Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Autumn Walking in the Brecon Beacons

My walking friends and I have a tradition of Birthday Walks and this year mine was an absolute corker!

A crisp, clear day with a blue sky heralded what was to be one of my most glorious October walks ever.
We started out from the Talybont side of Torpantau car park (about half an hours drive from Gliffaes), making our way steadily up the steep side of Craig-y-Fan Ddu alongside sparkling waterfalls.
Once at the top, the meandering path led us steadily along the Graig Fan Las escarpment with staggering views in all directions. We then continued around to the West towards Fan-y-Big, our destination. From this point onwards the views of all the Brecon Beacons peaks were absolutely stunning and it was so clear we could see for miles. At the summit of Fan-y-Big we stopped awhile to stand on the famous Diving Board, a huge feat for me as I am not keen on heights!
After a delicious lunch, cooked by our friend Sally on her mountain stove, we headed back the way we had come to finish at Torpantau once more.
This walk is about 8.5 miles. It takes about 5 hours if you include a lunch break!
You could go further than Fan-y-Big and take in Cribyn and Pen-y-Fan, but you would need a longer day.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Autumn Days Out

I thought I would list a few events and some ideas of my own of what to see and do over Autumn in the Brecon Beacons and surrounding country side of Mid Wales.
I was racking my brains of places to see really good Autumn tree colours and after pouring over maps and books Susie came along and said
"We have the best Autumn colours right here at Gliffaes and up and down the Usk Valley walk."
And she is right if you can get here for the last couple of weeks in October the leaf colours here are tremendous. The oaks, beeches and sycamores really via for attention but with some many specimen trees in the grounds there is something different around every corner.
So here we go with a few ideas:
  1. The Brecon Beacons National Park has laid on several interesting days out over the coming weeks and here are three high lights.
    Saturday 9th October - Star Gazing
    Cardiff Astronomical Society will once again be hosting an evening of stargazing at the Visitor Centre. If skies are clear their telescopes will be focused on interesting phenomena in the night sky, or if cloudy there will be a range of talks and demonstrations indoors. Read more
    Saturday 9th October - Photo Friendly Waterfalls Walk
    Have you been on a walk with friends, family or in groups where you have carried your camera all day and not taken a single shot? Wish you had more time to take some photos along the way without holding up the group? Well this walk is for you. Read more
    Sunday 7th November - Remembrance Day Walk to a Wellington Bomber Crash Site
    A visit to the crash site of a Wellington Bomber R1465 for a Remembrance Day commemoration, followed by lunch at the Travellers’ Rest in Talybont-on-Usk. Please come suitably equipped for variable weather conditions. Read more
  2. Foraging for Fungi in the Elan Valley
    This caught my eye as I have heard the leader of this fungi forage talk before, and he is very entertaining. He is running two one day beginners courses on Saturday 25th September and Saturday 9th October. Rhayder, where this takes place is about an hour from Gliffaes up the Wye Valley. Read more.
  3. Take a drive through the Elan Valley
This sparsely populated and remote area of mid wales is home to many reservoirs built in Victorian times to supply water to the Midlands. The steep valleys are covered in Sessile Oaks and look stunning in Autumn. Head for Rhayder up the very picturesque Wye Valley and then on to the Elan Valley Visitor's Centre where you will find information on routes; walking or driving. While in Rhayder go and see the daily feeding of Red Kites at Gigrin Farm.
4. Come to the Brecon Baroque Festival- 22nd - 25th October
Inspired by the Georgian architectural heritage of Brecon, this four-day event features outstanding international performers, including violinist Rachel Podger, countertenor Stephen Wallace, flautist Katy Bircher, recorder player Pamela Thorby, and dancer Katy Sinnadurai, as well as guest vocal ensemble Trinity Baroque, director Julian Podger. The annual Baroque Ball, where the revelry is led by dance expert Peter Brock, takes place this year at Theatr Brycheiniog. The Festival opens with Monteverdi Vespers at Brecon Cathedral and concludes with a concert given by the Brecon Baroque Festival Orchestra, directed by Rachel Podger, which will include Bach's Brandenburg Concertos. More details.
5. Learn Grayling Fishing on the River Wye
The trout season finishes on the 30th September and salmon on the 17th October but you can still fish for Grayling, with a fly on the Wye right through the autumn.
For those wanting to gain more of an insight into autumn grayling fishing, the Wye and Usk Foundation, in partnership with Frank Williams Fly Fishing, will be running a series of tuition days on upper Wye beats close to Builth Wells later this year. Frank is a highly recommended, qualified instructor who will help improve success rates for those thinking of venturing onto the rivers during this spectacular time of year. The days will be held on the 24th October, and 7th and 28th of November. Places will be limited to 5 per day and will cost £65 per person, which will include fishing permits, tuition and a selection of flies appropriate to the techniques being taught. To book your place or for more information, please email Frank Williams at or call him on 07824363376.
6. Go for and Autumn Walk (or bike ride)  in Talybont Forest.
You can walk or ride from the hotel up and over Tor y Foel before heading through the forest down to Talybont on Usk for lunch in the pub and then back along the canal to Gliffaes. Alternatively, drive to the forest and do the waterfall walk. There will be plenty of Autumn colours in the woods and especially up the waterfall route.  We will help you with your route when you get to Gliffaes.
7. Gather sloes, chestnuts and rosehips.
The hedges around Gliffaes yield quite and abundance of sloes and rosehips and we have a lot of chestnuts from the trees in the gardens. Feel free to gather up some berries and nuts to make rosehip syrup, sloe gin or even take some chestnuts home to roast on the fire.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Lamb Cooked in Hay

One of our favorite guests and very loyal friend of Gliffaes, Ken Phillips asked us to a arrange a private dinner in the Drawing Room for his wife's birthday.
"My pleasure", I said.
"What would you like to have on the menu?"
"I'll leave it up to you James, but I would like four courses please. There will 19 of us."
And with that he was off. Now, this is not as easy to do as you might imagine as the only guidelines I had was no sweetbreads! Anyway between Karl, the Head Chef and I we decided that if we used as much seasonal produce as we could the dinner should receive a universal thumbs up.
This is the menu Karl came up with;
Smoked Chicken & Summer Bean Terrine with Black Bomber Cheddar Bread
Mini Lobster Thermidor
(Tail and claw meat with a saffron volute, cooked in mussel stock along with herbs and a little cheese and finished with a herb crust)
Leg of New Season Lamb Baked in Hay & Rosemary. Seasonal vegetables and Pink Fir Potatoes
(If you live in Wales you get to eat a lot of lamb so we decided to do something a little different and cook the lamb in hay which gives a lovely grassy sweetness to the lamb)
Summer Pudding, Lemon Creme Fraiche
(Plenty of fresh blackberries in the hedges around Gliffaes this time of year)
Coffee and petit fours
Thankfully the dinner went very well and we got a resounding thumbs up for the food.The guests brough their own wine which I am only too happy to decant and serve if that is what is required. (We do charge a fee for corkage)
Notes on cooking the lamb in hay.
Seal the leg of lamb in a pan until it has some colour. You need two roasting tins lined with hay and put the lamb in one along with rosemary, garlic and juniper, cover the joint with hay and put the second tin over the top, like a lid. Make sure no hay is poking out and wrap foil around both baking tins to seal them. Cook at around gas mark 5-6  for around 12 minutes per pound. Rest the meat in the hay for at least 20 minutes after taking out of the oven and by adding a little honey to the juices in the pan you will have a lovely gravy.  If you would like more detailed help please call us and we will be only too happy to talk you through it.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

In the interests of researching all good days out around Gliffaes, I decided to take Alexandra, Olivia and some of our French family canoeing on the Wye yesterday.I wonder why we have not done this before? What a fabulous way to spend the afternoon. I think I may do it more often.

Having not paddled an open canoe before, I was not sure what to expect, especially with four children in tow. However, as soon as we arrived at Wye Valley Canoes in Glasbury, it quickly became the fun afternoon intended.

With two to a canoe (we found an adult and a child in each to be successful), we spent a happy afternoon paddling our way to Hay-on-Wye. The Wye is low at the moment, and as novices, we all felt quite safe. The scenery is extremely beautiful and the river tranquil at this time of year. We loved sailing past the numerous swans, who are clearly quite used to canoeists and spotted plenty of wildlife along the way and some not quite so wild ducks and ducklings. Swallows and Martins swooped down around us, catching flies for their chicks and we also saw many Sand Martin holes in the banks of the river.

Once we arrived at Hay, our canoes and our clobber were collected by some extremely nice and competent young chaps, who then drove us back to our car.

Wye Valley canoes hire out their canoes for a half or full day and give you a safety briefing, some top tips on paddling and some practice to make sure you are happy before you leave. They also collect you at Hay-on-Wye if you wish and bring you back to Glasbury. However, you might like to have  a few hours in the pretty book town before you head back. Alternatively, have lunch at the River Cafe before you take to your canoe.

The drive to Glasbury from Gliffaes takes about 25 minutes. 
Canoe hire costs around £35 per canoe for an adult and a child.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Picking Wimberries

It is around the first couple of weeks in August that wimberries or bilberries (Empetraceae) are ready for picking. These are wild berries found on moorland and mountains across a lot of Wales and uplands in England and Scotland. Wimberries look like small blueberries but are less juicy and more acidic, though just about sweet enough to eat raw. They grow on a low scrubby plant making them pretty hard to find but once you have found a patch you keep it secret and go and visit it every year.

The great thing about the patch we know about is that it is about 45 minutes walk from where you have to park the car and the walk across Llangorse Mountain is one of the best around Gliffaes anyway. Nine of us set out on Sunday afternoon armed with three very useful' berry combs'. These tools enable you to pick berries pretty quickly and don't damage the plants. You can buy these combs from Ray Mear's website.

Between the nine of us we took it in turns to pick berries and ended up with about 9lbs of berries in an hour. After carrying them home and then picking the leaves and twigs and giving them a careful rinse it was time to make Wimberry Tart. Susie has perfected the recipe; short crust pastry, plenty of wimberries and a good dose of black current liquor or cassis. Served hot with plenty of cream it went down very well in the dining room over the next two evenings.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Trip to Aberglasney Gardens

A trip to Aberglasney makes for a great day out from Gliffaes, the journey along the A40 westwards is very straight forward and takes an hour. We often call in here on the way back from Pembrokshire to have a look around and to have lunch in the very good cafe over looking the big pond, over which the swallows and house martens skim over through out the day.

The house and gardens were abandoned for 50 years and the restoration over the last 15 years is one of Wales' most remarkable garden projects. There are formal gardens, parapets and cloisters to explore. I think the two walled gardens however are the most beautiful part of the garden. One full of herbs and vegetables as well as the most amazing espaliered fruit trees on the big south facing wall. The other walled garden is full of shrubs and flowers. It is not difficult to to spend a very pleasant couple of hours here and if you fancy something else to the National Trust property of Dinefwr Parc and Castle is very close by as are the National Botanic Gardens of Wales.

Opening times: 
April - September 10am - 6pm (last entry 5pm)
October - March 10.30am - 4pm (last entry 3pm)

Discover more of Wales.

We have been going to the north Pembrokshire coast for about ten years now. Every time I make our annual trip I am blown away by the rugged beauty and by how few tourists there are on this wonderful stretch of coast underneath the Presseli Hills. We base ourselves in the small town of Newport at the mouth of the Nevern estuary in the middle of the Pembrokshire Coast National Park.

The beach here is enormous and most people congregate in one area close to the car park, move away from there and you can have as much space as you need to fly kites, play games, surf and make sand castles. The estuary is rich in bird life and has an easily accessible path along side it for a a couple of miles.Newport, is on the Coastal Path and a very efficent bus service can run you up or down the coast so you can enjoy the walk back home. I particular enjoy cycling around here; head for the Gwan Valley and another good trip is out to Strumble Head. 

The pictures show us on a beach (my girls call it the 'secret beach', if you want to know where it is get in touch) that we had to ourselves for most of the day where we built a fire, cooked our lunch and spent most of the day surfing (well those with wet suits did!).

If you had a week's holiday spare then a couple of days in the Brecon Beacons National Park based here at Gliffaes followed by a couple of days in Newport staying at the very comfortable Llys Meddyg Hotel,would make for a really wonderful week in Wales. The drive from the Beacons to the Pembrokshire Coast takes a little over two hours with a stop at Aberglasney Gardens along the way highly recommended.