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Visiting Snowdonia

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Penmaenpool's New Garden Wall

16 January 2017

During 2015-16, I decided to build a wall to celebrate the wealth of old names of pools on our local rivers, as part of our responsibility as wardens to safeguard and promote an understanding of our rich cultural heritage. I built it as part of a Grow Wild project to recreate a wildflower garden which, with the help of local schoolchildren and volunteers, is taking shape.

The materials are local, reflecting some of the area’s geology. Granite and mudstone make up the bulk of the wall. The rivers are made of riven Aberllefenni slate. The copper pipe deliniating the water is a reminder of the important copper mine at Glasdir nearby. The quartz bubbles started life in an old quartz quarry on the slopes of Cader Idris. I carved the salmon from bone oak from Farchynys wood near Bontddu. The eye came from a taxidermy supplier in Llanrwst!

I’m indebted to many individuals who contributed materials. The eye is drawn particularly though to the beautiful lettering of Dan Owen, Dolgun farm, Dolgellau a young, gifted stonemason setting up his business locally – it was a pleasure to be able to support him.

The wall has been a means of firing reminiscences amongst many fishermen already, and many hours were spent talking, instead of building! I hope visitors to the area and locals alike will enjoy learning something new about our rivers, and recognize that there exists a wealth of names which deserve to be spoken again – this is our heritage, of which we should rightly be proud.

The work from begining to the end this December is shown in the following pictures.

Before starting – a clogged up pool and brambles where once stood the sidings of the railway.

Starting the clearance with Snowdonia Society volunteers.

Improvements at last – the pool revived, a damp ‘meadow’, new soil from Yr Ysgwrn and a path.

Local schoolchildren busy planting under the guidance of Anna Williams (Gardening and Wildlife officer for the North Wales Wildlife Trust). The wall was being planned in the meantime.

The garden almost finished.

Work in progress – the carved stones taking their place and relief to see an idea taking on a definite form. Finding the stones to fit was easier some days than others.

I decided to keep the original saw marks from the quarry on all the outside faces – a part of the stone’s story.

The wall nearing completion, showing the Wnion joining the Mawddach at  Yr Aber, before the Mawddach itself runs to the sea in Abermaw (Barmouth). Llyn Derwen Gam was the lowest pool to be fished. The river from Bontddu to the sea widens and changes character – it is then called Yr Afon Hallt.

A descendant of the Rhuddallt family recalls her grandfather sending a large salmon, caught in Llyn Derwen Gam, by train from Dolgellau to Bath, where she lived as a young girl – a feat which would be hard to replicate today.

Emplacing the salmon. It was a challenge to shape the slates to fit tightly around the wood and to create the grooves to take the quartz that had been ground to different sized cylinders to represent bubbles. Fishermen would drag nets through Y Draill when fish congregated there before swimming upstream on a flood to spawn. When the river was too low to do so, the numbers would steadily increase in this pool with each influx of fish with the incoming tides, until it was black.

The eye from Llanrwst, on a wire stalk bought with the pupil already painted. After colouring the iris, it was glued in place. A pattern unique to oak, known in Welsh as ‘traed cathod’ – cats’ paws, can be seen on the salmon’s belly.

Throwing sieved soil into the crevices so that plants such as ferns and pennywort might take root there sooner.

Working on the detail – hours of chiselling just to sink the gate hooks into the end slates without breaking the whole stone.

The gate was put in, which I designed to reflect the railway heritage, with its two rails cut to give perspective on burned in sleepers and a catch shaped in the workshop to the design of the one remaining signal at Llynpenmaen. Hywel Jones, the Authority’s access project officer, put the gate together, recycling old oak fingerposts that had warped over time.

The completed wall with its cover of wildflower turf – the only thing I couldn’t source from within the national park.

The wall needs no more work – sections of larch from Ieu Jones, Blaencwm, Llanuwchllyn have been placed on the remaining section of wall. I might, sometime in the future, place two narrow gauge railway tracks on them if I can find a pair. A welcome is extended to anyone to call by – it will be more pleasant to sit on the bench in the shade of the Wych Elm when the wildflowers are in bloom.