Our first stop was a visit to Trawsfynydd. A long track led us upward to the farm of the Evans family, Yr Ysgwrn where Ellis Humphrey Evans, also known as Hedd Wyn the Shepherd Poet and the Soldier Poet of Snowdon was born in 1887, the first of fourteen children.
He was very young when he began writing poems and by the age of twelve had mastered the hardest form of Welsh poetry (the cynghanedd). Although he left school at fourteen to work on the farm, by the age of nineteen he began regularly competing in the local Eisteddfodau, his first chair of six being won at Bala. In 1910 he took the name Hedd Wyn, ’blessed peace.’ As the First World War progressed, he was conscripted. During a brief return to the farm to help with ploughing and planting he wrote the poem Yr Arwr (The Hero) which he finally entered for the 1917 National Eisteddfod having managed to post it from France. At the Eisteddfod, held in Birkenhead, he did not step forward when his name was called to announce the winning bard: He had been killed at Passchendaele six weeks earlier. His chair, with the most intricate carving and made of ancient oak by a Belgian craftsman, was draped in a black shroud and was returned to Yr Ysgwrn amid much mourning where it joined the other chairs.
The farmhouse was still the family home in 2012 when the Snowdonia National Park took it over, carefully restoring the little-changed cottage, and built a small and excellent visitor centre. All the bardic chairs are still in the cottage with The Black Chair having pride of place. It was a moving experience to visit and is a powerful symbol of a lost generation of young men.
The original manuscript of the winning poem Yr Arwr is housed in the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth.
After lunch in Porthmadog we boarded the Ffestiniog Railway for the very enjoyable hour-long journey to Blaenau Ffestiniog, passing beautiful scenery: Trees, woods, rivers and lakes at their spring best.
Our coach then met us and took us on to Slate Mountain and the Llechwedd slate caverns, which we did not actually venture down, but information and signs of the industrial past were all around us. This is also the end of the recently introduced huge zip wire and it was fascinating to see the participants reaching the finish!
It was a very full day out and was much enjoyed by all who went.