steep and a cruel sting in the tail. Then a steady half mile freewheeling down to the finish. A few minutes under six hours was not fast but I’d done it. The first person in the world to ever do a trail marathon in this body.

Many thanks to Trail Marathon Wales for organising the event in cooperation with Forestry Commission Wales – it was brilliant, friendly and atmospheric. Thanks also to all the marshals, volunteers and to South Snowdonia Mountain Rescue Team whose presence gave me a little bit of reassurance. My only criticism would be towards my fellow runners for dumping so much plastic along the way.
What next? Maybe the Dragon's Back Race in September?

Friday, 22 June 2012

Walking with Wolves

Monday 2nd July meet 12:45 for a 13:00 depart from Tan y Bwlch station on a guided walk into Coed y Bleiddiau, ‘forest of the wolves’, returning via the train leaving Dduallt at 15:30. Four hundred years ago wolves roamed this forest and legend has it that this is where the last wolf in Wales was slain.

In those days the land was owned by the Lloyds of Dduallt and their old house has recently been tree ring dated to 1559. In the census of 1841 there were 52 people living on their 600 acre farm; in the 2011 census there were only 5! Fortunately the land was acquired by the National Trust in the 1960s otherwise this beautiful oak woodland, managed by CCW, would be sitka spruce.

Huw Jenkins (that’s me) will lead this walk on behalf of the Snowdonia Society (Cwmdeithas Eryri). The route through the Maentwrog nature reserve stays close to the railway line but I’ve slashed an off-piste path through the bracken to show you some of my favourite bits.

The woods are full of birds singing away. I’m no bird expert but equipped with BirdVoice (a recent birthday present) we’ll see if together we can identify some of the many songs.

If you wish to join the walk the Snowdonia Society suggests you give them a donation of £2 if you are a member of the society and £5 if not. The one way ticket from Dduallt to Tan y Bwlch can be bought on the train and costs £2.40 or £2.20 for the over 60s. The Ffestiniog Railway have confirmed that the Tan y Bwlch cafĂ© will be open.

We might see some goats but just in case we don’t, this is what they looked like a couple of weeks ago:

The Snowdonia Society is a registered charity working to protect, enhance and celebrate Snowdonia, its wildlife and heritage. The Society works with local communities, organisations and businesses to achieve this vision.

For full event details or to book a place contact Frances on 01286 685498 or email frances@snowdonia-society.org.uk

Friday, 8 June 2012

Ffeathered Ffriends of the Ffestiniog

Birds and steam trains seem to get along well, probably bird watching and train spotting too. Here are three short films of birds nesting close to the line.

Nuthatches at Campbell’s Platform with the hole to their nest made narrow using mud set like concrete; this helps protect them from predators.

Woodpeckers (greater spotted) between Campbell’s and Coed y Bleiddiau; the cries of the chicks so close to the path was a real give away.

Pied flycatchers at Coed y Bleiddiau, which have travelled all the way from Africa, coinciding the hatching of their chicks with peak availability of a caterpillar which feeds on the young leaves of oak trees.