steam power Wales

Family Fun on the Snowdon Mountain Railway

While enjoying a family holiday on Anglesey we decided it would be a great day out if we all went on the Snowdon Mountain Railway, something that none of us had ever done before. The idea was that we would all go up to the summit of Snowdon on the railway and our children with their spouses would walk back down. Jude and I with Arabella would make the descent by train.

We had a brilliant family day out! We began at the train station at the bottom of the mountain railway track, booked our tickets and waited for the off. It was a busy little station painted brightly in yellow and green, decorated with carved wooden detailing. It loked so cheerful on this sunny day. We had time for refreshment in the station buffet as we waited for the arrival of our train. Excitement rose as it pulled in to the station. Our engine was called Padarn. The huge smile on Arabella’s face reflected our excitement.

There is something so special about riding a steam train but the thought of this little engine pulling us up a mountain added extra frisson.


The slow ascent accompanied by the sounds and smells of the steam engine, took us through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. We all felt so lucky. Everyone smiled for the whole journey and excitedly commentated to their friends or family. Passengers who began the ascent as strangers were soon talking and chatting like old friends – the power of steam nostalgia.


At the summit we had a short time to appreciate the engine and the view, enjoy a coffee and watch Jamie, Sam, Jo and Rob set off walking down the mountain, the tallest mountain in England and Wales.


We have waited ages to get around to making the journey of the steam railway to the summit of Mount Snowdon and back, but it was most certainly worth the wait. I don’t think it will be long before we return to do it all over again.






A Family Holiday in Scotland – Part 2 – strolling down the glen

Part 2 of this little series concerning our family holiday in the Scottish Borders, explores a gentle stroll down a beautiful Scottish glen. But first let’s share with you our lovely holiday cottage, a Scottish longbarn conversion, and its amazing grounds.

If the weather is sunny and there are any plants in the garden Arabella loves watering them, but usually has to water her feet first.


Come for us now for a wander around the cottage’s grounds and up its driveway, full of wildflowers, scented plants and mature native trees.


Whenever we went out for the day we began by driving down that lovely driveway which was a great way to start the day. Early on in our week Jude and I with son Jamie, daughter-in-law Sam and 18 month old granddaughter Arabella took off to visit a local glen.

So, come with us on our little walk, a slow walk at Arabella pace.


We were amazed by how many wildflowers we spotted in both quantity and numbers of different ones. Wildlife seemed to really appraciate these plants.

I think the best way to share our walk with you is via a gallery of my photographs, so please click on the first picture and then navigate using the right arrow. Enjoy!

We hope you enjoyed visiting our holiday cottage and its grounds and sharing our walk in the beautiful glen.

countryside landscapes

Dawdling in the Derbyshire Dales – part one – limestone hills and old barns

We hadn’t visited Derbyshire for a long while so decided that a few days away in July would afford us the chance to walk a few of its dales and bring back memories while doing so. Limestone ridges, old stone barns and limestone walls as field boundaries are trademarks of the Derbyshire landscape. Well Dressing is an ancient tradition celebrated by the locals and friendliness an attribute of their characters. We found them all!

I kept trying to get a good photo of this old barn and the surrounding drystone walls, typical of the Derbyshire countryside. I moved around, tried all angles and am still not convinced I got it right. So here are my attempts for you to consider. My preference is the first shot because I like the way the walls lead the eye diagonally towards the barn. Do you think differently?

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This second barn nearer to the horizon seemed a little easier to photograph but I still tried several different shots. I enjoyed the challenge! I personally like the square format photo most of all but you may think differently.

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Limestone ridges are our second feature typical of the Derbyshire landscape and we were extremely lucky to have found a sunny bright day to view them. Their character changes with the light and on dull days they lack texture and sparkle. Shadows sit under the few trees stunted through lack of soil depth and lack of moisture.

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The farming landscape here is soft and friendly with its dry stone walls and a scattering of small trees.  It is an undulating landscape with occasional valleys which are in places heavily wooded.

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When tourists decide to visit Derbyshire many choose the Well Dressing season to make the journey. This is a traditional ceremony when villagers and often the children from the village school make fantastic displays created from flower petals. They make very colourful additions to the characterful villages of Derbyshire. We discovered these creations in one little valley.

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We can add another element to Derbyshire’s points of interest for the visitor. The locals are very friendly. These two ladies chatted away to us for ages as we relished our coffee and cake. As you can see the one liked having her photo taken to go onto my blog while the other claimed to be too shy!

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So with a smile from one friendly local I will finish this post about our week in Derbyshire. The coming posts will feature some walks along the dales.



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A Week in the Lake District – Part 5 – Buttermere and Crummockwater

During our week in the Lake District we enjoyed visiting gardens as we do wherever we visit, but we loved the special landscape all around.

The area around Buttermere and Crummockwater particularly impressed us as we drove around exploring the district in the evenings when the light was adding an extra dimension. Even the views from the road were impressive.

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The breed of sheep specially adapted to the landscape and climate of the Lakes is the Herdwick, which I mentioned in my post about Beatrix Potter. The vast majority of sheep we saw in the area were Herdwicks so it was hard to believe that it was at one time an endangered breed.

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I hope you enjoy the following set of photos of the views as much as we enjoyed the views themselves.

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The Lake District is full of surprises and this slate sculpture was a wonderful surprise!

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A Stroll along the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path – Part One

Every year I set myself a challenge that defies my disability. Something totally silly if I take my health into consideration! Something I definitely should not be doing! But these challenges are great fun! I love them! Jude accepts my need to do them but worries when we are following these strange desires. Sometimes I have a need to go a bit further than my actual abilities!

For 2014 my challenge was to walk a mile along a stretch of the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path, probably the most beautiful of Britain’s long distance paths. For me a single mile is a long distance walk! I did it in late November and survived! Okay I suffered for a good few days after but boy did it feel good! I had such a feeling of elation when I finished the walk. Anyone else would have to climb Everest to get the same thrill! My consultant was proud of me. He likes my crazy ideas.

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So come with us on our trek along the windswept coast near St Davids. As we dressed in suitable gear for a walk in the cold and most likely wet weather we noticed these two using the beautiful backdrop to take photos of their stained glass window. No doubt some great shots will appear in their promotional materials.

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We made our way onto the path by passing through a beautiful stone wall. A sign with wording engraved on slate informed us that the walk to St David’s Head was 1 mile. I hoped to make half way to give us a round trip of 1 mile.

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Jude looked ahead and could see just how far away the headland was that I was aiming to reach. She thought I was mad! We soon started finding colour in the tough grasses – wildflowers of coastal habitats. The first was this Armeria, the Sea Thrift. Close by the much brighter coloured Gorse added a bit of sunshine colour.

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This little delicate plant foiled us completely – neither of us could remember what it was.

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Every rock was painted with Lichen and Mosses. They look just like they have been daubed by an artist. These rocks had fallen from the field boundaries that are specific to this area – stones with soil in the gaps and on top. The soil provides homes for the local flora.

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The light was changing by the minute. We could be in sunshine one minute and then under heavy storm clouds the next. Just see the extremes in the photos below taken within minutes of each other. The temperature varied in the same way – hats and gloves were on and off all the time.

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What made this walk extra special was that it gave double value. We had views over the inlets and headlands over one shoulder and views of the countryside inland over the other.

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As we passed through a wooden gate the landscape changed and the views opened up. The signs on the gatepost invited us to carry on with our walk but be careful not to fall off the cliffs! We hadn’t been planning to! The National Trust sign informed us that we were on St David’s Head. We realised then that we had already walked further than we had intended. We should have turned back and made our way back but my stubborn nature won over and we decided to carry on perhaps making it to the headland in the far distance. This would give us a total walk of two miles. Far more than I should have been contemplating! We had rugged open moorland to cross to reach the headland itself.


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Jude was fascinated by a label hanging over a rock and just had to have a close look. We found it was a marker point on a trail laid out as part of an army training session. We were tempted – just for a moment – to pick it up and take it back to the local barracks to tell them we had found this label. Common sense prevailed however and we resisted the temptation.

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In the photo below we can see the headland for which we were aiming right on the horizon.


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My legs are aching and pain is creeping up my spine just writing this post and loading the photos so we shall take a break for now and return in Part Two.



birds countryside hedgerows landscapes nature reserves swallows trees wildlife woodland woodlands

Up on the Downs – a wander on chalk uplands.

We have wanted to take a walk on the “Downs” for a while now and we have it written in our “to do” book. However whilst visiting my brother, Graham and his wife Vicky in Farnham  we took the opportunity to make a half hour drive  which led us to the car park at the start of a gentle walk along Old Winchester Hill. The panoramic views gave an added incentive to get going despite a cold, biting wind.

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Although it is still relatively early in the year we had expectations of seeing site specific plants and birds. We were not to be disappointed.

Lady’s Bedstraw, White Deadnettle and Cowslip were probably the most frequently occurring flowering plants.

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It was good to see one of our native Euphorbias growing along the woodland margins. This Wood Spurge looked so similar to some we grow in our Plealey garden.

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As we reached the end of the ridge the path changed direction and we walked along a track between woodland and open fields. The woodland birdlife was in full song with summer migrant Warblers joining the resident Robins and Dunnocks. Above our heads Swallows called constantly. Over the farmland the song of Skylarks and the calls of Lapwing, two of our ground nesting birds, was carried on the wind for us to enjoy. We were really surprised to see large areas of very mature yew trees growing within areas of the usual deciduous trees, as we do not see them growing like this at home in Shropshire. They formed dark patches on the hillsides. We ventured underneath them and all of us found them decidedly spooky as they cut out all sound and much of the light leaving us in gloom. Beneath them nothing ventured to grow, apart from one lone, brave Elder seedling.It is no wonder that they feature strongly in ancient myths and folklore.

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When we stopped for our coffee break on the only bench on the walk we were soon joined by a small flock of very inquisitive rare breed Herdwick Sheep, the sort I think that Beatrix Potter helped to save from extinction up on her Lake District farm.

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Beyond the sheep the views were stunning and far-reaching.

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After our coffee break, with a slice of cake as well of course for added energy, we walked through the ancient hill fort with its Bronze Age burial mounds. It is amazing how interesting mounds of earth can be!

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I shall finish off with one last view of this unique downland landscape and one of the wildflowers growing right alongside the track. We have waited a long time for our first walk on the Downs. It was worth the wait.

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landscapes light quality log piles logs

Take Two

Recently I published a post about one tree, today I follow up with a post about two logs. Of course they are from Silver Birch trees, my favourite trees. When we have our log supply for the winter delivered the birch logs always look so colourful and full of textures. These two started getting more colourful and as the bark dried and peeled the textures got more interesting.

So I popped them down on the back lawn and took these shots. Please enjoy! You just have to like the curly bits! Look closely and you will find landscapes in miniature brought out by the bright sunlight.

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Over the hills to the sea – part two.

Continuing our journey from home across the Welsh mountains to the sea, we turned more to the north and climbed up steeply into far more rugged countryside. Each corner revealed new startling views of deeply cut glacial valleys and ridges eroded by the grinding action of glaciers in the last ice age. Few trees grow on these steep slopes with their shallow soils. We were now out of the county of Powys and travelling through Gwynedd.

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We drove into a pass that took us up Dinas Mawddry where steep rugged mountains rose up on either side. This is notoriously difficult stretch of road often made impassable by deep drifts of snow. Back in the seventies when we first drove through this pass when cars were less powerful than today cars were often beaten by the steepness and the sharp bends. At the bottom drivers took a deep breath, crossed their fingers and put their foot down. Today’s cars take it in their stride and drivers can instead appreciate the beauty of the place. Some of the following shots were taken through the car windows so are less clear, but it was at times impossible to stop safely.

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As we bypassed Dolgellau the valley widened out and in places rich pastureland spread out either side of the road.

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We turned into a wide valley and the road passed through marshland and muddy areas of the Mawdach estate. Clouds hung low here. The view became hidden and the hill tops disappeared in their mistiness. The road ran through stone walls and the bends slowed the traffic.

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We were now close to our day’s destination the seaside at Barmouth. My next post will be all about our day there.

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Over the hills to the sea.

To see in the new year we intended to go to the sea simply to walk along the beach and enjoy the fresh sea air. But it was not to be, for 1st January 2014 was a day of storms and strong winds so we delayed for a day.

We woke on the 2nd to a far finer dawn. So we set off out of Shropshire and over the Welsh hills to the coast at the little old seaside town of Barmouth. A favourite place to visit, Barmouth is where we have spent so many days as our children grew up and indeed many on our own after they left home. When with the kids we collected pebbles and shells and built sand castles with occasional trips across the sands to paddle in the sea. These days we still collect pebbles and shells and Jude is still tempted to paddle a little.

The journey involved following just two main “A” roads once we left the Shrewsbury bypass behind, the A458 and the A470. After leaving our home county of Shropshire behind we crossed into Wales and traveled east to west right across the counties of Powys and Gwynedd. Along the way we regularly stopped to take shots of the landscape. It is amazing how varied the landscape can be in such a short journey.

The A458 main road from Shrewsbury to Welshpool cuts through rich lowland dairy cattle farmland before reaching the hills called the Breiddens.

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We passed through the market town of Welshpool and followed the road down a valley which the road shared with a narrow guage steam railway, a favourite of tourists. Farms appeared to snuggle into the valley bottoms where water lay in many fields after so much winter rain. High bare rounded mountains began to rear up each side of the valley. The mountains were dotted with clumps of woodland some of natural broadleaf trees while others were of the coniferous commercial forest plantings. The winter time leaves the broadleaf trees bare showing their skeletons. White branches like bones of many trees were broken up by the colourful branches of birches, which looked  like soft hanging purple mist. In places along ancient hedgerows black skeletons of oak broke up the horizon. The conifer plantations just looked like unfriendly, unnatural solid black blocks, scars on the landscape.

Clouds moved quickly and rain came and went with them lit up on odd special occasions by a rainbow.

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As we progressed further into the mountains of mid-Wales the sky turned a deep grey-blue but shafts of sunlight still penetrated to light up green fields and the occasional grey stone farmhouses.

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After crossing mid-Wales westward we neared the coast and our journey took us more in a northerly direction for the final section. See “Over the hills to the sea. Part Two” for the next stage of the journey.

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A Sculpted Landscape – Boughton House

We were planning our journey to the North Norfolk coast to visit a couple of RSPB nature reserves and were seeking somewhere to visit on the way. We came across Boughton House marked on our map so googled it to find our more. We were so glad we did! The buildings were of a beautiful simple architectural style with French influences. Even the stable blocks impressed. Soft gentle lines and delicate grey-brown coloured stone.

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We discovered that the grounds around the house were sculpted in the C18 in an unusual manner and recently more landforms were added by Kim Wilkie, a modern landscape architect and one of our favourites.

But to get to the grounds we passed through a courtyard of cobbles and gravel which featured some subtle planting combinations in containers. The strange alien-like fruits belong to the grey leaved plant, which was completely unknown to us.

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Off into the parkland and we came across long avenues of lime trees and huge canal features, constructed way back in the C18. These original features were supposed to have been inspired by Versailles.

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Of course the problem with all these sloping areas of grass is mowing them. When originally conceived the landowners would not have required their grass to be cut as short as modern gardeners want. So their scythes were perfectly up to the job. The gardeners at Boughton today use ingenious remote-controlled mowers with caterpillar tracks instead of wheels to give extra grip on the steep gradients.

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As we reached the far end of these long canals we passed a larger lake and gained views of the house at the far end of a vast expanse of lawn.

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The modern landforms fitted so well into the original landscapes that it was hard to see identify where one finished and another started.

This stimulating piece of land art was based on the structure of the spiral in nature such as the framework that gives sea shells their strength. It gave us a feeling of satisfaction as it seemed so settled into the landscape and invited exploration.

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Sitting together nearby were “The Mount” and “Orpheus”, two landforms that matched, were based on the same pyramidal shape, juxtaposed perfectly but were conceived and constructed 3 centuries apart.

Kim Wilkie’s “Orpheus” is a hole in the ground which mirrors “The Mount” in both shape and dimensions.

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Although it was along way down to the bottom of Orpheus the path that led you there was very gentle and seemed almost level. Without effort we easily found ourselves at the bottom looking into the black water of the square pool.

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To understand the scale of the landform, see if you can spot Jude, The Undergardener in the two photos below. Clue – she has a blue-grey jumper on.

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Next we climbed “The Mount” which was the exact opposite experience. It afforded us a different perspective on the landscape through which we had walked.

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Boughton though had more to offer. After a quick coffee break, with cake as well of course, we explored the more intimate gardens closer to the house. But that is another story for my next posting.