Jester Erwyd le Fol is a marketing hit

jester bbq

Whoever had the bright idea that led to Conwy, the walled town not the whole county, appointing its own jester deserves congratulations, commendations and a giant pat on the back.

Additionally, those who were far-sighted enough to agree to it have turned out to be a sheer geniuses in terms of marketing – both for the town and for its tourists. By all that I have heard, those honours seem due to the town’s chamber-of-trade.

For anybody who has been asleep all summer, let me bring you up to date. Entertainer Russel Erwood, in the form of his alter ego Erwyd le Fol, was appointed Conwy’s first ‘Jester in Residence’ for 700 years.

A special adoubement or naming ceremony was held and this led to the story and some amazing pictures appearing in an eye-popping number of media in so many different parts of the world and in a wide variety of languages.

The publicity thus gained for the town is far beyond what could have reasonably been thought possible. In fact, it must have been beyond most people’s wildest dreams. But it shows just what can happen when someone can think outside the box and get a town to appoint its own jester who can, among other things, balance a blazing barbecue on a wooden pole – all on his chin.

So, what’s the story of Erwyd le Fol? He can explain better than I.

jester eyesErwyd said: “I am the first professional jester to live within the walls of the 13th Century North Wales town of Conwy since my predecessor left the area over 700-years-ago.

“Dressed in the red and yellow of the medieval Kingdom of Gwynedd (or Kingdom of Happiness) I specialise in spreading joy and laughter where ever I go. Juggling, magic, circus stunts, balloon modelling and family friendly comedy combine to create the perfect package for all kinds of events including medieval festivals, country fairs, summer fetes, steam rallies, street shows, schools, weddings and birthday parties.”

Impressive stuff, I think you’ll agree but what about his predecessor of 700 years ago? Well it turns out that this was Tom le Fol who was personal jester to King Edward I. When the king was besieged for three months in Conwy castle during the winter of 1294-95, Tom le Fol was there too, kept busy by entertaining all who lived there.

I have to say that I first met Russell almost two years ago, well before Erwyd le Fol was even an idea let alone a reality.

A year ago, Lisa and I attended a hallowe’en party at Rhos on Sea Golf Club where Russel gave a cabaret performance including illusions, conjuring and even a little escapology all bound together with comedy. Clearly, he is a talented guy.

Mind you, even more impressive is the way in which he has pursued his dream of entertaining people.

Russel/Erwyd told me: “At age 14 I went to circus school. It was there that I trained in trapeze, acro and other circus skills but it was juggling and manipulation that really caught my imagination. It was during this time that I discovered an ability to make people laugh and I also started to learn magic and escapology.

“Since those early days I have had a career that’s seen me escape from barrels full of water; dangled upside down from my feet whilst strapped in a straitjacket; juggle at the Bahrain Grand Prix; perform for large national and international companies; featured in street festivals around the UK and worked as the magic consultant for TV shows.”

You can find out more by visiting Erwyd’s website (that’s one thing Tom le Fol could not have had) at


Older eyes to learn new way to see

camera no camera yes Good tip: Hold mobile sideways to record video

There’s a potentially exciting opportunity for older people in the county of Conwy, in North Wales, to get more involved in community television. And they can do this learning to look at the world through the lenses of their mobile devices, taking their own videos and uploading them to their local television channel.

What? Take their own videos, edit them and upload? Just how will they do that? It’s not like they are children of today who are so well-versed in computers and modern technology. No, these are the older generation, senior citizens. It’ll never work, you can’t treat old dogs new tricks, doubters might well say.

That does not deter one local go-ahead organisation from being determined to do just that, though.

TVConwy, which is run completely by volunteers, has come up with a plan to make it work. What’s more, financial backing for the local community interest company to put the project into action, has come in the form of a lottery grant of £3,547 from the Grab-a-Grant scheme run by the Big Lottery Fund. The grant was gained by being one of the five winners, chosen by public vote through two sister local newspapers, the North Wales Chronicle and the North Wales Pioneer.

The project will take the form of group workshops and will provide training to older people so that they fully understand how to use mobile devices, such as smart phones and tablets, to take and edit photos and videos. Training will also include how to upload the product of their efforts to the tv channel’s website (

TVConwy director Debbie Braden is delighted that it has won the grant. She said: “I would like to thank everyone who voted for us. It means so much to everyone in our team and to those who will benefit from the training. Our ‘Through Older Eyes’ project will provide training so more older people can get involved in and be represented on the community TV channel by capturing community events they attend or promoting causes they are interested in and wish to publicise.”

She explained that training will include learning the basics of mobile device photography and capturing video as well as simple editing and uploading of the results. People will also be encouraged to share information, creativity and opinion.

Speaking about ‘Through Older Eyes’ TVConwy’s Mark Ramsden said: “The resounding feedback that we’ve received from older people is that many lack the knowledge to use mobile devices to take photos and videos and older eyesupload images to share them.

“Learning these skills as part of a group workshop will enhance people’s confidence, build community spirit and reduce feelings of isolation.

“Hopefully, they will also feel more confident about sharing content with friends and family as well as our community TV channel.”

The other four organisations that also gained grants are: Parkinson’s UK Llandudno and District Support Group, Holyhead and Anglesey Amateur Boxing Club; Plas Road Allotment Association and Hope Restored.

  • Interest declaration: Multiple Sclerosis prevents the writer from being an active member of TVConwy but he does act as admin of its Community Forum on Facebook and has run a journalism workshop for the channel’s volunteers.



Housing plan threatens heritage landscape


Maybe I am missing something. It is possible, after all no-one is perfect but just where is the logic in deciding that an area is worthy of being designated as a special landscape only for the same body of people now to be asked to consider giving a developer permission to build 93 houses there?

If you can see any logic, please do tell! It just seems so ridiculous.

The august body that decided to give it Special Landscape Area status, as shown the local development plan, and is now considering giving outline planning permission is none other than Conwy County Borough Council.

The site in contention is in Sychnant, high above Conwy town, near to Pinewood Stables and the building that in my childhood was Pinewood Towers Hotel.

Local people are incensed by the plan to build houses in such a beautiful area that borders the Snowdonia National Park which will, if the developers get their way, be visually blighted no matter how sensitive the developers say they are going to be.

After all, it is not just the houses. Really, it is 93 houses, numerous roads and probably 150 cars, with buses connecting the new properties with the town.

The planning application has been submitted by Beech Developments and it has been out for public consultation. Opposition is being led by members of the Parc, Llys and Sychnant Residents Group.

The group says: “We oppose these plans to build in such a beautiful and unique area. Not only are they but metres away from the Snowdonia National Park but the fields are a Special Landscape Area. It would be completely inappropriate to build such a large development here. The land ought to be protected and remain agricultural and wildlife friendly.”

Such a large development? Any development would be wrong. Our landscape is an important part of our heritage, let’s keep it that way.

According to the council, there is a shortage of housing in Conwy and I have every sympathy with efforts to create more but not at the expense of such a beautiful area. They should find other areas in which to build; areas that are not so environmentally sensitive.

The residents’ group has sent a letter to the council, saying: “We are requesting that you refuse planning permission for this development because of the area’s sensitivity and natural beauty. The field borders the Snowdonia National Park and therefore ought to be protected. The development is highly unsuitable for this historic landscape.” The group has also presented the council with a petition of nearly 500 people opposed to the plans.

Independent Conwy ward councillor Joan Vaughan said: “It is bordering on Snowdonia Park, so it is a shame to lose a green space. The main issue is coming down into Conwy. It’s extremely busy and, with all the extra traffic, I truly suspect the road will not be able to take it. Unless the council does something about the road, it will be a nightmare.”

Mike Roberts is land and planning director at Beech Developments. He said: “Whilst the layout (as shown in the application) is only indicative it does show that an attractive and high quality development can be achieved. Affordable houses will be provided for local people who wish to rent or purchase their first home.

“We have had discussions with the relevant statutory authorities regarding drainage, access and highways and other technical issues and their comments have been taken on board.

“It is always regrettable some greenfield sites have to be developed but we live in an area where brownfield sites are in short supply and there is a substantial unmet demand for housing locally.”

Public consultation has now ended, so the application will soon be considered by the planning committee.

Let’s hope than sanity prevails and that Sychnant remains unspoilt and blight-free.

  • Ian Franks is an experienced award-winning journalist and one of his specialities is the countryside. He spent some years as Rural Affairs Editor of weekly newspapers covering the Caernarfon and Anglesey areas – and was named as Welsh Farming Journalist of the Year in 1999. He is reknowned for not being afraid to voice his forthright opinions and his campaigning style of writing. He currently lives in Colwyn Bay.