Caernarfon Castle’s poignant autumn tribute

poppies-in-windowA dramatic and thought-provoking art installation entitled the Weeping Window was unveiled at Caernarfon Castle this month. The work, made up of six thousand handmade ceramic poppies, is part of a nationwide tour marking the centenary of the Great War of 1914-18 and is on display free to members of the public until 20 November.

Assembled in a stunning waterfall pattern gushing from the castle walls, the poppies have already attracted thousands of viewers keen to see this unique installation or pay their respects to the fallen.

The installation is a moving tribute to the many thousands of soldiers who lost their lives during the First World War as part of the 14-18 NOW programme. The aim of the programme is to utilise the poppy sculptures to engage new audiences across the United Kingdom. It is the hope of the curators that discussions about the legacy of the Great War will be the result of seeing the breathtaking but poignant tribute.

Thirteenth century Caernarfon Castle was chosen deliberately to house the poppies on this leg of their UK tour. The CADW-maintained stronghold forms part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site but it is also home to a museum charting the history of Wales’s longest serving regiment – the Royal Welch Fusiliers. The installation is being managed in association with Royal Welch Fusiliers and the Wales for Peace programme.

History of the installation

Caernarfon Castle’s Weeping Window and a second, entitled Wave, originally formed part of the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Blood installation that so moved audiences at the Tower of London in 2014.

Seen by over 5 million people in London, the 900,000 poppies were removed at the end of November 2014 to commence a nationwide tour. Now the sculptures, created by artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper, are helping to highlight the legacy of the Great War to an even wider audience at selected locations across the UK until the autumn of 2018.

The poppies will end their tour at Imperial War Museums North and London, where they will be gifted to the museums in perpetuity.

Do dragons rumble in the deep?

Caernarfon’s unique display has been in the headlines for more patriotic reasons lately too. Since opening, the exhibition has received many comments about the arrangement of the poppies resembling a dragon’s claw. The similarity has made the installation all the more poignant for locals as the mythical dragon is also the national emblem of Wales.

Artist Paul Cummins said that it was a ‘happy accident’ that archaeological artefacts lying beneath the courtyard lawn had dictated where the poppies could and could not be ‘planted’.

Planning your visit

CADW expect the Weeping Window to attract more than 3,000 visitors a day to the castle during its stay so it’s essential to plan your visit in advance. This will avoid disappointment (especially during peak periods such as autumn half-term and Remembrance Sunday) and guarantee a great photo opportunity.

The installation is at Caernarfon Castle from 12 October to 20 November and can be viewed between 10:00-17:00 every day during the period. The Weeping Window is FREE to view but the castle has limited capacity. To ensure you get in on your preferred day, pre-book your tickets here.

Best Dark Skies over North Wales

geirionyddPerhaps you hadn’t heard, or we should say, seen, but last Christmas the night sky above the Snowdonia National Park was granted special protection. Officially recognised as an International Dark Sky Reserve, Snowdonia is just one of ten specially selected sites across the globe granted ‘Dark Sky’ status.

But just what is Dark Sky status? Well, any area with superb quality night air – clear and unpolluted enough to allow a good view of the night sky – stands a chance of being shortlisted for this coveted accolade. However, considering how densely populated our planet is, areas of low light pollution are few and far between, making Dark Sky Reserves rare and precious places indeed.

Snowdonia was appointed a Dark Sky Reserve in December 2015 by the Dark Sky Institute, based in Tucson Arizona. It joins a prestigious list of places, including the nearby Brecon Beacons National Park and the not so near Aoraki Mackenzie Reserve in New Zealand.

But you don’t have to be an experienced astronomer to get the most out of a reserve. Anyone with an appreciation of our universe – young or old, amateur or professional – can enjoy our dark skies. And with one right on our doorstep, we’re encouraging you to grab your binoculars, don your woollies and have a night out with a difference.

Whatever your reason for stargazing: perhaps you’ve been inspired by high-profile scientists like Brian Cox; perhaps you just enjoy an opportunity for quiet reflection, pondering our place in the universe; or perhaps you and the kids want a unique new learning experience, you don’t need to travel far to gaze at the night sky in North Wales.

We’ve compiled a list of our favourite local spots to enjoy Snowdonia’s dark skies, with some top tips to get the most from your night.

1) Moel Hebog

The quaint village of Beddgelert is no stranger to galactic goings-on; a local hotel was hit by a meteorite in 1949, the impact heard for miles around!

Moel Hebog is Beddgelert’s mountain. Rising almost 800 metres above the village, it dominates the skyline and provides breathtaking, uninterrupted views of the night sky, in particular the Milky Way. The route is well-trodden but demanding and steep most of the way up – this is one for only the fittest of stargazers.

Our top tip: if arriving before dusk, visit the grave of Gelert, faithful hound of Llewelyn the Great. Perhaps it will inspire you to seek out Sirius, the Dog Star, later that night.

2) Llyn Geirionydd

This is a very popular lake above Betws y Coed, hidden deep in the Gwydir Forest. The lakeside has all the facilities you need for a comfortable spot of stargazing; the public car park and on site toilets are really handy when settling down for a long night. We love this spot and think it’s worth the journey to immerse yourself in the stunning natural surroundings of primeval forest and sheer cliff faces.

There are few more atmospheric places to watch the stars. Weather conditions permitting, Geirionydd provides the clearest dark sky views of anywhere in the national park.

Our top tip: take a picnic and enjoy a tranquil twilight picnic at the water’s edge. Just beautiful.

3) Llyn Llydaw

Llyn Llydaw is a brilliant choice for people who really want to enjoy the Dark Sky Reserve, but for whom a summit climb is a little too much.

Following the Miners’ Track up from Pen y Pass provides access to the shores of dramatic Llyn Llydaw, a glacial lake in the shadow of Mount Snowdon. This fully-accessible route is a great choice if you have young children or if you’re a stargazer with mobility problems.

Our top tip: night photographers love the seclusion and beauty of this spot. If the conditions are agreeable, venture further up to Llyn Glaslyn for even more breathtaking views and photo opps!

4) Tŷ Cipar

Tŷ Cipar means ‘Gamekeeper’s House’ in Welsh. This little cottage is located between Llan Ffestiniog and Ysbyty Ifan and borders one of the largest areas of blanket bog found anywhere in Wales. By day, birdwatchers scan the skies for birds of prey, including the elusive Peregrine Falcon and diminutive Merlin, but by night this remote spot boasts an amazing panorama of the night sky.

Tŷ Cipar is a night photographer’s Mecca and many of the most iconic shots of Snowdonia’s dark skies are taken right here.

Our top tip: take a subterranean trip through the abandoned mines of Snowdonia at Go Below in Penmachno – visit caves, lakes, caverns and ancient workings on this unique tour. We think the trip underground helps you really appreciate the expanse of the cosmos on a long night’s stargazing.

Don’t forget!

  • you see the most stars on nights with a new or crescent moon;
  • try to choose places with good sight lines – all of the above sites are perfect;
  • don’t start stargazing until at least ninety minutes after the sun has set;
  • wrap up warm and take snacks and a flask of your favourite hot drink;
  • use a torch with a red bulb. You’ll be able to find your way without affecting your eyes, allowing you to adjust to the dark quicker.

Image: Llyn Geirionydd by Moonlight, by erwlas via Flickr