Blog

Five did-you-knows about Denbighshire!


 

The old county of Denbighshire, from its industrial and mining villages in the east to its stunning landscape to the west, is full of surprises - and many are uncovered in Geoffrey Davies’ latest book! The sixth in his ‘Villages’ series, Denbighshire Villages is a treasure chest of fascinating characters and legends waiting to spill out. To celebrate its launch, here are five favourite Denbighshire facts to spark your imagination:

 


1. Fans of the television series Cadfael, starring Derek Jacobi and based on the novels by Ellis Peters, might want to visit the pretty little village of Gwytherin, five miles east of Llanrwst. It was the setting for A Morbid Taste for Bones, the first in The Cadfael Chronicles series and based on a true story!

2. David Beckham is possibly Llanrhaeadr ym Mochnant’s most famous visitor to date, having popped in - landing in a helicopter - earlier this month. He visited the waterfall of Pistyll Rhaeadr, labelling it as ‘ridiculously beautiful’, and we have to agree! At 240ft it’s one of the highest single-drop waterfalls in Britain and heralded as one of the seven wonders of Wales. Llanrhaeadr was historically in the old county of Denbighshire, although boundary changes now place it in Powys.



3. On the road a mile south of Llansilin, near Oswestry, is a small hill that was once the home of Welsh rebel ruler Owain Glyndŵr. Sycharth Castle was a fine moated mansion with tiled and chimneyed roofs, a deer park, heronry, fishpond and mill - but, today, there’s not even a sign highlighting its location.

4. Kimnel Park, in the parish of Llansaint Sior, near Abergele, is the largest surviving country house in Wales. In 1919, the grounds were home to 15,000 Canadian troops waiting to return home. When news broke that another division was to be given priority, a riot broke out on March 4-5, resulting in the deaths of three Canadian rioters and two guards.

 5. Plas yn Iâl outside the little village of Bryneglwys, five miles north-west of Llangollen, was the home of Elihu Yale, the Governor of Fort St George, Madras, in the late 17th century. He amassed a fortune largely through unofficial deals with Indian merchants and in 1718 sent 417 books, a portrait of King George and goods to the value of £800 to help with the building of the Collegiate School of Connecticut - now known worldwide as Yale College after being renamed in recognition of its benefactor. Yale was buried at St Giles’ Churchyard, Wrexham, and a replica of the church tower was built on Yale campus!


 Born and educated in Glamorgan, Geoffrey Davies returned to Wales on his retirement and became intrigued by the country’s wealth of half-forgotten history and sheer beauty. Other books in his series include Pembrokeshire Villages and West Glamorgan Villages.
 


Created On  26 Sep 2017 15:42  -  Permalink
0 Comments  

Holiday tips from our friend in the north!

Holiday tips from our friend in the north!

"Who is for a holiday between the Tyne and the Tweed? I am for one…” So begins Walter White’s fascinating Northumberland and the Border, published in 1859. Sigma author Mark Lejk, who would love to have met this Victorian enthusiast and accompanied him on his journey, starts a new series of guest blogs by asking whether Northumberland is still a good place for a holiday - and decides that the answer is, undoubtedly, yes!

Well I would say that, wouldn’t I? Having written two walking books about the county, I’m besotted with the place. Instead of driving through it on your way to or from Scotland, as many do, take some time to visit. You won’t regret it!

In this first blog, I shall write about the Northumberland coast. The area between the Coquet Estuary and Berwick-upon-Tweed is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. You can walk its full 64-mile length along the Northumberland Coast Path while, for cyclists, the Coast and Castles Route (NCN Route 1) links Newcastle and Edinburgh, with 85 miles following the Northumberland coastline. Along the way you’ll pass stretching, sandy beaches, quiet coves, ancient castles, pleasant villages and friendly people.

The beaches are surprisingly quiet. Druridge, Embleton and Beadnell Bays have miles (yes, miles!) of unbroken sand, while my favourite is the wonderfully named Sugar Sands, something of a local secret and the perfect spot for a family picnic.   Along this spectacular coastline are some equally eye-catching castles, Dunstanburgh, Bamburgh and Holy Island acting as historic beacons and all of them open to the public.

The Holy Island of Lindisfarne is the jewel in the crown. Connected to the mainland by a causeway which floods at high tide, it was the cradle of Christianity in Anglo-Saxon times and has a fascinating history. The beautiful priory and the quirky castle are the main attractions but there is a lot more, such as the fine beaches on the island’s quiet north side, where grey seals can often be found basking on the rocks.



  
 Take a boat trip from Seahouses to the Farne Islands, where you’ll find all sorts of seabirds including puffins, guillemots, shags and eider ducks, as well as a large colony of grey seals. You can also find out about Grace Darling, the Victorian daughter of the lighthouse keeper who was involved in a dramatic shipwreck rescue and became a heroine overnight. An interesting museum dedicated to her life can be visited in Bamburgh village.
  
 

As for the weather – yes, it can be a few degrees cooler than the south of the country! But this can often be a relief in the summer, especially for walkers, and the coast is also one of the driest parts of the UK. In fact, it’s often remarkably sunny and clear, even in the winter – just take a look at the photo of Dunstanburgh Castle on the front cover of my first book, which was taken on a January day!

So have I convinced you? Please come and visit; you’ll be very welcome!

Retired University lecturer Mark is the author of Discover Northumberland: Volume 1 and Volume 2, and is currently working on Volume 3. He moved to Whitley Bay 35 years ago and thinks of the north east as his spiritual home. 
  


Created On  3 Aug 2017 15:56  -  Permalink
0 Comments  

Approach altitude with attitude!



It’s tempting to avoid riding up hills but, with July bringing the opportunity to see the world’s greatest cyclists in uphill action on the Tour de France, it’s time to go climbing, says Sigma author and guest blogger Dave Hancock.

 

July is a month of mixed emotions. We marvel at the pedalling ability and stamina of Froome, Quintana, Contador, Porte et al. And we empathise with the domestiques as they grind to an exhausted standstill on the last climb after working for their team leaders all day. Most cyclists who have ever tackled a road marked by the Ordnance Survey® with one or two black arrows will know the feeling of battling against gravity. It’s tempting to stick to flat terrain but to do so may mean missing out on far-reaching views. And, of course, the thrill of freewheeling downhill!

Gradients

 

Stage 17 of this year’s Tour includes the highest pass of the race, the Galibier, one of the toughest climbs professional cyclists ever face. Topping out at 2,642 metres, the 17.7-kilometre climb has an average gradient of 6.9%, increasing to more than 9% towards the summit. On Ordnance Survey maps, two black arrows mean a gradient steeper than 20%, or one in five. On the Continent, gradients are expressed as a percentage by making y equal 100. There are steeper climbs in the UK but they are nothing like as long as on the Tour. Cragg Vale in Yorkshire is the longest continuous ascent at 8.5km but has an average gradient of just 3%. Constitution Hill in Swansea has an average gradient of 20% and a maximum of 22% but is just 0.3km.




Nearly there! Fortunately, this road over the Wales/Shropshire border doesn’t go over the big hill in the distance!

 How to cycle uphill

 

Forget about ‘dancing on the pedals’ and climbing out of the saddle as the best pure (pro) climbers do. They are invariably lighter, train harder and have more suitable physiques. It’s much better to stay seated, select a low gear and pedal smoothly and consistently. If possible, you want to maintain a high cadence – keeping the pedals turning at 50 revolutions per minute or more. To do so, and depending on how steep the hill is, you may need ‘low’ gears – a chainwheel at the front with the same number or fewer teeth than the largest sprocket at the back.

Yes, it’s easier to climb on a lighter bike but before you spend a fortune on a carbon fibre machine consider how much cheaper (albeit harder) it is to lose a few pounds from your body weight. Tyres can also be a factor – wide, heavy tyres generally increase rolling resistance as do rough roads compared to smooth ones.


 
A hazy view of Church Stretton from ‘Little Switzerland’

 Walk this way

 

When the going gets tough, the tough get off! Don’t grind uphill to the point of exhaustion. It’s much better to get off and push your bike. Not only does this give your muscles and breathing an opportunity to recover but you can admire the views more easily. Even professional riders have been known to walk, most famously on the Tirreno-Adriatico road race in Italy in 2013 (mind you, this was towards the end of a 200km stage, on a gradient of 30% and following heavy rain that made the surface slippery!).

 
Chris Froome and Tour de France cyclists
 Downhill (almost) all the way

 

After pausing to enjoy the views at the summit, you can let gravity take over. Freewheeling downhill soon dispels the discomfort suffered getting to the top and will set you up nicely for the next hill! For a circular ride in Shropshire with some long climbs to enjoy(!), I suggest Ride 13: A tour of Church Stretton area – ‘Little Switzerland’ in my book More Cycle Rides in Shropshire. It’s just under 19 miles (30km) and includes many glorious views – some of which I saw at a walking pace as my chain broke 10 miles from the finish!

 



Dave Hancock is a keen cyclist and author of
Cycle Rides in Shropshire and More Cycle Rides in Shropshire, both available from Sigma Press.

   

Created On  6 Jul 2017 10:26  -  Permalink
0 Comments  

Act now before adventure becomes a distant memory!





What are your strongest childhood memories? Chances are, if you were born during or before the 1980s, they involve climbing trees, roaming the fields until teatime and swimming in rivers. But new research shows that today’s children are potentially missing out on adventures of this kind and are too busy playing indoors instead.

According to a survey by garden and conservatory furniture firm Alfresia.co.uk, the fondest childhood memories of more than half (56%) of British adults include exploring and socialising outside. Yet almost the same number - 58% - of modern parents say they regularly battle to get their children outdoors, suggesting that the next generation is likely to be missing similar key memories from their own childhoods.



 

 Almost a quarter say their children ‘rarely’ play outdoors during their free time, while almost seven in 10 - 69% - believe their kids spend more time playing indoors on computer games and technology than embracing nature and the outdoors. Just nine percent think their offspring would play outdoors if was raining, compared to the 19% who did so when they were young.

 The research found that:
  • Building dens was cited as a former favourite outdoor activity for 68% of those quizzed
  • 65% loved playing in the park (65%)
  • 57% enjoyed trips to the seaside
  • Games such as hide and seek, hopscotch and tag were popular with 56% of today’s parents, closely followed by ball games including rounders, tennis and football (52%)
  • Almost half - 45% - loved splashing in a paddling pool, while 41% fondly remember water fights
  • Camping trips (38%) and having barbecues (31%) also form favourite memories for adults today
  • More than a third of adults (35%) regularly pleaded with their parents for extra time outside and 44% preferred playing outside to being indoors during the summer holidays

 Alfresia’s Nic Jones said, "It’s great that such vivid and long-lasting memories can be created for children simply through outdoor play. These are recollections that we will take with us into adulthood and cherish for years to come - and a lot of them involve doing things that are free.

"However, sadly many children today seem to be missing out on these long-lasting memories that are created through enjoying outdoor experiences. For many families, the vast range of technology they have at their fingertips is a reason to stay indoors, yet there is so much to embrace through outdoor activities and play.


 
 
 
 "Simple games such as treasure hunts, feeding the ducks and splashing in puddles can bring such happiness. Of course, indoor games and technology have their benefits and can also be a great deal of fun, but there is no harm in getting wrapped up and heading off for an outdoor pursuit come rain or shine!”

 

Our trails books for children cover all corners of the UK, so switch off, get outside and start making memories with your little ones today!

 

 
 


  
  
  
  
  
  
Created On  15 Jun 2017 13:11  -  Permalink
0 Comments  

Fresh air and fitness

Fresh air and fitness keep us on our toes in National Walking Month!


  As a nation, it seems we’re more in love than ever with walking! A new survey of the over-40s shows that 70% of us think walking is more important than it was 10 years ago - and, given the interest we see in our 140+ walking books, we can’t help but agree!

 The research, carried out by walking holiday specialists Headwater to mark National Walking Month, found that three quarters of holidaymakers over 40 love to explore on foot. Seven out of 10 believe walking is more important than it was a decade ago and more than half - 56% - love the fact that walking holidays are active yet relaxing. Yet, with recent NHS findings revealing that one in four adults in England gets less than 30 minutes of exercise a week, it seems more essential than ever that more of us start to build a short walk into our daily routine.

 When asked what’s wonderful about walking:

  • 84% of respondents said the fresh air
  • 69% like the fact that walking keeps them fit
  • 54% enjoy being around nature
  • 57% cited exploring a region in their own time as their favourite part of a walking holiday
  • Nearly two-thirds (65%) of over-40s who choose a walking holiday do so because they get to enjoy the outdoors

Headwater's Alison Scott says: "Our research supports the recent NHS review of obesity, highlighting the importance of regular exercise for adults. Incorporating regular walking into your routine is easy and, as it’s not a strenuous form of exercise, it’s actually quite enjoyable! On a walking holiday you can enjoy pleasures such as fine food and wine whilst burning off some of the calories when exploring a destination on foot.

"Following the research, we’d like to attract and support those new to walking by creating a series of e-guides later in the year, covering everything from what to pack to reviews of the ideal cost-effective kit to how to take the best holiday photographs. We want to debunk the myth that walking holidays are just for the active and experienced and ensure that they are open to everyone of any age, experience or fitness level. Walking is important and we want to shout about its numerous benefits.”

 With National Walking Month well underway, we agree that walking is one of the best exercises for beginners and experienced hikers alike. As well as physical benefits such as reducing the risk of heart attack, stroke and some cancers, a short daily walk can be an excellent mental health booster, fighting anxiety and depression. A recent study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine also found that gentle exercise such as walking keeps the mind sharp in the over-50s, thought to be due to the increased supply of blood, oxygen and nutrients.

 If you’re new to walking and want to start gently, here are some suggestions for easy, accessible trails:


  Cornwall Walking on the Level

Find your feet with Norman and June Buckley’s collection of 28 mainly circular walks in one of the UK’s most popular holiday spots - perfect summer inspiration.


 Teashop Walks in Oxfordshire

Proving you don’t have to escape to remote countryside to go walking, Julie Meech’s book covers fairly level ground in the Cotswolds, the Chilterns and the Thames Valley - and has the perfect excuse to revive yourself with a nice cuppa along the way!
 
 


 
All Terrain Pushchair Walks in Snowdonia

You might have to work your way up to some of the more strenuous alpine adventures but, with a number of riverside strolls - the shortest being just three quarters of a mile long - Zoe Sayer and Rebecca Terry’s book truly has something for even the most tentative newbie.





  Lincoln Heritage Detective

You might spend more time ‘working out’ mentally than physically with Danny Walsh’s new release! This city walk requires you to turn detective and solve the cryptic clues in order to see Lincoln’s finest features in a new light - and to discover some quirky new ones!
  

 In the Spirit of Wainwright

National Walking Month is for everyone who wants to get outdoors, regardless
of health or ability. Be inspired by Debbie North and ‘sidekick’ Andy, who set off
in search of accessible adventure after Deb’s diagnosis of spinal degeneration.

 
  


Created On  18 May 2017 15:10  -  Permalink
0 Comments  

Going round in circles


Boost your cycle rides with places of interest 

Unless you're on a pedalling tour or weekend break, leisure rides will inevitably finish from where you started. Although the process of turning the pedals and enjoying the freedom and fresh air are undoubtedly sufficient reasons in themselves to be cheerful, such journeys can be made even more interesting by visiting places en route – especially if you do your research, according to Sigma author and this week’s guest blogger Dave Hancock. On group rides, a cafe or pub will often be the choice for a mid-ride break. Lone and paired cyclists can be more adventurous – a castle, viewpoint or beach, perhaps.  

A French ace

Ride 1 - Oswestry old mills and bridges - in my book More Cycles Rides in Shropshire is a 20-mile route to the east of Oswestry which takes in the old perimeter road of Rednal airfield. A former RAF base, the airfield is on a large plateau. The Discovering Shropshire's History website has considerable information about the site of the former RAF Rednal, including that it was an Operational Training Unit from April 1942. Spitfires and Miles Master aircraft were used at Rednal and, sadly, there were many accidents, with pilots killed. According to the website, the French fighter ace, Pierre "Clo Clo" Clostermann, trained at Rednal. He went on to claim 33 "kills" (a number that has often been refuted) and died in 2006 at the age of 85.

Records breaker

Decommissioned in 1945 and then sold in 1962, Rednal airfield now hosts a variety of different activities. There are many industrial units and workshops, some located in old hangars. Unusual activities to have taken place there include the testing of airships (global balloonist Per Lindstrand has a base in nearby Oswestry) and the setting of three world records by Jason Rennie for jumping trucks on a motorbike!

These days the popular pursuits at Rednal include karting on a specially built track, paintballing based around the old WWII control tower and, in the same area, outdoor laser shooting parties. The site also hosts a large Volkswagen camper van festival each year and is used as a timed test on an historic car rally.

 

Cycle sightseeing

As well as watching the activities, it's also worth taking in the scenery as the plateau, although not high above sea level, offers good panoramic views. One drawback, depending on which direction you're pedalling in, is the strong headwind on the short section of road parallel to the main runway. At least overcoming it is a good excuse to stop for refreshments at Canal Central teashop further along this ride.


 
 

Created On  2 May 2017 14:56  -  Permalink
0 Comments