“Do not let a flattering woman coax and wheedle you and deceive you; she is after your barn…” (Hesiod)

Where have I been these past few weeks you ask; I’ve been invaded !  Not in the sense of an infection or parasite you understand, no, just a very welcome ‘space invader’ who has come back to my little hovel in the hills for a short rest and recuperation and I suspect to escape the growing despondency of her homeland, the increasingly bankrupted United States.  Welcome as she is, Hesiod’s warning stays firmly in my head, my barn is exceedingly precious !

The flagstone terrace and steps were finished a couple of weeks ago and the end result was much appreciated – I called-by just yesterday and noted that the newly laid flagstones had already been invaded by garden furniture and a barbeque.

Newly laid old flagstones on a terrace with steps

The finished area is just the place to enjoy the view out over the lake and newly restored tennis court - m'lady just needs to buy herself some new elegant garden furniture to adorn it.

The present job is back at one of my favourite of all work stations, the Willow Theatre at Penlanole near Rhayader. The wall this time is the long awaited restoration of the pool which was used for washing off the mud from the feathered feet of the old working horses after a day’s ploughing.  It was thought, by the owners, to have been a washing pool for sheep, they would be immersed to clean the fleece prior to shearing, but its construction clearly shows its intended purpose.  A gentle slope leads down to a shallow flat bottomed pool the floor of which is pitched stones set into a puddled clay lining.  The clay is saucer shape at the edges to seal the drystone walls that surround the pool.  Over the years it has heavily silted up and blockages in the in-flow and out-flow have caused problems.  Last autumn I and my ‘little helper’ cleared a number of the tunnels that passed under the trackways leading to fields.  The small stream which feeds the pool emerges from a wetland area and its banks are well hung with alder and ash trees.  Leaves and twigs soon block narrow tunnels and silt builds up behind them very quickly, this had been going on for many a year and the stream had ultimately ceased to flow into the pool.  A day with a mechanical digger and a chainsaw opened up the stream banks and the course and water flows cleanly into the pool.  The culvert through the wall that surrounds the pool had however totally collapsed and required total reconstruction.

Water culvert using large pre-cast pipe to pass through dry stone wall

The demolished wall has a pre-cast pipe to enable easy clearance of blockages.

The wall had been taken down back last year and the winter snow melt and floods had been allowed to gush through the gap and into the pool.  Similarly the out-flow had been part dismantled and cleared of debris thus allowing a through-flow of fast clean water.  The digger also removed about 60cms of silt and debris from the pool cleaning back to the stone floor.

This time, instead of a 30cms square inlet ‘smoot’ (the term given to a narrow water channel through the base of a drystone wall), a large pre-cast concrete pipe with a 90cms diameter is installed thereby allowing easy removal of debris which may block the flow.  On the out-flow I had suggested a sluice system, a simple wind-up door which could be raised and lowered to either fill the pool or allow it to be washed through.  That would have been how it was managed in days past, only being filled during ploughing, the rest of the time it would have provided a clean running source of drinking water.  In the last few years it has been invaded by those amiable white feathered geese and ducks that befriend or threaten every time I arrive.  Whilst they look nice waddling along and drifting about on the gravy-brown waters of the pool, they are of course the main cause of the stank that the pool had become.  Water-fowl and clean water do not mix, if you want pretty geese and ducks on your pond be prepared for the water to be pretty gross; unless that is you have a nice and voluminous through-flow of water from a stream or river, standing water will become heavily polluted and actually quite infectious !

The plan is to allow a shallow pool of water to remain and periodically washing it through by raising the sluice.  The windlass system, I suggested,  could be made from an old washing mangle by attaching some hemp rope – which itself could be squeezed dry as it passes through the rollers – to the elm rollers and turning the old handle to raise the boards of the sluice.  Elm boards would have been used in days gone but are hard to come by since the devastation of Dutch Elm disease, so I am suggesting we use Alder which is another good hard tight grained wood that tolerates water immersion.  The pool originally probably just had a large slab of stone resting over the out-flow and sealed with clay.

A water channel constructed through a dry stone wall

The pipe is not 'subtle' but it works and the wall soon came up around it, with some help !

The down-side of working at this otherwise super site is that the stones are just so damned heavy.  The geology of this part of Radnorshire has high mineral content and this means even small stones can be difficult to lift alone.  Add to that the inevitable mud and slippery underfoot conditions and it can be a tricky work-station.  I wrote earlier about other jobs done here, a day at Penlanole is a day after which sleep is no problem whatsoever !  The large stones do however mean that the wall goes up quite quickly and good progress was made over two days.  I just need to now fix the sluice mechanism in place but that must wait until after my little vacation.

The month is already flying by and I seem to have done very little, apart from the wall above I have delivered a one-day drystone walling course for my friends at Simply the Best Training down in the valleys area at Tonyrefail.  The weekend saw me travelling through a part of Wales I have not visited for some time, the North.  The lady invading my space had been anxious to visit the National Eisteddfod which this year was held near Wrexham.  She and my half-relative Angharad Pearce-Jones, the eminent artist blacksmith who hails from Bala but now lives in Brynamman at the foot of the Carmarthenshire Black Mountains, attended and assisted with an ‘iron-pour’.  The demonstration of iron-making using a mobile furness was being orchestrated by another old Smithsonian colleague, Mathew Tomlin from Llanfrynach near Brecon.

I travelled north and collected my visitor at Bala, calling in at the Cywain centre to see some of Angharad’s work as well as work by another artist friend of ours, Howard Bowcott, which is displayed around the nicely converted stables on the edge of the town.

Art in metal, chairs at Bala

My Carolinian visitor climbing on Angharad Pearce-Jones' chairs displayed at the Cywain centre in Bala.

The representation of old farming ploughs which Howard has created there is one of my favourite pieces of sculpture.

From there we headed north to Betws y Coed where an excellent lunch was enjoyed before heading off into the heart of Snowdonia.  Now when I was young we just never ventured into the north, there was an absolute antipathy towards the people and the place from folk in the south.  It wasn’t until my early twenties that I first discovered the incredible scenery of this part of the Principality.  It takes some beating, rugged and bleak but breathtaking at the same time.  No wonder the Victorians loved it and the great artists flocked to the area to record the scenery or write whimsically of it.  We headed through to Capel Curig (yes, old St. Curig again) and up the road towards the Penygarreg pub where Edmund Hilary and his intrepid 1950s Everest expedition stayed whilst training for the first successful attempt at the great mountain.  Their signatures are still on the ceiling after more than half a century.

Old ploughs, ards, displayed at the Cywain centre in Bala

Howard's representation of the ancient 'Ard', a simple wooden plough of Iron-age origin, is one of my all time favourite pieces of Welsh sculpture.

The tourist season is in full swing of course and villages like Beddgelert are just too packed to even consider stopping.  My aim was to give my visitor a quick tour through the area and catch some of the dramatic scenery which I know she loves.  However, whilst it is somewhat out of place and almost bizarre, there is one place in the north that has to be on every itinerary, Port Meirion.  This ‘folly’ of William Clough-Ellis is at the same time tacky and beautiful.  My companion immediately dubbed it ‘Disneyland’ – I can hear the groans of complaint e’en now ! – but was as impressed as anyone who visits are.  Like me however, the beauty of the setting overcame the Italianate architecture and stunning floral displays for her.  The woodland walk out to the headland and the beaches are by far the best part of Port Meirion we both agreed.

Escaping southward for a short distance we turned up the valley which leads to Cwm Bychan from the coastal village of Llanbedr.  This stands alone in my view as THE best scenery in the whole of Wales.  The lake at the top of the valley is surrounded by rugged scree slopes and the whole landscape is shaped by ancient field systems and small homesteads.  Of course, dry stone walls abound and are probably instrumental in my scoring this place so highly !

Italianate Folly - Clough-Ellis'   Port-Meirion

The Italianate village of Port-Meirion, a must to see but slightly bizarre.

There’s no doubt that this part of Wales is quite the most amazing as far as rugged stark beauty is concerned.  As with many places one visits, it is only by getting off the tourist routes that the real country is seen and that is true here as elsewhere.

A long drive south to Pembrokeshire followed giving my visitor the chance to see almost the whole of Cardigan Bay before being confronted with the spectacle of another Boule competition in the little village of Llanfallteg.

Finally returning to the peace of little Beulah I was able to turn my attention to the next adventure.  Welshwaller is jetting off (actually driving my trusty Land Rover Discovery – at least I hope it’s trusty !) to the east of England.  I’m taking a little trip to the flatlands of Cambridgeshire and its Fens and on to Norfolk, a part of Britain I have never visited.  I am aiming to see some of the most important archaeological sites we have, scuh as Flag Fen and Sutton Hoo, as well as exploring some of the old farming museums and attractions.  A nice little break before returning to a hectic week or so before heading off again.

I’ll leave you with a taste of what Cwm Bychan means to me and, now, to the lady who thus far I have kept away from my barn !

Cwm Nantcol in the Cwm Bychan area of North Wales.

This old stone bridge is in Cwm Nantcol, just down stream from Cwm Bychan. 'Our' kind of scenery !)

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One Response to ““Do not let a flattering woman coax and wheedle you and deceive you; she is after your barn…” (Hesiod)”

  1. Jack Ripper Says:

    By golly, you’ve got lyrical in your old age! Great to see that you’re clearly enjoying life doing something really wonderful. I know it’s just putting a rock one atop another but the result is truly fabulous. I’ve always been a fan of stone walls. We are the proud owners of an ancient Cornish hedge and am learning how to maintain it properly. Keep up the good work.

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