Butterfly Season update – Aug 2017

So far we have the general feeling that the year has been a reasonably good one for the local butterflies.

If you are out enjoying the local countryside this August, here’s a little summary of which butterflies we’re seeing across the farm at the moment and which were about earlier on this year.

There are currently large numbers of Peacocks around with their stunning bright markings (see the headline image above) and also a generous number of Red Admirals (photo below).

A Red Admiral butterfly about to take off

We’re pleased to some adult Comma (photo below) feeding on flowers & hope that by leaving a few small nettle patches, we’re helping this now recovering species. There are still Speckled Wood to be seen, often flitting in the sunnier patches of the woodland paths. There are also some Green-veined White on the wing and a few Wall & Small Whites as well.

A Comma butterfly feeds on a Buddleia flower.

The main numbers of Meadow Brown are now tailing off, as is the presence of Ringlets & Small Skippers. We seem to be low on Small Tortoiseshell this year and haven’t yet spotted the Small pearl-bordered Fritillary or Silver-washed Fritillary but that’s not to say that they haven’t just managed to hide from me! I believe I’ve spotted a Small Copper recently but it wasn’t a good view, so can’t be certain. Orange Tips were around earlier in the year but they have now finished for the time being.

Not a butterfly, but worth mentioning, I have noticed a few Hawk moth Caterpillar around and these large fellows are well worth a look if you’re lucky enough to spot one.

Green Dock Beetle

A beneficial insect that we are lucky enough to have on the farm is the green dock leaf beetle (Gastrophysa viridula). The male, as seen in the feature image above, grows to about 4mm in length – this particular specimen was closer to 3.75mm. The female is larger at 6 or 7mm long. Both genders have a beautiful metallic green lustre causing them to sparkle in the sunshine like tiny green jewels.

Mating is something of a competitive & feisty affair. Males are often to be seen attempting to mate with heavily egg laden females as in the picture above. Note how distended the female’s abdomen becomes due to the large number of eggs she is readying to lay. If you look long enough you will also find the occasional fracas breaking out between males. In the picture below, one can see a male attempting to mate with a female whilst another beetle grabs his leg in his mandibles & attempts to pull the mating male away.

When the female’s eggs are ready she will lay her them on the underside of dock (Rumex) leaves in small groups of about thirty eggs. She will lay many such egg clusters. The eggs themselves are yellow and barely 1 mm long.

Green Dock Beetle (Gastrophysa viridula) eggs on a dock leaf (Mag x20)

After a few days the grey-black larvae hatch from the eggs and begin to consume the dock plant. Whilst they may occasionally ( & mistakenly?) feed upon other broadleaved plants they are almost exclusively consumers of docks, thus being very useful as a natural controller of docks in grassland. We have found that large dock infestations are a little too much for our local population to consume but they are excellent for general ongoing control especially if supported by a little late season cutting of the dock plants. The larvae are pictured below:

The larvae will go through several moults (perhaps 3 instars) before falling to the ground to pupate in to adult beetles. Thus these beautiful, beneficial beetles complete their life-cycle. Below is a diagram to illustrate the cycle (click image to view / download large version) :

Bonus image: in common with other insects, these dock beetles have amazing compound eyes, as shown in the micrograph below:

The compound eye of a Green Dock Beetle (Gastrophysa viridula)

 

 

Walks – Afon Llefenni Catchment

Towards Aberllefenni

A circular route of a little over 8 miles & almost 1700ft climb, beginning & ending in parking at Aberllefenni. (Assuming a reasonable pace, allow 3 hours for this walk).

(Feature image) The misfit river Afon Llefenni runs in this glacial valley to it’s junction with the Afon Dulas at Aberllefenni.

The route includes a brief detour at the highest point, to take in views of Cadair Idris & Tal-y-llyn.
Mainly on stoned forest tracks & quiet rural lanes.

Park in the Picnic site car park at the southern end of the village of Aberllefenni; this is a lovely spot for a riverside snack, before or after your walk.

Exit the parking area heading in a southerly direction with the river on your left. Having noted the information board, turn left and cross the river bridge, then proceed gently uphill along the forest track / farm drive. When you reach the gates at the high point of the drive,  keep right on to the footpath at the woodland edge.  Walk along this woodland edge path, then turn left across farmland & descending to the riverside. [as per the detailed instructions for crossing Foel Friog]. Take the footbridge across the river & start walking up the small lane.

Part way up the hill, turn left on a path over the river and climb a few steps up to the main village road. When you meet the road, cross carefully and take the footpath entrance behind the small stone building. Walk up this picturesque path which traverses part of the old Aberllefenni slate quarry. If you look across the valley to your right a large quarry cavern can be seen.

Aberllefenni Quarry
Aberllefenni Quarry

At the other end of this footpath section you will descend past Bluemaris Cottages, through a gate, to join the main stoned forest track. Follow this track ahead & uphill. Cross the cattle grid & continue uphill through the forestry. Whatever time of year you walk this, do take time to enjoy the ever changing views.

The valley in December
The valley in December

When you reach a split in the track (at the 2nd hairpin) turn sharp right & continue uphill. This can be a good place to pause for a rest & enjoy the views of where you have come from.

Continue following this main forest track as it twists & turns through the forestry. The smell of the tree resins, the sparkle of sun on dewdrops, perhaps the call of a Peregrine Falcon somewhere high above – a magical & peaceful section.

Eventually you will come to a tarmac mountain lane. If you still have the energy a short detour to the left will be rewarded with outstanding views. To do so, turn left along the lane until you reach a gateway across the road. Go through the gateway & turn immediately left, off the lane and fairly steeply uphill. Follow the grassy path up to the clifftop (take particular care when close to the cliffs of Bwlch Llyn Bach). Here you can enjoy stunning panoramic views, including one of Cadair Idris & Tal-y-llyn.

Looking down to Tal-y-llyn
Looking down to Tal-y-llyn

When you are ready, retrace your steps back to where the forest track met the lane. Now continue along the lane, downhill, in a generally easterly direction. Having climbed up on the southern side of the valley, you will now descend on the northern side. This quiet gated lane will take you back past the quarry to the edge of Aberllefenni village. When you come to the road junction, take the village road to the right & walk through Aberllefenni back to the car park from where you started.

 

Route map via Viewranger.

Bats

Here’s a brief introduction to the various species of bats that we have observed on the farm.

Daubenton’s

Some info about the Daubenton’s bats.
A medium sized bat, who likes to hunt low over water, often skimming the water with its feet. They are found in a belt that stretches from the UK in the west to Japan in the east. They often roost in woodland close to water and live off insects. The UK population is considered stable.

  • Latin Name – Myotis daubentonii
  • On farm ID certainty – Certain (visual & sonogram confirmation)
  • Typical Flight – Quick flight, very low over water
  • Peak Frequency of Calls – around 48kHz
  • Typical Call Duration – 6 or 7ms

Audio Samples (from Foel Friog)

Samples are recorded with a frequency division bat detector, reducing the frequency of the calls 10 fold.

  • Sonagram (actual on farm recording, pulse repetitions of 12.25 pulses/s)
  • Peak Freq. Graph (on farm analysis showing a 47.4kHz peak)

Video

Infra-red illumination was used in the production of this video
and a sound overlay was recorded with a frequency division bat detector, reducing the frequency of the calls 10 fold.

Lesser Horseshoe

Some info about the Lesser Horseshoe bats.
A small bat, found in parts of Europe including the UK. They are typified by the structure around their nose, which helps with echo-location. Small insects, especially midges, are their favourite food. The UK population is in decline due to habitat disturbance and insecticide use.

  • Latin Name – Rhinolophus hipposideros
  • On farm ID certainty – Certain (visual & sonogram confirmation)
  • Typical Flight – Fast & agile often low to the ground. We’re sometimes circled by them hunting for midges.
  • Peak Frequency of Calls – about 109kHz (highest of the British bats)
  • Typical Call Duration – around 40ms

Audio Samples (from Foel Friog)


Samples are recorded with a frequency division bat detector, reducing the frequency of the calls 10 fold.

  • Sonagram (actual on farm recording, 37ms call duration. Ignore ~50kHz background noise.)
  • Peak Freq. Graph (on farm analysis showing a 108kHz peak)

Video

None available

Noctule

Some info about the Noctule bats.
A large British bat found across Europe, Asia and N. Africa. These woodland dwellers are also early risers and can be seen diving after insects from high in the canopy. The UK population is considered stable.

  • Latin Name – Nyctalus noctula
  • On farm ID certainty – Probable (distant visual & weak sonogram only)
  • Typical Flight – Fast high flight near tree tops, diving after prey.
  • Peak Frequency of Calls – circa 21kHz
  • Typical Call Duration – around 20ms

Audio Samples (from Foel Friog – Noctule & Pipistrelle)

None available

  • Sonagram (on farm recording)
    None available
  • Peak Freq. Graph (on farm analysis)
    None available

Video

None available

Pipistrelle (Common)

Some info about the Common Pipistrelle bats.
A small but common bat in the UK. The fly eating Pipistrelle is found in various habitats across Europe, Asia & N. Africa. The UK population is thought to be increasing.

  • Latin Name – Pipistrellus pipistrellus
  • On farm ID certainty – Certain (visual & sonogram confirmation)
  • Typical Flight – Quick flight with rapid direction changes, often along hedgerows.
  • Peak Frequency of Calls – c. 46kHz
  • Typical Call Duration – about 6ms

Audio Samples (from Foel Friog)


Samples are recorded with a frequency division bat detector, reducing the frequency of the calls 10 fold.

  • Sonagram (actual on farm recording)
  • Peak Freq. Graph (on farm analysis showing a 46.7kHz peak)

Video

None available

Pipistrelle (Soprano)

Some info about the Soprano Pipistrelle bats.
Soprano Pips are even smaller than their Common relation. They enjoy catching mosquitoes & midges above damp locations. Their voratious appetite can see several thousand midges eaten per individual – each night – and that makes me very thankful to have them around! Whilst commonplace throughout Britain, it seems unclear as to whether or not the UK population is stable or declining.

  • Latin Name – Pipistrellus pygmaeus
  • On farm ID certainty – Highly Probable (strong sonogram variation from Cmn Pips)
  • Typical Flight – Fast, dancing flight in pursuit of insects; often along hedgerows & woodland edges.
  • Peak Frequency of Calls – about 55kHz (higher than Cmn Pips)
  • Typical Call Duration – around 6ms

Audio Samples (from Foel Friog)


Samples are recorded with a frequency division bat detector, reducing the frequency of the calls 10 fold.

  • Sonagram (actual on farm recording)
  • Peak Freq. Graph (on farm analysis showing a 54.9kHz peak)

Video

None available

 

Further information about UK bats can be found at the Bat Conservation Trust website.

Walks – Foel Friog Easier Loop

A short (~ 1.5 miles) woodland, farmland & village loop with only a small climb. A quiet rural walk with interest for wildlife spotters.

Park in the Picnic site car park at the southern end of the village of Aberllefenni; this is a lovely spot for a riverside snack, before or after your walk. This circular walk is probably best walked in the direction that I describe it in (an anti-clockwise direction). Conditions under foot can often be wet, muddy and slippery, so stout footwear is suggested.

Exit the parking area heading in a southerly direction with the river on your left. Having noted the information board, turn left and cross the river bridge, then proceed gently uphill along the forest track / farm drive. When you reach the gates at the high point of the drive (Point 1 on the map) keep right on to the footpath at the woodland edge. Please take care not to turn left downhill on the stoned track, this is a private farm access track.

Image right – ‘1’ Keep right on to footpath

Having passed through a gateway across the footpath, keep walking ahead with farmland on your left and the forestry rising up on your right. This oak shaded path is a good place for spotting wildlife. Speckled Wood & Meadow Brown butterflies are common in summer, you may notice the scurrying of a wood mouse or hear the calls of Buzzards as they look for thermals high above. Across the farmland on your left, you will see the modern day position of Foel Friog farm, built at the change of the 19th to 20th Century.

As you progress along the path you will come across an old dilapidated stone barn (point 2 on the map). Turn left just after the way marker post and descend to the stile. Once over the stile walk straight ahead down across the field, taking care not to touch the electric fencing.

Image right – ‘2’ Turn left beyond way marker & climb over stile

There are various flowers within this grassland, such as Selfheal & Celandines. Look out on the Cuckoo Flowers, on warm days Green-veined White butterflies like to feed on them. There are often Meadow Pipits looking for worms on the paddocks and at the right times of year, beautiful Pied Flycatchers can be seen busily searching for their offspring’s next meal.

When you reach the net fence line at the bottom of the field bear left along the field edge, as indicated by a marker post. You will soon come to another marker post and a gate down in to the woodland (point 5 on the map). Turn right through this gateway, down hill.

Image right – ‘5’ Turn right downhill & enter woodland

This mixed deciduous woodland is home to several species of bats and in spring it is carpeted with bluebells. By day Nuthatches & Treecreepers can be spotted searching the bark for insects and Great Spotted Woodpeckers are heard boring away at the timber or sending an alarm call because they’ve noticed some walkers 🙂 Also keep an eye open for Speckled Wood butterflies; one of my favourites, as they carry out an aerial dance highlighted by sunbeams through the trees.

You will find yourself on a stoned track that leads down through the deciduous woodland to the riverbank. Walk down this track, bearing left again at the bottom and go through a small gateway (point 6 on the map) that leads on to a grassy path with a paddock on its left and the riverbank on its right.

Image right – ‘6’ Downhill through the woods to a riverside gate

This rougher ground next to the river is home to Rushes, Gorse and flowers such as Devil’s Bit Scabious. Skippers & occasionally Fritillaries can be seen flying & feeding; as well as a plethora of hoverflies.

 

Continue along this path to the corner of the field, where you will find a stile (point 7 on the map). Cross the stile and walk a few yards further in the same direction, to discover the footbridge over the river.

Now cross the river via the bridge and go through the gates of the sheep fold on the other side, taking care to leave them how you found them.

Image right – ‘7’ Climb over the stile, then cross the river footbridge.

Once out of the sheep folds, turn left on to the end of a small lane.

 

Follow this lane to the right and most of the way up the hill. Part way up, turn left on a path over the river and climb a few steps up to the main village road. Once on the road turn left along it. Follow the road back to the southern end of the village and turn back in to the Picnic site where you parked your vehicle.

Notes:
1] All route guides are just that, guidance; please also take map & compass or the like.
2] Please follow the Countryside Code.
3] Take care around old ruins and stay out of them – loose masonry can easily fall, injuring you in the process.

Enjoy 🙂

Walks – Foel Friog / Penbryn Loop

A short (~ 2 miles) woodland loop with a moderate climb and good views. Of historic interest for the story of Foel Friog and also interesting for spotting wildlife.

Park in the Picnic site car park at the southern end of the village of Aberllefenni; this is a lovely spot for a riverside snack, before or after your walk. This circular walk is an enjoyable stroll whichever direction you tackle it in, I shall however describe it in a clockwise direction. Conditions under foot can often be wet, muddy and slippery, so stout footwear is suggested.

A short (~ 2 miles) woodland loop with a moderate climb and good views. Of historic interest for the story of Foel Friog and also interesting for spotting wildlife.

Park in the Picnic site car park at the southern end of the village of Aberllefenni; this is a lovely spot for a riverside snack, before or after your walk. This circular walk is an enjoyable stroll whichever direction you tackle it in, I shall however describe it in a clockwise direction. Conditions under foot can often be wet, muddy and slippery, so stout footwear is suggested.

Image right – ‘1’ Keep right on to footpath

Exit the parking area heading in a southerly direction with the river on your left. Having noted the information board, turn left and cross the river bridge, then proceed gently uphill along the forest track / farm drive. When you reach the gates at the high point of the drive (Point 1 on the map) keep right on to the footpath at the woodland edge. Please take care not to turn left downhill on the stoned track, this is a private farm access track.

Having passed through a gateway across the footpath, keep walking ahead with farmland on your left and the forestry rising up on your right. This oak shaded path is a good place for spotting wildlife. Speckled Wood & Meadow Brown butterflies are common in summer, you may notice the scurrying of a wood mouse or hear the calls of Buzzards as they look for thermals high above. Across the farmland on your left, you will see the modern day position of Foel Friog farm, built at the change of the 19th to 20th Century; later in this walk you will pass by the ruins of the original farm.

Image right – ‘2’ Keep ahead along current path

As you progress along the path you will come across an old delapidated stone barn (point 2 on the map) keep ahead on your current path at the woodland edge. Another interesting thing to take in, is the vertical slate fencing that is occasionaly seen to the left of the path; this was a traditional fencing design in the region. When you reach a narrow (1m) footpath gate (point 3 on the map) go through the gateway and then turn immediately sharp right on an uphill path. You may wish to pause briefly to glance down to the cascade of small waterfalls at the valley floor.

Image left – ‘3’ then turn sharp right after gate

The uphill path, that you have now turned on to, zig zags up through the woodland, deciduous at first and then in to the conifers. Shortly after you enter the conifers there is a good viewpoint on your right, this looks westerly towards the often snow tipped mountain, Cadair Idris. Continue uphill on this path through the conifer plantation. When you reach the crest of this climb, you will see in front of you an area where the conifers have been felled (2010-11) to create a habitat area for Dormice. The path continues along the right side of this habitat area, with the steep slope down to the valley floor to your right.

Continue along this path until you drop down to a stone wall with some old stone ruins on your left (point 4 on the map). These ruins are those of the original Foel Friog farm. In the early 1900’s in was repurposed to house 2 quarry worker’s families and renamed to Penbryn. All the land that now surrounds you, used to be hay meadows and grazing for the farm. Turn right at the stone wall and follow the path downhill, take particular care on the slippery rock. Having re-entered the area of conifer plantation, you will come across a ‘T’ junction in the path, take the lefthand spur, steepily downhill. You will soon come out of the woodland on to a stoned track, turn right along the track and you will soon re-join the farm track that you walked up at the beginning of the walk.

Image – ‘4’ ruins at Penbryn
Read about the history of the farm

Turn left down the track, over the river bridge and then turn right to walk back in to the picnic site where you left your car. I hope you enjoyed the walk.

Notes:
1] All route guides are just that, guidance; please also take map & compass or the like.
2] Please follow the Countryside Code.
3] Take care around old ruins and stay out of them – loose masonry can easily fall, injuring you in the process.

Enjoy 🙂

The Countryside Code

(modern version)

    Be safe – plan ahead and follow any signs
    Leave gates and property as you find them
    Protect plants and animals, and take your litter home
    Keep dogs under close control
    Consider other people

 

Notes:

Be safe.

It often rains a lot in this area. We average 80 – 100 inches of rain each year. A coat & some good boots are usually a good idea.
Do consider your fitness & any medical conditions, the hills can be quite energy sapping. We’ve had to give out chocolate to a struggling diabetic before now.
Bring a good mode of navigation with you – that usually means map & compass. Make sure the map is up to date – we once had to help out a lost group of pensioners whose maps were over 40 years out of date!
Don’t rely on your mobile phone – signal coverage can be very patchy.
Don’t touch the electric fencing on the farm – it is signed and you probably don’t want a hair raising experience.

 

Gates & Property

Please leave all gates as you find them.
Please don’t climb over fences or force locked gates. We take significant effort to ensure stiles & gates that should open are in working order.
Don’t feed or interfere with any livestock – it can be dangerous for you both.
Please don’t disturb ruins, they’re a historic heritage and you may also injure yourself.
If you think there’s something wrong, do tell us. You can tell us directly if we’re out working near the footpaths or you can use the contact form on this website.

 

Environment

There’s some quite rare species in the locality, both plant & animal. Please don’t disturb them, pick them or dig them up.
Please clean your pets & footwear between different outings – there are various plant diseases that can be easily spread.
Protect against fire.
Please take any litter home with you.

 

Dogs

We like dogs but it is important that they are under control, as follows:
By law your dog must be under control so that it does not disturb livestock or wildlife.
Under control usually means on a short lead whilst near livestock, otherwise to heel whilst on a public path.
Farmers are permitted to destroy a dog that is worrying stock. Several local farmers are known to do so.
If in doubt of your dog’s behaviour, please keep it on a lead.
We have seen unruly dogs scare other walker’s children to tears on the footpaths – this is unacceptable & anti-social.

 

Consideration

Please don’t block gateways, tracks, etc with your parked car. There’s plenty of good parking in the village picnic site.
If you could see your way to spending some money with the local community, that would be very fine; thank you.

Local Aberllefenni History and Foel Friog (part II)

[Please note that this is an ongoing summary work. I expect that various local enthusiasts / historians may have corrections or additions – if so, please feel free to use the contact form to get in touch, thanks.]

So what of Foel Friog’s history and how does that fit in with the other local history?

I think it’s fair to assume that the region has been used for extensive livestock production ever since the ancient Britonic peoples turned to agriculture in the pre-historic era. During the dark-ages there were certainly settlements & local people of power, but I cannot meaningfully start the story until much more recently.

Establishment

Looking at the ruins of the old farm of Foel Friog, it appears to me that the homestead is of an old design, perhaps from the middle ages. We know that Owen Glyndwr made his Welsh Parliament at Machynlleth in 1404, so this would have been a busy & vibrant area. At that time the land of Wales was owned by large estates & princedoms with farmers as tenants on their particular plot of land. This form of land ownership & stewardship has continued until recent times – only gradually have the estates broken up and land ownership passed into the hands of farmers themselves.

Currently I can only presume that at some time during the middle ages, a tenant farmer established the original farm, up on the west facing ridge of Ffridd Maes-mawr above the village of Aberllefenni.

19th Century

Herbert J Hughes’ wonderful 1834 map of the Machynlleth area, clearly shows the position of Foel Friog; though it is labeled as Moel friog. The map interestingly also shows the route of what I believe may have been a droving route leading east past the farm and down in to the Dyfi valley. This temporarily became a footpath and was then partially lost in the forestry.

By 1841 the National Census shows the Vaughan family farming at Foel Friog. This record is to be found under Llanwrin region, section 3b. (Note that because the farm buildings are located on the eastern side of the river, official records are tabulated in Montgomeryshire). The Vaughan family consisted of Husband, Wife and 2 young children. There is a 2nd entry for Foel Friog that records the Roberts family (labourer) as living there too. I suspect that the property, which included two adjoining sections House & Byre, had been split in two by the landlord. This is the time of rapid expansion at the slate mine and housing for mine labourers would have been in short supply.

Records from 1851 show that the Vaughan family then left Foel Friog. I do not know why but would love to find out. Were they evicted? Did illness strike? Or did they simply choose to leave, perhaps unhappy at having to share their farmhouse? Either way the Vaughan family were gone and more members of the Roberts family arrive at the farm. They do not however take on farming the land; the adult males (aged 62, 46, 15) all work in the slate quarry, whilst the younger wife provides a local washing service and her 13 year old daughter is a home help. Who farmed the land? Perhaps it was temporarily given to a neighbouring tenant to farm.

Image  – Ruins of Gallt-y-rhiw (2011)

At about this time a young 28 year old farmer by the name of Thomas Jones & his Wife Elinor, move into the neighbouring farm holding called Gallt-y-rhiw. This property is located further south along the ridge, above Corris. He is from Tal-y-llyn and his wife from Pennal. They will become important in the story of Foel Friog and I wonder whether it is this family that now take on farming the land of Foel Friog. I imagine that the young family were from a farming background and that their parents helped to set them up with a local tenancy – I don’t currently have any evidence for this though.

By 1871 we find Foel Friog reunited as one farm, no longer split in to two dwellings. Thomas Jones and his now growing family have moved in to Foel Friog and are farming the land, which is recorded to amount to some 750 acres. The farm must have been providing an adequate income because as well as Thomas an his wife, 2 sons and 2 daughters are working on the farm, whilst the youngest son (14) is furthering his education.

Of note is the fact that Gallt-yr-rhiw is now being used to house miners. I suspect that the lands of the two holdings have been unified and that Foel Friog provided the better accommodation from a farming perspective and is therefore lived in by the Jones family.

Through the 1880’s and into the 1890’s we see Hugh Jones take over the farm from his father. With the reduction in family numbers a farm labourer & a domestic servant are employed to help with the running of the farm. In the 1901 survey the farm hand is described as a Horse Waggoner.

Image – The new stock & hay building

With the peaking of the workforce in the mines, there were many more mouths to feed in the valley. Allotments and gardens were laid out along the valley floor, west of the river. At Foel Friog a substantial slate building with three sections was constructed on the lower lands, closer to the river & village. This barn contained a cowshed in which about 8 cows could be housed. Their milk and associated dairy products were distributed amongst the villagers. On the western side of the barn were stalls for horses probably both plough / wagon and lighter horses for transport. The stalls had a cobbled slate floor and fine slate troughs for feed and water, with a timber manger above, for hay. The final section of the barn was for storage with a hay loft above horse stalls.

20th Century

It must have soon become clear that it would be beneficial for all, if the farmhouse was relocated to the lower lands, near the horses & cattle; because soon after the turn of the century, work was started on building a farmhouse close to the stock barn. This would become today’s farmhouse at Foel Friog. The house was built on a rocky outcrop using the local slate for floors and walls. The roof was constructed with local timbers and covered with welsh slates. Opposite the back of the house, a well was dug with steps down to the water and a small dairy building constructed of slate, was placed over the well.

Image  – Ruins of old Foel Friog (2002)

The Jones family moved in to the new house at Foel Friog early in the new century, they were to continue farming at Foel Friog for several decades and through two World Wars. The old farmhouse was immediately split again and used to house quarrymen and their family. It was renamed to Penbryn or Pen y Bryn, depending upon your source. The new name, rather descriptive of its position, saved confusion especially for government officials and the postal service. In the 1911 census, two quarryman’s families are shown living in Penbryn, one family of eight, the other of six.

Around & after World War II the Forestry Commission aquired large amounts of farmland in the area so that the forestry activities could be greatly expanded. They were backed by the governmental power of compulsory purchase, so there would have been little or no choice for the farmers, whether they were tenants or owner occupiers. Foel Friog was sold to the Forestry Commission (on a date I’m currently in the process of confirming). The Jones family moved out but still live locally. I’d like to thank them for the interesting anecdotes that they have passed on to me.

The land on the slopes of Moel Heulen was all planted to conifers, this had been valuable hay meadows & grazing land. Lands on the other side of the valley, Godre Fynydd, were also planted. However the rocky mountain land of Foel Grochan / Mynydd Cambergi were in some parts spared due to unsuitability for forestry. Thankfully the good valley land was not planted to timber. Initially the remaining agricultural land was rented out and the house stood empty. Eventually a new farmer was found to buy and farm Foel Friog. He and his family worked hard to return the farm to functionality and I am thankful to them for selling us the farm when we came here in the 1990’s.

21st Century

Having sold the remaining outlying land to a good local farmer, we now manage the core of Foel Friog with a strong view towards conservation and habitat enrichment. If I ever won the lottery it would be wonderful to purchase back some of the old lands up by Penbryn from the forestry and slowly restore them to some of their former glory. That’s unlikely to happen though, since I don’t play the lottery! On a more serious note, the Forestry Commission have recently felled the conifers above Penbryn to make a conservation area for Dormice, so the future is looking good for that area.

If you didn’t read about the local history first, why not read that to see how it ties in with the farm’s history.

Local Aberllefenni History and Foel Friog (part I)

Introduction

The region has been both rural & agriculturally centred for many centuries but not overly isolated considering its location.

 

  • Sarn Helen, the ancient Roman road, runs through the village on its way north to Dolgellau & beyond.
  • Modern day pilgrims who follow the Cistercian Way will find themselves passing through the valley on the section of their journey between Strata Florida and Cymer Abbey.
  • And what is now the A487 trunk road (passing the end of the valley at Corris) was earlier a significant Turnpike road, constructed to provide a speedy link between Machynlleth & Dolgellau.

 

Industries

As well as the traditional livestock farming, two other industries have been of note since the middle ages.

Forestry

Oak bark was much valued for its use in the leather tanning industry. Large quantities were needed to be finely ground in to a powder, which when added to vats of water, produced a liquor in which the prepared hides would be soaked. The hides would progress from a weak liquor vat through stages to the strongest liquor which finished the preservation treatment. The bark was not only used at local tanneries, such as at Machynlleth, but was also exported on ships from the local river port at Derwenlas.

Indeed, Derwenlas was the site of several boat building yards where the local oak timbers were used to build vessels for trading, reputedly of up to 75tons in size.

Today most of the remaining deciduous woodland is protected for environmental purposes. The commercial forestry is now softwood timber, predominately Sitka Spruce, Japanese Larch and some Pine. Dyfi Forest amounts to over 15,000 acres of woodlands, most managed by the Forestry Commission.

Slate Mining

Image above – Cavern Opening, Foel Grochan

There are suggestions that the Romans may have extracted slate from the region, along with the other mineral extraction that they carried out. It is however documented that the local slate mines were certainly functioning by circa 1500. Two veins of slate run across the region, the ‘broad’ & the ‘narrow’. It is the narrow vein which was mined at Aberllefenni, this being of particularly high quality. The largest mine is Foel Grochan, sited right over the narrow vein, it produced a dense, hard slate with a bluish tinge. Typical uses were broad, ranging from slate flooring slabs, through monumental medium, to electrical switch gear mounts in buildings & large ships.

By the early 1800’s the mine was output was growing significantly and after several changes of ownership, it ended up being sold to a Colonel Robert Davies Jones in 1859. It was at this time that a tramway was opened to transport slate from the quarries & mines at Corris & Aberllefenni, down to Machynlleth. Original plans had been to build a line right to Derwenlas & Morben, where the slate was exported via ships but with the plan to bring a main line railway to Machynlleth, this was abandoned. So it was, that in 1858-1859 the gravity & horse drawn tramway to Machynlleth was built & opened.

The main line railway arrived at Machynlleth in 1863 and immediately plans were put forward to convert the tramway to steam locomotive power. The eventual system allowed slate to be delivered from mine to Aberllefenni station via horse drawn tram, then transferred to the main rail line in Machynlleth via Steam powered locos on the 2ft 3in narrow gauge railway.

Employment at the mine peaked in 1890 with 190 employees, though production probably peaked a few years earlier. During the 20th century both production and employment gradually dwindled until the mine was finally closed shortly after the turn of another century, in 2002. At this point is was possibly the oldest continually worked slate mine in Europe or perhaps even the world.

Continue on to read about how Foel Friog’s story fits in to this local history …

FootNote

Image above – Corris Station (2011)

The Corris railway started to transport passengers to Machynlleth on 4th July 1883 with the service being extended to Aberllefenni in August 1887. This was against the desires of the quarry companies, who felt that a passenger service would interfere with the slate transportation. As slate output declined in the early 20th Century, the railway took on work transporting timber out of Dyfi forest. After being sold to Great Western Railways the line was finally closed in 1948. However in 1966 the Corris Railway Society was formed and it is now possible for passengers to again enjoy riding a narrow gauge steam train along a restored section of the track.

Links

 

 

Local Geography

Introduction :

Foel Friog is located near to the village of Aberllefenni in Dyfi Forest, Wales. The local terrain, being on the southern edge of Snowdonia, is hilly & mountainous. The Afon Dulas, a tributary of the Dyfi river, runs through the farm on its way to the village of Corris. The historic mountain Cadair Idris is only a few miles to the west and the local farmland is almost entirely grassland grazing with the commercial forestry being mainly conifer plantation. There are also areas of ancient broad leaved woodland.

Our local weather is influenced by mountain, forest and the relatively close proximity of the sea. A summary of our current weather conditions can be seen on our local weather page. For more details, visit our Weather Station Website.

Within the following explanation I shall refer to various periods & era within the Geologic Time Scale.

Regional Geology :

Base Strata

The geological story, of how & why our local landscape & mineralisation formed as they have, starts about 700 million years ago in the Pre-Cambrian era. This is the age of the oldest rocks found in Wales. Pre-Cambrian rocks are found beneath the Harlech dome & may extend further beneath NW Wales.

At the beginning of the Cambrian Period (545 MYA) the Iapetus Ocean lay off the northern edge of Wales. Deposits in the local shallow seas became Sandstone & Grits, the Rhinogs are an example of these rocks. Simultaneously the ocean crust was being subducted beneath Wales (cf. plate tectonics) and the resulting pressure gave rise to the Rhobell Fawr volcano (current day position – a little north of Dolgellau). This vast volcano grew out of the sea as it erupted. Rhobell Fawr’s activity spanned the transition from Cambrian period to Ordovician period (490 MYA).

At the beginning of the Ordovician, the shallow seas surrounding Rhobell Fawr contained ancient invertebrate lifeforms. Graptolite fossils from the Ordovician Period have been found in the rocks around Aberllefenni; with exposures in the Craig Hengae area being particularly fruitful. These are a typical example of the colonial marine invertebrates of the time.

The heat from Rhobell Fawr created great circulating currents of hot fluids, sea water & magma, flowing beneath the ground. This action dissolved various minerals and deposited them as concentrated ores in locations around the Dolgellau region. This is the source of the gold deposits that have been mined in the region. However gold was not the only mineral deposited; Manganese, Lead, Antimony, Arsenic, Silver and Copper are all examples of other regional deposits. Indeed Coed y Brenin lies above an estimated 200 million tonnes of Copper Ore; Iron Sulphides & Pyrite are also associated with this deposit.

About 460 MYA (middle Ordovician) there were further volcanic eruptions in the area. This volcanic episode created the rocks of Cadair Idris. These volcanic rocks are found to a boundary a little to the west of Aberllefenni on the Tal-y-llyn pass. Throughout the Ordovician period mudstones were being laid down by sedimentation in the deeper sections of sea. These Ordovician Mudstones can be found in the valley floor and to the western side of the Corris-Aberllefenni valley.

As the Ordovician period gave way to the Silurian Period (445 MYA) the deposition of mudstones continued in the deep seas. These Silurian Mudstones can be found on the eastern slopes of the Corris-Aberllefenni valley. Thus crudely speaking the baserock in Aberllefenni is Ordovician Mudstone; bounded to the east by Silurian Mudstones and to the west by the igneous volcanic rocks of Cadair Idris (all laid down some 400 to 500 MYA). The structure is in reality more complex than this, with multiple bands of Mudstones, see the interactive map below for more details.

Mountain Formation & Slate

Throughout the Ordovician & Silurian periods (discussed above) the Iapetus Ocean gradually closed up due to tectonic plate movements. This resulted in a mountain forming event that is known as the Caledonian orogeny. As the different land masses collided, the base rocks were twisted, folded and forced up in to mountain ranges. This process continued in to the early Devonian period (415 MYA).

This upheaval requires massive forces, forces so great that they can cause rocks to go through a metamorphism in to a different kind of rock. As muds are deposited on the sea floor any structure within them is rather random. Thus the resulting Mudstone has a crystal structure that is all jumbled up. When great pressure is applied to these Mudstones the crystal lattice can reform in to a regular aligned structure with great order to it; the rock is said to have gained a cleavage. This new metamorphic rock is slate and two veins run through the valley. The narrow vein is of a higher quality, thus the Foel Grochan quarry at Aberllefenni is situated right over this narrow vein of slate. Slate with a greater cleavage (very aligned structure) is most useful for roofing slates; this is typified by Llanberis slate. Slate with a slightly less aligned structure, forms hard slabs ideal for monumental designs, switchgear and billiard tables. It is this form of slate that Corris & Aberllefenni are well known for; particularly pure, free from pyrites and with low porosity.

Subsequent to this 100 million years (within the Palaeozoic era) of hugely creative volcanic & tectonic activity, the newly formed rocks in Wales were weathered by wind & water, partially submerged with sea level changes and then re-exposed again. However the greatest sculpting forces upon the land topography was several significant periods of glaciation. The glacial periods would produce glacial erosion and slow deposition. During this next several 100 million years (of the Mesozoic & Cenozoic eras) the supercontinent Pangaea was formed; and then broke up. The dinosaurs evolved, lived and then ceased to exist in a great extinction event. Mammals came to ascendancy and the continents of the globe settled in to positions that we would recognise today.

The Modern Landscape

Thus we come to the last million years or two; and the recent Ice Ages. There have been many glacial advances & retreats with the last few million years. These have sculpted the topology of the land in to this local region of Wales that we know & love today. During the last glacial period a significant ice cap formed over Snowdonia. It is thought to have been almost 1.5 km thick and centred over the Arenigs. The valley of the Afon Llefenni is a typical broad U shaped glacial valley with a small misfit river in its base. Few glacial deposits were left in the valley; most of the superficial deposits are alluvial, left by the rivers that flow through the glacial valleys. The only significant fault is the Bala / Tal-y-llyn fault, which lies to the west. There are however a few minor faults locally, for example, one noted above Aberllefenni on the western valley side.

The Map

The Geological map below, kindly made possible by the British Geological Survey, shows the bedrock & superficial geology around Aberllefenni.

Summary Key; moving from bottom right (Moel Heulen) to top left (Cadair Idris), we see:

    Brown – Silurian Mudstone & Sandstone
    Pale Greens, Purples & Flesh – Silurian Mudstones
    Pink – Ordovician Slumped Mudstone – overlaid with Glaciofluvial Deposits (Glacial)
    Yellow – Ordovician Slumped Mudstone – overlaid with Alluvial Deposits (River)

[Foel Friog is mainly within these previous two regions (pink & yellow)]

    Blue – Ordovician Narrow vein Mudstone
    Turquoise – Ordovician Broad vein Mudstone
    Cerise – Ordovician Mudstone
    Pale Pink – Ordovician Mudstone & Siltstone
    Yellow – Ordovician Felsic Tuff (Igneous from magma)
    Orange – Ordovician – Micro-granite (Volcanic)

Click on the map for more details.

Geological Map