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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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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!
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.
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.
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:
Even our canine friends are enjoying the new lakeside paths! 🙂
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.
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!
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.
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.
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’!
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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! 🙂
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Autumn is always a beautiful season in Penllergare Valley Woods. This year, the wet weather resulted in muted colours as the leaves on the trees turned, but there have been some stunning yellows and golds as November progressed. The muddy tracks and paths and heavy vehicle movements of October were replaced by drier conditions underfoot with a carpet of colourful leaves and needles everywhere – the woods really are a magical place at this time of the year. It’s lovely to see so many people enjoying the wet, muddy and wild conditions in Penllergare Valley Woods. It’s a great place to get outdoors, in all weather for all ages, and to follow the development of the restoration project!
You will all know that it was planned to complete the lake desilting by the end of October and to restore the silt deposit area in the middle park next summer. The end of October target was to coincide with the start of the salmon and trout migration season, when all works in rivers is suspended across the country to allow these wonderful and increasingly threatened fish to come up our rivers and streams to lay their eggs in the gravel beds, and for the eggs to hatch. The river works embargo runs from Mid October (normally) to mid April each year (for more information about this, please see – http://www.wildtrout.org/content/trout-facts)
Here’s the first in a series of blogs about the historic features of Penllergare Valley Woods. This week we’re focusing on the Upper Lake (also known as the Fish Pond) and the waterfall – both of which are incorporated in the current restoration project. Here goes…
On the west bank of Upper Lake, there used to be a little boathouse (the Shanty) made from old timbers with the front supported by an old tree. In the summer this was decorated with roses growing all over the roof and when photographed was called Fairy Land. It was photographed many times in the 1850s and is shown on a painting by his daughter, Emma Charlotte. The Upper Lake (which John Dillwyn Llewelyn called the Fishpond) was probably John Dillwyn Llewelyn’s favourite location and mirrored the rugged picturesqueness of the steeply sloping valley and diversity of planting on both sides. At one end, damming the river, John designed a waterfall of rough quarried stone that, today, has become the focal point of Penllergare. See further photos: Fairyland, Shanty and Wigwam (from 2008 Conservation Management Plan) (more…)