Monday 8 August 2011, 12:45
Just spent a few days in splendid isolation staying in a remote cottage on the Hafod estate in Ceredigion. No, I hadn't heard of it either - but what an amazing place to visit! Apparently, at one time (in the early 19th century) it was one of the most popular places in Wales to visit, but by the middle of the last century, it had been almost totally forgotten.
The estate was the vision of one man - Thomas Johnes who made it his life's work to build an impressive mansion house and improve access to the estate after he inherited it from an uncle back in 1780. He completely renovated the existing house and added lots of additions by the famous architect John Nash - but it was the superb natural scenery that he really wanted to show off.
Landscape historians still describe Hafod as one of the best examples of the Picturesque movement in Europe - when it was fashionable to 'enhance' nature by allowing people to visit and view the scenery, without impairing or destroying it. Thomas Johnes built footpaths to guide people around the natural and impressive waterfalls - including the 'Cavern Cascade' and 'Peiran Falls', down ravines and through woodlands, without tampering with the true wildness of the place.
The Johnes family left Hafod in 1815 after the sudden death of their only child, Marianme aged just 27. Another real tragedy is that eventually, no buyer could be found for the estate and the mansion fell into disrepair. There were several attempts to sell it, but in 1970 the house was demolished with explosives. Today, all you can see on the site where the mansion would have stood, is a set of stone steps which would have led down from the main house and the stable block, which now houses the estate office.
Hafod is now run by a charitable trust and the estate is managed by the Forestry Commission - but you can still roam around the many footpaths which Thomas Johnes designed and built - some eight or nine miles of paths in total. You can try the Lady's Walk (moderate) or the Gentleman's Walk (strenuous) or do what I did and attempt to swim in the river Ystwyth (freezing!).
The estate is also a haven for wildlife - probably because it's so remote and unpopulated - and home to an incredible variety of birds including red kites, goshawks and sparrowhawks. It's also important in terms of ancient woodlands and rare types of woodland funghi, including Golden Spindles.
While I was away, Country Focus was left in the capable hands of the producer, Pauline Smith who's been out dolphin-spotting in Cardigan Bay as part of the National ... you can find out if she did spot any by listening to the programme on the BBC Radio Wales iPlayer.So after a week without mobile phone signal, internet or even TV reception - it feels quite strange to be back in the modern world. I'm just wondering when I can 'escape' again....
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