School Cottage, Old Grouse

The School Cottage 1968 – 2014

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‘Old Grouse’ The School Cottage

Cottage 1968

The Express, September 1969

For over forty years Moseley School enjoyed the benefit of a cottage Nr Abergavenny in Wales. This property was purchased in 1968 for the princely sum of £150 and donated it to the school by Phil ‘Beefy’ Bullock. At that time the cottage, which was built by the Duke of Beaufort as a cider and ale house, hence the name ‘Old Grouse’, was little more than a ruin and volunteers devoted many hours to rebuilding it, in the process of which they begged, borrowed and stole as many materials and as much furniture as they could. Ever since then the cottage has been used to provide a base for students to walk, climb, pothole, canoe and generally do the outward-bound type things that are just not possible in the middle of Birmingham. Over the years the cottage has survived thanks largely to the good nature of the staff who have donated their time, effort and money to looking after it.

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The back of the cottage is built into the side of the mountain

However in 2006, a surveyor’s report, paid for by the Moseleians Association, indicated that almost £30,000 worth of remedial work would be required to prevent water egress, repair rot and generally make the cottage safe and a considerable amount more would be required to bring it up to current health and safety standards. In 2010, after much debate, in which the future of the cottage and its legal ownership was discussed, the then interim headteacher, Tim Boyes, decided to invest heavily in a complete renovation and improvement programme in a bid to make the cottage usable for students on day expeditions, converting the upstairs dormitories into a study/classroom and providing occasional overnight camping facilities. Unfortunately after the work was completed it became apparent that certain planning regulations may not have been fully appreciated which resulted in long term negotiations with the planning authorities and Brecon National Park in which area the cottage stands. Finally in 2014 a decision was made to sell the cottage, it will be a great loss to the current pupils who will miss out on the opportunities afforded to many hundreds of former pupils who have experienced the exhilarating times that the cottage and Brecon National Park has to offer.

Activities for Students at the Cottage

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View from Cottage

The Lonely Shepherd – One of the first things people like to do on arriving at the “Old Grouse” is to look around the immediate area, and it doesn’t take long before someone spots the large outcrop of rock on the top of the hill above the cottage. This outcrop is known locally as “The Lonely Shepherd” and the views from the ridge are excellent, allowing you to see for miles on a clear day. A walk to the Lonely Shepherd is often linked with a visit to the sheep dip followed by a look at the origin of the cottage’s water supply.

According to local legend, a farmer at Ty-lsaf farm was so cruel to his wife that she threw herself into the river Usk and drowned. For his sin, the man was turned into a pillar of stone, but every year on Midsummer’s Eve, he goes down to the banks of the Usk to search for his wife, calling her name – in vain. By next morning he has always returned to his lonely place. It was the custom in times gone by to white-wash the stone so that it could easily be seen when it walked on Midsummer’s Eve.

The Waterfalls Walk

Year 8 Group

A Year 8 Group

The walk starts from a car park at Porth-yr-Ogof near Ystradfellte in the Brecon Beacons, where the river disappears underground into a cave. To get to the starting point is a drive of about one hour and is between 20 and 30 miles away from the cottage. To view the main waterfalls and spend some time at the “Spout of Snow” (the waterfall seen on Blue Peter that you can walk behind) is a half day exercise at least and some groups spend even longer, some having a picnic lunch along the way.

As you descend the steep slope of the valley side to the level of the river, the first sight of the “Spout of Snow” is quite breathtaking. In very wet weather the fall may appear as a broad sheet of foam, but generally there are three separate falls.

The greatest prize of all is to see the water completely frozen. The top of the trail is overhanging and the water is thrown clear of a rocky ledge about three feet wide, which is a pathway behind the curtain of thrashing water and spray. This is the only path from one side of the valley to the other and years ago farmers drove their sheep along this route. It is a fine experience to pass behind the fall and stand on the edge looking through the water. The valley of the Hepste below Sgwd yr Eira is known as the Devil’s Glen and is the setting of tales about ghosts, fairies, goblins and witches.

Big Pit Mining Museum

Big Pit at Blaenafon closed as a working colliery in 1980, exactly 100 years after it first produced coal. It costs around £3 per person to visit. The visit consists of an underground tour lasting about an hour and, on the surface, there are a range of authentic colliery buildings including the winding engine house, blacksmith’s shop, fitting shop, pithead baths, sawmill and pitman’s cabin. An exhibition depicting the development of the iron and coal industries and their communities in the valley is located within the pithead baths complex as is a faithful reconstruction of a miner’s living room and backyard of the 1930’s. For the underground tour, parties are divided into groups of 16, each of which is guided by an experienced ex-miner.

DAN-YR-OGOF Showcaves

The caves are situated about thirty miles away from the cottage and take about an hour to get to. They are claimed to be the largest showcave complex in Britain. In the Cathedral Showcave, there are reconstructions of Early Man, showing how he lived, a burial scene, how he did cave paintings, how he used tools, why he used dance, magic and early religion to help him hunt etc. In the Bone Cave there is a Roman Soldier in full army dress and an account of how some Romans used the caves. In addition to the caves themselves, there is an Iron Age farm reconstruction, Dinosaur Park, Museum and Audio Visual Theatre and an artificial Ski Slope.

The Gower Peninsular

The Gower Coast has beautiful coastal scenery and good beaches without the “distractions” of fun fairs, amusement arcades etc. One of the finest beaches is at Rhossili at the end of the Peninsular, where the sea is on three sides and the scenery spectacular. The car park is on top of the cliff, and the beach is reached by climbing down steps and a not too steep path. Coastal path walks, beach games, seashore study and swimming are the order of the day here and these activities make for an excellent day’s trip providing the weather is right!

Raglan Castle

This part of wales has many castles, most of them in quite a ruined state. One of the best preserved is at Raglan and it is on the route between school and the cottage. Raglan was established 900 years ago as a stronghold by the Norman Marcher Lords. The true greatness of the castle however really belongs to a later period. It was in effect a Tudor palace, reflecting the wealth and influence of its owner. It is rich in history, lends itself to photographs and sketching, has interesting towers to climb with splendid views, and even those people who claim not to be fond of castles, have admitted that Raglan is well worth a visit.

The Clydach Gorge

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Students at the Rapids

This is practically on the cottage’s doorstep and can be enjoyed without using the minibus. The steep sided valley down which the river Clydach rushes, falling over 1000 feet in about three miles, is heavily wooded and has some good walking paths and trails. For many years, it had been the home of a thriving iron-making industry, and the remains of those days can be seen throughout.

It is possible to visit the site of the Ironworks, follow the paths up the old inclines, find the old disused railway and explore the tunnels that the trains used to go through, as they served the local industries. You can climb over Gilwern Hill and from a position high above the valley bottom look over towards the Old Grouse Cottage, the Lonely Shepherd and the Devil’s Chair. Descending from the old Roman encampment, you can see the lime kilns before following a little stream down to a village, passing a garden containing models, made by the owner of the house.

 

More: An open letter from the trustees of the Old Grouse Cottage.