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2014 in review: Happy New Year

Following 80 years of neglect and 14 years of planning, volunteers representing local charity, the Penllergare Trust, have been working tirelessly over the last two years to restore Penllergare Valley Woods for everyone to enjoy.

What a transformation!

Guided by the pioneering photographs taken by John Dillwyn Llewelyn (the creator of Victorian Penllergare in the 19th century), historic paths, steps, cascades and views have been uncovered; terraces have been cleared and planted; and stonewalls have been rebuilt.

The Waterfall in Autumn 2014. Photo by Carey Beor

The Waterfall in Autumn 2014. Photo by Carey Beor

The one and only waterfall in Swansea has been repaired; a hydro-turbine has been installed to generate much-needed income; and the old stone-arch bridge has been restored using traditional methods.

Restoration of Llewelyn Bridge Collage 2013 by Meryl Thomas

Restoration of Llewelyn Bridge Collage 2013 by Meryl Thomas

In 2014 in particular, we also completed the one key feature that everyone had been waiting for – the Upper Lake. It certainly is a sight to be seen with its picturesque island, lakeside promenade and wildlife area.

Upper Lake on Icy Morning. Photo by Carey Beor (Dec 2014)

Upper Lake on Icy Morning. Photo by Carey Beor (Dec 2014)

Over the next few months, our focus will turn to the restoration of the equatorial observatory – a scheduled ancient monument – where one of the first photographs of the moon was taken.

Building the Observatory by John Dillwyn Llewelyn

Our community coffee shop – opened in September 2013 and run by over 30 local volunteers – is also going from strength to strength. We are proud to have become known in the local area as the place to go for a warm and friendly welcome, a beautiful setting, good quality proper coffee and delicious homemade cake! This is and will continue to be at the heart of our work in the future as we welcome more people to Valley Woods to enjoy the historic and wild qualities that make it so special.

Our fantastic coffee shop volunteers. Photo by Julie Osborne (Dec 2014)

Our fantastic coffee shop volunteers. Photo by Julie Osborne (Dec 2014)

The fantastic feedback that we’ve been receiving is just a reminder of how lucky we are to have this secret and magical place on our doorstep. It’s hard to believe that it’s a stones throw away from the M4 and that only a few years ago, this national treasure was close to being lost forever to neglect, vandalism and encroaching development. We cannot thank our volunteers and local communities enough for their commitment, efforts and support.

Putting Swansea on the map
Unlike other restoration projects, we have deliberately chosen not to close our doors to visitors but rather to involve and engage as many people as possible in our restoration journey. We have organised guided walks and evening talks, attended fetes and festivals and hosted meetings and conferences for like-minded organisations and community-groups.

Adele's Wanderers - Aug 2014. Photo by Christine Clarke.

Adele’s Wanderers – Aug 2014. Photo by Christine Clarke.

Only in October did we host a regional networking event for Llais y Goedwig, the community woodland network for Wales. We’ve also been able to host events, activities and play schemes for schools, children and families thanks to a partnership with the outdoor education charity, Forest Schools and the South West Wales Wildlife Trust.

Forest School Blaenymaes Project 2014.  Photo by Forest School SNPT

Forest School Blaenymaes Project 2014. Photo by Forest School SNPT

What’s more, we have been delighted with the support for this year’s fundraising events – the May bank holiday Potting Shed Sale and the September Car Boot Sale. Not only did a record number of volunteers and local people attend the events, but we were overwhelmed by the number of items donated. Bedding plants, cakes, books, trees, walking sticks – you name it, we had it. Thank you to you all. We raised nearly £4,000 to go towards the future maintenance and restoration of Valley Woods.

Potting Shed Sale 2014. Photo by Christine Clarke via Facebook

Potting Shed Sale 2014. Photo by Christine Clarke via Facebook

Look out too for our brand new website – to be launched in 2015 – as well as new signage, information boards and leaflets to help improve your visits to Penllergare and to keep you up to date with seasonal news and events.

On a national level, we have also had lots of publicity relating to our restoration progress in national newspapers, magazines and TV news broadcasts. Penllergare Valley Woods will even be featured in Michael Portillo’s Great British Railway Journeys on BBC2 on Monday 26th January 2015 and we have been involved in filming for a popular American TV series. We really are putting Swansea on the map!

Michael Portillo at the waterfall. Aug 2014. Photo by Ray Butt.

Michael Portillo at the waterfall. Aug 2014. Photo by Ray Butt.

A green corridor
Despite the disruption and major restoration works underway, Penllergare Valley Woods in 2014 has proved to be popular not only with visitors but also with wildlife. Both otter and water vole have been spotted and photographed at Lower Lake proving the importance of Penllergare as a green corridor for a diverse range of wildlife.

Otter at Lower Lake by Peter Thomas 16/06/13

Otter at Lower Lake by Peter Thomas

Water Vole at Penllergare. Photo by Official Carmarthenshire Wildlife Watch via Facebook. Sept 2014.

Water Vole at Penllergare. Photo by Official Carmarthenshire Wildlife Watch via Facebook. Sept 2014.

We have great hopes for the Upper Lake too. It is anticipated that the western zone will rapidly become a conservation area as the shallow water will allow a wide range of aquatic plants to grow providing a nesting area for birds and a breeding area for amphibians and insects. The kingfishers have already been seen skimming the Upper Lake. We can’t wait to see the bluebells and rhododendrons next Spring and Summer.

Kingfisher at Penllergare - Photo by Keith Cooper

Kingfisher at Penllergare – Photo by Keith Cooper

People power in action
As we head into 2015, more than ever our minds are turning to how we can be sustainable in our ambition to protect and restore Penllergare Valley Woods for everyone to enjoy.

Muddy Volunteers on the West Bank. Photo by Edward Tucker. Feb 2014.

Muddy Volunteers on the West Bank. Photo by Edward Tucker. Feb 2014.

We have big ideas and plans for the lower lake and dam, the carriage drive and the walled gardens, but with a need to generate some £100,000 per year to pay the rent and maintain and manage the estate, finding ways to develop support, generate core revenue and not be too reliant on the stop/start legacy of grants is a priority.

The sale of the Council’s Penllergaer Civic Centre, including the site of the former Penllergare estate house, is also a reminder of the ongoing threat from development to Penllergare Valley Woods.

There’s no doubt that as an independent local charity, to achieve our ambitious vision requires courage, determination, optimism and a great deal of effort! We are already getting the feeling that this is more of a community ‘movement’ than just another project – ‘people power’ in action for a cause worth fighting for!

Above all we ask people and organisations who love and value Valley Woods, as a growing number already do, to lend us your support – either through volunteering, joining our Friends of Penllergare membership scheme, giving a donation, fundraising for us or leaving a legacy.

Come and join in and be a part of the Penllergare adventure!

Wishing you all a Happy New Year

from everyone at Penllergare Valley Woods

Restoration Update: November 2014

We are delighted to welcome Lee Turner to the team who has been appointed as our new General Manager. Lee officially started his new role on 3rd November and will be the senior on site manager with responsibility for the overall operational management of Penllergare as well as for supporter and volunteer development and revenue generation.

Lee Turner, our new General Manager

Lee Turner, our new General Manager

Lee has most recently been working as Director of Operations for Groundwork. With a history in Horticulture, Arboriculture, Environmental Management and Forestry, Lee has a wide range of experiences to bring to Penllergare Valley Woods

It will take some time for Lee to meet everyone but do pop in to introduce yourself and to say hello if ever you’re passing our lovely green cabin office in the car park. As you can imagine, it’s starting to feel somewhat cramped in there!

UPPER LAKE

The restored lake has become the subject of dozens of fantastic photographs from visitors – many of which have been featured on our Facebook page. It has been suggested that the main purpose of the lake was to reflect the gnarled and ancient oak trees on the eastern bank as part of the plan to create a picture of the landscape. Unfortunately, many of the ancient oaks are gone.

We’re planting oaks once again on the east bank, and in time – in our children’s time more likely – and with support, this picturesque scene and landscape will be recreated!

Reflections at Upper Lake. Photo by Philip James (Nov 2014)

Reflections at Upper Lake. Photo by Philip James (Nov 2014)

CARRIAGE DRIVE

Despite the rain, Selwyn Jones the stonemason and his team, have made good progress with the masonry repairs to the carriage drive wall. Although this work is largely unseen, several of the fine masonry arches that support the carriage drive have collapsed leaving the drive vulnerable to slippage down the bank.

Several large trees that are growing in the wall are due to be removed in the next couple of weeks to prevent further damage and to open up the views out across the valley. Once this phase of work is completed, a metal railing fence is planned alongside the carriage drive against the steep drop – there is evidence of an earlier railing fence here. Larch cleft fencing is also proposed for a substantial section of the carriage drive. This feature became a popular photographic subject of John Dillwyn Llewelyn in the 19th century. Many views survive of the drive itself and of views from it.

Carriage Drive. Photo by John Dillwyn Llewelyn. 19th Century.

Carriage Drive. Photo by John Dillwyn Llewelyn. 19th Century.

The carriage drive would have been an important picturesque feature that would have at one stage been very visible from the bottom of the valley. The work we are doing now is only the tip of the iceberg and gives us a good feel for the extent and cost of work involved at some stage in the future. There are several very fine stone arches, the purpose of which can only be guessed at.

Carriage Drive Retaining Wall. Photo by Philip James (Nov 2014)

The stonemasons also discovered an interesting feature in the wall. As they were cleaning back the ivy and moss to repair the masonry, they came across a vertical joint in the wall, where there didn’t appear to be a need for one. So far, we haven’t been able to explain why this is here – it doesn’t appear to relate to any steps or a path – Penllergare Valley Woods is really full of surprises!

Interesting Feature. Photo by Philip James (Nov 2014)

Interesting Feature. Photo by Philip James (Nov 2014)

COFFEE SHOP

The bad news! Contractors returned on 1st December to rectify some of the defects to the drainage in the car park and also the slabs on the coffee shop terrace. Regrettably, it was decided to close the coffee shop for 5 days during the week from 1st – 5th December. Thank you to you all for your cooperation.

The good news! We are now back open as usual and thanks to the dedication of our wonderful volunteers, our coffee shop will be open over the Christmas and New Year period too. Here are our Christmas opening hours. We’d love to see you over this festive season!

Everyday up to 23rd December: 10.30am – 3.30pm
Christmas Eve: 10.30am – 1pm
Christmas Day: Closed
Boxing Day: 10.30am – 3.30pm
27th December: 10.30am – 3.30pm
28th December: 10.30am – 3.30pm
29th December: 10.30am – 3.30pm
30th December: 10.30am – 3.30pm
New Years Eve: Closed
New Year’s Day: 10.30am – 3.30pm
2nd January onwards: 10.30am – 3.30pm

WOODLAND VOLUNTEERING

We’ve said it before, but it really is amazing the progress our woodland volunteers are making with clearing the invasive rhododendron and felling larch in the former Ancient Woodland site at the bottom of the Red Ash track. It’s already possible to see how these areas will look as the years pass with many native trees and other woodland plants now able to flourish. A lot of the larch is to be used for the cleft fencing proposed for the carriage drive over this winter too.

Volunteer Bonfire. Nov 2014. Photo by Philip James.

Volunteer Bonfire. Nov 2014. Photo by Philip James.

We always know when our woodland volunteers are at work because of the smoke rising from the bonfires at various points in the woods. The work carries on in all weathers, though the woods offer good shelter from rain and wind and a good work out and a bonfire are a great antidote to the cold as well! We’re delighted to welcome new volunteers on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Talking about bonfires in November, did you know that one of the earliest surviving photographs of a Guy Fawkes bonfire in Wales was taken at Penllergare Valley Woods? A John Dillwyn Llewelyn bonfire photograph was exhibited in the early 1850s and Queen Victoria even requested a print for her collection. Check out a couple of the historic bonfire photos here:

Remember Remember the 5th November. Photo by John Dillwyn Llewelyn. 19th Century.

Remember Remember the 5th November. Photo by John Dillwyn Llewelyn. 19th Century.

Earliest surviving photograph showing a Guy Fawkes bonfire in Wales?

Earliest surviving photograph showing a Guy Fawkes bonfire in Wales?

ARCHIMEDES SCREW HYDRO TURBINE

Our volunteering family continues to grow and expand! We now have two volunteers assisting with the management and maintenance of the hydro scheme and they came together this week to carry out the monthly maintenance check. We really are most fortunate in having so many people willing to join in with our restoration journey – thank you to everyone. Can you believe that the archimedean screw was installed a year ago this month!?!

Archimedes Screw in Action. Photo by Philip James (Nov 2014)

Archimedes Screw in Action. Photo by Philip James (Nov 2014)

We’re receiving quite a few questions about the turbine, including how fast does the Archimedes screw rotate and how many ‘blades’ are there on the screw – well we can confirm that at full power, the screw rotates at around 25 revolutions per minute, and there are two blades on the screw.

Landscaping works around the hydro scheme have started. Some small trees have been relocated from elsewhere in the woods. More works are planned in the coming weeks and over the winter. If you’d like to know more about the turbine, then please don’t hesitate to ask!

MARKETING AND FUNDRAISING

We are delighted to be working with a local Swansea agency, Copper Bay Creative, to improve our online presence and develop a brand new website for Penllergare Valley Woods – which will go live in the next month. The new website will enable everyone to join us on our restoration journey by providing lots of interesting information about the stories, history, wildlife and people that make Penllergare so special! What’s more, it will provide more opportunities for the people of Swansea and beyond to support us in our ambitions to save, protect and restore Penllergare Valley Woods for everyone to enjoy.

Ben Wheeler from Copper Bay Creative and Faye Maher Business Development Manager at Penllergare. Photo by Copper Bay Creative. Nov 2014.

Ben Wheeler from Copper Bay Creative and Faye Maher Business Development Manager at Penllergare. Photo by Copper Bay Creative. Nov 2014.

Penllergare Valley Woods turned into a TV production location for one day in November with the car park full of cast, crew, catering and make-up trailers as well as film equipment.We can’t tell you anymore at this stage but we’ll share all when this popular TV series is aired next Spring. Don’t forget that Penllergare will also be featured on Michael Portillo’s Great British Railway Journeys series in January. We’ll remind you about this closer to the time.

Not only do TV appearances such as this bring great publicity to Penllergare Valley Woods on a local as well as international stage, but we are also pleased to receive a kind donation for hire of the site – all of which goes towards the future maintenance of Valley Woods. Keeping the balance between raising funds through projects such as this as well as meeting the needs of our regular visitors and protecting and conserving our special place and wildlife will always be the biggest challenge in achieving our long term ambition.

On a similar note, we have been presented with a vehicle, for free, from the Earth Science Partnership, an engineering consultancy firm in Cardiff. One of the Directors lives in Parc Penllergaer and is a keen supporter of the Trust and wanted to help. We’re most grateful for this generous gift.

Earth Science Partnership donation of van. Photo by ESP (Nov 2014)

Earth Science Partnership donation of van. Photo by ESP (Nov 2014)

EVENTS

Did you see us at the Green Fayre at the National Waterfront Museum at the end of November? Thank you so much to all of our wonderful volunteers for offering to help man our stand. It was a great opportunity to promote what we do and why. Thank you also to Swansea’s Environment Centre for organising it.

We are getting more and more groups coming for a stroll (or hike!) in Penllergare Valley Woods – it’s great to see so many people enthusiastic and astonished by the progress and coming back time after time to see how things are going. If your group intends on visiting us, we would be most grateful if you could give us a quick ring or email in advance to let us know. Here’s a lovely photo of regular visitors Mike (centre) and Mali the dog with members of U3A enjoying their walk in Valley Woods.

Mike, Mali and U3A. Photo by Julie Cook via Facebook (Nov 2014)

Mike, Mali and U3A. Photo by Julie Cook via Facebook (Nov 2014)

SEASONS

Did you know that a Girdled Knight and a Burnt Knight were found in the woods last week? No it’s not another TV production, but two species of fungus found by the Glamorgan Fungus Group on their recent fungi foray. In all they found 33 different species of fungus with some wonderful names like ‘Blusher’, ‘White Brain’, ‘The Deceiver’ and more…If anyone would like the full list, then please get in touch.

Check out also these beautiful early morning photos from Nyddfwch by Carey Beor. If you haven’t had a chance to walk up to the old medieval site to take in the views across the valley, towards Fforestfach and Blaenymaes and towards Mynydd y Gwair – it’s definitely a must!

From Nyddfwch - Last sunrise of the month. Photo by Carey Beo (Nov2014)

From Nyddfwch – Last sunrise of the month. Photo by Carey Beor (Nov 2014)

Misty Morning from Nyddfwch. Photo by Carey Beor (Nov 2014)

Misty Morning from Nyddfwch. Photo by Carey Beor (Nov 2014)

SALE OF THE COUNCIL OFFICES

We’re sure you’ve heard the latest news about the sale of the Council’s Penllergaer Civic Centre, including the site of the former Penllergare estate house, in the local paper recently. This is a reminder of the ongoing threat from development to Penllergare Valley Woods.

We’re not against development in principle, and fully understand the need to build more houses and places to work, but we strongly feel that in the process of development, special places like Penllergare Valley Woods need to be protected for future generations to enjoy.

Many historic features have already been lost – the old park that graced the now demolished Penllergare house has been built over for housing; the M4 motorway and the A48 have truncated the beautiful John Dillwyn Llewelyn designed landscape garden; the A483 was constructed over the old Home Farm site and balancing ponds that once served the water features in Valley Woods and the Walled Garden, and a Business Park has been built right next door to Valley Woods.

Clipping from the South Wales Evening Post - April 1974

Clipping from the South Wales Evening Post – April 1974

The sale of the Penllergaer Civic Centre and surrounding land raises more questions and concerns about the impact on Valley Woods and also the future of the historic Observatory, presently being restored back to working condition.

Now, more than ever, we need your support to protect this secret and magical place and to campaign hard to ensure that the inevitable developments on adjacent land, such as on the Civic Centre site do not further erode the special qualities of Valley Woods. We are appealing to anyone who shares our love for this special place to show support by becoming a member of the Friends of Penllergare. This is a powerful way that we can demonstrate the ‘value’ that local communities place on Penllergare Valley Woods, and will strengthen our voice with the local planning authority in the planning process.

To find out more about the Penllergare Trust’s stance on the matter, you can read our full press release here. You can also sign up to become a member in our coffee shop. In a few weeks you’ll be able to sign up online too on our new website.

ANNUAL VISITOR SURVEY

It’s that time of year again. We would be most grateful if you could support us by filling in our annual Visitor Survey. Not only is it an opportunity to share ideas and to get your feedback on our restoration journey at Penllergare Valley Woods but it also provides us with valuable information to improve for the future. We would really appreciate 5 minutes of your time (even if you filled in a similar one last year). Thanks so much for your continued support. It means a lot to us.

Thank you so much for your support! Enjoy the festive activities in the run up to Christmas. Do you think we’ll have a white Christmas? 🙂

Walking in a Winter Wonderland by Carey Beor

Photo by Carey Beor

Further development threats to Penllergare Valley Woods (Press Release)

The sale of the Council’s Penllergaer Civic Centre, including the site of the former Penllergare estate house is a reminder of the ongoing threat from development to Penllergare Valley Woods, say the Penllergare Trust.

Damage has already been done to Penllergare Valley Woods through adjacent developments and this latest sale of development land by the main entrance and surrounding the nineteenth century Equatorial Observatory raises concerns for the integrity of the designed landscape.

The Penllergare Trust was established in 2000 in response to the wanton demolition of historic features adjacent to the Walled Garden when contractors set up their site compound to build the houses at Parc Penllergare. The adjacent woodlands had also suffered from careless and unsympathetic ‘improvements’, none of which have stood the test of time.

Penllergare Valley Woods is currently being rescued from obscurity, vandalism and dereliction and brought back to life by local people, in what is becoming one of the biggest community driven landscape restoration projects in the country.

Terry Jones, Chair of the Penllergare Trust says “We’re not against development in principle, and fully understand the need to build more houses and places to work, but we strongly feel that in the process of development, special places like Penllergare Valley Woods need to be protected for future generations to enjoy.

Many historic features have already been lost – the old park that graced the now demolished Penllergare house has been built over for housing; the M4 motorway and the A48 have truncated the beautiful John Dillwyn Llewelyn designed landscape garden; the A483 was constructed over the old Home Farm site and balancing ponds that once served the water features in Valley Woods and the Walled Garden, and a Business Park has been built right next door to Valley Woods.”

The sale of the Penllergaer Civic Centre and surrounding land raises more questions and concerns about the impact on Valley Woods and also the future of the historic Observatory, presently being restored back to working condition by the Penllergare Trust.

Now, more than ever, the Penllergare Trust needs support to protect this secret and magical place and to campaign hard to ensure that the inevitable developments on adjacent land, such as on the Civic Centre site do not further erode the special qualities of Valley Woods. Terry Jones goes on to say “The Penllergare Trust is appealing to anyone who shares our love for this special place to show their support by becoming a member of the Friends of Penllergare. This is a powerful way that we can demonstrate the ‘value’ that local communities place on Penllergare Valley Woods, and will strengthen our voice with the local planning authority in the planning process.”

For more information about Penllergare Valley Woods and to find out more about how you can support us, please contact Lee Turner on 01792 344224 or contact@penllergare.org

Coffee Shop 5 day closure from 1st December

The autumn officially ends on Sunday and after a really successful season at the coffee shop we’re taking the opportunity to carry out some essential maintenance.

From Monday 1st December for five days, contractors will be lifting the paving slabs on the coffee shop terrace and relaying them to make sure that the rainwater drains away from the building, after one or two problems with water coming into the building under the doors. We’ve made the decision to close the coffee shop for these five days rather than try and work round the builders.

We apologise to all our customers and supporters for any inconvenience caused and hope that everyone will come back and see us again once the works are completed.

Our coffee shop, run by our wonderful team of volunteers, supported by Julie and Lydia, has been a runaway success since it opened in September 2013. Not only have the team provided a warm and friendly welcome to visitors, but all the profits are being ploughed back into essential maintenance in the woods for us all to enjoy.

Thank you so much for your support!

Photo by Meryl Thomas. Aug 2014

Photo by Meryl Thomas. Aug 2014

Restoration Update: October 2014

Autumn has most certainly arrived at Penllergare Valley Woods. The dazzling display of colour was even better in the northern end of the estate this year thanks to the reflections on the newly-restored Upper Lake. Isn’t it spectacular!

Early Autumn Colours at Upper Lake. Photo by Carey Beor

Early Autumn Colours at Upper Lake. Photo by Carey Beor

As well as the shades of golds, reds, oranges, browns and greens, we’re loving the explosion of mushrooms this Autumn too. This year seems to be a really good one for fungus with a wide array of varieties and all sorts of shapes, sizes and colours in the woods. They really are one of nature’s wonders! Just look at this iconic Fly Agaric.

Fly Agaric 2014. Photo by Crowbuster

Fly Agaric 2014. Photo by Crowbuster

While looking through our archive of fungi photos, we came across this painting of fly agaric which apparently came from an original sketch book owned by Emma Charlotte Dillwyn Llewelyn – John Dillwyn Llewelyn’s daughter. Paintings like this give us an indication of what fungi would have been found at Penllergare in the 19th century. Often the name of the fungi is written on the page as well as the date and where it was found. This is invaluable information and we’re so lucky to have it.

Painted by Emma Charlotte in 19th Century

FUNGI004

WOODLAND VOLUNTEERING

It most certainly has been a damp Autumn but rain or shine our woodland volunteers have been out in force! What a dedicated team we have and we can’t thank them enough for their commitment and efforts in maintaining and restoring Penllergare Valley Woods for everyone to enjoy. Here they are (in their waterproofs!) removing bramble, planting new shrubs and flowers, and laying a new ‘soft’ path in the upper garden area opposite the coffee shop.

Rain or Shine Woodland Volunteers - Oct 2014.

Rain or Shine Woodland Volunteers – Oct 2014

What’s more, our woodland volunteers have been cutting and cleaning rhododendron, stone picking, log moving, raking paths of leaves and clearing the drainage. It seems that lots of families are loving the muddy paths though so perhaps we shouldn’t be clearing too much of the drainage! 🙂 A large party from the Hafod primary school even came on a welly walk recently in the pouring rain!

Roger clearing the drainage. Photo by Edward Tucker

Roger clearing the drainage. Photo by Edward Tucker

Splashing in the Mud. Photo by Cameron Sansom via Twitter

Splashing in the Mud. Photo by Cameron Sansom via Twitter

COFFEE SHOP

Great news! Our fantastic team of  volunteers are keen to keep our coffee shop open throughout the autumn and winter to continue to provide you with a friendly welcome, a warm drink and a delicious piece of homemade cake. From 1st November our coffee shop will be open everyday from 10.30am – 3.30pm and our car park will be open from 8am – 5pm. The slightly reduced hours are due to the shorter daylight hours. We hope to see you soon!

Our Sunday Coffee Shop Volunteers. Photo by Julie Osbourne

Our Sunday Coffee Shop Volunteers. Photo by Julie Osbourne

WATERFALL AND ARCHIMEDES SCREW

With so much rain feeding the river Llan, the waterfall is so powerful at the moment. The hydro turbine surely is having a good run and is generating lots of electricity for us to sell back to the grid. It’s attracting quite a bit of interest too. This month we’ve had visits from the Welsh European Funding Office as part of a tour of renewable energy installations in South Wales and from Dr Emyr Roberts, the Chief Executive of Natural Resources Wales, the Welsh Government sponsored body responsible for ensuring that the natural resources of Wales are sustainably managed, maintained, enhanced and used. They were impressed and encouraged by our ambitions and achievements.

Visit from WEFO - Oct 2014 (Photo by Faye Maher)

Visit from WEFO – Oct 2014 (Photo by Faye Maher)

OBSERVATORY

Local tree surgeons have felled and cleared away two large Leyland Cypress from near the Observatory. These trees were not only obscuring the views into the Observatory, but also the views out from the observing tower. They were also preventing the free circulation of air around the building and preventing it from drying out. Work will proceed on this scheduled ancient monument shortly.

EVENTS

In October, we hosted a networking event organised by Llais y Goedwig, the network of community woodlands for Wales. It was great to have a gathering at Penllergare Valley Woods to discuss the future of community woodlands in South Wales and to share our experiences with others. The group enjoyed a tour of Valley Woods and a delicious vintage-style buffet in the coffee shop. Thanks to everyone for making it a success.

Tour of Penllergare (Llais y Goedwig Regional Event 2014). Photo by Meryl Thomas

Tour of Penllergare (Llais y Goedwig Regional Event 2014). Photo by Meryl Thomas

Volunteers John and Janet Childs attended an event in Blaen-y-Maes called ‘Xstream Market Day’ in conjunction with Gwalia Housing and Keep Wales Tidy. We were keen to get involved to showcase our work and to encourage more people to care for their environment. Thanks to John and Janet for putting a lot of effort into preparing information boards and arranging the whole thing.

Volunteers John and Janet Childs at Blaenymaes Xstream Market Day. Photo by Faye Maher

Volunteers John and Janet Childs at Blaenymaes Xstream Market Day. Photo by Faye Maher

Penllergaer Scouting groups were at the Woodland Centre once again this month. This has become a regular booking. It’s a really exciting and inspiring venue for young children to meet, and it’s great that they’ll get to know Valley Woods even better and hopefully develop a strong attachment to ‘our’ woods. We are pleased also to see that the Forest Schools project with Blaenymaes Primary School – based near Cadle – is also going well. It’s important that we educate the future generation about the importance of Valley Woods and also to encourage play in the outdoors.

Forest School Blaenymaes Project 2014.  Photo by Forest School SNPT

Forest School Blaenymaes Project 2014. Photo by Forest School SNPT

FUNDRAISING

We are of course looking to the future as well. There’s a long and growing list of good ideas and projects for 2015 and beyond, ranging from improving paths, the restoration of the walled gardens, through to the provision of better and permanent volunteer facilities and equipment, to repairs to the retaining wall of the carriage drive and more. All will need concerted effort and money, and on top of this we also need to generate sufficient funds to maintain what we already have – over 260 acres in all. We are overwhelmed with the support and positive feedback we are getting from visitors and local people – this is great and really spurs us on. We’re always on the look out for enthusiastic people who are willing to join us on our restoration journey through becoming a Friend, volunteering, giving a donation, leaving a legacy or working with us to raise money. If you love Valley Woods and want to keep it open, safe and welcoming for everyone to enjoy, then please do get in touch. We really do need all of the help that we can get.

The Waterfall in Autumn 2014. Photo by Carey Beor

The Waterfall in Autumn 2014. Photo by Carey Beor

Thanks again for your interest and support in Penllergare Valley Woods. This month we’ll leave you with a lovely note by supporter Kev Johns which was published in the South Wales Evening Post recently.

“How incredible is the transformation and restoration at the old Penllergare Estate. There’s now a dedicated car park, visitor centre, a cafe and acres of beautiful woodland walks down to the lake and waterfall. It really is a secret and magical place, where you can enjoy the sound of birds and the sight of plants and wild flowers. Despite the fact that the estate is within sight of the M4 when deep in the valley you could be a million miles away from the noise and fumes of the passing traffic. It’s an incredible place and while the trust and local authority are due top marks for the work they have done credit must be given to the volunteers who as a labour of love have helped make the estate the beautiful visitor attraction it is today! It’s an attraction that you need to visit and not just once. Every visit there will be an encounter with something new.”

“It really is one of the hidden gems of Wales!”

 

Restoration Update: September 2014

On 20th September 2014, we celebrated the 1st year anniversary of the opening of the coffee shop. Can you believe that a year has passed already?! In that time, we have had the pleasure of working with over 50 volunteer coffee shop assistants in order to provide you with a warm welcome and delicious homemade refreshments as well as generate revenue for the future maintenance of Valley Woods.

Not only have sales been good (we had a record-breaking month in September), but we’re receiving an increasing amount of donations from visitors. We’re sure that this reflects the appreciation that you all feel towards us as a local voluntary group taking on such an ambitious project and doing such a good job in the process – we are all very proud of our achievements!

Enjoy the BBQ! Photos by Faye Maher (Sept 2014)

Enjoying the BBQ! Photos by Faye Maher (Sept 2014)

To celebrate in style, we organised a BBQ on the terrace of the coffee shop in early September. Thank you to everyone for coming along with some sumptuous food to share and making it a very special evening to remember.

1st Year Celebration BBQ. Photo by Faye Maher

1st Year Celebration BBQ. Photo by Faye Maher

If you would like to join our community coffee shop team, do get in touch. We are particularly looking for volunteers who can help in the afternoons on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

UPPER LAKE

Peace returned to Valley Woods at the end of September! The lake contractors finally left site having completed the restoration of the main tracks and lakeside promenade used during the lake de-silt. It’s a strange but lovely feeling – with no machinery around the upper lake and only the sound of birds and running water. Check out the difference a year has made:

Panorama View of Upper Lake 2013. Photo by Jamie Morris.

Panorama View of Upper Lake 2013. Photo by Jamie Morris.

Panorama View of Upper Lake 2014. Photo by Jamie Morris.

Panorama View of Upper Lake 2014. Photo by Jamie Morris.

View of Upper Lake and Island from Eastern Bank. Photo by Philip James (Sept 2014)

View of Upper Lake and Island from Eastern Bank. Photo by Philip James (Sept 2014)

Even our canine friends are enjoying the new lakeside paths! 🙂

Photo by Big Al Tomlinson via Facebook. September 2014.

Photo by Big Al Tomlinson via Facebook. September 2014.

Did you know? The lake originally covered 1.35 hectares, but the massive embankment of the M4 motorway and A48 now cuts across its upper end. A small boathouse called “The Shanty” lay on its Western side too and at the head of the lake, there would have been a footbridge and a flight of stone-cut steps leading down to a landing place – both of which unfortunately disappeared beneath the M4 embankment.

Now disappeared beneath the M4 embankment. Photo by John Dillwyn Llewelyn (19th century)

Now disappeared beneath the M4 embankment. Photo by John Dillwyn Llewelyn (19th century)

The Shanty. Photo by John Dillwyn Llewelyn (19th century)

The Shanty. Photo by John Dillwyn Llewelyn (19th century)

Writing in 1886, A Pettigrew provides us with a description of the lake in its Victorian heyday:

“Advantage has been taken of the narrowness of the valley here to make a lake by throwing a bank across it and damming the stream. The lake is beautifully situated and its surface along the margin is covered with different kinds of Water lilies, while the steep banks on all sides are wooded down to the water’s edge. In the middle of the bank, at the lowest end of the lake, there is a strong bulwark composed of large blocks of stone, which forms the resisting power to the heavy weight of water at a point where the lake forms a cascade, which leaps boldly over a fall of 18 feet, … Both lakes are well stocked with trout which afford good sport to Mr Llewelyn and his friends from boats during the fishing season.”

After nearly 80 years of neglect and encroaching development, we are so pleased that as a local independent charity, we intervened just in time and are able to bring Penllergare back to life for everyone to enjoy! With your support over the months and years to come, we very much hope that our restoration journey will go from strength to strength! We mustn’t forget that without us and without you, our secret and magical place could have been lost forever!

ARCHIMEDEAN SCREW

Good progress has been made with our negotiations with Ofgem about the Feed in Tariff arrangements – the payment mechanism for electricity produced by the Archimedean screw hydro turbine. The turbine is still in standby mode because of the long dry spell and the low water level in the lake. For the technical minded – the turbine has generated 5553kWh to date – just a fraction of what we expect over the winter! We hope that it will generate £10,000 per year to go towards the maintenance costs of managing Valley Woods.

WOODLAND GARDENING

Our wonderful woodland volunteers continue to make a huge impact on the woods with more rhododendron being cut and treated to prevent it re-growing and large areas of disturbed ground being picked over for stones and grass seeded – even in this dry weather, you can see the new grass coming through. Our volunteer woodland ‘gardeners’ have also been busy planting in the area close to the coffee shop – we can’t wait to see what this will look like next Spring (and of course in the years and seasons to come). What would we do without them?!? We’re so lucky to have such excellent and active support from a wide range of people and communities. If you would like to join us, please do get in touch.

Volunteer Woodland Gardeners Ray and Janet. Photo by Christine Clarke (Sept 2014)

Volunteer Woodland Gardeners Ray and Janet. Photo by Christine Clarke (Sept 2014)

Christine, Janet and Janet making progress on the upper terraces. Photo by Faye Maher (Sept 2014)

Christine, Janet and Janet making progress on the upper terraces. Photo by Faye Maher (Sept 2014)

LITTER

A big thank you to everyone who picks up litter in the woods! We have come across quite a few people quietly going along and collecting litter of their own accord while out for a walk – often accompanied by mutterings as to why people spoil such a lovely place by leaving litter about! We often get asked why we don’t put more litter bins around the woods. At other sites, owners and managers are taking litter bins away as they attract litter! Also, it is very labour intensive. Having taken soundings from other places, we have to date adopted a zero waste policy – our message is simple – ‘if you want to keep Penllergare open, safe and welcoming for everyone to enjoy, please help us to look after it and take your litter home with you’!

WILDLIFE

Exciting news – a water vole has been spotted and photographed at Lower Lake proving the importance of Penllergare as a green corridor for a diverse range of wildlife. According to the Wildlife Trust, the water vole is Britain’s fastest declining wild mammal and has disappeared from many parts of the country where it was once common. It is threatened by habitat loss, but has suffered particularly from predation by the introduced American Mink. We are working with Swansea University and other experts to help respond to this brilliant finding.

Water Vole at Penllergare. Photo by Official Carmarthenshire Wildlife Watch via Facebook. Sept 2014.

Water Vole at Penllergare. Photo by Official Carmarthenshire Wildlife Watch via Facebook. Sept 2014.

Lower Lake at Dawn by Carey Beor. September 2014.

Lower Lake at Dawn by Carey Beor. September 2014.

As the trees relax after a busy summer and turn the valley into splashes of reds, yellows, oranges, browns and greens, we have started to witness the emergence of  nature’s army of recyclers – the mushrooms. October is the best time for a fungi foray! Look out for them along the damp woodland floor or on dead wood. You can even download family fungi activities here: http://www.naturedetectives.org.uk/download/fungi.htm

Shaggy Ink Cap - Photo by Brian Meredith (Sept 2014)

Shaggy Ink Cap – Photo by Brian Meredith (Sept 2014)

FUNDRAISING

Bright sunshine, a warm breeze and the thought of a bargain brought many people to the Car Boot Sale at the Penllergare car park in early September.  There was an eclectic mix of goods on offer and trade was brisk. The event was organised entirely by volunteers and a huge thanks goes to them for all their preparation and hard work resulting in just over £1,000 (with Gift Aid) going towards the future maintenance of Valley Woods. Well done and thank you to all who came along to support us!

Car Boot Sale 2014 - Photo by Christine Clarke

Car Boot Sale 2014 – Photo by Christine Clarke

The local Moto Area Manager visited us to present their cheque for £1000 from their community grant fund this month. Volunteer Managing Director, Paul Baker received the generous grant which is to be spent on upgrading paths and steps. We are Moto’s local charity of the year for 2014. If you know of any other local companies who might like to ‘adopt’ us in this way, then please get in touch.

Paul Baker and local area Moto General Manager (Sept 2014)

Paul Baker and local area Moto General Manager (Sept 2014)

EVENTS

Forest Schools Swansea and Neath and Port Talbot are back in the woods again after a short summer break. The Forest Schools philosophy is “to encourage and inspire individuals of any age through an innovative, long term, educational approach to outdoor play and learning in a woodland environment”. The local group is particularly go ahead and have been working with us in Valley Woods for a couple of years. They have two sites, one at either end of the woods, and bring school children and young people into the woods for outdoor play and learning. They also hire our Woodland Centre for training courses for future Forest Schools leaders.

Forest School in action. Photo by Philip James.

Forest School in action. Photo by Philip James.

A small group of our woodland volunteers visited the 10th anniversary open day of Blaen Bran Community Woodland in Cwmbran in September with the aim of finding out more about the methods in which other community woodlands are sustainable.They had a great time discovering more about their wide range of woodland products and being envious about their well-equipped woodland work yard.  In late October, we will be hosting a regional network event for community woodlands in Wales organised by Llais y Goedwig which will give us other opportunities to share knowledge with like-minded organisations.

What’s more, we have been running lots of walks and talks this month as part of the Love your Countryside Festival, the Open Doors weekend and of course in response to your numerous enquiries and hunger for information.

Restoration Walk with David Connick (Sept 2014 - Photo by Christine Clarke

Restoration Walk with David Connick (Sept 2014) – Photo by Christine Clarke

The third of our annual “Introducing Penllergare” guided walks will take place on Saturday 18th October at 2.15pm and the last of this year’s evening Restoration Walks will take place on Wednesday 29th October at 4pm (not 6pm as usual because of the change in daylight hours). The former focuses on the Penllergare story: the history, wildlife and restoration of the estate, while the latter concentrates on the restoration project currently ongoing in the northern end of the valley. For both walks, meet at the Penllergare car park and don’t forget sturdy footwear. Dogs are more than welcome provided they are kept on a lead.

You’ll also find us at the Blaenymaes Xstream Market Day on Friday 10th October. If you’re coming along, do pop over for a chat! 🙂

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This month we will love you and leave you with a fantastic video of a visitor’s journey through Penllergare. A big thank you to James Dewitt for creating this and sharing it with us all.

We hope to see you soon! Thanks a million for your support!

Restoration Update: August 2014

After over 100 years of neglect, 14 years of planning and 2 years of hard graft and physical work by our staff, volunteers and contractors, we’re pleased to announce that the Upper Lake has finally been completed! It really is a sight to be seen. Look at those reflections!

Upper Lake (Sept 2014) - Photo by Faye Maher

Upper Lake (Sept 2014) – Photo by Faye Maher

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Restoration Update: July 2014

We’ve been getting quite a bit of publicity about the restoration of the Upper Lake this month and everyone is so excited to see the work progressing at a rapid pace. The contractors are working 12 hours a day, seven days a week and only stop to refuel the machines and for occasional repairs (and food of course!). We’re pleased to see so many visitors coming to see them at work too as they painstakingly dig the silt out and cart it down the valley to be spread on the old parkland area.  Crossed fingers the rain will keep away in August so that we can finish ahead of time.

Upper Lake from East Bank. Photo by David Jeffrey (July 2014)

Upper Lake from East Bank. Photo by David Jeffrey (July 2014)

 

Isn’t it strange to see the waterfall with no water flowing over it? Seeing it so exposed makes us appreciate the vision of John Dillwyn Llewelyn and the quality of Victorian engineering. There were no JCBs or dumper trucks to move and position these massive boulders of sandstone to create this man-made dam in the 19th century.

 

Dry Waterfall. Photo by Christine Clarke (July 2014)

Dry Waterfall. Photo by Christine Clarke (July 2014)

Top of the Waterfall. Photo by John Dillwyn Llewelyn (19th century)

Top of the Waterfall. Photo by John Dillwyn Llewelyn (19th century)

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Restoration Update: June 2014

It has felt like the ‘calm before the storm’ this week. Contractors have returned to site in the last few days to set up their equipment and facilities in readiness for the final stage of de-silting the lake. We have now agreed the most suitable approach to be installation of pumps at the head of the upper lake. The water will be pumped in pipes to below the waterfall to allow the remaining silt to be worked in a semi dry condition. This will speed up the operation and should result in easier carting of the material to the silt site. Subject to the weather, this work should take about 8 weeks to complete, once they get started. The waterfall will also run dry during this period as the water is pumped around it – allowing us to view and inspect the structure.

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What are we doing at the Upper Lake 2014

We’re completing the work started last year to dig out the silt and spread it on the old park area down the valley. We’re also finishing off the earthworks around the turbine site. The lakeside track is closed while dump trucks are carrying silt away. The waterfall will stop flowing when the lake is drained down and the river pumped around the lake. Depending on the weather, this work is due to be completed by the end of September. We regret any inconvenience caused. We hope that you will take the opportunity to explore other paths and tracks available – there are nearly 7 miles of paths and tracks altogether.

What's going on01

Why are we doing this?
The lake is being reinstated to its historic form and to prevent total reversion to marshland and woodland, as part of the first stage to restore the historic landscape design:

Penllergare Valley Woods is notable as a partial survival of a very important picturesque and Romantic landscape of the mid-nineteenth century created by John Dillwyn Llewelyn, a nationally important figure in horticulture. Despite the neglect of recent decades, the well watered and wooded landscape still retains the original designed qualities of magnificence, surprise, beauty and seclusion. (Conservation Management Plan, 2008)

The upper lake, or fish pond as it was described in some old maps, was made by damming the river Llan in the 1840s. The dam, made of stone quarried in the valley, was carefully designed to mimic the natural rock strata. The falls have three channels over which the river falls in picturesque and sometimes spectacular style. The falls are one of the striking historic features of the estate.

By 1936, the lake had almost completely silted up and disappeared and was shown on maps as marshland. A partial restoration was carried out in the 1980s, but we believe that this is the first time that a full scale restoration has been attempted.

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