Thursday 15 February 2018

Blog now closed

The National Trust's Wales Coast Project has now been completed.  I will not be posting any more news on this blog site.

If you're interested, please take a look back through this blog at dozens of stories on many of the interesting activities that we've been working on over the last 6 years.

If you'd like to contact the National Trust about any of its Welsh coast, contact

or visit our website

Friday 11 August 2017

Hwyl yn yr ŵyl

Mwynhewch y fideo yma sy'n eich tywys o gwmpas ein stondin yn Eisteddfod Môn 2017.

Let this video take you around our stand at the 2017 National Eisteddfod

Monday 24 July 2017

Strait Talking - in video and pictures

For the full story, get your copy of the August 2017 edition of the Welsh Coastal Life to read my column

Click to view the video....

Meic Watts, at his workshop
The newly-carved capstones at Meic's workshop ready to be taken back to Glan Faenol

One of the capstones ready to be transported back to Glan Faenol

Each slate represents many days' work

Meic collected objects from the shore by the wall and used them to inspire the work
The logo has to go somewhere!

To visit Glan Faenol to enjoy the artwork for yourself, download the walk here:

Thursday 22 June 2017

Tribute to a remarkable woman

Dinas Oleu - a shining beacon to lovers of the 'good, the beautiful and the true'
It's a hundred years ago today that Mrs Fanny Talbot, of Ty'n Ffynnon, Barmouth died. 

What's remarkable about this, I hear you ask? Well, Fanny Talbot played a key role in the founding of the National Trust and was one of a band of radical thinkers - many of them women - who were at the forefront of the conservation movement in the 19th century.

She was the first person to appreciate the potential of the newly formed National Trust for Places of Historic Interest and Natural Beauty to take ownership of special places and hold them 'in trust, for the nation'.  Raised in the first meeting of the newly-formed National Trust's Executive Committee was the gift of a hillside at Barmouth in North Wales, Dinas Oleu.

The rest, as they say is history.  And, as I never tire of saying when showing people around Dinas Oleu, "from this tiny acorn, the mighty oak of the National Trust has grown".

Fanny Talbot was one of a group of far-sighted people who led the way for the conservation movement

So it was right and proper that we recognized this woman's seminal gesture by gathering for a memorial service in her honour at the beautiful church of St Mary's and St Bodfan at Llanaber on the outskirts of Barmouth. 

At the service, the Lord Lieutenant of Gwynedd, Edmund Bailey, spoke of her many gifts to Barmouth and the contribution that the National Trust continues to make to upland farming and conservation.  (To read the text of his address, click here).  A tribute was also made by our Director of Land, Landscapes and Nature, Peter Nixon, which mentioned her links with our founders and her relevance to today's priorities.  (To read this address, click here).

We then gathered at the newly restored graveside for a blessing by the Revd. Miriam Beecroft.  Flowers were laid on her grave, including a posy of wildflowers and sprigs of gorse and oak from her beloved Dinas Oleu.

At the graveside (L-R): Peter Nixon (NT Director of Land, Landscapes and Nature), Edmund Bailey (Lord Lieutenant of Gwynedd), Eirwen Owen (Meirionnydd Association of NT Members), Rhodri Wigley ( NT Meirionnydd Ranger), Revd. Miriam Beecroft.
Later, following a guided walk led by our Lead Ranger for Meirionnydd, Rhodri Wigley, we were treated to fascinating talks by Peter Nixon and Fanny Talbot's biographer, Dr Astrid Swenson of Brunel University, London.

After the walk, we gathered at Barmouth's Dragon Theatre to hear lectures about Fanny Talbot and her legacy.  Here's Dr Swenson, speaking on Mrs Talbot's links with some of the greatest thinkers of her time.

To read more about this influential and intriguing person, click here for my recent article about her in Welsh Coastal Life magazine.

Address at Fanny Talbot's memorial service by Edmund Bailey, HM Lord Lieutenant of Gwynedd

Edmund S Bailey CStJ. FRAgS.
H.M. Lord Lieutenant of Gwynedd

Bonheddigion a Fonheddigesau prynhawn da. 
Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen.

Ga'i i ddeud mod i’n falch iawn o gael y cyfle i fod yn eich cwmni yma yn yr hen eglwys hardd ac hanesydol hon eglwys Santes Fair.

I’m delighted to have an opportunity to be part of this memorable occasion here in this beautiful church of St Mary’s to commemorate a very special lady who unconsciously sowed a few seeds of a fledgling movement that would develop into one of the most appreciated organisations in Great Britain today.

It is also an organisation that in its time has seen an immense amount of social change and has in some ways been a pillar of solidarity through some troubled times.

Mae wedi bod yn dasg diddorol drost ben i ymchwilio i fywyd Fanny Talbot a thrwy hwnnw dod I  ddeall y pwysau sosialaidd a  arweiniodd at  holl newidiadau’r  ganrif a hanner diwethaf.

I have a lifelong interest in the old hundred of Ardudwy, as it is the place of my birth, my education and my working life and I am convinced where the people are the friendliest and the most honest in the country, although not every one has agreed with that sentiment as we’ll hear.

Er mwyn ddeall a gwerthfawrogi rhodd Fanny Talbot i’r genedl, ei hetifeddiaeth a’i statws fel prif dinesydd Bermo, mae’n rhaid I ni gymryd ei bod yn caru’r ardal hon cymaint a llawer ohonom ni sydd yma heddiw.

To understand and appreciate Fanny Talbot’s gift to the nation, her legacy and her status as Barmouth’s premier citizen, we have to assume she was as much in love with this area as many of us here are today.

She was fairly wealthy, that is obvious. She was a widow, she moved in very learned circles and became friends with Ruskin the social thinker and philanthropist and founder of the educational Guild of St George to which she donated 12 or 13 cottages in 1874. Later on of course in 1895, making the Dinas Olau,  “Fortress of light”, donation to the founding of the National Trust.

Dinas Oleu, what a wonderful name, an almost unassailable piece of land above the old town, covered in gorse which when in flower must have shone like a beacon for the sea farers coming into the harbour.

Yn ddi-os, ei chymhelliant oedd ei chariad at yr ardal ac yn eironig ddigon, mae’n debyg iddi cael y weithred yn haws i’w gyflawni wedi iddi colli mab Quartus, arlunydd dawnus yn 1888, pan oedd ond pymtheg a’r hugain mwlydd oed.

Her motivation was undoubtedly her love for the area and her action, ironically probably made easier by  losing her son Quartus, a gifted artist,, in 1888 when he was only 35years old.

It could be argued that this gift overshadowed her other contributions to the town of Barmouth and I suppose the on going development of the trust strengthens that point. However the wider benefit to the town, through her generosity must not be overlooked. She was described as the greatest benefactress the town had and her support for the Seaman’s Mission in Barmouth, in memory of her son, scholarship’s to Barmouth school when an education was really important and the distribution of food and coal to the poor in the winter are examples of this. Perhaps most importantly was the founding, along with her friend, Frances Power Cobb, of the free Library leading quite rightly to the square being named after her.

Not everyone however has held this area in such high regard: Giraldus Cambrensis or Gerallt Cymro described the area when he visited here in 1182 as the rudest and roughest of all Wales. He was from Pembrokeshire though where the land is a lot kinder and I won’t mention the manners of the people there. He had however a fairly rough crossing of the Mawddach in a poor boat which might have tainted his view of Gods own country.

The history of this area is fascinating and has undoubtedly led to the landscape we all appreciate. The earliest farmers were tilling the thin soil around their huts over 4000 years ago, Lead copper and manganese has been  mined over the centuries and left it’s scars or, if you like it’s character  on the landscape.

Mae waliau cerrig yn nodwedd amlwg iawn yma yn dilyn y Deddfau Cau Tiroedd a disodlodd sawl system cae Neolithig bychan. Mae nhw’n darparu ffiniau defnyddiol, angen ychydig iawn o gynnal a chadw, yn cysgod da, ond mae nhw hefyd yn arwydd o dyddodion carreg yn y pridd.

Stone walls are very much a feature here following the Enclosure acts and they replaced in many cases the small Neolithic field systems. They provide useful boundaries, minimal maintenance, good shelter but are an indicator of the stone deposits within the soil.

Landed estates were established, by force or favour and wealth created by wool and shipping. Fixed marriages enlarged these estates and the disparity between the wealthy and the poor was immense. The unfair division of the land asset became a way of life. The masters and their servants. So one could understand the developments of taxes, death duty and the like which sought a more even distribution of the land and wealth.

Cors y Gedol, the principal estate in this area was over 12,000 acres in the 1850’s and had land interests from Harlech to Barmouth. A hundred years later the farm had been reduced to 2800 acres - 2000 of that being a mountain enclosure. There were however many more proud independent, albeit small farms following this “revolution”.

The irony here is that many of these small farms became unviable as farming methods and farmers expectations changed. Smaller farms were subsumed by the larger ones and many homesteads  left abandoned. There are several valleys hereabouts where now only one or two families remain.
Yn drist ac yn eironig mae adfeilion ysgolion bychain yn rhai o’r cymoedd hyn, sy’n tystio i’r cymunedau ffynianus a fu.

Sadly and ironically some of these valleys have small ruined schools in them. A testament to thriving communities.

So we have witnessed an immense social change in land holding in the last century and a half. It would be, I’m sure one that Ruskin and Fanny Talbot would have been well aware of and one they hoped to influence. She subsequently supported Cannon Rawnsley and Octavia Hill and other public minded citizens in the work of founding the National Trust.

Farming in particular has changed immeasurably over the last century too. We’ve been caught out in two World wars where through our lack of self sufficiency in food  we’ve been  at the mercy of our enemies.  Starvation would have been likely without the courage of the Royal and Merchant navies.

Consequently and through the introduction of farming subsidies, production has been encouraged and food probably is now cheaper and more available than we have ever known, since those Neolithic farmers first tilled the soil 4000 years ago.

However the downside of the last century has  been the abandonment of the great houses and the exploitation of the land. The over use of chemicals and fertilizer,  of drainage, wall and hedge clearance which has impacted on very many habitats and on wildlife too.

This is where an old fashioned and traditional farmer like myself starts to appreciate the work and the commitment of the National Trust. They, through their expert staff and indeed their “mission statement”  has a balanced attitude to the problems we face today. They look after our national treasures and our natural heritage too.

I am aware that within Snowdonia, the National Trust own 58, 000 acres but I’m also aware that much of this is tenanted. They provide opportunities for young farmers to obtain tenancies when it is nigh on impossible in the commercial world to do so. Within Hafod y Llan on Snowdon they are farming in traditional ways and looking to diversified opportunities such as hydroelectricity to add value to their efforts.

They are doing similar work in Plas Newydd with seaborne heat exchangers which all helps to maintain the fabric of that great house, the former seat of Lord Anglesey.

Interestingly in Llyndy Isaf near Beddgelert they have an agreement with the Young Farmers Association whereby a young man or woman has the opportunity to run the farm for a year. The experience they gain is invaluable and is tremendous on their CV’s.

Very much closer to home is of course Egryn , the earliest part of the house at about 1460. It has now been restored beautifully and innovatively with a heating app! It is available to rent. This in its turn,  bringing work and income to the area and best of all the Trusst have a young farming tenant who makes his living and raises his children here. It is massively important to keep good people on the land and children in the schools.

Wrth gwrs, rwy’n cofio Rodney Bryne oedd ai deulu yn berchen Egryn a Mr Brookes oedd yn rhedeg Egryn drosto. Rhaid eu cofio hwythau hefyd fel pawb sydd wedi cyfrannu’n sylweddol i’r Ymddiriedolaeth.

Of course I remember Rodney Bryne whose family owned Egryn and Mr Brookes who ran it for him. They too must be remembered as are all those who have made substantial donations to the Trust.

Some of you will know that Beatrix Potter holidayed in Llanbedr in 1905. Sadly it was at the time she discovered her fiancé,  Norman Warne had died. She certainly did some painting here, one of a cottage  where my son now lives with his family. I wonder is it possible that it was here she heard of Fanny Talbot’s legacy. I like to think so.

Two ladies with sadness in their lives but when we consider Fanny Talbot and compare her to so many others whether they be warring chieftains, landed gentry, wealthy industrialists politicians, those who were famous in their lifetime.

What was their legacy? Did it live on?. Fanny Talbot, a quiet intellectual philanthropic lady with bright black eyes. Set into motion through her generosity and her vision, the National Trust.  What a legacy.

Mae dirwedd hon, ei hanes a’i phobl, hyd yn oed os mai dyma’r dirwedd fwyaf ddigwylydd a garw yng Nghymru gyfan, yn fy ngweud i’n falch o fodd yn Gymro ac yn fy ngweud i’n falch o’r gwaith mae’r Ymddiriedolaeth Genedlaethol yn ei wneud i’w ddiogelu.

This landscape, it’s history and it’s people ,even if it’s the rudest and roughest in all Wales,  makes me proud to be  Welsh and makes me proud of the work the National Trust do to protect it.

Diolch yn fawr iawn.

Woman of Action

An elderly woman sat down at her desk in a solidly-built stone cottage high above Cardigan Bay and took out a small black-edged pad of writing paper.  She dipped her pen into the pot of ink, gazed for a moment through the window at the far horizon and then wrote these words.  “Dear Canon Rawnsley, I write to you as secretary of the ‘National Trust for places of Historic Interest and Natural Beauty’ to say that I am anxious to hand over to the Trust the face of the cliff above the town of Barmouth, that it may be preserved in its natural state for the enjoyment of future generations.” 

The date was the 23rd of October 1894 and the woman was Fanny Talbot, the wealthy widow of Somerset surgeon George Talbot.  With these few words, written in a neat but vigorously purposeful hand that belies her 70 years, she established her place in history as the donor of the National Trust’s first property, Dinas Oleu at Barmouth.  This year marks the centenary of this remarkable woman’s death and we celebrated her life with a service and blessing of her newly-restored gravestone at the ancient church of St Mary’s Llanaber on the 21st of June. 

A photo of Fanny Talbot's offer letter, held at the NT archives.
But who was Mrs Talbot, and what inspired her generosity to an embryonic organisation, then going through the final stages of its founding in faraway London? 

The daughter of a wealthy Bridgewater merchant, the young Fanny Browne had the sort of middle class upbringing that enabled her to occupy her considerable intellect in the finer things in life.  But until her husband’s untimely death she seems to have lived a relatively quiet and conventional life as wife and mother. All this changed when she moved to Barmouth following George’s death and she reinvented herself as an independent and strong-willed philanthropist.  She made friends with some of the leading thinkers of her time and played an active role in the life of the town at a critical period in its development. From her eyrie high above the sand dunes at the mouth of the Mawddach she witnessed the rapid transformation of the small but industrious Welsh seafaring village of Abermaw into the modern English Midlands tourist resort of Barmouth. 

Perhaps it was the shocking rapidity of this change, with virtually every piece of the once wild dunes being built upon – and a lack of public amenities for the townspeople – that inspired her gift.  An impression of her inquisitive personality can be seen in this cameo of her in the writings of the great Victorian art critic and social thinker, John Ruskin.  She [is]…curious beyond any magpie that ever was, but always giving her spoons away instead of stealing them. Practically clever beyond most women; but if you answer one question she'll ask you six!  Such was her admiration for Ruskin’s ideas that she gifted a dozen cottages to his Guild of St George, which she then ran on his behalf as a sort of experiment, combining social housing with an artists’ commune.

Dinas Oleu, of course, remains in our care and we still manage it according to the wishes she set out when she made her seminal gift.  She stated that, “I have no objection to grassy paths or stone seats in proper places but I wish to avoid the abomination of asphalt paths and cast-iron seats of serpent design”. 

So if you’re thinking of taking a walk on the Welsh coast this summer why not follow the winding lanes up from Barmouth’s High Street and follow in the footsteps of this remarkable woman.

This column first appeared in Welsh Coastal Life, May 2017.

Address at the memorial service of Fanny Talbot, by Peter Nixon, Director of Land, Landscapes and Nature at the National Trust

Peter Nixon, Director of Land, Landscapes and Nature at the National Trust

Mrs Fanny Talbot: 1824 – 1917
An appreciation of her contribution to the nation and The National Trust
Catalysed by threats of railways and quarrying in the Lake District the founders of the National Trust, Octavia Hill, Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley and Sir Robert Hunter held its inaugural meeting on July 16th 1894.
Octavia Hill moved the initial resolution on that day: “That it is desirable to provide means by which landowners may be enabled to dedicate to the nation places of historic interest or natural beauty, and for this purpose it is expedient to form a corporate body, capable of holding land, and representative of national institutions and interests”.
The very first landowner so enabled was Fanny Talbot. At the first meeting of the fledgling National Trust’s Executive Committee the principal item on the agenda was the offer of a property, Dinas Oleu, on the Merioneth coast of Wales, as a gift to the National Trust by Mrs Fanny Talbot.
Mrs Talbot had long been a generous supporter of John Ruskin, who had an important influence on Octavia Hill’s life. At one stage Mrs Talbot had been considering gifting Dinas Oleu to a guild established by Ruskin, but had lost confidence in its financial stability. So instead she turned towards Ruskin’s one time protégé, Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley, who had visited Dinas Oleu and had his imagination stirred when told its name meant “Fortress of Light”.
During the 1890s Mrs Talbot had assisted Rawnsley in the founding of the National Trust, so was familiar with its purpose.  She explained her intentions in offering the gift of Dinas Oleu to the Trust: “I am so grateful for this chance, for I perceive your National Trust will be of greatest use to me. I have long wanted to secure for the public for ever the enjoyment of Dinas Oleu, but I wish it to be put into the custody of some society that will never vulgarise it, or prevent wild Nature from having its own way … I wish to avoid the abomination of asphalt paths and the cast iron seats of serpent design.”
The Executive Committee agreed to accept the gift – a moment of huge symbolic and very real importance in the history of the National Trust. Octavia Hill at the time said: “We have got our first piece of property, I wonder if it will be our last”. She need not have worried.
Since those early days the Trust has quietly grown, from the small seedling of the acorn planted by Mrs Talbot into a substantial oak. Over one thousand properties throughout Wales, Northern Island and England are now held in permanent stewardship for all the nation.  775 miles of coastline. And continuing acquisitions – with one of our most recent being Great Orme – another of the jewels in Wales’ crown that shines so brightly.  Within sight is the milestone of the National Trust providing permanent stewardship for the nation of 1000 square miles of land.
Equally important is the huge public enjoyment and recreation, a cause so dear to Mrs Talbot, that these properties provide. Over 200 million visits a year to National Trust coast and countryside properties like Dinas Oleu. Each one an opportunity for re-creation of body and mind, of spiritual refreshment provided by beautiful places and the revitalising touch of wilderness, of reconnecting with nature  in our hectic, all too often digitally-dominated  lives.
Mrs Talbot was prescient in her determination “never to prevent wild Nature – spelled by her with a capital N – from having its own way”. Nature has alas too often been tamed, constrained and fragmented by the needs of modern society – by the pressure all of us are putting on our so precious a resource, the land.  Which is why the National Trust has as a principal strategic objective the restoration of nature – of a healthy and beautiful natural environment.  I like to think that Mrs Talbot is looking down with strong approval.
So, we are all greatly in Fanny Talbot’s debt. It is very right that we should celebrate her life at this point, one hundred years after her death, reflecting on what she achieved. And above all that we say afresh to her, thank you. 
Thank you, Mrs Talbot.