GoNW 2022: five highlights

We’ve just enjoyed the best part of a week in north and mid Wales. I wouldn’t want to overdo it but it was a reasonably emotional trip for me because I grew up in Wales and visiting places I remember from those days, seeing the Welsh signs and place names and hearing the language spoken brought back memories. It’s made me resolve to return!

However emotions notwithstanding it was a holiday with highlights, experiences which were a surprise or over and above what would be expected. Here’s my list of five (and a bonus sixth).

Views of the beaches at Portmerion: one of the reasons I booked us onto this particular tour was the opportunity to visit Portmerion, the fantasy Italian village developed by Clough Williams-Ellis. To be fair there’s not much depth to it, once you’ve seen it you’ve seen it!

But it is in a beautiful location with a small peninsula between Afon Dwyryd and Afon Gaslyn which come together before exiting to Cardigan Bay. Sandy beaches are the norm in this part of Wales, I remember Black Rock Sands as a child, and the views from the peninsula are typical. I guess the town in the distance is Borth y Gest.

Chris Pilkinton at Plas Cadnant: it was a gardens tour and we visited our fair share of gardens and no two were the same. At the end of day two we visited Plas Cadnant on Anglesey which has been rescued in recent years.

The current head gardener at Plas Cadnant is Chris Pilkinton and he impressed with his enthusiasm and knowledge and his ability to engage with us. As we walked through the lower garden it was impressive to witness his exchange with our tour guide. I remarked at the time that it was as impressive as what happens on Gardeners’ World between Monty Don and his fellow experts.

Crab sandwiches at Tŷ Newydd: there comes a time when you want an escape from gardens and National Trust catering and so it was on day three. We were in Aberdaran and took lunch on the deck overlooking the sea at the excellent Gwesty Tŷ Newydd.

We’d been talking about crab sandwiches for most of the morning so it was obvious what we should order. It’s a simple dish, all it needs is fresh bread and dressed crab. Perfect. I washed mine down with half a pint of Brother Houdini, a light ale from Cwrw Llyn.

Emlyn Jones at Plas yn Rhiw: I guess the National Trust is famous for its volunteers, people who work for nothing, make sure visitors don’t misbehave and, just sometimes, provide extra insight into the property they’re attending. Not many do the latter very well, that’s not a criticism it’s not easy, but their are exceptions and Emlyn Jones at Plas yn Rhiw is one such.

Emlyn told us he’d visited as a twelve-year old and met the Keating family who’d lived there then. The mother and three redoubtable daughters did an amazing job to develop the property and to then hand it on to the National Trust.

Montgomery: on day five we ended up in mid Wales which is not a long drive home but I decided to stay another night and we booked in to the Maesmawr hotel in Caersws. That in itself almost deserves a mention but more importantly it gave us the opportunity to visit Montgomery the next day. It’s barely a town but it was once the county town of Montgomeryshire and has a fine castle giving splendid views over the Marches.

Montgomery itself seems to be a town at ease with itself. There’s a hotel, a fine restaurant, a couple of coffee shops and an old fashioned ironmonger which sells everything. And because it’s to some extent isolated with no major roads coming in or going out it really is rather nice.

The bonus is The Haughmond but it’s in England so doesn’t really count.

Lunch at the Haughmond: we drove to Wales on day zero and I planned lunch just off the A5 near Shrewsbury. The restaurant I knew did not respond so I took pot luck and chose the Haughmond at Upper Magna.

Sometimes you get lucky and so I did. The Haughmond sports a MasterChef semi finalist and we eat superb food. The asparagus with poached egg and charcoal hollandaise was a bit of an optical challenge but was to prove the best meal of my holiday!

Photo of the Month: May 2022

Lots of choice this month with a week in Sorrento and then better weather at home. This one’s a shot of the Italian equivalent of our National Trust volunteers, the people who site patiently just to make sure that visitors to their properties behave themselves. This is one such volunteer at the Villa San Marco.

The photo was taken with my Sony a7 111 DSLR, 1/400th at f9.0 and ISO100 and 83mm of Zoom. There has been minimal post-processing.

Imperial nonsense

Enough’s already been written about the lunacy of Johnson’s ‘consultation’ regarding the use of imperial measurements. There’s a good overview in the Guardian (click here).

What the review will find is that people prefer to use what’s convenient and easy and with generations now having grown up with the metric units of litres, grams and metres there will be little mood for change.

There are exceptions of course and they’re in daily practice in the UK. We buy draught beer in pints and we measure distances on roads in miles. And although heights as recorded by the NHS et al are measured in centimetres I can’t stop thinking in feet and inches. Sadly which ever unit is used I still seem to be shrinking.

There are other exceptions and these are more international and useful questions in Trivial Pursuit. Bicycle wheels are measured in inches and skis in centimetres wherever you are. And there’s the urban myth of carpets which are measured in centimetres for the width and feet and inches for the length.

Doubtless the coexistence of (US) imperial and metric units cause problems. I remember the extra large gate at a Dow factory in Sweden where the US engineer had noted a width in feet but the engineers who’d built it read it as metres.

I grew up in the old days of course and remember the exercises in school where we were tasked for example with converting so many inches into miles, furlongs, chains, yards and feet or ounces into tons, hundredweights, quarters, stones and pounds and vice versa. It did wonders for our arithmetic skills but I hated them.

I later spent my formative business years working for an American chemical company and I’ll now never forget that a US gallon is 3.785 litres (there are of course 1.2 US gallons in a UK gallon which results in a pint being a little over half a litre, 0.567 to be precise) and a kilogram is 2.2046 pounds (which means an 8 ounce, that’s a half pound, steak is a little over 200 grams, 227 to be precise) as I converted US costs and transfer prices into their metric equivalents. And that was before you worried about currencies.

We all know what Johnson is up to. He’s trying to deflect attention from his own and our very real national problems, he’s trying to appeal to the ultras of his own party and he’s hoping there will be enough older people out there who want to return to the old ways. He’s wasting his and the nation’s time and he’s not observing one of those fundamental rules: if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

Photo of the Month: April 2022

It’s a first this month: the first featured photo with my new Samsung Galaxy s20 FE. I’m seeing already that it’s a better camera than by old Sony although to be fair I’d had that for some time.

This photo was taken on a business trip to Spain and I went for a walk in the evening. I was staying in Santpedor and you got a good view of Montserrat across the fields. Everywhere was very lush, there’d been quite a bit of recent rain and I like the classic form of the photo with the foreground, mid-range with the white house and the long distance.

The photo was taken at 1/430 and f2.4 with a focal length of 7.12mm (equivalent to 76mm for a 35mm lens).

There’s been some post processing. Firstly because it’s a simple camera with limited dynamic range the sky was blown out. I took a sky picture separately and dropped that in. I’ve then added detail to Montserrat with a clarity boost and, because the lushness seemed a little OTT, I’ve backed off the green/yellow saturation just a little.

Photo of the Month: March 2022

Lots of options again this month with eight photos which I’ve rated 5-star as we’ve been out visiting more National Trust sites and been up to Yorkshire and I’ve had a business trip to Manresa. This one’s of Houghton Mill and it was taken on a rather cold and unexciting March morning

This photo was taken with my Sony a7 III, 1/125th at f8.0 and ISO 500. The zoom was set at 76mm.

There’s been a modest crop to straighten the photograph, I’ve added a little texture to the building, brought out the cloud detail in the sky and highlighted the people on the right. I’m rather pleased with the final impact.

I’ve got a new phone!

Nothing special about this you might say. Some are in the habit of changing their phones whenever a new model from their favoured brands is released. I’m not like that. I’ve had my last phone for four or five years and although it works well and meets all my needs it’s gotten into the habit of shutting down/ not starting up sometimes. I can get it going again but it’s a bit of a ‘try and try again’ process and not one you’d like to need to invoke if you need your phone immediately. So I’ve got a new phone and more about that later.

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Photo of the Month: February 2022

Lots to choose from in February with a week in photogenic Switzerland and then the shots of the graffiti wall in Impington and the #StandwithUkraine event in Cambridge so this shot across the lake at Arosa is the best of a very good bunch.

This photo was taken with my Sony a7 III, 1/500th at f5.6 and ISO 100. The zoom was set at 100mm. 

There’s been a moderate crop and in post-processing I’ve increased the contrast. I’ve then highlighted the red of the Swiss flag in the centre which has also served to bring out the pink in the house in the north west quadrant.

I like the overall effect and the bonus is a walking figure bottom right.