Updated: May 16
I had in the back of my mind a little story I wrote on Facebook a few years ago. I thought it’ll be easy to find, because Facebook doesn’t delete anything. But without knowing where to look it was not easy to find. You need a search word to find anything on the back pages of Notes from the Hill. I’d be interested to hear from you if you’ve tried this. Anyway I thought I’d dig out a few of the ‘story’ pieces that have graced those pages over the years and share them here for convenience.
Thomas Telford and the A5.
Did you know? The road we now know as the A5 was owned run and managed by seven turnpike trusts before 1819 when the Thomas Telford designed route of the current day began to take shape. It was pressure from the Irish Government which pushed Westminster to employ Telford to survey the route and make recommendations for its improvement. At this time the route was barely passable by a Post Horse never mind a Mail Carriage. This was despite the work done on the route to Capel Curig from Bangor by Lord Penrhyn of 1791-2 who tried to push a road thorough so guests could stay at his newly opened Capel Curig Inn, now Plas y Brenin. The journey was then described as impassable after dark without a guide (some might argue the same today!). In winter the harsh weather made this road impassable, quite what life at the many farms and dwellings on the route was like at this time is hard to imagine now.
The Telford designed road was a grand undertaking, with a style of construction similar to that of a Roman road with graded layers of aggregate which continued to be compressed by the iron wheels of the passing coaches which became ever more frequent as there was no gradient greater than 1 in 20. The journey time from London to Holyhead was reduced from 38 hours in 1817 to 26 hours 55 minutes in 1836, a steady 10 miles an hour being possible throughout the route. This had become possible because before Telford re-graded the road an extra pair of horse had to be taken on to ascend each hill, then time would be lost unhitching these horses at the top of the hill. As well as opening the route to Dublin, this road brought tourism... and still we come...
The Moel Siabod Shield
There is a shield dating back to the Bronze age which resides in the British Museum that was found on Moel Siabod. The shield was found in 1784 somewhere in a peat bog on the slopes of Moel Siabod, sadly the exact location is not known. The shield is 25” across and has grips made of Bronze on its reverse side. As can be seen from the photo the front is ornately decorated and denotes quite advanced craftsmanship for an object which dates back to around 1,000 BC.
Seven and half miles east of Llanrwst is a village called Llangernyw and in that village is one of Britain’s top 50 trees. It is situated in the grounds of St Dygains church. The Llangernyw Yew is estimated to be somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 years old making it one of the oldest trees in the world and in the region of 3,000 years older than the church by which it resides. The tree once hid an oil tank, once was the centre piece of a market and once nearly had a limb cut off so someone could access a relative’s grave! The tree dates from before Christ was born, so one wonders for how long has this site had religious significance? The tree would have been a sapling in the Bronze Age, that’s before Stonehenge was assembled. There are only two trees in the world which are definitely older, though it hard to be completely sure how old the Llangernyw Yew is give that is core is missing these days.
The Raven and the beginning of laws to protect birds.
The first piece of bird protection legislation was passed in 1534. It was King Henry VIII who issued the decree which protected ravens from being hunted by falconers. Ravens, along with red kites, were recognised for the role they played in keeping our towns clear of rotting meat. Both would feed on any available carcass, human or animal, and strip the meat from the bones. Sadly, this state of affairs did not last and by the end of the 1600’s and into the 1700’s favour swung against the ravens and they became persecuted as vermin. It’s said that the sight of them gorging on the victims of the Great Plague; the Black Death, were just too unpalatable for the people that once saw them as providing a useful service.