Thursday, 29 December 2011
William Williams 'The Botanical Guide'.
I am familiar with Nant Peris Church (recently restored by CADW), I have visited several times over the years to visit the graves of Gutyn Arfon and his brother Dewi. Gutyn was of course the schoolmaster in the now abandoned village of Rhiwddolion, above Betws y Coed. (I wrote about Gutyn in the Herald Gymraeg 9/6/2010).
My visit on this particular afternoon to Nant Peris was to look for another gravestone - a gravestone I had no idea of it's whereabouts - although I did have a photograph of the inscription as my only clue.
The inscription read "Underneath Lie The Remains Of" so it was distinguishable from the dozens of "Er Cof" gravestones at least. But I had no real system, I followed my nose in a clockwise direction around the Church, following the outer wall and then working inwards towards the church itself, sometimes following the lines of various paths through the graveyard and sometimes just trying to make some sense of my to-ing and fro-ing so as not to miss any stones.
I completed my circular tour of the graveyard - to no avail. Then I thought about searching immediately along the Church itself and starting again in a clockwise direction from the left of the entrance. There it was - a square slab of slate resting on another slate, so presumably broken from it's original position - with the exact words. If only I had worked outwards from the Church I would have got it within 2 minutes.
However spending time reading gravestones is always a pleasurable experience.
The grave belongs to William Williams (1805-1861), better known as the Botanical Guide one of the pioneers of mountain guiding in search of plants and specifically collectable or rare plants in the early part of the C19th. William Williams has been written about extensively in Dewi Jones's excellent book "The Botanists and Mountain Guides of Snowdonia". (Gwasg Carreg Gwalch).
One of the things that really attracted me to Williams was that he dressed up, dressed the part, adopted an image, described thus "dressed himself in a suit of goat-skin, consisting of cap, coat and trousers which made him appear like a savage from the land of perpetual snow". How cool is that - a C19th century guide who understood the value of image and playing the part !
He was also one of the original partners in one of the huts selling refreshments on the summit of Snowdon before he became a full time guide operating from the Victoria Hotel in Llanberis. His main contribution as a botanist was his knowledge of rare ferns in particular the Woodsia Alpina.
Before his death he also came to realise that there was a contradiction in his activites - by locating such rare plants on behalf of collectors he was in fact contributing towards the extinction of those very plants - a plan was hatched to build a lake in Llanberis with off shore islands where these rare plants could be conserved - what would have been the first "nature conservation" park in Snowdonia if not the World ! The lake was refered to as Lake Wil Boots (his nickname).
His death was apparently at the hands of his own frayed rope - a rope he apparently kept permanently on Clogwyn y Garnedd - he died indulging in his passion - and apparently a small white rock once marked the spot of his fall - I doubt very much that the stone has survived ?
The gravestone is to the left of the entrance porch to Nant Peris Church