Far from cities and from strife: For the love of it

Church

Recently I’ve been reminding myself that this Monkey Map project is about fun. Yup, innocent good-hearted fun. Spotting monkey puzzle trees.  I’ve also been delighting in the arrival of spring, the snowdrops especially. And now I have a day off, and decide to give myself that much-loved treat, of a day out somewhere new, exploring places where buses are infrequent and so a car day out feels luxurious. This is now possible as I am driving again after several months gap in car ownership and driving due to a serious car accident last summer (which was not my fault). But as humans do, we recover, pick ourselves up and thanks to a great psychologist I am now a car owner and driving very naturally again. (Many thanks to Dr Mike Scott for that).

So here we are on a beautiful spring day and I arrive at Hafodonus.

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The entrance lodge to Hafodunos Hall.

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View from the road, to a huge monkey puzzle tree…

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… and building works in progress at Hafodunos Hall.

So why am I here? Well…. because, from an article I was sent about a year ago I have read that:

At Hafodunos, Conwy, there are two notable avenues of Monkey-puzzles.

And the article also has this very enticing photograph.

Image from

Image from Welsh Historic Gardens Trust

So I am here to look for these avenues of monkey puzzle trees. Not least because I am now behind on my own blog, as in I haven’t spotted the most monkey puzzle trees. As reported in my last post Agent John in Fife is racing ahead in the numbers – not that this is, as you know, a competition. But, I had planned that I would, one day, visit Hafodunos. And today I have. Having first driven up to Hafodunos, I then park back in the village of Llangernyw.

St Digain's church, Llangernyw

St Digain’s church, Llangernyw.

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Lovely.

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And home to the oldest yew tree in Wales or England.

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Here it is. You’re looking at a 4,000 year old (at least) tree.

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Don’t know why it has its own donations box.

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Looking out from under the yew tree to the cemetery.

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This is a beautiful place.

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And the extension to the cemetery is seamlessly linked. Beautiful.

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Snowdrops are everywhere.

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These are in the hedgerows just outside the churchyard.

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I go back into the churchyard, and I had particularly noticed the lack of ‘stuff’ in this graveyard, and how very dignified it felt.

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Ah… so this is why. Very nice. (Says a funeral professional).

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This is such a peaceful place.

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Time for a look inside.

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Breathtakingly lovely.

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And quiet. They have even got a table with tea and coffee for visitors, and a note saying ‘Help yourself’. I am only the 7th person to write in the visitor book this year.

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Time to leave.

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And off up the lane to Hafodunos. This sheep-perfected landscape.

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It is a perfect spring day.

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Nice welcoming sign.

But a public footpath - part of the 'North Wales Pilgrim's Way' (Yes, news to me too, I got a leaflet in the church).

But a public footpath – part of the ‘North Wales Pilgrim’s Way’ (Yes, news to me too, I got a leaflet in the church).

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The lodge is ‘undergoing restoration’. Not seen this tile feature above a window before. (You may know I am a fan of Victorian tiling).

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But it’s definitely not welcoming me in.

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Anyway the footpath directs me to the left of the estate grounds.

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And follows the edge of this river.

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It’s very damp, muddy and mossy. It’s exciting.

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Am I coming to the end and will I emerge into sunlit uplands… full of monkey puzzle trees?!

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Ah well, not yet!

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But I am still on an official footpath, so not trespassing.

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Wait – what’s that? A monkey puzzle tree?

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Yes, that there! Says Mr Treeman!

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Nice of them to have provided a bench as that was quite a steep muddy climb.

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‘Far from cities and from strife, here we pass our rural life.’

I am a few hours away from Liverpool, the city I live in and love, and yet I am completely alone here, and there is no mobile signal, and I am very grateful for this little bit of ‘rural’ life today.

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Yes, it is a monkey puzzle tree, that is struggling.

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This is a mixed woodland, with a lot of beech.

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I keep walking, hoping I will arrive at a place where I have a view of the hall…

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Hazel catkins. More signs of spring.

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It’s really muddy and hard going.

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Time for lunch. I find a handy beech branch, which is at least dry.

At this point I’m a bit disheartened, in the way that adventures are. I can’t see any evidence of one monkey puzzle tree avenue, let alone two. In fact I can’t get anywhere near the hall…. but after my soup and home-made tiffin, I feel better, and put my lippie on and remind myself that I am having fun. I am!

And then I do veer off the path. Up the field, which has been

And then I do veer off the path. Up the field, which has been nicely churned up by hundreds of sheep hooves. Nice.

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And at the top of the field I have this view of the hall.

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And the monkey puzzle tree I’d seen on the way up the path.

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And not much else.

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One against nature.

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And a lot of mud. Thanks sheep.

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I head back down the path, hoping maybe I missed a monkey puzzle tree avenue on the way up!

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Even Mr Treeman doesn’t point any monkey puzzle trees out.

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This is so tempting. A blue string across a path leading to the hall. But it would be trespassing.

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So it’s back down the muddy and mossy path.

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Wait! Look! Yes, a monkey puzzle tree… I think it’s the lush one I spotted from the road earlier, a very healthy specimen. But there is no way to get any closer. This path has been very carefully constructed to stop anyone getting anywhere near the hall.

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And so I approach the end of my time here.

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Farewell Hafodunos.

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Perhaps I will return.

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Perhaps I will find your monkey puzzle avenues?

And so I leave Hafodunos. Am I disappointed? Well, sort of, but this was a magical experience. And there was a timeless quality to being here.

When I get home I do some research. And from this website find out that:

Hafodunos  was designed by Sir Gilbert Scott (designer of St Pancras Station) between 1861 and 1866 for Henry Robertson Sandbach, and is Scott’s only executed domestic building in Wales. Built of brick, the house utilised Victorian technology, such as central heating and fresh running water.  The interior of the house had no paintwork, the woodwork and the furniture being of pitch-pine, red cedar, or dark bullace from Demerara, whilst the capitals of the columns leading to and on the grand staircase featured roses, lilies, snowdrops, and other British flowers. The gardens were planted and landscaped by Henry, developing the designs set out by his wife Margaret after her death. They had collected tulip-trees, great magnolias, hemlocks, and other pines from America mixed with native oaks and beeches. A fernery with examples from all over Great Britain, Ireland, Switzerland, and New Zealand grew with hardy plants from the Continent. J.D. Hooker,director of the Royal Botanic Gardens and Kew, is believed to have advised on the plant collection.

Margaret Sandbach

Margaret Sandbach (Photo: here)

Margaret was the granddaughter of William Roscoe. She was a poet, and died aged 40 of breast cancer having undergone a mastectomy, in an age before anaesthetic. I am touched by this, as the day I visit Hafodunos it is the day after I have observed the ninth anniversary of my own diagnosis with breast cancer. And now the snowdrops and the arrival of spring, although they are welcome, are always touched with the memories of my own diagnosis and treatment. And of course, pure joy that I am here to see them.

So what next for Hafodunos – well all I can find is that Dr. Richard Wood purchased the mansion and garden in 2010, and has begun a restoration project to return Hafodunos to its former glory. I hope that happens.

But now it’s time to return to Liverpool. And I choose to take the longer route home, the A458. Through Rhyll and Presthaven. I now know why we needed the A55. But I stop briefly to look at Flint Castle, and answer the question we often ask when we walk over on the Wirral’s shining shore – ‘What’s over there?’

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Remains of Flint castle.

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And right there, the white buildings, that’s Parkgate (yes, looked better in the binoculars).

And as I arrive back at the tunnel, a huge full moon has risen, the Snow Moon, and I am glad that this day has been such a good day.

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Entering the Wallasey tunnel. Big moon overhead.

And then I am home and happy to have had this lovely day.

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