My work for the Ramblers takes me to some wonderful places, and Ramblers Cymru never disappoints. Last year the Ramblers’ Welsh Council was held in the exquisite surroundings of Stackpole in Pembrokeshire. This year, at the end of April, we went to Gregynog, north of Newtown in Powys.
Gregynog is a fascinating building set in lovely grounds, now part of the University of Wales. According to Pevsner, the earliest-known reference to the house is in the second half of the twelfth century. From the fifteenth century it was the seat of the Blayney family.
In 1795 the house passed to the Hanbury Tracy family (Lord Sudeley), and then to Lord Joicey. It was remodelled in about 1837 and the panelling from the Blayney Room survives.
After the first world war Gregynog was bought by the Davies sisters, Gwendoline and Margaret, and they made it into an artistic centre for Wales. They established the Gregynog Press which produced 42 books in limited editions between 1923 and 1940.
They acquired a collection of paintings, especially French Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, and they built a music room for festivals and concerts. The arts were very important to them, to the extent that they advertised: ‘Gardener wanted, tenor preferred.’
The grounds are lovely too, and pioneering: the earliest known use of concrete in the UK is demonstrated in the two bridges, one dating from 1880, and the fountain.
The hall had many well-known visitors through the ages, and there are photos to prove it.
Naturally, before going there, I had tried to find out what birds I might see, and was pleased to note mention of wood warblers on the nature reserve page of the website. So on the Saturday morning before Welsh Council began I was up early and out in the woods, where I was delighted to hear and see a wood warbler. I posted a recording here.
The following morning I went to the same spot with Chris Hodgson, chair of Welsh Council, and Marika Kovacs, my walking friend from Hereford, and the warbler was singing again.
On Saturday afternoon we all went on a walk led by Geoff Beilby, a Ramblers’ volunteer from Newtown.
We followed the woodland path I had taken that morning and again, despite all our chatter, the wood warbler was singing. We walked on to the bird hide which I had not had time to visit earlier.
It is an idyllic spot, at the top of a slope, so you look into the canopy.
On the Sunday morning (after our early walk to the wood) we went on another walk led by Geoff, stopping frequently so that Marika could tell us what birds we were hearing. On the way we passed the hand sculpture by Francis Hewlett.
I’m pleased to say that once again we heard willow warblers.
It is worrying that the University of Wales is divesting itself of Gregynog. A trust has been formed to take on the property so that the education, music and arts can continue. It is an enormous project—we were told that the electricity bills alone come to £3,500 a month. A property of this nature needs a vast amount of maintenance.
Best of luck to them, it is a fabulous, unique place and deserves to thrive.