In the early part of the 14th century Bachygraig was a royal hunting forest of Edward the Black Prince, one of four situated in Clwyd. Such forests were important to the prince as a source of revenue, timber, game and recreation and his interests were jealously guarded by a forester.
Much timber from Bachygraig went to the castle at Rhuddlan for construction works and as firewood, and no part was wasted. The foliage of elm, lime and ash was sold as fodder for cattle and the bark of oak, with its high tannic acid content, was used for tanning leather. Even the honey from the wild bees of the woodland was collected and sold.
The earthbank before you was constructed during this period to both denote a boundary and preserve the covert, herbage and deer within. It is one of several on the farm and would have been topped by a planted hedge or wooden pale fence, materials for the latter being obtained from the woods themselves.
The long documented history of the woodlands at Bachygraig suggests they may be indirectly derived from the primeval woodland which once covered much of Wales. Such continuity makes the woods of high value for nature conservation. Over 90 species of plant have been recorded at Bachygraig including the uncommon Wild Service Tree, Spurge Laurel and the Broadleaved Helleborine (a member of the orchid family) and there are 21 species of tree and shrub alone!
Animals also benefit from the ancient woodlands at Bachygraig particularly the badger. Though the animal itself is seldom seen, signs of its presence are everywhere.
Badgers are creatures of habit following regular pathways to their favoured foraging grounds. These paths can be clearly seen at Bachygraig passing under the boundary fences into the adjoining pasture where the badgers feed on slugs, earthworms and beetles, the latter unearthed from amidst the cowpats!
Look for badger hairs which frequently snag on the fence wire. These are white in colour grading to grey-black. If one takes the ends between each finger and thumb and tugs gently it is possible to roughly estimate how recently the path was last used. A ‘fresh’ hair is not easily broken. After rain look also for badger footprints in the mud along the pathways.
Today the woodlands at Bachygraig are being brought back into active management and poor quality trees are being removed to make room for those of good form. It will, however, be almost 100 years before these are mature enough to be harvested for timber.
Meanwhile the management works will benefit nature conservation by allowing light to reach the woodland floor promoting the development of the ground flora and shrub layer to provide increased feeding, roosting and nesting sites.
Native trees will also be favoured, particularly the oak which supports over 300 species of insect and, in the spring, large numbers of leaf-eating caterpillars upon which most woodland birds depend in raising their young.
Bachygraig constructed in 1567, is reputed to be the first brick built house in Wales. of the renaissance style it was sited where the cow sheds now stand but, alas, was demolished in the early 1800’s. The present day farmhouse, much modified in the 18th Century, is in fact the original gatehouse which flanked the house to the south and east creating the impressive frontage characteristic of renaissance architecture.
Built for Sir Richard Clough, a merchant, and agent in Antwerp for Sir Thomas Gresham, the well known financier and founder of the Royal Exchange in London, the architectural style owes much to Sir Richard’s Dutch associations.
The story would have it that Sir Richard brought experienced Flemish builders from Antwerp to construct Bachygraig and that clay was dug and fired locally to produce the bricks (in fact it is more likely that finished bricks were imported from the Netherlands). The sight of a strangely dressed Dutch speaking people producing building materials from clay and fire, and the unique architectural style of Bachygraig is said to have been so alien to the local people that they named the area ‘the valley of the devil’.
The historical reality is almost as colourful for Sir Richard was an intelligence agent and gunrunner whilst his wife was Katheryn of Berain ‘the Mother of Wales’.
Bachygraig later passed into the ownership of Mrs Thrale, the English writer of memoirs noted for her friendship with Dr Samuel Johnson the well known lexicographer, critic and conversationalist who himself visited Bachygraig in 1774.