Friends of the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley - 
VIEWS from Friends No.18 August 2020
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Dear Friends

A warm welcome to Views 18 –and the second of our interim efforts. I was walking, the other day, around Moel Llys y Coed and Moel Arthur and it was noticeable that there were many more people about in this relatively quiet corner of the AONB. The honeypot sites like Moel Famau and the Horseshoe Falls have, of course, been extremely busy.

Whilst this brings its own challenges it’s great to see our protected landscape playing such a crucially important part in maintaining the physical and mental well-being of so many people at this time.

I’m grateful to a number of colleagues who have contributed to this edition of Views. We have a review of the archaeological activities carried out by CRAG on Moel Arthur from Philip Culver and a commentary on the remarkable spring we all enjoyed earlier this year from Robert Moore. Kate Thomson updates us on the OPL project in the Dee Valley, Dave Smith takes a break from WW2 history on a visit to Eglwyseg, Mike Skuse is back with his customary hard-hitting contribution, We also get to meet ranger Tom Hiles  -  and on a more light-hearted note, Neville Howell explores the AONB in a rather unusual way!

There are a few more bits and pieces too, including a note about our 2020 AGM which was held outdoors in Llanarmon. We did discuss at the meeting how we might tentatively move towards holding events again – indeed, we have already had one walk led by Ron Williams – and we will be keeping in touch with you about that. Certainly, the survey recently circulated by our Chair, Julie Masters, has identified a keenness to resume activity in a form acceptable within current guidelines. Another focus in the coming year will be finding good ways of contributing to the AONB using some of the healthy financial surplus we have built up under Nick Ward’s watchful eye.

We hope that, in your various ways, you have been able to continue to enjoy all that the AONB has to offer. As ever, your contributions to Views would be warmly welcomed, either in the form of an article or an interesting picture. Don’t be shy! –  it’s good to be able to provide our readers with a wide spectrum of opinion and comment. Please send either to John -  or Helen

John Roberts


What do you think these structures are part of?

They are located right next to the Offa’s Dyke Path – just across the road from the Clwyd Gate.

You can find the answer at the end of the Newsletter


Volunteer members of the Clwydian Range Archeology Group (CRAG), under the supervision of Dr Ian Brooks (Engineering Archaeological Services Ltd), have continued their investigations of the sloping plateau on the north-western flank of the Moel Arthur hillfort (SJ 146 664). Here we have a look at the work carried out over a four-week period in July 2019. In previous years the group has found evidence for multi-period human activity from the Mesolithic period onwards. Reports of many of these excavations can be found on the group’s website (
Location of 2017 - 2019 trenches in relation of Moel Arthur Hillfort

In 2019 the team opened a 20m square trench adjacent to trenches opened in 2017 and 2018. The topsoil, heather and bracken were removed, very carefully, by mechanical means. Within the main area of the excavation an oval structure was located. This was 6.7m x 5.3m in size and was defined by a shallow, slightly irregular gully with a series of stake-holes along its inner lip. Whilst this may be a building, no door posts were located and there were no associated finds to suggest a possible date. It did, however, appear to sit within the corner of a fenced enclosure with a series of post-holes defining an ‘L’ shape, with the oval structure in the angle. A second line of post–holes ran parallel with the longer leg of the ‘L’ with some suggestion that these holes were paired with those within the main fence line.

A small scatter of flint artefacts was also found in the southern corner of the trench. Three of these were simple flakes and one had been retouched, suggesting that it was part of the debris from a broken tool which had been re-used as a raw material source.

Circular Structure from NW, 2019 Excavation
2019 Trench
Location of the excavation trenches in relation to Moel Arthur Hillfort
Trench Plan 2019

CRAG warmly welcomes new members – why not get in touch? We can be contacted through our web page , or via email We also have a Facebook page.

Philip Culver


Gordale Scar, near Malham in Yorkshire, is well known, unlike a very similar ravine in our AONB cleaving into the Eglwyseg Rocks, near Llangollen. Smaller and admittedly not quite so spectacular, it makes a very pleasant walk - and sometimes scramble - alongside a stream with waterfalls. Unlike the Scar, one can reach the plateau above without recourse to rock-climbing skills. The path, however, is often ill-defined higher up and careful route-finding is necessary to circumvent the various rock outcrops. Crossing and re-crossing the stream via stepping stones is sometimes called for. So, not an easy stroll but do-able if you are reasonably fit.

The limestone cliffs of Creigiau Eglwyseg are that amazing serrated escarpment close to the Dee Valley. Shaped on a sea bed a very long time ago, it is one of the jewels of the AONB. Unfortunately, access is limited to narrow lanes with very few parking spaces, unless you are able and willing to walk considerable distances. For our little expedition, we were lucky to find a spot at the side of the road at SJ218453 near Rock Farm. It is separate from but close to a passing place, so is permissible. The sign-posted path to the gully begins a few yards away.

Having negotiated the ravine with its towering cliffs, which reminded me of Wordsworth's evocative and beautifully symmetrical line 'The crags repeat the raven's croak', we reached the flat rim at the top. A path meanders south-eastwards at a respectful distance from the precipices. On this fine day, there were extensive views of the Dee Valley, Llantysilio Mountain, the Berwyns and much more. 

After inspecting several Bronze Age burial mounds (tumuli) and viewing Dinas Bran from above, we returned to the cleft and its path for a careful descent. Strangely, this path is marked on the 1:50.000 Landranger Map Sheet 117 but not on the 1:25.000 Explorer Map. For the latter, Sheets 255 and 256 overlap, thus either can be used for complete Eglwyseg coverage with extensive scenic walking possibilities.

Dave Smith


Spring 2020 was remarkably dry, in fact it was the driest May for 124 years. This worried farmers across the UK, especially in cereal growing areas. Gardeners may have been struggling with iron-hard soil and wondering when a hosepipe ban would come into force. Parts of north east England and eastern Scotland had the driest Spring since 1862.  

Across the season we had about 120 per cent of the 1981- 2010 average sunshine. Wales and England had the sunniest May since 1929, when the records begin. May was also exceptional for its low rainfall, we had less than 20 percent of the 1981 – 2010 average in that month.

These figures refer to the data supplied by the Meteorological Office which roughly  cover Flintshire and Denbighshire on their UK map. The weather across our patch of north Wales is strongly influenced by the Snowdonian range – giving us the ‘Welsh Riviera’ and generally sunnier, warmer and drier weather than other parts of Wales. Similarly. the Clwydian Range influence our local weather, as is often noted by drivers who pass from rain to sunshine, fog to clear skies, or see a change of temperature as they pass over the range. Halkyn Mountain may make further local modifications. Because my weather station is located in Carmel I will not have data identical with the AONB. Nevertheless the remarkable Spring 2020 can be seen in my records. 

The station measured only a quarter of last year’s Spring rainfall overall. The May rainfall was so low that I initially wondered whether there was a problem with the rain-gauge. The difference with 2019 is striking: in Spring 2019 289mm of rain was recorded; in 2020, 74mm. May’s rainfall of 4.9 mm at the station was less than one tenth of May 2019’s rainfall. May did not win all the records though, our part of North Wales was the warmest part of the whole UK on the 24th March. My maximum Spring temperature was 29.5 degrees Celsius compared with 22.5 in 2019. But Spring temperatures are variable, the 2018 maximum was 26.1. Another feature of good Spring weather is that sunshine and clear blue skies allow for a rapid fall in night-time temperatures, the last ground frost at the station was on 14th May, exactly a month later than in 2019. By contrast, the last air frost was on March 21st, a month earlier than last year.

Through a rather large dish on the side of the house the weather station receives continuous data from a series of geostationary and polar orbiting weather satellites.

This image from the European polar orbiting satellite shows the UK to be almost cloud free on the last day of Spring, May 31st. But anxious farmers and gardeners had their fears allayed when the skies clouded over and 48 mm of rain fell in the first week of June.

Robert Moore


A few weeks ago, I don’t think many of us would have expected we’d be able to hold the Charity’s 2020 AGM on the allocated date of the 12th August but hold it we did thanks to the efforts of our indefatigable trustee Christine Evans. A prominent member of the active local community of Llanarmon yn Ial, Christine was able to secure access to the open-air gazebo outside the Raven Inn which, with Welsh Government regulations comfortably adhered to, proved the perfect setting for the occasion. Eighteen members attended in what turned out to be very hot weather. Again, Christine and the Raven came to the rescue with ice cold drinks.

Friends Chair Julie Masters led the meeting and gave a lively account of the progress made during the year. She said that she’d had a very good response to the survey she had recently circulated and noted that members were very keen to resume activities when social distancing could be guaranteed. She also thanked her fellow trustees for their help and support through the year.

After the formalities of reappointing those trustees required by the Charity Commission to retire by rote, Secretary John Roberts presented the draft annual report for 2019/20 which had been previously circulated and was another of the Commission’s requirements. This was approved by the meeting.

Then it was the turn of Treasurer Nick Ward to paint a healthy financial picture, with a surplus of £6000 in the accounts. He was able to report that we were now registered for Gift Aid and that the Ross Legacy of £10000, which would qualify for this, had now been substantially spent as intended on Moel Famau, with new benches provided and major work done on black grouse habitat improvement. Nick also reported a steady level in membership which currently stood at just over two hundred and he thanked those who had responded to his request to pay by direct debit. 

Events Secretary Neville Howell was next on his feet with an update on the position regarding our walks, talks and other events. He explained the change of emphasis where Friends events would now be linked more closely with the AONB’s own “Out and About” programme - whilst we would still retain some special events of our own. Clearly, the present emergency had played havoc with the programme, but it would be fully reinstated when the time was right. He had, for instance, already rescheduled two cancelled wildflower walks for the same time next year and he thanked Ron Williams for leading the first Friends walk since the emergency, a couple of days previously.

An informal question and answer session followed and, with a healthy financial position achieved, those present were agreed that the Trustees should focus effort in the coming months on finding ways in which Friends might be able to positively contribute to worthwhile projects in the AONB, using some of this funding. 

Finally it was time for AONB Ranger Steve Williams to give us an enthusiastic and amusing account of his day to day work based at Loggerheads but with much of his responsibilities in the north of the area – Prestatyn Hillside, Coed Bell above Gronant and Gop Hill. Formerly a social worker, Steve had a very refreshing approach to his work and his lively contribution was much enjoyed by all.

Christine then provided some much-needed refreshment. Grateful thanks to her and all those attending an innovative AGM that was the same but different!

John Roberts - Editor


There is a quiet revolution happening in farming, and recent developments do not bode well for the future of our countryside.

In Powys, just to the south, there are now 116 Intensive Chicken Units, each housing between 40,000 and about 160,000 birds. Some of these are for egg production and are designated “Free Range” – but those two words and “Intensive” do not sit happily together.

Others are for broiler production, with day old chicks maturing to “table weight” in about 40 days. During this short time, the birds are kept indoors, in controlled lighting and controlled heating to maximise their growth in the shortest possible time.  They are fed on protein-rich wheat/soya based feeds, which are typically purchased off-farm from commercial feed mills.

There are massive welfare issues, but I am sure you know already what they are, and I will not repeat them here.  I just want to say that what Powys has already got, our three counties of Denbighshire, Flintshire and Wrexham will surely get tomorrow. Chicken is by far the most popular form of meat in the UK, partly because of its versatility and, some might say, its taste.

UK (and Welsh) Government policy is to promote UK production of food, both for the sake of the economy and for our health. We don’t fancy chlorinated chicken from the USA !

And so, this type of intensive “agriculture” is included in the permitted, indeed encouraged, uses of farmland in Wales.

My argument is that it isn’t agriculture at all. The whole enterprise depends on massive buildings, concrete hardstandings, hoppers and machinery. All the feed is imported on to the farm, often via quiet country lanes and through villages.  Fields are not required, except for the spreading of the litter at the end of each 40 day cycle. This certainly benefits the fertility of the farm, but at what a cost! The farmers don’t usually even own the birds – they are contracted by large companies and get paid on a per bird basis.

So if we must develop our food production in this way, we should surely put these industrial-sized units on industrial estates, and not in the middle of our countryside, which for centuries has been  the envy of less fortunate places in Britain.

If you have a view about this, or if I have made any mistakes that need correction, do please send me an email at

Mike Skuse


Hello everyone,

The trouble with having time on your hands is that you don’t do the things you maybe should be doing. Don’t do today what you can put off until tomorrow someone once said.

Well instead of cleaning the windows or reading long pronouncement on Open Spaces by Natural Resources Wales or Welsh Government Plans for the A483 Wrexham Bypass, doing my filing, tagging my old photographs, (cleaning the oven Joyce adds) etc. I have been amusing myself finding rhymes inspired by Vera Lynne and the circumstances of World War 2. Perhaps some of you are too young to remember the war but you must have heard of Vera Lynn; passed away recently aged 103. (Just a bit older than me)

Well here’s a bit of doggerel. It may amuse, if not then please ignore it. 

You could have a try yourself. There’s lots more places in and near our special AONB for which you could find a rhyme. If you do, remember to try singing it to “There’ll be Bluebirds over…”. Not that there have ever been bluebirds over Dover: they must have been Swallows or Martins.

There'll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover

Tomorrow, just you wait and see
There'll be love and laughter
And peace ever after

Tomorrow, when the world is free

OK, Ok,  but  what about this –

There’ll be Red Grouse aplenty
In the ling on Moel Fenlli
Tomorrow just you wait and see

Little Terns will call their tunes
Above the Gronant Dunes

Up soaring there’ll be hawks
Above Eglwyseg Rocks

There’ll be Buzzards flying higher
than the slopes of Moel y Gaer

There’ll be wild orchids blooming
In Minera I’m presuming

And salmon there will be
Migrating up the Dee

Cuckoos will make a call
Close to Llanbedr Hall

The Llangollen rare Whitebeam
May just remain unseen

There’ll be thrushes singing early
At the Castle of Caergwrle

Little rabbits will hop hop
From their burrows on the Gop
(thanks Joan)

And in places where it suits
There’ll be Great Crested Newts

etc. ~

When we hear Drakeford’s call
There’ll be walks and talks for all
Tomorrow, when we’re Virus free

Then we will leave our beds
For the Leete at Loggerheads 

And the weather will be fine
as we walk up Cyrn-y-Brain

And as early as the lark
We’ll be up on Moel-y-Parc

At Pen-y-Pigyn at Corwen
We will enjoy again

and the drinks that we’ve been cravin’
we can get them at the Raven

Tomorrow, when we’re Virus free

There’ll be walks and talks for all
When you hear Drakeford’s call

Tomorrow, just you wait and see
Tomorrow, when we’re Virus free

And lots more like that. Stay safe everyone; we’ll meet again!

Best Regards,

Neville Howell


AONB Website – Have a look at the AONB’s redesigned website which is full of the latest information and is superbly illustrated. Friends gets a mention too – see if you can find it ! 

Llangollen Railway – good to see this major Dee Valley attraction is back in action. Do check the Railway’s website for the special travelling conditions currently in place.

Moorland Officer – great news that this appointment will go ahead – jointly funded by Denbighshire County Council and Natural Resources Wales. After the devastating fires of 2018, this initiative will help coordinate the management of at risk areas and protect both environmental and local land management activities.


It was a stunning summer evening a couple of weeks ago. I couldn’t go wrong really. I’d chosen well, a short stroll up to the summit of Moel Gyw using the Offa’s Dyke Path from the Clwyd Gate. Not a soul about so no problem with post lockdown social distancing – and what views! The Vale of Clwyd bathed in bright sunshine; the Clwydian peaks in all their heather covered finery; the distant higher mountains in sharp relief as far south as Cader Idris. The lovely surprise? A new kissing gate on the ODP! – at last replacing an awkward old stile to which someone had thoughtfully nailed on an additional top bar!! Top marks and grateful thanks to the Denbighshire Rights of Way team.

John Roberts

PS Visibility was down to twenty yards when I went back to take the picture of the gate! This was much to the relief of two guys I met from Hereford who were running the Offa’s Dyke Path. They told me they’d seriously underestimated the severity of the Clwydian Range section the previous day in the scorching heatwave - so the cooler misty day did have its benefits!


Tom is one of the AONB’s Rangers working out of Llangollen and we met, one very warm morning so typical of this summer, at the Ponderosa. We were quickly on our way up to the summit of Cyrn y Brain and Sir Watkin’s Tower, chatting away in the countryside Tom loves best. His enthusiasm for the AONB and its special landscape was soon apparent. He’s lived in and around it all his life and was brought up in Llandegla, attending the local school and then Brynhyfryd in Ruthin, before going on to Loughborough University to study geography. He now lives just outside the AONB in Coedpoeth with wife Lowri, who works in support of students at Glyndwr University, and one-year old daughter Emmeline. By coincidence we met when Tom had just heard that he would be taking a short break from his work with the Llangollen team, having just accepted a short term secondment with Denbighshire County Council’s Tree Officer, Andrew Cutts.  This is how our conversation went:-

Have you always been interested in the countryside?

I suppose, living in Llandegla, I took it a bit for granted at first but, as I grew older and with family who took a keen interest, it took a firm hold!

Did you envisage a career in countryside management whilst at Loughborough?

I had a fairly open mind at the time, as so many of us do, but after graduating I had the chance to become a temporary warden at the little tern colony in Gronant and I loved the close involvement with the natural world. This led to a chance to join the Denbighshire/AONB team in Rhyl and subsequently to my present post in Llangollen. It’s been a full and varied experience so far and I’m looking forward to all that lies ahead in what is a very challenging time, both for the environment and society as a whole.

I’ve obviously caught you at a very interesting time! – tell me all about your secondment with Andrew.

Well, you’ll know all about the major problem we have nationally with Ash Dieback. This has considerable local implications and Andrew is looking for support to both assess and address the problem. I’m at the stage in my career where I’m keen to broaden my experience in the wider environmental field and this one-year secondment seemed an ideal opportunity whilst still retaining my close links with the local team. Nick from Plas Newydd will also be involved.

It’s a worrying issue 

Certainly. Ash is one of the most widespread trees in the area and the disease will have a considerable impact on the landscape which will need to be carefully managed. There’s also the health and safety aspect, with many of the affected trees close to busy highways. We’ll be liaising closely with the Highways team. It’s going to be quite a change and quite a challenge.

You’ll miss your work at Llangollen, though?

Certainly. It’s a great team and I really enjoy the work. The advantage of the secondment is that I gain new and valuable experience which will help both me and the team when I go back. I’ve already worked on problems of a similar kind such as our crusade against Himalayan Balsam on the Dee!

Yes, I recall that. Are you making good progress?

Yes, we’ve made good headway but it’s not something that you can ever relax about. It was fascinating to be able to observe the problem from a different perspective when we rafted down the river. We got a much better idea of the scale of the problem and managing it will be an ongoing task.

What do you like best about your work as a Ranger?

The sheer variety, I suppose. We recently had the major improvement works to the Offa’s Dyke Path above World’s End. That was quite a logistical exercise! The management of access to the Dee is always a challenge and the recent improvements at the Horseshoe Falls have seen a huge increase in visitor numbers. This is great to see but, of course, it also creates its own problems which we have to manage on a day to day basis.

Later today, I’m going with Ellie (Ellie Wainwright – another member of the team) to meet our volunteers at the Corwen Community Garden to discuss forward plans. Then it’s off to Caer Drewyn hill fort to look at boundary issues there. We need to ensure safe access whilst properly protecting a very precious local asset. Each day brings something different and today is just a typical example.

What about outside interests?

Well, as you can imagine, life at home watching Emmeline growing up is pretty full on! I really enjoy fell and trail running though. I can get out into the countryside and cover, in a much shorter time, an area it would me far longer to walk. I’m setting myself more strenuous challenges too and it fits in well with home, work and life generally.

Judging by the effortless way Tom had handled Cyrn Y Brain that morning he must be a formidable athlete! It was time to ask him my usual final question – what’s your favourite spot in the AONB?

My favourite spot is probably Cyrn y Brain so thanks for the excuse to walk up there! From the forestry side is probably the best route for me.

We wish Tom the very best in his new role over the next twelve months and look forward to hearing about progress on this difficult problem.

# PHOTOS PLEASE Have you got any striking images of the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley that you are happy for the friends to use in future editions of the Newsletter, please send them to Helen at

Our Picturesque Landscape – an update   

Incredibly the Our Picturesque Landscape project is now entering the last quarter of the second year of the five-year delivery phase. Since the last update we are continuing to closely follow government guidance and at present it looks as though the coming months will still be focused on looking at what can be achievably delivered whilst following home working arrangements for the project staff and partners. Time has been spent looking at a detailed assessment of all of the projects to look at what can continue, what can continue but in a different way and what aspects will have to wait until restrictions are eased. Considerable effort has been spent developing plans for the coming months and new ways of delivering.

There has been a big push towards virtual community engagement whilst face to face volunteering and engagement has been put on hold. A virtual youth project was devised allowing young people to take photographs of their local landscape, manipulate them digitally and films made of their images to words and music to reveal the impact their local landscape has had on them during the lockdown period.

A collaborative arts project for communities within the Dee Valley is currently taking place where residents use a variety of art forms to create artwork which will be transferred onto ceramic tiles to become a collective mural. 

The biggest change to the team has been that Sallyanne, Community and Engagement Officer has now left for a period of maternity leave. Sallyanne had a baby girl Olivia Beatrice Jones on Thursday 30th July at 10.02am weighing 5lb 9 oz. Both are doing really well and recovering at home. At the end of July interviews were held for a 13 month maternity cover post and the team are delighted to welcome Hannah Marubbi into post in mid-September.

We hope to look in more detail at other exciting things in future issues but here is a very brief outline of what’s in the pipeline -

•    Improving the view – Initial work has been concentrated on planning for the improvement of the view of Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. A woodland management plan has been commissioned for the land under the aqueduct and along the Llangollen canal with full community consultation planned.

•    Dinas Bran Gatehouse – This initiative is aimed at providing controlled access to the currently closed gatehouse. Initial work has involved a condition survey and the removal of accumulated debris on site.

•    Invasive Species – following on from last years detailed survey which highlighted the most appropriate areas, contractors have been conducting Himalayan Balsam eradication work along sections of the River Dee in July and August. 

•    Countryside Grants Scheme – continuing to provide match funding for eligible projects such as hedgerow planting and management, tree planting, coppicing and dry-stone walling.

•    Connecting Habitats – focussing on ffridd land in the Dee Valley including the Panorama, Dinas Bran, Velvet Hill and Caer Drewyn a guide to protecting this landscape and training opportunities are being devised.

•    Restoration of the Dell – stone work repairs have been completed on the Ladies summerhouse steps, new railings are due to be installed in late summer and new stepping stones now cross the Cyflymen stream. Plans are in place for the creation of a bog garden and new seating is set to be installed created from the timber of a 200-year-old elm tree that sadly had to be felled in the autumn for safety reasons.

•    Picturesque Bus Service – a bus service connecting key heritage sites had been successfully commissioned but is now on hold due to the current circumstances.

We’ll be keeping you in touch through the newsletter as things progress.

Kate Thomson


These storage tanks are part of the Alwen Aqueduct. Constructed between 1911 and 1921, it still pipes water from the Alwen to Birkenhead, forty-two miles away. A great feat of engineering, it passes unremarked and unnoticed through the AONB, travelling under the Bwlch through a tunnel located next to the picture.

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