Last Tuesday, the 17th April, was the launch date for the Clwydian Range Food Trail. Have a look at the rather fabulous website to see what it’s all about. But not now. At the end. I’m the Chairman of the committee that has put all this together and therefore was the obvious one to do the intros and stuff on the day.  About 60 notables, press people, food producers, tourism types and AONB people were invited and most of them turned up. The keynote speaker was AM Alun Davies, the Minister whose portfolio includes Food. We also had Henry Dixon, the High Sheriff of Clwyd.

My job was to explain what the trail is all about, introduce the speakers and the members of the Trail, thank all those that needed thanking and generally do the PR bit. And it all seemed to go very well. Very well indeed. After the speeches and the photographs and chatting with the High Sheriff and the Minister it was time to try out the food that this trail is all about. All the food for the lunch had been produced in the Vale of Clwyd and the AONB.  Lovely.

And it didn’t rain while we were outside eating and chatting.  We held the launch at the Loggerheads Country Park, just outside Mold on the road to Ruthin. A great day and the beginning of a great project. Now go and have a look at the website at www.foodtrail.co.uk

“You and Yours” on Radio 4 has just been talking about the Lake District and the Olympics. It seems that bookings for hotels and B&Bs are down during the Olympic fortnight. The reason? Japanese tourists are not coming this year. It’s one of those knock-on effects that people wouldn’t expect to happen but make sense later down the line.

The problem goes something like this; Japanese tourists flock to the Lakes to see where Peter Rabbit grew up (I kid you not). They also like to have a look around London while they’re over here. But hotels in London are charging, wait for it and sit down before reading this, up to £2000 per room per night during the fortnight. Even ordinary chain hotels are charging 800 of our lovley British quids. So Japanese tourists are staying away, as are others. Result? Bookings are down. And not only in the Lake District.

Here at plas Efenechtyd Cottage B&B we are quietly getting on with taking bookings. April is looking good and bookings are coming in for other months but August is so far very quiet. Is this because of “The Olympic Effect”? We’ll see.

Meanwhile, what is happening in Efenechtyd to celebrate the Olympic Games? There was talk (alcohol fuelled? Maybe) of holding a mini games here. As there are only 30 or 40 people in the village, there will have to be a limit on the number of events. At least half of us are chronologically challenged so there may be a need to create new, gentle and safe events so that the NHS isn’t too stretched. How about darts? Or competitive bird watching?

Efenechtyd Olympic Village 1952




11 out of 20

Dalemain Marmalade Awards 2012. The results are in. And the winning marmalade is ….. not mine. But I did score 11 marks out of 20 which, to my mind, ain’t bad at all. Considering my entry was a jar of what was sitting around and not specially prepared for the contest (because I got the date of the competition wrong) it’s not too bad a result. Only 1 mark off being commended!

I entered my Welsh whiskey marmalade. The letter that came back telling me I hadn’t won was accompanied by an Artisan’s Tasting Sheet. This gives comments on 4 areas: appearance, aroma, taste and texture (which had the most marks). I only scored 2 out of a possible 6 for texture which is what let me down. So next time I know what to do: a special recipe, each orange carefully crafted and sliced and lovingly cooked. And more whiskey.

18 out of 20. The score for my first proper ride of the year. Last week saw some great weather so out came the Tiger for a quick spin. Down to Corwen on the A494 then along the A5 to Llangollen before heading back to Ruthin via the Horseshoe Pass and the Nant y Garth. Lovely weather, brilliant scenery. But I was riding like a ruptured duck. I know that if you haven’t been riding regularly your skill levels drop and you tend to thruppenny bit every corner but this was way beyond that. Coming down the Nant y Garth Pass, a two and a half mile tree lined Cresta Run of a road, the thing would not turn. Change direction and it would run wide. It’s a tall old bus at the best of times but usually flip flops without too much effort or drama. Back home and I checked the tyre pressures. The front was down to about half what it should be. Lesson? Check your tyres before you go out not when you’re heading for the heather.


Welsh Twitter

It has occurred to me that Welsh speakers are being short changed by Twitter. A Tweet, as I understand it, is limited to 140 characters. So that’s all the 26 letters of the English alphabet and punctuation marks. And spaces. And this where Welsh loses out. You see, in Welsh there are letters that are made up of 2 characters.  So we have LL, RH and DD that count as one letter. There’s also FF, NG, CH, PH and TH. So there are 28 letters altogether.

But if you count the keystrokes needed from a computer keyboard when writing a 140 character Tweet, a simple Welsh word will cause problems. Llangollen uses up 2 extra keystrokes. And ‘ddylech chi ddim’  (you shouldn’t) costs 4 extra characters.

But then there are words without any vowels in them. So I suppose it all works the same out in the end.

St David’s Day

Happy St David’s day!  And what a glorious day it is, warm(ish) with golden sunshine this morning.  An ideal day for a quick spin on The Bike. Probably a trip to Wrexham to collect some bathroom shelves. Exciting.  Sort of.

What was more exciting was seeing Elvis live in Pwllglas. And George Formby. And lamb hotpot. All in aid of the Pwllglas Community Shop which should be opening later this year and may, fingers crossed, be selling my marmalade and jams alongside other local produce. It’s all part of the movement to get people to buy locally produced food to support local jobs and reduce food miles. Elvis was, shall we say, different and put his heart and soul into it. And the hotpot was lovely.

Plans for the Food Trail are coming along. We’re having a Familiarisation Coach trip soon. Lots of B&B and hotel owners have been invited along with movers and shakers in the tourism amd food sectors.  We’ll visit food producers along the trail so people can get an idea of what’s on offer.

Apropos nothing: my1956 Sunbeam S8 at the Horseshoe Pass last summer

I’ve been on a similar trip before, looking at alternative tourist sites in Denbighshire. One day I may list all the sites and give razor sharp insights into them but for now, a quick story. One of the sigths we visited was Ffynon Sara, a health giving well tucked away down a tiny Welsh lane.  About 40 of us descended on this little known place taken there in a 50 seater coach. The driver decided he should carry on down the lane to find somewhere to turn round before collecting us for the trip back to Ruthin. So we had a look at the well, all very interesting. Then we waited for the coach. And we waited. And we waited. After about half an hour it arrived. It seems the driver had tried to turn round outside a farm but had managed to get stuck.  Very stuck. Front end jammed against one bank of the lane and the back end halfway up the other. A lot of shuffling, help from a passing Copper and some choice invective and he eventually got it turned round.  But not without ripping the side off the bus. You should have been there. It was quite amusing.

But our Familiarisation Coach trip will have no such problems. And neither will the Official Launch. The date has been brought forward to 17th April and I’ll keep you all updated on what’s happening as we get nearer the day.

And Davy jones has died.  My namesake. He was 66 which makes me feel very old.

You know how you think you shouldn’t mention something out loud in case it comes true?  Well, it’s completely illogical to think like that.  How could my mentioning the fact that we hadn’t had any snow this winter have led to it snowing? Pure coincidence. And yet….

It snowed last weekend.  Not a lot but enough to cover the ground and make everywhere look gorgeous.  Of course, it had all gone by late afternoon but it was nice while it lasted. Ah! Just thought of a problem. By mentioning that it had snowed and suggesting it was nice, will that bring on yet more snow of the not-so-nice variety? The ‘wrong’ snow?

Clwydian Range 2012 - what next?

And would mentioning the fact that I never have a big win on the Premium Bonds mean that I will have a big win next time?  There. I’ve mentioned it.  Big win guaranteed.

And so to ghost stories. Today’s issue of The Denbighshire Free Press reports that ghosts have been spotted in an old coaching inn in Llangollen, just down the road from us.  “Orbs” have been sighted floating freely about the place.  One room is always “exceptionally cold”.  Spirit Quest UK (paranormal ‘experts’) say they have video evidence of ghostly doings.  Now, call me sceptical but, if this were indeed true, it would change the whole of the human race’s view of itself. For ever. There would be no doubting ghostly sightings and the paranormal would become normal. And it all kicked off in Llangollen. Which will become world famous leading to the world’s press descending on North East Wales and demanding accommodation (at hugely inflated prices). Not all bad, then. Keep up the good work, you paranormal experts. We need the business.

It seemed like a good idea when we started, four years ago.  I grew up in Wales and moved away when I was 18 but always promised myself that when I came back I’d learn Welsh.  So 4 years ago we signed up for Welsh lessons and have been going every week (during term time) since then.  And how fluent are you after all this effort, Dave?  Tipyn bach.  A little bit.

I lived in Cambodia for 2 years from 2002 to 2oo4.  Now, the language there is Khmer, like the Khmer Rouge.  It’s a simple language with few rules of grammar, no tenses and a relatively small vocabulary.  But the script, the way it is written is impossible to learn.  Pronunciation is not really that difficult for the level of conversation I’d likely be involved in.  “How much is that shirt?  That’s too much.  Maybe 3 dollars.”  At that level I was OK and probably can still buy an over priced shirt at the market.  Outside of the confines of buying stuff, I was like a typical Brit abroad, relying on loud repetition and pointing.  But I got by.

Unlike in Welsh.  Welsh is everything that Khmer isn’t.  A very complex grammar, difficult pronunciation and a very extensive vocabulary.  And after 4 years I couldn’t buy a shirt to save my life.  A coffee, a cake and a computer but not a shirt.  An example.  There are, as far as I can make out, 4 words for the number 2.  There may be more but my brain would melt if I were introduced to more.  A masculine one and a feminine one (like in French) and then, and get this,  2 mutated ones.  You see, in Welsh the first letter of some words changes depending on where it is in the sentence.  So dau becomes ddau but both of them mean two.  

Ruthin - where Welsh is spoken. You can see my house from here.

And there’s more.  Welsh has borrowed some words from English (which itself borrows loads of words from everywhere else).  But they are spelt in a Welsh way.  And Welsh borrows English words to make new words, mainly for things which are very modern so there is no Welsh equivalent.  Like ‘le camping’ and ‘Stop’ in french.  My favourite is the Welsh for microwave.  ‘Popty’ is an oven or a bakery so microwave becomes ‘popty ping’.  Lovely.

And dress shops.  Continuing the’ eating in interesting places’ theme:  try Llanrhaeadr on the road between Ruthin and Denbigh.  There’s a small tea room/cafe there in an old lodge.  There’s also an ‘international fashion for ladies’ shop thingy.  The good news is you don’t have to look at ladies frocks but can go straight for a bite to eat.  And very good it is too. And excellent value.  With stunning views of the Clwydian Range.  Can’t wait to turn up in full leathers.

Food for thought

“Food for thought” is the rather clever name for a restaurant in the rather wonderful St Deiniol’s Library.  And why is this important?  Because it serves really tasty food at unbelievably low prices.  How about £5.95 for hand cooked, freshly prepared Sunday roast and veg?  Or £3.45 for hand made apple pie and custard?  And all eaten in Gladstone’s Library?  We were there on Sunday and we sat next to a Bishop and several other clergy, all there on a course.

St Deiniol’s Library is a lovely old building in Hawarden, North Wales (where Michael Owen comes from.  This is my only piece of football knowledge).  It’s also the only library in Britain where you can get bed and breakfast.  It’s one of those places where people like me feel it’s a privilege to be allowed in.  Just standing in the library part of this lovely old building makes you clever.  Fact.  Three days standing perfectly still equals one extra IQ point.  Slow but better than fish oil.

St Deiniol's Library (and B&B)

All of which leads me to an interesting idea:  odd places to eat.  I’ve already mentioned the Pet Cemetery near Holywell.  And very nice it is, too.  There’s a restaurant in Ruthin Castle and a lovely cafe in the Craft Centre in Ruthin.

There’s also a Crypt in Chester but as it’s part of Debenhams it doesn’t really count.   So where is the wierdest place in Britain to eat?  Or most unusual?  And I don’t mean down a mine or on top of a mountain but a real, open to the public cafe or restaurant.

What do you think?

Which one for the Awards?

It’s February.  It’s minus 4C outside.  North East Wales may be the warmest and driest place in Europe at the moment but it still isn’t biking weather.  But it will be sometime soon and so thoughts turn to motorcycles, the Welsh Rally and the new Triumph range.  Don’t panic, there will be talk of food after a short musings on bikes.

While Heathrow turns away flights and the M25 grinds to a halt, here in Efenechtyd we’ve been enjoying gloriously dry, sunny, cold days.  Not a flake of snow.  So dry that we’ve not really seen hard frosts so it looks warmer than it is.  It’s only when you go outside that you realise how ‘challenging’ it is.   Last winter (and the one before) was hard.  Lots of snow that stayed for weeks and meant getting out of our house was a real trial.  We had lots of discussions about buying a 4×4 ready for the next onslaught.  Instead we got a SEAT Altea which is lovely but probably rubbish in the snow.

So that just leaves the problem of The Bike.  The Bike is a Triumph Tiger 955i that I’ve had for a few years.  It’s rather good at the type of riding I mostly do.  Exploring minor roads around Wales and the occasional longer trip.  It’s not that fast (a good thing), very tall (not a good thing) and weighs a ton (definitely not a good thing).  But it has a great ‘presence’ and is very comfy.  But I’m getting older and therefore weaker and find manhandling it in and out of the garage more and more difficult.  So thoughts turn to a replacement.

I’m a bit stuck in that I only really like Triumphs.  The Honda CB1300S looks gorgeous but defeats the object of getting a lighter bike.  BMWs are OK but a bit staid (I know the sporty ones aren’t but ….) and Harleys are out.  As are Ducatis (can’t afford the servicing costs).  Price rules out most Japanese big bikes.  Besides which I ‘d rather support workers in Hinckley.  So a Triumph it will probably be.  And here we come to the real problem.  What is going on?  Modern bikes look awful1 Modern design is called ‘edgy’.  All straight lines, triangles and corners.  Over designed. I like bikes to be curvy and ‘of a piece’.  If Apple can turn out beautiful, desirable, must have designs one after another where ‘updating’ always looks better than the one that went before, why can’t bike designers?

So what to do?  The Tiger 1050 looks great and rides really well but has the problems of my old one (heavy and tall).  Bonnies are too slow and hard work over distance. The Sprint is too heavy.  I tried a Street Triple but it was too focussed for me.  So that really leaves the Tiger 800.  But it looks like it isn’t finished!  Where’s all the bodywork gone?  It’s lovely to ride but keeping it clean must be a nightmare.  And so we have A Dilemma.  But also an opportunity to test ride loads of bikes, or as many as time will allow.

Time.  That’s the enemy.  Summer riding time is limited as that’s when we’re busy with the B&B.  But winter is more relaxed and leaves time for making marmalade.  And this year I’m going to enter my marmalade in the Dalemain Marmalade Awards, a prestigious competition that brings world class fame and untold riches.  Or maybe a certificate.  There is a category specifically for marmalades made and served in B&Bs and I think I may enter the ‘medium cut Seville’ category but I’m toying with the idea of a separate entry in the ‘marmalade with interesting additions’ one.  Using Penderyn Welsh Whiskey.  Oh, the pressure.