Category Archives: Bala

Contrasting attitudes to tourism and Covid-19

I had no intention of talking about Coronavirus on the blog, but I was seriously struck by two contrasting attitudes today.  The first concerns the excellent approach of local holiday business Dyfi Cottages, and their online Coronavirus statement, which is impressive because of its simple common sense.   Here’s an excerpt but see the link for the full statement:

Increasingly this week, with continued lack of clarity on what the social distancing measures meant for self-catering cottages, we are now realising that our friends in the community including health care professionals, police and other essential services, are now asking for us to help them by asking people to stop travelling on holiday in the near future. Visit Wales has now also posted advice on their website regarding visitors to Wales: https://www.visitwales.com/coronavirus?fbclid=IwAR0W4XAWOu0S-iM24G3iO5mvo8pATiN48HUAeXvCBF4PVQruwOGUZ-KfFX0

It is for this reason, we are ceasing taking new bookings for the period up to 15th June 2020, we are also asking that any customer with a booking in the properties listed by us and due to depart between now and 30th April 2020 defers their booking or move it to a date later in 2020 or 2021. We are also asking all of our owners to continue to support us in deferring these dates. We expect that we may need to extend this period at some point in the next few weeks, and we will continually monitor and review the situation.

Serious congratulations and thanks to this successful local enterprise run by Paul Fowles for turning away much-wanted business in the short term, because it is the right and sensible thing to do.

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution shop, a favourite of mine, has also made the tough, but sensible decision to close its doors at least in the short-term.  It is an excellent cause, a splendid shop run by terrific people.  I look forward to it opening once again when things are safe.

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By contrast, there’s a report today on the BBC website, from which I have lifted the following photograph in Bala, which highlights how day-trippers have been pouring into Wales ignoring all the social distancing protocols that we all know about and should all be observing.  This is short excerpt so do check out the BBC website for the full report: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-wales-51994504

Car parks and trails could be shut to stop people from visiting Snowdonia National Park after “unprecedented scenes”, according to bosses.  There were so many people on mountain summits on Saturday it was “impossible to maintain effective social distancing” . . . . Welsh ministers are considering their legal powers to force people to stay away during the coronavirus outbreak.

Deputy Economy and Transport Minister Lee Waters said some people were “pretending everything is normal” at a time when hospitals were “turning canteens into spillover intensive care units”.  It comes as seven more people in Wales died after contracting the virus, taking the total number of deaths to 12.

There have already been calls from local politicians and medics to encourage second home owners and caravan owners to stay away from Wales’ holiday hotspots, where some people have travelled to self-isolate.  They also urged them to adhere to guidance on social distancing to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Local residents of Bala, only an hour’s drive away, were quite clearly very upset by the influx, and took peaceable measures to inhibit it, as the above report, and the photograph showing a vehicle and a trailer parked across the entrance to the lake’s main carpark, demonstrate.

I didn’t venture down into Aberdovey today, although I seriously enjoyed the sunshine on my balcony, so I don’t know whether it was any better than the rest of Wales, but I suspect that it will be difficult to keep the crowds away when the weather is like this, unless the government, local community groups, businesses and responsible members of the public can ram it home that social distancing will save lives.

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A snowy drive from Aberdovey to Chester yesterday

I checked the weather forecast yesterday, and it said absolutely nothing, zero, zip, nada, about snow.  But on drawing into Bala, a slightly blustery day turned into a minor blizzard and it didn’t let up until I was passing Wrexham.  I do the round trip from Aberdovey to Chester and back again quite frequently, and the weather is rarely as predicted, but often radically interesting in a rather challenging way!

 

Photographs today of Tal y Llyn, Llanuwchllyn and Bala

On my travels today I was lucky enough to see some remarkable weather.  Things started out with a sky so blue and a sun so yellow that the colours seemed almost fantasy-land.  The grass was white-topped and scrunched under foot when I left the house, and the air was so cold that it froze my breath.   It was a challenge, after turning right at Bryncrug and heading towards Tal y Llyn, to keep my eyes on the road, because the scenery was so glorious as it emerged from its icy white lace.  Tal y Llyn itself was simply spectacular, mirroring the sun-lit south-facing slopes in a near-perfect reflection.  At this time of year the contrast between sunny colours and black shadows is dramatic.

Tal y Llyn

As I approached Llanuwchllyn, which sits at the foot of Llyn Tegid (Lake Bala) and according to the Visit Bala website means “Church at the top of the lake,” there were fascinating horizontal bands of cloud sitting above the ground and beneath the hilltops.  On the south-facing slopes these were against bright hillside colours and blue skies.  On the north-facing slopes they sat above trees and fields still spiked with frost, the sun so bright that the sky seemed silver against the darkness of the hills.  My lovely Canon digital SLR (known for reasons lost in the mists of time as Josephine The Second) turned out to be impossible to get to in a hurry, so I used the little Sony that I keep in my handbag.  It struggled desperately with some of the lighting conditions, but I have posted the photos anyway because they do capture something of the magic.

 

 

These strands of white mist presaged, to my surprise and dismay, a tediously dreary fog.  Ahead of me a car was just a ghostly shape, and beyond that any other vehicles were a mere suggestion.  The lake was invisible.  I had been expecting to stop and take photographs of another beautiful mirror image, another spectacular vista, but beyond the road that runs along its north bank there was nothing but a dense veil of unvarying, damp, impenetrable murk.  In the picture below, where I pulled the car over, I am standing at the water’s edge.  Normally the lake would stretch out as far as the eye can see, contained within a sloping valley, very beautiful.  Today even the seagull floating only a few feet away from me was seriously blurred and ill-defined.

When I quite suddenly re-emerged into the sunshine, the impact was rather like stepping off an air-conditioned plane onto the top of the mobile steps in a very hot country – a moment of pure sensation and a blissful sense of mild disorientation and very pleasurable surprise.

Driving from Aberdovey to Chester after the snowfall

There was a light smattering of snow around Cader Idris, and near Dolgellau at Brithdir, but once I was approaching Bala it thickened up significantly, and in Bala itself cars were under 2 inches of snow.  From there to Llangollen via a somewhat curcuitous route along the foot of the Clwydian Range and down the Horseshoe Pass, it was a winter wonderland, very lovely.  There aren’t that many places to stop safely to take photos, but I managed a few.

The Congregational Chapel, Aberdovey (established 1880)

The Congregational Chapel, Aberdovey

The little Congregational chapel opposite the Snowdonia Tourist Information Centre on Glandyfi Terrace is a bijou little place, quite one of my favourite buildings in Aberdovey.

The Congregationalists (or Independents) arrived in Aberdovey in 1839, and found premises at 6 Evans Terrace where the minister preached their first sermon on 9th March 1840.  From there they moved to 50 Copperhill Street, and where there until 1845 until they established a small chapel called Capel Bach (Low Chapel) on the slopes of Pen y Bryn, the small hill with the folly on top, near today’s Prospect Place.

By the 1870s Aberdovey was becoming prosperous, and in 1882, two years after the chapel opened, the new wharf and jetty were built, improving transport links between sea and the decade-old Cambrian railway for the import of timber, livestock and unprocessed grain and the export of slate and milled grain.  As Aberdovey became more affluent, new people took up residence, both Welsh and English, and their spiritual needs were catered for by a remarkable number of chapels for such a small community.  The chapel was built in the late 1870s, and opened in 1880 to seat a congregation of 250 worshippers.

The chapel has a steeple with its own entrance, an octagonal spire, Gothic Revival clerestory windows, and a large pointed arch window that dominates the stone-dressed façade, featuring attractive traceries with four quatrefoils and stained glass.  The Gwyneth Archaeological Trust states that the unrendered stone is from Penrhyndeudraeth, probably from the Garth quarry in Minffordd, which opened in 1870 and is still in use. the stone dressings and quoins are of Anglesey limestone.  The slender painted iron columns in the interior are absolutely in proportion to the rest of the building, and a very distinctive feature.  The first service was held in the new chapel in 1880, when the village’s first harmonium was introduced.  A few years later the village’s first pipe organ was installed.   The welshchapels.org website indicates that a major renovation took place in 1905, at the cost of £1950.00.  It closed in 1998, when it was purchased and converted for residential use in 1999 by the present owner (with my sincere thanks to him for showing me around the absolutely super interior).

English Presbyterian Church of Wales, Aberdovey c1900. Source: Hugh M. Lewis 1989, plate no.8, Pages of Time

The choice of architectural design is interesting because far more than the other Aberdovey chapels, it borrows directly from the Catholic and Anglican paradigms of church architecture.  A photograph of it in the late 19th Century in Pages of Time by Hugh M. Lewis shows it with the surviving boundary walls and rails and two gateways opening directly onto the road with a gas light opposite, with no pavements (see above).  St Peter’s Anglican Church is clearly visible further down the road.

Congregationalism dates back to the 16th and 17th Centuries. The Congregationalists, together with the Baptists, are two of the oldest Nonconformist religions, and Geraint Evans credits the Congregationalists with being the “seedbed of Welsh Protestant Dissent” in Llanfaches, established in November 1639.  It was given a major boost during the Evangelical Revival of the 19th Century, and in 1832 the Congregational Church of England and Wales was established, a national organization of independent Congregational churches.  Many Congregationalists agree on a number of doctrines, which may include the principle of sola scriptura (the idea that all knowledge required for a spiritual life and to achieve salvation is contained in scripture) and that adult conversion to the faith is a requirement for spiritual salvation.  They all reject the episcopal concept of Holy Orders that are conferred by a religious leader (usually a bishop), adopting professional clergy and an active laity instead.  Finally, Congregationalist churches and chapels are independent of other doctrines, and are self-governing.

Aberdovey c.1900. Source: Hugh M. Lewis. Aberdyfi: A Glimpse of the Past.

The above photograph, this time from another booklet by Hugh M. Lewis, Aberdyfi: A Glimpse of the Past, shows the village in about 1900, with the chapel at the far end, giving a good impression of the stretch of road from the corner of Copper Hill Street down as far as the chapel.   Fishing nets are out to dry in the foreground, and there is a two-masted ship moored against the jetty, and the architecture along that stretch of road preserves many of the terraces from the 17th Century village.

Capel Tegid, Bala. Source: https://tinyurl.com/y6wydxtg

Looking around for anything similar in the area with a view to trying to identify who the architect of Aberdovey’s Congregational Chapel might have been, I stumbled across the larger Capel Tegid at Bala, a Calvinist Methodist church (reconsecrated as a Presbyterian church in the 1930s) that has a lot in common with the Aberdovey chapel, including painted iron columns.  I have no idea if it was built by the same architect, but it is not entirely implausible that William Henry Spaull of Oswestry, who built Capel Tegid and a number of Wesleyan Methodist chapels in  Wales, was also responsible for the Aberdovey Congregationalist chapel.

The 1999 conversion of the Aberdovey Congregationalist Chapel to residential use by a Welsh citizen was absolutely in tune with the existing architecture, retaining all the key features including the wonderful slender painted cast iron columns and the stained glass windows, and all the furnishings complement the original features beautifully.  It is beautifully maintained, inside and out, and is a credit to its owner.  The perfectly manicured hedge in front of the chapel is evergreen myrtle, the leaves of which have a wonderful aromatic scent when rubbed, and it produces a plethora of tiny white flowers in the summer.

I won’t mention the owner’s name, to preserve his privacy, but when I first moved into the area I had not realized that it had been converted and thought that it was still either in use as a chapel or was empty.  When I saw someone emerging from the building I therefore had no hesitation in asking if it would be possible to see around it at some stage.  He was so kind that he invited me in there and then.  I was expecting dusty recesses and cobwebs, and instead stepped through the door to find that I had invited myself into what was clearly someone’s very beautiful home!  To say that I was mortified barely touches the surface.  But I am so glad that I made that particular mistake, because it was super to see how stunning it is.

Some restoration work was carried out to the steeple in 2018.

It should be noted that although the Coflein website has a photograph of the Congregational Chapel under its entry for the English Presbyterian Church of Wales, this is a case of mistaken identity.  The Presbyterian chapel is the yellow building at the opposite end of the village (and shown in this blog’s header).   Elsewhere on the site, the Coflein website has the chapel listed as an Independent chapel (nebo), the Welsh-speaking term for Congregationalism.  The Coflein website lists many photographic records of the interior prior to its conversion in its catalogue, but these are not currently available online.