“I’m goin’ to Carolina in my mind”

Field clearance, not my choice of stone, but...

Wood anenome
My favourite sign of spring, and ‘les Bois ancien’, ancient Welsh woodland.

I can only imagine what the end of winter and the onset of warmer weather must mean in the home states of Whit and her family.  I know from the years I spent in southern England how sudden and early can be the change.  In Wales it happens imperceptibly, one minute you are freezing, soaking, hardly standing in wild winds, the next daffodils are blooming, leaves unfurl on hazel and hawthorn and by the middle of April the blackthorn is in bloom (strangely its blossom is like a great white dust sheet over the fields where it grows).  Above all else, of course, is the arrival of the overseas visitors.  I’ve already mentioned the first swallows, now followed by the house martin and the swifts – I am fortunate in having all three nesting here at Coed T, swallows in the two barns, martins in the ‘mud’ nests under the eaves and the swifts in the rafters (some mornings they sound as if they are in the bedroom with me).  The trill of the curlew comes early in these parts, not least on the Eppynt where superb wild marshes and peat bogs provide ideal habitat for this increasingly rare bird.  but the real thrill for me, the absolute guarantee that winter has gone, and the most evocative of bird calls is the cuckoo.  I heard it first last Sunday, a day later than last year, I was not expecting it, partly because I hadn’t really clocked how far into the month we were – its not a relevance for me in most circumstances – and for a moment it didn’t register, but it was suddenly close and I jumped with joy.  But a note from Carolina set me thinking.  The picture sent to me was of a flaming Azalea, beautiful, I could hear the smell of it, and that plant is my favourite of garden bushes.  The ‘Laird’ here on the estate has such a display as one cannot begin to imagine, but it comes late, May is almost done when his Azaleas are full out, and the end of May for me is a sad time, for May is by far the most romantic of months for a lover of wild flowers, balmy insect filled evenings, hectic food ‘shopping’ of all the little birds in my village of bird boxes.  So what must a Spring be like where such bloom is full on in the middle of April, where young ladies already wear sandals and have the first tan and the leaves on trees are in full canopy and who knows what birds are nesting, what must that be like;  I find now that my mind wanders into such musing.  I’ve been unsettled by America,  I’ve been spooked by a long hard winter which has clearly eradicated much of the colour from my and many others gardens, and generally I’m getting a bit of a wander-lust.  Listening to stories of the Carolinas through the long winter makes me want to go see….

In the meantime I’ve managed to complete a dry stone wall in a ‘not very scenic’ setting and which required me to utilise the stones collected from field clearance and a selection from an old cottage. What a difference to the normal routine of rebuilding walls that others, centuries ago, first sorted and chose the stone, these last few weeks I’ve had to decide – albeit the decision of what total package of stone was available to me was already done and dusted – I have to say most of what I had I would not have chosen… ‘the customer is always right’ !

And don’t ask me why, when I try to insert a picture here it goes up there ! Someone tell me how I do it !

So now I’m back to one of my favourite sites, the wonderful Roman road at Coelbren.  How quickly one becomes blasse at such sites.  I forget sometimes where I am.  I’m working on a road that was built nearly two thousand years ago ! But maybe it as well to put it out of my mind, what a responsibility.  Ton y Fildre is a strange place in many senses; what do you do with land that is half boggy and half un-ploughable because of the stone.  The name is difficult to assess, Ton is land that is ‘lay’ or un-ploughed but ‘Fildre’ is unaccountable, unless it is a bastardised version of  ‘fignen’ (m) /mignen meaning boggy ground – which it certainly is. 

I talked about ‘countrymen’, well maybe -especially given the Roman connection – I should have included mine host here, Byron, a true Welshmen and the sort of character one could happily be snowed in with, merry, amusing, unflappable. He remembers his father ploughing land with a horse, the old plough sitting abandoned in the hedgerow next to me tells its own story of such graft.


Rusty, benign, a history of toil now peaceful in retirement.

It causes me a lot of lost time, pondering such items – and I see a great deal of abandoned rust – and musing who was the man who ‘parked’ it there, at the end of a long hard day of days.  How long ago, and, when it was cast aside, did its user know that it would never be called upon to perform its design purpose again, ever.  Ploughs are a common find, they are made of cast iron and represent a huge leap forward in agricultural mechanisation in the first part of the C19th.  I have a swing plough in my collection, an even older wooden beamed plough from the mid C18th.  At least the plough and similar items of cultivation often get an afterlife in someone’s garden or pub car-park, but, much like the ubiquitous ‘Barn conversion’ (which has crept through the countryside like the ‘black death’ killing off much of the vernacular architectural history of our land) few who encounter them have any idea of what it is they represent.  We find a certain affinity with the stark stillness of the pit-head wheel, the quietness of the canal-bank or the sight and sound of the roaring steam engine; but the pathos of the hanging harness or the bramble covered rusting frame leaves most folk, even the farmers themselves, uninspired.  So that must mean I’m weird mustn’t it ?

This horse harrow has been claimed by the ash tree but it shows that this pasture has been cherished for many years

Perhaps it’s that farming is still with us -just – whereas mining and steam railways have gone, or is it that people just have no understanding, no connection, or no interest where their food came from, why the countryside into which they flock to enjoy their leisure time away from urbanity  looks, smells and exists.  Three thousand years of man’s influence on the landscape, farming, is reflected here in the palimpsest that is the hard won fields of  Ton y Fildre.  The stone of the dry stone walls comes from field clearance and from the practise and need to clear stone from the field once ploughed.  Broken plough shares litter the land, stoney ground is not the friend of the ploughman, ‘the weary ploughman homeward plods’.

I will enjoy my time here, lunchtime especially.  Then I wander off to explore the remains, to examine strange shapes in the land, to argue the case for why this is as it is, what the age of these banks are, ‘definitely early-med in my view’…  The farm history is just as thrilling to me.  Byron’s abandoned rust tells an interesting story of evolution, of land management, of government intervention.  The wall I am repairing is being funded under the current government intervention – Tir Gofal (soon to be abandoned and replaced by Glastir) it was undoubtedly first built by a similar action, enclosure, in my guess in the late C18th judging by the fields thus created.  Then, closeby, in the bracken lies evidence of the greatest ‘intervention’ in living memory, the power of the War Agricultural Executive Committee, the War Ag.  The potato spinner, an amazing feat of engineering by Bamfords (I’m interested in the ‘Triumph’ gearbox) tells the story of how these fields, like thousands of others, in the harsh and frightening times of the 2nd World War, were ordered to be ploughed to grow potatoes (and grain).  Here, at Ton y Fildre, in the radius of where I could throw a stone, I can see all this, what a place to spend my working time, my month of May, my few weeks before the memory of Washington looms large… 

War Ag relic, Bamford potato spinner in retirement.

Horse rake, hay was definitely grown here.A name syonomous with Agricultural mechanisation.I must research this, its the same script aqs the motorbike !

My most favourite find this week. A Ransomes Motrac 3, much sought after, mucho expensive and just the thing to go behind my 1943 Standard fordson tractor; its in my sites !


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