Well. The Hafodunos avenues of monkeys, or a tale of tenacity. If you’ve read my previous post, you’ll know that two days ago I went to Hafodunos in North Wales, a round trip of 134 miles from Liverpool, in search of two avenues of monkey puzzle trees that I’d read about. I didn’t find them, but I still had a lovely day out. Tuesday was sunny, spring-like, and it was a delight to drive through windy roads with hedgerows still bare but plenty of snowdrops and the first blackthorn blossom appearing. Magical. The village of Llangernyw was enchanting, as was the church and churchyard of St Digain, and the walk around the edge of the site of Hafodunos Hall was muddy but fun.
Hafodunos Hall was designed by Sir Gilbert Scott (designer of St Pancras Station) between 1861 and 1866 for Henry Robertson Sandbach and his wife Margaret. A brief history edited from Wikipedia:
The Sandbach family sold the house in the early 1930s but still farm part of the estate. The hall was requisitioned in the early 1940s by the Dinorben School for Girls in London, allowing its pupils to escape the effects of World War II. The school closed in 1969 and then became an accountancy college in the 1970s. Hafodunos Hall was converted into a residential home for the elderly, which shut down in 1993 for failing to meet required standards. The building then fell into disrepair, and in 2004 there was a devastating fire which gutted the main block of the house. The property was eventually sold in January 2010 for £390,000, with the new owners expressing a desire to restore the hall for use as a single dwelling.
After visiting Hafodunos and having a glimpse at the scaffolded house – just visible from the road – I was intrigued. And I was determined to find those ‘notable’ avenues of monkey puzzle trees. So the day after my visit, I rang the phone number on the site notice, and was delighted to find it answered by the current owner of the hall, and we had a very pleasant conversation. I also learnt that the avenues I had read about were not in fact in the grounds of the hall, but in part of the wider Hafodunos estate still in the ownership of the Sandbach family, and was given directions to them. I am very grateful, thank you RW for that.
Here in Liverpool I immediately went into the kitchen and washed my muddy boots (muddy from the walk around Hafodunos) and put them on the radiator, so they would be dry as I planned to return as soon as could, and had no work commitments the next day. I did have a quick look on Google as well, and was astounded to see the two avenues that I would be visiting in person.
Today – Thursday – is much colder than Tuesday, but thermals were worn and off I set, easily retracing my route to Hafodonus. Up past the lodge as directed, and I spotted the first tree, a mature single tree in the corner of woodland of mostly larch.
A few hundred yards further along, and I couldn’t believe my eyes.
An avenue of trees, as far as the eye can see! I stopped to take these photographs, and then drove to the far end, counting 26 trees in the avenue, all on the same side. I then walked back to the start of the avenue and had a good look at them.
They are all around 150 years old, I would estimate. The trees are on the edge of an area which has been cleared of trees. The owner of Hafodunos Hall told me that since that happened, a number of trees have blown down. There was a gap in the trees at the highest part of the road, and about half a dozen trees had blown down and were being cut up.
It was sad to see so many mature trees having so recently fallen. This was a very special place.
I left here feeling like I had visited somewhere very special, and couldn’t help wondering ‘why’? Why did someone plant an avenue here?
I drive on, knowing the location of the second avenue not far from here. I don’t know what this hill/mountain is called, but the scenery was really lovely, especially with the fine dusting of snow. My next finds were in a small wood at a place marked Wenlli, with five trees in this woodland.
And just visible in the distance here are more trees – which are the second avenue. I drive a bit further up the road, and then…. gasp. This is the image I have seen. The notable avenue.
Even today, with the slate grey sky, and the low light, this looks amazing.
This is the closest I can get to this avenue so I take the time to do an inventory using my binoculars. I count 34 living trees – 26 mature specimens and 8 juvenile, as well as 10 obviously dead trees or large tree stumps. They look like they are both sides of an avenue. I felt very pleased I had found them.
It’s very cold and I have been standing still for a while cataloguing the trees, so it’s time to move on. I take my car up the road to turn round, and get a slightly better view here, where the first avenue of monkey puzzle trees are visible in the background. Double monkeys!
So, when I look at the map I see I wasn’t that far away from the avenues when I made my walk on Tuesday. When I got to the top of my walk I went to the highest point and gazed down at Hafodunos Hall hoping to see the avenues… but they were much further away in the opposite direction. But I am glad I returned and found them.
To make today a round trip, I’ve decided to go home via Conwy, which will take me back to the A55, the fast road home. Although I have passed through Conwy on many occasions I can’t actually recall spending any time here. It was nice to walk on medieval walls.
To see the suspension bridge close up.
Tethered to the rock of Conwy Castle.
And to meander along the quay. I love the smell of a quay. I didn’t know that Conwy was famous for mussels. (And possibly lobster judging by the amount of lobster nets I passed).
Just visible in the top right of the above photo is something that I first thought looked like a concrete totem pole.
On closer inspection I see it’s actually a sculpture called ‘Mytilus edulis’ by Graeme Mitcheson, made from Kilkenny limestone. (Mytilus edulis is the scientific name for the common mussel.) I think it’s a strange location to have a piece of art, because it’s in the corner of a car park. But when I look it up and see it on Graeme’s website I see it wasn’t a car park when it was located there in 2007. Turns out Conwy Quay is a world heritage site and this had it’s own space which was nice …. but they must have needed more car parking?
Later in the afternoon I visit a lovely ice cream parlour – Parisella’s – and whilst chatting to the lovely lady who made my waffle (delicious thank you!) and tell her about my day, I say that looking for monkey puzzle trees makes you just generally ‘look’ and with the looking comes observing, of everything. Which enriches days out.
Conwy is a lovely town, with a High Street with a traditional toy shop, an award winning butcher – Edwards, a gallery, a cook shop (excellent), and more… and I happily finish my day out doing some shopping. A good day. Another one!
So I now end the day very happy that I did find the ‘notable’ avenues at Hafodunos.
Hafodunos Hall is currently being restored and you can find updates about progress and open days on their Facebook page. They usually have an open day in late spring, and others in the summer. See you there!