We know how difficult it can be to find the perfect present to show your Dad how much his love, guidance and embarrassing jokes are appreciated. This Father’s day, 19th June, why not step away from the socks and have a look at the top 10 Father’s day gifts we stock.
All of our gift ideas are lovingly handcrafted in Wales and is guaranteed to be as unique as your Dad (and Grandads). They will not only show him how much he is loved, but also make him proud to be Welsh!
Here at Valley Mill we’ve been going behind the scenes of the Welsh slate business. One of the biggest questions we get asked is, is Welsh slate the best? Let’s find out!
It’s actually a well known fact within the business that Welsh slate is one of the finest quality slate in the world. Did you know that Welsh slate was quarried from North Wales from as early as the 12th century? It’s actually the toughest slate known to man. It has very few impurities and a beautiful colour and grain structure. Wesh slate doesn’t fade in the sun.
The slate itself is approximately 500 million years old and is made by the compression of clay over time. This is thanks to the movement of the tectonic plates – which helped form the Welsh Mountains.
The high quality of the slate is the result of a combination of apsect. From the quality of the clay and the precise amount of pressure & heat.
Meet A Welsh Quarryman
We met with Andrew Jonjo who has been a quarryman for 37 years. Not only is he a quarryman, but he is actually the sixth generation in the Welsh slate business.
Slate has been his, and his families life for 6 generations. ‘Jonjo’ who now works at the Welsh National Slate Museum shows us real slate cutting techniques. He also talks about why he believes Welsh slate is the best.
Valley Mill’s Welsh Slate
At Valley Mill, we only use Welsh Blue Grey Slate, although it is in fact a dark grey in appearance. The slate that we use here in our workshop in South Wales is mined at Blaenau Ffestiniog.
It is then whisked over to our Llansamlet workshop where it is hand cut, engraved and oiled.
It is then ready to be sent to directly to your home, our Valley Mill stores & to one of over 100 stores that we supply around the UK.
Pictured below is our slate cutter Josh who shows us one of the traditional ways to cut slate.
Pictured here is Mike, who is one of our slate cutters here at Valley Mill. This image shows Mike oiling and finishing our slate heart coasters.
World Heritage Status
In July 2021 UNESCO announced that the slate landscape of North Wales had won World Heritage Status. This now puts us alongside places such as the Taj Mahal, Great Wall of China and the Pyramids.
This image shows why our beautiful landscape now has World Heritage Status. Isn’t it just stunning?
The landscape has become the UK’s 32nd UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the 4th in Wales,. This follows the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, Blaenavon Industrial Landscape and the Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd.
The Slate Landscape of Northwest Wales became the world leader for the production and export of slate in the 1800’s.
Slate quarried in the area has been used to build parts of the Roman fort in Segontium in Caernarfon and Edward I’s castle in Conwy. However it wasn’t until the industrial revolution that demand surged as cities across the world expanded with slate from the mines at Gwynedd being widely used to roof workers’ homes, public buildings, places of worship and factories.
Welsh Slate Industry
By the 1890s the Welsh slate industry employed approximately 17,000 workers. It produced almost 500,000 tonnes of slate a year, around a third of all roofing slate used in the world in the late 19th century.
The industry had a huge impact on global architecture. Welsh slate has been used on a number of buildings, terraces and palaces across the globe. This includes Westminster Hall in London’s Houses of Parliament, the Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne, Australia and Copenhagen City Hall, Denmark.
In 1830, half the buildings in New York had roofs made of Welsh slate. Centuries of mining in the area transformed the landscape on a monumental scale. This reflects the important role this region played in ‘roofing the 19th century world’.
National Slate Museum
If your idea of a museum is based on glass cases and dusty exhibits, then you’re in for a pleasant surprise when you visit the National Slate Museum Llanberis.
This museum-with-a-difference is based in the original Victorian Engineering Workshops at Dinorwig Slate Quarry. The quarry was in its heyday in the 1870’s and closed in 1969. The site was opened as a Museum in 1972 – and was the world’s only national slate museum. The National Museum Wales – attracts over 140,000 visitors a year!
We met with Lowri Ifor who told us more about the museum and the amazing World Heritage Status.
All the staff at the museum are Welsh speaking so, it’s a great place to practice your Welsh.
What Is Slate?
Slate is essentially mud that has first been compressed and compacted, and then squeezed and heated by the Earth’s forces.
The main components of slate are the minerals sericite mica, quartz, chlorite, haematite and rutile. Tiny variations in the proportion of some of these minerals can lead to a rainbow of variations in the colours of the slates themselves. From different shades of green through grey and blue to a deep, rich red.
Nine layers of slate run through Elidir mountain and the different slates bear such lovely names.
Green & wrinkled
Old quarry blue
New quarry blue grey
New quarry blue grey mottled
Pictured below is our blue grey Welsh slate wine rack. As you can see the appearance is more dark grey in appearance.
How Is Slate Formed?
Dinorwig Quarry slates originated as mud deposited in the sea during the Cambrian era of the Lower Paleozoic Era. This was about 500 million years ago!
At this time much of Wales was the floor of a very large sea or lake, covered by layers thousands of feet thick made up of mud and silt deposited by rivers.
Slowly this mud was turned to clay and was squeezed and compacted until they all faced the same direction. This is what has caused the rock to become splittable slate.
Spectacular changes in the geological history of Wales followed: land movements brought the sea bed upwards to become dry land, which was then squeezed and shaped by lateral forces as a result of volcanic activity.
Did You Know?
Welsh slate slab switchboards were used in the Engine rooms of Cunard Ships Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth.
Welsh Slate Quarries inspired the construction of some of the earliest railways in Wales e.g Penrhyn Tramway (1801)
Narrow gauge Steam locomotives were first used on a line built specifically to carry Welsh Slate. E.g the Ffestiniog Railway from Blaenau Ffestiniog to Porthmadog.
Slate Quarrying resulted in immense wealth – evidence can still be seen at Penrhyn Castle or at Y Faenol estate, Gwynedd.
Prince Charles investiture at Caernarfon took place on a ‘dais’ made of Welsh Slate.
The world’s best snooker tables are made from Welsh Slate.
Llechwedd Slate Quarry saw the first commercial generation of electricity in north Wales at the beginning of the century.
The North Wales Quarrymen’s Union, established in 1874, was one of the earliest working class unions in the United Kingdom.
The Penrhyn Strike, from November 1900 to November 1903 is one of the longest ever United Kingdom Industrial Disputes.
King Edward 1st’s architects used Welsh Slate as part of the construction of his chain of castles around Gwynedd.
What Is Welsh SlateUsed For?
Due to the unique qualities of Welsh slate, it has become the best and only choice for many homeware products. This include placemats, coasters, cheese boards, wine racks, clocks, house signs and many others. Indeed, slate home and tableware has become increasingly popular over the last decade.
Interior designers, hotels & restaurants and of course, the everyday consumer want something a little bit more stylish and eco-friendly.
Is Welsh Slate The Best?
Let’s take another quick look at the reasons why WE believe Welsh slate really is the best.
Why Choose Welsh Slate?
There are so many benefits of buying products made from locally mined Welsh slate. We take a look at why.
Why Is Welsh Slate Better?
Roofing companies all over the world recommend genuine Welsh slate as the best slate. The strength and lasting quality of Welsh slate make it one of (if not the best) slate in the world.
Is Welsh Slate More Expensive?
The answer is yes it is, but there are many reasons for this. The benefits of Welsh slate really surpass its cousins. There are not only fewer impurities in 100% Welsh slate but, it also needs less maintenance.
Welsh slate has less fade and is stronger than other slates.
This means that it lasts so much longer and there’s no need to continually repair and replace like many other products. So our natural slate products should cost you less in the long run.
Is Slate Environmentally Friendly?
Slate has a low carbon footprint due to the manufacturing and working processes. It’s a ‘green’ material due to its endurance so will last for longer than many other materials.
We source our slate from Blanenau Ffestiniog which means delivery is much more eco-friendly than slates that have been imported from outside the UK. E.G. China and Spain. Supporting us also means you are supporting the local economy.
As with any product, there are alternatives to Welsh Slate when it comes to homeware products.
At the lower end of the quality spectrum, Chinese slate is very hard and brittle. Even worse, it is full of unsightly impurities. This means any products made from Chinese slate will be sold pretty cheaply because of the low quality. It will be pretty obvious what you are going to get for your money. It’s not a bad option however, if quality is no real concern and you have a tight budget.
Spanish Slate Vs Welsh Slate
The other most widespread slate currently being used for homeware products is Spanish Slate. Indeed, it is very nice to look at in comparison to the Chinese Slate as it has very few impurities. It is also very flat and you can easily cut quite complex shapes from it.
It’s important to remember the reason Spanish slate cuts so well is that it is a very soft slate. This means Spanish slate is not as hardwearing as Welsh slate.
When cut, Spanish Slate leaves you with a very evenly dressed edge, which looks almost machine-cut in quality. It is also cheaper than Welsh slate and much more readily available.
Remember Welsh slate lasts longer and there’s no need to continually repair and replace like many other products. So our natural slate products should cost you less in the long run.
The Truth About Scottish Slate
Did you know that Spanish Slate is very often being passed off and sold as Scottish slate?
There are several Scottish companies that use Spanish slate to manufacture their homeware products. Their homeware products will say ‘Made in Scotland’, so we all assume that it is actually Scottish slate.
However, the last Scottish slate quarry closed in the 1950s!
The only Scottish slate still available is reclaimed slate from the old mines and quarries.
With this in mind, if you see the phrase ‘Made in Scotland’ attached to slate homeware, it is highly unlikely that it is actually Scottish slate – that is unless it has come from someone’s old roof!!
Don’t Just Take It From Us
You may think that we are biased when it comes to our slate (we TOTALLY are). However, this is the reason why we visited the experts so you could hear it from them. In fact, you are always leaving us lovely reviews when it comes to our slate. Take a look at just a few mentions.
Our Slate Products
So, now we’ve whet your appetite for a Welsh slate item for your home. Let’s take a look at some of our best selling products.
Set the mood for the evening for a catch up with friends and family with Valley Mill’s ranges of candles and candle holders. Not only do they look fantastic but our huge variety of scents will really set the mood too.
Do you have a busy life? Our Welsh slate chalkboard family planner is perfect for busy homes and workplaces.
Whether it’s meal planning, tasks, a weekly planner for all of the children’s activities, a family planner or just a list of all the fun stuff you’ve got coming up. We handcraft each board from the highest quality Welsh slate.
The relationship between a family and their pet is strong and impenetrable. A pet for many of us is a family member. The grief of a loss of a pet can be similar to losing a family member or close friend and in some cases more.
We are taking a look at pet loss grief, ways to cope and how you’ve paid tribute to your pet.
Do you feel that pet loss grief is almost a ‘taboo’ subject and that people try to brush it under the carpet? Some employers now offer pet bereavement leave. One of FORTUNE’s ‘100 Best Companies to Work For’ have named Kimpton Hotel & Restaurants in their list time and time again. They offer their employees a whole range of benefits including a 3 day pet bereavement leave.
Losing A Pet
We’ve been asking people how they have coped with the grief process not just for themselves but with other family members too.
Sian who works at Valley Mill lost her cross Pug/Jack Russell just over 18 months ago. “It was a huge loss to the family. Oscar was just weeks away from his 17th birthday when his time came and went to the big playground in the sky. Even to this day myself and my two boys still shed a tear. The way we pay tribute to him and to help us with the grief is by remembering him. We have his ashes in a box on our living room shelf with paintings of him and photos around it. I even have Oscar’s name tattooed on my back.”
“The boys and I talk about him and remember all of the funny and wonderful things we all did together. As time passes the tears become less and the laughs of all the amazing times become greater. We will always miss him but remembering him is our way of coping.”
How Have You Coped?
We wanted to know how you have managed to deal with the loss of a pet. You’ve been getting in touch with your stories.
Garath wrote to us and told us about their family dog. “We have Spike’s ashes in a beautiful box on a shelf surrounded by memories of him. Spike was big brother to our two girls. We adopted him when he was 3. He’d been beaten and trained to fight, but was a gentle soul who was just afraid of what humans had done to him. He would wet himself when you clenched your fist near him or raise your voice when we first had him. He was a 24kg Staffy.”
“Over the years we had some great times, from throwing a twig in Singleton Park and him bringing back half a bench, to him walking with half a breeze block in his mouth everywhere we went on foot (it seemed to make him feel safe). Then there was the time he peed on a woman’s leg outside Verdi’s. The best one was when we thought he’d been stolen when we tied him up outside the Woodman; only to discover that he’d actually dragged the table across the beer garden to say hello to a pretty lady poodle! Writing this has brought tears to my eyes. Tears of joy and of loss. The girls lost a brother who always looked out for them, and Em and I lost our first “child” and one of our best friends.”
Photograph Engraving Tribute
Chloe who works at Valley Mill shared with us her Welsh slate photograph engraved tributes to her family dogs. Above is Gus AKA Sir Buckingham.
Sadly last month Chloe and her family lost their beautiful Jazz. As you can see in both of these pictures both Gus and Jazz were not only loved, but clearly exuberated love to all around them.
Sarah shared with us a wonderful way of paying tribute to your pet. “I saw someone leave a bucket of tennis balls at the beach in memory of their lost pooch, asking dog owners to help themselves. I thought that was so lovely”.
Leanne got in touch and said “I still cry over mine now and I lost him 7 years ago. I have a tribute to him in the form of a tattoo and I have his ashes in my living room. They have pride of place with a glass picture of him too”.
“Sadly, the sadness never ever goes away but the memories I have of him will last forever. I also have a wall of fame where I put up all his pictures and a canvas my sister had made for me”.
“Having him all around me makes it feel like he is still here. I also kept his favourite teddy and toy his food bowl and his blanket with his name on. Some times I take them out & cuddle them, then have a good cry because he wasn’t just my dog he was my best friend”.
Elise Sewell said “My little Yorkie Brutus was obsessed with corks especially champagne corks so when he passed away we used to put all our corks around a tree in the garden as a reminder of him”.
Pet Bereavement & Dealing with Your Grief
There are many places that you can visit online that give you expert advice on how to deal with your grief and also family members too.
You can call their fully trained specialist team on 0800 096 6606 between 8:30am – 8.30pm.
Coping & Remembering
Jules told us about her beautiful Marnie about how she ‘coped’ with her passing in March. “I don’t use the word cope if I’m honest, only because I don’t want to deal with the loss effectively or successfully, as the word ‘cope’ would suggest. I know it’s appropriate to feel such loss as she was a huge part of my life. The feelings are almost a given and why wouldn’t I feel such pain? It brings to the forefront everything she gave. Love on another level, a constant tap flowing with affection, loyalty, the softest touch, kindness, my secret keeper, my everything”.
Jules continued “In some ways embracing my grief rather than stifling it was testament to all the above. I see it as a huge mark of respect to her, if I didn’t feel it and just ignored it. It’s almost discounting all she gave. Feeling grief is what happens when you lose something or someone you love so much. I always thought Marnie was so co-dependent on me, and of course she was to a certain degree; what I didn’t know until faced with life without her was the co-dependency I had for her.”
“Marnie was a constant in my life, always there, ever knowing, my one true confidant. She was the reason I got up and got out in difficult times. She’d sense when my mood was low or upset and she’d just look at me. How she could tell me in a look all that I needed to know at that time was truly spiritual for want of a better word. Telling me … ‘I’ve got you‘ & ‘you’re so loved’.”
To show tribute Marnie, Jules explained what her family do. “We have her with us. She’s still in her corner where she’d lie in an engraved box with her name and the sentiment ‘Our gorgeous girl, forever in our hearts’. I talk to her; I have a picture in every room of her because wherever I’d go she’d be behind me. My grandson collects white Angel Dog Feathers that he believes to be Marnie watching over him; he has 28!”
So, should there be more understanding that pet bereavement should be talked about more and not pushed under the carpet?
Jules agrees and said that she tells her grandson that “it’s ok to cry. I talk to him about Marnie, reminding us all of what Marnie gave to us rather than focusing on the loss. Reminding myself she lived, not that she died. We are much richer because of her”.
Pet Loss Grief
It’s not just us who grieve for the loss of a pet. Your other pets will have lost a companion and their grief can manisfest in many ways. This could be through loss of appetite or over grooming.
There are many ways to say goodbye to your furry friends. Pet cemeteries across the UK offer a wide range of services from formal pet burial, green pet burials, cremation or ashes burials. To find one near you just Google ‘Pet Cemetery Near Me’.
“Can I Bury My Pet In The Garden”?
If you are considering a home burial for your pet then you must take your local laws in to consideration. In the UK, it isn’t legal to bury your pets in the garden of rented accommodation, a friend’s garden, public places. Basically anywhere you don’t own.
It IS legal to bury pets in a garden that you DO own.
However, please check with your vet that their remains aren’t hazardous to health and also choose a place well away from water sources.
Honestly, this is a question we cannot answer. This is why we’ve asked people to share their stories with us in hope that their personal experiences will help you.
Nikki shared her story of her ‘fur baby’ Murphy. “I still have Murphy’s collar hanging on the cupboard door in my office….and it’s been 4 years. All his photos brighten up my office. My daughter Georgie and I talk about our chocolate bear all the time. We will never have another chocolate lab, and when I knew his days were coming to an end we brought in a puppy of a different breed, not to replace Murphy before he left us, but to ease the pain when he went over the rainbow bridge”.
“The evening after I had to put him to sleep I put on my wellies, took out my then 8month old pup and walked Murphy’s favourite walk, face up to the rain to help wash away my tears. I knew Murphy wouldn’t want me to be without a doggie best pal. And I still talk to him now. I tell him about all the naughty stuff this dog does which he would never have done. The pain eases, but the memory is there to treasure”.
Don’t Suffer Pet Loss Grief Alone
Don’t forget that Blue Cross offer a Pet Bereavement Supprt Service (PBSS) which is contactable by phone, email or webchat. Their service is free and confidential.
Barry Begley got in touch and told us about Willow. “My willow passed over the bridge aged 21 and half. Had her since she was 6 months old. Born on a farm but she was mistreated. She was rescued by a family but sadly the children didn’t bond with her. My sister bought her for a tenner and gave her to me. She was a true loyal friend and companion from that day. Saw through all good and bad times together. I still miss her like crazy, and cry everytime I think about her and sometimes out the corner of my eye feel her watching me. I know that when my day finally comes we’ll be reunited.”
More Pet Tributes – Working Through Pet Loss Grief
Maria shared with us her tattoo tribute to her dog Monty.
Sharon Latchford got in touch and told us “I found my darling Seraphina dead in her field 10 years ago last month, (crying as I type). A lot of people just don’t get how the loss of an animal can be so heartbreaking”.
Shannon sadly only had her cat Hazel for a short space of time. “My neighbour gifted me my beautiful Hazel for my birthday. She was incredible. Sadly 5 months in to our time together she was knocked down on the road and died. We have kept her close and buried her in our back garden”.
If you would like to share your stories of pet loss grief and the way you’ve paid tribute to your furry friends then please get in touch with Sian at Valley Mill.
In our last blog we wrote about the ‘Rise of the British BBQ’. This is absolutely true. Us Brits are banging out some amazing food and recipes in our BBQ get togethers. We are becoming Kings and Queens of the BBQ and we are here to help you unleash your inner BBQ master.
We are all thinking outside of the box when it comes to our recipes ideas. Let your creative side out. Why not host a vegetarian BBQ feast? Think of all the skewers you can create, from colourful vegetables to seasonal fruits. The options are endless.
Planning for Success
We’ve teamed up with Oliver Woolnough and the team from Nothing But BBQ to guide you through the summer and show you how to upgrade your outdoor experience. We’ve got recipe ideas and creative ways to style up your ‘al fresco’ dining area.
One of our favourite BBQ cookery books which was released recently is Skewered by Marcus Bawdon. Marcus is a bit of a hero of ours as he really knows his stuff. Marcus not only runs Country Wood Smoke BBQ School from his home in Devon but also is the editor of UK BBQ Magazine and has a series of cookery books available.
Fundamentals of Cooking Outdoors
When cooking outdoors you need to know the fundamentals of cooking on a BBQ. From the best fuel to use, smoking woods and how to set up your barbeque, Marcus explains all of this and also why a lid on your BBQ can really help.
Tanzanian Chicken Mishkaki
Oliver Woolnough shows us how to cook one of Marcus’ recipes from Skewered. This recipe is inspired by the flavours of India, The Middle East and Africa.
1 green & 1 red bell pepper
2 skinless chicken breasts
For the Marinade:
4 tbsp plain/natural yogurt
1 tsp ground turmeric
2 finely chopped cloves of garlic
1 tsp runny honey
Juice of 1/2 a lime
Pinch of salt & pepper
2 tsp freshly chopped coriander
Cut the peppers and chicken breasts into 3 x 3cm squares. Mix the marinade ingredients together and stir in the cubes of chicken. Leave to marinate for approximately 1 hour.
Set up your grill with medium to hot coals for close proximity cooking.
Thread 2 cubes of chicken onto each skewer. Now add a few squares of bell pepper. Continue until your skewers are loaded.
Place your skewers onto the grill and cook for a few minutes before turning. Make sure they are cooked thoroughly before serving. This should take approximately 8-10 minutes in total.
Sprinkle with extra coriander to serve.
Now you’ve unleashed your inner BBQ master.
Check out this video of how to create the BBQ Coconut Curry Monkfish recipe from Skewered. This is a mix of coconut milk, curry powder and lime, finished with coriander and freshly chopped chillies.
Don’t Forget The Extras
Your BBQ party doesn’t just have to revolve around the food cooked on the grill. Give your guests a treat with some of their favourite cheeses. We have a wide range of Welsh Slate cheeseboards.
Make It Personal
If it’s a personal touch you’re looking for then look no further than our amazing personalised products. You may be celebrating a ‘BIG’ birthday or having a corporate event, why not serve up some treats on our Welsh slate trays which can be personalised to your design.
Set the mood for the evening for a catch up with friends and family with Valley Mill’s ranges of candles and candle holders. Not only do they look fantastic but our huge variety of scents will really set the mood too.