The Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) near Machynlleth will once again be host to the BBC’s Iolo Williams as he shares the wildlife of Mid Wales with viewers across the UK in this year’s Winterwatch.
The BBC team will bring a much-needed dose of nature into our living rooms this January as they help us to celebrate the magic of the wildlife on our doorsteps.
Having broadcast Autumnwatch live from CAT last year, Iolo and team will return for two weeks, from January 19 to 29, to share the sights and sounds of a new season, with Chris Packham, Megan McCubbin and Gillian Burke broadcasting from elsewhere in the UK.
Located in the foothills of Snowdonia, in the UNESCO Dyfi Biosphere Reserve, CAT is a world leading eco centre focused on researching and sharing solutions to the climate and biodiversity emergency.
Introducing the centre to millions of people across the UK during Autumnwatch, Iolo said: “Here at the Centre for Alternative Technology in Mid Wales, it’s all about forward thinking. This is a place with the future survival of our planet at its very core.”
Built on what was once a barren slate quarry, the centre has been transformed over 50 years into a rich tapestry of habitats, providing a home for a wide range of species, including rare hazel dormice, pine martens, endangered birds species and many more.
On arriving at CAT last year, Iolo said: “There is such an abundance of wildlife in Mid Wales and it’s great to see it flourishing at a site that was once an industrial slate quarry.
“But even where wildlife is thriving, we know that the effects of climate change are already having an effect on biodiversity in the UK. We need to take action now, as a nation, or some of our wildlife could be lost forever.”
Peter Tyldesley, CAT’s chief executive, said: “We can’t wait to welcome Iolo and the team back to CAT to share the wonderful Mid Wales wildlife with viewers across the UK.
“Learning to appreciate our amazing natural world is often the first step towards protecting it; programmes like Winterwatch can really help spark that essential love of nature.
“Last year’s Autumnwatch gave us a fascinating insight into a wide range of species, and we’re looking forward to seeing what the changing seasons will bring to CAT and the Dyfi Valley.”
CAT is currently closed to visitors in line with Welsh Government COVID rules, but – thanks to Winterwatch – you can enjoy a virtual visit and experience the magic of Mid Wales wildlife from your living room. Winterwatch broadcasts on BBC 2.
Winterwatch presenter Iolo Williams.
A winter view from the Centre for Alternative Technology.
The chairman of an award-winning leisure company that has a sales centre in Mid Wales is predicting a fantastic year ahead for tourism in the UK after the extreme challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.
Tony Bywater, from Salop Leisure, which also has sales centres in Machynlleth, Shrewsbury and Stourport-on-Severn, believes the demand for ‘staycationing’ will be greater than ever in 2021, with British people reluctant to jet off to sunnier climes.
In addition to running one of the UK’s most successful caravan and motorhome dealerships, Salop Leisure also owns the Love2Stay resort and adventure centre and Love Plants specialist plants centre in Shrewsbury and caravan holiday home and touring parks across Mid Wales.
Outside the national Covid-19 lockdowns last year, caravan and motorhome sales boomed at Salop Leisure as more first-time buyers opted to invest in holidays in the UK for the foreseeable future instead of travelling abroad.
Many caravan holiday home parks across Mid Wales and the Heart of England reported a huge demand for available pitches.
Mr Bywater believes that this trend will continue in 2021 and the years to come as the Covid-19 vaccines are rolled out across the UK.
Having devoted more than 50 years of his life to the caravan and motorhome industry, he has experienced many economic highs and lows and is well placed to offer an opinion on future business prospects.
He says the UK will emerge from the pandemic as a much different place, as people re-evaluate what is and what is not important in their lives. Spending quality family time away from work will become a top priority.
“It has been an extremely difficult time for everybody, but I think 2021 is going to be very special for our industry and tourism in the UK,” he said. “People are going to want to stay in the UK, rather than travelling abroad, like they have done in the past. The pandemic will change people’s habits forever.
“Demand for caravan holiday homes, touring caravans and motorhomes is going to be massive, putting pressure on manufacturers and parks.
“We lost a lot of trade whilst our businesses were forced to close during the lockdowns, but, when we reopened in late summer, customer demand was huge.”
Mr Bywater says it’s imperative that all four home nations work together to agree a uniform policy on future lockdowns to make it easier for people to understand the restrictions. Having different rules in each country caused confusion.
Salop Leisure is a member of MWT Cymru, an independent organisation that represents more than 600 tourism and hospitality businesses across Mid Wales, which includes Powys, Ceredigion and the Meirionnydd region of Gwynedd.
This could become a common sight in 2021 as Salop Leisure chairman Tony Bywater predicts a staycation boom.
Jubilee 1897 initially worked at Cilgwyn slate quarry at Nantlle, hauling waste from the quarry to remote tips near the village of Y Fron. It was sold to Welsh Slate in 1928 when it travelled to Dinas Junction on its own wheels down the incline and over the Welsh Highland Railway for unloading at Penrhyn from a standard gauge wagon.
For a year, she worked at Port Penrhyn at Bangor before moving to be stored at Felin Fawr. After being painted and returned to steam at the end of World War II, she worked on Red Lion Level but was withdrawn from service 10 years later.
Her home was then the Narrow-Gauge Railway Museum Trust at Tywyn where she was cosmetically restored for display.
In 2016, Jubilee 1897 was moved to Felin Fawr where the Penrhyn Quarry Railway project was being developed. The original plan was for her to be a static exhibit but, after examination established she was in fundamentally sound condition, agreement was reached that the project would restore her to steam at Coed y Parc workshops.
Dismantling began in 2017 but, four months later, the project collapsed and the Vale of Rheidol Railway offered to accommodate her while the Narrow Gauge Railway Museum Trust established a way forward. Her components were relocated to Aberystwyth in 2018.
Now, the Vale of Rheidol Railway is her permanent home.
Robert Gambrill, Vale of Rheidol Railway’s chairman, said: “We are delighted to have secured the sale from Welsh Slate of this significant addition to our roster and can assure Welsh Slate she will have a happy home with us.
“Manning Wardle is a locomotive builder not previously represented within our collection, so we jumped at the chance to secure an example of this manufacturer .Our thanks go to the team at Welsh Slate for working with us to secure the future of this historic Welsh locomotive.
“We are planning to restore Jubilee 1897 to steam by 2023, allowing the public to be see her again working for the first time since the 1950s.”
Welsh Slate managing director Mark Hodgkinson said: “The Jubilee 1897 will always be a part of our history and we’re only glad she has found such an appreciative permanent home.”
Jubilee 1897 has found a new home in Aberystwyth.
Image by Cliff Thomas
An award winning business that provides cycling holidays in Wales and along the English border is gearing up for a busy 2021 after the challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic this year.
Cyclists Chris and Kay Dartnell realised a dream when they escaped to the country and converted redundant buildings at Petchfield Farm at Elton, near Ludlow as a base for Wheely Wonderful Cycling in 1992.
The couple, who love cycle touring, now offer a wide range of cycling holidays in Wales, Herefordshire and Shropshire, focusing on spectacular scenery and great accommodation and food.
Wheely Wonderful’s holidays are supported by luggage transportation in an electric car, detailed route guides and a full back up service.
“This area of the UK offers some of the best cycling holidays in Europe, with river valleys cutting through spectacular hills, dominated by ruined castles and, best of all, hardly any cars,” said Kay.
This year has not been without its challenges, however, as many tourism-related businesses have discovered during the pandemic.
“We opened for two months during the summer to provide cycling holidays and it was such a pleasure to be able to welcome customers back to enjoy the borderlands of England and Wales,” explained Kay.
“Bookings were frantic when the lockdown ended, as everyone wanted to recover some of the summer, so we were able to provide holidays at quite short notice. Ideally a bit more advance notice is preferable.
“For 2021, we will take a booking with a deposit and will not bill for the full holiday balance until six weeks before the holiday starts. Normally, it’s three months ahead. If a customer needs to change the date before then, they can do so free of charge.
“We have updated our website - https://www.wheelywonderfulcycling.co.uk/ - with tours for 2021 and look forward to arranging a perfect cycle tour for customers when they are ready to book.”
The couple’s most popular tours in 2020 were based on hotels, country inns and great food. “The prospect of a good cycle ride, then being looked after at a hotel or inn, with delicious food and drink on tap, seemed to appeal,” said Kay.
“Our six-day Slow Food Cycle Tour gives customers a chance to eat at some great restaurants, visit a vineyard and several breweries and enjoy great cycling in fabulous scenery in Shropshire, which is renowned as a ‘foodie’ destination.
“We also have a perfect treat for a special occasion, with customers staying at two foodie destinations, The Lion Hotel in Leintwardine and The Stagg at Titley, combined with three days of great cycling around Herefordshire.”
The business also offers a wide range of cycling holidays in Mid Wales, including the Brecon Beacons and Elan Valley, and all the way to Anglesey. The Lon Las Cymru (Welsh National Cycle Route) is a signed cycle route through the whole of Wales.
Customers can choose from a short break to a longer cycling holiday of between 10 to 14 days.
Wheely Wonderful Cycling – geared up for a busy 2021.
The general manager of the world’s first preserved railway, which is located in Mid Wales, has warned that steam trains in Wales could soon be powered by coal imported from Russia.
The last coal mine in Wales that produces coal for steam trains, at Ffos-y-fran, Merthyr Tydfil, is due to be closed in 2022 and a planning application for a new surface mine at Dewley Hill in North East England was refused by Newcastle City Council last week.
The Dewley Hill decision dashes the hopes of Britain’s heritage railways, which need affordable coal to continue operating. Existing stocks of English steam coal will last into early 2021.
Without domestically-produced coal, the heritage steam sector will have to find ways to import, store, handle and distribute the coal it needs. That means it will be forced to import inferior quality and more expensive coal from Russia.
“When Ffos-y-fran stops coal mining in 2022, there will be no scalable coal provider in Wales to supply our steam railways,” explained Stuart Williams, general manager of Talyllyn Railway at Tywyn on the Mid Wales coast.
“The main alternative coal source is Russia, which is more expensive, increases the nett emissions getting it here and puts money into the Russian economy rather than retaining it here in Wales. In addition, the coal doesn’t burn as well and can be variable in quality.
“Surely, it makes more sense to keep mining the coal we need here in Wales rather than having to import coal from the other side of the world? We shall be raising this issue urgently with the Welsh and UK Governments.”
Mr Williams said he and the Heritage Railway Association (HRA) are now anxiously awaiting the outcome of the Welsh Government’s draft coal policy consultation and hoping that mining will be allowed to continue.
Liz Saville-Roberts, MP for Dwyfor Meirionnydd and co-chair of the Heritage Rail All-Party Parliamentary Group, is supporting Talyllyn and other heritage railways. She is urging the UK and Welsh Governments to work together to ensure that coal does not have to be shipped half way around the world to supply heritage railways.
“The APPG undertook an inquiry into the need for coal for our heritage railways last year,” she said. “What we are worried about is that the UK and Welsh Governments are offloading their responsibilities to heritage railways by forcing them to seek suitable coal sources in countries such as Russia and even Australia.
“We are concerned about the nett carbon emissions of bringing coal so far and also about the production methods used in Russia. We need the UK and Welsh Governments to think creatively to allow mining at Ffos-y-fran to continue whilst reducing carbon emissions.
“Steam locomotives are designed to burn a certain type of clean coal which is mined here in Wales and certain other parts of the UK. The danger is that heritage railways will cease to function without this reliable supply of suitable coal.
“We must keep our heritage railways going because they make such a significant economic contribution to our communities and have been particularly hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Steve Oates, HRA chief executive, expressed the serious concern of heritage railways across the UK.
“UK-produced coal generates a fraction of the CO2 emissions created by extracting and then shipping coal half-way round the world to the UK,” he said. “ And it costs less in money terms, too.
“Keeping Britain’s heritage railways running with affordable, locally-produced coal would secure the future of a sector which sits at the heart of the country’s industrial and cultural heritage and generates millions for the leisure and travel sector.
“Maintaining consistent and reliable supplies of coal is difficult and expensive. That burden will now fall on our members, whose finances have already been hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. The inevitable increase in the cost of coal may well be too much for some of our members to bear.”
That the cost of adapting steam locomotives to burn alternative fuels would be far too high for heritage railways to consider, he said.
“Meanwhile, we now have no alternative but to press ahead with our work on developing a coal importing operation, while also supporting US research and development work on biocoal,” added Mr Oates.
Talyllyn Railway’s general manager Stuart Williams.
Talyllyn Railway’s general manager Stuart Williams with MP Liz Saville-Roberts earlier this year.
Talyllyn Railway plans to use most of the grant on its winter maintenance programme, which includes completing an overhaul on ‘Talyllyn’, locomotive No.1.
Other projects include providing electric vehicle charging points, installing heating in more carriages, Abergynolwyn playground refurbishment, a comprehensive interpretation strategy for the railway and other heritage projects and enhanced video conferencing facilities.
The grant will enable the railway to prepare for the 2021 season, when it is hoped that life will begin to return to normal and passengers will make a welcome return.
The Narrow Gauge Railway Museum Trust, located in Talyllyn Railway’s HQ buildings at Wharf Station, has also been awarded £27,000 towards Covid-secure measures and other costs.
Ian Drummond, the railway’s fundraising officer, thanked everyone who helped with grant applications.
Locomotive Talyllyn negotiates he Dolgoch Viaduct on Talyllyn Railway.
Photo: Darren Turner.
Organisations with an interest in tourism and hospitality across Mid Wales must collaborate to help the region bounce back from the rigours of the Covid-19 pandemic.
That was the clear message that emerged from the virtual annual meeting of MWT Cymru, which represents more than 600 businesses in the sector in Powys, Ceredigion and the Meirionnydd region of Gwynedd.
Val Hawkins, MWT Cymru’s chief executive, told the meeting: “As we emerge from the pandemic, it is imperative that we all work closely together and speak with one voice for Mid Wales, thereby avoiding mixed messaging to visitors.
“It is going to take a huge effort by all of us working in the sector, but the late summer demonstrated just how popular our region is for ‘staycations’. With the ‘staycation’ trend expected to gather pace in 2021, I am confident our members will be ready to meet this growing demand.”
Mrs Hawkins outlined MWT Cymru’s plans for 2021 which seek to attract younger visitors, aged 27 to 40 years, from target markets, including South Wales, within two to four hours’ drive time of Mid Wales
A ‘This is Mid Wales’ campaign, which had been delayed by the pandemic, will focus on four key themes: Travel routes, Nature and wildlife, Health and wellbeing and The outdoors, including adventure and sport.
The company’s website - VisitMidWales.co.uk - has been redesigned for 2021, having attracted nearly 1.5 million users and nearly 11.2 million page views in the past year.
Destination guides and media packs have been developed to support broader marketing and social media campaigns and to focus on key themes and local areas.
Mrs Hawkins said MWT Cymru would be pressing Visit Wales to launch a targeted marketing campaign to welcome visitors back to Wales in 2021.
Following feedback from members, MWT Cymru agreed to form a marketing focus group to consider suggestions including changing the Mid Wales brand name to the Heart of Wales and to develop marketing campaigns for specific destinations within the region.
More work will also be done to identify and promote charging points across the region for the rising number of visitors driving electric vehicles.
Chairman Rowland Rees-Evans, a director of Penrhos Park, Llanrhystud, said despite the huge Covid-19 challenges, national media coverage of Mid Wales as a tourism destination had been at an all-time high and the region must capitalise on that exposure in 2021.
He hoped that tourism in Mid Wales would return to some normality by April next year as Covid-19 vaccines are rolled out. “I think we would all prefer to be trading again rather than continue to be on life support,” he added.
“The return of visitors in August and September, when we were allowed to reopen, highlighted the growing popularity of ‘staycationing’. There is a huge opportunity for us to sell Mid Wales as a great visitor destination.
“Forward bookings in most sectors are up for 2021 and, hopefully, this trend will continue. It’s very important that MWT Cymru is here to shout for Mid Wales because if we don’t, no one else will.”
He thanked Mrs Hawkins and her team, Wales Tourism Alliance’s chairman Andrew Campbell and policy advocate Adrian Greason-Walker and Mid Wales Regional Tourism Forum chairman Steve Hughson, for their work during the pandemic.
Greg Loweth, business development manager of the Metropole Hotel, Llandrindod Wells, will be joined by Charles Dark, owner of the Wynnstay Hotel, Machynlleth as a trade director for Powys. Mr Dark replaces Owen James of Crickhowell who was thanked for his service.
Rowland Rees-Evans, MWT Cymru’s chairman.
These stories will be documented in three-minute podcasts and on a geo tourist map, as well as becoming part of a longer podcast, which will be featured on Ceredigion Museum’s website, YouTube channel, social media platforms and become part of the Museum Collections for the future.
The project is being supported by the ’15-minute heritage’ fund, a partnership between The National Lottery Heritage Fund and Cadw, the Welsh Government’s historic environment service.
Carrie Canham, Ceredigion Museum’s curator, said: “We’re delighted to have received support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and are very much looking forward to uncovering some of the more unconventional stories about Aberystwyth.
“Heritage is about so much more than dates and famous people and places. We want to capture stories that you would normally hear in a pub, a school reunion or over coffee, stories that connect us to our hometown.”
The team working on the project is interested to hear stories from local people in Aberystwyth, as well as others who have lived and spent time in the town.
The project is keen to capture a variety of stories and memories of Aberystwyth from a wide range of individuals, particularly stories linked to Trefechan Bridge and the Academy Building, formerly known as the Wesleyan Chapel on Darkgate Street. No story is too big or too small.
Ceredigion Museum will work with experienced historians and digital storytelling experts and there will be an opportunity for volunteers to get involved and learn about the process of sound recording, interview skills and podcasting free of charge.
The museum is keen to hear from volunteers aged 18 plus who would like to be involved and take part in training on January12 and 19.
Councillor Catherine Hughes, Ceredigion County Council Cabinet member with responsibility for Porth Ceredigion, Early Intervention, Well-being Hubs and Culture, said: “This is such an exciting opportunity for people of all ages and backgrounds to engage with our shared heritage, and for the museum to collect the voices and stories from a more representative range of the communities that call Aberystwyth home.
“This year has highlighted the importance of being able to engage in a digital world and this project rises to the new needs of our audiences.”
To discuss and share a story, or to find out more about becoming a volunteer for the project and the free training offered, contact Sarah Morton, Ceredigion Museum’s sustainability officer, on Sarah.Morton@ceredigion.gov.uk.
The Heritage Railway Association is a trade body representing and promoting the interests of heritage and tourist railways.
The 2021 awards acknowledge the significant impact COVID-19 has had on heritage railways by introducing new categories. There are five nominations made in each of 10 categories.
Talyllyn Railway has been nominated for the Internal Communications award for its control centre public on-line subscription service, which was introduced in February. The service was designed to give ‘armchair’ supporters greater access to the railway and tap in to the popular existing webcam page, which enjoys more than 365,000 unique visitors annually.
There are 270 active subscribers to the service, which costs £5 a year, and webcam usage has grown by 31% since the railway re-opened in August.
The control centre was commissioned by the railway’s general manager, Stuart Williams, working with Peter Richards, a volunteer who runs a software company. The portal runs alongside the railway’s internal operating management system that gives continual live updates to staff.
Mr Williams said the control centre subscription had covered its costs and added a made money for the railway in its first year. He outlined planned improvements and additions to the subscription, including more webcams, with users able to select two to watch at a time.
The Most Innovative Fundraising Idea award nomination was for the railway’s ‘Virtual Visit Appeal’, which was launched at the end of March. The theme encouraged members and potential passengers to make donations.
The appeal was supported by a ‘Weekly Walkabout’ online video every Wednesday by Mr Williams and engineering manager Chris Smith, with commercial manager Lorraine Simkiss, giving updates from behind the scenes.
“The appeal has raised over £120,000 (plus gift aid) and is still being added to daily,” said Mr Williams. “Our social media interaction has greatly increased, with more than 45,000 people now following our Facebook feed.”
Over 20 weeks, the ‘walkabouts’ were watched by 330,000 people and the reach more than 1.1 million.
Talyllyn Railway’s general manager Stuart Williams.
Wonderwool Wales, the award-winning show that celebrates all that’s great about wool and natural fibres, is planning to return in style in 2021.
The two day event became a Covid-19 pandemic casualty when it had to be cancelled this spring. However, buoyed by support from the Wales Cultural Recovery Fund, the organisers are pressing ahead with plans to hold the 16th show on April 24 and 25 next year at the Royal Welsh Showground in Builth Wells, subject to restrictions at the time.
Due to the ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, the show attendance will be limited to 2,000 each day - it traditionally attracts more than 6,000 visitors - and tickets must be purchased online in advance at www.wonderwoolwales.co.uk
The restrictions have also ruled out the show’s popular Woolschools and Sheepwalk, a woolly take on the catwalk, which will hopefully return in 2022.
However, there will be plenty for visitors to see and do at the show, which was judged best event in Mid Wales at the inaugural Mid Wales Tourism Awards in 2019. Wonderwool Wales was also highly commended in the Best Loved Knitting Show or Event category in this year’s British Knitting & Crochet Awards.
Two stunning and unique exhibitions – a collection of knitted and crocheted maps of seven different places around the UK and a zany, hand crafted interpretation of Alice in Wonderwool – will feature in Hall 3 at the show. Both exhibitions, which were planned for this year’s event, will be raising money for Wales Air Ambulance.
The organisers are aiming for 220 exhibitors to fill the halls with beautiful, hand dyed yarns and fibre, along with equipment and quality finished products, giving visitors an opportunity to stock up on supplies.
For those seeking creative inspiration, there will be demonstrations and have-a-go sessions hosted by some exhibitors. When the shopping is done, there will be plenty of tea and coffee stops and a tempting selection of refreshments from food vendors.
The December 31 closing date is fast approaching for exhibitors to apply for a place at the event.
Chrissie Menzies, a director of Wonderwool Wales, said whilst it had been very disappointing to cancel the 2020 event, the directors were encouraged by the many positive messages received from supporters since it was announced that the 2021 show was going ahead, subject to Covid-19 regulations in April.
“We are very grateful for grant support from the Wales Cultural Recovery Fund which has enabled us to press ahead with plans for Wonderwool Wales in April next year,” she added.
“Tickets for the show are being sold online so that we know exactly how many people are coming. Everyone will be asked to wear masks, carry hand sanitiser with them and adhere to social distancing and any other Covid-19 rules in place at the time.”
Developed to promote the market for Welsh wool and natural fibres, the show has grown in scale and popularity alongside a knitting, crochet, felting and textile craft making boom.
Find out more about the 2021 show at www.wonderwoolwales.co.uk. Like Wonderwool Wales Ltd on Facebook or follow on Twitter @wonderwoolwales
White Rabbit 1: White Rabbit needle felted by Kathy Smart that will be included in the Alice in Wonderland exhibition a Wonderwool Wales 2021
Llandysul Map. John Teale: The Llandysul map that will feature in an exhibition at Wonderwool Wales 2021. Photo: John Teale
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