Monday, October 30, 2006

Windy Anglesey

You may remember a few years ago that BBC's Groundforce team visited the house of one of RAF Valley's flying instructors to give it a garden makeover. Both days saw the windiest weather imaginable together with the associated horizontal rain. Of course, being on the edge of an airfield the location was bound to be windy. But Anglesey is also known for strong winds at times, being almost a peninsular projecting into the Irish Sea. Alan Titchmarsh spent most of his time trying to dig and plant whilst wearing oilskins. He looked well in his souwester!
It was during our many visits house hunting that we experienced something similar. We were driving around to different addresses in the island on a foul day. On this particular day we seemed to find nothing remotely suitable. By the time afternoon was almost spent we were looking at a couple of properties close to Mynydd Bodafon. After we had looked round the properties I stood and looked across the island to where I could just see Holyhead a few miles away. The wind was blowing quite hard and suddenly the rain came down. Well, I'm not sure that down is the correct word. I think it should be thought of as falling at an oblique angle. The thought passed through my mind, "Why do I want to come and live here?"
Pauline read my thoughts and dragged me over to the car to get warm again. We had one more house to see before we drove back to Rochdale. It was almost dusk as we reached the last property in Llanfaethlu fifteen minutes earlier than the appointment time. Pauline said, "Let's have a look at Church Bay to fill in the time." We drove over to Church Bay and I stood once more looking out to sea by the bungalow at the head of the beach. I was wearing a heavy winter coat as it was January and it made no difference at all. I was absolutely frozen as the wind felt to whip the coat off my back. "Why do I want to live here?" I thought again. It really put me off.
The last house was a very nice one and not the sort we were really looking for. Pauline had noticed the room sizes which were generous. It was a very well maintained house and we began to talk about it all the way along the A55 eastwards. When I complained about the weather I was reminded that all places experienced bad weather and when that happened we remained indoors with all hatches battened down!
Since we have become resident on the island we have seen a few occasions when the weather has been a repeat of horizontal rain. In fact, as the afternoon wore on, our moving day became like that. A lot of wet furniture was brought into the bungalow that day.
There have been days when strong winds caused us to see what the coast was like and we saw a lot of surfing at Rhosneigr and Porth Trecastell. Sometimes we have seen some pretty spectacular waves on the windy days. The problem has always been that the camera cannot capture what the eye sees. The scene flattens out and loses the drama. But we have always said we love Anglesey in all weathers. Now that we live here we do.

Monday, October 16, 2006

A Visit to RAF Valley

Yes, this is me, standing next to one of the BAe Hawk Jet Trainers at RAF Valley which is in Anglesey. Some time ago I was invited by the Station Chaplain to come to a service at the RAF church in Valley to talk about Mission Aviation Fellowship who I represent in North Wales. At the time I asked if it was possible to visit the base and see how it carries out its job of traing RAF pilots to fly fast jets. Today was the day it all happened.

As I drove up to the guardroom I immediately noticed three aircraft of the famous Red Arrows on the tarmac near the gate. Flight Lieutenant Rev Pete Tollerson took me onto the base and we started with a cup of tea in his office. There I saw the evidence of his successful completion of the officers' training course and group photos of other events.

Our first place to visit was the large hangar where aircraft are taken apart and put back together at major servicing times. There was also a great deal of damage on the other planes which had experienced bird strikes. One was a case of a shattered cockpit canopy whilst another had lost a turbine blade which almost ended with a disaster.

Then we set off in Pete's car to the other side of the airfield to see the working aircraft and their crews. Instructors and pupils came into the room to sign in before flying off in their Hawks. In another section I met Mike Squires, an instructor who had previously flown Tornadoes. I had already met Mike when I attended the church service 2 months before. He had been affected by poor visibility in the area he had planned to do some instructing so was not too happy with this.

Further along was the section supporting the rescue helicopter service. There I saw a life jacket being serviced to ensure it was up to standard for regular use. The people were all friendly and approachable. Next door was the Mountain Rescue Team wioth all its specialised equipment.

As I was on this side of the airfield we saw three jets do a circuit prior to landing and Pete exclaimed, "Those are not Hawks!" "No," I replied, "They are French Alphajets!" I knew they were due to make a visit with their support aircraft that day after talking to the young man in the guardroom who knew all the comings and goings at RAF Valley. Soon after this the Red Arrows took off in formation.

Back on the side of the airfield with most buildings I was able to take a rear view shot of the support aircraft which did the same job as the Hercules C130 which supported the Red Arrows. I saw a Red Arrows pilot sitting in a cockpit mock up in the squadron HQ. He looked quite a normal human being!! Soon I ws treated to lunch in the Feeder Unit for the squadron to save them having to go all the way to the Officers' Mess just off base.

I was thrilled at having the chance to visit this base situated on my island. It is an important employer in the area. Next year they expect to see commercial flights to Cardiff as the base becomes dual purpose. Next time I see a Hawk in flight I shall wonder if it is the one I used to lean on for my photo!
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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Hidden Britain

Anglesey is the sort of place that gets a label for very little going on. Whilst this is untrue it is quite a task to bring before the prospective visitor what is happening in Anglesey. This because there is a hidden side to the island which might make a lot of difference.
In a rural area like Anglesey there is always a lot 0f folklore which could entice more visitors to the island. The problem is that it is often not known well enough to attract people. It is this hiden folklore which could draw more visitors of the discerning sort to Anglesey. The trick is how do you get them here? The emerging answer is called "Hidden Britain".
I have discovered a group called Hidden Britain who are people keen to draw to the attention of the British public the hidden side of our culture and folklore which could interest our visitors. Hidden Britain is a project being developed in the Arthur Rank Centre to promote the rural areas of the United Kingdom in terms that would attract the visiting public. It is a church led idea/project which is supported by local traders and community groups in an effort to improve the local economy.
If you believe you can help or if you are a trader who thinks his/her trade can be effective please let me know. As a group we are presently based in Amlwch but this is not written in stone. We can spread over a greater area to encompass a group of specialist traders who, together, as part of a group of supporters of the local economy, can make an economic difference to Anglesey.
If you feel that your knowledge of local folklore and trade can help, please feel free to contact me and add your name to the list of interested parties.
Please contact me as follows: Keith Alexander, Tel: 07866 083447, 01407 831622 or email:

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Flying from Anglesey

In recent months there have been talks about using RAF Valley for commercial flights. The Welsh Assembly has been looking for an airfield in the North of Wales and has aparaentl decided on RAF Valley. Despite much talking we do not appear to be much nearer than agreement in principle.

Today I decided to go down to RAF Valley to see the flying. I arrived to see a number of Hawk jet trainers taking off and landing. Suddenly, another aircraft spotter pointed to two Appache helicopters in the sky and approaching the airfield. I was surprised to see how large these aircraft were and how they posessed a radar dome above the rotor shaft.

There were four notable visiting aircraft which left whilst I was there. The first to leave was my favourite RAF aircraft, the Harrier. It took off in great style in the standard fashion (no vertical aspect to it). After some more Hawk comings and goings another trainer, this time not a jet, took off. It was a Tocano which, in comparison with the other take offs, appeared very slow indeed. But the next take off was by no less an aircraft that the new Typhoon, Eurofighter. It was a much louder sound that assailed our ears on this occasion. One of my colleagues remarked that the pilot was not using the after burners. However, the next aircraft, the Panavia Tornado was using its after burners. The sound was amazing as the aircraft blasted off over our heads.

It is now quite a few years since there was an open day at Valley. It must now be a thing of the past. I remember attending an open day in the 1970s in the last year that the Red Arrows flew Folland Gnats. The Arrows were fantastic, of course. On the farside of the airfield an exercise involving a helicopter and an Austin Mini provided entertainment when the helicopter dropped the car from a great height! Whilst I was there I noticed a sign referring to a non-existent static exhibit. It said the aircraft was an English Electric Lightning but aircraft there was none.

It was later in the week that a knock came at the door of our holiday bungalow. A young couple needed help after their car had been written off in an accident. The man was a serving RAF airman. As I drove them to make contact with family who were staying over in Benllech, he told me that the missing aircraft was six miles away in the Irish Sea where it had been ditched. The pilot had been unable to get the landing gear into position on approach to RAF Valley and had to eject.

For anyone interested in aircraft, a mid week hour or two down at Valley will always produce the goods. There is virtually no flying at weekends as it is a training establishment. During the week there is much flying to be seen with the inclusion of helicopters and various different visiting aircraft. the RAF also train pilots from other air forces so often you might a flight by one or two of these.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Good Food and Anglesey

Today and tomorrow you can visit the Anglesey Oyster Fair. It is being held in a marquee at the Treaddur Bay Hotel. Pauline and I had heard of it last year but could not get details so that we could go. This morning, fresh from a month's holiday in Greece, we drove over to see what was happening.

It is a good food show where most of the participants are producing food somewhere on Anglesey. You walk in and the first stall you encounter is that of Menai Oysters whose product gives the show its name. We lingered at their stall as they opened two of the biggest oysters I have ever seen. They were ours to taste for £1.50 each. The taste was simply unique. We have bought and opened many oysters over the years but these were so refreshing and tasted different to the previous purchases. We bought a takeaway bag of 12 for £6.00. Guess what the starter is for tonight's dinner?

Other stalls belonged to a number of proud local butchers who were selling meat of a quality you can only get in Wales. Eat your hearts out, all you devotees of Scottish beef because Welsh beef is fantastic in taste. This is one thing we soon learned when we settled in Anglesey two years ago. Interestingly, one of the butchers (not from Anglesey) was selling lamb and mutton. Now we have never tasted mutton, so we made a purchase with a casserole in mind. Watch this space!

Tom Barlow from Anglesey's only vineyard at Llanpadrig was there and the wine we tasted was top rate. His sparkling wine is so popular that he has sold out this year. We now have to wait till spring 2007 to taste the 2006 vintage. Another trader was selling locally made liqueurs. Pauline loved the cream liqueur whilst I preferred the apricot flavoured one. You could also buy bara brith and other baked food. As I need to lose a considerable amount of weight I did not linger at this stall.

The one stall we just had to stop at and ask about the food was that of David Livingstone of Cemaes Bay. David has an enormous quantity of lobster pots and crab pots out in the Irish Sea. Call him and you can go sea fishing from his boat, "Catfish". He also brings back lobsters and crabs from his sea fishing trips to order. The big question we asked was how do we kill and cook lobster. Now that we know we shall be practicing very soon.

One lady who was there told us about her local honey and health creams she mixed. Pauline was impressed by the cream and said it made her skin feel good. If you love ice cream there were two stalls who specialised in this. One of them also sold specialist coulis to accompany their ice cream.

At the end of the three lines of stalls was Derimon, our local smokery. It is one of the joys of ourlife to visit Derimon which is about a mile and a half from us. If it is classed as food they can smoke it. An obvious product is smoked salmon but there are many more foods which can benefit from smoking. I remember buying some smoked cashew nuts which tasted beautiful some months ago. On their stall they had some smoked tomatoes!

In addition to the stalls there was a session in progress which was all about cheese. It was a joy to be there. The occasion did, however, have a down side. Earlier this week, Maurice, the owner of the Lastra Farm Hotel died suddenly. I am sure he would have loved to be at the show and help promote local produce. Many Anglesey residents love to eat at the Lastra Farm Hotel and they all knew and loved Maurice.

Before we took up residence in Anglesey I wondered if we would be able to get good food. Since we came the various places have been tested and found to be of a high calibre. But don't just take my word for it. Come and tase it for yourself.