Category Archives: Events

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch results for Wales


The RSPB‘s Big Garden Birdwatch results arrived through my letterbox today, together with a new keyboard, a vital necessity after I tipped a glass of lemon squash into my previous one on Monday, annihilating the entire bottom row of keys, and most of the upper right.  Two pieces of post that made me very happy, with all due thanks to my postman for continuing to provide a brilliant service when they are under serious pressure as all of us turn to online orders.

Compared to our first 1979 survey, Big Garden Birdwatch results show declines in once common species such as greenfinch and chaffinch – mirroring the loss of wildlife in the wider countryside.  Yet there are signs of hope – in the last decade numbers of some garden species, including house sparrows, goldfinches and great tits appear to have increased, showing signs of potential recovery.  The version of the results sent to me was the version produced for residents in Wales, which was particularly interesting.

  1. House sparrows are still on top, and although numbers have been in decline since 1979, the rate of fall shows signs of slowing.
  2. Blue tits show a rise in numbers, and we certainly have a lot around here
  3. Starlings are down, although still common.  They say that starlings were spotted in 80% of Welsh gardens, but I have never seen one here.
  4. Blackbirds, one of my real favourites, are down.  Apparently a lot of chicks are lost at nesting time, and they can be helped by leaving hedges uncut and providing them with mealworms (which the robins and blue tits go crazy for too, at least in my garden)
  5. Chaffinches are down, but in Wales they were reported in 47% of gardens.  I have seen one this year
  6. Great tits are 12% up over the last 10 years, and we always have plenty in Aberdovey
  7. Goldfinches, permanent residents in my garden are up an incredible 50% in the last decade. A group of goldfinches, incidentally, is called “a charm.”
  8. Long-tailed tits are on their way up.  The last time I saw one was in the park over the road from my house when I lived in London.  They are enchanting.
  9. Robins were seen in 87% of Welsh gardens (mine included) but overall have fallen by almost one third since 1979.
  10. Magpies are on their way up and are doing well in Wales.  They are forever quarrelling with the jackdaws in my garden, and are often here when the pheasants visit, perhaps knowing that peanuts will be forthcoming

Chough. Source: RSPB website

Interestingly, just as happened last year, the pheasants moved in to my gardens and neighbouring gardens for the winter, and have now headed off again, rarely visiting.

A lot of birds are losing their natural habitats, like hedgerows, and climate change is impacting some species, like the puffin.  And have you seen a chough hereabouts?  I had never heard of them but they are crows with crimson beaks and red legs, that need cliff-top farmland for nesting and feeding sites.   There are only a few hundred pairs still remaining in Wales.

Vintage postcards #17: A special train on the Cambrian Coast Line

This must have been a wonderful sight – a steam-hauled special train on the way into Aberdovey along the side of the estuary on the Cambrian Coast Line.  The reverse of the postcard says that it was sold in aid of the Talyllyn Railway in Tywyn.  The Aberdovey stretch of the railway was established in 1864, connecting via Machynlleth to the south in 1867 (the subject of an earlier post) and the last steam engine run along the route was in 2017, marking the 150th anniversary of the Grade 2 listed Pont Y Bermo (Barmouth Bridge), that carries the line over the Mawwdach estuary.

I naively thought that it would be easy to find a date for what I thought must be an unusual event, but my assumption was wrong.   Thanks, therefore, to Sierd Jan Tuistra, via RMWeb member Martin McCowgill, who provided the information that this is one of the annual AGM weekend specials from Paddington to Towyn, 24th September 1960.  It was a double-headed special, with two engines pulling the carriages from Shrewsbury to Towyn, each pulling a coal truck before the passenger carriages. The engine at the front is 9017, otherwise known as the Dukedog class, which was the nickname for the Great Western Railway Earl Class.  Behind it is engine 7330 in the Mogul (GWR 4300) class.

Steam was not an uncommon sight on the Cambrian coast, a lot of regular services were steam hauled until 1966. Double headed train were less common, but quite a number of Cambrian Coast express summer Saturday specials were double headed because of the number of passengers & carriages.

Apparently there also used to be occasional summer steam trips on a Sunday from Aberystwyth to Pwllheli, so although this was a fabulous sight, it was not actually as rare as one might have expected.  Halliday, the photographer, specialized in vintage train photographs in the 1950s, mainly black and white.

Produced by Judges, about whom more on an earlier post.

The Devil’s Violin performing “Stolen” at Neuadd Dyfi

Tonight I went to see Stolen at the Neuadd Dyfi by The Devil’s Violin.  I booked myself in with a very open mind but with no clear idea of what it would be all about.  Here’s the description that was given on the Neuadd Dyfi website:

The Devil’s Violin return with an enchanting blend of words and music. Brimming with dreamlike images that will haunt you long after the performance ends, The Devil’s Violin will take you on an epic journey to The Land Of No Return.  The essence of all cinema, theatre and literature is a gripping tale well told. Using live music and the spoken word, The Devil’s Violin return us to that essence.  Nothing is as detailed and rich as the world we can create with our own minds… Daniel Morden transports you to the Land of No Return, his story telling enhanced by the hypnotic string accompaniment of Sarah Moody and Oliver Wilson-Dickson.  The ensemble take you on an epic journey through a dream like land where you will encounter a King turned to stone, an old woman living in the claw of a giant cockerel and a glass man filled with wasps.

Stolen somewhat defies adequate description.  As the picture above shows, The Devil’s violin consists of three performers, a narrator (Daniel Morden), a violinist (Oliver Wilson-Dickson) and a cellist (Sarah Moody).  The narrator tells the story of the youngest and least courageous of three princes who goes on quest to retrieve the stolen Bird of Hope to restore the eyesight of his father, the king.  Along the way he finds similarly troubled people, all of whom have also been victims of the Pale King, who resides in the Land of No Return.   The young prince promises to search for help for these tragic beings in the Land of No Return.  Along the way he hears many stories, tells one of his own and he becomes a story in his own right.

Daniel Morden takes on all the parts in the narrative, be it a bird, a prince, an old woman or a princess, and there is a lot of humour threaded throughout, with lots of laughs from the audience.  The story is interwoven with music, sometimes the marvellous tunes being left to tell their own parts of the tangled tale, sometimes wild and joyous, often melancholy, sometimes doom-laden, but always phenomenally beautiful.  Pieces of it reminded me of Tartini’s Devil’s Sonata, but there were also layers of Irish fiddle music.  The interplay of the violin and the cello was simply superb, and the finesse of both the individual performances and the precision of their synergy was remarkable.

Just before the interval the audience was asked to make a decision about how the dilemma in the story that the prince tells in the Land of No Return should be resolved.  At the beginning of the second part, the lights were left up and members of the audience shouted out their preferred solution to the dilemma.  It was great fun to hear some of the more outrageous suggestions, and as Daniel Morden pointed out, there was a real gender division in the proposed outcomes!  There is a poetic ending, and the story comes to a satisfying close.  Overall, it was a mosaic of fable, parable, allegory, myth, yarn and poetry, delivered with humour, skill and real style and flair.

I had only been to the Neuadd Dyfi once to join the older people’s exercise spot on a Monday afternoon, which is in the large, light-filled back room, so I was by no means sure what to expect of the theatre venue.   My thanks to Aberdovey resident David Inman, who recommended the performances at the Neauadd to me, and he was spot on – it was a delight.  Comfortable chairs in well spaced rows were laid out in a crescent formation to face the stage, which was beautifully lit.  The acoustics are good and the atmosphere friendly and charged with anticipation. Everyone seems to know everyone else!  A swift glance around suggested that was a wide age mix, mainly of the over-40s, more generally the over-50s, but there was a smattering of younger people and even children there too.  Nice to have the mix.  There was a bar selling hot and cold drinks, including wine and beer, and the dress was generally smart-casual, relaxed.  I sat next to Gwenda, who is off to Bala tomorrow on the 57th anniversary of her wedding day to see the chapel where she was married.  What a super idea.

My thanks to The Devil’s Violin for a great evening, and to the Neuadd Dyfi’s Des George and his team for organizing it.   It was a splendid evening.  You can find out more about The Devil’s Violin, including their upcoming schedule, on their website.

I enjoyed the whole experience enormously and have already bought my ticket for The Mid Wales Opera’s SmallStages performance of A Spanish Hour:  Ravel’s L’heure espagnole, first performed in 1911.  See more about the performance on their website here, and you can book via the Neuadd Dyfi website here.

Fireworks two nights in a row! This time from Borth

I love fireworks so I was very spoiled last night when I heard the first bang and saw a gorgeous explosion of colour from the other side of the estuary.  Gorgeous.  Great that the two villages decided to do their displays on different nights.


A splendid Aberdovey Bank Holiday fireworks display

Splendid to see the DoveyFest Bank Holiday firework display tonight.  Although it has been a lovely day I didn’t venture down into the village because I knew that it would be bedlam, but I was really looking forward to the fireworks.  What a super way to celebrate the last summer Bank Holiday of the year.  It was a lovely display, full of bright, wild colours and splendid patterns, bursts of vibrant light on the backdrop of a truly balmy night.  Congrats to Bright Works Fireworks Displays for such a great show.

Cooking with Seabreeze hake and samphire from the Aberdovey Food Festival

Day 2 of working joyously through my treasure trove from the Aberdovey Food Festival 2018, I used the second fillet of hake and the rest of the samphire, both from Seabreeze, together with some clams in their shells (from a Portuguese shop in Wrexham) and some prawns to make myself a cataplana (a Portuguese cooking method that combines steaming and poaching in a single tightly sealed metal device, also called a cataplana) in a cream, white wine, saffron and marsala stock.  Served it again with cubes of sautéed maris piper spuds, because they needed using up, lots of black pepper, a drizzle of tabasco and lemon slices.  Dipped a chunk of the tomato focaccia from the Mountain Road Bread Collective into it, and what it lacked in elegance it compensated with amply with pure flavour.  I’ll halve the white wine and double the saffron next time, and chuck in a few slightly under-ripe tomato chunks.  Another happy Festival outcome.

Aberdyfi Food Festival, 18th August 2018

My haul from the Food Festival: seeded wholemeal bread, apple chutney, mangalitza sausages, two types of focaccia, a pain au raisin, a chelsea bun, a bag of fresh samphire and two stunning fillets of hake

I was in Chester for most of last week with my father, but I ensured that I was back in time for the Aberdyfi Food Festival 2018, the fourth anniversary of the event, which takes place in a field, at one time the school playing field, next to the station.  It was superb!  It was a grey day, with drizzle, but everyone dressed up for the weather and it was packed, with a great atmosphere.  There must have been about 30 stalls.  Some sold food and drink in packets and bottles to take home, whilst others were providing a wide range of consumables to eat and drink on the hoof, including paella, hog roast, pizza, oysters, Pimms, cider, beer, coffee and much more.  Straw bales were scattered around to sit on, and there was a marquee where events were taking place.  These included: Welsh lamb at its best / Fizz Masterclass / Something fishy! / Cocktails / Foraging and syrups.

I bought a lot of wonderful food.  My two bags were stuffed to capacity.

I went slightly mad at the Mountain Road Bread Collective stall, acquiring various products for the freezer because I love artisanal bread.  A seeded loaf, two types of focaccia (one of which was vegan), a pain au raisin, and a Chelsea bun made up my haul.  I was lucky to get near the stall because I had passed it twice when it was three deep with customers, and I pounced in a quiet moment.  The Mountain Road Bread Collective (Andy’s Bread and Rye and Roses), a member of the Real Bread Campaign.

Welsh Mangalitza and Butchery

There was so much to select from the Welsh Mangalitza and Butchery (best of show in 2016) that I was struggling to choose what to buy.  In the end I chose Hungarian sausages and some black pudding, but there was so much else that tempted me.  Unfortunately my freezer is stuffed to the gunwales or I might have gone mad.  Husband and wife team Angela and Stuart are based in Llanddewi Brefi in the Cambrian mountain foothills, and both breed the wonderful Mangalitza pigs.  The mangalitza breed is from Hungarian breed of domestic pig, the result of cross-breeding in the 19th century, with woolly coats that are ideal for Welsh winters.  The pigs are free-range and all meat is butchered, processed and cured on the premises. They apparently attend Aberystwyth Farmers’ Market on a regular basis, so that’s something to look forward to.  Unfortunately they don’t have a website, so there is no online ordering facility, but their Twitter page is @mynyddmawrherd and they have a Facebook page.

Seabreeze’s excellent fish stall in a van

With a particularly happy heart I approached the Seabreeze restaurant stand and bought two slabs of hake, a bag of samphire.  They have an excellent mobile stall that enables them to sell seafood out of the back of a van which had been cleverly adapted to offer a superbly designed fish counter.  There was also dressed crab, glorious looking plaice, huge pieces of haddock, whole fresh mackerel and a range of other wonderful produce.  Bliss. If only I had had more room in my freezer!  The pop-up kitchen to its side was doing a roaring trade in paella.   I have been worried about acquiring fish in the Aberdovey area since the fishmonger closed down years ago, but chatting with the lady running the stall my mind is now at rest – Seabreeze, where I’ve eaten many times, not only sells fish in Tywyn on a Saturday morning, but if you walk into their restaurant during the day you can buy fish directly from them.  Happy!

I bought some pure white goats cheese from Caws Teifi Cheese from Ceredigion.  It is glorious stuff – delicate but full of flavour.   I was tempted to buy more cheeses, but I had come back with quite a bit of Perl Wen and Mrs Bourne’s Cheshire cheeses from my recent trip to Chester.   Caws Teifi Cheese was established by Dutch owners who arrived in Wales “with dreams of organic farming . . . . using raw milk and local ingredients to make high quality artisanal cheese.”  Happily they sell online.

My final purchase was apple chutney from the Mrs Pooks Kitchen tent.  Again, there was a mind-boggling choice of jams, marmalades and chutneys, but I had some cold pork in the fridge that was calling out for an apple chutney, and when I put the two together it was a marriage made in heaven.  They are based in Ciliau Aeron, just outside Aberaeron in Ceredigion, but I have been unable to find any online presence for them.

I tried some sparkling wine made by a Welsh vineyard called Llaethliw,  and it was gorgeous but at 26 squids a bottle out of my league.  In  the 1990s I worked on a British wine project, and retain familiarity with a lot of the vineyard names and grape varieties to be found in Britian, and am a great enthusiast for sparkling wines, but this was new to me.  They are located in Llaethliw Vineyard at the foothills of the Cambrian Mountains in Neuaddlwyd, Aberaeron in Ceredigion.  Their website explains how Richard and Siw Evans bought Llaethliw in 2008 after investigating the new possibilities provided by climate change and 6500 vines were planted in 2009.

I would have loved to have tried one of the spicy Kurdish meat pasties from Kurmang Rashid’s tent, but he had sold out!  Good for his bottom line, sad for my taste buds 🙂  He’s based in Blaenau Ffestiniog but as with some others mentioned on this page, no online presence is discoverable.

The leaflet advertising the event, which I actually picked up at the festival itself, has a Village Food Trail, which says that a hut has opened on the wharf to sell seafood caught in the area, which I will go and find during the week.  I know most of the other businesses on the list, restaurants, pubs and shops, but seeing them all listed together makes for impressive reading.

My happy efforts with Seabreeze hake fillet with steamed Seabreeze samphire, rather too many sautéed maris piper potatoes and a caper, lemon and butter sauce

I almost never eat breakfast or lunch but today was an exception.  The Mountain Road Bread Collective’s seeded loaf was married with leftover cold shoulder pork from the Aberdyfi Butcher and the Mrs Pooks apple chutney, and I have rarely been happier!   I lightly fried one of the Seabreeze’s hake fillets in butter and served it with steamed Seabreeze samphire, sautéed potatoes and a caper, lemon and butter sauce.  The hake tasted super-fresh and was full of flavour.  There were rather too many spuds, but hey ho!  What a splendid culinary adventure, thanks to the Aberdyfi Food Festival.