Silver award: Connemara Wild Escapes
This adventure company based in Letterfrack, Connemara, Ireland, has rousing quotes on each activity page. One from John Muir, hero of the national park system and environmental philosopher stands out: "Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity". This company not only shares the wild mountainous magnificence of Connemara with visitors, it opens up the homes, heritage and hearts of people who live there too.
Although Connemara Wild Escapes is breaking away from the traditional tourist trail that brings coaches and car rentals around these remote parts of the west of Ireland, it is actually deeply connected with tradition per se. Getting people out of their vehicles and into communities, they offer an eclectic array of Connemara experiences, which include bogwood carving courses, storytelling evenings, West of Ireland history & story theatre, Gaelic language and Irish place name interpretation tours, Irish dance, song and traditional music tours. They don't stop there though, offering traditional cookery courses & tours, local community festivals, traditional basket weaving lessons, Aran Island cable knitting, Galway hooker sailing tours, distilling (poitin) tours, seashore & seaweed foraging tours, ancient sites and island tours. We show off some of their long list because because Connemara Wild Escapes partners with an impressive 400 local suppliers around its highlands and islands, shores and shebeens. So if you think Connemara is all about horse driven caravans or riding donkeys, think again. The region's rich heritage is treated with the respect and pride it deserves by this company and, consequently, also by its visitors.
Silver award: Felin Talgarth Mill
The proof of the success of this fine restoration of a 200 year old flour mill is not in the pudding, but in the proving. Because the first thing you smell when you come in here is the delicious scent of bread. And five years ago, before the community revived this fine example of artisanal architecture, Talgarth, in the Brecon Beacons region of Wales, was barren and bereft. Now it is baking up a storm. A superb story of heritage saving the day.
After the small welsh town of Talgarth's hospital, and main employer, closed five years ago, the community didn't lie down and die. They looked carefully at what they had left, and worked together to restore life into the town, to huge success. Their water mill had gone out of business in the 1940's and, subsequently into disrepair. With help of community applications for Lottery funding, and a devoted team of over 30 volunteers, they got the wheels turning, the mills milling and bread baking again. It is now one of the Brecon Beacons' top visitor attractions, not only for tours of the mill but also for their superb café, baking courses and other events. The timing was good in fact, with traditional milling and bread making gaining huge popularity again in the mainstream market. And all credit where it is due, in such a short time, the café also won Best Place to Eat in Wales 2015. Which, with a huge local food scene in Wales, is no easy task. The impact of this heritage revival has had a trickle-down effect in the town, which has regained its pride of place, and local shops and pubs have re-opened to cater for visitors who would have just driven past Talgarth five years ago. The Mill also employs seven people, but also depends on its invaluable and dedicated volunteer team. Just as the kitchen is the heart of any home, Felin Talgarth Mill is now the heart of Talgarth's community.