Monthly Archives: June 2016

Hidden Places, and a Rumour of Blue Ochre

Barbara Matthews

I am exploring the area from Mallwyd to Dinas Mawddwy and the road up towards Dolgellau and then from Cross Foxes down to Tal-y-Llyn. I have tried to follow in Thomas Pennant’s footsteps but have found that I do not have completely free access as Pennant did, and this is an aspect I would like to explore further. In a similar vein, I am looking at the way in which the beauty of a place and its desirability can make it seem unwelcoming and how the character of a place can be changed by tourism.

Private_adjustedPrivate Land_adjusted

By following in Thomas Pennant’s footsteps I have found places hidden within the landscape, which has been fascinating; remnants of the eighteenth-century world. I plan to use pieces of text with imagery to illustrate these.


I am also struck by the drama and cragginess of the landscape and the number of military aircraft which shatter the tranquillity.

Thomas Pennant writes of this area: ‘Leave Dinas [Mawddwy], and take the road towards Dolgellau. Pass by some deserted lead mines; which, as yet, have never been worked with success. I may here mention an earth, which this place is noted for, a bluish ochre, which the shepherds wet, and pound in a mortar, then form into balls, and use in marking their sheep. An old proverb of the three things which Mowddwy wishes to send out of the country, shews their long knowledge of it.


O Fowddy ddu ni ddaw, dim allan

A ellir i rwystraw,

Ond tri pheth helaeth hylaw

Dyn atgas, nod glas, a gwlaw.*

* Detested people, blue-marking earth, and rain.


I continue to search for the elusive Blue Ochre of Dinas Mawddwy and have found the Yew Trees in St Tydecho’s church yard which were burnt as symbol of the biblical Palms and used to mark the heads of parisioners on Ash Wednesday. If I am able to, I would lie to incorporate both these elements in my work.

This is my current thinking and though I don’t yet have a clear idea of my completed artwork, I am inching towards it.

Curious Travellers go north in search of inspiration and stories

Stuart Evans, 1st June 2016



Consider this, oh curious traveller:

Inspired by the thought of north Wales, mountains and Thomas Pennant, we get up early and luckily find it to be a sunny day.  Before we start on our journey from Borth to Penmachno in Gwynedd my travelling companion selects a box-set of Harry Potter CDs to listen to in the car.

The journey takes two hours. As we sit in comfort, views of Corris, Cader Idris, Dolgellau, Trawsfynydd, Blaenau Festiniog, and its dramatic industrial spoil, are accompanied by a tale of wizards, spells, dragons and life threatening beasts. Thrilled and excited in our magic, isolated bubble we stop at Dolbadarn Castle.



‘Drud iawn oedd adeildau a cherrig: arwyddo gyfoeth ac o rym’.

(to build in stone was expensive, a symbol of wealth and power)



Llewelyn the Great built this dominating rectangular tower

and laid claim to the land, displaying his power.

What were the needs of Llewelyn to mark out his territory?

Today this is a destination, a place to ‘pull in’, pay £3.00, climb up the steep craggy incline and read about the history of the stone fortification on a laminated text panel. With a mind filled with young wizarding adventures it is difficult to focus on the hardship of living in this barren landscape, until my son asks, ‘where did they go to the toilet?’

We peer down some rectangular holes at the back of the tower.

We journey on.



‘Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; They make the latitudes and longitudes’.

Henry David Thoreau.

Thomas Pennant had a network of knowledgeable and artistic friends that he could call upon to help him ‘see’, record and understand the landscape while he travelled through Wales.

Today we have arranged to meet an artist and good friend from north Wales, Rorik Smith ( He arrives at central Penmachno from Llandudno at the allotted time, in his white van.  But we have decided to view the landscape from a different perspective.

We are going to travel by horse.



But first, we picnic in the old church of St Tudclud’s , the church, at the centre of the village. It has recently been reopened, after a fifteen year gap, by the efforts of local people. It now acts as a community centre as well as a house of prayer. It has a coffee machine, which offers cappuccino, expresso, latte or hot chocolate to the weary traveller.

Here too stand five ancient inscribed stones.



The most visually interesting is the long narrow stone said to mark the burial place of Iorwerth ab Owen Gwynedd (11-45-1174). The ancient stone has a symbol very similar to the London underground logo, a circle with a horizontal bar through it. It dates from the 13th century.


He was also known as Iorwerth Drwyndwn, ‘he with the broken nose’. Apparently he was so ugly that he was not allowed to inherit the crown. It is claimed that he was killed in battle near Penmachno.

His son was more successful and became the man to unite Wales- Llywelyn the Great, presumably he looked OK!



We make our way to the remote valley of Wybnant following the clear signs to Ty Mawr, National Trust Property and packaged history location, another destination, where Bishop William Morgan (1588-1620) is said to have lived and translated the Bible into Welsh.

But before we get there we stop at Gwydyr Stables and take to our steeds.

Our guide for the journey into the region is a tattooed lady adorned with images of Pegasus, flanked by equally impressive images of parents Poseidon and Medusa, which cover her entire back. If I remember the Greek legends correctly the rider of the winged horse falls off while pursuing a monster! For the next three hours we follow the undulating blue and green illustrations. I hold onto the reins of my horse in fear of tumbling and grip firmly with my knees.




The sounds of the countryside and rhythm of the moving horses change my perception. My mind wanders and along a wooded hillside we ascend. Surrounded by mosses, pools, ferns, creeping ivy and glimpsing the distance crags and rocky mountains. I am reminded of the story of the beast who once was said to dominate the lives of those who lived here.



‘Y Wiber’, or flying snake, was so terrible that a reward was offered to anyone who could rid the area of this threat.

A handsome young farm boy named Owen ap Gruffydd took up the challenge. After three separate warnings, from a local wizard, that he would face mortal danger Owen remained fearless.

He searched the valley and was caught by surprize. The flying creature suddenly appeared from above and bit him, causing him to stumble and fall onto the jagged outcrop below. His neck snapped like a branch. He tumbled into the swirling river below and drowned. His blood flowed swiftly downstream. The monster drank its fill before resting nearby.

With hundreds of arrows and sharpened spears Owens family and friends came and destroyed the creature.

It was never seen again. The valley retains the name Wibernant.

But today the peaceful valley is filled with sunshine.



Allowing ourselves the luxury of riding this route on horseback gives us the opportunity to really appreciate our surroundings.

These horses know the route and the incline of the land, I begin to relax:

‘Llawn o nerth, llyna ei nod

Llew rhudd unlliw a’r hyddod.

Da rhed deubarc, craed dibau

Do iawn ei duth yn dwyn dau.

Nid arbed, er dalled wyf

Ŵr neu wal, ern a welwyf.’

Guto Glyn (poem 51.39-44)  

(Full of strength, that is his characteristic,
a red lion of the same colour as stags.
He runs well over two parks, sure his footing,
very good is his trot carrying a blind man.
He won’t shy away from, even though I’m so blind,
a man or a wall, although I cannot see. Guto Glyn)

This is about the journey and not the destination.


Taking our time gives us the chance to feel what it is like to work with the animal and travel together, to feel and see thing differently. No wonder Pennant spent time appreciating what he found.

I wonder if Bishop Morgan, his house stands below us, ever thought of the flying snake and the young Owen when he translated the story of Adam and Eve being threatened by another serpent.

Languages can forge friendships, or create enemies.

What does speaking Welsh mean to me? my mother tongue. Welsh  seems to live in this valley I can hear it in the river. Pennant had the motto ‘ Heb Duw, heb dim’ (Without God, without anything)  inscribed on his family home, so how strong were his religious and Welsh beliefs?



As we steer our way along the well-worn path we follow a dry stone wall covered in thick moss buried in layers of growth.

Does this keep us in or keep us out?

Ancient boundaries are formed and our lives are ruled by established barriers, but these can be broken and changed. Sometimes the old walls fall down and the stones tumble to the ground.

Mending Wall:

‘ ………..and on a day we meet to walk the line

And set the wall between us once again

We keep the wall between us as we go……’

Robert Frost

This landscape is covered in miles of meandering walls and each so considered and carefully made. They are such beautiful and special constructions but hardly noticed as they become part of the landscape, nestling into the greenery. Like lines drawn on a map they mark the land but also keep the order of a network of old established boundaries.

Thomas Pennant must surely have walked or ridden past many of these walls, farms, dwellings, castles. He collected as much information on all manner of topics to try to understand his surroundings.

What were his thoughts about encouraging visitors to Wales?



Walls shape, not only the landscape, but the cultural identity of the area. When we think of the way in which people move from one place to another crossing farms, parishes, estates, and counties they carry with them their own stories of the past.

The curious traveller will observe and absorb as much as possible to try to make sense of the world. Our short journey ends where it began, in the twenty-first century: time past is so hard to understand.

Time present is difficult too. We return to the speed of our car and two hours later watch the stars in a clear sky back in Borth, pointing out Pegasus in the northern sky and wondering what stories other cultures have about the creation of the universe.  

Stuart Evans

Of Fires and Giants: Thomas Pennant and Tre’r Ceiri Hillfort

By Jan Woods

As soon as I started to read Thomas Pennant’s account of journeying through Wales in the eighteenth century, I was hooked. Every page bore witness to his lively and enquiring mind and the diversity of his interests and investigations. The extent of his travels, on foot and on horseback, was astonishing and when I then came to read the account of his visit to Tre‘r Ceiri, the atmospheric hillfort on the easternmost peak of Yr Eifl on the Llyn Peninsular, I knew that this was the location that I wished to evoke in film.

I had visited Tre‘r Ceiri just once before. I climbed up the steep pathway from Llanaelhaearn on a hot summer’s day to find an extensive and well-preserved settlement at the top of the mountain, which was beyond my wildest expectation. Who were the people who, with their sheep and their cattle, had occupied the many stone huts in this lofty place overlooking the Irish Sea two thousand years ago? I could almost hear their feet ringing on the distinctive, flat flakes of stone. Pennant names the place as  ‘Tre‘r Caeri, or, the Town of the fortresses’, but local legend has it as ‘Tre‘r Ceiri’, the dwelling place of red-headed giants!

Pennant had approached from the West, having first explored ’Nant y Gwytherin, or Vortigern’s Valley’. He describes this as being ‘embosomed in a lofty mountain, on two sides bounded by stony steeps, on which no vegetables appear but the blasted heath and stunted gorse; the third side exhibits a most tremendous front of black precipice, with the loftiest peak of the mountain Eifl soaring above.’ On the occasion of my next visit, I intend also to approach from the west, while keeping Pennant’s description in mind.

On arriving at Tre‘r Ceiri, Pennant was amazed: ‘On the Eifl is the most perfect and magnificent, as well as the most artfully constructed British post I ever beheld.’ He describes the construction of the huts as being ‘of various forms; round, oval, oblong, square’. This evolution of form is now regarded as evidence for the different phases of occupation, the later, more rectangular enclosures dating from Romano-British times having developed from subdivisions of the original circular huts. Apart from their buildings, the inhabitants of Tre’r Ceiri left almost no traces of their society. Tantalisingly few objects which would enable us to glean any insight into their way of life have ever been found.

The Curious Travellers project has presented an impetus for me to re-visit Tre‘r Ceiri, but I am writing this first contribution to the blog while all is still in the imagination and much may change. In that imagination the setting and content of the film has already crystallised into an evocation of light on the longest day of the year, the summer solstice.

As a celebration of light, Midsummer was a time when beacons were traditionally lit on hilltops and animals were driven through purifying fire. In the Christian tradition, this light is represented by St John, whose feast day, 24 June, is coincident with the summer solstice. The herb which bears his name, St John’s wort (hypericum perforatum), was thought to ward off evil and hung over doors and windows at this time. From the time of the ancient Greeks the plant was considered to have magical properties and amongst other things, has been used to combat depression. Yarrow, likewise, used since ancient times for healing wounds, was burnt on the Eve of St John as a protection from disease during the forthcoming year.

While pondering on these things, my mind turned to a visit made to a reconstructed lake dwelling, Araisi, in Latvia. The site had been occupied since prehistoric times, but the excavated dwellings in the lake had been rebuilt upon their ancient foundations and in one of the structures, bundles of herbs gathered from the adjacent meadows hung from the timbers of the roof.

By great good fortune, both St John’s wort and yarrow grow in my garden, though neither are currently in flower. I shall be interested to see whether they are in flower at midsummer, as I wish to draw on their auspicious associations by gathering bundles for my filming expedition.

St John’s wort, salad burnet, greater celandine and Welsh poppies

St John’s wort, salad burnet, greater celandine and Welsh poppies

Yarrow growing amongst speedwell

Yarrow growing amongst speedwell

An associated interest in plant material, developed for other projects in the past, is its use for making paper. The results are not necessarily recognisable as paper, in that one would be hard pressed to write or draw upon it, but, nevertheless, the paper-making process is employed and some interesting results can be obtained. I have to date made paper from moss, seaweed and grass with good results and, as part of this project, intend to experiment with St John’s wort and yarrow.

The next step in my involvement with the Curious Travellers will be for me to assemble my filming equipment and make a planning expedition. I need to re-acquaint myself with the approaches and lie of the land in order to prepare for midsummer. Exciting times!