Everything happens for a reason; people change so that you can learn to let go; things go wrong so you can appreciate them when they’re right and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can come together (Marilyn Monroe)

Live your life ‘like a candle in the wind’ and I suppose that kind of philosophical approach comes naturally, but she was awfully young to have learned those truths;  I, on the other hand, have been around long enough to know the truth of what she said.  Letting go, allowing things to change, fall apart or just fade away, is a continual, albeit sometimes painful, occurrence.  This month is always the most prolific for such thoughts and events. The merry merry month of May is by far my favourite.  By the middle of the month nature has caught up with itself,  we have had rain at last, not masses, but sufficient to get everything growing and the blossoms and leaves are in glorious abundance.  The summer visitors have now all arrived – the Swifts which take up lodging in my eaves every year, arrived yesterday morning.  They were not there on Friday night, they were making my sister duck as they zoomed into the garden on Saturday morning, as she kindly beat my dusty rugs.  She and her partner had visited to help me with some much needed movement and change,  I need to let go (of junk !) and get ‘fallen apart’ items – such as tractors and land-rovers – fixed; to say nothing of getting certain ‘odd’ kitchen items taken to more appropriate storage.  I’m talking plough and butter churn and various farming tools etc. etc. (we never actually got around to moving the two bags of cement from the bottom of the stairs, where, incidentally, they have sat since before the snow, in other words, since way before Christmas !)

They are both avid bird watchers and my assortment of native and foreign are slightly different to those that they encounter in the lowland river valley where they live.  Swifts however are common to us both and just happen to be one of her favourites.  Her passion goes beyond the norm as far as these masters of aerial ballet are concerned;  the construction of their home extension was seriously delayed when the builders failed to finish the roof  (which would have prevented the regular summer families of swifts from returning to the eaves of the old part of the house) and thus work had to cease to allow the raising and fledging of several broods.

The budding of the Oak precedes the Ashe, hence we are in for a 'splash' !

"When the Present has latched its postern behind my tremulous stay, and the May month flaps its glad green leaves like wings, delicate-filmed as new-spun silk, will the neighbours say 'He was a man that used to notice such things' ? (Hardy)

Despite not being able to do any wall building I have, nevertheless, been out and about.  The on-going project in Upper Cwmbran, at the Blaen Bran community woodland site, is still getting my weekly attention.  My little gang of trainees are developing their skill nicely and the wall is revealing more and more of its history.  Whereas when I last reported I  reckoned on it having been built between 1650 and 1740, the discovery of a section of complete wall indicates a much earlier build period.  This has implications for the understanding of the evolution of the landscape in terms of its use through the medieval period.

The foundations of the wall are replaced ready for its re-construction

The team of trainee builders set out a new foundation for this historical mountain enclosure. It is not the easiest of stone to learn on but they are doing well.

Another few weeks will see my little team move to a far more ancient site and undertake some experimental archaeology.  In a number of remnant woodlands dotted throughout the new estates of the ever growing New Town (Cwmbran was one of the designated new towns built after the 2nd World War, and its development consumed two old villages and a number of farms and historical sites).  These woods hide a conundrum in historical landscape terms; they have, running through them, what I have interpreted as Bronze-Age walls which possibly delineate a reave system.  Such systems are, thus far, not recorded in this part of South Wales (famous systems such as those on Dartmoor or in the west of Ireland, at Newgrange, are well recorded).  We are going to rebuild a section of one of these walls using just the stone that is immediately adjacent, in the ground and in the leaf mould.  This will determine how high the wall was – the huge quartz-conglomerate foundations stones, weighing up to three tons, are still in their original settings – and will assist in showing which animals the wall was meant to control (or not, for it may be these walls are a political statement of ‘ownership’).

Other than a day wearing my ‘instructor’s’ hat, the only encounter I’ve had with stone has been visiting some potential work sites and looking in on Welsh ecclesiastic history.  Two churches in particular have been to the forefront of my thinking.  The first is a very ancient place indeed, long before the present squat stone tower looked out over the landscape, early people had a settlement in this place.  With the coming of Christianity the circular enclosure may have become the early monastic ‘clas‘ in which followers of St. Teilo brought the Gospel to these Radnor hills.  The church as it appears today is estimated to be mainly C14th, the churchyard has a strange elliptical shape and within are three significant Yew Trees, two of which are assessed as being co-terminus with the building.

The Norman style tower of the C14th church of St Teilo at Llandeilo Graban.

The typically Norman tower and church at Llandeilo Graban, it is one of my favourite of Welsh churches.

There are various theories as to why Yews were planted in churchyards.  It is often thought of as a ‘pagan’ symbol, linked to pre-Christian rituals and beliefs.  Certainly within Celtic / Druidic religious practices the Yew was one of the sacred 9 woods which were used in ritual fires.  Started by the friction of oak branches rubbed together these fires then had added ‘Willow of the streams,  Hazel of the rocks, Alder of the marshes, Birch of the waterfalls, Rowan of the shade, Elm of the brae, Oak of the sun, Yew of resilience’ and, depending on which tribe, holly, ash or pine was also added. Like other ‘ancient’ cultures, the Celts had their ‘totems’ and Yew was highly regarded as a means of protection from evil spirit.  Even in Roman Britain and early Christianity, the tree was used to spiritually purify an area.  Pieces buried with the dead protect the soul on its journey to the afterlife.  Of course, lets not forget, it was the preferred timber from which to make the English long-bow, from Celtic times to the Norman Conquest. Lets not forget also that it was the Welsh archers who gave Henry V his victory at Agincourt !

An ancient Yew in the churchyard at Llandeilo Graban, Radnorshire.

The trees in the churchyard are indeed ancient - maybe older than the Church itself.

Whatever the reason, Yew trees are ubiquitous throughout the land in medieval churchyards, they cross the divide between the Christian Catholic church of post Roman Britain and the ancient world of the Celts.

Now here’s the thing,  if you lived before Christ, if you were one of the Celts, a member of the Iron-Age tribes of Wales, and lived a good, honest, honourable life, did you get to go to heaven – even if you didn’t know it existed ?  If you revered the Yew as a protector of the living and the dead souls, did your ‘pagan’ beliefs dis-bar you from the place of Angels ?  And, if so, why did the Yew become the tree that was planted in Christian sites for a thousand years?

The other church that has occupied some of my musing – if everything happens for a reason – is a slightly younger building but on a very old and important site indeed.  It was listed in the early 1400s as Blaneunye, and as Kethoddyn in 1535 (which is itself interesting, oddyn meaning a kiln in Welsh).  In the early Christian period, when the nearby lake of Brecon mara, now Llangorse lake, was a favourite hideaway for Saintly types, such as Castyn and Paulinus, Cathedine was listed as the place of the 7 Saints, thought to be disciples of Paulinus.

The C19th church of St. Michael, Cathedine, Breconshire.

The church at Cathedine is in a quiet corner of the Llangorse basin. It is a sad sight today.

It is no surprise that of the four churches that surround the lake, few have congregations large enough to sustain them.  Thus the Diocese has decided that Cathedine can no longer be saved – it has some major structural problems, the tower in particular is unsafe – and so, a new sign now replaces the board on which details of ‘Bands’ and Services were posted.

The old church of Cathedine is for sale.

The sign says it all - centuries of history for sale - for a mere £50k, but there's a lot of dead bodies around you !

The problem of what to do with our old churches is a national issue.  All of them need massive amounts of maintenance and money.  The grand Cathedrals are obviously the major concern, but what of these ancient parish churches?  Surely they are as worthy a part of our history, our built heritage, our national psyche – it’s who we are – as any castle of the English or Norman invaders, or Roman amphitheatre ?

In Wales we have the problem in the Non-conformist society too, numerous chapels, some of them significant in the social history of the valleys, stand empty awaiting a new life.  Just like the church of Llangiwg that I mentioned recently, community or private use is not always a possibility.  Do things fall apart so things can get better ?  I’m not so sure in this instance.

An e mail sent me on a short journey up the Wye valley to the little village of Llangurig.  It sits astride the junction of the route out of the Severn valley and the Wye valley route from the coast at Aberystwyth into the Midlands, or southwards into mid Wales.  It is a ‘focus of routes’ in fact, the modern-day north to south trans-Wales highway (insert wry smile), the A470, passes by.  The Wye valley is one of the three major rivers of Wales, in terms of its length and its scenery.  For much of its course it forms the boundary between Wales and England as do the other two large rivers, the Severn (Hafren) and the Dee.  A long distance footpath, the Wye Valley Walk, now exists to open up some of the most stunning vistas available in the country.

I had been asked to repair a fountain pool and well at a very historic house on the edge of the village.  The Clochfaen estate (see http://www.theclochfaen.com) is an important part of the mid-Wales heritage and dates from the medieval period.  The current house is built in the Arts and Crafts style – and hence looks somewhat out of place in the sombre grey slate-built architecture of the area – and the formal grounds have a classic period style.

An old well in an old place

It may not look like much but this old well is probably the reason the house is there in the first place. It is thought to have been included inside the old house which burned down in the early 1700s.

The work to restore the two garden features is an interesting little project.  The well is a ‘pwll‘, a spring fed pool of pure mountain water, the stone surround is a simple retaining wall with a lintel and supporting pillars.  The fountain is a pipe fed stone-faced structure which has become quite dilapidated requiring it to be taken down and rebuilt – and the rather fierce-some gargoyle water spout installed.  It will be a good opportunity to study the architecture and, more interstingly for me, the old field walls and systems of the estate farms which reach high into the Cambrian mountains behind.

The Clochfaen Fountain - awaiting restoration.

Not much to look at either, but wait until it's done !

I can’t wait to get stuck into that restoration, I like being in interesting places which have an important place in our history.  The scenery in that part of the Wye valley is exceptional and will be a daily treat for me.  Before that however, I have to get this damned calf injury healed and get the strength back into the leg – at the moment I cannot balance on one foot which means lifting stones on uneven surfaces is not really a good idea.

I feel fine whilst sitting writing or reading and the swelling subsides but if I spend a couple of hours hobbling around, as I did on the weekend, things look a lot different.  Nevertheless, onwards and upwards,  change is happening all around me.  Several successes were achieved whilst my visitors were here, especially amongst the large collection of machinery ‘out-back’.

What lies beneath ?  Artefacts galore

You see the problem - every corner is filled with artefacts awaiting some TLC. The tractor is a 1957 Nuffield, it drove in there - 10 years ago ! Under the blue sheet is an old 'tumbril' tipping cart converted to tow behind a tractor by replacing the wooden wheels with old lorry wheels - it will go nice behind my 1943 Fordson N - when it's done.

Save our Fergies

Another little project, this little grey Fergie of 1953 vintage was one of the successes of the weekend - we got her running and driving and even fitted a new starter solenoid so that my little helper didn't have to swing the starting handle quite so often ! But you see the problem !

I’m sure visitors to ‘Land Rover Manor’ (as it was aptly named by my winter butterfly last year) have many hours of considered conversation about the ‘state’ of my yard (to say nothing of the buildings – also full of artefacts, oh yes, and the house !) and not without some validity.  In truth there are an awful lot of ‘antiquities’ around the place.  However if you consider they all have a monetary value – some of them quite substantial – and they don’t need feeding (though the hours of labour, parts and paint will soon add up !) and, by and large, most arrived ‘gratuite” or at a small cost, sitting in and around the old farm is my Mediterranean retirement !

A Series 3 Land Rover behind a TD5 Disco

What can I say, I like them ! Series 3 Long Wheel base and a Series 2 Discovery, what else would you expect at LR Manor Inc. ?

One of the major success stories of the weekend, and in truth I would have been satisfied with just that achievement, was the firing up of a land rover that had stood for six or seven years without attention.  It is one of the last the Series 3 models, in long wheel base form and was an army vehicle for two years – an interim fix whilst the new Defender was coming into service – and has done little work.  It shows only 30k miles and runs like a watch, when it is running that is.  A problem with the starter has confined it to a place behind the barn for many years.  Whilst it is a simple fix in one sense – just change the motor or have the present one reconditioned – the design of the later series 3 means the inlet/exhaust manifold needs to come off first.  As I’m sure everyone reading this will know, the attempted removal of manifold bolts is not a job for the feint hearted – that counts me out !  So, it needs to go to my tame land rover expert down near the Grafog.  Alvin worked for the local Land Rover agent for many a year and knows his stuff, especially where the older ones are concerned.  To get it to him is not quite so simple.  Not having a starting handle means that the risk of driving it down and having it stall with no means of re-starting it is a no no.  Trailering is the only option, but, it needed to be started to drive it onto the trailer.  Now that requires two people, one towing and one in the landie to bump start it.  Petrol was poured in and a good battery attached, and with another tractor started to act as the tow machine, off we went.  Within a few yards the engine fired and ran sweetly;  I gave it a run down the track and back up to clear the smoke and get the oil spinning for the first time in ages, ‘like a watch’ indeed.  Loaded ready for hospitalisation, hopefully to be fully cured ready for a new life !

A little land rover awaiting attention

This is 'Gladys', she was also a little success on the weekend, some attention to plugs and points and she too was ready for a run in the countryside.

A McCormick International tractor, 434 model of 1968

This is my 1968 International 434 which is an ideal towing tractor, and yet another of my 'treasures' !

All in all a successful operation;  in addition to the mentioned successes the 1943 Standard Fordson N finally fired up after a winter of discontent.  We had hoped to give her a run around the field but time and weather was against us.  The final action was to get a large number of artefacts which were sitting on the lawn, having been emptied from one of my trailers , into cover.  This was not possible on my own and thus my indebtedness to my dear sister’s partner grows inexorably.

Everything happens for a reason, had I not had this pesky injury my visitors may not have come, change in my surroundings and successful movement would not have happened.  During my current idleness I have had time to catch up on reading, to ignore world happenings and also to withdraw from a number of ‘associations’ which no longer seem worthwhile.  People change so that we can let go, absolutely.  And things go wrong so that we are joyous and  ecstatic when they are going right – in my case the running of a long idle engine (notwithstanding the added pollution I am causing !!).  Simple things please Simple minds !

Enjoy the month of May, it soon flies away, flaming June (maybe!) marks the great turn of the year; my year hinges on that month, if I am behind in work as the solstice passes I will be behind when the snow returns.  So, onwards and upwards indeed, Welshwaller needs to get flying, leading a life like………


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