Author Archives: ianmabberley

We’re in the money!

We learned on Wednesday that we have been successful in our first major bid for funding for doing up Pen y Cae.

The Brecon Beacons National Park’s Sustainable Development Fund has deferred a decision on our bid back in September whilst they asked for more details on a couple of points.

This time we were able to join the ‘meeting’ to answer directly any concerns they had. Sue and I joined from a wet Grwyne Fawr and Cath Larkins from lock-down in sunny France! The wonders of modern technology!

We joined the meeting just in time to hear Pen y Cae being described in rather downbeat terms by one of the panel members, but it turns out we just missed his very glowing memories of using the centre in the 80’s and 90’s.

We were pleased to note a number of friendly faces around the screen, people Sue and I have worked with in the past and present, so hoped that would be a good omen.

It turned out they were the ones who asked the more awkward questions, while one member of the panel sat stroking his cat like a certain villain out of a James Bond movie!

Fortunately, we had come armed with all the information they needed and Cath was able to quote some of her learned dissertations on child welfare which seemed to bring out nods of approval.

Then with a few quick Thank You’s from the Chairman and we were summarily cut off!

A quick phone chat with Cath and we felt we were probably onto a winner, and fortunately the confirmation arrived via e-mail only an hour or so later.

We have yet to see the full offer, but we assume it is for the full £21,300 we applied for.

Now we await a decision on the next bid at Awards for All for their maximum of £10,000.

Pen y Cae on Sea???

Amazing weather on Sunday, with clear sunny skies on the tops and thick mist in the valleys, makes Pen y Cae look like it’s by the seaside!

I suppose on a VERY clear day and standing on a tall step ladder with a good pair of binoculars, you MIGHT just see the Bristol Channel, but in truth Pen y Cae remains a mountain get-away rather than a seaside chalet.

The good news however is that the Brecon Beacons National Park Sustainable Development Fund have accepted our funding bid for just over £21,000 and so we now await the decision from Awards for All to match fund the SDF.

Watch this space!

Update on Pen y Cae

The recent COVID problems have set us back a little in getting Pen y Cae up and running, but things are now starting to move ahead again.

Firstly we are now deep in discussion with Natural Resources Wales (NRW) who are the de facto owners of the building. With the help of our legal expert, Andy, who lives just below Pen y Cae, we are working through the various factors which will inform the wording of the final lease. We hope to finalise matters in the not too distant future.

Alongside this we have recently applied for funding from the Sustainable Development Fund (SDF) of the Brecon Beacon National Park Authority. Unfortunately their request for more detail on a couple of points means that we may not get a decision until November, but we are hopeful that they will support us. We are also working up a bid to the Awards for All funding stream and hope to get that sent off in the near future.

Finally with funding from the Black Mountains Land Use Partnership (BMLUP) we have been able to make a wonderful video about the history of Pen y Cae that can be used both for promotional purposes and as a teaching resource once we begin to welcome groups to Pen y Cae. Big thanks on this to Emma, Emma’s children, Cath, Judith and Oliver – there are others but their names escape me! Click here to enjoy it – it can take a short while to load, so persevere!

Some thoughts on Pen y Cae

We were very fortunate that our renewable energy survey funders (Monmouthshire CC and Monmouthshire LEADER) have also funded a video company and so were able to get them to make a lovely short video of a number of us up at Pen y Cae back on a gorgeous sunny September day.

Just click on the links to see us in all our glory!

English version at YouTube

with Welsh subtitles at

Renewable energy ideas for a completely off grid location

As an important part of our Pen Y Cae Outdoor Activities Centre (see our previous post on this  – we needed to find ways of ensuring the building had power for hot water, light and so on without reverting to the original diesel generator.  Easy in a new build, not so easy in a building that was in existence in 1830 – and probably quite a bit before that!

We all know about PV, solar thermal, hydro and wind, but we needed to know what would be the best combination in such a remote situation – and in a National Park.

We were fortunate in that some of the working party have close links with a number of people involved in renewable energy in Monmouthshire – indeed one household (Nant y Bedd) has opened on a number of occasions for the Monmouthshire Eco Open Doors.

Using these contacts we were able to both find a source, actually two sources, of funding and an expert to do the work.

The funding came via Monmouthshire LEADER and the Mons Well being Community project.  Many thanks to them

The work was undertaken by Dean Partridge of Atega, and most comprehensive it was. A full copy of it can be accessed below.

We are very happy for anyone to access and use the information included in the study, but would like to know so that we can add more anecdotal ‘evidence’ or assistance.

Penycae_Sustainable Redevelopment Feasibility Study

All we have to do now is make a final decision on how much of the proposals we need to include in the final specification for the project and then find the money!

Ian Mabberley

Director GFCIC and PyC working group



What a Rubbish way to Recycle

The Grwyne Fawr – a community divided!

Physically divided by our lovely river, but divided in so many other ways.

Children from one side of the valley go to one school, from the other to another school.

“Where is the Rave?” has been a regular question from Police call handlers as Gwent try to palm off the problem to Dyfed-Powys and vice versa.  It’s getting better, but it’s taken a lot of my time and effort.

Two different AM’s, two different MP’s. Even as a director of the CIC I’m only allowed to contact my own AM or MP.  How crazy is that?

Now we have the ‘Case of the Closed Recycling Centre’.  It used to be called the ‘tip’ but now we have to call it the Waste Transfer Station.  Well now the one at Llanfoist – just down the road and on the way to the shops in Abergavenny – has been closed to residents living on the Powys side of the river.

Monmouthshire CC, seemingly at a whim and without consultation or notification, has now made the valley’s Powys residents travel all the way to the far side of Brecon to deposit any bulky recycling that can’t be left at the side of the road every week.

That’s a round trip of over 50 miles for most of us, compared to a slight detour on the way to Waitrose.  So much for cutting vehicle emissions and saving the planet!

What makes it even more ridiculous is that Powys CC collect ALL the rubbish and recycling for Mons CC residents in the valley on a weekly basis.


I’ve been in touch with both Mons and Powys CC’s and they both basically wash their hands of the problem.  I’ve now raised it with Kirsty Williams and it looks as though that much maligned local treasure, the Abergavenny Chronicle, will be taking up the case.

-Update- Here’s the article on Page 3 of the Chronicle dated June 13th 2019

As with the BB issue also here on the blog, we try to do what we can, but we are seriously running out of breath waiting for answers!

Ian Mabberley


Broadband – how long is a piece of fibre?

Since I last updated the Broadband section of this blog in October 2018, a lot has happened – well, actually being honest a lot has NOT happened.

Openreach or how not to Reach into the Open

The Openreach Community idea looked a really good way of getting fibre to our properties, so I sat down with all the local info I could gather and amassed a list of some 37 telephone lines in and around the valley, all served from the same green box at Stanton.

I sat back and waited, then in the middle of December I got an e-mail!  Speedy stuff Broadband! it said

Option 1 Core community –33 Premises
Initial Estimate – £163,434.00/ £4,952.55 per premise

Having picked myself up off the floor I commenced a series of telephone conversations to find a more sensible figure.  After all the likelihood of all 37 phone line owners (or 33 if you use their figures) agreeing to divvy up the £163,434 was pretty remote and so the actual per interested property would be significantly higher.

Various grants were mentioned but even they would only go so far as to reduce the per property amount by about £1000 each.

So, back to my Openreach contact and I’m still waiting for a revised version.  Apparently they have been surveying the area to arrive at a different solution.

We wait without holding our breath!

Political assistance

Our local Assembly Member on the Powys side (how annoying the county boundary can be!) is Kirsty Williams (who also happens to be Welsh Minister in charge of Education – so she’s at the ‘top table”).  With so many communities in her patch all suffering from the lack of BB, she organised a meeting in Talgarth with the Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport, Lee Waters.  Apparently BB is his responsibility – one would have thought something as important as BB would warrant a full Minister, not a Deputy, but apparently BB isn’t ‘devolved’ so doesn’t have a Welsh Government (WG) budget directly.

Apparently he has just let £22m in contracts to BT and Openreach to fix a number of what used to be known as ‘Not Spots” , now apparently ‘NGA White areas’.  This sounded a lot, until he explained that WG had allocated £80m.  Therefore they still have £58m sloshing around that they could easily allocate to communities like ours to purchase our system from Openreach as above – I said, a few times!  Needless to say it’s not that easy – procurement policies and state aid rules prohibit certain things and are good to hide behind – I know I’ve done it!

Also present were two senior people from Openreach, who are responsible for putting up the fibre cables.  One said nothing at all apart from his name, the other did respond to criticism but mainly in the way of “I’ll find out and get back to you.”

A very valid point was made by a gent from Kington who pointed out that the residents of say Cardiff had all this stuff landed on their doorsteps for free, without asking and without spending hours and hours trying to get something done.  It doesn’t seem fair that we should be left to moulder (or pay extortionate satellite charges) just because we live in the countryside – where in fact there is a greater social need for good connections.

Final member of the ‘top table’ was Viv Collins who is the Civil Servant in charge of the Superfast Cymru programme.

Having put our situation quite strongly during the meeting – tried every alternative solution currently on the market, but the topography of the valley doesn’t suit any of them; ridiculous quote from Openreach etc.  – I managed to get a word with Viv Collins at the end of the meeting. She suggested that she should get one of her team to visit the valley to understand the problems.

Again we wait without holding breath.

Ian Mabberley


Pen y Cae Project

The CIC has set up a working group to investigate the possibilities of bring the building known as Pen y Cae back into use as an outdoor activites centre for local schools, Scouts etc.

This blog pulls together a few of the pieces of information about the project.

It all started with a chance meeting between a passing cyclist and a local resident & member of the CIC.  Read on ……..

Serendipity – or a chance meeting sets us going

The initial proposal from Cath Larkins


Throughout the 1980s and 90s Pen y Cae was leased from the Forestry Commission by the Portway School Foundation Governors. On a clear day, my father, who was the head teacher, could see the Sugar Loaf from his office. To celebrate his 18thbirthday, my father, had cycled from London to Wales and then over the Gospel Pass to Hay, seeing mountains for the first time. He was determined that every child at his school would have the sorts of opportunities he’d never had; Pen y Cae was part of making that happen. He’d spotted the building on a walk, applied for a grant and got Manpower Service Commission support to build a shower and toilet block extension and cesspit. A pipe was put in to a nearby spring. A local forge made a back boiler and grate to fit the fireplace and my father completed the plumbing and carpentry himself, with a little help from his children! Half a class at a time, would come and stay there, with two or three teachers who were skilled enough to manage with up to 16 children and without electricity for five days at a time.

In the summers and at weekends, we were also fortunate enough to use Pen y Cae as a family; doing some of the maintenance, as well as using it as a base for walking, making music, writing and painting. My parents continued to stay there after he retired, but after my mother died in 1999 we never returned and my father headed off to higher mountains in the Pyrenees. Then when I moved to Abergavenny three years ago, and in the last few weeks of my father’s life, we talked of Pen y Cae often.  I showed him pictures of the new view, now many surrounding trees have been felled, and told tall stories of how it was still being used by groups exploring the hills. I feel some obligation now, if possible, to try to may those words true.

With this in mind, after a serendipitous encounter with Sue Mabberley in June 2018, I visited Pen y Cae with a colleague. We assessed the current situation and considered possible futures to investigate. My colleague and I both have some experience of renovating stone houses and we both take groups (children, young people and adults) on residentials. As a Forest School Leader, I also have experience of taking groups into remote locations with minimal/no facilities. I currently direct a university research centre concerned with childhood and youth, and therefore have a reasonable understanding of current issues in education and children’s social care.

Current situation

It appears that Pen y Cae is being used for livestock. In the last two years, the bunk beds, tables and chairs have been removed. The kitchen has been gutted and boards have been put over some of the toilets. Apart from some bags of woolly jumpers, the building is now empty.

There has been an attempt to force the front door, which has damaged the door surround. The rear door has no lock. There is one broken window. The roof, ceiling and first floor woodwork remain in good condition, although there are some signs of penetrating damp in a few places, some torn roofing felt and some degradation of mortar. One of the lean-to stores has partially collapsed. It is likely that the water pipe from the spring has deteriorated. There are no gutters on the building, but this has been a source of annoyance for many years!

On the ground floor there are two small rooms, a former kitchen space and four toilets and showers. The hot water system seems to be still in place, but the fire was always very smoky and a wood burning stove with back boiler would be more efficient. The upstairs can be accessed via two staircases. One built into the wall by the chimney leads from the main room to a bedroom. The other leads from the ante room, where teachers used to sleep on mattresses on stone benches, to a mezzanine. A lockable door between the two upstairs spaces used to enable gender segregation of pupils.


The early History of Pen y Cae

By Oliver Fairclough

Pen y Cae is one of a number of small farms high on the middle part of the Ffwddog ridge. These include Fferm, Ffwddog Fawr, Ffwddog Fach and Picau. These were sold, together with Cadwgan and Neuadd, by Blanche Baker Gabb to the Forestry Commission in 1937. By then most of the land was rented with Ffwddog Fawr, and the whole area was planted by the Forestry Commission during and soon after World War II.

OS Map 6 inches to the mile, 1905

Pen y Cae is probably identifiable on the first OS map published in 1830 (but not named), and is clearly shown on the 1843 tithe map (below) of the hamlet of Foothog in the parish of Cwmyoy.

Tithe Apportionment map, 1843, and detail © National Library of Wales

In 1843 Pen y Cae was a sixteen-acre smallholding, including two arable fields and a wood, in addition to grass pasture. It was owned and occupied by a John Davies.  This may be same John Davies who lived at Picau nearby from before 1841 to after 1871, as he paid rates on both in 1870. Pen y Cae does not appear as an occupied building in the censuses (made every ten years from 1841) though an Ann Williams of Pen y Cae was buried in Cwmyoy in 1852.

Given its location on the upper part of the ridge at around 400 metres, it is perhaps an 18thcentury enclosure from the ‘waste’ or common land. The hamlet or manor of Ffwddog belonged to the Earl of Abergavenny until its sale to Richard Baker Gabb in 1889, and although John Davies rented Picau from the Abergavenny estate, Pen y Cae had no landlord. Both Picau and Pen y Cae seem to have been abandoned at about that time, during the late 19th-century Agricultural Depression. Pen y Cae is listed among the properties sold by Blanche Baker Gabb in 1937. It was then farmed with Ffwddog Fawr, though in the early 20thcentury the tenant of Cadwgan used it, and kept cattle in the house (oral testimony recorded by Isobel McGraghan, 1970s).

Pen y Cae seems to have survived in relatively good condition because it was re-roofed in corrugated iron, probably during the first half of the 20thcentury. The house itself may date from c.1770-1850.  It has a Georgian appearance (central entry, symmetrically windows), but retains the older feature of a stone spiral stair adjacent to the fireplace. The outline on the 1843 tithe map suggests that there may then have been a small barn or cow house beyond the cottage itself, the latter perhaps being extended post-1843. A building survey should clarify the phasing.

What’s happening now?

A very brief description of what has happened since July 2018

First thoughts

Following Cath’s initial contact and a chance meeting with a friend who had recently walked past Pen y Cae, we raised the idea of bringing it back into use at the CIC AGM.  Unanimously it was agreed to “have a look at doing something”.  A week later we set off to investigate the building and found it in surprisingly good condition.  Local NRW District Manager, Mike Cresswell, seems to have been responsible for this.  He had arranged for the doors and windows to be secured and the detritus of various flocks of sheep and the occasional vandal removed.  (Big thanks, Mike!)

Doors and windows secured

To the uninitiated it all looked very sound – a view later confirmed by a local builder who offered his time to take a professional view.  There would be a bit of plumbing work required…..

maybe not ready for immediate use

…. but the structure is sound and watertight, even if the cooking facilities needed a bit of upgrading…

“That’s the cooker?”

The ‘advance party’ was happy to continue with negotiations with Natural Resources Wales (NRW), the owners.

“Let’s go for it!”

The paperwork phase

Before we started to ask for approval to take on the lease of Pen Y Cae we did a bit of research. We got in touch with as many as possible of the local schools, the Scouts and the outdoor activity providers.  Was this something they would be interested in?  The overwhelming response was “YES” and it also came with numerous offers of help painting, cleaning etc.

So it looked like a feasible project.

The next job was to complete the NRW application form.  Fortunately we’d done one of these before and so knew pretty much how to do it.  We produced a project plan, accumulated the letters of support from the schools, Scouts etc and filled in the form in the greatest detail possible.  We knew it would take 12 weeks so we sat back and waited – well, no we didn’t, there were plenty of things to discuss and plan for.

Eventually we heard back from NRW that, subject to three main conditions, they were keen to go ahead with the idea.

Condition One:  Planning Permission.   A quick phone call to the National Park planners and Ian having a meeting, by chance, in their offices quickly ascertained that Cath’s father had been extremely efficient back in the ’80’s and all the planning details were there. Here’s a sample

Condition Two: Bats.  Well, we know a thing or two about bats, and we know who to talk to.  One of Sue’s ex-colleagues is part of the Gwent Bat Group and she kindly came to have a look and declared the interior of the building bat free.  There may be bats outside, but we should be able to work round that.

Condition Three:  Is it an Ancient Monument?   Apparently it’s not classified as an Ancient Monument, so no problems here.

Looking to the future

In the interim, we had arranged a feasibility study on powering the site using only renewable energy.  Funded by Monmouthshire CC and the Monmouthshire LEADER programme, we now have a definitive view on how the building can be sustainable and still have hot showers and electricity.  Thanks to Dean Partridge at Atega (and of course Hazel and Mark for their funding inputs).

Another Dean, Probert this time, is a local builder who happily gave up an hour or so of his time to give the building a ‘once over’.  He declared Cath’s father’s original work to be of the best quality and said the building was sound.  This was great news.

Where do we go from here?

Obviously we need to start investigating funding sources to carry out any works required – particularly the energy related ones.

But also we need to know exactly what our potential users will be expecting from Pen y Cae.

To this end a smaller group is now putting together a proposal for a couple of days at the site where users can come along and describe how they would use Pen y Cae.

Once we know this we can move ahead towards what is going to be a fascinating future for a lovely old building in the most fantastic location.

Ian Mabberley











Latest on Broadband

Following a chance encounter with a couple of Openreach technicians outside the house recently, who said they were upgrading the current copper wire system (!!).  I Tweeted my incredulity and almost by return received a note about a “Joint Funding Scheme for Communities”.

I’ve now completed this as best I can and have include 37 properties in and around the valley (including an interesting 23 Business lines).

The form went back to Openreach on Monday and now we await their calculations as to the potential costs.

Watch this space!!