In my defence I have been away on holiday, though not for quite the whole time since my last post!! We rented a wonderful remote farmhouse in Wales where we basked in the peace and quiet (in between blasts of cbeebies from the satellite TV!), walked (yes- even in the biting cold that was the weather this Easter!), read and knitted (well - I knitted, Dave made paper models with the boys).
The farmhouse was idyllic - it was derelict until the very recent renovation (we are the second tenants the owners have had!) which was commissioned by the estate owner who deals in oak. So there were lots of replacement oak beams, oak internal walls and floors (apart from the slate slabs in the kitchen), and even oak toilet cisterns! The estate has a water turbine so we had an electric aga for heating and cooking, as well as the stove in the lounge which we kept feeding with bits of the old beams!
Sadly I have no photos of my own to share - our camera has become so temperamental it will only take a couple of pictures in between battery changes. Dave is looking for a new one for us. I can however post some pinched photos and links. This is the valley (the 'Tanat' valley) where we stayed - the farmhouse was right at the head, not far from the waterfall you can just see in this picture:
First off we visited a sculpture park and nature reserve at Lake Vyrnwy, where Dave bought me some binoculars to be my birthday present (a few days away now). We spotted siskins and coaltits among the many bluetits and chaffinches feeding near the hide we visited.
Next we visited the Centre for Alternative Technology which has changed a fair bit in the 8 years since last time we were there. Lots more displays, especially about recycling, and even more stuff about alternative ways to create electricity. They've installed a biomass boiler. Dave was disappointed not to see stuff about 'digesters', and I was disappointed by the poor state of the planting areas. Our last visit to CAT was a major inspiration in our own gardening, recycling, and energy-saving efforts. Nevertheless the boys loved the interactive displays. And after our experience at the farmhouse I've got even more enthusiastic about finding a property for our future rural eco-home (our dream) where we could operate a water turbine.
In the lounge of our farmhouse there was a big metal plaque behind the stove with a hare, some oak leaves, and the name 'Melangell' cast into it. We found out when we visited the little church in the valley that Melangell was a 7th century saint in the valley who saved a hare from being killed by the local prince's hounds (it hid under her robes while she was praying). The prince was so impressed by her holiness that he gave her the valley for her own and she founded a religious community there (now gone, all but the church which still has an ancient Romanesque shrine to her - the only remaining Romanesque Christian shrine in the UK apparently). Here's a picture of the shrine and an icon of St. Melangell for you:
The major treats of the holiday for the boys were our visits to King Arthur's Labyrinth (truly wonderful experience) and our ride on the Bala lakeside steam railway. I think my personal favourite was our walk to the waterfall near the farmhouse. The weather was sunny that day, the boys were so much fun to be with on the walk, and the location was like the best lake district fells without any other walkers at all (which never happens in the Lake District, and especially not during the Easter break!).