Category Archives: Living

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) in Aberdovey in 2018

Pictures of the Atlantic 85 in-shore lifeboat in action (photograph of part of a poster on display in the Aberdyfi Boat House).

The RNLI is a vital national emergency service dedicated to saving human life, comparable to the NHS Ambulance service, with the fundamental difference that its boats are manned largely by unpaid volunteers, its shops are manned wholly by unpaid volunteers and it is funded mainly by private donations, legacies and its own fund-raising efforts.  The RNLI was established on 4th March 1824 as the National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck, it was granted a Royal Charter in 1860, its Patron in Queen Elizabeth II and it has over 238 lifeboat stations and 445 lifeboats in England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man.   In Aberdovey alone the lifeboat goes out between 20 and 30 times a year, dragged to and from its home in the boat-house on the wharf by a giant, custom-designed caterpillar-tracked tractor.

The RNLI has a long and really fascinating history, and much of that will be explored in later posts, with special reference to the RNLI presence in Aberdovey since 1837, but here I want to start with what the RNLI does in Aberdovey today, how it works and what it means to sailors, people and animals in distress and the community as a whole.

Let’s begin with the guided tour of the facility that was given to me by Dai Williams, Volunteer Shop Manager at the RNLI.   The lifeboat house in Aberdovey has moved around a lot since its establishment in 1837.  However, in 1991 the Yacht Club and the RNLI combined resources to extend the clubhouse and accommodate a new lifeboat on the wharf.  Most recently the wharf buildings were reconfigured in 2016 to allow the RNLI Lifeboat Station to expand, placing its new rescue boat the The Hugh Miles and its tractor under cover, improving the changing facilities for the lifeboat crew and moving the shop into a new location so that it is visible from the road and can benefit from passing footfall.  Funding from private donors was central to the modifications to the premises, and the new RIB was enabled by a donation from The Miles Trust.  The tractor is a massive and impressive beast on caterpillar tracks, a necessary adjunct to the boat due to the difficult recovery conditions at low tide.

The Hugh Miles, operating number B-896, is a fast inshore rescue craft, an Atlantic 85 rigid inflatable boat (RIB), replacing the previous Atlantic 75, Sandwell Lifeline.  The RNLI has two main categories of lifeboat: all-weather lifeboats and inshore lifeboats, each of which are suited to different conditions.  For the full range of lifeboat types employed by the RNLI see their “Our Lifeboat Fleet” web pageThe Hugh Miles is a specialized inshore lifeboat, one of the fastest in the RNLI fleet, powered by two Yamaha 4-stroke outboard 115hp engines, reaching top speeds of 35 knots.  It can go to sea in a force 7 wind during daylight hours and during a force 6 at night.  It cost £214,000 and, at nearly a meter longer than its predecessor, has the capacity for an extra crew member, bringing the total to four, although it can operate with three, and far more kit.  It is stored in a carriage, a cage on wheels, from which it is launched.  The RIB has a solid bottom and flexible sides, which makes it both strong and relatively light-weight.  The concept was originally developed in the Atlantic College, Vale of Glamorgan, south Wales during the 1960s and early 1970s.  Watersports were a big part of the boarding school agenda, and the college had its own in-shore lifeboat station.  They soon realized that the inflatable boat they were using could be improved upon and used marine plywood and rubber tube to create the templates on which the modern RIB is based.  The RNLI recognized the idea and created a glass-reinforced fibre model, which was a B-Class Atlantic 21 that came into service in 1972, its name commemorating the role of the college for this and future B-type RIBs.

Flicking through the Record of Service book in the life boat house there were a hair-raising number of minor and major incidences where the lifeboat was called out.  These involved yachts and other sailing vessels, power boats including a fishing boat, canoes, inflatable dinghies, kite boards, sail boards, jet skis, an inflatable toy, and swimmers in trouble.  Here are three examples of call-outs in 2018, all noted on the Aberdyfi Lifeboat’s Facebook page.  In July, the lifeboat was called out to the assistance of swimmers in difficulty at Tywyn.  On arrival, one casualty had been recovered but the second was still missing and the crew began a search, receiving information from the Coastguard that the swimmer had been spotted on the lifeboat’s exact course. The lifeboat proceeded as fast as was safe to the location where the helm manoeuvred the boat skilfully in the surf and shallow water to be able to put a crew member into the surf to recover the casualty with two members of the public who had waded in, recovered the second casualty.  First aid was delivered and a second  crew member from the lifeboat entered the surf with vital kit such as oxygen.  It should be noted that whilst the second casualty survived, the first one died later in hospital, a tragic reminder of the importance of the work of the RNLI.  One night in August at past 9pm, with the light fading and on an outgoing tide, the Aberdyfi Lifeboat was called out to a broken-down yacht.  The lifeboat reached the yacht and the crew were able to  secure a tow, bringing it back into the estuary and placing it on a mooring.  The lifeboat was returned to its station by 11pm.  At 1645 on an evening in September, the Aberdyfi Lifeboat was called out to aid a boat with eight people on board, which was experiencing engine problems and was aground just south of the Aberdyfi Bar.  The Borth lifeboat was already on scene and had managed to tow the vessel into deeper water, and from there they handed the rescued boat over to The Hugh Miles, which took most of the boat’s crew on board and set up a tow to bring them back to the Dyfi estuary.

David Williams, not to be confused with Dai Williams, is the Volunteer Lifeboat Operations Manager (LOM) at the RNLI in Aberdovey, leading the operation team.  He is responsible for authorizing the launch of the lifeboat and ensure that the lifeboats and all associated gear are maintained and in a constant state of readiness for action.  David Williams grew up in Tywyn and also volunteers with Mountain Rescue.  In the event of his absence there are also four Deputy Launching Authorities who can stand in for him.  The in-shore boat crew is headed by the Senior Helm (the equivalent of a coxswain on an the bigger all-weather boats), currently Will Stockford, who is also the Harbour Master and doubles up as boat mechanic.  Next in seniority is the Helm, who must be on board if the Senior Helm is unavailable.  The helm is trained in a variety of skills including navigation, search and rescue and casualty care, has many years experience as a volunteer and is in charge of leading any rescue.  Three other crew members may or may not be trained to steer and navigate the boat but all receive their initial training in Poole in Dorset at the RNLI.  As well as being on call for emergencies, the crew undergo practice drills and training on a weekly basis, usually on a Sunday morning.  The tractor drivers are usually former crew members who have retired.

Dai Williams is the Volunteer Shop Manager, currently with a team of six shop volunteers helping customers in the shop.  The RNLI shop on the wharf not only generates important funds for the charity but raises awareness of the RNLI and its activities, its staff acting as ambassadors for the lifeboat station, explaining its role and answering the many questions from the public.  The new merchandise in the shop is bright, modern and eclectic, offering everything from games and toys to calendars and diaries, as well as souvenir tea towels, mugs and clothing is provided by the RNLI.  Nautical themes dominate, of course, and many are by designer names.  There are also shelves outside selling second hand books, jigsaws and DVDs donated by the public. Having spent some time in the shop over the last month, it has been great to see the range of people who visit and buy products in support of the RNLI.  Small children with their parents, buying nets, shovels and buckets for crabbing are very happy contributors to RNLI funding.  I have been buying RNLI Christmas cards online for years, but it’s much better to be able to go and buy them in person.  And just about everyone is getting an RNLI tea towel in their stockings this year!

As well as the shop there is also an important fund-raising group based locally, the Aberdyfi Lifeboat Guild, which puts on events throughout the year.  Many terrific visitor activities take place, particularly during the course of the summer, which get everyone involved, from crew to visitors, from young to old.  Events have included Flag Day when there was a duck race (500 plastic ducks are launched and then retrieved!), the Abergynolwyn Silver Band played, there was a raft race and an afternoon tea was organized.  Other events have included a quiz night, a Crabby Competition, a barbecue, the Dysynni Male Voice Choir and a Fun Run.  There was even a stand at the Food Festival in August, demonstrating water health and safety procedures and equipment, and the Lifeboat Station has a stall at the Christmas Fair (this year on the 1st December, 10am – 4pm).

Aberdyfi Lifeboat Station and Shop

Donations from the public continue to be critical to the operations of the RNLI.  The donations that enabled the modernization of the Aberdovey RNLI base says a lot about the sort of people who help the RNLI not merely to continue operating, but to continue updating their technology and improving their services.  The Miles Trust, which funded the new boat, was set up in memory of Hugh Miles.  Hugh Miles, the only child of the late Herbert and took great pleasure in RNLI activities around South Wales and after his death his mother bequeathed her estate to the RNLI, part of which was to be used to fund a rescue boat for the Welsh coast.  The Aberdovey’s The Hugh Miles Atlantic 85 RIB is that boat.   The modification for the boathouse was funded by the Derek and Jean Dodd Trust and a legacy left to the charity by RNLI supporter Desmond Nall. Derek and Jean Dodd moved near Aberdovey, where Derek was able to kayak into his 80s.  Desmond Nall was an RNLI enthusiast from Solihull, who, together with his brother, Godfrey volunteered  on the RNLI’s stand at the Birmingham Boat Show for a number of years and funded two inshore lifeboats.

The Aberdyfi lifeboat station has a rather special and unique feature:  the bell from the HMS Dovey.  It is on loan from the Royal Navy.  Should another HMS Dovey be built, the bell will have to be returned, but at the moment it is a much loved and admired resident of the lifeboat station.  The HMS Dovey was the river class minesweeper M2005 commissioned in 1984 and sold to Bangladesh in 1994 for use as a patrol ship.

If you are a visitor to Aberdovey, do visit the lifeboat station and the shop.  You will find a very warm welcome.

Contact details:
Aberdovey Lifeboat Station
The Wharf
LL35 0EB
01654 767695 (If you see someone in trouble at sea dial 999 and ask for the Coast Guard).
The shop is open from Easter to October 10am–4pm Saturday and Sunday, and on some Saturdays in November and December.  During the summer it is open for some days during the week (opening times are shown in the shop door)
Facebook page

As well as the RNLI, local emergency services that receive no direct government funding and rely on their charity status and fundraising activities for their income are Trinity House (vital shipping and seafaring charity), the Wales Air Ambulance service and Aberdyfi Search and Rescue.

Many thanks to Dai Williams for correcting the mistakes and plugging the gaps in my first draft.  Helen Williams tells me that no matter how much you find out about the lifeboat station, there is always more to know and I believe her!


Aberdyfi Lifeboat Facebook page

Dermody, D. 2011.  Atlantic College students’ RIB sea safety revolution. BBC 15/05/17.

RNLI News Release 2016. Farewell to Sandwell Lifeline as Aberdyfi RNLI welcomes new lifeboat. RNLI 02/12/16.

RNLI News Release 2017. Double celebration ahead for Aberdyfi RNLI. RNLI 25/07/17.

RNLI News Release 2018. Aberdyfi and Barmouth RNLI Lifeboats involved in Tywyn rescue. RNLI 1/08/18.

A visit to St Peter Ad Vincula Church, Pennal

There are six churches in the Bro Ystumanner Ministry Area, which covers the Dyfi Estuary and Dysynni Valley.  I intend to write about all six of the churches, which include St Peter’s in Aberdovey and St Cadfan’s in Tywyn, but am starting with St Peter ad Vincula in Pennal.  The story of St Peter ad Vincula comes in three parts:  1) as a piece of architectural and ecclesiastical heritage in its own right, 2) as the site at which Owain Glyndŵr’s Llythyr Pennal (Pennal Letter) was signed, and 3) as a modern, fully functioning community church.  I was lucky enough to be given a full tour of the church by church warden Hugh Ramsbotham, to whom my sincere thanks.

The unusual name of the church refers to a story in the Acts of the Apostles XII.  St Peter ad Vincula translates as St Peter in Chains and refers to an event when St Peter was jailed in Jerusalem by Herod.  The night before his trial he was asleep, flanked by two soldiers and chained in irons, awaiting trial for preaching about Jesus.  An angel is said to have woken him on the night before his trial, releasing him from his chains with a touch, guiding him out of the prison past unseeing guards.  Today, the chain is kept in a reliquary under the main altar of the Basilica di San Pietro in Vincoli (Rome), which was built in the 5th Century to house the chains.

Aerial view of Pennal, with the church of St Peter ad Vincula surrounded by an oval wall. Source: Coflein website

The village of Pennal lies on the River Pennel, which runs into the River Dyfi, and it is probable that this was the main Dyfi river crossing throughout the Roman and Mediaeval periods.  The village was occupied from at least the Roman period, if not earlier, with a small fort, Cefn Gaer, established near to the river.  The site of the church itself had probably been occupied by a pre-Christian structure, suggested by the oval perimeter wall of the churchyard.  Oval and circular churchyard walls are often associated with a number of early structures including Roman era churches that survived the departure of the Romans, early burial grounds, pre-Christian shrines and Anglo-Saxon defended sites.  Such circular and oval churchyards are common in Wales.

The first church was established in around the 6th Century by Saint Tanwg and Saint Eithrias, missionaries from Armorica (modern Brittany).  There are no signs of either that wooden structure or any that followed it.  Pennal was the site of one of 21 llysoedd, or royal court compounds, and the motte that stands some 300m to the south-west of the church may have been part of the contemporary complex.  The church was re-dedicated at the end of the 11th Century by the Normans and it is possible that it was first rebuilt in stone during the 1130s when Gruffydd ap Cynan initiated a programme to rebuild ancient churches of Gwynedd.  Throughout the Mediaeval period it was located within the cantref (similar to a county) of Meirionnydd and the smaller administrative unit of the cwmwd (commote) of Ystumanner.  Throughout the Middle Ages the church  was one of three Chapels of Ease (subsidiary churches) under St Cadfan at Twywyn, along with Llanfinhangel-y-Pennant and Llanfair (Tal-y-Llyn).   The church is recorded as having served several of the Welsh tywysogion (princes) and is mentioned in the Norwich Taxatio (records of assessments of English and Welsh ecclesiastical wealth) of 1253.  It is probable that it was designated a Chapel Royal of the Princes of Gwynedd under Owain Glyndŵr. In the 1284 in the Statute of Rhuddlan the cantref of Merionnydd was combined with other cantrefs to form Merionethshire.

The Pennal Letter. Source: British Library. Archives nationales de France, J//516/A/29 J//516/B/40. Copyright © Archives nationales de France

The presence of a llys here partially accounts for the presence of Owain Glyndŵr in the early 15th Century.  The connection with Owain Glyndŵr concerns an important moment in Welsh history, which could have turned the tide in favour of Welsh independence from England. In 1404 Glyndŵr held a Parliament at Machynlleth where he was, according to tradition, crowned Prince of Wales, having organized the previously very fragmented opposition to Henry IV.  At the time he had backing from Scotland and Northumbria, but by the end of 1405 this support had been eroded by Henry’s armies.  In 1406 Glyndŵr assembled a formal meeting of his nobles and clergy at Pennal, including the Archdeacon of Meirionnydd Gruffydd Young, to discuss the options for making a strategic alliance with Charles VI of France.  During this period there were two papacies, the traditional papacy base in Rome and a new breakaway papacy in Avignon, France.  Charles VI was loyal to the Avignon papacy, whilst the English king Henry VI was loyal to Rome.  Glyndŵr hoped to take advantage of the breach within the Roman Catholic Church as a bargaining chip to gain the support of Charles VI.  As a result, a letter was written by Glyndŵr in Latin to Charles VI offering allegiance to Pope Benedict XIII in return for military support.  It was signed by Glyndŵr and provided with his great seal, which was probably done at the church.  Although the hoped-for support never arrived, the letter remains a vital historical document recording Glyndŵr’s intentions, a strategy for the future of Wales, which included the development of a Welsh church with its own Archbishopric at st David’s, an independent Welsh government and the establishment of two universities.  The letter is preserved today in France at the Archives Nationales de France in Paris, and a copy is on display in the church at Pennal.  A translation of the letter is available in English on the Canolfan Owain Glyndŵr website.  The letter was carried to France by Hywel Eddoyer and Maurice Kelly.  A 1996 painting by Ceredigion artist Aneurin Jones (1930 – 25 September 2017) that reconstructs the assembly hangs in the church, showing members of the parish at the time it was painted.

The Aneurin Jones reconstruction of Glyndŵr’s assembly at Pennal

The earliest of the clearly dated parts of the building belong to the 16th Century, with Roman red sandstone brickwork from the fort incorporated into the walls of the church and churchyard walls, which were otherwise built of locally sourced stone.  The church was a chapel of ease in the Tywyn parish in the Middle Ages, but became a parish church in 1683 under its first rector, Maurice Jones.  The 19th Century renovations were radical, but incorporated aspects of the 16th and later century features into the structure.  16th Century survivors include roof timbers that were incorporated into the new roof, oak pews, the oak altar and possibly the carved pulpit.

The church was rebuilt in 1700 and 1761.  In the 18th Century Pennal acquired particular importance when an east-west turnpike was built following the Merioneth turnpike act of 1775, which ran from near Pennal through Cwm Maethlon (Happy Valley) to Tywyn, completely bypassing Aberdovey.  By the mid 19th Century the wharf at Pennal became important for transporting slate downriver to Aberdovey for loading onto coastal vessels and in 1865 the Cwm Ebol slate slab quarry, about a mile to the northwest of Pennal, built a tramway to the village after several years of using horses to transport the slates.

During the 19th Century the church was again rebuilt in 1810 and 1872-3.  It is to the 19th Century that most of the current form and character of the church belongs.  St Peter ad Vicula is Grade II listed (listing number 23314, listed on 25th May 2000).  The interior layout of the church is a single unit incorporating both chancel and nave with a slate roof. There is also a south porch added in 1880 and made of stone from Llugwy Quarry, a north vestry added in 1890 and short square bell tower with two bells at the east end, with a fully functioning clock is set into the exterior just below the tower.  The original gallery was removed in 1873 (and was replaced with a modern version in 2010).  The internal floor area was lowered by two feet and six inches c.1901.  Wonderful 19th Century quarry tiles cover the floor of the chancel and the step leading up to it, as well as the floor of the vestry.  The modern slate floor at the west end replaced more quarry tiles, of which only one tiny patch survives.  The roof is a very nice open tie-beam arrangement, with re-used older timbers as well as contemporary Victorian ones.

The church has five lovely stained glass windows, all dating to the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.  The earliest belongs to 1872 (by Holland and Holt of Warwick) and the latest, which replaced 1872 windows in the nave, date to the early 1920s and commemorate members of the community.  The themes are The Ascension (1872 by Holland and Holt); the IHS monogram, the abbreviation of the Greek spelling of Jesus, “ΙΗΣΟΥΣ” (1872, by Holland and Holt); Christ Blessing Children Brought by the Mothers (1893, Ward and Hughes); The New Jerusalem (c.1923, by Powell and Sons, designed by Ernest Penwarden), and Charity (1928).  The Ascension, which dominates the church at its eastern end, is a particularly colourful and lively piece, with a depiction of the the Green Man presiding over fruit and vegetable at its base, the only known representation of the Green Man on stained glass known in Wales.  The Green Man is usually a sculpture, either surrounded by or made of leaves, probably pagan in origins but frequently depicted in church sculptures, perhaps connected with ideas of earth-bound seasonal renewal and the harvest.  Most of the windows are commemorative, some with inscriptions below the them, or within the glass itself.  The Ascension window, for example, was dedicated to the memory of William Hodson Lloyd, who died in 1871.

The provenance of the three striking Flemish oak plaques showing the martyrs St Jude, St Andrew and St Paul on the north wall is unknown.  There used to be four of them, all dating to around 1700, but one was stolen.  A brass plaque, a rare example dating to the mid 19th Century, commemorates three Thruston sisters, one of whom held the first school in Pennal in the church’s gallery.  The date of the fretwork pulpit is uncertain.  The lovely little organ was built by John Smith of Bristol, c.1840 and still plays perfectly.  Underneath the altar, church documents record that Lleucy Llwyd (Lucy Lloyd) was interred following her tragic death.

The story of Lleucy Llywd belongs to the mid-14th Century, but is more legend than history.   Lleucy lived on Dolgelynnen Farm near the Dyfi river and fell in love with a young court poet called Llywelyn Goch.  Lleucu’s father refused to let them marry, and kept the two apart.  When Llywelyn Goch had to go away for a period of time, promising to return, Lleucy’s father told her that Llywelyn had married another woman. Lleucu died of a broken heart and Llywelyn returned to her on the day of her funeral. The story has been immortalized in Llywelyn Goch’s famous Welsh elegy Marwnad Lleucu LLwyd.  Copies are available online in Welsh (e.g. on Wikisource), but I have been unable to find an English translation – please get in touch if you know of one!

In 1991 a road widening scheme removed part of the churchyard, to the south. It was done sympathetically, so that the sense of the space being a clearly defined oval is retained.  The graves were moved to a new site outside the village, and ninety one tomb stones were recorded and moved to lean against the walls within the churchyard.  Unsurprisingly, some Roman tiles were found at the same time.  The churchyard was converted into a Heritage Garden in 2004 to commemorate the 600th anniversary of Owain Glyndŵr’s Parliament and this incorporated many of the headstones into its design.  It was designed by Peter Styles and was constructed by a Pennal, William Rees, with funding from Cyngor Gwynedd,with funds from the EU and the Welsh National Assembly, the Snowdonia National Park fund for sustainable development (CAE) and numerous local supporters.  Its aim was to provide a place of peace and tranquillity, incorporating native species of tree, shrub and flower, including some lovely pieces of topiary, emulating monastic gardens.  The dominant theme is of repeated curvilinear motifs, reminiscent of Welsh stone circles and Celtic themes.  Key features are memorial plaques, a statue of Owain Glyndŵr by sculptor David Haynes and circular oak benches that act as a textural bridge between the grey stone that makes up most of the garden and the delightful shrubbery that sits within it.  The sculpture, about 4ft tall, shows a man ready for action, a cloak held in place with a dragon clasp, and a suit of armour showing the faces of men who lost their lives, their bereft mothers and widows, and themes that bring Wales to mind, like buzzard, hare, oak tree, raven and harp.

Memorial to Charles Thomas Thurston of Pennal Tower

It is easy to think of churches merely in terms of their physical architecture and history, but of course churches were built by people for their communities.  Perhaps more than any other church I can remember visiting in the last couple of years, St Peter ad Vincula gives the sense of how it has been tied up with village life and the key families who helped to support and maintain it.  The monumental inscriptions on the walls, the earliest of which dates to 1717, all commemorated key contributors to the church, and captured some of the sense of pride and involvement that these people had invested in the community and in their country.  The number of memorials to those who died in wars alone is remarkable.  All these families, the Anwyls, Thrustons, Edwards, Talgarths and Rucks have died out now in the Pennal area, but there is a sense of continuity between them and the church’s current guardians.  Each of these family histories deserve research in their own right.

Today the church is one of six in the Bro Ystumanner Ministry Area in the Archdeaconry of Meirionnydd and the Diocese of Bangor.  The other churches in the Ministry Area are St Cadfan in Tywyn, St Peter in Aberdovey, St David in Abergynlowyn, St Michael in Llanfihangel-y-Pennant and St.s Mary and Egryn in Llanegryn.  The Reverend Ruth Hansford presides over the Ministry Area, supported by both clerics and lay personnel.  The village is tiny and being sandwiched between Tywyn and Aberdovey in the west and Machynlleth in the east does not have a vast catchment area, and of course congregations fluctuate throughout the year as locally-based holiday visitors come and go, but the church still manages to hold a congregation at 9.30 every Sunday and holds commemorative services, concerts and festivals, with song a running theme through all their activities.  The gallery upstairs is a space for meetings, social gatherings, small events and quiet contemplation, whatever your denomination.  Involvement with the local school, with its 18 pupils, is important, and evinced in the Remembrance Day exhibit at the west end of the church, and in an earlier project to interpret the Green Man, upstairs in the gallery.  The church is full of charm and interest, and above all warmth, with dozens of community stories embedded in every feature.

Location of St Peter ad Vincula in Pennal. Courtesy Google Maps.

The church is literally on the A493 that links Aberdovey in the west to Machynlleth in the east.  It is a small village, and parking may be difficult during the summer but is easy out of season.  Through the main door and to the left you will see a small metal box on the wall above a table with leaflets about the church’s history.  Feed a pound coin into it and it turns on all the lights for 20 minutes, transforming the interior.  Such a great idea.

Church of St Peter ad Vincula
SY20 9DW
Contact details are on the Church of St Peter ad Vincula website at:

My many thanks again to Hugh Ramsbotham for the excellent guided tour, as well as to David Inman for introducing us.


British Listed buildings. Church of St Peter ad Vincula.
Canolfan Owain Glyndŵr.  Pennal Letter.
Gwynedd Archaeological Trust 2007. Ports and Harbours of Gwynedd: Aberdyfi. A Threat Related Assessment. GAT Project No.1824, Report No.671.1, April 2007
Gwynedd Archaeological Trust 2011.  Conservation Area Appraisal: Aberdyfi, Gwynedd. GAT Project  No.2155, Report No.956, June 2007. 
Leighton, D. 2015. Cym Ebol slate/slab works. RCAHMW, 26 January 2015
St Peter ad Vincula Church Leaflet: A Guide to the Church.
St Peter ad Vincula Church Leaflet: The Heritage Garden at Pennal.
Stained Glass in Wales. Church of St Peter ad Vincula, Pennal, Gwynedd. 
Visit Mid Wales.  Local Legend – Lleucu Llwyd at Dyfi Valley and Coast. 
Vousden, N. 2012. St Peter ad Vincula.  RCAHMW, April 2012

A three day fish-fest thanks to Dai’s Shed and my freezer

On Wednesday I floured and pan-fried a terrific chunk of Dai’s seabass that I had in the freezer from a couple of weeks ago. Seabass freezes beautifully for short periods and this was a gorgeous piece of fish, in terms of both texture and flavour.  I served it very simply with a sauce made of capers, diced tomato, finely diced banana shallot and finely chopped herbs (Thai basil, thyme, ordinary basil, parsley, oregano, lovage and just a little mint) in virgin olive oil and lemon juice, served with griddled courgette discs, sautéed potatoes and accompanied by lemon slices. It is super to be able to use herbs from the garden whilst they last, and the Thai basil, a new addition to my outdoor herb collection, came over particularly well.  It is amazing how long the herbs are lasting – I was expecting most of them to be well on their way out by now.  I will particularly miss the lovage, which I use in huge quantities in salad and fish sauces, as it is simply unavailable even in big supermarkets.

Yesterday the flavours in my fish tagine were a bit more complicated but it was also a doddle to prepare.  Again from the freezer, I had a piece of huss that I cut into chunks, that I marinated in a mix of fresh coriander from my garden, paprika, cumin, cayenne, lemon and olive oil.  This was then cooked, complete with the marinade, in puréed fresh tomato, cumin, garlic, onion, with fresh chillis and parsley (both from my garden), grated carrot, preserved lemons and okra, with a little home made fish stock.  I sprinkled mint over the top and served it with lime and coriander cous cous.  The latter was a cheat – a pack from Ainsley Harriott, but it is so good that I never feel guilty about not making it myself.  Huss is brilliant for this type of cooking because it retains its shape, and has enough flavour of its own to stand up to all the herbs and spices.  Like the seabass, it is a good choice for the freezer, and it is blissfully easy to fillet.  I make the tomato, onion and garlic base in huge batches for the freezer, partly for convenience but mainly because I absolutely detest peeling tomatoes and prefer to confine the suffering to single large sessions.  As I really don’t like the harsh sweetness of tinned toms (I’m a bit of a fussy eater) it is seriously worth the effort.

Today I was at the excellent community lunch, about which more on a future post, so there was no need for an evening meal, but I used some fish stock that I made yesterday from a freezer bag of fish bits (heads, tails, bones etc) left over from preparing and filleting fish to make myself a fish soup.  To give it a bit of body and flavour I recruited some onions, some fennel that needed using up, garlic cloves, chilli from the garden and skinned fresh toms, all whizzed up in the blender.  In a somewhat extravagant mood I lobbed in rather a lot of saffron for that extra bit of Mediterranean luxury, seasoned it with sea salt and pepper and sprinkled over a bit of coarsely chopped parsley.  It was supposed to be basil but I wasn’t about to go outside to pick some in pouring rain and a gale (thanks Storm Callum) when I had some parsley in the fridge!  Grabbed a spoon and bowl and it was Job done. There was loads left over for the freezer, a blessed fall-back for when I don’t feel like cooking.

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.

Giving it a whirl and going with the flow: Zumba and Tai Chi at Neuadd Dyfi

I had seen the advert for Zumba and Tai Chi at Neuadd Dyfi “especially for older active participants”on the Neuadd’s website whilst booking online for an event in October.   As I am both older and active, that seemed to hit the spot.  Unpacking removals boxes, DIY and gardening only get one so far after a life that was nowhere near as sedentary as the one that I am now leading, so I decided to take the plunge and see what Zumba and Tai Chi are all about.  I phoned the number on the advert last week to see what I needed to do to join a class, and was reassured by Sandy, who runs both classes, that all would be well on the day.

The main conference hall at Neuadd Dyfi. Photograph from the Neuadd Dyfi website.

Fortunately in one of the packing boxes I found a pair of leggings that I had used when I used to run in my local park in London, and a pair of trainers.  I had my £6.00 ready to pay (which covers both the Zumba and the Tai Chi),  took a deep breath and headed on in.  Sandy had warned me that the front doors would be closed so I duly entered by the side door.  The place smelled pleasantly as though it had been recently cleaned, and it has a slightly Tardis quality to it – it seemed substantially bigger on the inside than it did on the outside.  Having arrived very early, I was just wandering down the main corridor when a lady in gym gear emerged from an office, and this was Sandy.  We walked down to the room where the Zumba was to take place, a bright, light room, with tall ceilings and a real sense of space.  A complicated-looking sound system was tucked into a corner.  Des George, the Chairman, walked in and I was lucky enough to be given a guided tour.   There are three main spaces along the length of the building, including a big stage, a meeting room, a kitchen and even a small garden area.  They have a new central heating system and are although they are planning on cosmetic improvements to bits of the interior it looks great.  I’ll write much more about the Neuadd Dyfi in the future, but for the time being suffice to say that I was truly impressed and have now signed up to the email newsletter to see what will be on in the future.  People began to turn up, and Sandy introduced me as a newbie, and it was super to be so warmly welcomed.

I’m not really a joining classes or group activity type of person, and I’ve never done group exercise before, so I was by no means sure what to expect, but I loved it.  There were 10 of us for the half hour Zumba Gold class.  Zumba, if you are new to the concept, is a Latin American exercise phenomenon based on dance and Latino music.  I had never seen it, never mind tried it, so it was a real voyage of discovery, and such fun.   I’m not terribly well co-ordinated but my feet eventually got the message, and I was able to follow along without much difficulty, although my arms seemed to be unwilling to join in.   The classes are aimed at an older clientèle (the “gold” in the title of the class), and is low-impact.  There were various levels of aptitude and fitness there, but we all threw ourselves into it with gusto, helped on by some great music and Sandy’s clear lead.  It was impossible not to have a good time.  At the end of the class it was great to chat with the others, a really friendly bunch, and it turns out that most of them only signed up this year, having decided to do it together, all members of the Aberdovey golf club.  The classes themselves have been going for the best part of a decade.   I hadn’t realized that there is another, hour-long class on Friday, so I’ll be going to that too.

After the bounce and verve of the Zumba, Tai Chi was something completely different.  I knew nothing about it, and much of the lesson was about introducing me not merely to the moves, but to the history and the concepts.  It’s not easy because it’s a matter of retraining the brain to relax into moves rather than powering into them.  Luckily the one other class member, lovely Jane, was happy to demonstrate along with Sandy, and I slowly caught on to the idea that movements flow from one to another, that the upper body follows the hips and legs, and that the discipline lies in learning to move slowly, with control, but to relax the upper limbs completely and allow the lower limbs to relax as soon as they are no longer required for support.  It seems contradictory at first, but it really is a matter of learning to take command of one’s body whilst at the same time letting go.  I have done yoga, but this is far more about a combination of slow movement and discipline combining to build up a sequence that is completely seamless and all-absorbing.  It is going to take me a while to be proficient enough to stop thinking about each individual move, and to quite literally go with the flow, but it is a terrific feeling and will be worth the work.  God knows what it would cost to have a nearly one-on-one session with someone of Sandy’s calibre in London, and this is a terrific opportunity.

For full details about the Zumba and Tai Chi classes that Sandy runs see:
To see more about the Neuadd Dyfi and what they have to offer (which is a lot!) visit their website at


The Aberdovey Second World War pillbox

Walking towards Tywyn from Aberdovey you will come across a Second World War pillbox, an ugly concrete box with a small square hole in each side.  It has subsided unevenly into a dip in the beach at the foot of the dunes, an incongruous contributor to the area’s heritage.  It can be reached easily along the beach from Aberdovey.  It’s a fairly short walk from the car park, a little way beyond the Trefeddian Hotel, which is visible through a dip in the sand dunes.  If you prefer a short-cut there is a public footpath from a big lay-by on the A493 that takes you across the sand dunes and drops you very close to it.  Not that it’s a tourist destination, but it is certainly a local landmark, and sitting in an unspoiled stretch of eternal pale yellow sands with the rich blue sea beyond, it has an emphatic presence all of its own.  It is at grid reference SN59549635, at the end of the footpath known as The Crossing.

The pillbox is marked as a red box by The Crossing. Source: OS Explorer, Cadair Idris and Llyn Tegid. OL23. Ordnance Survey 2015

There are two war memorials in Aberdovey.  There’s a lovely 1999 memorial to 3 Troop 10(1A) who were stationed at Aberdovey during the war for their training (see my earlier post about this) and there’s a little shrine and plaque listing the dead from form both wards inserted into the wall of St Peter’s Church.

In some ways, the pillbox is an even more substantial monument to the bitter truth of war, mute but evocative.   The fact that it sits there, so out of place, so thoroughly ugly, is an appropriate shock to the system.  As detritus of war, it is something that demands a response and forces an  acknowledgement of the realities of the past in a way that a conventional memorial, however heartfelt, does not.  Although it was a lovely day for a walk, the sands endlessly beautiful and full of light, when I arrived at the pillbox it was just as dismal as I remembered.  Ugly, lop-sided, surreal, a scar on the landscape, a slap around the face.  A savage, palpable war memorial.

Pillboxes were part of a network of small defences that were put in place along the coastline, at road junctions and on canals to counter threats of Nazi attack on Britain.  The network consisted of a number of measures including offshore minefields; beach and manned seafront obstacles like barbed wire and landing craft obstructions, pillboxes and minefields; and cliff-top and dune defences including pillboxes and anti-glider obstructions.  The pillboxes, 28,000 of them, were sometimes round or hexagonal to avoid blind spots, but there were were seven different types in total (Types 22-28), with variants.  The Aberdovey one is a Type 26 prefabricated square with an embrasure in each wall and a door, now slightly subsided into a slight dip in the sand, 3ft or so deep.  Some pillboxes were brick- or stone-built but many, like this one, were made of concrete that was sufficiently thick to be bullet proof.   My thanks to the Pillbox Study Group for this excerpt, which explains the thinking behind pillboxes and other defence structures that were put in place in WWII:

On 25th June 1940, General Paget, Chief of Staff to the Commander-in-Chief Home Forces submitted General Ironside`s anti-invasion plan to the War Cabinet in the form of Home Forces Operation Instruction No.3.

SECTION 13 of the Instruction stated: “The general plan of defence is a combination of mobile columns and static defences by means of strong-points and stops. As static defence only provides limited protection of the most vulnerable points, it must be supplemented by the action of mobile columns. However mobile such columns may be they cannot be expected to operate immediately over the whole area in which it is possible for the enemy to attempt invasion by sea or air. It is therefore necessary to adopt measures for confining his actions until such time as mobile columns can arrive to deal with him. This will be done by means of stops and strong-points prepared for all round defence at aerodromes which are necessary to prevent the enemy obtaining air superiority, at the main centres of communications and distributed in depth over a wide area covering London and the centres of production and supply. This system of stops and strong-points will prevent the enemy from running riot and tearing the guts out of the country as had happened in France and Belgium.”

In total there were 6 pillboxes every 500m from south of the river Dyffryn Gwyn, which flows into the sea just south of Tywyn, to the entrance of the river Dovey.  Prefabricated pillboxes were built of concrete panels and were then bolted into place on site.  The pillboxes to the north of this one are badly damaged, perhaps in an attempt to destroy and remove them.  Aberdovey had an Observer Corps, a Home Guard and a Coastguard Station during the Second World War.



Eating Out: Proper Gander, High Street, Tywyn

On the last day of his visit, on 12th September, my father and I went into Tywyn to eat at a restaurant called Proper Gander.  A quirky name.  I had picked up a leaflet for it in Dai’s Shed and checked out the website and the menu looked splendid, emphasizing that most of the produce used is sourced locally.  The Welsh lamb, beef and pork come from the Aberdovey butcher in Chapel Square.  The sea bass, lobster and crab are from Dai’s Shed in Aberdovey or from an alternative source in Tywyn, and the Menai scallops and oysters are from Pwllheli.   There is also a wine bar downstairs selling Welsh ales, ciders, whiskey, gin and vodka.  I am amazed that Proper Gander has been there for five seasons and I have only just noticed it.  It has taken me a few days to write it up because I’ve been busy, but it was a great evening.

Proper Gander is a beautifully presented restaurant with a lovely warm atmosphere, recently redecorated, and can sit up to 45 covers.  It was by no means full when we pitched up at 6.30 at the end of the season, but by the time we left five other tables were occupied.

Lam Adobo. Photograph from the Proper Gander website at

There were two menus, the standard menu, which includes an imaginative selection of vegetarian options, and a steak menu, and two wine menus from two different suppliers, one of which is based on Dolgellau.  I was seriously tempted by the steak menu, but in the end went for a more adventurous choice.   The food was divine.  I chose grilled halloumi and za’tar with harissa-infused yogurt on a bed of tiny salad leaves with pomegranate to start, followed by lamb adobo, described on the menu as pancetta-wrapped lamb stuffed with a filling of Porcini mushrooms, fresh oregano, mint, parsley, garlic and shallots, and served with with peppers, courgettes, tiny diced red onion, creamed mash and a wonderfully fresh chimichurri sauce.  My father chose pear and stilton pate with a pear chutney followed by squid ink risotto and hake with asparagus, sugarsnaps and samphire.  It was all cooked to perfection.  My father waxed particularly lyrical about the cooking of the hake, but it was all gorgeous, and beautifully presented.  The wine was excellent and didn’t bankrupt us. Other meals that were going past also looked stunning, and next time I go I will be torn between some of their wonderful seafood choices or diving headlong into the steak menu.

The Boer War memorial showing Proper Gander at far right.  Photograph by Arthur C. Harris, licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0

We were welcomed warmly and were served with friendly professionalism.  We had lots of questions to ask about the restaurant and how long it had been there, and it was great to be able to chat.  When we left, we said goodbye to the chef and returned home feeling very pleased with a great, celebratory evening.

If you are looking for the restaurant on a first visit, it is at the opposite end of the High Street from the railway station, immediately opposite Neptune Road and the memorial to the Boer War.  There is plenty of parking at this time of year.  Enjoy!

Proper Gander can be found at:

4 High Street
LL36 9AA
01654 712169