The owners of an 18th century coaching inn, hotel and eatery in the heart of the historic market town of Machynlleth are investing in staff development as the business bounces back from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Charles Dark and his wife, Sheila Simpson, from The Wynnstay, are confident of a busy summer ahead now that lockdown restrictions are being lifted. They hope that the predicted UK staycation boom will see a repeat of record business last August when takings were 40 per cent up on 2019.
The couple have owned The Wynnstay, which has 24 bedrooms, for a total of 23 years in two spells. This week, they saw four members of their 20-strong staff enrol on apprenticeships with Welshpool-based Cambrian Training Company to develop their skills and roles in the business.
Rhian Davies and Grace Edge have signed up for a Foundation Apprenticeship in Hospitality Services, Adrian Avadani will be working towards Foundation Apprenticeship in Professional Cookery and his sister, Irina, the hotel manager, is seeking a Higher Apprenticeship (Level 4) in Management. Grace is set to be fast-tracked to Higher Apprenticeship in Management within 18 months.
“We have always invested in training our staff but it’s more important than ever now that there is a national recruitment problem in the hospitality industry, which is a shame as it can lead to serious, sustainable and well paid careers” explained Charles.
“We are committed to training the developing our staff, most of whom live locally.”
Chris Bason, Cambrian Training Company’s head of hospitality, said: “We have a long-standing relationship with The Wynnstay and, in the current climate, it’s nice to see the business supporting apprenticeships.
“Charles and Sheila always want the best for their team to develop The Wynnstay which is at the forefront of hospitality in Machynlleth.”
During the series of Covid-19 lockdowns, Charles and some of his staff have been busy redecorating and improving the hotel, including installing new ground floor toilets, a new kitchen for head chef Gareth Johns and his team and new cooling and alarm systems.
The main ground floor room has also had a complete makeover, which entailed removing layers of wallpaper and paint spanning 200 years. The improvements cost £100,000, supported in part by a Welsh Government grant.
The rear of the hotel has also been transformed with a new seating area and pond with a feature cast iron fountain.
“We have invested to improve the product and have the strongest team in place that we have ever had,” said Charles. “We are looking forward to welcoming back our local customers and visitors, the majority of whom come from England.
“The main thing that I noticed last summer, when we were allowed to open, was a sea change in the type of visitors that we were attracting. Their average spend was way up on previous years.
“It takes a while to get going when hospitality reopens, but I am confident that it’s going to be a very good summer . Machynlleth and the Dyfi Valley is multi-faceted, and people come here for a myriad of reasons.”
The Wynnstay makes an excellent base for exploring Machynlleth, the Dyfi Valley and surrounding area which make up the UNESCO Dyfi Biosphere Reserve.
Charles is a director of MWT Cymru, an independent organisation that represents more than 600 tourism and hospitality businesses across Powys, Ceredigion and the Meirionnydd region of Gwynedd. The Wynnstay is a member of MWT Cymru.
The Wynnstay’s owner Charles Dark with apprentices Irina and Adrian Avadani, Rhian Davies and Grace Edge.
The Narrow Gauge Railway Museum in Tywyn, Mid Wales has re-opened to the public following the gradual lifting of Covid-19 restrictions by the Welsh Government.
The museum, which had been closed since December 4 last year because of lockdown, houses a unique collection, including six locomotives. It tells the story of narrow-gauge railways in the British Isles, their contribution to society and industry and the people who ran them.
Visitors can also learn about the slate industry, which shaped the characteristic landscape of North Wales. The museum also has the study of the Rev Wilbert Awdry, writer of the Railway Series books featuring Thomas the Tank Engine and other old friends, which have given pleasure to countless children since the 1940s.
The museum normally relies on donations at the door and Museum Friends’ subscriptions for its income. However, generous grants totalling £49,630 from the Lottery Heritage Fund, the Welsh Government’s Wales Cultural Recovery Fund and Gwynedd Council have allowed the museum to make the changes needed to provide a safe and secure environment for visitors.
As part of the changes, a striking new window has been installed in the wall facing Neptune Road, giving an exciting new perspective to passers-by.
The extra funding is also supporting longer opening hours and paid staff to supplement the work of the museum’s loyal volunteer attendants, ensuring a rigorous hygiene regime is maintained.
The museum’s success was recognised at the recent Heritage Railway Awards, when it received The Heritage Rail magazine Interpretation Award.
Due to social distancing, no more than 25 visitors - fewer if children are present – will be allowed into the museum at any one time, in five groups distributed around the building. Visitors follow a one-way system around the museum.
Keith Theobald, museum trustees chairman, said: “We are glad to be opening the Museum doors after another prolonged closure, so that visitors can once again enjoy our unique collection and learn about the story of narrow-gauge railways.”
He thanked the museum’s volunteers and the Welsh Government, Gwynedd Council and the Lottery Heritage Fund for their contributions.
Stuart Williams, Talyllyn Railway’s general manager, said “A visit to Talyllyn Railway is a great day out for all the family, and having the museum open again really is the icing on the cake.”
For details of museum’s opening times and trains running on Talyllyn Railway, visit http://www.narrowgaugerailwaymuseum.org.uk/ and https://www.talyllyn.co.uk/
The 70th anniversary of the birth of heritage railways was celebrated at a ceremony in Mid Wales earlier this month.
On May 14, 1951, the first ever train in railway preservation left Wharf Station in Tywyn for the short trip to Rhydyronen, establishing Talyllyn Railway as the world’s first volunteer run railway.
To celebrate the 70th anniversary, five of the original members of Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society - Phil Sayers, John Smallwood, Olwyn Bate, John Bate and David Mitchell - boarded a commemorative train at Tywyn.
The same ribbon cut by society chairman Bill Trinder for the first train in 1951 was used for the 50th and 70th anniversary ceremonies.
This time the ribbon was cut John Bate and the train was double headed by Locomotives No. 2 ‘Dolgoch’ and No. 4 ‘Edward Thomas. A pioneer volunteer in 1951, John went on to serve as the society’s first honorary civil engineer in 1958, the first paid chief engineer from 1963-’94 and is now an honorary vice-president.
John was welcomed and introduced by David Mitchell, society president and Jonathan Mann, chairman, who also drove Loco No. 4.
Original members of Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society (from left) Phil Sayers, John Smallwood, Olwyn Bate, John Bate and David Mitchell at the 70th anniversary ceremony.
Picture by Frank Nolan.
John Bate (centre) cuts the anniversary ribbon watched by David Mitchell (left) and Jonathan Mann.
Picture Barbara Fuller.
Bill Trinder cutting the ribbon for the first train departure in 1951.
One Powys business has picked up a major international award from top travel website TripAdvisor despite the challenges of the Covid-19 lockdown.
The Old Vicarage, a Bed and Breakfast in Llangurig, near Llanidloes, has been awarded a TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Award, putting it amongst the top 10% of hotels and B&Bs in the UK.
The award is based solely on reviews made by guests and reflects their experiences and the level of service they received throughout their stay.
Kanika Soni, TripAdvisor’s chief commercial officer, said: “I know the past year has been extremely challenging for tourism businesses. The Travellers’ Choice Awards highlight the places that are consistently excellent - delivering quality experiences time and time again even while navigating changing customer expectations and new ways of working.
“Based on reviews from customers, this award speaks to the great service and experience The Old Vicarage has offered guests and key workers.”
Diane and Michael Dean, owners of The Old Vicarage, said: “We are very pleased to have achieved this award from one of the important travel websites. We are particularly grateful to all our guests who have left such positive reviews of their stays with us.”
The Old Vicarage works closely with local and regional suppliers to offer Welsh produce on its breakfast menu and in guest bedrooms, as well as with operators in Wales and internationally, to bring a range of visitors to the local area.
“As the lockdowns and regulations start to ease, we are already seeing increasing numbers of visitors who want to safely experience all the delights that Mid-Wales has to offer,” said Diane and Michael.
“It is really good to see how many advance bookings are coming in from people who are clearly determined to enjoy the local countryside, whether that is cycling, walking, fishing, shooting or just the fresh air!
“I think Mid Wales has a real opportunity to showcase itself over the coming months, and then benefit longer term as people realise how much there is to see and do here.”
Diane and Michael bought The Old Vicarage in the summer of 2019, having previously owned a guest house in Llandudno for six years.
Set in spacious grounds, The Old Vicarage has four guest rooms, a large guests’ lounge and breakfast room. The Victorian property, which is tucked away within the village, also has many prominent, original features and a wealth of artwork and antiques.
The Old Vicarage - www.theoldvicaragellangurig.co.uk - is a member of MWT Cymru, which represents more than 600 tourism and hospitality businesses across Powys, Ceredigion and the Meirionnydd region of Gwynedd.
The Old Vicarage, Llangurig.
“It’s a versatile variety and one of the three primary grapes found in champagne. We hope to blend with our white varieties to make more award winning English sparkling wine and also use it to produce soft and fruity still reds.”
Best grown in cool climates, Pinot Noir is the second most grown variety in the UK, accounting for 26% of total plantings.
The vineyard considered soil content, weather conditions and temperature, which all effect the grapes flavour, before deciding where to plant the 500 grafted vines spaced at 1.2 metres in rows 2.3 metres apart.
“Growing Pinot Noir can be tricky, but we have recently conducted a soil analysis which revealed the land at vineyard is perfect,” added Russell. “Unlike many plants, vines struggle to produce fruits in soils that are too rich in nutrients and they don’t like water around their roots.
“At Kerry Vale Vineyard, our soil has a low pH and excellent drainage, creating perfect growing conditions for our baby vines. Timing is also very important. We waited until spring to plant as vines do best when planted after the last freeze and when there is decreased chance for frost.”
These new vines will take between and two and three years to grow a harvestable crop followed by a further six to 12 months of waiting while the grapes are turned into wine.
The vineyard, which hosts a café with tasting rooms, is open six days a week, offering scheduled tours and wine tasting on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. To book a tour or for more information visit www.kerryvalevineyard.co.uk .
Alternatively, keep up to date with what’s happening on the vineyard by following on Facebook, Instagram or Tiktok.
Kerry Vale Vineyard is a member of MWT Cymru, which represents more than 600 tourism and hospitality businesses across Powys, Ceredigion and the Meirionnydd region of Gwynedd.
Russell Cooke planting Pinot Noir vines at Kerry Vale Vineyard.
A building at the heart of the famous Chartist riot in Llanidloes in 1839 is springing back to life as a high quality restaurant with rooms, creating up to 20 jobs in the pretty Mid Wales town.
Chartists 1770 at The Trewythen, located at the former Trewythen Hotel in Great Oak Street, has been named to acknowledge the historical importance of the building - built in around 1770 - and the town in the history of Welsh Chartism.
The Grade ll listed Georgian building has been transformed into a restaurant with seven, refurbished, en suite bedrooms following £250,000 investment by Cambrian Training Company, Wales’ leading apprenticeship provider to the hospitality industry. Up to 20 full time and casual posts are being created.
The hotel side of the business opens on Monday, May 24 and the restaurant will welcome its first customers on Thursday, May 27, subject to Welsh Government Covid-19 restrictions. The restaurant has 50 covers including four outdoor dining pods each with a table for six. Bookings at www.trewythenhotel.wales .
Cambrian Training Company, based in Welshpool, has created a new business unit to run Chartists 1770 at The Trewythen, with Jo Davies as executive hotel manager and her husband, Nick, as executive head chef.
“The owners of the property were looking for a quality operator and we saw the potential of creating a high quality restaurant with rooms,” explained Arwyn Watkins, Cambrian Training Company’s managing director.
“We believe we have the right team to take forward this new business unit within Cambrian Training Company and make a difference both to Llanidloes and Mid Wales.
“We are really looking forward to offering quality food, accommodation and service, and developing the Chartist 1770 brand. We want customers to sit down and enjoy a dining experience.
“If we can get the business template right by bringing life back into such a prominent building in the centre of Llanidloes, there is nothing to stop us from doing the same in other towns in the future.
“We are creating an opportunity to show people that the hospitality industry, which is very close to my heart, can provide really good careers. This exciting new venture demonstrates Cambrian Training Company’s pasture to plate ethos.”
Focused on quality, fresh, seasonal ingredients and drinks from Wales, the restaurant will have a dry ageing cabinet from which customers can select their steak before it is cooked to their individual taste.
“It’s nice to come home to Llanidloes and have this massive opportunity to work in one of the most historic buildings in Wales,” said Mr Davies, a talented chef who has competed around the world with Culinary Team Wales.
“The reopening of the former Trewythen Hotel as a restaurant with rooms is one of the most exciting things to happen in Llanidloes in recent years. It has created a real buzz in the town.
“We want to help establish Llanidloes as a popular tourist destination, as we have so much on our doorstep here at the gateway to the Cambrian Mountains, including being the first town on the River Severn and having some of the best fishing and mountain biking in the UK.”
Mrs Davies added: “We are delighted to be involved in this exciting, new venture in Llanidloes which is employing people from within the community. In addition to the restaurant, we have seven refurbished rooms, including four for families.”
The Chartists 1770 at The Trewythen building is steeped in history. It was built as Trewythen House for General Valentine Jones after his return from war in America and became an inn in 1834.
Then, on April 30, 1839, it was at the centre of the famous Chartist uprising in Llanidloes. What began as a peaceful protest for universal voting rights for men, ended in the hotel being stormed by rioters who freed three members of the Chartists movement who had been imprisoned there.
It took four days for soldiers to restore order and eventually 33 people were jailed. Two of the ringleaders, Abraham Owen and Lewis Humphreys, were deported to Australia while the third, Thomas Jerman, escaped to America where he settled and had a family.
The Trewythen Hotel which is springing back to life as a high quality restaurant with rooms.
The restaurant at Chartists 1770 at The Trewythen.
The Royal Welsh Agricultural Society showground at Llanelwedd is launching its new camping site for caravans and campers to use from May 28.
After being closed for more than year, the society has worked hard to maintain the showground to ensure that visitors can access the best possible experience when it reopens.
Nestled in the heart of Mid Wales, the campsite is within easy access of many footpaths and bridleways with breathtaking scenic views. With the Elan Valley to the north and the Brecon Beacons to the south, this location is perfect for those wanting to enjoy outdoor pursuits across Mid Wales.
With many eager to get back to exploring and tourism resurging post lockdown, the Llanelwedd camping site aims to play a role in offering first class facilities to those looking to stay on the world-famous showground.
From May 28, the camping site reopens with a number of options for visitors, from caravans with access to electricity, to grass pitches for those intending to camp and those who have pre-booked to those who want to turn up on the day.
The society will be launching its online booking website soon.
Focus Newtown Enterprise Hub is to host a second virtual conference on Thursday this week to provide support to industries impacted by COVID-19.
Collaboration is a key theme for this event, as the hub team chats to businesspeople who have adapted, overcome and utilised their ecosystems to build capacity and resilience.
The ‘Building your Business’ conference, which will run on Thursday, May 13 from 12 noon to 4.30pm, will feature award-winning speakers including Scott Davies, managing director of Hilltop Honey, Kelly Davies, co-founder of The Goodwash Company and Claire Copeman, co-founder of Adventure Tours UK.
Lucie Andrews, enterprise hub engagement co-ordinator, said: “As the light at the end of the tunnel gets brighter and we enter the summer months, it’s the perfect time to bring together inspirational entrepreneurs from the tourism, food and retail sectors.
“We’ve invited three business owners from across Wales, and some of the hardest hit sectors, to share their experiences and journeys with attendees, from starting a business with next to nothing, to overcoming one of their most challenging years to date.
“We really want people to come along, be part of the discussion, feel inspired and learn from their experiences.”
The aim of the conference is to support those in the tourism, food, retail and supply industries, although everyone is welcome as the topics will be applicable to a variety of businesses.
It’s ideal for existing and aspiring entrepreneurs in Mid Wales and beyond who are looking to build connections and get inspired.
Register for the conference by searching ‘Focus Newtown Enterprise Hub’ on Eventbrite.
Funded by the Welsh Government, Focus Newtown Enterprise Hub is an innovative space to incubate and accelerate new and growing businesses based at Royal Welsh Warehouse, Newtown.
Spring is one of the best times of the year to see rare wildlife and get up close to nature in the beautiful countryside of Mid Wales.
This unspoilt region in the heartland of Wales has an abundance of natural environments and some of the rarest species of birds and animals in the UK, including visiting ospreys, red kites, otters, beavers and even dolphins.
The UNESCO Dyfi Biosphere Wales - https://www.dyfibiosphere.wales/ - is one of the best places to see a diverse range of wildlife.
Otters swim in the rivers, beavers have recently been released, ospreys return every spring to breed, red kites grace the sky and dolphin pods are often spotted from the beach and on boat trips.
Nature reserves perfect for bird watching include Cors Dyfi and the Dyfi Osprey Project - https://www.dyfiospreyproject.com/ and the RSPB Ynys-hir reserve https://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves-and-events/reserves-a-z/ynys-hir/ which are all near Machynlleth.
For the last 50 years, RSPB Ynys-hir has been a wonderful home for wildlife and a haven for visitors who really want to get away from it all.
Located on the A487, Wales Coastal Way, in the village of Eglwys-fach, the reserve covers 850 hectares with a wide mix of habitats - mountain, lowland wet grassland, reedbed, bog, woodland and saltmarsh.
Springtime at this reserve is spectacular, with pied flycatchers, redstarts and wood warblers singing their hearts out whilst the woodland floor transforms into a beautiful carpet of bluebells. Watch the diving display flights of lapwings and the piping calls of redshanks on the Marian Mawr pools.
Cors Dyfi Reserve and Dyfi Osprey Project is the best place to see ospreys, otters, beavers, nightjars, warblers, increasingly rare hen harriers and even water buffalo, which are introduced to graze the marshes.
Ospreys spend their winters in West Africa, but since 2011 some of them have come to Cors Dyfi each spring to mate. Over the years, the osprey partners have raised one to three chicks successfully each year. Watch them live at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YtlCjc1D4Qo
In a double success story for Mid Wales, ospreys have also been nesting at Hafren Forest alongside Clywedog reservoir, near Llanidloes, since 2014. Watch them live in the nest at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cyciWNPFuWM
Nearby, along the Cardigan Bay coast, dolphins and porpoises often put on a display for spectators. For the best chance of seeing them, visit Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre in New Quay and take a boat trip.
New Quay is one of only two places in Great Britain where you can see bottlenose dolphins. Dolphin Survey Boat Trips - https://www.dolphinsurveyboattrips.co.uk/ -
provide an underwater microphone which allows passengers to listen to the dolphins in their natural habitat.
Further inland, at Forge, near Machynlleth, visitors are allowed to get up close and personal with birds of prey at the Falconry Experience Wales - https://raptorexperiencewales.co.uk/. Fly and handle Lakota the bald eagle or Moggie the white faced owl under professional supervision.
The falconry experience also includes falcons, hawks, American buzzards, a white tailed sea eagle and a fast paced demonstration of a falcon flying to a lure.
Falconry Experience Wales also organises Raptor Days with wildlife presenter and author Iolo Williams who introduces people to the raptors at various locations in Mid Wales. The first two days this summer are sold out, but spaces are available for July 24 and August 9. More details on the website.
To enjoy the spectacle of seeing more than 100 red kites feeding, travel to the Red Kite Feeding Station at Bwlch Nant yr Arian, between Llanidloes and Aberystwyth - naturalresources.wales/bwlchnantyrarian?lang=en
Bwlch Nant yr Arian became a red kite feeding station in 1999, as part of a programme to protect the small number of red kites in the area at that time. Nowadays, the red kites fly in from a 10-mile radius to be fed by the lake daily at 3pm and the spectacle can be watched from the lakeside viewing area.
For those seeking to build a holiday or short break around wildlife watching, visit - https://www.visitmidwales.co.uk/accommodation/ - to view the range of quality accommodation available in Mid Wales.
Red kites can be watched at Bwlch Nant yr Arian feeding station.
Ospreys at the Dyfi Osprey Project.
Bottle nose Dolphins in Cardigan Bay.
Image: Steve Hartley, Dolphin Survey Boat Trips.
Wildlife presenter Iolo Williams with Lakota the bald eagle at Falconry Experience Wales.
A beaver family has been released at the Cors Dyfi Reserve.
Olly joined the railway in 2019 and his achievements include leading a major piece of market research, helping to raise more than £140,000 as part of the W&LLR’s 2020 appeal made necessary by the Covid pandemic and increasing the railway’s social media presence by more than 25 per cent.
He also found time to write a book about the line to raise further funds and was elected to the railway’s board of trustees where he now takes the volunteer role of marketing and product manager.
“I’m blown away to have won the award,” said Olly. “Thank you so much to my brilliant colleagues for everything they have done to support me in the two years I’ve been at the W&L - bring on much more to come.
“I believe wholeheartedly in the ability of our movement to change lives if we work hard enough to get there. Heartfelt congratulations to the other two nominees too for being shortlisted.”
The railway’s members’ newsletter The Earl was also highly commended in the HRA Awards. Launched in 2014 as a more frequent addition to the quarterly Llanfair Railway Journal, The Earl is published approximately monthly as a digital PDF sent to a mailing list.
However new issues can be produced almost immediately when the railway has news it needs to rapidly pass on to its members. The newsletter also proved a very effective means for volunteers to keep in touch with the railway during the Covid-19 pandemic when many were prevented from attending the railway by lockdowns.
“Olly has made a significant contribution to the Welshpool & Llanfair over the last couple of years,” said W&LLR chairman Steve Clews. “We were delighted when he was elected to the board of trustees and more recently appointed product and marketing manager.”
The railway’s general manager James Brett said it was inspiring to see the range of achievements from railways across the UK after a very difficult year for the entire heritage rail sector.
“With such a high calibre of entrants, to be nominated in two categories and to win one award, is a testament to all the hard work and dedication our team has put in over the past 12 months,” he added.
The railway reopened for its 2021 operating season on May 1. Details of the line’s selection of one and two-hour round trips are now available on the website at www.wllr.org.uk and tickets can be pre-booked at https://wllr.digitickets.co.uk
Oliver Edwards, named Heritage Railway Association Young Volunteer of the Year.
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