A short, hot visit to Lincoln

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I hardly had time to draw breath after my break at the beginning of July. The first day back I had to drive over to east Lincolnshire as I was delivering some training Tuesday and Wednesday. I then had to drive over to Coventry on Wednesday afternoon, where I was staying overnight before a breakfast meeting the next day. No rest for the wicked as they say!

I set off early afternoon on the hottest day of the year so far (32 C). It’s not a great drive, M61, M60, M62 then a long run down the A1 which was only two lanes for most of the way. I had to cut across country past Lincoln and as I had never visited this historic city decided to stop for a couple of hours to look round. The core of the old city is on the top of a hill, but I managed to find a space on the car park on Westgate, avoiding the need for a steep climb in the sweltering heat.

A short walk and I was in the main square at the top of Castle Hill facing the Tourist Office which is located on the ground floor of this rather grand, well restored 16th century townhouse

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and facing the castle entrance

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and the cathedral

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The streets around the centre, many of them climbing up steeply to the top of the hill, are lined with old buildings – build from the Medieval through to the Georgian period. Most are converted into shops and places to eat and drink to serve the visitors from across the world (including Wigan!).

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The castle was originally built by the Normans after the conquest, occupying the site of a pre-existing Roman fortress. There’s a complete circuit of walls on which, for a fee,  visitors can promenade. Access to the main area within the walls, where there is a large, pleasant lawn, is free, though.

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It was late in the day, though and I had to make a choice between walking round he walls in the harsh sunlight or to have a look round inside the massive Gothic cathedral. So after exploring the castle grounds I decided to tour the cathedral. 

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It’s a massive Gothic structure with some Norman features, particularly the main west entrance. There are three massive towers. Two at the front behind the entrance screen, and a central tower (the largest of the three). At one time these towers were surmounted with steeples and the cathedral was reputably the tallest building in the known world for a time in the Middle Ages

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Given the limited time I had, I only got a taste of the city. You could certainly fill a couple of days looking around, exploring and visiting the sights. I guess I’ll have to go back one day. It’s a pity it’s such a pain of a journey!

Winifred Nicholson in Cumberland

Cumbrian landscape painting by Winifred Nicholson, one of the leading British 20th Century modern artists

‘The earth of Cumberland is my earth … I have always lived in Cumberland – the call of the curlew is my call, the tremble of the harebell is my tremble in life, the blue mist of the lonely fells is my mystery, and the sliver gleam when the sun does come out is my pathway.’

Like many women, Winifred Nicholson is largely known for who she was married to rather than for her ability as an artist.  But she was a talented artist and her work deserves to be better known. The latest exhibition at Abbot Hall, curated by her Grandson, Jovan Nicholson, and concentrating on works created in her native county, will hopefully contribute to correcting this.

Born Winifred Roberts in the north of the old county of Cumberland (now part of Cumbria following local government re-organisation in the 1970’s), her Grandmother, Rosalind Howard, known as the ‘Radical Countess’, was involved in Liberal politics, Temperance reform and Women’s suffrage. Her father was a Liberal MP who served as a member of the Asquith government.

After studying art in London she married a fellow artist and after travelling to Italy returned to live in Cumberland, at Bankhead near Hadrian’s Wall. He was something of a philanderer and in the early 1930’s started a relationship with another artist who he later married and then deserted for yet another woman.

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Winifred continued to live in Cumberland, at Bankshead and then at her parent’s home, Boothby, later returning to Bankshead. She also travelled in Europe, living in France for a number of years in the 1930’s and met Mondrian, Giacometti, Kandinski, Alexander Calder and other artists.

The exhibition, though, concentrates on her time in Cumberland and is divided broadly into three sections based on where she was living: Bankshead in the 1920s and 1930s, Boothby and the Lake District post war, and Bankshead again for the last two decades of her life. It includes a significant number of works and also included two vases which feature in some of the paintings on display.

While in Cumberland she developed the style for which she is best known – landscapes painted using a palette of bright, but subdued, pastel colours. She also began to paint a large number of pictures of flowers on window sills with a landscape in the background. There were a significant number of such pictures in the exhibition.

Winifred Nicholson, Daffodils and Pewter Jug, 1953

Winifred Nicholson, Daffodils and Pewter Jug (1953)

These aren’t botanical pictures with precise illustrations of the flowers but are painted in an impressionistic style

As well as views from her two homes, she also got out and about in the Lake District painting landscapes.

Winifred Nicholson, Ullswater, c1949s

Winifred Nicholson, Ullswater,(c1949)

She also spent some time at St Bees and a number of her works were sea views with the Isle of Man in the background.

Winifred Nicholson, Lily of the Valley, St. Bees, 1940

Winifred Nicholson, Lily of the Valley, St. Bees (1940)

Some of her landscapes included trees and animals. These were largely painted in a naive, childlike style, probably reflecting the influence of Alfred Wallis.

In the last few years of her life she began to make paintings inspired by the use of a prism.

‘I found out what flowers know, how to divide the colours as prisms do, … and in so doing giving the luminosity and brilliance of pure colour

There were some examples in the exhibition, including this one

Winifred Nicholson, Accord, 1978

Winifred Nicholson, Accord (1978)

The exhibition brings together a large number of works produced over a period of some 40 years from a number of sources, including many from private collections. Inevitably, there is some variability in quality, but overall it’s a good survey of her work with many attractive, colourful paintings. And I think the following statement on the Abbot Hall website is about right

Taken as a whole, the paintings in the show feel timeless, depicting Cumberland landscapes that have hardly changed. They are more than just views: they give an indescribable sense of a window opening onto a sunlit morning of endless opportunities.

Going Underground – Corris Mine Explorers

The last day of our break in North Wales it was raining – and when it rains in Snowdonia it really rains. Not so much a heavy downpour, more like being submerged in a cloud of drizzle. Not a day for the outdoors then!

I’d seen an advert for the Corris Mine Explorers – a tour of an abandoned slate mine just a few miles south from where we were staying – and being interested in industrial history decided that it would be a good option. Mind you, as we soon found out, it wasn’t an option that would keep us completely dry!

Welsh slate was quarried and mined since Roman times, but the industry particularly took off in the 19th century when this excellent waterproof material was needed for the roofs of the houses that were being built in the rapidly expanding industrial cities of Britain. Slate extraction was a major industry in areas of Snowdonia and we’d seen evidence of it during our walk in the Tarren Hills a few days before.

Although slate is often obtained from quarries, it was also mined, and this was the case at Corris. Braich Goch slate mine, in Mid Wales, which was first worked in 1836 and abandoned in 1970. The Mine Explorer’s website tells us

During its heyday, in 1878, the mine employed 250 men and produced 7,000 tons of slab and roofing slate. This was sent all over the world. Rising costs and falling demand saw the company collapse in 1906. Another 6 companies worked the mine, intermittently, until 1970 when the mine finally closed.

Today, part of the mine has been converted into Arthur’s Labyrinth, an attraction aimed at families with children, but a number of the levels have been opened up to visitors interested in experiencing what it was like to work in an underground slate mine.

We were given an introductory briefing by “Mark the Mole” and kitted up with wellies, helmet, lamp with heavy batteries fastened to a belt and a safety rope. We’d been told to wrap up warm and wear a waterproof coat as it was cool and damp underground. It was clear from the beginning it wasn’t going to be a gentle stroll through a floodlit tunnel!

(Photography is allowed but the low levels of light make this impracticable, so I’ve illustrated this post with a few pictures pinched from the Corris Mine Explorers website)

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We followed Moley and  his dog through a door set into the hillside, after ducking under a stream of water pouring off the hillside, and entered the mine. We were underground for two hours walking along uneven floors and now and again crawling or squeezing through narrow gaps, occasionally attaching ourselves to safety ropes. There was no lighting other than our lamps. Moley explained how the mine was worked and talked about the working methods and conditions the workers had to endure.

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The tunnels were originally dug by hand although explosives were later used.They gave access t the working areas where the slate was dug out by hand creating massive underground caverns. The work was hard. Lighting was provided by candles, which the miners had to buy themselves, so they were only lit when necessary –transit to and from the working areas, for example , was in the pitch black. The tools they used had to be hired from the mine owners and they could be fined if found using their own. Life expectancy was short. Very few miners developed silicosis from breathing the deadly slate dust as this takes 20 or 30 years of exposure for symptoms to fully develop – most of them were dead by then, the main cause of death being falls within the mine.

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It was an excellent tour. the two hours went very quickly and Moley was a good guide, providing a good introduction and simple explanation about how slate was formed and won and the lives of the people who worked underground

On re-emerging into daylight (during the winter the miners wouldn’t have seen it) we returned our equipment and headed to the cafe for a warming bowl of cawl.

Cadair Idris

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Cadair Idris dominates the southern part of Snowdonia near Dolgellau. It’s a magestic mountain, 2,930 ft high, and climbing it was our main motivation for our short break at Dolfannog Fawr. The weather forecast was good so on the Thursday morning we set off to climb the mountain via the Minffordd path, the beginning of which was about a mile down the road from our B&B.

Cadair Idris means ‘Idris’s chair’ which is a good description as it’s comprised of a series of peaks surrounding a glacial lake Llyn Cau. Nobody really knows who Idris was. Some say he was a legendary giant and so the mountain was literally a chair. Another view is that it refers to a 7th-century prince of Meirionnydd who won a battle against the Irish on the mountain and that “cadair”  should be interpreted as “stronghold” or “fortress”.

We decided to follow the MInffordd path up to the highest peak, Penygadair via Craig Cwm Amarch and Craig Cau and then to walk along the ridge to Mynydd Moel before descending to complete a circular route.

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The path down from Mynydd Moel isn’t marked on the OS map for some reason which is strange as it’s a very popular route up and down and described in most walking guides to the mountain.

The start of the climb is via a steep wooded valley alongside a river which tumbles down from Llyn Cau via a series of waterfalls. DSC09394

This meant ascending a very log flight of steps – reputably 700 (although we didn’t try counting them!)

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Eventually the path levelled off somewhat and the slopes of Mynydd Moel came into view

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Continuing onwards we could now see the dramatic rock face of Craig Cau

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and after climbing a little higher a view of Llyn Cau opened up below us

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with Penygadair looming above it

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Gaining more height, we could see the summits of the Tarren hills which we’d climbed the day before.

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and then Talyllyn Lake

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and our B&B way down below us. We’d come quite a long way up but still had quite a bit of climbing ahead of us

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and looking the other way there was Penygadair

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We carried on up the steep slope to the summit of Craig Cau. It felt like we should have been at the summit, but we now had to lose some of the height we’d gained before making our final assault on the main peak of Penygadair.

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and just as we reached the bottom of the col (or hawse, as these are referred to in the Lake District) before making our ascent, the cloud blew in. This definitely wasn’t forecast!!!

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so when we reached the summit this what we could see.

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The cloud was patchy so we managed to get some momentary views of the dramatic scenery below us

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We carried on along the grassy ridge. It was relatively flat and quite firm underfoot so made for easier walking than the initial ascent and the cloud was beginning to disperse

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We could clearly see the summit of Mynydd Moel ahead of us

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Cloud was still rolling in and out, but we could see down towards Dolgellau

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and make out the dramatic rocky cliffs on the north side of the ridge

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The path now was hard to make out, but we took our bearing and after a while a faint path became more distinct. Great views now opened up of the glacial bowl, the Talyllyn valley and the Tarren hills.

 

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After a while the path started to descend very steeply. It was heavily eroded, rock strewn and in bad condition underfoot, making for a slow, tricky descent. This was the least peasant part of the walk

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Further down it was in better condition, with stone steps and flags laid down.

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Eventually, after crossing a slate bridge over the river, we were back on the path we’d ascended during the morning with just (!) the 700 steps to walk down to take us back to the road.

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Another 20minutes and we were back at our Dolfannog Fawr. A quick shower and a change of clothes and I was able to relax in the garden on a pleasantly warm afternoon, enjoying the view of the mountain we’d just “conquered”.

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A walk in the Tarren Hills

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After our first night in Dolfannog Fawr, in the Tal-y-llyn valley, we were determined to get out for a walk in the surrounding hills. We asked Alex, our host, for some advice and he suggested we try a favourite route of his, which would take us up two mountains in quiet countryside. He said the countryside was beautiful with good views and that we probably wouldn’t see another soul once we got on the hills. The route is described in a number of guidebooks including the Mountains of England and Wales: Vol 1 Wales (Cicerone Guide) by John and Anne Nuttall. The start of the walk was a short drive away in the village of Abergynolwyn.

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We parked up in the village, in the car park opposite the Railway Inn, a reminder that this was the end of the Tallylyn railway. The narrow gauge railway was originally built to transport slate from the Bryn Eglwys slate quarry, which is up in the Gwernol valley, but later also operated a  passenger service. Today the Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society operates regular services carrying tourists between Nant Gwernol station (just up the valley from Abergynolwyn) to Twyn on the coast.

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We passed the sculpture of water nymphs and headed up the steep road that started to take us up along the Gwernol valley

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We were soon in pleasant deciduous woodland, climbing and walking along past a series of waterfalls

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Climbing the hill we came to Nant Gwernol station, the end of the Talyllyn railway line.

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We climbed a steep incline to take us up to the winding house.

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We carried on along the paths through the woods, eventually reaching the forest road that wound through the commercial evergreen plantation

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Eventually we veered off the forest road heading up a steep path up to a “notch” in the ridge which led to the summit of Tarrenhendre. It wasn’t so easy to spot the path but we’d been told to watch out for an Outward Bound hut on the road. The path ran up the hill a short distance before it.

As we climbed a great view over the hills towards Cadair Idris opened up.

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It was a steep climb up to the summit of Tarrenhendre which, at 2,080 ft, just qualifies as a mountain.

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As we climbed higher, looking west  and south west there were great views towards Cardigan Bay and the Dovey estuary.

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Another view of Cadair Idris looking north east

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Reaching the summit we headed east and could see our next objective, Tarren-y-Gesail, ad the ridge we needed to walk along to reach it

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Looking back towards Tarrenhendre from the ridge

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and over to Tarren-y-Gesail

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The route seemed to veer into the forest  on a path that was clearly indicated on the OS map. It wasn’t very clear in practice! This was the only unpleaant part of the walk as the path was difficult to make out,was overgrown and we had to hack our way through dense vegetation. it would be better to find an alternate route along the ridge avoiding the forest.

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Eventually we escaped from the dense forest and were back on open moorland with another steep climb that took us up Tarren-y-Gesail, which, at 2,188 ft, is slightly higher than Tarrenhendre

The view from the top of Tarren-y-Gesail   looking north

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We walked along the peat covered ridge which was boggy in places. There wasn’t a clear path but we made our way down towards the edge of the forest plantation. Forestry work had been taking place which made navigation and conditions underfoot a little difficult. We came to a forest track and decided our easiest option was to follow this back down the valley. This made navigation easier but as the road meandered down the hill it probably added an extra mile or so to our route.

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Eventually the village came back into view, nestling amongst the hills

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Half an hour later we were back at the car. We hadn’t seen another human being since starting the walk until we reached the edge of the village and passed a local taking his dog for a walk.

It had been an excellent walk taking through some varied countryside – broadleaf woodland, evergreen forest and high moorland with great views over mountains, sea and the Dovey estuary and with some industrial archaeology to provide some additional interest. It had been a long day and we were tired when we got back to Dolfannog Fawr, but after a quick shower and a change of clothing we had a delicious home made meal to look forward to

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Tal-y-llyn

During our short break in North Wales we stopped at Dolfannog Fawr, in the Tal-y-llyn valley. An excellent B & B, in a beautiful setting, at the top of Llyn Mwyngil (Lake Tal-y-llyn), nestling under Cadair Idris. Lovely rooms, beautifully fitted out with no cutting of corners (definitely not a Travelodge!), a lovely garden, and plenty of books to browse in a really nice guests’ lounge. Good breakfasts with quality ingredients and the owners, Alex and Lorraine, were very welcoming and friendly, willing to talk and offer advice, but not overbearing.

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This was the room we stayed in

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The guests’ lounge

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and the view from the back garden

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The B&B offered the option of evening meals (that were very good) Wednesday to Saturday, but as we arrived on a Tuesday we needed to go out to eat. As it was a pleasant evening, we decided to walk down to he pub at the other end of the lake for a light meal. You can walk all round the lake – on the road which runs along the south shore and along a traffic free track on the north side.

Here’s a few photos taken during our “circumnavigation” of the lake

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Looking back towards Cadair Idris

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The view from the bottom end of the lake

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Looking across the lake from the north shore

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Look across to Dolfannog Fawr from the north side of the lake

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