“And the ‘Future’ Now will Later be ‘Past’ …..”

“The whole order is rapidly changin’……”

So the year endeth,  and certainly the changing of the date inevitably signifies a change of time, in its broadest sense.  For me the New Year holiday / celebration / lament, call it what you will, is usually a pensive experience.  I’ve long been absent from New Year’s Eve parties (that may simply be a lack of invites of course !!) and most count-downs to midnight on December 31st find me alone.  On a clear night I like to walk out onto the hill and gaze at the Universe as I reflect.  This year will be much the same;  a contrast to last year end when I found myself in the company of a beautiful young lady who had become trapped with me in the little hovel in the hills I call home.  We too walked out at midnight, and  with a bottle of bubbly for cheer,  stamped out  ‘Happy New Year’ in the frozen snow that had ensnared us for many a day.

Thoughts of folk who passed through my life in the year gone and places visited, experiences lived, joys and sadness, content and discontent, all come to mind at this time.  Or so I find.

The Burns poem which echoes throughout the English speaking world (often in its badly pronounced Scottish form) on New Year’s Eve is a strange, questioning  epitaph to a passing moment in a lifetime.  The great suggestion that maybe, just maybe, old acquaintances  should be forgotten “since old long past”,  challenges our usual need to ‘keep in touch’.  That need is especially manifest at Christmas when our post boxes brim to overflowing with little cards expressing best wishes from ‘friends’ long since departed from our psyche, or from those we saw just yesterday.  So what are we to make of Burns’ suggestion ?

I have been challenged by the poem /song for as long as I can remember.  Each year’s end has it ringing out across the land, but does anyone really understand its implication and should we think of the ending of another year as a time to ‘wipe the slate clean’ of  past friendships and events ?  This year I find myself troubled by the magnitude of  such a brave decision, more-so than I have been for many an ‘old long past’.

Save that I am still encumbered by white frozen water (actually frozen water has deprived me of bodily cleanliness for nearly two weeks now as my spring fed reservoir had run dry.  Today however I traced the problem.  Yet again a non-neighbourly neighbour has caused my problem.  Back in August I also ran dry and the problem was a cut off pipe that had just been left to pour water from the connection that leads from the hill to my reservoir.  I blocked it with a shaved stick and was assured – by the land agent who manages the estate on which I live – that he would get ‘Dennis the Menace’, as my neighbour is locally known, to fix it properly.  I assumed it was done, but no, the frozen water in the exposed end of pipe just popped my plug and for two weeks water has just been pouring forth.  Because of the three feet of snow I have not ventured up the line until today – Dennis is about to have a visit….)  I have enjoyed Christmas more than I have in many years.  That’s hopefully a good omen for the change of times coming my way.

My look back at the year I have just endured – for so it seemed – has been very enlightening to me.  It has actually been an enjoyable year, and yet, my first instinct was to think not.  I’ve decided to use this week’s post to scan the year with pictures and a few comments to portray a little of how Welshwaller grows old gracefully !

 

Reflections on Stone as a way of life.

Ripples and stones, a good introduction to a reflective post ?

I’d rather forget much of the beginning of 2010,  for a number of reasons it left me feeling daunted and betrayed.  Nevertheless, even in adversity,  that which shines a light on me is usually never far away, and so it proved.

One of my real joys is discovering a hidden gem, be it an old abandoned piece of  farm machinery, scenery new or old, a landscape feature or old buildings.  In the first few weeks I had the privilege of visiting a farm that had its origins in the medieval period, probably C14th, and which lies close-by the most stunning of Welsh castles – Carreg Cennen.

 

Medieval wall of an early farm of high status.

Just another stone wall, but this is the pine-end of a high status farm built for the Baronial Judge associated with the Lordship of Iscennen and the great castle of Carreg Cennen, south of Llandeilo in the village of Trap.

Wherever my work takes me it is guaranteed that I will encounter some remarkable building.  I wonder whether I could actually do the work I do if such discoveries left me unmoved.  It is an interesting issue, similarly my joy of the natural world, be it scenery, landscape, weather, flora and fauna, add to the ‘income’ I receive for the work I do.  To my mind, my monetary income is more than doubled by all these other ‘perks’.

Old farm buildings in particular hold a fascination for me, not just in the magnificent stonework which is often present in even the most humble of buildings, nor even the setting in which they were placed, but it is the tale they tell of past activities, of past toils, of the wealth or poverty of Welsh farmers for centuries past.

 

A pair of cart or wain houses.

This pair of cart sheds on a farm I visit regularly betray the wealth of the holding in past centuries. They were built to house 'wains' or heavy carts - bigger than the average upland vehicles which were simple two wheeled gambos.

I know several others in the same line of work who have absolutely no interest in any such aspects of our environment.  That is why I chose to work alone,  I have to respect others their right to work in the countryside whilst ignoring all around them, but for me it is as essential an element, it is as important to me as the stones I build with.

So buildings are always an absorbing part of my daily activity, and this year I have had some real special encounters.  I especially enjoyed my tours in mid and north Wales recently.

 

 

A fine north Wales cow house and barn built from massive quartzite boulders.

This magnificent C18th stone cow shed and barn was a real highlight of my tours through north Wales during the autumn.

I am often amused at how little the present day inhabitants know, or care, about the history of their farmsteads.  Even when they are from a long line of tenant/owners with several generations of their ancestors having lived and worked there.  On the other hand I occasionally meet a farmer who is very knowledgeable about his home and the methods of farming that the buildings portray.  It is one of my ‘duties’, or so I feel, to show them, where I can, the history and evolution of the homestead.  This generally means interpreting the farm’s name and going to the archive office and getting copies of the earliest maps, usually the Tithe map of the early to mid C19th, although sometimes much older estate or manorial maps can be found which are real windows on lost centuries.

Of course throughout the year I continued to find fascinating lumps of rusty iron, farm implements abandoned after having served the farm for tens of years (if not longer).  The most exciting for this year was probably the carts from the old home farm of Ynys Cedwen in the Swansea valley.  There was the Ransomes Motrac 3 plough – since joined by another which I came across only a month or so ago at the same farm as I found the ‘hay harpoon’ still hanging in the barn into which it had been installed over a century ago.  There were many other ‘finds’ which I haven’t mentioned – mainly because I didn’t bring them home – and which were left in place for others to enjoy.

 

An old rusty plough represents history of the land

An old lump of rusty iron, but as much a part of history as the buildings and the landscape.

My greatest difficulty is resisting the temptation to give them all ‘a good home’.  Whenever I can I ‘nag’ the farmer (or his wife) to value these old servants, be they buildings or implements.  It saddens me how our heritage, at least our ‘land’ heritage, is so un-cherished.

It wasn’t only in Wales that I found some real gems, in England and France my insatiable search led me to find one or two ‘specials’ !

 

Thatched open implement shed.

This open implement shed had a thatched roof, was full of old and rare farm implements and was just standing on a roadside in deepest Wiltshire.

Of course the French discoveries were part of a wonderful ‘escape’ I enjoyed back in August.  The antiquity of the French ‘Pays’ – the onset of machinery and modernisation was late in rural France – meant that methods familiar in the C18th were still employed, along with the tools and implements, well into the late C20th.  Only in the last twenty years or so have the French themselves become interested in the old tractors that litter the countryside, as yet they have not begun to (over) value the hand tools and old iron horse drawn implements, although e-bay has opened up the potential profits to be made. (If you have an interest in such items have a look at ebay.fr in the category agricole ancien / ferme ancien)

An old French Cart now used as a promotional aid.

Carts of all shapes and size fascinate me, France is therefore a mecca for me, they are to be found here, there and everywhere.

So the year seemed to be filled with rust and old wood.  Wherever I worked or roamed my ‘lust for rust’ and wonder for wood was usually satiated.  It means that even the toil of lifting several tonnes of stones each day is placated by an inevitable encounter with some small aspect of  my obsessive interests.

An old French cart adorned with flowers

This old cask cart intrigued me, it has been retired to a slightly undignified existence as a flower byre alongside the Canal du Midi at Carpestang.

I think I am fortunate in having ‘interests’.  There is a common theme running through my interests, it might be loosely categorised as ‘history’, albeit it centres on the agricultural aspects of our past.  I have alluded to these ‘interests’ throughout the posts this year and so readers are either familiar or bored with them !  Apologies to you all !

The summer was a kaleidoscope of scenery and events.  The Summer solstice saw two amazing events of my overflowing year.  One was a ‘look back’ to the previous summer when I visited Washington D.C. along with over a hundred of my countrymen and women.  the other was a journey to the heart of England and the Downs of Wiltshire to visit Stonehenge and Avebury.

Wiltshire Downs

This is a real reminder of summer. I love the Wiltshire Downs, there are hidden valleys and open chalky downlands. Poppies in the arable fields contrast with the corn and the azure of the clear sky. I had forgotten how blissful my summer was.

The re-union took place on a super sunny Sunday and was a real joy.  Although many of those that attended were used to seeing others, many of us, especially myself, had seen very few of those with whom we had become such friends in the heat of those special days on the grass of the National Mall.  Should old acquaintance be forgot ?

Following the summer I had an interesting few months – I am beginning to wonder if I actually ever did any walling this year – when I was persuaded to assist in the recruitment of farmers to the new Glastir programme.  Overall the take-up for the scheme was disappointingly low, just under three thousand, but all the farms I visited (remembering that they had all pretty much decided to enter) managed to apply.  I enjoyed those brief few weeks,  I met some really fine farmers and got to visit parts of Wales I was not too familiar with.

Then before I knew it, winter arrived, didn’t it just !  As the year ends snow still lingers and when you consider we normally have snow in January, it could be some weeks yet before my stones are uncovered and unfrozen.  This is the third year of losing work time, maybe Climate Change will force a premature change in my work schedule.  I’d “better start swimming or I’ll sink like a stone, for the times they are a changing”.

Some dear old friends whose acquaintance I would be loathe to forget. A literary Welshman, the Welsh National Poet, the star of Welsh cuisine, the most famous of singing broadcasters and 'just me', fond memories indeed.

So the year had high points after all.  I guess the incessant snow and cold has rather tarnished my view of the year.  But as it comes to an end I am still pondering the meaning and risk of Robbie Burns’ question.  I will not ever come to a definite view, it’s too risky don’t you think ?  On the other hand maybe all Robbie was doing was stating the inevitable, the natural, the nature of the long road that we tread which is why, perhaps, it is sung aloud on that terminal stroke of midnight.  Few however get past “We’ll drink a cup of kindness yet”  (which is not actually what is written), the real message lies forgotten; I write it here as an epilogue to my year,

“And Days of Old Long Gone”

“We two have run about the hillsides,

And pulled the wild daisies fine;

But we have wandered many a weary foot                                                                                        Since Old Long Past.

We two have paddled in the streams                                                                                                       From morning sun ’til noon                                                                                                                         But seas between us broad have roared,                                                                                               Since old long past.

And there is a hand my trusty friend                                                                                                     And give me a hand of yours;                                                                                                                       And we will take a good-will drink                                                                                                           For auld lang syne.      (Mr. R Burns )


 

The year began with it and has ended with it, my Woods filled up with Snow


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