The Long and winding road that leads…

My 'long and winding road', it can get busy, sometimes I pass an army truck or sheep; generally, for 12 miles, its just me...

The road less travelled. My route to work over the Eppynt.

Eppynt’s pastures portray yearly Nature’s truths”   

Those words were written for an Eisteddfod competition over forty years ago (I forget the name of a stanza made up of words beginning with each  letter of the chosen word – anyone know !); the writer, still alive, lived her life, from the years just after the 1st World War, in the shadow of the range of hills that divide the ancient Kingdom of Powys.  It is a sombre bleak upland moor where once a long-lived,
 hardy populace eeked a living by subsistence and then marginal farming.  For centuries the small enclosures and sheepwalks were the haunt of few; for centuries little changed, until that is the year of the ‘Gathering Storm’.  In the winter of 1939 “a messenger of doom” (so described by the author of the definitive book on the events of that time – Ronald Davies’ ‘Eppynt without people’) arrived to announce to the community that they were to be ‘rehoused’, kicked-off might have been a better term !  The vastness of the hill had been identified as an ideal army training area and without much ado, by June 1940, fifty four farms and dwellings and two hundred and nineteen people had gone, moved forever from their homes, their land, their cultural base, their historic landscape.
Today, Sennybridge Range as it is erroneously called, is at the forefront of training and preparation for distant campaigns, though one wonders what geographic similarity exists between this and the deserts of Afghanistan.  Just as in 1982, when its terrain and climate bore an uncanny resemblance to the far away battlefield of the Falklands, the sound of gunfire, explosions and the night-time illumination of orange flares, shatters the peace of this landscape frozen in time.
Whilst driving to work, my little site on the Roman road of Sarn Helen (Neath to Brecon) it occurred to me, in my usual smugness whilst listening to the Radio Wales traffic reports – M4 junction 32 slow, A470 at a standstill etc – that my journey each day is as much a part of my priveleged life as is my job.  To go from home at Beulah to the Ton Fildre site takes me an hour, but I’m only doing 30/40mph most of the way – and that suits me fine – its 35 miles.  yes, a long way, and probably too far in these days of cutting down on travel.  However, that journey is itself a journey into time.  I begin on a Roman road and end on one.  At my end is the stretch of the Llandovery to Llandrindod Wells (Castell Collen) military road (my usual route takes me around the fort at Llandovery – again, not many locals know why the road takes that sharp right angle deviation !) and here, at the edge of Beulah, is one of the large marching camps, in fact there are two, one a fort the other a stop-over camp.  The embankments are clearly visible (and a thousand years later a Norman Motte and Bailey castle was built and still occupies the fort site as well).  This road runs, for the most part, the regulatory ‘straight as an arrow’, through to Tir Abad – the land of the Abbot, a reference to the grange farm of the Cistercian Monastery at Strata Florida near Tregaron.                                             
                                                                                                                                      

The Roman camp and later Norman Motte at Caerau, Beulah. I drive right past this nearly everyday, most of the locals don't even know its there !From Tirabad I turn onto the range and take the old Drover's road to Llywel. Now Drovers roads were important post-medieval (and probably earlier) trackways along which primarily cattle but also geese and pigs, were driven out of the fertile pasturelands of the western vales of Wales, such as the Towy and the Teifi, and into the flatlands, the Champion regions, of England, fristly to be fattened on and later straight to the markets such as Smithfield in London - a 13 day journey. Young girls going to service in the city walked (for safety) with the Drovers and their herds, barefeet until a town was encountered whereupon they would put on their shoes but once passed, off came the shoes to save them for the city. Unlike the cattle and geese whose feet were shod for the long journey. Geese had their feet dipped in hot tar, cattle on the other hand received very nice hand made iron shoes. I recently found one of these on the old drover road from Abergwesyn to Beulah.A treasured possession, this little piece of iron is as important in Welsh history as an arrow tip with an eyeball on it is to the English !

From Tirabad I turn onto the Drovers road that crosses Eppynt. Droving was an important economic activity in the post-medieval period allowing farmers in Wales to market their cattle -and geese and pigs – in English markets.  Large herds were driven out of the fertile valleys and lowlands of west Wales across well defined routes or drove roads.  Young girls on their way to service in the city joined the drove (presumably for safety) and walked barefoot, chosing to save their shoes for the right appearance at the door of their new employer.  The animals were shod for the whole trip, geese had their feet dipped in tar whilst cattle received grand iron shoes, a pair per cloven hoof. Imagine the time it must have taken to shoe a whole drove – often numbering hundreds.  How many times did re-shoeing take place ?  At each town and often at river crossings, small ‘efails’ – smithies – existed to cater for the trade.  At night the Drovers would turn the herd into an accomodating field and retire to the nearby hostelry or farmstead.  These night turns-in are marked to this day by stands of aging Scots pines, usually in a group of two or three, which could be seen in the stark barren landscape for many miles.  Another recent find was a ‘magic lantern’ slide with a photograph of a cattle shoeing crush.  This is a rarity in itself.

Imagine having to do this a couple of hundred times and then walking 200 miles to London !So, yes, the drovers' road takes me over the western slopes of the Eppynt toward the C12th hamlet of Llywel, the parish of Trianglas and its lovely church. The road runs alongside the Iron Age camp of 'Clawdde British' marking an even earlier military occupation of this land. No Italian tourists made it up here. They stayed well over the other side of the Usk Valley transcending the upland ridge of Mynydd Myddfai to descen to Llandovery. Here the way is guarded by the hugely impressive 'Y Pigwn' Roman camp which faces me as I drive south west.'Tail back' has a slightly different meaning here.My kind of 'tail-back' !

a rare ox shoe, a treasured piece in my vast collection of farming related artefacts.

I continue the drover route across the hill from Trecastle to Abercraf, passing Bronze age standing stones and legendary mountains, running alongside the dry stone walls built in 1815 by John Christie’s labourers to parcel up the vast tracts of the Great Forest of Brecknock which he had bought from a ‘strapped for cash’ Government who needed the money to fight a war (deja-vue or what ?) against a tiny little Frenchman !  These walls were built quick and cheap – although the construction of them bankrupted Christie – and, alas, like all good ‘cowboy’ constructions, they are in a sad state of repair having only lasted 200 years or so, whereas, much earlier walls built by local farmers, slowly and with care, stand as good as the day they were made.  Well almost, thankfully for me even they need a little attention now !  And so to join the the ‘main’ road that links the metropolis of Swansea to Brecon and was built to take the mineral resources and agricultural produce to the burgeoning industrial area.  Finally, arriving at Ton Fildre, I stop alongside another ancient routeway.

My current 'office', the wall on the aggar of the roman road at Ton Fildre

Normally, on the outward and homeward journey, discounting the couple of hundred metres I have to scoot along the main roads, if I meet more than 4 cars its a busy day.  Each morning and each evening I listen (well only at the hourly news bulletins – and then mostly to catch up on weather forecasts or rugby info) to traffic updates…. why do you do it people!  How long can we go on like this, how much of your lives are spent sitting in a stationary metal box, going nowhere fast.  I joke with myself sometimes (is that the beginning of Alzy Heimer I wonder !) that I am a driver of a UFO gazing at this madness and reporting back to planet zlob “do you know, they sit alone in metal boxes moving very very slowly and talk to each other on little plastic boxes….”

Of course, I don’t have the disposable income of my fellow workaholics, I don’t have the perks or the social niceties; mostly I wonder what bill shall I (or shan’t I ) pay, what can I afford to eat, what’s the weather going to do  (by the way – its started raining ! that was a shock to the system after weeks of sun and dryness, I’d forgotten about mud…). ” Who am I, where am I going, and when I get there will the pub still be open” is not my tune…

POOR  OLD  WALLER

“The life of a Waller seems terribly phoney”,

Said the man riding by on his assinine pony.

“The life of a Waller must mean you get wet”,

Said the man with the poodle awaiting the vet.

 

“The life of a Waller is all sweat and toil”,

Said the man at the garage stood dipping my oil.

“The life of a Waller is keeping y0u poor”,

Said the ‘Listening Bank’ man as he showed me the door.

 

True, the life of a Waller isn’t all funny.

There’s plenty of soakings and never much money.

The life of a Waller will never be bliss,

There’s rarely a ‘Thank you’, and never a kiss.

 

(In fact) the life of a Waller is all graft and thrift

But I wouldn’t change it for that rise in the lift

To the office that buzzing with static and germs

And all of the thinking’s of wages and terms.

 

Where the sky’s always tinted by blinds and by glass

And even at lunchtime you don’t see the grass.

Where the air is conditioned to kill all the lice,

And as for the water, it never tastes nice.

 

And at the beginning and end of each day

They jump in their cars to get far away.

But after two hours they’ve not gone too far,

So much for the money, so much for the car.

 

So I’ll keep on walling, avoiding the crush,

Right through the winter, the rain, mud and slush.

True, there’s no money, and I seem always wet;

But its got to be better than being a Vet !

A 'tail-back' on my 'long and winding road that leads right to my door'.

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