“Fear no more the heat o’ the sun, nor the furious winter’s rages; Thou thy wordly task hast done…” (W.S. Cym.)


How nice is this !?  I get up when I want, I stay up as long as I want, I do what I want, I walk out where and when I want.  Apparently it’s called ‘retirement’, and I am finally beginning to understand what it entails !

A few weeks have now past without me having to attend to any walling work.  There is an outstanding job awaiting my attention and sooner now rather than later, I’m going to have to get on it; it needs to be completed by the end of the year which really means before Christmas.  That has been somewhat fortuitous given the state of play, wind and rain has been incessant, thus it has been a grateful Welshwaller who has either stayed indoors or gone and satiated other needs.

It is actually coincidental that much of my ‘wandering’ has involved water; inland water which holds various memories and fascinations.

Crannog at Llangorse

The little man-made island off the east shore of Llangorse Lake. A crannog.

My first sojourn took me to a place I visit fairly often, or used to.  This year I seem to have had very few encounters with the quiet waters of Llangorse Lake in the south of the old county of Breconshire.

It is both historic in my life and in the story of man in that part of Wales.  I have often recounted in this blog, my visits to the old Elizabethan manor house of Ty Mawr, the home of my friends at Ty Mawr lime.  (As I wrote back in August, the lady of the house, Joyce, is, as I write, following in the footsteps of the first Welsh settlers to Patagonia) There is history all around the shores of the lake, much of it, I’m certain, still to be discovered and interpreted.

For example, the very name throws up some questions in my mind as to the accuracy of much of the perceived wisdom of historical origins.  History records the lake under the name ‘Brecenanmere’  which is to say ‘the sea of Brecon’.  In Welsh it is known as Llyn Syfaddyn’ and it is that name with which it was known throughout much of the medieval period.  In fact it was not until the nineteenth century that the name Llangorse came into common parlance.  It bears some examination as an eponymous title.  The nearby village of that name is not really that historic, it was in fact a Norman ‘planted’ village, which is to say it was an example of town planning commonly employed by the French overlords once they had subdued the locals in about 1067.  Instead of the scattered farmsteads of the natives, the ‘Welshry’, with their associated dispersed field strips or ‘Rhandirs’  and the inherent inefficiencies of agricultural production, the Normans simply rebuilt the farms in a cluster around a church, a pond, a smithy and an ale house, of course. The village core usually had a cross roads (and was thus often built at a strategic confluence of routes or rivers, fords and defensive sites).  Llangorse village is an excellent example of such planted villages (as are the nearby villages of Llanwern, Llanfihangel Talyllyn and Llanfilo) with its five farms, church, pubs and ‘burgages’, the shops of their day.  But it is the name which is interesting; the Llan is often associated with the extant church, generally an original Norman (or a few centuries later) but the term actually refers to the enclosure in which the church is sited.  Llan sites can often be much earlier constructions and are often thought to be the sites of very early Christian monastic cells. The second element of the name is often the name of the Saint (usually an early Celtic Saint) but can sometimes be a reference to the geography in which it is placed.  Such is the case with Llangorse; the prefix is clear but the second element is a mutated form of the word ‘Cors’  which is generally taken to mean a very boggy or wet parcel of land (as in Cors Caron, the 8 mile long bog at the head of the river Teifi in Cardiganshire).  Therein lies my question; the village to which that name is appended is not at all in a wet place, far from it, the farmland which surrounds the planted village is excellent well draining sandstone soil of proven fertility.  Most academics presume the name of the village is taken from the name of the nearby lake but that must be erroneous as the lake was not know by that name at the time the village was created.

Llangasty and the lake.

The lake has a characteristic shape and on the ‘inside’ curve where the brown rush can be seen in this photograph, lies the church of Llangasty.

There is however, a church which does sit in a boggy place and what’s more, it sits right on the shore of the lake; indeed it is surrounded by the lake at times of high water.  That church bears the name of a little recorded Celtic Saint, Castyn (in fact it is the only site which bears his name).  The little Llangasty church sits amongst the rushes on the western shore of the lake.  To my thinking IT is the ‘llan cors’ which historic documents record.

Now in one sense it is no matter, after all, time has determined that the village of Llangorse is deemed to be named after the lake and that somehow the Welsh description must apply to the church in the village.  So much so that many archaeological explorations and digs, including the famous Time Team and the ‘not-so-famous’ experts from the National Museum of Wales and Oxford University, have spent hundreds of hours and pounds searching for lost buildings and ‘finds’.

Much of that searching has been for the site of an abbey, a mention of which occurs in the C6th Charter granting a large amount of land to the Bishop of ‘Llancors’.  The six thousand or so acres of land was enclosed by a large earth bank some of which I have been able to locate on the slopes above the village (close-by is farm Cwrt y Prior).  The assumption has always been, reinforced by a suspicion (for it is no more than that in reality) that the llan of the church in the village is of a mainly circular form (suggesting possible early, if not pre Christian, occupation), that the abbey is in that locality.  Indeed a circular field on the nearby common, which itself joins the lake shore, has also been much investigated.   Surprise, surprise, they haven’t yet found anything.

The site to my mind is more likely to be on the western side of the lake, somewhere near Castyn’s little monastic cell or Clas.  In fact there are massive foundations in the field adjacent to the manor of Ty Mawr, a few hundred yards from Llangasty, which, to my in-experienced eye, should be investigated.  The stone-work seems far too immense in size and construction to have been merely the foundation of the Elizabethan manor for which they are presumed to have been built.

Then there is the Crannog issue.  Much excitement and thousands of hours of interpretation (thinking and writing) has been expended on the little island which sits some thirty metres from the east shore of the lake.  It came back into public conscience in the middle of the C19th when a lowering of the lake water level saw it emerge from the dark water.  At the same time a dug-out canoe was exhumed from the muddy foreshore. The crannog is a man made island made up of various layers of hazel and stones and surrounded by oak paling driven into the lake bed.  It is a common construction on the lakes of Ireland and is presumed to be a fairly early, maybe even pre Roman, type of structure.  The Llangorse crannog is thought to have been the site of a ‘palace’ which King Brychan (the eponymous ruler of Brycheiniog) had built for his Irish wife.  He came to Wales after the end of the Roman period, sometime in the C5th but was actually the son of an Irish king and a Welsh (not that Wales existed then !) mother.  He occupied lands in the Garthmadryn domain (Trecastle area of west Breconshire) and it is there that many standing stones with the Irish ogham inscriptions were found (and now reside in the museum in Brecon).  To my mind it seems a little small for a weekend condo on the lake.  Finds from the site include quite valuable items such as slate rings and Persian silks, all of which have contributed to the notion of a royal palace.  The little island certainly was built well, it was still there in the AD916 when an Anglo Saxon crazy woman called Athelflaed (daughter of Arthur, King of Wessex) attacked it and, supposedly burned the palace.

Brychan himself is supposed to have had a couple of punch-ups around the lake, most notably with a bunch of Cornish hooligans led by one  King Arthur.  Indeed it has been suggested the whole ‘Sword in the Stone’ malarky happened on this very lake.

Arthur's Sword

Excalibur. The Sword-in-the-Stone which alludes to King Arthur being here at Llangorse Lake. It sits looking out at the crannog.

The problem with the ‘Excalibur’tale is,”which one to be believe!”  (If any !)  I get very confused – did ‘he’ just heave it out of the stone or did he go into the water and take it off the damsel who was holding it aloft out of the water ?  The ‘Lady of the Lake’ story seems to be more of a ‘Welsh’ idea (we being slightly less sexist and machoistic …ahem) and the ‘tough guy’ ‘Arnie’ type Arthur, who just ripples the old biceps and out it pops, is more Cornish/ English.  Who knows ? Who cares !?  Whatever, it is a clever bit of ‘Touristic license’ and is certainly an attractive piece of public sculpture.

‘As they rode Arthur said “I have no sword”. “No force”, said Merlin, “hereby is a sword and it shall be yours, and I may”.  So they rode ’til they came to a lake, the which was a fair and broad, and in the midst of the lake Arthur was ware of an arm clothed in white samite, that held a fair sword in that hand.  “Lo”, said Merlin, “yonder is that sword that I spoke of”.  With that they saw a damosel going upon the lake.  “What damosel is that?” said Arthur. “That is the Lady of the Lake”, said Merlin.’

There is another interesting link to Llangorse and the crannog finds that often crosses my mind whilst I sit looking out at the little island.  The church of Llangorse village is dedicated to St. Paulinus (unfortunately there are two of those and no-one is certain which one is which).  Paulinus roamed between Brittany, Cornwall and Wales and is honoured in many churches.  His life story (St. Pol de Leon) is interesting and it seems he was  a Roman nobleman.  But he disappears from history and the last reference tells of him going to live ‘on an island in the sea’.  No-one knows where that ‘sea’ was but given that right up until his disappearance he was active in the areas of Carmarthenshire and Breconshire, given that in the centuries in which he lived the lake was known as the ‘sea of Brycheiniog’, given that the rich silks and rings found in the silts around the crannog (an island !) came from the east …. might it just be that it was the Llangorse crannog that was Paulinus’ last domain ?  After all, why else should the church bear his name and surely even Brychan was not so ‘connected’ he could buy his wife expensive gifts from the orient ?  But who am I to come up with such silly suggestions !?

Llangasty church from the lake

The ‘enclosure in the bog’, the ancient site of St. Castyn on the western shore of Llangorse lake. Surely this is the llancors!

I have enjoyed the still waters of Llangorse lake since my childhood days.  My uncle Bryn had a small rowing boat to which a two stroke Seagull engine was attached and once or twice each summer he would take myself and some other boys, all of whom worked Saturday jobs in the grocery/bakery shop that my grandfather, uncles, mother and aunts worked in and owned (B. Deakin & Sons of Five Locks Road, Pontnewydd), on an outing.  Of course to a young boy the lake seemed enormous and it took forever for us to row or motor around it.  The favourite part was when we cut the motor, just on the edge of the massively tall reed beds on the south west tip of the lake, and proceeded to punt our way into them using the wooden oars.  I well remember we all felt we were following in the wake of the ‘African Queen’ (which I suppose was a ‘newly released’ film back then !) and ultimately uncle Bryn would have to get out aka Bogart, and haul us off the mud banks back out of the rushes to deeper water. The noisy speed-boats which hauled their skiers around the lake in those days were, to us, the German patrol boats, and we imagined how we would ram them and blow them from the water !

We always entered the lake on the small beach next to Llangasty church, little did I imagine that years later I would still be intrigued by that tranquil sheet of water and that small round stone enclosure.  I eventually had that small boat given to me and continued to take it out on the lake, by then as a fisherman, often with my father on board.  Even when I was able to drive myself to the lake I was still hauling the boat out of the reeds where I used to hide it throughout the Spring and Summer months.  Fishing the lake was a sublime activity especially in the early light of dawn when the mist sat across the water.  One really strange and somewhat spooky event happened on such a June morning.  I rowed the boat out toward what I judged to be the middle of the lake for the mist was so thick I could not see but a few yards.  The red ball of the dawn sun guided me to the east and when I adjudged I had gone far enough – deeper water was my goal for therein lay my quarry, the spiky finned Perch – I dropped the little anchor and set-to with my tackle.  Quietly the little craft drifted around so that I was casting my bait on the side which faced back to the western shore and Llangasty.  After an hour or so I became aware of an occasional ‘plop’ behind me, each time making me jump a little.  On and on it went, probably at a half hour interval or so.  As the sun rose and the mist began to burn away I began to see the tower of the little church and could at last see the da-glo tip of my little float as it bobbed in the still water.  “Good morning !”  I fell over backwards into the bottom of the boat such was I startled.  Looking behind me I saw another fisherman, his boat but six feet from mine, in fact so close had we been casting toward each other we should certainly have hooked ourselves !  Amazingly he had rowed out from the eastern shore, a much greater distance than I had come and somehow, in the impenetrable gloom of the dawn mist, we had set anchor in such proximity !  The damnation of it was that he had been catching fish whereas I had not !  How we laughed, how our laughs turned to consternation when we realised we could have collided and both ended up in the water.  In the days before safety concerns we neither of us had any buoyancy jackets,no, just thick heavy clothing and Wellington boots !

There is another sheet of  still water which, although much smaller, is equally as enchanting and possibly more mysterious.  In a secluded hollow off a quiet lane in the parish of Nantmel, hidden behind a block of conifers, lies Llyn Gwyn.  Confusingly another lake of similar size lies just outside  the mid Wales town of Rhayder but it is named Gwyn Llyn !  Now the llyn element is simply ‘lake’ but the ‘gwyn’ is a matter of some debate.  It can mean variously,’white’, ‘fair’ or ‘holy’.  It sometimes appears that historians use whichever meaning suits their argument but I have to say that the notion of ‘white’ is too often applied.  I think in a geographical application the word may well relate to a ‘fair’ or hospitable setting, for instance facing the morning sun or  in a sheltered spot.  Often however, it is the ‘holy’ that can be missed.  Holy that is in the sense of’ ‘spiritual’ as well as connected to some Christian place.  In the case of Llyn Gwyn many have assumed it to be an association with Abbey Cwm Hir which lies to the north.  As the lake holds carp it is argued it was the fish pond of the abbey.  That may well be so but given the paucity of fish species normally associated with  monastic ponds it is open to question.  Some have suggested the ‘gwyn’ relates to the use or ownership of the lake by the ‘white’ (Cistercian) monks of the abbey.  It may just as easily denote a ‘fair’ or beautiful spot for that it surely is.

Small lake of llyn Gwyn in Radnorshire

The strange little island in Llyn Gwyn is intriguing – is it a …?

What intrigues me about this secret place is it’s potential for pre-historic revelation.  For one thing there is a substantial, (read ‘massive’) semi-circular earthwork which is marked on the O.S. map.  It has a diameter of some 60 metres and is a good 5 metres high.  On the ‘outside’ (i.e. away from the lake) there is a significant ditch which in winter is often filled with water.  Whilst today the ends of the bank, which curves toward the lake, are some fifteen metres from the water’s edge, it is possible the lake was higher in the distant past.  That is suggested by some ancient dry stone walls which look as if they should terminate at the water but end some metres short.

Then there is the matter of a strange little island which sits in the middle of the lake toward the northern end.  There is no apparent reason for such a feature in terms of geology; the basin in which the lake sits is of a rich clay deposit of some depth with only small boulders scattered in it.  As far as I have been able to ascertain no research has ever been done on either feature.  The earth bank is mentioned in records, the island is not and the whole is noted as the probable fish pond of the abbey.  I want to get into the water and have a look at that island, could it just be another crannog !?  It would be a sensible construction in that setting and may well be co-eval with the embankment  Another mystery to solve in my dotage !

My other water wanderings have taken me over the hills to the great reservoirs of mid Wales, Llyn Brianne and the Elan Valley, but I think they will have to wait for a later posting.  Welshwaller needs to get out and gather fuel ‘ere the winter storms begin’ !  More like ‘ere they end’, days of torrential rain and howling winds have had me cocooned in a shed or in front of a roaring log fire but food stores and fuel stores need replenishing. Oh yes, and a festival approaches, an appropriate one given all the religious elements in this post !

Tales from 1915:

Sunday 15th November.  Bad night.  Shelling of lines.

16th.  In Mons, full of friends.  Best time of all.

17th.  Went back to Company.

18th.  Working party afternoon

19th.  Nothing doing beside feet growling.  (term for pain of trench foot)

20th.  Relieved Warwicks at (?).  On guard in trench.

21st.  Went on mining.  Making bomb store.

22nd.  Mining party.

23rd.  Mining party.

24th.  Mining party.

25th.  Mining party. (It is not known if ‘mining party’ refers to underground digging or laying of mines)

26th. Left for Acheux to proceed on leave.  Had a bath and change

27th.  Entrained at Acheux at 3 pm arrived at Le Havre and got on boat at 7pm.  Left for England at 12 o’clock.

28th.  Arrived at Southampton.  Arrived Newport via London at 3 pm and got home.

29th.  Visited Pontnewydd *

(*Pontnewydd is my home village and where Uncle Dick’s sisters lived)

30th.  Visited Foundry (probably in Old Cwmbran where he used to work)

December 1st.  Wednesday.  Went to Pontypool.

2nd.  Went to Newport and Risca and (?) concert at night.

3rd.  Visited foundry and Pontnewydd.  Stayed in at night.

4th.  Left for London.  3 hours in London then boat to Boulogne from Folkestone.  Stayed at camp in Boulogne at night.

Within two days Dick was back in the trenches “up to waist in water”.  That was his last time at home for nearly a year and ahead lay a very awful winter in the Somme salient.  It is hard to imagine what it must have been like to have to operate in the sort of weather I’m looking at out of my window on this bleak last day of November 2015.  A century ago to the day, my Great Uncle and millions more in all the Armies just had to sit it out and try to survive whilst carrying on fighting and digging and working.  And dying in their thousands or being terribly wounded or gassed.  Would they think it had all been worth it ?






November in gay Paris …


I had begun this post on Friday night (13th) and as I wrote, with the BBC news coming on in the background, the terrible story began to unfold.  By the time I hit the pillow at 2 am one hundred and twenty nine people had died and many dozens more were fighting for their lives,  Writing a blog post about the mundane happenings in the life of Welshwaller seemed somewhat superficial.

A few days later and the true enormity of those few hours of slaughter in the bars and restaurants of youthful Paris is in all our faces.  Thankfully someone was switched-on enough to refuse entry to the football match.  If those suicide bombers had got in amongst the crowd several hundred more would no doubt have died.  I hope those in hospital fight through, I hope those survivors who escaped or lay still while chaos and massacre rained down upon them get the pyschological help they will so desperately need.  PTSD will inevitably become familiar to many.  I just wish the media interviewers and reporters would have a little more empathy with what those survivors and witnesses have endured;  I find myself increasingly wanting to shout at them to stop asking such idiotic and thoughtless questions.  We don’t need to see and hear all that we are being shown and told, surely not.  Surely all this coverage multiplies by hundreds the PR which the perpetrators relish !?

President Orlande declared it an ‘Act of War’, well, yes, of course it was an act of war.  It’s what participants on both, or in this case ALL, sides of a conflict do to each other, they kill as many of the ‘enemy’ as they can, how they can and where they can and when they can.  We are naturally outraged, we think it very ‘not playing by the rules’ to arrive unannounced in a city and kill civilians whilst they go about their lives, innocents in a far off conflict.  ‘They’ didn’t deserve to die but who does in such conflicts ?  (Clearly the same emotions do not apply to dead Russians, blown from the sky on their way home from a sunny holiday, the media furore around that incident lasted all of 48 hours !) It would be very nice if, instead of sneaking around undercover, like fifth columnists’ (as one observer declared them) they would wear uniforms – preferably of the enemy – and march into town guns blazing and engage with the forces arranged ready to meet them.  Then the only deaths would be ‘soldiers’, those paid to lay down their lives and of course, in the self-assured belief that they do it gladly for God and country. Well, don’t they ?  And as for bombing civilians well, absolutely not within the rules.  No, it’s very unfair, ‘they’ (whomsoever ‘they’ are just now) should not come over this side of the water and attack us, they should stay where they are and just kill their own countrymen and women.  We wouldn’t do that would we !?  You won’t see ‘us’ bombing innocent people, gunning down women and children, we wouldn’t strike without warning … would we ?

We are indeed at war, with an enemy we have, as yet, no understanding of or answer to.  Imagine, if you can, how different our own problems with I.R.A. bombers would have been had they been ready to die for the cause they so loudly proclaimed.  Suicide bombers in 1970s London would have caused far more deaths and panic than car bombs planted by those keen to effect an escape.  This is a far more difficult and scary ‘war’, one in which we engage from afar, or from ‘on high’, with our stealth weapons and laser guided killers, often it seems, without even having to put pilots in danger – Lord help us if a western pilot gets downed and captured. We don’t like ‘our’ people to get killed do we ?  But if one side has bigger and better weapons than the other, for instance if one side has planes and one doesn’t, what then ?  There is no ‘deterrent’ element in this war, both sides assume they will overcome the enemy and ultimately win (WIN what is not made clear), indeed Paris and the rest of Europe is today shouting aloud that ‘we will overcome’.  So lets carry on. Lets us keep bombing them with unannounced stealth missiles and let them keep sneaking over here and shooting and bombing us with their suicide vests (at least theirs is a one-way mission).  That way the good old leaders of Western democratic civilization can keep on justifying spending 2% of GDP on ‘defence’ and the Mullahs can keep justifying sending young jihadis off to meet those promised 75 virgins.  For sure, hundreds of ‘innocents’ on both sides get to die but we all get to shout aloud that they died to uphold the beliefs of their Gods and Countries. And look at all the job creation opportunities it throws up !  1500 new ‘spooks’ to be recruited immediately (announced today), all those people who are going to be needed to keep watch on our mobile phone chatter and our internet use (oops, that’s me in trouble again !) and all those new bombs and bullets that will be needed, surely, before long we’ll need hundreds and hundreds of new soldiers …. unemployment ? What unemployment ?  The ‘poor’ ? What about the poor, we can’t afford to worry about them, we have to protect ourselves (against all those nasty and evil people we seem to be constantly angering), we can’t worry about rights and wrongs or silly things like human rights and civil liberties, oh no, we have a WAR to deal with …

Whichever side God is really on, he ain’t doing a very good job in my view.   Or is he ?  I mean, there’s clearly far too many people in the world, perhaps finally the most intelligent species on the planet has actually evolved to such an intellectual level that it can, at last, kill itself off and leave the planet to creatures that will look after it, somewhat more carefully than homo-sapiens have managed to do.  But that’s just me, I mean, who believes all this climate change stuff anyhow, so what if there’s no polar bears or tigers left, so what if we have to go bomb the whole of the Middle East (may as well do Russia while we’re at it)? We’re clearly ‘in the right’ and God wouldn’t have given us all the CO2   making industries if he didn’t want us to use them (to make weapons to eradicate all human life especially ‘them’), now would he !?

I need to stick to building walls and reporting on nature, I’m far too cynical to make comment on World affairs…. “What?  Oh, there’s another hurricane on its way, excuse me I have to go batten down the hatches …”  “What ?”  “Oh it’s a blizzard this time …”

The irony of Paris is in those who died, young people all, the very ones who could save the World.

A Prochaine. Je suis Paris

“We are all born ignorant but one must work hard to remain stupid”. (Benjamin Franklin)

Septarian Nodules

This was a total mystery, but I knew a man who would know what it was…

I’ve worked hard, occasionally, I suspect, not hard enough, but then I come across an immediate repost.  Such was the case a week ago, a farmer friend, assuming I knew a bit about geology, showed me a strange pebble he had recovered whilst ploughing a field.  I was stupid enough to assume it was some sort of prehistoric fishing net weight whereon the net had become fossilized.  Luckily I know a man who has been very lethargic at remaining stupid, he is by far the most knowledgeable geologist and Welsh historian I have met.  Dr. John Davies, a true Welshman, reigns supreme when it comes to answering any query I put to him, without reference he just eschews a detailed explanation.

This particular oddity was not any challenge to ‘John Rocks’ (as he is colloquially known in Wales), no, not even a cause for pause.  It is a ‘Septarian Nodule’ (well of course it is !) formed when the siderite crystals (that’s Iron Carbonate to you and me) found in the local Wenlock Shale, especially where it outcrops with the adjacent Llandovery, get squashed from their original spherical shape into something resembling a smartie or M & Ms (that’s ‘discoid ellipsoids’ to you and me).  They then fracture into reticulate patterns.  The iron carbonate crystals grow into the fractures and then the softer mud-stone erodes leaving the crystals standing proud.

Fish net ? No, Septarian Nodules

These Septarian Nodules are found in the Edw valley area of Radnorshire. Nature is STRANGE !

Yes, the prehistoric fishing net weight is definitely more imaginative, but imagine just knowing the whole life story of that formation.  John, you are not working hard enough …

I enjoy being nonplussed by such natural phenomena, I never cease to be amazed at how geology can make such astonishing patterns.  I’m not surprised at how stupid I am but I am thankful that I have, within my network of friends, colleagues and associates,  folk who respond without hesitation to my queries and when it comes to stones and geology, the best in Wales responds without fail. Diolch yn fawr John bach.

The farm where the stone was found is in the Edw valley of Radnorshire, near the village of Hundred House.  John told me that when he was curator of Radnor Museum in Llandrindod Wells such finds were commonly brought in.  The soft shales erode to form the gentle rounded hills of the Radnor Forest but once the river cuts its way into the Aberedw hills the harder rocks present as great craggy outcrops and steep sided gullies.  The area is one of the most scenic zones of Wales and yet few from outside ever visit.  Fortunately that allows those of us who do appreciate its beauty the pleasure of empty roads and empty hills.

A late autumn sun-fest which coincided nicely with the half term holiday week, brought hordes to many parts of the hill country.  I had need to venture south, across the Eppynt range to the valley of the river Usk and the Brecon Beacons National Park.  When I eventually broke out of the extreme fog, which reduced visibility to such an extent even the wretched pheasants couldn’t see cars coming and dozens lay dead in the road, blue skies and sunshine greeted me.

Mynydd Eppynt 1/112015

My oft travelled road over the Eppynt military range to Trecastle is guaranteed to throw up some lovely views in the late autumnal sun.

Temperature inversion, whereby fog lingers in the valleys until midday, is common in the Welsh uplands and indeed my valley has been bathed in the opaque mist for days.  For some reason just twenty miles south,in the valley of the Usk, the mist had been burned off by the bright sunshine by mid morning but instead of totally dissipating it had risen a few hundred feet and there it sat.  By the time I got up onto the flat open common of  Mynydd Illtyd (an area of low open hill betwixt the two main communication routes of the A40 Brecon to Llandovery and the A470 to Merthyr via the high pass at Storey arms, the head of the Tarrell valley) I was in clear air but the high peaks of the Beacons, Pen y Fan and Corn Ddu, sat on a base of low cloud.

My destination was the Mountain Centre where I had to meet a customer and, hopefully, enjoy some lunch.  Alas, the sunshine and the end of the school hols had persuaded hundreds of others to head for the same venue and such was the queue for parking and eating,  I headed off in another direction!

Brecon Beacon misty

The top of Pen y Fan peaks out over the fog that lingers in the valley of the Tarrell, viewed from the BBNP Mountain Centre.

The open spaces of the common of Mynydd Illtyd attracts many walkers who are, shall we say, more of the ‘stroller’ than the mountaineer.  It is an ideal place to wander along cropped turf paths and enjoy the views south to the Beacons or north to the hills of mid Wales.

It is a place I have known and enjoyed for a long, long time but it is always a joy no matter what weather is prevalent.  But autumn sunshine, clear air and the colours of change takes some beating.  What I particularly like about the hill is that the bracken, which is very virulent throughout the common (except along the sheep walks which are kept very cropped and green), is still cut and baled for use as animal bedding.  Even though today the bales are large and round it is still good to see traditional uses being made of the nuisance plant.  In far too many areas the commons have been let go and bracken has spread upwards and downwards leaving little grazing for the ever decreasing flocks of sheep.  My worry is that, even in my life time, a time is coming when the hills will become impassable for walkers and barren of diversity in both plant and animal life;  in my view it is the reducing numbers of hill flocks that should concern us not too many sheep !

Bracken bales on Mynydd Illtyd

The hill of Mynydd Illtyd with the Iron Age enclosure of the Silures on top and the slopes of baled bracken. Walking, history and just a little tradition.

The O.S. identifies a Roman road running east/west across the common and although the line is erroneous (the road is actually a few hundred metres or so south of the O.S. line), this is the route of Sarn Helen, the major military road that ran from the fortress at Neath to the Gaer camp on the banks of the river Usk, two miles west of Brecon.  (It may interest you to know that my headline photo of a wall at the top of the page is actually on that Roman road at Coelbren, a marching camp north of Neath).  Another significant O.S. mark on the common is Bedd Gwl Illtyd, the supposed grave of Illtyd.  The custom in Roman times was to bury folk adjacent to important roads and thus there may be some truth in the folklore. Yes, Illtyd is the name of a person, a sixth century Saint (Illtud Farchog) after whom several churches are dedicated.  Llanilltud in the Vale of Glamorgan was the first school which the Abbot Illtud established and alumni included the saints Patrick and David and the historian Giraldus as well as Samson of Dol.  The link between the Celtic Saints and Dol in Brittany is an important and well documented one.  There was an old church just west of the Mountain Centre, sadly demolished some years ago as it was deemed dangerous.  Capel Illtyd was an interesting place, it was set in a circular raised enclosure – often regarded as an earlier Iron Age site (deemed Pagan by the Christians !) – with 365 trees growing around the circumference.   The fascinating aspect of it to my mind was the fact that electronic battery driven cameras failed to operate within the church.  Very spooky !

Illtyd is celebrated on November 6th and is also glorified at another site close to where I have been recently working.  St. Illtyd’s church at Aberbeeg is but a short crow flight from the Ebbw Vale site where I and my trusty band of Gwent Wildlife Trust volunteers have been persevering with the Clawdde stone-faced banks which are now adorning the entrance to the Resource Centre at the Trust’s Blaenau Gwent centre.

A bendy bank of stone and turf

One I prepared earlier, an Oo-La-La line requested by the boss lady but it adds to the entrance.

A merry half dozen or so of these hard-working folk turned up to construct a single face stone and turf retaining wall, just to the left behind the box like building in the photo above.  There was a bank which was a mixture of stones, slag waste and lumps of tarmacadam dumped years ago by the local council road-men.  The area has been well colonised by trees, in particular alder which seems to like the rather polluted soil !  Normally one would associate alder with wet ground but this banks seems very well draining and yet they have done very well.  So much so that they probably now need coppicing which will have the effect of lengthening their life-span considerably.  Fitting perhaps that alder should be growing on an old metal foundry site where workers would have worn alder clogs to protect their feet from the hot floor and red hot cinders.

GWT volunteers working hard

The trusty volunteers built a really good stone faced bank AND did it with a smile on their faces !



The stone and turf walls with a soil in-fill are an excellent way of facing or revetting a bank as nature will quickly colonise the area with new flora and insects, particularly bees, will burrow into the warm face to lay their eggs.  The whole site is a wonderful nature reserve with ponds and wet woodland areas which teem with flying critters throughout the summer.  Why, at October’s end, dragon flies should still be hurling themselves around the skies is a little peculiar.  But then, November 1st did break all temperature records with Wales recording 22 degrees (that’s C not F of course, in case my trans-Atlantic friends get worried !).  I also got caught out with those pesky midges which I assumed had gone away for the year but which ambushed me when I was unprotected.  Annoying itchy bites is not what is supposed to happen this time of year !  I blame that damn El Ninio and everyone else west of the Pecos !


Great Uncle Dick’s diary for November 1915:

Monday November 1st:  Easy day in billets.

2nd.  Working in R.E (Royal Engineers) timber yard.

3rd.  Easy day.  6.30 a.m. parade cancelled !

4th.  Working party at night.

5th.  Working party at night.

6th.  Co’s inspection and relieved to get pay.  Easy day after. Very cold.

7th.  Relieved Warwicks in Trenches.  Ration party.

8th.  Rations and working party.  Trenches rotten and much rain.

9th.  Working party afternoon.  Germans bombarded with torpedoes and grenades.

10th.  Guide to r. Irish.  Working party.   Returned at night.

11th.  Helping Sergt Yates.  Sent to Officers mess.

12th.  Helped to cook and hedgetop mess (camouflage)

13th.  Helped in mess.  good time.  Rotten in trenches. Company have an awful time.

14th.  Helped in mess.  Relieved by Warwicks.





“When the winds of change blow some people build walls and others build windmills.” (Chinese proverb)


As a Waller I have always to be aware that I can be rather resistant to change; each wall, although different, is essentially the same challenge as the last.  Stones can vary in size and shape, in weight and colour, but the construction of a wall takes little note of those differences.  The weather changes constantly but in truth, when I look back, it is mostly the same.  I can remember snow if I focus on it; I do not remember rain even though I’ve endured some absolute soakings over the last twenty five years, I do not remember sunburn or any other discomfort.  I do remember autumns and frosts, sunsets and hues over summer meadows, my brain is well able to conjure up the feeling of well being at the end of a long day on a hill.  I know the calls of the wild without reference, Buzzards and Kites, Curlews and Green Woodpeckers are as familiar as the voice of a friend.  Cawing crows do not differentiate themselves in my mind but there are one or two individuals I remember well; the ‘telephone bird’ on Trichrug who sounded for all the world like one of those push button phone tones, the Raven which seemed to impersonate the honk of a steam boat as he rode the thermals on Gilwern hill.  All these have been constants in my life, as much a part of it as my Stanley thermos flask and my gloves – though how many hundreds of pairs of those I’ve gone through I have no idea ! (I could go back through my accounts and work out how many pairs I had bought each year !)  I probably have averaged a pair a week so work it out !  It is perhaps not surprising therefore that change is not something I am familiar with.

As I contemplate the next few years, change is going to be a real issue; I have to face up to it and get my strategies in place.  I awoke a few weeks ago to the realisation that I no longer need to go to work; pensions have started to arrive apparently, money drips into my bank account without toil.  I am not yet able to come to terms with that strange fact and I have been busier than ever this last month.  Only small jobs you understand, a garden wall for a friend and another training course back in the Ebbw Vale area.  But there is no doubt, I am enjoying working now that I don’t need to.  It’s rather akin to getting up early on a morning when I could stay in bed, the opposite of the torture of getting up late on a work morning !

Sandstone retaining wall

This little wall replaced a dreadful concrete block monstrosity.

The garden wall was not really a ‘garden’ in the true sense of the word.  It was a small retaining wall at the front of a farmhouse which served to keep sheep from jumping onto the lawn … but there are steps !!  Actually it was replacing the most awful concrete block wall which had stood in situ since the 1960s and thus it was always going to be an improvement.  The farmer is also a most excellent wheelwright, the very man in fact who made a pair of wheels for me some years ago to fit to my Radnor Wheel Car.

He is also the resident wheelwright at the Acton Scott Victorian farm which is featured below.

I agreed to do the job a few months ago and was waiting for him to get the stone from the nearby quarry at Colva.  It is a rather good sandstone which has a rich mellow yellow hue and makes a good stone for both mortar walls and dry stone walls.

As is often the case with garden work, it grows inexorably  so that the ‘end’ of the job is difficult to assess.  So it was with this job, I was somehow ‘persuaded’ to rebuild the steps as well !  Luckily I had another date in the diary which took me back to the Ebbw Vale area to instruct a group of folk in the gentle art of ‘clawdde’ banking – that’s a stone-faced earth and turf bank.  The course was one of the longest ‘bookings’ I had ever received, I was contacted in August 2014 by the hosts, Gwent Wildlife Trust, to check my availability !  Now that’s what I call ‘forward planning’ !

Silent Valley wallers

My intrepid group of trainees enthusiastically building a stone faced ‘clawdde’ bank.

The focus of the training course was ‘Wildlife in Walling’, something which is very close to my heart, as I’m sure you regular readers will know only too well !

The problem with a dry stone wall is that it has a limited capability as a habitat, important as they are in the upland areas.  Really the collapsed dry stone wall is a far more important resource in habitat terms than a newly built wall.  Apart from birds nests and small creatures in the sub-soil under the foundation stones there is not much else that a wall can offer a home to.  Lichens and mosses do form on some walls where the micro-environment allows but actually the last thing a wall needs is plants growing in it.  Thus an earth filled bank with stones and turf in the face provides a much better home for a diverse range of plants and animals.

This was a repeat of a project which I undertook for Radnor Wildlife Trust at their Gilfach / Marteg Bridge site a couple of years ago.  The site for this course was at the Silent Valley Nature reserve south of Ebbw Vale in the Sirhowy valley.  Currently the barrier to prevent vehicles accessing the wild flower meadow are the large logs that can be seen in the photograph but these are reaching the end of their life-span and thus a replacement is needed.  The stone faced, ‘clawdde’ bank (a Welsh term for’bank) is a good way of delineating a car parking area as it is a living barrier that continues to strengthen as it matures.  Unlike a dry stone wall the earth filled bank absorbs the impact of a vehicle collision whereas the stone wall tends to burst open.  Also it is a good training structure for folk to learn the skill of building with stone.  The turf, which is placed inverted, acts as a mortar bed allowing oddly shaped stones to be placed firmly.  The earth centre is protected by the stone and the turf and eventually the root systems grow into it and binds the stones into the bank.  Of course plants soon root into the structure – we actually sprinkled wild flower seeds onto the top of the bank – and within a year or two the whole structure looks quite different.

The finished stone faced 'clawdde' at Silent Valley with two very happy and proud builders.

The finished stone faced ‘clawdde’ at Silent Valley with two very happy and proud builders.

One I preparedearlier - this stone facedbank is the onethat was built by Radnor Wildlife Trust volunteers two years ago.

One I prepared earlier – this stone faced bank is the one that was built by Radnor Wildlife Trust volunteers two years ago.

We didn’t quite finish the whole length  of the clawdde, but a day more by the two ladies in the photograph above will see it completed.

The fact that change is inevitable was brought home to me in glorious ‘technicolor’ a few weekends ago.  I ventured out of Wales to the city of Bristol to revisit the place of my first stint of higher education.  For nearly a year I have been regularly updated on plans to hold a reunion of former students of the Redland College of Education during the latter years of the 1960s and early 1970s.  I have been in touch with a few old mates in the interim but as for the other several dozen attendees it was a first sighting they had of me since all those years ago.  Change indeed !  I suppose I should be flattered that many of them recognised me … or maybe I should be a little worried ….. surely I have changed, surely I didn’t look like this back then !?

Autumn is the season of biggest change; it crashes in without warning – well normally it does.  This year the weather has been as sunny and dry as an autumn can be.  Rain has been absent and warm sunshine by day followed by frosty misty mornings have greeted me for several weeks.  The leaves have changed without me noticing and this year they have stayed on the trees instead of being blasted away by gales.

Misty mornings greet the arrival of Autumn - change is abroad.

Misty mornings greet the arrival of Autumn – change is abroad.

In the countryside change is much more noticeable than in the city – my weekend in Bristol could have been in any season – and in particular the final gathering of produce, wild and cultivated, is celebrated at numerous Harvest Festivals in villages throughout the land.  The harvest is all gathered in and preparations for over wintering people and animals would traditionally, by now, be well in hand.  Perhaps a pig would be ready for killing, old ewes would be culled, cockerels despatched and in the kitchen fruits would be being preserved n jams and pickles and hedgerow fruits and nuts would be collected.

Threshing day at Acton Scott 2015

Threshing day at Acton Scott Victorian farm near Church Stretton in Shropshire.

Not wanting to waste the good autumn weather I took myself off to Acton Scott, the working Victorian Farm made famous in the TV series of the same name.  It is about an hour and a half from me, a pleasant drive out of the Radnor Hills eastwards through the Clun Hills and into Shropshire.

The day was given over to the threshing of the corn ready for feeding and grinding.  A good crowd had gathered to see the old steam engine power up the threshing box, a Garvie machine, and witness an old activity of the agricultural year.  Of course the machine age totally changed the nature of agriculture.  To watch the sheaves disappear into the top of the box to emerge in three separate places, one as straw and one as chaff and the other as grain, must surely have been a’wonder of the world’ to the old country folk and farm labourers of the mid nineteenth century.  Of course not only did the new fangled machines speed up the practices of agriculture, they also caused many labourers to become unemployed and thus often homeless.  I’m not sure the steam engine and threshing box created unemployment, there certainly seemed to be a lot of people engaged in this demonstration !

Two things stand out to me about the activity. Firstly it is a frenzy of diligence, the men feeding the box are rhythmic, the pitcher who tosses the sheaves from the rick to the top of the box with his ‘pikle’, the catcher who grabs the sheaf and cuts the binding twine (these sheaves were reaped and bound by a ‘reaper-binder’ rather than being cut by sickle or scythe and stacked loose), the feeder who pushes the corn onto the feeder belt so it disappears cleanly down into the inner workings of the threshing box

The Threshing of corn at Acton Scott.

The stationery baler produces the straw bales that can be seen on the wagon. The ricks of corn stand either side of the threshing box and the engine puffs away in the background. Busy, smoky but strangely quiet !

Then there are all the cleaners and gleaners, the folk who busy themselves around the various ejection holes. the grain is shooting out from the sieves and has to be carefully channelled into large sacks with as little waste as possible, that which does evade the sack drops onto hessian sheets and is gleaned for use as poultry or horse feed.  Chaff dumps onto the ground and needs to be constantly shovelled into barrows and carted away.  Straw is either ejected onto the ground to be re-stacked onto a wagon or, as in this case, automatically fed into a stationery baler to be squashed into bales.  All these activities require folk and all those folk need to be ‘switched on’ to what they are doing and work as a team.  There is inherent danger in powerful machinery !

The driving force for all this activity is the Steam Engine, that mighty brute which conjures up the great days of British engineering.  There are two things that stand out about those mighty beasts of yesteryear, firstly they seem immensely dirty by modern standards, they belch thick black smoke from the coal fire and clouds of steam seem to be forever seeping out from some valve or other but, for all that, they are SO amazingly quiet.  In fact the whole operation is one which has little noise at all and the working team can quite easily chat away to each other above the whir of the belts that drive the inner cogs of the box.  It is possible to stand right next to the engine and the box and have no difficulty in talking to a friend.  The only presence is the gentle vibration of the ground as the great mass of iron and steel rocks gently to the turn of the driving gear.  How different from today’s noisy tractors.

Steam at Acton Scott

The power source was this beautifully restored Fowler steam engine.

Of course, just as the farming year ends, so it begins again.  All over the country sheep farmers are beginning the life cycle once more, the ram or ‘Tup’, is in with the ewes performing his once yearly nuptial foray.  In arable country land is being made ready for the sowing of winter corn and in the traditional manner of Acton Scott a plough team was working the field preparing the soil to receive the seed to produce the corn for next year’s threshing.

We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land”

Plough team at Acton Scott

The cycle begins again as the horses plod their way hauling the plough to turn the soil ready for the sowing of next year’s crop.

The whole experience of a visit to Acton Scott has a twofold effect on me; it allows me to immerse myself in some nostalgia but it also inspires me to get going on some restoration of my own collection – forsooth, there’s not much at Acton Scott that doesn’t also linger in my barns and sheds – except the living critters of course !

Tamworth piglets at Acton Scott

New life at the end of the year – I know someone who gets very excited to see new born piglets !

The last week of October usually marks the end of the autumn sunshine, with the changing of time comes the changing of climate and Atlantic low pressure systems begin to bring gales and heavy rain.  Already a monster storm has raged across Mexico and on into Texas, even my walling compatriot plying her trade in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia is expecting a serious change from ‘T’ shirt wearing temperatures to goretex and caharrts !  For Welshwaller much change has to be faced as I prepare to get the last few jobs done and make myself ready for a significant life changing period.  Watch this space !

On the Western Front in October 1915 things were not looking good for my Great Uncle Dick…

Sunday October 10th.   On Sentry at night.  Listening post morning.

11th.  Listening post in morning.  Listening post at ight ’til 12

12th.  Went with 7 platoon.  Me and Griff working at night.

13th.  Relieved by Dublin Fusiliers.  Marched to Beausarth (?). Taught 8th Irish Rifles.

14th.  Bath at Meuilly.

15th.  Rifle inspection day.  Working party at night.

16th.  Kit inspection by officers.  Billeted at Beusal (?) in kitchen.

17th.  – 23rd A quiet week of drills and inspections coupled with sentry duties but all back from the lane.

21st – 30th. Back to the trenches where the only thing Dick felt he wanted to record was the endless guard duty.

In actual fact his battalion was suffering massive losses in the autumn of 1915, the front was under constant bombardment and for the first time gas started to drift over the battlefield.  The tunnelling war reached a new level of activity and men from the coalfields of South Wales as well as other mining areas were recruited to dig the long underground tunnels in an attempt to get under the German trenches and set mines to blow them up.  The listening post duties may well have been deep underground in that tunnel.





If at first … tri tri again !


Escaping the troubled waters of sweet Beulah land was a very good idea;  I headed off to a place I had never (shamefully) before visited, the island of Guernsey.  The Channel Islands has been on my bucket ‘to visit’ list for many years but it had never quite made it onto the planning board.  The impetus came from my youngest daughter who now lives on the island and was organising the very first women’s Triathlon event, a Tri Tri for novices and those with some experience.  She is heavy into the three aspects of the triathlon, cycling, swimming and running and earns her keep as a fitness trainer on the idyllic isle.  It seemed a good opportunity to go visit and hopefully be of use in the running of the event.

Guernsey Tri Tri 2015

The intrepid women make their way to the sea for the 8 a.m. (yes, that’s in the morning !) kick off.

I am really impressed how many folk are involved in the outdoor activities of cycling and running, even here in the hill country of mid Wales.  Swimming is and always has been, fairly popular but the lengths (excuse the pun) that people now go to are far and away beyond what used to be the norm.  A friend of mine who actually came along and took part in the Guernsey Tri Tri, regularly does eighty plus lengths in her local pool.  To go swimming in some outdoor waterway, sea or fresh, is a different matter altogether.  To take a plunge, at 8 o’clock in the morning in October, is shear madness to my mind but 125 women did last weekend in the waters of Pembroke beach on Guernsey.

Preparations for the event had only begun a few short months ago but the turnout of both participants and supporters as well as the local media, was impressive.  If I remember correctly the swim was 400 metres, the bike ride was 10 kilometres and the run 5 kilometres and the chaos of the transition corridor was just as mad !  I hope the ladies won’t be offended if I say that the event was an absolute pandora of shapes, sizes, ages and levels of fitness.  In one way that is what made the event so joyful, everyone was willing to have a go, everyone was ready to put aside shyness, vanity and fear and do their best.  My duty was to marshall the final stretch of the bike ride and thus I got to see the competitors – and competition there was ! – as they turned the final bend in the long road.  All of them were red faced and puffing but all of them smiled and shouted ‘good morning’ or some such at me as they whizzed past and I saw, on every face, the sense of pleasure and achievement.  Well done all of you !

Guernsey Tri tri - ladies only.

Dawn creeps across thesky as the ladies of Guernsey get themselves ready … Tri Tri day has arrived !

Needless to say I also had a little bit of a smile and a whole lot of pride in the achievement of my ‘little girl’.  She ran around in her ‘Race Director’ vest with the widest of grins and a spring in her step, ably supported by her dear friends.  Guernsey has welcomed her with open arms !

Tri Tri Fry

Little Miss Waller bossing the event – she never did like walling anyway …

The island has some interesting coastal geography and rocky shoals create broken shorelines with lots of scrambles and pools.  The beaches in the north and west of the island are as good as any I have seen and the glorious early autumn weather added to the enjoyment.  The roads around the island are generally quite narrow and mostly busy but with a maximum speed limit of 35 mph it is generally a safe ride although I did spend the whole time worrying about my wing mirrors …

Copo beach, Guernsey

This is the norm when it comes to the sandy beaches and rocky shore – awesome !

Of course the Channel Islands have the unfortunate distinction of being the only part of Britain to have been occupied by the Nazis in the Second World War and Guernsey, being one of the two largest (Jersey being the other) had an immense amount of fortifications around the coast.  Those sinister concrete bunkers which held the sea-pointing guns, ready for any attempt to reclaim them, now have become a part of the landscape and indeed the tourism of the island.  It is almost impossible to go anywhere on the coast without finding them, mostly hidden in the cliffs or blended into the rocky outcrops.  In a few places they have been adapted and turned into useful accommodation for businesses or beach facilities.  They are not places I enjoy exploring nor even seeing but they remind us all of a time, not so very long ago, when all of Europe was threatened with a long darkness which would still have been with us were it not for courage and sacrifice, duty and fortitude.  We may well be in need of similar traits in the not too distant future.

Guernsey blockhouse

Blockhouses like this are all around the island reminding us of the terrible events of 75 years ago.

I was interested to better understand the political structure of the Channel islands in relationship to the United Kingdom.  Each island is technically a ‘Bailiwicke’, a self governing state with responsibility for it’s own finances and it’s own governance.  I was confused to find they are not a part of the European Union and if they are not a part of the UK why don’t we need passports to visit ? Why also is there a ‘duty free’ shop on the ferry ?  All very confusing indeed. It’s all to do with medieval history and the wars with the French, apparently !  Just in case we decide to leave the European Union maybe you better all get over there PDQ !

The French influence is of course omnipresent and is particularly and pleasingly adopted in matters of the heart, well the stomach actually.  The food I enjoyed was memorable, all three meals a day of it !   Although, in fairness, breakfast was a pretty good impersonation of the traditional ‘Full English’ !

One bizarre event will stay with me for a while; I got to watch the English elimination from the Rugby World Cup in an Irish bar on the island of Guernsey , surrounded by an increasingly quiet crowd of  Red Rose supporters …. and no, I didn’t cheer each time Australia scored and, no, I didn’t wear anything which identified my true allegiance but I did utter a muted ‘Yes’ as the final whistle blew … Apologies to all my English readers …

The memory I have most of Guernsey is Tomatoes !  When I was young it was the only tomato we ever saw, delivered in small wooden crates which stacked onto each other, the label is in my mind’s-eye even today.  The other Guernsey product was cream which came out of those lovely light brown cows.  Alas those days are long gone and today tomatoes come in to Britain from anywhere but Guernsey.  Throughout the island the graveyard of tomato growing is to be seen, large areas of glass houses still stand, empty and forlorn.  There is so much of it because grants were available to erect them and the growers employed large numbers of islanders and Portugese seasonal migrant workers.  By the 1980s that vast horticultural industry was doomed as cheaper imports from Europe cut the demand to zero.  Few of the extant glass-houses are in use today, those that are concentrate on flowers and seedling growing and cultivation.

I must tell you about the most bizarre discovery I made after a tip-off from my daughter.  The Little Chapel is one of the quaintest and mind boggling constructions I have ever seen.

Broken pottery chapel

Millions of pot sherds stuck onto mortar makes the Little Chapel one of the quirkiest ‘follies’ I have seen.

Little Chapel interior.

The brightly coloured decoration resulting from all the pieces of broken pottery was quite stunning.

A welcome break in sunshine and history and just a little family reunion;  I should indulge myself more often …

Then it was time to get back to the day job…. and return to my friends at the Brynmawr Buddhist centre to continue building the wall around the old cemetery.

Baptist to Buddha

How’s this for a good use for an old Baptist Chapel ! The temple of the Buddhist centre in Brynmawr.

The more I visit the centre and mingle with the folk who attend the more my faith in human nature is restored.  I love the colours of the rejuvenated chapel.  How the old Baptists would scowl to see such ‘joy’ in a place of worship where serious contemplation, doom mongering and fear was supposed to be instilled in the congregation.  How well I remember the dark scumbled wood grained pews and doors of my own childhood Baptist Sunday school, how much more inspiring would it have been to be in these bright colours and joyful celebration.

This time I was attending to run a couple of dry stone walling workshops of two days each.  The participants were not Buddhists as such but several had experience of retreats and meditation along the lines of the teachings of Buddha.  A part of the course was spent engaging with the notion of ‘Mindfullness’ , something I am familiar with as it is very pertinent to a dry stone waller.  I was very taken with the teachings of the ‘Lama’ and it was a lesson in dealing with the issues that currently threaten to over-run my daily thinking.

Brynmawr Buddhist centre garden.

The old cemetery of the Brynmawr Baptists now sings with blooms and birdsong.

The walling is not easy as the stone is variously large blocks of Pennant sandstone and much smaller pieces which come from a demolished building and are not really suitable for dry stone wall building.  The old cemetery has been transformed now and most of the huge memorial grave stones have been removed from their positions above the bones of the nineteenth century Baptists.  Flowers bloom over much of the lower garden and there are plans to create various meditation areas and a small wildlife pond.

The two courses had ten trainees each most of whom found the whole experience very enthralling.  They, for the most part, had never done any walling before and some had plans to go home and build a small wall or repair one in their gardens.  It is difficult stone to learn on, it can be very challenging but they all did very well and I take the view that it is better to learn on difficult stone than lovely layered sedimentary stone !

Walling at the Brynmawr Buddhist Centre

Budding wallers at the Buddhist centre in Brynmawr.

One of the courses  enjoyed sunny weather and the next, just a few days later, was wet and cold.  Both groups knuckled down and built a substantial amount of wall which is good for the developmental plans of the project.  Funding for the course came from an usual source, the Gwent Police community fund which aims to assist groups to improve the general environment of their areas.

Whilst teaching is somewhat harder than doing (‘those that can do …’) and on this particular site involves quite an amount of walking to and fro between the different building areas, I get an immense sense of satisfaction from empowering folk to go and build a wall that will stand for a long long time.  Albeit the walls are small and in gardens.  In addition, through the introductory talk and instruction, folk get to better understand why walls exist where they do and to get an idea of the historic periods in which they were built.  Even better is …. I get paid to do it !!

October has crept in un-noticed whilst I was away and there is a definite change in temperature but thankfully we are getting some late sunshine to compensate for all those weeks of rain.  I have a few small jobs to get done and I am  therefore glad of a little dry weather but the change is on its way with some strangely named hurricane heading our way.  Thank you Guernsey, thank you Brynmawr Buddhists, you’ve put a smile on my face as I face up to a rather hectic slide toward winter.


October 1915

Friday 1st.  Skirmishing at dawn.  Afternoon off.

2nd.    Working party all day near Forceville.

3rd.  General’s inspection and practise attacks.

4th.  Bath at Acheux.

5th.  Working party at Forieville.  Stopped by rain at 2.

6th.  Relieved Dublin Fusiliers in trenches.

7th.  On sentry in trenches all night listening post.  Rotten time.

8th.  Easy day.  On sentry at night.

9th.  Working party at night on listening post shelter.

It is noticeable, as the year drags on, how little energy and enthusiasm Great Uncle Dick can muster for his diary.  The battles are raging all around him on the Ypres Salient but he records the mundane activities and omits the fear and losses; perhaps, at last, he is not even noticing them.






“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.”


Someone mentioned to me that some crazy happening way out in space was affecting my star sign, apparently it was going to cause all kinds of bad things to happen in my little corner of the world. “Really ?”, I remarked as I concealed a somewhat sceptical grin.  But ‘oh boy’ was it ever true.  Various terms come to mind, “it never rains but it pours” seems the most appropriate, “s…. happens” might be another.  For a couple of weeks, since a few days before my birthday in fact, all sorts of calamities have befallen poor old Welshwaller.  Mainly it involves betrayal, insults, humiliation; some received, some given out.  All of it is resulting in fairly major changes to life here in the tranquility of ‘Beulah land’, where Heaven has been pretty much invisible of late.  Much anger and hostility has been the result and some long-time friendships and relationships are gone forever.  Much of it I can’t relate just yet, processes need to be gone through and it will likely be some time before the final result is known but “A change is gonna come” !

When such things land in the breakfast bowl it’s best, in my experience, to take to the hills.  Go build a wall, it is a guaranteed way of dissipating negative feelings and it certainly burns up energy, negative or positive.  If I’m not in the mood for stone moving (then you know things are bad !) just wandering looking at some historic landscape usually does the trick.  In extreme situations I generally find attacking the chaos of my yard or one of the sheds is the best medicine.  If I tell you the scrap-man has called twice these last few days and taken away masses of items I once considered precious artefacts awaiting restoration, you’ll get the picture.  But the result is so uplifting, for one thing I can now turn my vehicle without having to shunt back and forth ten times and risk bumping into a solid cast iron chaff cutter or some such.  “It’s an ill wind…..”, as the saying goes.  For several days I have not ventured out nor spoken to anyone, I have just put in a nine hour shift, and ‘shift’ is the operative word.   I don’t know where my energy has come from but I have been heaving and hauling, cutting and stacking, smashing and chucking and suddenly there is SPACE !  I’ve even managed to finish painting the windows and door, a job I started some months ago.  I realise that inside I am absolutely raging and to release the pressure I am engaging in a maniacal attack on mess rather than people, which is what I really want to do !

Unfortunately my time for avoiding the face to face confrontations that are an inevitable consequence of those stellar inputs is fast running out.  Sooner now, rather than later, people who I would prefer never to have to see or talk to again will have to be  dealt with.  In the meantime some little respite was called for and off I took myself for some stones and some landscape and some pleasant people.

Orthostat wall

These great slabs – orthostats – line one of the old track-ways that traverse the Marteg valley. Very ancient indeed.

A short journey up the Wye valley brought me to the peaceful and scenic nature reserve at the Gilfach, once a traditional upland farm but now owned by the Radnor Wildlife Trust and operated as their visitor centre.  The longhouse sits snuggly in the shade of a north facing hillside looking out over the valley of the river Marteg in its final rocky cascade to the Wye.   Woodland walks along the slopes of the heather covered hill are an absolute tonic and the September sunshine still had the birds singing.  I wandered and pondered, as is my wont, spending time examining the fascinating orthostat walls that align old trackways.  These barriers of huge stone slabs are a distinct feature of the valley and trying to evaluate when they may have been erected in that situation takes up an inordinate amount of my time when I visit the area.

Stone faced bank at car-park

The low stone faced banks which separate the car park from the road have become well colonised after just two summers.

I was pleased to see that the car-park at the entrance to the valley, Pont Marteg (just off the main A470)  which I was involved in constructing some two and a half years ago, has become well established and well used.  The stone faced banks which define the parking lot have become colonised with all manner of plants and grasses, even a tall Great Mulleen had found a home on the bank furthest from the road.  The grass has now rooted well into the soil and has locked the stones in place and the whole area looks to have been in existence for millenia !

I was summoned to that place to have a discussion with the Wildlife Trust’s project officer but, much to my surprise, found myself involved in a larger meeting of Trust staff and committee members and those intrepid volunteers who did most of the work on the car-park.  The discussions were concerning some new proposals for the car-park and how it should welcome visitors and offer a better information and interpretation facility.  In the assembled group were two professionals whom I have known, in various guises, for twenty five years or so.  They are so knowledgeable in the area of bio-diversity, habitat management and species specific identification and ecology that I am constantly astounded whilst in their presence.  For one thing they are old enough to now be forgetful but their ‘hard drives’ show no signs of being either full or malfunctioning !  Now, where was I …. Oh yes.  Nice people.

Lift up your eyes to the hills to lift your spirits - works every time !

Lift up your eyes to the hills to lift your spirits – works every time !

It was SO refreshing to spend some hours in the company of people who really, really care about our environment, who understand the interconnectivity of it all and who do something about it at every opportunity.  To sit and talk with professionals and dedicated amateurs who give freely of their time and their knowledge to promote and enhance good practise in farming and countryside management was such a pleasant way to spend a few hours.  It was such an extreme alternative to the desecration of habitat and countryside that surrounds me daily.

As if to counter that no good solar wind I then immersed myself in two days of interaction with yet more ‘nice people’; this time they were attending a Dry Stone Walling course at Ty Gwyn Farm (www.tygwynfarm.co.uk) in Llandrindod Wells.  The one thing that can be guaranteed about folk who give up a weekend – and spend their hard earned money – to travel some distance, albeit to a particularly special place, to learn the skills involved in building a wall, is that they will be enthusiastic and pleasant.

DSCF4103The weather was as bright and sunny as a September day can be.  Six intrepid students travelled from Bath, Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan.  It can be slightly worrying, as the tutor, when some of the participants had the course presented to them as a birthday present – one even had it as a present for last year !  If they had requested it that’s not too worrying but when it is a surprise ….

If a picture says a thousand words, they had a good time !

The rebuilt wall blends in well with the old and the builders are happy !

The rebuilt wall blends in well with the old and the builders are happy !

The wall we were repairing is an enclosure some two hundred years old and is built with some particularly difficult stone in terms of shape and size – no shape and no size !  It presents a difficulty for the student and the tutor but I generally take the view that it is better to learn on difficult stone than nice easy flat, evenly sized sandstones. If they can build with that stone they should be quite capable of building with some ‘nicer’ stone.

There’s nothing better to counter the sourness of ‘not nice people’ than to spend a day with really, really super folk who have no reason  to judge me other than in my ability to teach them how to build a dry stone wall.  Hooray !!  And now it’s home to watch some Rugby !!  Apparently there’s a Welsh encounter to endure …

1st World War, September 1915:

Sunday Sept. 19th.  March past General.  Afterwards practise attack in fields.

20th.  Practise attack.  Bath at Acheux.  Went to Follies at night.

21st.  Working party, all okay, near Forignyville (?)

22nd.  Relieved AH in Guard trench.  Fire dug-out

23rd.  Easy day in Forniche (?). I put Pioneer to clean trenches.  Much rain.

24th.  Easy time in trenches.  Saw 22 aeroplanes ! Ours.

25th.  Easy time in trenches.  We had a good time in trenches, good dugout with fire,

26th.   In trenches.

27th.  In trenches.  Easy day.

28th.  Easy day in trenches.  Plenty of rain.

29th.  Relieved, marched through Colincampe (?) to V (?) *

30th.  Easy day in trenches.  German airship knocked down near Varennes.  Changed billet.

  • It is difficult to read the town names which Uncle Dick writes in his diary, partly, I suspect, because his own spelling of the French names inaccurate.

My Friends and other animals: Beulah Show 2015

Suffolk Black Face Ram. Beulah 2015

I would definitely want this young man on my side …. He is BIG !

Beulah Show 2015: the day began rather worryingly with a serious amount of precipitation and the forecast of the night before – “rain will have moved through by dawn” – seemed the usual pipe-dream.  But indeed by 10 am things began to brighten and by the time my friends and I headed off the show-ground into the hills, the sun was trying its best to break through.  By the time we got back, blue skies dominated and the afternoon was sometimes even warm !

As Vintage Steward (that’s a role not a description !) it is my task each year to plot a suitable route for the gentlemen and lady of the Classic Tractor brigade who annually attend to exhibit their wares.  As usual we had a good dozen exhibits and 8 tractors roamed the hills north of the village for a couple of hours.

Tractors at Beulah 2015

All lined for inspection prior to departure on the Beulah Show Tractor run 2015.

The regular runners are all local so it is unlikely that I can ever find a route most of them are not already familiar with.  I thought just maybe this year I had succeeded but it transpired they all knew the area better than I !  One had spent much of his child-hood at the remotest of the farms we came across, one still owned it and much of the surrounding land, another remote, now derelict, homestead had been the farmstead of the grand-parents of yet another rider and for several of the remainder it was a place they regular rode through on their quad bikes …. Ah well, never mind, they all seemed to enjoy the route and the views were certainly spectacular.  Also, given the amount of rain, the surface of the forest roads we were driving on was just what was needed so that we did no damage (apart from the usual air pollution !).

We set off from the showground just after noon and headed north west toward Abergwesyn.  We drove past the old farmstead of Lloft y Bardd, home of the inimitable ‘Bryn’ whom we lost just over a year ago but whose good and faithful friend, his ‘Fergie Fach’, I had taken to the show with a photograph taken a few years previously of him standing by it, adorning the bonnet.  At the Trallwm mountain bike centre we turned into the forest and passed through the land owned by George who had kindly given us permission to trespass.  A long slow climb led eventually to the old road that linked the farmsteads of the upper Cammarch.

Beulah Tractor run 1. 2015

The summit of a long slow climb that had the smokestacks puffing.

We journeyed along one of the forest roads towards the valley and came out at a clearing where we stopped and everyone chatted about this ruin or that ruin or whose parents came from there and how many brothers and sisters he had or who married the daughter from that place etc. etc.  It is one of the aspects I like about the tractor run; all the riders know each other and have done for many years and yet, out on the tractor run, they all find so much new information to talk to each other about and certainly, looking out over the old farms of that mountain prompted much conversation.

Whilst stopped at the first halt we were suddenly joined by a late arrival; a Fergie Gold (FE 35) owned by Brindley from Newbridge, a previous winner of the Vintage section of Beulah Show.  He had driven a long way from a little village called Merthyr Cynog which is high in the Eppynt, a good ten miles from Beulah.  Given we were in the middle of nowhere, a good few miles into the forest and had crossed several junctions and at least one cross roads, his tracking skills were exemplary…

Classic Tractors on the tractor run at Beulah 2015

The happy gang line-up in one of the forest clearings, Miss Carolina in the usual posing shades …

We had a new addition to the run this time, a retired local farmer, an old neighbour of mine in fact.  He borrowed a Fergie TED and by the grin on his face throughout,I think he enjoyed himself !  We had two Fordson Majors, one that had never seen hot water or a rag in sixty years, the other in immaculate restored condition, Dai and Deryl bring a touch of ‘before and after’ to the run.  Gareth and Shane had their usual cool look as they rode astride the Dextas, they have been coming since the very first tractor run 6 years ago.  There were two Massey Ferguson 35s, one of them was driven by a local man, Edwin, and he won the prize for best tractor, the other, which was clearly actually the best tractor, ahem, was the one of a certain South Carolina gal who was appearing in her fourth run and, as usual won the ‘farthest travelled’ award …

Another tradition which has become an established part of the run is to return to the Trout Inn for a pint and a plate of sausage and chips !  Eventually they all return to the show-ground and line up ready for the judging and for the visitors to enjoy the nostalgic display.  This year there seemed to be more visitors than in previous years and it was pleasing to see so many of them viewing the tractors and chatting to the owners.

MF35 girl driver

Whitney Brown leads the pack home on the Beulah Tractor run in 2015.

Edwin (Foxy)receives his winners rosette from the chairman and judge Huwey ! Fixed !!

Edwin (Foxy)receives his winners rosette from the chairman and judge Huwey ! Fixed !!

Tractors are now being prepared for winter storage, my little fleet will need to be squeezed back into the small barn. that is always a slightly sad task marking, as it does, the end of summer.

The Beulah show is nothing if not a local celebration of animals – horses and sheep – and the produce of gardens and school rooms.  As always the sheep section was very well attended and judging saw a large gathered crowd second guessing the Judge.

Judging Sheep at Beulah 2015

A crowd always eagerly awaits the judge’s decision.

Beulah Sheep Judging 2015

The ladies are made ready for inspection by the judge at Beulah Show 2015

Longest Thistle at Beulah Show 2015

Tallest American lady V tallest Welsh Thistle – both exceedingly prickly in my experience ! If I say she stands at around 6 ft you get a sense of the thistle’s size…

Some of the more bizarre competitions always bring a smile and the ‘Longest Thistle’ is one such.  Sometimes it can be difficult to scale the item in a photograph but having a 6 ft tall glamor puss (yes, that IS how glamour is spelled over there !) stand next to it does the trick.  Apparently Deryl won the competition.  Personally I’d be embarrassed to have thistles that long in my fields !!

Vegetables always amaze me.  I’m no gardener and certainly the growing of vegetables is atomic science to me,  so what was laid out in the ‘tent’ I found quite astonishing.  I felt somewhat overwhelmed by the effort and pride that goes into the growing and the displaying of the produce.  How ‘we’ find judges willing and able to separate one group from another and pick a winner is beyond me.  Spare a thought for the poor judge who had to taste dozens of pickle onions and decide on the best …. Surely once you have had one in your mouth there’s no way you can taste any others !!

The astonishing array of vegetables always amazes me - me who grows only trees and weeds !

The astonishing array of vegetables always amazes me – me who grows only trees and weeds !

The afternoon of Beulah show is rounded off by the ‘Trotting’races, that crazy spectacle where ladies and lads sit wide-legged on a wheel barrow frame and bounce along on solid wheels while a huge horse trots fast, a foot or so in front of them.  As if that is bonkers enough they do that surrounded by other folk doing exactly the same thing right next to  them !  It brings forth a large crowd and is a hugely popular sport here in Wales and it is guaranteed to get my admiration,  it looks SO uncomfortable and pretty darned dangerous !

Trotting races whizzing by

Sitting right next to the course gives a real sense of the drama and speed of the race.

It is only at the end of the day that all those of us involved in the Show organisation can sit and breathe out.   Those who attend have little idea of what goes into getting the show off the ground.  We have an amazing Secretary who does the massive amount of letter writing, fund raising and ordering.  There is a great deal of moving of heavy items such as sheep hurdles and tables and chairs, all of which come from some distance.  The massive number of posts that need to be knocked in to take the ropes of the trotting circuit is mind boggling.  Toilets and tents, vets and first aid, trailers and tractors and then, on the following morning, there is the whole clear up operation.  It is a massive effort by a few people that keep the show going.  We are lucky to have them, a neighbouring village has had to finally give up their show as not enough volunteers came forward to organise and run.  For over 80 years this little village has celebrated the agricultural and horticultural prowess of the locals and long may it continue.

A century ago in Flanders, my Great Uncle Dick was not having a jolly time …

Monday 6th September 1915.    Relieved of Guard at 1.30.  Nothing to do afterwards.

7th.  Working party at night.  Carrying pikes to trenches. Terrible rotten job really.

8th.  Inspection by Lt. Baddeley.  No working party.

9th.  Relieved Dublin in trenches at night.

10th. In trenches.  On sentry during day.

11th. In trenches.  On sentry again during day. Things are rather quiet.  No water to wash.  All very wrong.

12th. Building traverse with Cpl Griffiths.

13th. Working party making traverse.

14th. Working party digging traverse.

15th. Easy day.

16th. Heavy shelling during night.  Long rotten march to billets.

17th. In Varrines.  Route March at night.

18th. Working party all day near Forieville.  Plenty of work to do after 7 days in Trenches.

Back to some walling next week, jobs need to get done before the cold weather sets in, my lime mortar don’t like the cold !

Sad ? Who ? Me!?


I am well aware that many of my friends and visitors develop an involuntary shaking of the head, a bemused look of sympathy, a raised eye that students of non-verbal communication will tell you stands for “Sad B…….d”  I’m not talking here about out on the hill whilst I’m building walls, oh no, I’m talking here, in the emporium of my sheds and barns where languishes one of the finest collections of agricultural bygonorrhea ever amassed.  And if that is sad, then so be it, it gives me immense pleasure …I think !  However, every now and then I need some reassurance, firstly that I’m not alone in this affliction and, secondly, there are actually some who are even sadder !

I recently felt the need for such an uplifting experience so I headed off to a little place where I knew ‘a fix’ would be found.  I headed off to the annual Kington Vintage show, a two day extravaganza in the small Herefordshire town ( a mile from the site of the old United States 2nd WW military hospital at nearby Hergest), which is one of the best in the show season.  I went along with my old pal Les Smith who took his rather magnificent Norton racing motorbike of 1950s vintage which always gets many admirers.  It has been a few years since I went and immediately I realised I had been remiss.

There is one person who is guaranteed to erase my self-doubt, he is by far the ‘saddest’ collector I have had the pleasure of knowing !  Strangely, he and his wife are some of the nicest folk one could hope to meet.  As it was a few long years since we had met I was rather suspecting he would not have remembered me but a loud shout across the aisle containing a variety of interesting exhibitions of tools and memorabilia, did away with that notion immediately !  He was so pleased to see me and greeted me like an old long lost relative; this rather suggests to me that he views me in the same way that I view him, “the saddest collector I know”!!  But look, surely anyone who collects Electricity Insulators must come first in that competition !  He has the most amazing collection (numbering into the thousands) of insulators – you know, those white or brown china things that are fixed to electricity poles and houses to carry the wires – and worse still he knows the name, type, nomenclature, number, manufacturer, user, date of production, size of production run, end of life date etc etc etc. Can you believe he goes to the U.S.A. to a convention of like minded folk …. yes people, a convention of like minded folk !!  And you think I’m sad !!??

insulators for electric cables

Is this not just the most bizarre but most fascinating collection ever !?

But I’ll tell you what, it is a stunning collection of pieces of ceramic art, each insulator has delicate curves and shapes and represent the twentieth century miracle that was electricity.  There are even text books and catalogues about the subject …. my collection doesn’t have those so I cannot possibly be the saddest, can I !?

Kington attracts an excellent variety of all the usual exhibits from classic cars, tractors, engines, both steam and stationary and dozens of individual collections ranging from milk bottles and hot irons to dinky toys and oil cans.  There are all the usual ‘rusty spanner’ car boot stalls (my companion stands accused by his daughter and grandchildren of being obsessed with the items) which, quite naturally, is the first port of call for both of us.

Milk Botles at Kington 2015

This nostalgic display of milk bottles and dairy items caught my eye. The butter churn is rare !

We generally lose track of each other once we enter the melee that is the car boot sale.  We have some common interests and hence will gaze at the same stalls for a while but eventually he gets drawn to some motor-bike junk and I to a book stall !  Indeed I picked up two excellent little books (as if I need yet more !),one a copy, still with its dust jacket, of a collection of poems by the famous ‘Shropshire Lad’, A.E. Houseman.  It’s not, alas, a first edition but it is pretty rare to find in the condition of this one and with its dust jacket AND for the princely sum of £1, yes, that’s one pound !!  For those of you not familiar with Houseman – shame on you  – next time you watch ‘Out of Africa’ with the delectable Ms Streep (you know “I had a farm in Arrfreeka”…) you will hear one of Houseman’s greatest poems at the funeral of Dennis Fitch-Hatton as she stands forelorn and heart-broken on the mound..

“The time you won your town the race we chaired you through the market place; man and boy stood cheering by, and home we brought you shoulder high. Today, the road all runners come, Shoulder-high we bring you home, and set you at your threshold down, townsman of a stiller town.  Smart lad, to slip betimes away, from fields where glory does not stay and early though the laurel grows, it withers quicker than a rose”.  I can hear her reading it now, and that tragic stuttered ending, “and round that early laurelled head will flock to gaze the strengthless dead, and find unwithered on its curls a garland briefer than a girls”.  Dear me, no wonder my pal leaves me to wander alone !  My other book was acquired from the stall of the Kington Historical Society (a thriving group who have an exceptional area in which to be historical !), again for £1 and a real gem it is.  ‘The Diary of a Farmer’s Wife. 1796-1797’, it is what it says on the cover; the diary of a lady named Ann Hughes who farmed in a remote area close to Chepstow at the bottom of the Wye Valley where it enters the Severn Estuary.  It makes fascinating reading indeed:

Feb. ye 14. ‘This be Saint Val’s day and this morn I did see Sarah cum in from milkin’ looking all red about the cheek and her cap awry.  I bein curious did stop her, and she did say Carter True’s son did say he was her Valentine, and she had said yes.  She did giggel a great deal and I did tell her to get on with her work, and not to be a silly wench; but I fear me there will be much whispering and kissen going on, they bein both young.  I must be watchful of Sarah and see she do not neglect the calfs and piggies and hens, which do now lay good egges; which is good for me as John do let me keep hen monies for my pokett, which do suit me much”.

It is such a fascinating insight into the late eighteenth century country life.  A wander along the car-boot is a good start to any day !

There was much to see and many folk to talk to and there are also many miles to walk, dear me there is some walking done at these shows !  Far too much on view to attempt to even give you a flavour but I want to pull out a few of the more interesting exhibits; interesting to me that is !

Road Signage from the 1950s

Nostalgic road signs … trouble is I learned to drive with these !!

A collection of old road signs from the immediate post war period (I think) was a shock reminder of an approaching birthday …. they were the ones I had to learn for my driving test !! Halt at Major Road Ahead..  Never did get to ever meet old Major Road but I did once meet Colonel Hump Bridge, head on !!

If what it’s about is nostalgia, and I guess it probably is, it is not surprising therefore that I was stopped in my tracks by a bus !  Not just any old bus but one I most probably rode in over 50 years ago, and certainly one showing the destinations which every bus that came through my bus-stop journeyed to; it was my school route for seven years !

The eastern valleys of Gwent were served by the Western Welsh Omnibus Company and the buses I caught going to school – up the valley – usually set forth from Newport, at the bottom of the valley and headed for a strangely named place which I never actually ever saw until tens of years after leaving school, Varteg Hill.  My school destination was Pontypool and one or other of those bill boards would be displayed on the destination slot of the bus.   On the way home, down the valley, it was a Cwmbran destination or a Newport destination that needed to be boarded.  And there, at Kington Vintage show 2015 I came face to face with my past !

Western Welsh at Kington 2015

This Western Welsh is part of my late childhood/teenage years – it took me to school !

Before anyone points it out, we did not actually ever get to ride in an exciting ‘Double-Decker’ (where such fun could be had upstairs out of sight of the conductor !) because a short way down the hill from the ‘Lowlands’ stop where I got on, there was a very low railway bridge which meant we always had single deckers.  The old railway was closed in 1963 but the bridge remained for many years after, too many years as it turned out.  One day an absent minded bus driver taking a party of mums and children on a day outing, forgot about the bridge and tragedy struck, as did the bus, and the top was sliced clean off resulting in some awful injuries and although I seem to recall there were fatalities, I’m not altogether sure.  What I do know is that my father was emerging from a nearby side road as the double decker passed and immediately knew an awful accident was imminent.  Unthinking he rushed past the mangled top lying in the road and up the rear stairs of the bus.  What he saw haunted him for the rest of his days.

I had a long chat with the owners of the bus at Kington who were delighted to meet someone – so far from the towns in which the bus operated – who remembered travelling daily on them.

This I wanted to take home ....

This I wanted to take home ….

Walking around the vehicle exhibits I must have made up my mind that I wanted at least five different pick-ups and six classic cars and seven classic tractors and, and, and.

Dodge Weapons Carrier at Kington 2015

A very nicely presented WW2 Dodge Weapons Carrier was also very tempting but at around 8 miles to the gallon …

A very enjoyable and inexpensive day out at Kington Vintage 2015.  Old vehicles, old tractors, old buses, old funny all sorts of things and lots of old friends who just also happen to be OLD !!

As August bade farewell and my birthday month arrived I took myself (and some artefacts) over to the annual Hundred House Show held in (you guessed it !) Hundred House, or more accurately at the Forest Fields Caravan park just outside the village.  It’s the area I spent most of last year working in and there are a number of colleagues and customers who regularly attend so it’s a good ‘meet-up’ show.  I even had a surprise visit from a cousin whom I had not seen in a while which added a certain something to the day.

Chatting at the show

This, for me, sums up what a local show is all about – chat and catch-up

Sheep are a VERY important element of Hundred House show (as it is for my village show) and a big entry was clearly received this year.  In addition one of Wales’ best sheep shearing champions passed the day by shearing 400 lambs …. crazy S.O.B. !!

A knowledgeable eye being run over the judge's choice.

A knowledgeable eye being run over the judge’s choice.

The collection of exhibits in the vintage section is quite astounding for a small village show.  A good selection of mostly local old tractors is always assured as are many beautiful classic cars and a few odds and ends like me and some of the Llandovery Vintage club stalwarts who surprised us all by arriving, un-announced, after years of being cajoled to turn up !

“Its got an engine !?”

The crowd is always a big one and it can be a long tiring day answering all the questions that get asked about my exhibits but it is what show-time is about.   I have yet to go to a show and not glean some new information about an item, meet some new interesting farmer with a wealth of tales and knowledge to tap and always there are the new people, the folk who have moved to Wales and love to come along to their local show.

I took a small display of hand tools, different from those I took last year of course, and I was pretty much talking for the whole six hours of the show !  Sometimes it’s just a case of listening, sometimes it’s an in depth description of one or all of the tools on display.  Either way it is what it all about and whilst it’s a tiring day it is very enjoyable and enlightening.

These oldmarking irons were handled more than all the other items on my stand.

These old marking irons were handled more than all the other items on my stand.

A good couple of days which was greatly and gratefully enjoyed.  And now Welshwaller has to don the ‘organiser’ vest and get the 2015 Beulah Show tractor run organised.  It’s a day away, the route is recce’d and the trophies polished !  All we need is some dry sunny weather so’s we can enjoy the fume filled ramble through some beautiful Welsh countryside !!  Beulah Show cometh !  Now has anyone seen my tractor driving buddy from Carolina, she’s here somewhere …

The stable is getting prep'd, where is WB !!??

The stable is getting prep’d, where is WB !!??

And when they’re up they’re up, and when they’re down they’re down, but when they’re only half way up …


So,here we are, the middle of August and the weather is more like October and my productivity is more like January – zero !!  I am struggling to make inroads into two walls that have been awaiting my attention for over a year !  The one wall is just one of those that needs to be totally ignored, in the sense that it is a little daunting and therefore it’s best not thought too much about.  Just turn up (now and then, with an increasing amount of then!) and get on with it.  I find the mental aspect of the build has always been one I can conquer more quickly than the building side.

The wall is a mortared retaining wall about 4 metres high and the section is 8 metres long.  It is a slate wall built from the waste of the quarry which the estate operated for a century and more during the C18th and C19th.  I estimate the wall to have been built during the second half of the C18th when much of thebuilding of the ornamental gardens, the walled garden and house extensions, were carried out.  Unfortunately, sometime later, a yew hedge was planted very close to the edge of the bank which the great wall retains – the ground being all ‘made-up’.  Whilst most of the roots of the now 3 metre high and 3 metre thick hedge have tracked back into the soil of the raised ground behind, some have worked their way down into the double faced wall and over the years sections have regularly collapsed.  The growth of woody roots in the middle of a closely packed wall will force stones in the face to move outward and eventually a bulge occurs. The gap thus formed is prone to filling with water during periods of heavy rainfall and it is usually this factor which causes the ultimate collapse of the section.  This particular collapse had been threatening for years as the bulge became increasingly noticeable and acute.

Retaining wall of lime mortar and slate

Going up quietly. The stone is generally quite thin and hence progress in the vertical plane is slow – even when I’m there !

It finally came crashing down the winter before last – yes, in early 2014 !  For various reasons I have not been very good at getting there to begin the rebuild.  One of my hopes in delaying was that the yew hedge – the roots of which can be seen amongst the fox-gloves and the overhanging trees are visible on the left – would actually tumble out.  It has had 18 months and been subjected to terrible deluges and high winds over much of that time and it hasn’t moved a centimetre.  It ain’t going to fall.  In essence then, all that is going to collapse out of the earth bank has done so and thus I can happily build the wall back up without having to concern myself that the retained earth is going to come down on me !

As can be seen in the photo, the wall, whilst being a retaining wall, is still built as a ‘double’, which is to say it has two faces and a middle.  It is quite common in large retaining walls that such a stron.  As several sections of the old wall have previously fallen and been rebuilt with total disregard to the historic integrity, even to the point of using horrid concrete blocks, I don’t imagine my contribution will diminish the stature of the old wall.  On a good day, with the size of the stones and the fact they have to be dug out of the pile into which they were heaped by the digger driver, I’m lucky to get 2 square metres built.  But I’m on a schedule and I need to get going, up up and away !  Shortly I will have to erect my scaffold and then the job really slows down as every bucket of mortar and every stone has to be lifted upon the scaffold.

The other on-going job is at another grand house in the village of Beulah, in fact it was the original Manor house (and later Vicarage) which dates back probably into the C17th if not earlier.  I have done work there before and again lime mortar is required.  This time it is at the insistence of  the owner who wants to ensure all restoration is carried in out in the best traditional way using conservation techniques and materials.  His sympathetic restoration of the Manor house is producing some excellent results.  Paradoxically the job I am currently doing for him is a garden wall which is practically a ‘trompe l’oeil’  in that I am cladding a concrete block retaining wall (which he built some years ago but which also was built with a lime-putty mortar !) with old building stone so that it appears to be a much older wall.  Again I am using a 3.5 hydraulic lime and sand but in a stronger mix of 2:1.  The benefit of hydraulic lime lies in two main areas, firstly it can be easily mixed in a conventional cement-mixer whereas a pure lime putty/aggregate needs to be mixed in a horizontal mill, which is to say it is not tumbled but rather ground together as are the ingredients in a mixing bowl rather than tumbled.  Secondly it cures much more quickly than lime-putty – a factor of the chemical processes of production – which facilitates a quicker build time as further courses can be added within 48 hours.  I tend to build about 4 courses over the 5 metre length and then leave for a full week before returning.  Traditional lime mortar needed much longer to cure, probably over a month and hence is a much slower building material.  I am not ‘dubbing-out’ the joints (pointing if you like) but rather just leaving whatever mortar can be seen in between courses and stones to resemble an old wall in which the mortar has begun to fall out.  This also encourages more plant growth in the crevices created.

While I’m busy in the garden the owner is diligently dubbing’out the walls of the manor.  He is high on a scaffold, up near the barge-boards of the roof.  I came back from the garden – some 200 metres or so from the yard – only to see him up on the scaffold dressed in his bee-keepers outfit.  Apparently he was working near the entrance to a nest and he was concerned not to be stung as he had recently – after years of keeping bees and many stings – suffered  anaphylactic-shock after a sting on the head.  It is thought that a build-up occurs within the body after so many stings that eventually, after years of no reaction, triggers such an event.  In addition to his ‘space-suit’ he now carries an adrenalin pen with him at all times.

Bee keeping up high

Bee careful up that scaffold Ivor ! It’s not often you see a man pointing a wall dressed like this !

I am going to have to get a move on with both these jobs, lime mortar is especially susceptible to temperature, too hot and it dries out too quickly, too cold and it doesn’t cure effectively.  We could get either types of weather in the next month or so !

The other major job has been down in the Ebbw Vale area where the old mountain wall has been slowly being brought back to stock-proof status.  As part of the contract I had been asked to run a two day dry stone walling course for volunteers from the Gwent Wildlife Trust and staff members together with some other locals who had expressed an interest, including some ‘white-collar’ workers from the local council, Blaenau-Gwent.

After a morning in the classroom, which luckily was the wet part of the day, we had an afternoon stripping out the several collapses which I had left and preparing the wall for rebuilding the next day.  Working in pairs they all did exceptionally well.  Not only did they all complete the stints I had given them but they all built in such a good manner that none of the work had to be taken back down again – and that is quite unusual for a walling course !

Wallers under tuition

These two ‘Men of Gwent’ are local school teachers who also do volunteer conservation work – they were not half bad for school teachers !

Two of the participants were school teachers which , in normal circumstances can often prove problematic – “those who can, do, those who can’t, teach” (and those that can’t teach, teach teachers …”), but these two, being men of the valleys, took to it like a clout ’round the head and actually seemed to enjoy it.  Giving up days of their hard-earned holidays to come walling …..

The two council folk took some ribbing about their hours of work – they always seemed to have to go off to meetings … ahem – but they did fine and they too seemed to relish the chance to be out in the open having a go at something which they had often been involved in commissioning or grant aiding but had never known anything about.

There were two members of staff of the Wildlife Trust who also performed well and worked very hard, indeed the local based worker, Chris, had been with me man-handling some fifteen tonnes of stone for several days prior to the course and grateful I was to him.  The site was impossible to get near with a truck, neither was it possible to get a tractor near the wall and yet, somehow, the stone for the rebuild had to be got to site.  The first loads which had been tipped some 300 metres down the slope by the council was brought up using a power barrow borrowed from another Gwent Wildlife site.  It served the purpose but was difficult to handle on the steep sloping ground, and the narrow track did not allow for tipping so all the stone had to be handled into the barrow and out again.  It also was not particularly well maintained and starting difficulties resulting in a broken pull-cord on more than one occasion !  Nevertheless it did the job and a good job too !

Tom of GWT drives the power barrow - he seemed to always appear when mechanical aids were about but seldom when manual handling was needed !

Tom of GWT drives the power barrow – he seemed to always appear when mechanical aids were about but seldom when manual handling was needed !

The other ten tonnes came from a quarry down the Swansea valley and came in one tonne dumpy bags.  A four-wheel drive dumper was hired in and a competent operator borrowed from another GWT site to transport the bags several hundred metres up a steep and narrow mountain track to a position some thirty metres or so above the wall.  From there the stone had to be thrown down the slope to land, or rather be stopped, by a wire fence which runs next to the wall.  This Chris did with much aplomb likening it to both scrum-half training and cricket practise.

Luckily every last stone that had been thrown down to the wall was found a place in it; no-one wanted to have to carry it away again.  The second day was fine and bright and everyone worked hard and seemed to enjoy themselves.  I was more than happy to spend a little time clearing the site at the end of the day and bid farewell to the scenery of the Ebbw valley.  I’m to re-visit in October to take part in an open weekend talking and teaching about how important walls are for wildlife and showing folks how to build appropriate birds nests and creep holes and hideaways for critters !

The finished restoration of the mountain wall. This is the first time anyone has touched it for a long long time.

The finished restoration of the mountain wall. This is the first time anyone has touched it for a long long time.

The thing with a mountain wall rebuild, where you put all your skills and effort into doing a good job, is that generally speaking no-one gets to see it, except the animals that live thereabouts.  We encountered hundreds of froglets during the two days of the course, they had crawled out of the nearby pond and were making their way upwards, following some unknown call that no doubt generations of frogs before them had followed.  The ground was alive with them and at first they looked like flies crawling around so tiny were they.  I was interested to see if any actually got through the wall to continue upwards or whether the wall was their final resting place.  Sure enough, by the second day, hundreds started to appear on the up side of the wall continuing their upward journey.  Lizards were common too and the odd toad made an appearance.  Sheep were not very visible but some other interested parties came by most days to see the progress …

Highland Cattle

He had a very judgemental attitude, each afternoon he stood and watched for an hour or so …

I have to say there is something very enjoyable about working with Valleys folk.  It’s where I was brought up and even though it’s many years since I moved north, there is always a ‘Welcome in the hillsides’ of the valleys communities and a great sense of humour and joy amongst those that live there.

There has also been a little fun during the last few weeks, Vintage fun that is, some ‘steamy’ afternoons the details of which I will bring you in the next post.

In Flanders, one hundred years ago, my Great Uncle Dick was showing increasing signs of fatigue and frustration.  For the week beginning Sunday 15th August right through until the Wednesday of the following week (25th) he was involved in making roads.

On Wednesday 25th they returned to the line and started digging trenches at night in front of the forward positions.  This went on for four nights until heavy rain and lightning (which would obviously have silhouetted them to the enemy) made it too impossible to continue.

In the week beginning 29th August 1915 the company were engaged in more road building alongside Engineers.  The frustration shows through in the diary until on the Thursday night they marched through the night in full battle order “over very bad roads”.  The following night they marched again to their new position near Acheux.

Men of Steel (published on the 70th Anniversaryof the Hiroshima bomb)


Steel is on my mind just now. I am conscious of the fact that few of you will remember anything of which I write this week, fast fades the eventide …

The first item on the agenda is the commemoration of events 70 years ago (6th August 1945) when, at a few seconds after 8.15 in the morning, local time, a brilliant flash of light extinguished the lives of sixty thousand people.  A few seconds later a high decibel ‘bang’ deafened those that were left and this was quickly followed by frightening winds as the atomic wave swept outwards from the epicentre of the air burst.  Little Boy had exploded above the ancient – and mostly wooden – city of Hiroshima in Japan.  The men who had delivered the bomb were already some miles away when the flash occurred and soon they were to witness the sight which we all now immediately recognise, the great mushroom cloud.  Three days later Fat Boy exploded over Nagasaki, a different bomb but of almost greater enormity.  Those were the first and the last nuclear bombs exploded in anger that the world has ever had to endure.

Although those events of seventy years ago happened before I joined the human race, they have been influential in my life.  Firstly they framed the world of fear into which I was born, culminating in the (what seems today) unbelievable rehearsals for the ending of the world which accompanied the Bay of Pigs crisis in 1962.   How I remember the prayers at school assembly and the delicate way our Religious Education teacher tried to prepare us for the ending of the world !  Secondly the ‘safety net’ of our own ‘nuclear deterrent’ has given my lifetime an easiness which my forefathers never had.  Despite the awful wars and troubles that have pervaded the world since those terrible days in August 1945 we should all remember, absolutely with anguish, the events which secured that fear of all out total war, MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) as it became known.

It is certainly something which has been etched, for whatever reason, into my mind and a few years ago I stood in stunned silence, awe even, as I gazed down into the cockpit of the very aeroplane which had delivered the bomb to Hiroshima.  The B29 Enola Gay was named after the mother of the pilot who flew it the 1500 miles from the island of Timian to Japan on that fateful morning all those years ago.  Tibbets was the first man to bomb Tokyo in an audacious attack launched from an aircraft carrier in 1942 and he  dropped one of the bombs which ultimately ended the war against Japan.

Atomic Bomber - Enola Gay

The plane that delivered the first atomic bomb to Hiroshima on August 6th 1945 is now in the Uber-Hazy/Smisthsonian aeronautical museum at Dulles International airport outside Washington D.C.

Of all the historic items I have seen, looking down at that plane has had the most profound and lasting impact upon me.  It happened but a few years ago, a long long time after any conscious level of concern or thought on the matter occupied my mind.    As well as that shock which I felt at seeing that shining metal deliverer, for shock it was, I had another encounter with the reality of the dropping of the Atomic bombs.  Many years ago I met and talked with a man who witnessed the second bomb drop, a British pilot who went along as an observer.  Leonard Cheshire V.C. was an experienced bomber pilot himself and flew Pathfinder missions for the huge bombing raids that decimated German cities in the latter years of the war.  It is often written that such was the effect on him of seeing the Atomic explosion and the aftermath that he dedicated the rest of his life to helping disabled people.  In actuality that was not strictly the case; I had a chance encounter with him and another famous British war-time pilot, Douglas ‘Tin-legs’ Bader in the early 1970s and their thoughts on the matter of war as a means to ending conflict had a substantial effect on my subsequent view of the world. This week take a moment to remember an event that changed our world forever.

The ‘steel’ of men like Tibbets and Cheshire often comes to the fore in times of great need, “Cometh the hour, cometh the man” and all that but there are other ‘men of steel’ whose lives are less notable.  I have been working in a place where such unsung heroes grafted their lives away.

The south Wales valleys are renowned as the centre of Britain’s industrial heritage.  Coal is the foremost of the great industries that ruled the region but iron and steel had their place.  The early pioneers of iron making, such as the Crawshays, came to the heads of the eastern valleys where limestone and iron ore were easily accessed and where coal and water were plentiful.  The valleys of Gwent in particular were hot-beds of iron and steel production for nigh on two hundred years.  One of those valleys is my current work station although my subject pre-dates by a few centuries, the coming of the Industrial Revolution.

Old mountain wall, Ebbw Vale

This old wall is getting some TLC, a bit of tidying up which is purely for aesthetic reasons ….

The valleys are an interesting place archaeologically, not merely for the industrial heritage.  The steepness of the valley sides and the very little flat land alongside the rivers which gouge out the valley bottoms meant that early agriculture took place on the higher open tops and small plateaus or ‘blaenau‘.  There are many prehistoric sites on the flat open ‘mynydd’ (moorlands used as grazing for the old farm townships) and several early Christian sites mark the coming of the Celtic Saints in the early years of that faith arriving on these shores.  The Romans have left their mark too with long roads and forts marking the route northwards from Cardiff, via Gelligaer, and onwards to Brecon.

There are many indicators of Early Medieval Welsh settlements with place-name evidence and boundary markers such as long ‘cross-dykes’ as well as yet more ancient ridgeline trackways.  All these exist above the steep valley sides which, along with the valley bottoms, were and still are in places, heavily wooded with deciduous native trees.

Thus it is not surprising that any field systems are also to be found on the higher ground and due to the harshness of the wind and the heavy rainfall, the boundaries of these fields are dry stone walls.  It is certain then that any walls, and there are many, which stand on the open inter-valley moors pre-date the coming of the industrial revolution.  Straight away therefore we know we are looking at walls that, at their latest, must have been built by 1800.  In fact in most cases the field systems and their walls are centuries earlier.  It is likely the one I am rebuilding is at least as old as the Acts of Union in 1536 when, together with Henry’s dissolution of the monasteries,  land ownership changed dramatically.  Prior to that date much of the area was farmed as Grange farms –Mynachdy – of the great Cistercian houses of Tintern, Llantarnam and Margam.  Indeed the very area in which this current wall sits was a heavily fought over landscape changing ownership between Margam and Llantarnam several times.

The industrialisation of the area saw the establishment of a large steel works owned by the firm Richard, Thomas and Baldwins or RTB to everyone who lived in the valleys.  The very site of that great works lies just below my work station and right next to me is a now (thankfully) disused tip which is undergoing ‘greening’ following years of dumping.  But that tip itself was created from waste land which once was the site of a great slag tip, waste from the Bessemer process in the blast furnesses below.  The route of the old tram-way sits directly below me, marking the route down to what was a huge smoke and pollution belching Dante’s inferno.

Over six thousand men worked there and it provided much needed and highly paid (relatively) employment to the community.  With its closure back in the 1980s dereliction and depression was the lot of those who lived on in the old lines of workers cottages.  In the early 1990s Michael Heseltine came up with the idea of Garden Festivals in several of the bigger ‘depressed areas’ and Ebbw Vale was chosen as one of those sites.  It was a short-lived piece of theatre and included some upgrading of the old derelict industrial sites and, in my opinion anyway (but then I didn’t live there !), it was a fun event and provided a much needed lift to the whole of the valleys.

Today the old steel-works site is no more, replaced by light industry, offices and social amenities.  The Garden Festival site is now a retail area and nice new houses – occupied by commuters who drive to Newport and Cardiff to their high paid office jobs.  On a part of the old works site sits the offices of my current hosts, Gwent Wildlife Trust and through them the wall is being renovated for the local Blaenau Gwent Council.  I just wish somehow we could tell the story of the wall and what it represents in the different layers, the palimpsest, of the valleys.  I was left pretty speechless the other day when two old men came walking up to see what I was doing.  They told me the story of their lives, of the years spent in nearby Graig colliery for one of them and a similar duration spent on the rolling mill of the Steelworks for the other.  They thought what I did seemed like a “hard way to make a living”.  Men of steel think I have it hard !!  What could I say…

I mentioned in my previous post an enjoyable event at Ty Mawr on the shores of Llangorse Lake.  150 years ago, on the 28th July 1865 a bunch of Welsh folk landed on the shores of Patagonia to establish their very own Welsh community in Argentina.  Whilst the first arrivals came mainly from the South Wales valleys, indeed four were from the very steelworks town I mention above, the original drive came from America.  A non-conformist preacher, Prof. Michael D. Jones, was concerned at the disappearing Welsh culture in the New England states as America evolved out of the multi-cultural nation it once was.  He persuaded 153 settlers(28 married couples, 33 single men, 12 single women and 52 children) to pay the £12 fare (£6 for children) and sail with him in the converted Tea Clipper the Mimosa.  It was not a comfortable journey that they undertook from Liverpool in the summer of 1865.  Nor was it a comfortable place they arrived in, a lack of farming skills was just one of their problems.  After some time on the coast the settlers pushed inland to the high plateau area of the Chibutt valley.  They endured a hard winter with little food and things looked very bleak for the survival of the colony.  Rachel Jenkins came up with the idea of cutting irrigation channels from the river in order to bring some fertility to the land and by 1885 the 50 mile stretch of the river had become the finest wheat growing land in all of Argentina, producing some 6000 tons of wheat in that year.  The twenty years in between were very hard but the colony survived and prospered and the Welsh language prevailed.  Today Welsh is still spoken and it is reckoned there are over fifty thousand descendants of those first settlers.  Y Wladfa Gymreig (Y Wladychfa) stands as a great tribute to those early pioneers who braved all to ensure the survival of their language and their culture.  Men and women of steel indeed.

My own ‘Man of Steel’ was enduring his own hardship and fight for survival 100 years ago. Great Uncle Dick was finding it increasingly hard to write and even harder to write anything cheery:

Sunday 1st August 1915.  Working at night with engineers.

2nd (Bank Holiday – ha ha) Easy day and night.

3rd.  Stand-to at 2 o’clock.  Digging party till 2 o’clock pm .  Tiring

4th.  Working party in afternoon.

5th.  Working party taking roofs off houses.

6th.  Working party digging in shell holes.  Happy as Rasputin.  (A very funny phrase indeed !)

7th.  Widening track for a patrol and rations at night.

8th.  Working party carrying Tank R.E.

9th.  Working party clearing roadway with R.E.

10th.  Working with R.E.

11th.  Learning trenches

12th.  Working party laying road.

13th.  Back at  Loneville.  14 mile route march.  Col. Jenkins commander

14th.  Working party with R.E. Route march to (?) at night 7.30

August is come, and cold windy days remind me of typical school holidays.  Soon Welshwaller will finish the repair at the Ebbw Vale site and begin walking the not so long and winding road that leads me to a quietier time, yes folks, Welshwaller is approaching retirement !!  Whether that means I won’t have any more walling tales to tell you is questionable, apparently there are several jobs I have forgotten about …

For now, I’m looking forward to another day of Steel, it’s the Steam fair at Three Cocks Vintage…. watch this space !!


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