Blog for May 2017 with Photographs, Travel Notes and Local History
Friday May 5th 2017
On the previous evening we looked at the weather forecast which predicted a bright day but a very gusty easterly wind, blowing at up to 30kph. This sounded perfect for a bike ride, as long as we were heading west!
The plan was simple - jump on a train to Hinckley and cycle back towards the Black Country with the wind behind our backs providing a gentle push along the way. It was a plan that worked to perfection. We used bikes that could cope with a little off-roading such as Sutton Park, the above photograph being taken alongside Blackroot Pool.
Clambering off the train at Hinckley, it was too early to pop into the Railway Inn though this is a pub worth your patronage should you be in the locality. We started our 81.26km ride by heading north-west towards Stoke Golding and Dadlington. We enjoyed some lunch at the Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre before heading to the railway station at Shenton, the southern terminus of the Battlefield Line Railway. The station was formerly a stop on the London and North Western Railway and the Midland Railway.
We stopped at the Shenton Aqueduct, one of the many wonderful scenes along the charming Ashby Canal. This waterway, also known as the Ashby-la-Zouch Canal, gently meanders through some of the most scenic parts of Leicestershire. The canal was completed in 1804 and ran from the coalfields in the area around Spring Cottage to Marston on the Coventry Canal. Originally 30 miles long and the first contour canal without a single lock, the principal cargo carried was coal from the pits on the Ashby Wolds to Coventry, Oxford and London.
We truly had the benefit of the wind on the road westward to Sibson. We had an enjoyable rummage around All Saints' Church at Sheepy Magna. The door was however locked at Orton-on-the-Hill. It was on Warton Lane that I took the above photograph. Custodians of the countryside my arse - when farmers remove hedgerows they destroy animal habitats, which leads to a loss of biodiversity - not to mention the destruction of several centuries of natural scenery. And generally it is all because big agribusinesses can enjoy bigger crop yields and profits. This is one of the worst examples I have seen in a few years.
We followed a quiet-ish route through Polesworth, Two Gates and Drayton Bassett to Sutton Coldfield. Barr Beacon and Sandwell Valley featured on our route to West Bromwich. As usual, it is hard to cycle near the Fixed Wheel Brewery without stopping for a well-earned beer.
Sunday May 14th 2017
Today we enjoyed an epic cycle ride from Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant, the plan being to wind up back at the Plough Inn for some beer and a bit of nosh. I use the term 'epic' not because it was some white-knuckle experience or a silly distance ride but because the scenery today was off the scale and the journey was a joy.
We normally ride a loop or circuit so this route map is a bit of a rarity in that in a couple of places we returned along the same roads - this is because of the topography of the region and the roads available. I have made the ride available on Garmin Connect in case you want to follow the same route and use these notes.
The road out of Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant soon warms up a rider - it is quite a climb out of the village. The above photograph was taken near Plas-Du on the road to Penybontfawr. This was typical of the quiet roads we enjoyed with fabulous scenery.
Rolling into Penybontfawr the Bethania chapel is on the corner of Station Road with the Railway Inn standing on the other side of the junction. A sign on the building states that it dates from the 18th century, though it has clearly been re-fronted in brick. It is a pretty good pub with a slate floor in the drinking room and a fire to warm you up on a cold day. A range of beers are available and the Railway Inn serves food in the dining room.
The name of the house is more complex than one would imagine. Most online pages suggest the house was named after the Tanat Valley Light Railway which ran along alongside the river to Llangynog. However, this line did not open until 1904 but the pub was called the Railway Tavern in the 1870s. I would think that the Jones family who kept the pub in those days named it in expectation of the railway coming to Penybontfawr. In 1866 the Potteries, Shrewsbury and North Wales Railway opened a railway line from Shrewsbury to the nearby quarries and Nantmawr. It was intended to extend the line further up the valley and onwards to Porthmadog. However, the capital for such a remote line could not be raised. Consequently, the people in the Tanat valley had to wait until the Edwardian period before they were connected to Shropshire via a light railway. Other public-houses in the village, such as the Cross Foxes Inn, Goat Inn and Eagles Inn, kept their traditional names. The line never did make money and the company got into financial difficulties. They were taken over by the Cambrian Railways who soon fell under the Great Western Railway. Passenger services operated along the valley until January 1951.
The road up to Llanwddyn is quite lovely. This view on the approach to Hirnant shows Carnedd Das Eithin to the right. This summit in the Berwyn region measures 521 metres in height. The round cairn at the top is a scheduled monument.
Hirnant is little more than a scattering of farmhouses and cottages so it is perhaps a surprise that the hamlet has its own church. However, the history of Saint Illog's Church extends back to the medieval period, an early record being dated 1254. The building is dedicated to the 7th century hermit Saint Ellidius or Illog. I believe there is only one other church in the UK with such a dedication and it is on the Scilly Isles. This church was almost completely rebuilt between 1886-1892, the only element of the older structure being the north wall. The 'new' building, the work of Lawrence Booth of Manchester, features the pulpit and altar rails from the submerged church at Llanwddyn, a building that lies beneath the waters of Llyn Efyrnwy [Lake Vyrnwy].
The old vicarage stands behind the church. It is a lovely mid-18th century house and can be viewed from the public footpath. Close to the church stands the old village shop and the former New Inn. Up until his death in 1892, the tavern was run by the elderly Edward Jones. Born in Llangynog in 1803, he was 89 years-old when he passed away. Following the death of his wife Jane, who also enjoyed a good innings, he lived on the premises with his son David. The shop was also run by the Jones family.
At Clochnant the road bears to the left and then rise up into the woodland. Fairly steady, it is quite a climb but a delightful journey through the trees, the only downer being that the woodland is not varied and there are too many conifers. However, on the plus side, the sale of forested land belonging to the Liverpool Corporation was sold off after the Second World War and the funds used to build the community centre, school, and model housing just up the road at Abertridwr. We called into the community centre in the midst of a charity cycle ride. Many participants looked like they were having fun but others had the appearance of near-death etched across their visage.
We rolled along the road running along the top of the dam wall. This was built on a rock bar discovered by the surveyor and engineer George Deacon who came to the valley in 1877 hoping to find a suitable site for construction of a reservoir to supply water to Liverpool. Three years later the Liverpool Corporation Waterworks Act was passed and preparations were made for the dam's construction, work on which commenced in July 1881. An army of labourers were brought into the valley with materials and supplies being transported by horses from the railway station at Llanfyllin some 16 kilometres away. Some of the stone used in the wall's construction was quarried locally. Looking back in time, one has to marvel at the ambition and resolution of the Victorian engineers.
There was little traffic around when we arrived at the dam wall so we could enjoy a car-free journey across the stonework holding back gazillions of gallons of water. The wall was the first dam to be constructed with stone in the UK and, at the time of construction, it was the largest artificial reservoir in Europe. The old village of Llanwddyn was largely demolished before the valves were closed and the water started to fill the valley. Amazingly, and even to the surprise of the Victorians, the reservoir was completely full of water in little over a year. Fragments of the old village have been seen at times of drought, particularly during the hot summer of 1976.
I wonder if the villagers of Llanwddyn knew what George Deacon was up to when he first came to survey the valley. Perhaps they would have sent him packing - or thrown him down a well. The rising waters saw the loss of three public-houses, taverns that enjoyed bumper trade towards the end of their days by slaking the thirsts of almost 1,000 labourers toiling all day on the construction project. In this photograph the Powis Arms Hotel can be seen, along with the old parish church dedicated to Saint John the Baptist.
The Powis Arms Hotel, along with the Cross Guns Inn, were the two fully licensed public-houses lost to Lake Vyrnwy. A beer house named the Talybont Inn was also a victim of the valley's transformation. A twist of irony is that the signboard of this tavern commemorated the Earl of Powis and it was Edward Herbert, the 3rd Earl, who laid the foundation stone of the dam on July 14th, 1881, thus sealing the fate of this hostelry. Edward Herbert was even born in a hostelry, entering the world at the Angel Hotel in Pershore, Worcestershire. When performing his ceremonial bricklaying, he held the office of Lord Lieutenant of Montgomeryshire.
The licensee of the Powis Arms Hotel around the time of the above photograph was Edward Morton who also farmed some 40 acres of land. He kept the Powis Arms with his wife Elizabeth. The couple's daughter-in-law Mary Anne worked as the cook and they employed Mary Anne Evans as a domestic servant, along with Mary Anne Morgan as a nurse. These may be the women photographed in the entrance porch of the hostelry.
The Liverpool Corporation were credited with their treatment of the displayed inhabitants of Llanwddyn, erecting good quality stone houses in place of the old cottages submerged by the water. They also built the Lake Vyrnwy Hotel for which they applied for a licence in September 1892. At this time the hotel was in the course of construction and was anticipated to be finished by the following Easter. The Corporation anticipated large numbers of tourists and the hotel, including 33 bedrooms, was to provide comfortable accommodation for those who would used the brakes that departed from Oswestry.
In the 21st century day-trippers can feast in the excellent Old Barn Café. Before embarking on our circumnavigation of Lake Vyrnwy we called in for some lovely home-made nosh. We even had a pudding with custard! I note that the Old Barn Café has some reviews on Trip Advisor suggesting that the owner is rude but our experience was the complete opposite.
It was also the Liverpool Corporation that laid out a carriage route around the reservoir and this forms a lovely cycle ride around Lake Vyrnwy. We stopped a few times but it seemed to take us longer than we anticipated as it is only a circuit of 19 kilometres. Still, it is a route along which one should take time to enjoy the different views around the lake. I notice on Strava that some cyclists time trial their way around the reservoir!
A key landmark on the edge of the lake is the Straining Tower which does what it says on the tin in that it removes gunk and other impurities through large wire-gauge filters before the run-off water travels along the aqueduct to Liverpool. The distance of the underground pipe is almost 110 kilometres. A functional building would have served the role but the Victorians did things differently. Consequently, a Gothic-styled tower building was erected near the shore, providing Lake Vyrnwy with a structure akin to those seen on the Rhine.
Following our gentle sojourn around the reservoir, we followed the lane up to the Lake Vyrnwy Hotel to take a look at the Church of Saint Wddyn.
The Church of Saint Wddyn was opened after the contractors blew up the old church with dynamite. A farewell service was held in St. John's in December 1888. On the very next day the new church was consecrated by the Bishop of Bangor. The church had been temporarily opened for services since the previous June. Most of the dead buried at the old church were reburied in the new churchyard. There is a window dedicated to the engineer George Deacon who, along with Thomas Hawksley, was largely responsible for the dam project.
From the Church of Saint Wddyn we rode back towards Ty-nant where we turned left along a rather sketchy lane to join the road up the Tanat Valley towards Llangynog. I took the above photograph whilst riding along what is the B4391, the river being to our right and Craig Rhiwarth rising up ahead of us. This is the site of one of the highest hill forts in Wales.
The last time I cycled through Llangynog I was flying. I was riding back to the Black Country from Porthmadog and had climbed up to Llan Ffestiniog, along the wild road to Bala and chugged up the hill and pedalled through the barren landscape to Pen y Briniau where I took the above photograph near Milltir Gerrig before rocketing down the hill to Llangynog. I was nudging 90kph when I almost overcooked it on a right-hander but survived the scary moment to whizz through the town and on towards Llanfyllin. Anyway, I am showing this approach to Llangynog as it is one of the great safe downhill cycle rides in Wales.
Riding into Llangynog from the south-east there is a cluster of dwellings before the river in a locale known as Pentre. Next to the bridge stands the former Llangynog Congregationalist Ebenezer Chapel, a building erected in 1895 on the site of an older Wesleyan chapel.
A foundation stone was laid by Thomas A. Jones of Williamsburgh in Iowa, on September 16th, 1895. Other smaller stones were laid either side of this. Thomas Jones was a native of Llangynog who went to spread the good word in the new world. He had pledged £100 towards the cost of construction on the condition that the church raised another £150. The building was designed by the Birkenhead-based architect Thomas Rees. I couldn't help wonder how or why Thomas Jones returned from the United States in order to wield a cement-laden trowel. There was nobody around to quiz on this matter. Indeed, there was hardly a soul to be seen anywhere in the village.
Opposite the Congregationalist Ebenezer Chapel is the former Powis Castle Inn, or the Castle Inn as it was sometimes known. I took this photograph during an earlier visit to the village but it has since been stripped back to the old stone frontage and looks all the better for the work. The pub was part of a legal case in March 1882 when John Owen of Rhosymedre sued Thomas Davies for £13 15s., for the use and occupation of his moiety of the inn and adjoining shop and cottage. In the late Victorian era and early Edwardian period the shop and tavern was kept by the Davies family. In the early 1890s widow Margaret Davies, former wife of the aforementioned Thomas Davies, was recorded as publican and grocer. She was assisted by her son Robert and daughter Jane. By the end of the 19th century Robert Owen Davies was running the pub with his wife Sarah whilst his sister Jane concentrated on running the grocery store.
A toll gate was positioned close to the bridge, the collector in the early 1870s being Catherine Richards. The former Cross Keys Inn was, according to census returns, very close to the Powis Castle Inn. It may have been in this row of cottages facing the Congregationalist Ebenezer Chapel but I have not confirmed this. In the mid-19th century the inn was kept by Thomas and Catherine Ellis. In the 1870s course meetings met at the Cross Keys Inn where 'capital' dinners were served.
At the Llanfyllin Petty Sessions held on June 6th 1890, an application was made for the transfer of the license from Edward Jones to Evan Lewis. However, the application was opposed by the police. Evidence was given that there were three other public-houses in the village and, considering that the population had decreased to 300 people, previous occupants of the house had failed and sold up. Major Godfrey, the Chief Constable, stated that the house had closed for a spell during the previous year and that it was not needed. Indeed, he stated that he had received a petition signed by 200 parishioners objecting to the transfer of the licence. The hearing was adjourned until the following month when the magistrates unanimously refused the application. Mr. Bott, a solicitor based in Oswestry, appeared on behalf of Messrs. Kent and England, brewers, and the tenant. He objected to the decision, contending the present tenant was a respectable man, and the premises had been licensed for 200 years, no conviction having been registered against it. The premises were suitable, and he claimed the grant as a matter of right. An appeal was subsequently lodged and the decision overturned. The local newspaper claimed that the magistrates were "not enamoured of temperance sentiment."
Once Evan Lewis had secured the licence it did not take long before he landed himself in trouble. In August 1891 the publican was charged for permitting drunkenness on the premises. Police Sergeant Meredith called into the house one July afternoon and found David Williams completely legless. He had earlier been refused ale by Robert Owen Davies, landlord of the Powis Castle Inn. He had also been refused service by Ruth Jones at the Miners' Arms further up the road. Working as a road contractor and foreman, Evan Lewis had been around the block a fair bit. His wife Prudence hailed from the Black Country town of Sedgley and their son Maurice was born in Kensington, London. He worked as a miner at the time of his marriage, though it would seem he worked on farms in his youth rather than the lead mines on the southern fringe of Llangynog.
It was the Women's Temperance Union that finally did for the Powis Castle Inn. The pub came up for review in February 1929 at the Llanfyllin Brewster Sessions when an application was made for the closing of the tavern. A petition bearing 221 signatures out of a total population of 270, was submitted by the local branch of the Women's Temperance Union. The Chairman, Major Lomax, was not happy with the petition, stating that the handwriting was the same in several instances. Professor Orbert Richards said that "many of the inhabitants were illiterate, and the best writer in the house had signed for the household." The Chairman said the petition was most irregular. The Bench decided to refer the hotel for compensation, but made it clear they did so on evidence alone, and that they were not influenced by the petition.
Heading into the main part of Llangynog the Carmel Chapel is on the right-hand side of the road. Designed by Richard Owens of Liverpool, the building was erected by the Wesleyan Methodists in 1875. There was an earlier meeting house for Wesleyans and said to be established by 1803.
Next to the Carmel Chapel is the New Inn which, over the years, has been regarded as the principal hostelry of Llangynog. A stone set within the building is dated 1751. Sadly, the interior has been bodged, the brick servery being a horror show. Who thought these were a good idea in the 1970s and 1980s? A choice of two beers were available and, noting how tumbleweed was blowing down the main street, I suspected these would be past their best. However, the beer wasn't so bad and quenched our thirsts. If I am honest, I do not know how Llangynog can support two pubs. Where is everybody? This is a beautiful valley but probably better for having no tourists. Certainly, it means we can ride in some safety without having cars passing us all the time. I cannot imagine what trade is like during the winter months. In terms of economics these pubs would love to turn back time and enjoy the bumper trade of a more heavily populated village when the lead mines and slate quarries employed many hands, along with the trains that once chugged up the valley. That would do the trick.
This sale notice from 1870 shows that the New Inn once produced homebrewed ales which no doubt ranged in consistency. The advertisement also shows that the sale was to include seven tons of well-harvested hay. The New Inn had farmland attached to it and Victorian publicans were recorded as both innkeeper and farmer. One year after this sale notice was published it was Evan Evans who worked in the fields, leaving his wife Ellen to manage the pub. In the following decade it was recorded that publican Cadwaladr Jones farmed some 27 acres of land. The innkeeper had taken over the New Inn during the summer of 1877. The publican had to contend with an awkward customer who gave his name as William Marding when he was hauled before the magistrates in May 1881, charged with being drink and refusing to quit the premises. The Bench sentenced him to 14 days' with hard labour. Those were the days when people were expected to behave themselves in the bar.
Although the New Inn proudly displays a construction date from the mid-18th century, the Tanat Valley Inn across the road is the senior building, parts of which are thought to date from the 16th century. The interior still features a hotch-potch of exposed timber. Perhaps the new kid on the block across the road was bestowed with the name of the New Inn when compared to this old tavern? The hostelry was formerly known as the Miners' Arms, though I am not convinced it was a licensed house pre-dating the New Inn. I am not sure when the name was changed but it appeared as the Tanat Valley Hotel in the census of 1911. It was listed as the Tanat Inn when an advertisement dated August 1945 proclaimed that the house provided breakfast, sandwiches and dinner.
Further north along Berwyn Street is a former grocery shop with the lettering Arddol above the fenestration. There were a couple of shops along here. The Post Office was next to this grocery shop. Indeed, an earlier post office once traded as another grocery shop. Llangynog has no shops these days, a statistic that underlines the modern trend whereby most local services have vanished from isolated parts of the countryside. In the early Edwardian period Arddol House was occupied by the grocer and draper Thomas Owen who was assisted by his son Owen. He had been trading in these premises for over two decades. Mary Myfanwy Richards lived at Arddol House after the Second World War. She was married to Robert Richards, MP for Wrexham. A native of Llangynog, she lived in the village for most of her life. She was a member of the Carmel Methodist Church and a president of the local Women's Institute.
The Anglican church occupies the elevated site of an early medieval place of worship, the round churchyard suggesting a very early building at the core of the ancient settlement. This building, dedicated to the 5th century martyr, was erected in the early 1790s. The church was extensively restored in 1894 by the Oswestry-based architect William Spaull who managed to erode the Georgian style of the building. Some work was needed as the building was reported to be in a dilapidated condition. The wooden windows were rotten and the snow and rain came throught the bellcote and roof. The building contractor was Mr. W. Griffiths of Knockin, the floor tiles being supplied by the works of J. C. Edwards in Ruabon.
On higher ground to the south-west of Saint Cynog's Church stands the Penuel Chapel, a building erected by the Calvinistic Methodists in 1868. Erected in complementary style, the neighbouring Bronhefin is the former minister's house. It was enjoyable wandering around the graveyard, particularly as the setting is quite extraordinary. The cemetery overlooks the bowling green and it was here that I saw the only person out and about. He was, however, Johnny No Mates and was bowling on his own. Lllangynog really does feel like a ghost town.
From Bronhefin we continued along the lane in the direction of Pennant Melangell. There is a gentle gradient up through the trees before the landscape opens out with Rhyd-Y-Felin forming a dramatic backdrop [see above photograph]. This 'pimple' is used for major downhill bike racing events, including the UK National Championships. Click here if you want to see how frightening it is to ride down the slope.
We approached our destination of the Church of Saint Melangell and found nirvana. I am not sure which is the most remote church on the UK mainland but this location must rank fairly high on the list. We wheeled our bikes through the lych-gate, thought to date from the late 16th century, and found ourselves in one of the most tranquil and serene places in Wales. Bronze age burial pits have been discovered in the circular churchyard. Certified at around 2,000 years of age, the yew trees also demonstrate that this has been a sacred place since ancient times.
Serving a community of nuns led by Saint Melangell [Monacella], it is thought Pennant Melangell was founded in the seventh or eight century. The story of St. Melangell is a Celtic legend. Brychwel, Prince of Powys, was one day hunting in the Pennant Valley when his hounds started a hare. The animal took refuge beneath the robe of a beautiful girl who was praying among the trees. There the hare crouched boldly, and the hounds fled away howling miserably. One of the Prince's followers, on raising his horn to his lips, found he was unable to blow it. The girl told the Prince that she was the daughter of an Irish king and had left his court to avoid an unwelcome marriage. Her name was Monacella, which has become transformed in Celtic into Melangell. She had been living in the valley for many years. Brychwel was so impressed by her story that he gave her a grant of land. On it she founded a community of virgins, to whom many miracles were attributed in the ensuing years.
In the mid-late 12th century the wooden structure was replaced by a stone building, possibly by the Welsh Chieftain Rhirid Flaidd, Rhirid the Wolf, Lord of Penllyn. The church has been restored and rebuilt in part on several occasions, the legacy of which is a fabric of several periods. There is a twelfth century Norman font, a chancel and nave roof dating from the late 14th century, and a tower and belfry added in the 16th or 17th century. However, the church was restored in 1876-7 by Benjamin Lay of Welshpool. He completely rebuilt the tower and inserted new windows. Incredibly, wall paintings revealed during the restoration work were not preserved.
The church houses the restored shrine of Saint Melangell, reputed to be the oldest Romanesque shrine in Great Britain. The church was restored during the 1950s and, in the course of the work, several finely-carved stones of considerable age were discovered in the walls. These were identified by experts as having been tne fabric of the 600-year-old shrine. The pieces were re-erected in their original position in the Cell-y-bedd, or Cell of the Grave, at the East End of the building. Robert Heaton, the architect supervising the restoration, unearthed some rough cobbling beneath the floor, a large tombstone with rough stones beneath it in the shape of a grave, and some bones. He also uncovered the foundations of the original twelfth-century church.
A restored 15th century carved rood screen depicts the foundation myth of the church, a building which was again restored between 1989-92. It is an extraordinary church and possesses a unique aura. We felt rather privileged to have experienced this special place.
I do not like going back the way I came but for a cyclist there is only one way out of Pennant Melangell and that is a return ticket to Llangynog. But hey, there are worse roads on which to pedal. At Llangynog we were able to cross the river and cycle down the northern side of the valley. As you can see this is a lovely road. The Tanat Valley really is great cycling territory and the equal of the Yorkshire Dales.
Back in Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant we still had time to pack in another dead-end by cycling up the Rhaeadr valley to the waterfall. The gradient is gentle and the road is a pleasant journey through the woodland. Again, there was nobody else using the road so we enjoyed a very peaceful ride up the slope. We were amazed to find an honesty box bookshop midway up at the side of the road - here of all places. Incredible.
Pistyll Rhaeadr is billed as the tallest waterfall in Wales. This is inaccurate as the Devil's Appendix on the Clogwyn y Geifr cliffs and Pistyll y Llyn, which falls from Llyn Penrhaeadr, are taller. However, there is no question about which is the most enchanting, particularly as we had the site to ourselves. Where is everyone today? Not that we care as our visit was all the richer for the lack of people. Pistyll Rhaeadr is one of the so-called "Seven Wonders of Wales," a list completely invalidated in my humble opinion by the exclusion of Pennant Melangell. Or, for the cyclists out there, the Ffordd Pen Llech hill climb up to Harlech.
We enjoyed a good hour in the beguiling surroundings of Pistyll Rhaeadr. The site is free-of-charge but visitors really should shove some money in the donation box as it helps with the upkeep of the place. There is a café near the entrance gate but this had packed up for the day by the time we visited. However, when the shutters go up the local gang of squirrels come out to polish off the scraps. This lucky synanthrope has hit the jackpot by finding a discarded kit-kat bar.
The good news for cyclists is that what goes up must come down and the six kilometre journey back to Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant is almost entirely downhill. Consequently, we had the pleasure of free-wheeling down to The Plough for some post-ride beer.
Our first photobomb occurred on Sunday evening at The Plough in Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant. In order to remember what we were drinking that night, I took this photograph of the pump clip when the face of Lee Tiratira suddenly appeared. Technically, the term photobomb is supposed to describe a 'photo spoiled' but Lee has taken this to another level, scoring points for successful photobombs and achieving a massive score if he subsequently sees his photobomb on social media. Anyway, once he explained all this to somebody entrenched in the 20th century, we got talking and he proved to be good company. We ended up sharing a table with Lee and his girlfriend Kerry Butwell resulting in a very enjoyable evening.
Thirst Brew, a beer produced a few miles south-west of Oswestry at Trefonen, is fabulous, a truly wonderful premium malty bitter harking back to traditional beers of the past. Offa's Dyke Brewery does indeed straddle the ancient boundary between England and Wales. Consequently, the brewery charmingly announces that they "crush locally-sourced malted barley in the "old" Wales, before passing through to the mash tun and copper boiler in England. Then we return to Wales for fermenting and conditioning. Finally the beer is casked back in England." I believe that the brewery started up in 2007 with brewing plant from the former Fisherrow Brewery at Edinburgh. The Scottish brewery closed in 2003 but the plant was acquired and moved to Rochdale by Thomas McGuinness. This was, in turn, bought and moved to an outbuilding of the Barley Mow Inn owned by Derek Jones. His family has lived in the Trefonen area for over two centuries.
Further to the above ramblings about the Plough Inn at Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant, this place serves good pub grub too. Some veggie options were available for us and both meals enjoyed for around £12 per plate. The pub seems to cater for all in that there is a bar at the front and a separate dining room with games area towards the back of the building. Consequently, locals just wanting a beer can pile in the front where dogs are also welcome - hooray! Customer service was warm and friendly. So, along with our photobombing friends, this was a lovely pub experience.
Being as we were drinking in the Plough Inn, I should wheel out the great ploughing mystery of Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant. This occurred in the summer of 1980 when a radio set buried on a Welsh mountainside provided a spy poser for police. The radio was similar to that used in espionage and was buried in a fern-covered field close to a road. It was unearthed by Goronwy Morris when he was ploughing the field nearby. His father, farmer Aubrey Morris, of Pantymaen to the north-east of the village, said: "It was virgin land and the plough touched a metallic object eight inches below the surface. Then the radio was discovered inside a sealed metal container. It was also protected by waterproof material and plastic foam. No one could possibly guess that anything was hidden there." He handed the device the Farmers' Union of Wales county secretary Meurig Voyle, who passed it to North Wales police. A radio expert said: "There is no makers' mark, but it is a sophisticated piece of equipment. It is not more than 20 years old. A message can be punched onto a tape and then transmitted within seconds by using a cranking device."
Monday May 15th 2017
Fantastic vegan café in Oswestry. Delicious lunch, cakes to die for, proper tea and lovely staff.
In response to this statement, journalist Ted Bruning said "You bloody bet it is! Oswestry is the last hippy town in the Marches; acute shortage of chain stores [and bras, actually]; loads of independent traders. Gritty rather than pretty but kinda real. My Mum got run over by her own car [handbrake blooper] in Bailey Street; passers-by actually lifted it off her chest and she spent six weeks in an induced coma while her ribs and scapula healed. But that's too much info. Not only is Oswestry hippy central but the surrounding countryside is unvisited, nach'l, full of inbred farmers and overgrown hedges. Great town."
Well, I cannot top Ted's description of Oswestry. We only had a day [and evening] in the town and it rained constantly. However, despite the sogginess, we really enjoyed the place. We undertook both an architectural trail and the Wilfred Owen trail. Both highly enjoyable. We were a bit disappointed that the museum on the 3rd floor of the Civic Hall is only open on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, though there is another heritage centre in the old grammar school. This includes some lovely Wilfred Owen material. Steam buffs can enjoy the sight of old engines etc. Again we were scuppered by the closure of the ticket office which had a display of old material. Pity the station isn't better used as it is a fine building. There is a labyrinth in the nearby park. The main park is quite lovely. The castle is rather underwhelming, though the motte affords good views.
Like Ted states there are a number of interesting shops. Gillham's cake shop is a must. And lunch at Liar Liar is most recommended. We walked in and straight out of some of the pubs as they were pretty dire [The George and Ye Olde Vaults were particularly poor]. The latter is a shame because we found the beers from Offa's Dyke Brewery to be quite excellent. However, another small brewery is well represented in the Oak Inn opposite the church. The two beers we tried from Stonehouse Brewery were a little disappointing, though the Oak Inn is a nice little boozer. The best beer choice was in the Bailey Head where a couple have elevated the standard. We had some fine beer that were collaboration brews with another local micro. The Black Lion and Griffin are reportedly decent pubs but we never made it to these due to time etc. By the way, I was saddened to find that two of the oldest pubs, the Black Gate and Old Fighting Cocks [both ancient timber-framed houses] have closed. There is an authentic Italian restaurant in an old chapel near the station. On Market days there is also highly-rated Italian street food by the Bailey Head - again we were there on the wrong day. The church is also well worth a visit. Oh, we also found the locals to be a friendly lot. So, there you have it, Oswestry in a nut shell.