Thursday’s Special ~ Being Serially Arrested In Wales

This week Paula’s Pick A Word  challenge is giving me the chance to post more views from our March trip to the Conwy Valley in North Wales. Projecting, arresting, pastoral, convex and communal are the prompts, and this distant shot of snow-dusted mountains pretty much covers the first three. However, I won’t let that stop me.

Arresting is my word of choice for all the following images; Wales was at  its magical, magnificent best – from the glittering waters of the River Conwy to the surreal towers and ramparts of Conwy Castle. It made you want to burst into song. Cue: Land of My Fathers, the Welsh National Anthem, which you can join in with at the end, and so definitely cover the communal. It doesn’t matter if you can’t speak Welsh; humming will do. Besides, there is nothing quite like the quality of Welsh singing voices.

Also look out for Thomas Telford’s amazing suspension bridge in the next shot of Conwy Castle. It was built between 1824-26 to improve access between Holyhead on Anglesey and Chester, and was also part of Telford’s larger road and bridge improvement scheme to enable swift and safer travel to London for Irish Members of Parliament. A triumph, then, in both function and form.

The castle was built between 1283 and 1289, and is another of Edward I’s overbearing edifices to oppress the Welsh. Not only did he invade, he also cleared out the monks who occupied the site and set about building both a fortress and a model town below it, the latter confined by massive defences. Today, these walls still surround the town, and you can walk around them, though I should issue a warning: the wall-top walk is not for the faint-hearted or those prone to vertigo. But if you don’t mind heights, they provide striking views in every quarter.




A few miles upstream from Conwy is the market town of Llanrwst. It is claimed that in 1947 its town council made an unsuccessful attempt to gain a seat on the United Nations Security Council as an independent Welsh state. One has to admire this piece of Celtic chutzpah. I’m sorry they did not succeed. P1070238

Anyway, one of the present day arresting features of Llanrwst is this bridge, the Pont Fawr or Great Bridge. It was built in 1638 and still cars drive over it. There are other names too – the Shaking Bridge – because if you tap the central parapet the whole structure vibrates, and also Pont y Rhegi – bridge of swearing, explained by the fact that the carriageway is too narrow for vehicles to pass, and the height of the central arch too steep for forward visibility,meaning that everyone meets in the middle and this happens…!&?#!

The view through the central arch shows the ground on which the National Eisteddfod was held in 1989. The town is currently campaigning for a return of this annual extravaganza of Welsh culture in 2019. Which is a good point to bring on the choir. Croeso – welcome!

Marvellous Magnolias ~ And More From Bodnant Garden


You could say that one of Britain’s loveliest gardens grew from a cosmetic nicety – the means to make white soap from brown. This new Victorian product was invented by one Henry Pochin (1824-1895), an industrial chemist who developed a process to clarify rosin, a brown resin that was used to make soap. He then sold the rights to white-soap-making to fund a new development: the production of alum cake from china clay, so creating a vital ingredient for the manufacture of good quality paper.

After that it was full steam ahead for Mr. Pochin, and literally too. He bought up china clay works in Cornwall and South Wales, and the Cornish Gothers works had its own tramway system on which ran a fleet of small steam locomotives, known at the time as Pochin’s Puffing Billies. And so he became a major industrialist, with further interests in iron, steel, and coal. He was also an all round pillar of the community, including serving for a time as a Liberal Member of Parliament. His wife, Agnes Pochin, was also politically active and a passionate suffragist.


In 1874, Pochin bought the Bodnant Estate in the Conwy Valley, North Wales. The estate included Bodnant House,  25 farms and 80 acres of gardens, and for the next 20 years Pochin set about acquiring specimen trees from around the world.  He employed the notable landscape gardener Edward Milner, and together they re-landscaped the steep gorge below the house, planting American and Asian conifers along the banks of the River Hiraethlyn that runs through the gardens.

Some 140 years on, you can see the astonishing results – towering Douglas Firs, Giant Redwoods, Japanese Umbrella Pines. This part of the garden, known as The Dell, has over 40 champion trees, now on the UK list of notable and ancient trees.

As we wandered through the pinetum we wondered at the vision of these men – to plant trees whose full glory in that setting they would never live to see. It struck us too, that the world could well do with more of this forward, long-term planning, the creation of a living legacy for future generations.


When Pochin died, his daughter Laura McClaren inherited Bodnant, and since that time the gardens have been developed by successive generations of the McClaren family, in particular Pochin’s grandson, Henry McClaren, who created the more formal gardens and the astonishing laburnum arch. (We were too soon to see it in bloom.) It was also he, who in 1949, gave the garden to the National Trust, although it is still managed on behalf of the Trust by a member of family. And it is still growing and expanding, with new areas being planted and opened to the public this year.


This is the view from the house (still privately owned) – the Carneddau mountains of Snowdonia as a backdrop. What a setting. And what a garden. Here are a few more glimpses: