Wales

Tagged with: South West Wales

Posts (49)

  1. Llanelly House:  a perfect example of a Georgian town house

    Blogger Phil Carraidce writes about the recently restored Llanelly House one of the finest examples of a Georgian town house in South Wales.

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  2. Many people have visited Brangwyn Hall in Swansea and seen the Empire Panels housed there. But how many know anything at all about the man who created such magnificent works of art?

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  3. Filmmakers Chris Rushton and Tracy Harris followed the desperate plight of Swansea's homeless a year ago. Now they have returned to find out if things have changed.

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  4. Filmmaker Tracy Harris, who herself hails from Swansea, followed the desperate plight of Swansea's homeless a year ago along with Chris Rushton.

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  5. There can be little doubt that RM Lockley was one of the greatest naturalists of his age – arguably of any age. His name will be forever linked to the tiny island of Skokholm off the coast of west Wales.

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  6. This week the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park - the only coastal national park in the United Kingdom - will be 60 years old. National Geographic Magazine recently voted the park second best coastal destination anywhere in the world and there is no doubt that the area thoroughly deserves the accolade. Stack Rock, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park (Photo from ynysforgan_jack) The coastal park covers approximately 240 square miles and consists of soaring cliffs, long stretches of glorious sandy beach and, slightly inland, rolling hills and deep, mysterious woodlands. It has scenery, history and legend enough to capture the imagination of even the most discerning visitor or local. The Pembrokeshire Coast Park was originally designated at the end of February 1952, one of three national parks in Wales. The others are the Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia. In order to be best appreciated the park should be viewed as a whole, as a complete entity. However, for those wishing to visit the area for a short time, it can be broken down into a number of sections or stretches which can offer an effective way of looking at one of the world's most spectacular stretches of coastline. Firstly there is the southern coast, running from Amroth on the Pembrokeshire/Carmarthenshire border to the tip of the Angle Peninsula. This section obviously includes tourist destinations like Tenby and Caldey Island. Next comes the Milford Haven Estuary, running from St Ann's Head up river towards Haverfordwest and including quiet backwaters that have probably not changed very much since the early twentieth century. St Brides Bay (Photo from janjo 195) Thirdly there is St Brides Bay, the broad sweep of coast that faces the roaring west winds of winter and includes beaches such as Newgale and Broadhaven (north). Then comes the rugged northern coast, from Strumble Head to Poppit Sands. And finally - but certainly not least - is the inland splendour of the Preseli Hills. Each of the sections is different, offering different experiences and a range of sights that vary from isolated rock stacks to echoing caves and natural arches. The sea cliffs are magnificent, particularly on the southern coast and on St David's Head to the north. In winter, when the full force of the sea and wind can be felt, the cliffs of Pembrokeshire are particularly atmospheric. The park includes the islands of Pembrokeshire, some of which can be visited. These include places like Caldey, Ramsey and Skomer. In contrast, the area around Castlemartin on the south coast is often closed as it incorporates military firing ranges but when open it offers even more magnificent scenery and wild life. Sea birds such as razorbills and guillemots abound, even rare red-legged choughs. Pentre Ifan However impressive the coast might be, there is very little that can compare to the mysterious sense of ancient history that you find at places such as Cromlech Pentre Ifan in the foothills of the Preseli Mountains. Stand here at dusk, as the sun sets over the western sea, and only the most insensitive of visitors can fail to feel the hairs rise up on the backs of their necks - a sure way of getting in touch with our ancient ancestors. Remember, the famous Blue Stones of Stonehenge came from nearby Carn Menyn and the whole of the Gwaun Valley, east of Fishguard, was once reputed to be full of witches. In some parts of the valley New Year's Day is still celebrated on 13th January, a tradition dating back to 1752 when the Julian calendar was replaced by the Gregorian one. History is everywhere in the Pembrokeshire Coast Park. From the old dockyard at Pembroke Dock, a place that once built royal yachts for Queen Victoria, to the site of the last invasion of Britain outside Fishguard, there is something here for everyone, no matter what their interest. Over a dozen ancient castles, palaces for Bishops and beaches where smugglers once reigned supreme - the area is suffused with points of fascinating history. Lying almost totally within the National Park is the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. Now designated as a National Trail, it runs for over 180 miles around the coast from Amroth to St Dogmaels before linking up with the Ceredigion Path to the north. It will be an essential part of the Welsh Coast Path, due to open fully this year. Most of the Pembrokeshire Path runs at cliff top level, the highest point being 574 feet above the sea, the lowest (at Sandy Haven) just a few feet. The Coast Path was originally conceived back in 1953 when the Pembrokeshire-based writer and naturalist Ronald Lockley surveyed a route around the coast and reported his findings to the Countryside Commission. It took some years and many delicate negotiations with land owners before the path could be made fully operational and it was only formally opened, by Wynford Vaughan-Thomas, on 16 May 1970. No visit to the Pembrokeshire area would ever be complete without walking at least a few hundred yards along the Coast Path. The Pembrokeshire Coast National Park remains a jewel in the crown of Wales, something that every visitor to the country should experience at least once.

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  7. People living in the Gwaun Valley near Fishguard in Pembrokeshire will spend today welcoming in the new year. They are not late celebrating the arrival of the new year, instead they are celebrating Han Galan, or old new year, according to the Julian calendar, which was followed by everyone in the UK until it was replaced by the Gregorian calendar in the 18th century. However, the people of the Gwaun Valley near Fishguard in Pembrokeshire ignored this change and continued to welcome in the new year by the old Julian date. Children continue to uphold the centuries-old tradition of walking from house to house to visit neighbours and sing them traditional songs in Welsh. Teacher Ruth Morgan, in a BBC Wales News article, describes a typical Hen Galan day: "You'd get up, have breakfast and go out to sing in the local houses, wishing them a happy New Year. They gave us sweets and money as 'calennig'. "Nobody organises anything - parents just take their children around and this is passed on from one generation to another." Read more about the Hen Galan day celebrations on the BBC Wales News website.

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  8. The wind that afternoon was cutting, slicing like a teachers cane through the air and down the grey length of Pembroke River. Small waves slapped in against the mud and shingle on the Bentlass side of the stream but out in the centre of the river the tide was fierce and strong. With the tide flooding fast, the waves were several feet high and the current, always dangerous and unpredictable on this stretch of water, was running strongly. Pembroke Dock (Photo: Maciej Martyka) It was Friday 8 February 1889. For over 30 years John Jones had operated a ferry - no more than a large rowing boat with a sail - between Bentlass on the southern flank of the river and Lower Pennar on the north. The ferry carried men from places like Castlemartin and Angle to work in the Royal Naval Dockyard at Pembroke Dock and then, when their days work was done, took them home again. Operating out of the Salt House in Bentlass, Jones also carried women on their way to do their weekly shopping in Pembroke Dock. And 8 February, being a Friday, was market day in the Pembrokeshire town. So, despite the weather, 14 women had made the journey and now, as evening began to close in, they had trooped together up the hill from the town, their arms full of purchases and shopping bags. Now they stood waiting patiently for Jones the Boatman on the Ridge at Lower Pennar. John Jones found it a hard pull across Pembroke River but he was an old hand at the game. He knew the river well, knew it in all its guises, and despite the conditions out in the centre of the stream he was not unduly worried. Besides, as he was getting older, these days he had a young boy to help him on the oars. The ferry grounded on the Ridge and all 14 women crowded impatiently onto the boat. Quickly Jones pushed off, eager to be back on his own side of the river. By the time they had reached mid stream the ferry boat was pitching wildly in the waves, spray and spume thundering off her sides. Sometimes breakers smashed into her side, sending water pouring over the gunwales and soaking the heavy dresses of the women passengers. Still John Jones was not unduly worried. What happened next is more guesswork that hard historical fact. It is thought that one of the women panicked and leapt to her feet to avoid one of the breakers. The ferry boat, unbalanced by the sudden movement, dipped her side into the water and almost immediately another breaker hit her. Gallons of water poured into the vessel and she began to settle swiftly by the stern. Within seconds the river was a mass of struggling bodies as passengers were pitched into the waves. Jones' young helper jumped desperately over the bow and began to strike out for the shore, now no more than 20 or 30 yards away. Before he had gone a few feet the frantic figure of a terrified woman heaved out of the water and clutched at his shoulders for help. There was a brief struggle, then both boy and woman disappeared beneath the waves. By now would-be rescuers had appeared on the river bank, summoned from their houses by the screams of the passengers. Some of them waded into the river, desperately trying to reach the terrified passengers drowning before their eyes, but it was no use. The current was too strong. By nightfall the full extent of the tragedy had become clear. Fourteen female passengers, Jones the Boatman and his young helper had all perished, drowned in the muddy waters of Pembroke River, just a few yards away from safety. For the men and women who gathered on both sides of the river there was little they could do to help. All hopes of rescue and survival had gone; now all they could do was gather in the bodies. As night fell, the debris from the disaster began to float ashore on the incoming tide - parcels and packages so recently bought from the market stalls in Pembroke Dock, shopping bags and pieces of the heavy, saturated clothing that had undoubtedly helped to pull the women down. The disaster of the Bentlass Ferry has, now, been largely forgotten. In the grander scheme of things it was a fairly minor event. But it was a devastating blow for those small communities around the Pembroke River. Men had lost wives, children had lost their mothers, all part of the human tragedy that so often makes up the history of Wales.

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  9. Visitors to the seaside town of Barry, six or seven miles to the west of Cardiff, might be forgiven for thinking that the place held nothing more important than a pleasure beach, a fun fair and a few empty docks that seem to have little or no purpose. Yet there was a time when Barry was the largest coal exporting port in Britain, possibly even the world. That may have been a long time ago and the town's days of glory may be gone, but what a glory they were. Barry Docks (from the Eric Williams collection) The development of Barry as a port was down to two things - the rapid growth of the south Wales coal trade and the dynamic personality and business acumen of David Davies, the first Welsh millionaire. The area around Barry has been occupied since earliest times, Mesolithic flints having been found at Friars Point on Barry Island and the remains of an Iron Age fort having been uncovered on the promontory at Porthkerry. The Romans knew the area well, one of their retired soldiers building a villa at nearby Llandough. The raiding Norsemen named the two islands out in the estuary - Steep Holm and Flat Holm - while the Normans (themselves of Viking origin) came to settle and stay, erecting a castle at Barry itself. The town - if it can justify such a title - was badly hit by the Black Death in the 14th century and, while the place continued to function as a small port and trading centre, as late as 1871 the population was no greater than 100. Barry Island, just off the coast, was popular with locals and visitors alike who would make their way out to the island by boat or, at low tide, via a series of stepping stones. And that was it - until the coal trade arrived. By the second half of the 19th century Cardiff, the main coal exporting port in Wales, had become something of a bottleneck. The docks, created by the Marquis of Bute, were large enough to cater for his own exports but other coal owners found themselves having to wait - as well as pay - not only to use the docks but also to ship their raw product down the valley. The Taff Vale Railway, the main means of shipping coal down to Cardiff, became a single line track after Pontypridd and, because of the shape of the valley, there was no possibility of extending or developing the line. Many mine owners found themselves seriously hampered by what was, in effect, a monopoly in favour of the Bute concerns. In 1883 a group of these mine owners, headed up by the enormously wealthy and dynamic David Davies, owner of the Ocean Collieries, formed themselves into a cabal or group and sought permission to build a dock at Barry, serviced by a new railway. The Taff Vale promptly opposed the bill and the proposal was dropped but Davies was nothing if not persistent. The following year the group was successful in gaining parliamentary permission for their enterprise. Work began on the new dock at Barry on 14 November 1884, along with the construction of the new railway link. Everything was completed in double quick time and the dock opened for trade in 1889. In due course, further docks were added and while exports in the first year were just one million tons, by 1903 they had multiplied to over nine million. By 1913, the year before the outbreak of World War One, Barry had surpassed both Cardiff and Penarth to become the largest coal exporting port in the country. The docks themselves were surrounded by dozens of business enterprises, everything from repair yards and cold storage facilities to flour mills and shipping agents. Even in the 1920s, as a world-wide depression began to bite into the Welsh coal trade, there were still over 50 independent companies trading out of the docks area. The town of Barry developed along with the docks. And, after 1884, with Barry Island connected to the mainland by a causeway, Barry became a unique combination of industrial centre and tourist destination. From the 1890s P and A Campbell ran their White Funnel paddlers from a pier in the docks and, realising the value of such an enterprise, the Barry Railway Company soon decided to run their own cruise ships from the area. From the Eric Williams collection Of course, it did not last. The inevitable collapse of the Welsh coal trade after the war left Barry and its docks stranded, without purpose or plan. The port struggled on, the arrival of the Geest Company in 1959, importing bananas from the West Indies, gave some degree of job security but when they moved out in the 1980s Barry, as a port, went into terminal decline. Gavin and Stacey was filmed in Barry These days the old waterfront has been revamped and redeveloped, like so many other dockland areas. Parts of the old docks have been used in the filming of TV shows like Doctor Who and Torchwood and, of course, the television series Gavin and Stacey was both set and, in no small degree, filmed there. Barry Island struggles on - the old Butlins Holiday Camp, centre of so much entertainment on the island, closed at the end of the 20th century but the funfair and beach remain. Barry has a glorious history, of which its people should be proud. It faces severe challenges in the years ahead but, with fortitude and the occasional backward glance, it should be able to pull through. It is no more than the town deserves.

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  10. Here in Wales we are used to news about mining disasters. The history of Welsh mining is littered with tragic accidents that scarred villages and valleys, destroyed families and cut a swathe through the life of so many tiny communities. Garden Pit Memorial (image: Roger MacCallum) Mos...

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