Overseas visitors will be travelling from as far away as Australia, America and Canada to attend this year’s Wonderwool Wales, the award-winning show that celebrates all that’s great about Welsh wool and natural fibres.
The popular two-day event, held at the Royal Welsh Showground in Builth Wells on April 27 and 28, has sold all 220 stands for exhibitors, which has delighted the organisers.
Tickets for the 18th show, which traditionally attracts more than 6,000 visitors, can be purchased online in advance at https://wonderwoolwales.ticketsrv.co.uk . There will also be tickets for sale at the gate costing £12 per day or £22 for the weekend. Young people aged 16 years and under have free admission.
One of the star attractions this year will be an engaging Flock2Flight display of static and flying wet felted and needle felted birds made by fibre artist Janna Turner and two friends, Alex Johnstone and Deborah Taylor Dyer.
Shepton Mallet based Janna, who runs Flocks2Felts, and Alex are no strangers to Wonderwool Wales. Janna was project lead and felting advisor and Alex contributed with others to a special, eight-metre long exhibition entitled Alice in Wonderwool in 2022.
The eye-catching, hand crafted interpretation of Alice in Wonderland installation featured an array of captivating characters, all crafted from felt and fibre.
This year’s event will see nine Woolschool afternoon workshops each day which has required the organisers to book extra space on the showground. Some of the Woolschools, which give visitors the chance to learn or perfect their skills with help from an expert, are already sold out. Book places online by the Wonderwool Wales website.
The workshops are: An introduction to drop spindles with Marianne Larcombe and Jo Glenn, Improving your spinning with a drop spindle with Freyalyn Close-Hainsworth, Wet felted leaf brooch with Svetlana Lilley, Drum carding with Jill Shepherd, Macrame dream catcher with Alice Thomas, Botanical dyeing and Shibori resist techniques with Siân Lester, Backstrap weaving using rigid heddle with Helen Deighan, Introduction to needle-woven tapestry with Joanna Helm and Needle felted busy Mr Mole with Steffi Stern.
Another popular feature, the Sheep Walk fashion show, will keep the audience entertained on both days.
This year, all Wonderwool Wales visitors are being encouraged to knit, crochet or make and wear their own beanie or hat to add colour to the event. Stewards will be awarding vouchers to the best hats on both days.
Wonderwool Wales 2023 Bursary winners Jade Carey Holt, from Aberystwyth and Kay-lee Davies, from Capel Dewi, near Llandysul, will be exhibiting their work on stand C1.
New exhibitors are the Museum of Welsh Textiles from Knighton and Glamorgan Smallholders’ Great Glamorgan Sock Project, which involves members making a pair of socks from each sheep breed in the county.
To tantalise the tastebuds, the organisers have added some new street food caterers to provide a wider menu for show visitors.
Wonderwool Wales was first held in 2006 to promote the market for Welsh wool and to add value to products made by small wool and fibre producers in Wales.
The festival celebrates the green credentials of Welsh wool and its versatility as a material for creative crafts, designer clothes, home furnishings and more.
Wonderwool Wales covers everything from the start to the end of the creative process. Exhibits of sheep, raw and hand dyed fibres, yarn for knitting and crochet, embellishments, equipment, dyes and books can be found alongside superb examples of finished textile art, craft, clothing and home furnishings.
For those seeking creative inspiration, there will be demonstrations and have-a-go sessions hosted by some exhibitors.
“It promises to be another memorable Wonderwool Wales, with all 220 places for exhibitors sold out and another 10 on the waiting list,” said director Chrissie Menzies.
“A group of around 20 people will be jetting in from America and Canada with Rowan Tree Travel and one lady from Australia has arranged that her trip to see family coincides with our event.
“We are encouraging all visitors this year to make their own beanie or hat to engage our supporters and add a little bit of colour and fun.
Find out more about the 2024 show at www.wonderwoolwales.co.uk , like Wonderwool Wales Ltd on Facebook or follow on Twitter @wonderwoolwales
Excavations by members of Strata Florida Trust’s Archaeology Field School have unearthed abbey’s pre-Cistercian history.
Archaeologists make exciting discovery at Strata Florida Cistercian Abbey
Archaeologists have made an exciting discovery at Strata Florida, the famous 12th century Cistercian abbey in Mid Wales.
Radiocarbon dating suggests that there may have been a pre-Cistercian monastery, possibly Celtic, on the site before the abbey was established in the Cambrian Mountains near the village of Pontrhydfendigaid, between Devil’s Bridge and Tregaron.
Archaeological excavations on the site began in 2004 and will be continuing this summer at the Strata Florida Trust’s Archaeology Field School which runs from June 17 to July 14.
Over the past five years, the archaeology field school’s excavations have focused on the courtyard of Mynachlog Fawr farm buildings which stand next door to the abbey and are being refurbished by the trust.
These excavations have revealed structures and features under the courtyard, including a major aqueduct and medieval buildings which once formed part of the abbey. The remains of one stone building, however, appear to be earlier than the rest.
Following last year’s field school, three charcoal samples were collected from the medieval buildings and sent to specialists for radiocarbon dating. The samples provided dates between 1166-1268 AD, 1028-1172 AD and, most intriguingly, 1017-1158 AD.
“The last two of these dates are from the earlier building and, given that the Cistercian abbey was not founded on this site until 1184, they seem to suggest that the building is pre-Cistercian in date,” said Carys Aldous-Hughes, trust director.
“One of the main focuses of the upcoming 2024 excavations will be the further examination of this building by attempting to find its original floors and any features associated with its earlier use and function. These will offer a glimpse into the history of this site before the Cistercians arrived.
“On the basis of certain aspects of its siting and related features, there has long been speculation that there was a pre-Cistercian, or Celtic monastery at Strata Florida on top of which the abbey was founded, perhaps even incorporating parts of the earlier buildings.
“Could these recent discoveries and this year’s work provide the evidence which will confirm this?”
Anyone seeking information about how they can join this year’s exciting excavations, which could uncover the hidden secret of the site’s history, should visit the trust website at https://www.strataflorida.org.uk/archaeology-field-school.html .
Places are available for a choice of one to four week courses and digger day experiences. Bursaries available, including a mental health and wellbeing bursary, to people living in Ceredigion. There is also a bursary for students.
Strata Florida Trust is restoring Mynachlog Fawr farmhouse and farm buildings, bringing new economic, social and cultural life to the area, whilst also celebrating Strata Florida’s unique landscape and history.
A free ‘Mynachlog Fawr Exhibition’ is currently being held in a building on the site, giving visitors of all ages a chance to explore the social and agricultural history of the house and the local area.
The exhibition also contains an interactive Virtual Histories educational experience, which allows visitors to travel back to see a day in the life of Mynachlog Fawr farm in 1947 and the abbey in 1238.
Strata Florida Trust is a member of MWT Cymru, a independent organisation that represents around 600 tourism and hospitality businesses across Ceredigion, Powys and Southern Snowdonia. For more information, visit https://www.mwtcymru.co.uk/ .
Steam locomotive ‘Palmerston’ which will be visiting the Vale of Rheidol Railway this year.
Two Welsh railways are collaborating on a special hire agreement for the 1864-built steam locomotive ‘Palmerston’.
The Vale of Rheidol Railway (VoR) at Aberystwyth has agreed to display and then overhaul “Palmerston” for the Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways (Ff&WHR), based at Porthmadog. Both railways are members of the ‘Great Little Trains of Wales’ consortium.
“Palmerston” will arrive in Ceredigion in late February and will spend the first half of the 2024 season on static display in the VoR’s brand new Museum, Display and Events building at Aberystwyth station.
The locomotive will then enter the VoR workshops in July for work to return it to traffic in time to feature in steam as the star guest at the line’s ‘Rheidol Steam Festival’ event from August 24-26, when it will be hauling trains to Devil’s Bridge.
‘Palmerston’ is one of the original locomotives built for the Ffestiniog Railway, where it worked from the 1860s to the 1930s. During this time, it was hired to the VoR to help with additional traffic generated by the opening of a large Territorial Army camp at Lovesgrove in 1912-’13. It also helped to haul timber in the Rheidol valley to support the war effort.
‘Palmerston’ is the oldest surviving engine to have worked on the VoR, which will open its brand new museum on March 23.
The Ff&WHR will also be launching their own ‘behind the scenes’ tour at the line’s Boston Lodge Works later in the year.
Both railways have worked hard to create a new visitor experience, which means that passengers will have the opportunity to see first-hand and learn more about a wide collection of narrow gauge locomotives up close. Locomotives which are normally hidden away from public view will become accessible.
Llŷr ap Iolo, VoR managing director, said: “We are very grateful to Paul Lewin and the team at the Ff&WHR for agreeing to the loan of ‘Palmerston’ for the 2024 season. We are excited to have it running on the Vale of Rheidol Railway at our event in August.
“It has been 10 years since its last visit to Aberystwyth, so it will be great to have it here again for all to experience once more.”
Paul Lewin, Ff&WHR general manager, said: “The Ff&WHR are striving to bring our railway alive for our visitors in a new way. We have invested heavily in interpretation and conservation of the historic loco works at Boston Lodge.
“Rather than simply catching a fleeting glimpse of our locos and workshops, we will invite our visitors right in to the heart of the place. Similarly, the Rheidol team are making their impressive collection openly available for the first time.
“This is all great news for visitors and it makes so much sense for us to work together. For those looking to make the most of precious leisure time, a visit to Wales has never looked more appealing.
“As we prepare to celebrate our platinum jubilee, we can only begin to imagine how pleased our founders would be to see us working together, striving to continue to be the best place to see narrow gauge steam.”
Visitors to the VoR will be able to see ‘Palmerston’ on public display in the restored 1938 engine shed at Aberystwyth station.
This building has recently been transformed into a museum, display and events space as part of a larger project called “Wales to the World”, which is developing the terminus at Park Avenue into a Great Western-style station suitable for the modern tourist.
The building will also contain locomotives from the VoR’s collection, as well as engines from elsewhere. In July, ‘Palmerston’ will move into VoR’s workshops at Aberystwyth, which will allow work to be undertaken to return the locomotive to steam.
‘Palmerston’ will play a starring role in a three day ‘Rheidol Steam Festival’ event at the railway over the August bank holiday, alongside the home fleet of locomotives. The weekend will include an intensive timetable of trains, with plenty to see and do across all three days of the event.
Event organiser Phil Budd said: “It will be an exciting weekend to be in the Rheidol valley, with plenty to enjoy. It will be great to see ‘Palmerston’ in steam, hauling trains alongside our resident locomotives. With the long summer evenings and fantastic Aberystwyth sunsets, it will be a brilliant time to visit Ceredigion”.
‘Palmerston’ will then return to Porthmadog in late September, in time to play a starring role in the Ff&WHR’s annual ‘Bygones Weekend’. This annual event celebrates the rich heritage of the Ffestiniog Railway, with historically accurate train formations and costumed characters.
He currently lives and works in Orkney, leading a trust that is developing and promoting three remote islands. In addition, he also remains a stakeholder in County Marquees, a company he co-founded back in the 1990s and was managing director of until 2017.
Stuart said he is thrilled to return to Wales to take up the position at the Brecon Mountain Railway.
“My work in Orkney has proven instrumental in gaining experience in effective collaboration with funders, community development and the essential transition to Net Zero skills that will undoubtedly contribute to the success of my new role,” he added.
“The Brecon Mountain Railway boasts immense potential and I eagerly anticipate collaborating with the existing staff, as well as partnering with Llŷr and his team at the Vale of Rheidol Railway.”
The first day of the season on both railways is March 23.
The Strata Florida Trust begins its programme of courses for 2024 on Friday and Saturday, February 9-10, with an introduction to night photography with Dafydd Wyn Morgan.
The trust is restoring Mynachlog Fawr farmhouse and farm buildings which are located next door to Strata Florida, a famous 12th century Cistercian abbey near the village of Pontrhydfendigaid, between Devil’s Bridge and Tregaron, in the Cambrian Mountains.
Whilst celebrating Strata Florida’s unique landscape and history, the trust aims to bring new economic, social and cultural life to the area.
The trust’s courses programme for 2024 is packed with a range interesting topics and new skills to learn. “Whether you’re looking to try something completely new, or advance a skill, come along and join us,” said Carys Aldous-Hughes, trust director.
“We are proud to be working with many local Ceredigion-based artists and experts, including Marian Haf, Dafydd Wyn Morgan, Nathan Goss and Professor Dafydd Johnston, who will be sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm with visitors.
“We are really excited to be running so many new courses in 2024 and looking forward to welcoming more people to Strata Florida.”
Mr Morgan will be repeating his introduction to night photography on March 8 and 9 and November 1 and 2, whilst also focusing on ‘Photographing the Milky Way on September 6 and 7.
‘Maintaining Historic Buildings’ is the topic for Mr Goss on March 7, while Marian returns to run another of her ‘Printing with Packaging’ workshops on April 18 and October 16.
Brand new courses this year include ‘Spring foraging’ and ‘Autumn foraging’ with Lucas Harley-Edwards on April 27 and September 28 respectively, ‘Words from the Meadow: Creative writing’ and ‘Writing the Dark: Darkness as Inspiration’ with Jacqueline Yallop on May 18 and November 23 respectively and ‘Cistercians in Wales’ with Profession Jane Burton on June 9 and 10.
An archaeology field school ranges from one day to one to four weeks, both residential and non-residential, from June 17 to July 14.
Professor Johnston will turn the spotlight on ‘Barddoniaeth Ystrad Fflur’, which will be delivered in Welsh, on October 28.
To register and find out more about courses, visit https://www.strataflorida.org.uk
or contact the trust at email@example.com .
Nathan Goss leading a course for the Strata Florida Trust.
Sweaters from the Erfskip Exhibition.
An exhibition inspired by woollen fishermen’s sweaters made in the Netherlands a century ago arrives in Mid Wales on February 10 when it opens at Meirion Mill in Dinas Mawddwy, near Machynlleth.
The Erfskip Exhibition will feature wool and associated crafts from Wales, Shetland, the Hebrides, the Aran Islands and elsewhere, archive film and visual arts, young people’s workshop productions, photographs and more.
Between February 10 and March 24, the exhibition will be centred on Meirion Mill and Ysgol Bro Idris, Dolgellau, with elements also taking place in Cemaes, Trawsfynydd, Aberystwyth and Caersws.
This exhibition story begins in a small coastal village called Moddergat, in the north of Frŷslan, Netherlands. A fishing and farming community began to research and then to re-create the woollen fishermen’s garments that used to be made there a century ago.
Farmers bred the sheep and sheared them, others carded, dyed and spun the wool and many people became involved in the knitting.
Old photographs and written records were dug up and, in a few years, a successful small community business was developing, making and selling warm, beautiful and natural jumpers modelled on those the Moddergat fisherman set out to sea in more than a century ago.
Excited by what they’d achieved, the community then created an exhibition, demonstrating and contextualising the work. It was so popular that it was decided to take exhibition on tour to other shepherd communities, firstly to Wales and then on to other farming and fishing cultures across Western Europe.
It has already been to Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides, to Shetland Woollen Week and to the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland. It’s an exhibition with a difference – in at least three ways.
Firstlyl, it’s growing as it goes - wherever it stops, each community adds in elements from its own culture and experiences, so everybody can enjoy and learn from the achievements of others.
Secondly, wherever it goes, the hosts use it as a focus for their own interests and concerns, building events, discussions and workshops around it.
Lastly, it’s making this journey fuelled only by enthusiasm, energy and excitement. The organisers haven’t asked for a penny of public money to finance its travel, its display costs or anything else.
A Mid Wales visitor attraction, Meirion Mill specialises in a range of products, from clothing to soft furnishings and home wares.
The business is a member of MWT Cymru, an organisation that represents around 600 tourism and hospitality businesses across Powys, Ceredigion and Southern Snowdonia.
Dr Rhodri Llwyd Morgan, new chief executive of the National Library of Wales.
A man with experience of developing and delivering ambitious plans has been appointed chief executive of the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth.
Dr Rhodri Llwyd Morgan, who takes up his new role in the spring, succeeds Professor Pedr ap Llwyd, who has announced his retirement after five years in the role.
He was previously director of Welsh language, Welsh culture and external relations at Aberystwyth University and was responsible for the New Life for the Old College project on behalf of university. This current project will transform the Grade 1 listed building into a cultural and creative centre.
Having extensive experience of higher education, the Welsh language and culture, Rhodri was chairman of Mudiad Meithrin’s board of directors for six years and a member of the Welsh Language Partnership Council for 10 years.
Educated in South Ceredigion, he achieved a degree in History and Welsh History at Aberystwyth University along with a Diploma in Librarianship before completing a Master's Degree and Doctorate at Cardiff University.
“The National Library of Wales is undoubtedly one of the nation's leading institutions and it is a huge privilege to be appointed chief executive,” he said. “I am really looking forward to working with the library's staff, trustees and partners and to promoting its mission among the people of Wales and beyond.
“Yes, there are challenges to be tackled, the most obvious of which is the financial crunch that affects everyone. But there are also opportunities in promoting our culture in all its rich diversity and in taking the library's incredible expertise and resources to new areas and audiences.”
Ashok Ahir, the library’s president, said: “We are proud to appoint Rhodri Llwyd Morgan in this key role and are very much looking forward as a board to working together to continue shaping the library for the future.
“He is an individual who understands the library and its national and international importance and is experienced in high-level leadership in a number of areas. His experience as a leader will show the way to our dedicated staff in a period of change for our institution and for the sector.”
Whilst there are several other trees of this species growing in selected gardens in the UK, a “coning” is a very rare experience.
The exciting discovery was made just before Christmas when the huge tree was undergoing routine maintenance by Herefordshire based tree surgeons, Abortech.
“We are absolutely thrilled and very excited about this event,” said Austyn Hallworth, head of marketing and public relations for Hergest Croft Gardens.
“This discovery is so horticulturally important and crucial for its survival outside of North America that we have sent seeds to specific centres throughout the UK and Europe in an effort to propagate and cultivate for the future.
“The seeds were harvested by Abortech who scaled the tree using ropes. It was only when they reached the top that they realised the fir had coned.
“The original Abies Bracteata at Hergest Croft Gardens was planted in Park Wood in the 1930s and was scaled by Dick Banks in the 1960s when he entered the cones in a Royal Horticultural Society competition and won a gold medal.
“Sadly, this tree has since died but the three remaining examples are its children, as they were seedlings taken from it.”
Hergest Croft Gardens has been owned by five generations of the Banks family who have planted exotic trees and gardened there. The estate has more than 130 ‘Champion Trees’, 5,000 rare trees, plants and shrubs together with National Collections of Maples, Birches and Zelkovas.
A popular Welsh Marches tourist attraction, Hergest Croft Gardens is described as "one of the finest collections of trees and shrubs in the British Isles". It has six distinct areas - Hergest Croft, the Azalea Garden, the Maple Grove, the Kitchen Garden, the Park and Park Wood.
The estate also has the third tallest trees in Great Britain - a Douglas Fir standing at 200 feet and more than 160 years old.
The tree register is a charity which collates and records a database of notable trees throughout the UK and Ireland and has the largest database in the world.
Hergest Croft Gardens is a member of MWT Cymru, an independent company representing more than 600 tourism and hospitality businesses across Powys, the Welsh Marches, Ceredigion and Southern Snowdonia.
Corris Railway Society members hope that readers will vote for them via www.steamrailway.co.uk/read/hra-awards before the closing date of January 8.
The railway has produced a 3- page booklet, illustrated throughout in colour, telling the story of the Falcon locomotive from start to completion. The book costs £3 and can be purchased from the online shop at www.corris.co.uk .
Public service trains on Corris Railway resume at Easter but the volunteer workforce will be busy with maintenance and restoration work ahead of the new season.
The Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways have been shortlisted for two prestigious awards at the upcoming HRA (Heritage Railway Association) 2024 Annual Awards.
New double Fairlie locomotive ‘James Spooner’ has been shortlisted for the Coiley Award for Steam Locomotive Engineering and marketing lead, Osian Hughes has been shortlisted for the HRA Award for Rising Stars.
The Coiley Award is awarded to a HRA member organisation which has completed an outstanding engineering project in the overhaul, restoration or preservation of a steam locomotive or self-propelled vehicle.
The Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railway’s newest double Fairlie, ‘James Spooner’ is the fifth new build loco built by Boston Lodge works since 1979. It was officially launched on October 20 last year in a ceremony staged at Blaenau Ffestiniog station.
The start of work on the new double Fairlie was announced in early 2016. The outstanding efforts of both staff and volunteers at Boston Lodge workshops, along with significant financial contributions from supporters, have resulted in what is one of the most significant engineering achievements in the Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways’ recent history.
The newest locomotive pays homage to the original James Spooner of 1872 and several Victorian-era features on the early double Fairlies have been incorporated in the design, including the iconic boiler-mounted bells, stovepipe chimneys, square sand boxes and an open cab.
Osian has also been shortlisted in the Rising Star category. Since joining the company in 2020, he has made a significant contribution to changing its business model with his positive attitude and problem solving ability.
He has worked hard to learn about the company and the world of railways, taking an active role in Great Little Trains of Wales (GLTW) and with the Wales on Rails project.
The project connects GLTW with the community rail partnerships in Wales to encourage leisure rail travel into and around the country.
A fluent Welsh speaker, he has worked with the Welsh Language Commission to create a Welsh language development plan for the company so that improvements can be monitored. He recently organised an exhibit of loco and carriages at the National Eisteddfod, manned largely by Welsh speaking staff and volunteers to highlight the importance of the language to the company.
The 2024 HRA Awards winners will be announced in Brighton on Saturday, February 10.
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