On Thursday 7th July a posse of 20 members met to amble gently around Hilton Court Gardens. Now no longer open to the general public, they are still happy to welcome small local groups.
It was a lovely opportunity to meet up and to renew old friendships.
Cheryl welcomed us and told us a bit about the evolution of the extensive grounds. It had taken 25 years, but gosh it was worth it.
Wandering along the woodland paths we were often met by fairytale playhouses, all different and all constructed by Peter, Cheryl’s husband. It was quite easy to lose one’s bearings under the leafy canopy and they certainly helped our tentative navigation on times
The lakes looked beautiful and scattered seating enabled relaxed viewing from all directions . Everyone who attended loved the peace and tranquility of the garden and took time to sit on the many seats around the pond. We had the exciting addition of viewing Cheryl’s own lovely garden set in many older walls around the house and looking across to another tranquil pond.
At the end of the visit we were able to recharge our batteries with sandwiches and cake from the veranda of the tea room and enjoy the restful view.
Many thanks to Lyn who suggested and organized the visit, unfortunately she was unable to attend on the day.
This Tudor/Gothic large rambling house near Carmarthen, proved to be an interesting visit. Not only for its historical links to the Cawdor family of Stackpole estate, but also it’s story of recent years and the astounding construction and current state of repair.
View from the rooftop.
The Earl of Cawdor, John Campbell, employed Sir Jeffrey Wyattville, a prominent architect who transformed Windsor Castle, to design a replacement for a house which had been lower down the hill. The Estate was founded by the Vaughan family, who were descended from the Price of Powys and settled in Carmarthenshire in 1485. At the height of its affluence the Estate comprised over 50,000 acres. The house has superb views over the River Tywi, a rich agricultural landscape sprinkled with history and beauty.
John Frederick Campbell inherited the Cawdor Estate and in 1827 was created Earl Cawdor in the County of Pembroke and Viscount Emlyn in the County of Carmarthen . He laid the foundations of the present house and pulled down the former residence. In the 1930s the family returned to Nairn and during World War 11 Golden Grove was occupied by the US Air Force. In 1952 it was leased to the then Carmarthenshire County Council for use as an agricultural college. In 1976 most of the vast estate was sold to pay taxes on the death of his father.
The main house is a large rectangular wing with a glass central ceiling and then an extraordinary number of buildings linked by corridors to provide the working areas and servants accommodation of the estate. We wandered through laundries, stables, cellars and vast kitchens for preparation of produce from the agriculturally rich estate and numerous rooms. The majority in a poor state of repair with some elements removed, others seemingly untouched for many years. In the main house ceilings were propped up with scaffolding and roof slates being repaired to prevent water ingress. But the fine ebony inlaid dark wood staircase was still in excellent condition and the original front door and main rooms with superb views across the valley preserved.
Our excellent guide Frances took us first to the extensive stable area, which is of national architectural significance, but has unfortunately been stripped of roof slates in some areas causing deterioration. She explained the history of recent owners and that Gelli Aur was now in a charitable trust led by an art dealer. The house, which has planning permission for reconstruction and for a number of uses, was full of wrapped up paintings and discarded furniture and is being maintained by only one employee.
This same employee also has the task of trying to maintain some of the world class arboretum at the rear of the house. We wandered through giant precious trees, labelled by Kew gardens, marvelling at how this superb garden not been more significantly preserved and publicised. The visit provided material for an interesting discussion about preservation and the value of the National Trust. Sitting together on the auditorium at the end of the tour we were virtually speechless at the enormity of the task presented to the charitable Trust to even just preserve the Mansion and its historical gardens. However, it is clear from what we saw it is a precious resource that deserves to be brought back to life.
We started our visit at the entrance of the Walled Garden where we were met by Christine who is responsible for the area. She explained that its history goes back some 220 years, the house and walled garden being built in the 1800s by John Colby. The walled garden was restored and embellished in 1965. It was originally a vegetable garden. Today it is mainly trees , shrubs and perennials. We made our way to the high point of the garden close to the gazebo admiring many colourful and varied plants and shrubs on our way.The gazebo was added in 1975-76 by Mr and Mrs Chance . Unfortunately we were unable to go inside because a bee colony had made its home in there. To the side of the gazebo is the south facing border with a large magnolia grandiflora “Exmouth”, a hibiscus and other tender specimens with a pretty alpine border to the side.The slate rill running down the incline was put in by Mr and Mrs Scourfield Lewis in 1993. The rill is fed from a lions head spouting water into a semi circular cistern in the retaining wall of the gazebo platform. The water is then piped under the path and into the rill .
Moving on around the garden a large area of ferns was discovered with their different structures and textures. Christine pointed out a Drimys Winteri Tree which is a very tender species but is well protected here.Two huts were pointed out that used to be used for compost, one now houses gardeners tools and the other has information boards on the plants in the garden .
The first thing we saw as we moved into the meadow area was an impressive willow bee which had been made by Melanie Bastia . A variety of fruit trees also grow in this area including plum, pear, apple and medlar. Christine explained that a grass border had been created to fit in with the area 5 years ago. The hedges surrounding the meadow are cut in September
Leaving the meadow a large border of oxeye daisies interspersed with some ragged robin and other meadow flowers was ahead of us . The large concrete beds , called coffin beds, were constructed the same time as the wall and it’s thought they were used for plants such as asparagus. They now contain fuchsias, topiary yews with a mass of Chionodoxa bulbs for spring interest.
In 1889 on entering the walled garden through the gate there would have been a glass house to the left with a modern version in place on the same area until the 1990s .
Christine explained that they endeavoured to keep the paths clear so wheelchair users can move around easily. Keeping the ivy off the walls is a big challenge for her and her band of volunteers who she explained were fundamental to the garden’s maintenance.
As we ended our tour of the walled garden Christine was thanked for her informative and interesting tour and we were joined by Steve Whitehead , Head Gardener at Colby for the last 17 years who took us down to the main meadow area. Steve explained that there used to be 8 acres of formal garden, 30 in total, while the whole estate was 890 acres with 20Kms of footpaths. The Trust is moving to a more wildlife friendly garden and does not use any chemicals. There are many challenges e.g, ash die back . Trees are felled if they become a danger to the public. 3000 native species trees have been planted on the estate this year by garden volunteers and another 26000 by contractors. The meadow has mown pathsacross it. The cut grass is used to make grass snake habitats. We crossed a bridge under which is a small trout stream. The house with its formal garden was on our right.
Making our way along the meadow small ponds could be seen where frogs and toads spawn and newts and sometimes otters are seen . Unfortunately many ponds have been lost across the country. Large amounts of yellow rattle, a parasite on grass which weakens it, purple orchids and some knapweed which provides nectar later in the year were seen amongst the grass. Steve passed on a good tip ,spread the soil of mole hills and use it to scatter seeds on .
Arriving at the bottom of the garden we came to a circle of fallen ash trees. Colby has a partnership with The Darwin Centre which fund school visits and use this area. The National Trust staff undertake most of the felling of the trees but sometimes need help from the council. Some of the oak wood goes to Marine Heritage although extraction is difficult. Steve explained how delighted he is with the battery operated chainsaw, donated by us, which is extremely useful.
Starting our return journey along the path of the old mill leet we passed a carved hedgehog by Neil Machin and saw lots of Colby’s renowned rhododendrons, some of which were still in flower. A little further on was the site of a very deep old mine shaft capped by a large wheel. John Colby mined the area with as many as 9 mines on the estate, although they weren’t really profitable. Close by were memorials dedicated to Miss Mason and Mrs Chance.
Having gone nearly full circle we passed through 2 large gate posts which were remnants of a toll gate which had been sited nearby at the time of The Rebecca Riots. Back at the start of our walk Steve explained the work taking place in the Eastwood which is being reclaimed from a conifer wood. Some of the Maples we could see had been donated by us and provide good autumn colour.
Steve, 2 gardeners, Christine and their band of volunteers do a magnificent job of managing the estate and walled garden . They were thanked for making Colby the magnificent place it is today.
Report by walk organiser Pat Morgan, with assistance from Christine Bevan and Steve Whitehead
We were blessed with mainly fine weather for the tour to Cheshire. The trip was initially planned for 2020, but was postponed for two years, because of Covid.
Those travelling by coach from Pembrokeshire were met by some who made their own way there, including Jim and Margret Price, who drove from the Bristol area, where they now live. In total there were 36 of us.
It was good to re unite with tour regulars and welcome some who were new to the experience.
We stopped, en route, at Attingham Park NT. In addition to the mansion, there were extensive grounds to explore.
The staff at Rowton Hall Hotel, on the outskirts of Chester, looked after us well. There was a spacious bar for pre dinner drinks, and we had a function room to ourselves for breakfast and evening meal.
The Anderton Boat Lift, near Northwich, was constructed in the late 19th century, to connect two waterways, serving the local salt mining industry and the potteries at Stoke on Trent. After closure in 1981, a well supported appeal led to successful restoration. As a result we were able to take to a boat to experience the fifty foot descent from the Trent and Mersey Canal to the River Weaver.
Later that day, the National Trust property at Dunham Massey provided a chance to explore the house, enjoy the gardens and stroll the extensive deer park.
A common sight at various NT properties was to see tree trunks and fallen timber left to slowly decay and act as “invertebrate hotels”.
We devoted a whole day to visit Quarry Bank Mill NT near Wilmslow. It is a surprise to find a working cotton mill surrounded by a valley garden. The azaleas were at their peak. Our visit also took in the apprentice house which gave a good insight into the life of a child labourer.
On the final morning in Chester, we were met by our guide, Yvonne Kirk , who joined the coach to point out the Roman walls and amphitheatre, as well as other sights. Thereafter some took a boat trip on the River Dee, whilst others stayed with Yvonne for a walking tour of the city centre. In the afternoon we went to Speke Hall NT, near Liverpool Airport. There we heard many tales about the sheltering of Catholic priests in the era of their persecution.
Our journey home was made more colourful by a visit to Bodnant GardensNT. In the lower gardens we saw the effects of storm Arwen, in November 2021. Over fifty large trees were lost, including a giant sequoia. However the upper parts of the garden provided a feast for the eyes, with the famous laburnum arch approaching its seasonal peak.
Our thanks go to Margret Price for making the initial arrangements for 2020, with help from Lyn Humphries. Sam, our driver from Richards Bros, looked after us very well. Thanks also go to all those on the trip for making it such an enjoyable social time.
We met on a lovely sunny morning in the car park of The Cottage Inn.Before starting our walk Graham gave a detailed overview of how the name Llangwm evolved and its correct pronunciation, the many prehistoric links that have been found in the area including flints from the Mesolithic period (8000 -6000 BC),the Neolithic Hanging Stone Cromlech at Sardis (3000 BC)and the amazing Late Iron Age chariot found near by in 2018.Many foreign invaders also came into the area, The Norsemen in the 9th century, The Normans in the 11th century and The Flemings in the 12th century who had a major influence locally. Welsh was not really spoken in Llangwm and villagers developed their own dialect some examples being lake for stream, drang for passage and cluck for broody.
Leaving the car park we made our way down the narrow Main Street passing “The Screw “ .Here water was drawn up from a well using the Archimedes screw principle.There were several businesses in the village including butchers, bakers and a Bank all now closed. Four public houses flourished but were shut due to the influence of the Temperance Movement.Fenton in his book about his travels in 1811 describes Llangwm as “This miserable village consists of several low, straggling houses interspersed with trees, amidst mountains of oyster shells ….” The village now has a shop , post office and Inn
Our next stop was on the village green, in many ways the centre of the village with the large Wesleyan Chapel built in 1897 but now closed ,the Rugby club which was previously the site of The Llangwm Institute and St Jerome’s Church which houses effigies of the De La Roche family and the Llangwm Tapestry depicting its history which was embroidered by local people in 2016. Mill Street leads off the green named because of the grist mill found there.
Continuing down hill we walked over Guildford Bridge and ahead was the new Galilee Baptist Chapel built in 1904 the original having been on the site of the now chapel car park .Turning left we walked along Williamson Terrace which local legend says was lost in a bet !
Tragedy occurred in Llangwm more than once . Graham recounted the sad story of Sam and Mary John who both drowned when their boat got stuck in the mud at Carew Reach while they were on a fishing trip on 28th July 1930. Another drowning documented is that of Edwin Davies on 1st April 1970 when the boat he was in which was full of herring,sank when swamped by water.
Our walk continued up hill and then across a field where the Mesolithic flints were found . Descending down a narrow footpath we arrived at the bottom of Port Lion. A ferry service ran from near here to Coedcanlas . The charge was 1 pence for a person or horse . It was often used by the famous fisherwomen of Llangwm who then walked in their traditional Welsh costumes to sell their wares of oysters, prawns and mussels as far afield as Pembroke, Tenby and even Carmarthen! William Pickens was one of the ferrymen employed by the Williamson Estate but died in 1867 of Cholera which was rife in Llangwm in the mid 1800s with many villagers losing their lives.The last ferryman was William “Darky” Llewelyn with the ferry formally ending in the early 1930s.
We made our way carefully along the foreshore which is designated a SSSI with abundant salt marsh flora , varied bird life and where otters are sometimes seen . We reached Guilford Pill and saw swans nesting on the far shore. Let’s hope the eggs all hatch and the cygnets develop well. From here we returned to our cars via the village green and Main Street .
Graham was thanked for his most interesting and informative talk which everyone enjoyed and we look forward to another visit to Llangwm to continue it’s story .
Report by Pat Morgan (walk organiser) and Graham Stephens (our guide).
After three postponed talks due to high Covid levels, it was lovely we could at last hold one more talk before the end of the season. Rhian provided us with a fitting finale. She explained the challenges and opportunities the last two years have presented to the Pembrokeshire National Trust at each of their locations. Rhian has worked for the Trust for fifteen years and is based at Stackpole. She works alongside Mark Underhill and focuses on properties and visitors.
After a round of redundancies following the National Trust reset programme, remaining Pembrokeshire staff have had to work creatively to meet the growing demand for the outdoors. The Pembrokeshire National Trust has half a million visitors in the season and the 24 cottages and campsites had a 98% occupancy last year. It is unsure what will happen this season but the demand will still be high. Some positives have come out of the visitor changes needed such as online booking at the Tudor Merchants House and Martin’s Haven for Skomer creating a better visitor experience. The new car parking payment for entry to Colby Woodland gardens now allows more families to enjoy the more economical visit at this popular location.
Rhian explained the closure of the Stackpole Centre, which welcomed more than 2,000 children annually, was very sad for the National Trust team but this has now improved with families booking the accommodation and school groups being hosted by third party providers at the site. The Stackpole location, in particular Stackpole Quay, has proved a huge challenge with the car park being full by 10am at peak times and staff, manning the roads to redirect traffic, began to be subject to verbal abuse. The introduction of body cam videos has now helped to improve this. Freshwater West is currently undergoing a community consultation project to look at the future for the area and more than 1800 people responded to a survey. In North Pembrokeshire and the Dale peninsula the focus has been on improving the car parks and visitor huts to provide a warm Welsh welcome and encourage people to join the National Trust.
Rhian conclude by thanking all Pembrokeshire National Trust Association members for their support and helping to fund backpacks for Colby, the fire for the Tudor Merchants House, the accessibility bench for Stackpole Quay and a personal thanks for the wonderful bench in Stackpole woods where staff too can enjoy the bench and take a break from their busy jobs.
A stimulating personal insight to the challenges facing Pembrokeshire and its National Park was provided by Gus Stott. A Trustee of the Friends of Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, Gus is their local policy officer liaising with many different local and regional organisations, Gus updated us on the pressures facing the National Park on its 70th anniversary.
He began by summarising the current situation, outlining the pressures on habitats and species, as seen in the State of Nature Report. He also explained the problems being caused by the variable ability of the land across Pembrokeshire to absorb water, so leading to flooding. In addition Gus outlined some of the changes already taking place in the National Park because of climate change: the instability of the areas of dunes in Freshwater East and West, the coastline movement at Newgale and the loss of trees. There are also problems of pollution from agriculture and new housing developments that now need to be addressed.
Gus said that Agriculture will also play a large part in the changes confronting the National Park. He explained that it is likely a big land use change will now happen again as the new financial support system for agriculture, currently being worked out, is implemented over the next few years. However, he did explain that there are potential opportunities to make things better if the Welsh Government get the new agricultural subsidy scheme right. He emphasised that it needs to be tailored to our National Park and the farming styles within it and this could be used in positive ways to tackle the environmental issues being faced.
Mark was our after lunch speaker at Wolfscastle Country Hotel. He told us how the National Trust has a declared aim to be Net Zero for Carbon by 2030, restoring habitats along the way. The latest acronym is RACE.
Starting with REDUCE, the target is to lower carbon release by 5% per annum. Heating buildings tops the chart, but vehicle use features, and three new vehicles in the local NT fleet will be electric powered, this year.
Then there is ADAPT. The example offered was the proposed new road by passing the coastal road at Newgale. The existing road is threatened by the inward progress of the shingle bank. Mark stressed the importance of regarding the plans as an ecological evolution with a flooded river valley, improved habitat and carbon sequestration, rather than just a “new road”.The new highway would traverse parts of the Southwood Estate.
For CAPTURE, several examples were given. Magnificent Meadows are now to be found across many parts of the county, thanks to the National Trust working with other organisations. In season, the fields are buzzing with insect life. Rhos Pasture at Southwood is an area of land that escaped the attentions of the drainage contractor, many years ago. It now provides the best habitats on the site, and the aim is to allow the scrub to spread, enhancing carbon sequestration. The plans at Mount and Barn Fields, north of Colby, are more ambitious. Only in spring of this year, the land came back into NT control, having been tenanted. The intention is to plant 27,000 trees, without tree guards or stakes, by spring 2022!
To end the acronym, ENGAGE. That was what Mark was doing with us, explaining the plans to local people, and listening to their responses. The large number of questions at the end showed a high level of engagement.
Mark was handed a cheque for £1000 from PNTA. The money will be used to purchase a professional quality battery powered chain saw for Colby Woodland Gardens – one less petrol engine. Every little helps.
Report by Andrew Weaver
Mark Underhill accepts a cheque from PNTA towards a battery powered chain saw, for Colby Woodland Gardens.
Photo by Alan Mason
Thanks to Jim and Margret Price.
At the recent lunch, at Wolfscastle Country Hotel, Jim and Margret Price were given vouchers as a small token of appreciation for the big part they have played as supporting members of PNTA, and their key roles on the committee for many years. They are in the process of moving house to the Bristol area. We wish them well, and will miss them.
Forty masked members, well wrapped up to cope with the open windows policy, gathered at Crundale Hall for the first indoor PNTA meeting for over eighteen months, since the onset of the COVID pandemic.
Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Warden, Ian Meopham, took us on a verbal and photographic celebration of the county, expressing his own opinions. We share our magical corner with wildlife, such as the peregrines, whose numbers are recovering well, after past persecutions. He recalled a day on the coast with a specialist in snakes. Normally Ian regards himself lucky if he sees one adder per year. With this expert as a guide, 30 adders were sniffed out, in one session.
He referred to the special part played by the National Trust, as owner of much coastal land, some purchased as part of Operation Neptune.
He highlighted places such as Amroth, Newgale and Freshwater West, where rising sea levels will have significant impact.
Agriculture has dominated the scene for generations, but now farming is on its knees, with small farms disappearing and farmers turning to tourists as their cash crop.
It is said that Pembrokeshire is twenty years behind Cornwall, in relation to tourism, but as a Cornish friend told Ian, “the Perranporth I knew has disappeared”.
With places like Stackpole seeing a recent rise in visitor numbers by 30%, inevitably the popular spots, such as Barafundle and Porthgain, become overwhelmed.
Skomer Island can control numbers visiting, by limiting the number visitors landing per day. That is harder to do on the mainland.
Discussion ensued. The topics of tourist taxes, dogs and transport options all had an airing.
Ian urged us not to let the nature of the area we value, slip through our fingers.
Report by Andrew Weaver
“Pwll Deri looking beyond to Stumble Head. Furniture in a wild place”
Fourteen members of PNTA, suitably attired for a damp day, were led on an enjoyable and informative walk by Lead Ranger for North Pembrokeshire National Trust, James Roden.
He kindly prepared this report of the excursion, for us:-
We met at Maidenhall car park on the western edge of the Southwood Estate. Here I gave an introduction to the 900 acre estate and NT’s work there over the last 15 years. NT are currently in the process of drawing up plans to invest in the Southwood buildings and also review land management across the estate. The guided walk focussed on showing the group some of the conservation work that has recently been carried out as well as plans for the future.
Leaving Maidenhall car park, we walked across the road into Trefrane Farm. This farm came back in hand to the National Trust in 2018 and since then we have left the farm to see how the habitats would respond to a reduction of management. The large hedges have flourished, with scrub from the edges starting to creep out into the fields. The long grass tussocks have also provided habitat for ground nesting birds such as Skylark, as well as important foraging for the resident Kestrels and Barn Owls on the estate. Once the perimeter fencing has been renewed around the farm, the future plan for this land is to introduce some cattle and ponies to lightly graze across the land to allow natural habitats and processes the freedom to express themselves.
After walking across Trefrane, the group then crossed Bathesland road into Folkeston Farm, the most southerly farm on the estate. This year NT have been carrying out a large project funded by the People’s Postcode Lottery, to protect and enhance the large hedgerows across the farm through fencing out livestock. A lot of this work is aimed at improving the nesting and foraging habitats for farmland birds, particularly the Yellowhammer. The once common Yellowhammer, is now a red list species in decline across Wales, but a population (one of the largest remaining in Pembrokeshire) has clung on at Folkeston owing to the traditional mixed farming practices which have been conserved by NT and their tenant. There is also a nationally rare habitat at Folkeston, known as Rhos Pasture, which is essentially a species rich wet grassland. This habitat would have at one point covered most of the farm and was known as Folkeston Moor, but the majority was drained during the 19th early 20th centuries. Work has been done here to bring the remaining habitat back into good condition, through working with our tenant to reintroduce cattle to the Moor. Sadly no Yellowhammers were seen!
After this, we returned to Trefrane farm and walked back to Maidenhall a different way, through the arable fields which we have been managing for rare arable flora; a suite of plants which thrive on disturbed ground. Intensification of agriculture through increased use of fertilisers and herbicides, has meant that many of these species have declined significantly. National Trust’s management on these fields for arable flora has meant that they still hold species of national importance (e.g. Corn Marigold and Weasel’s Snout) as well as European Importance (Small-flowered Catchfly). In addition to providing the perfect conditions for arable flora to flourish, this management also creates habitat for ground nesting birds and the arable plants also provide an important source of winter food for farmland birds.
The walk largely followed the route of a new footpath which opens later this year. The permissive footpath will link in with the existing footpaths at Southwood, starting at Maidenhall, crossing Trefrane and Folkeston farms and coming out on the Folkeston Road (Roch to Nolton Haven road).