All things on earth point home in old October; sailors to sea, travellers to walls and fences, hunters to fields and hollow and the long voice of the hounds, the lover to the love he has forsaken….. (Thomas Wolfe)

Suddenly the sun came back, we had inordinately hot days to begin the month, October, for various reasons, dumped me right back into July mode.  In one sense I’ve been in suspended animation whilst my ‘space invader(s)’ came and went; in another sense the last two months have been the zenith of a long period of heightening happiness and reconnection.  Without getting too philosophical,  my stars aligned for a short while, hopefully they will again, but a wild and apparently ‘very cold’ winter awaits.

A copy of the Ogham inscribed Vortipor stone at Llanfallteg, Carms.

The replica Vortipor stone with the Ogham inscription - carved by Dave Petersen - and my little contribution outside the village hall of Llanfallteg, Carmarthenshire.

The end of the month of September saw me complete a small job down in the village of Llanfallteg, a seemingly regular haunt of mine these last few months.  As I mentioned previously, the artist blacksmith Dave Petersen had carved the replica Vortipor stone and this had been installed outside the village hall.  my simple task was to fill in the gap underneath a triangular stone that is supposed to serve as a bench (and which had been installed and supported on three stainless steel pins).  The shape of the stone was awkward, to say the least, the weather was awful, the idea was plagiarised from an old friend (at least I hope he is an old friend!).  The stone sloped inwards like the hull of a boat and hence there was little room to build a stone support.

Slate in-fill for a stone bench

The slate in-fill is meant to represent the geological strata found nearby where the sandstone overlies the slate. It is a good way to create an impression of largess, small thin slates are a good medium; not that I can claim originality, my friend Howard Bowcott of North Wales has already created dozens of superb sculptures using this method, in fact nearby Narberth has a wonderful Celtic cross made from stacked slate.

I set the slates in a 4/1 sand cement mix (unlike Howard who, I think, uses a form of mastic) and a time capsule was hidden within which had been created by local children.  It is to be opened in 50 years, flattering that they think my work will last that long, when many of those who contributed to the capsule will still be around.  I always put a small time capsule in my walls, usually just a lead scroll which I indent using engineers punched letters to say who, when, for whom and how much, the rebuild was carried out.

Steps continue to occupy most of my waking hours;  another set of steps has had to be constructed at one of my long standing sites – in the village of Llanfihangel Nant Bran.  Those of you who have followed me for a while will recognise that name, after all, it’s a year since I began the large retaining wall up there.  In fairness I have been awaiting the landscaping work of the mechanical digger driver and the ‘mortar team’ who were to lay the patio slabs and construct the cement laid steps which were built from granite ‘sets’ or pavoirs which the customer had bought from somewhere up in Yorkshire and had them shipped down, they had been reclaimed from some town-scape up there.

Dry stone leet

The dry stone retaining wall and water smoot which had been begun a year or more ago at Ty Mawr - where does the time go...

That’s not the only project that time seems to have forgotten – back in July 2010 some trainees I was teaching (on a Prince’s Foundation week at Ty Mawr) began to construct a retaining wall and water smoot ( a smoot or smout, is a small passage left through a dry stone wall to allow water to pass through) to accomodate the out-flow from one of the underground drains which pass under the Tudor mansion of Ty Mawr.  For various reasons – mostly because  time just leaves me behind – the little job never got completed and so  one of the first jobs I got done after my ‘pal’ had departed was that.  It is without doubt a great work station, especially on such a sunny day as I had.  The lake at Llangorse is always a beautiful site regardless of the weather but in glorious early autumn sunshine, it’s sublime.

Llangorse lake from the meadows of Ty Mawr

The lake and the distant scarp of Mynydd Troed just always has me reaching for the camera....

There is still a small job to finish there, again resulting from some building done back last year but I’m happy again to go back and complete it.  In so doing I will receive some stone in lieu of payment which in turn allows me to complete another job over in Cathedine which too has been awaiting completion for over a year…. oh my, my customers are a patient lot !

That little job is to complete a major project to rebuild the garden walls of the small holiday cottage in which  I tend the garden.  I had some help with the low garden walls which were in a sorry state of repair.  Miss Carolina needs mentioning again – she completed a major rebuild of one of the more dilapidated sections, I set it as a sort of little test for her, confident it would be no challenge for this talented young lady from the other side of the world.  I was right, she stripped the old wall out and rebuilt it totally in around three hours or so,  in truth better than I would have done it, as always her total commitment meant the job was carried through in her usual exemplary manner – well done Whits, and thanks.

Dry stone garden wall built by Whitney Brown from Carolina

A beautiful garden wall of dry stone built by one Whitney Brown from South Carolina, a tribute to a hard working pupil which stands in a quiet hamlet on the shores of Llangorse lake.

There is something very satisfying in seeing small jobs that have been hanging around for ages finally completed.  There is something even more delightful in seeing the pleasure and pride in an individual who has mastered a new skill or craft and who is so determined to carry on learning and perfecting that skill.  I suppose it is the reward all teachers get from their pupil’s achievement.

Another little set of jobs has been started, back at Llwyn Madoc, the Laird’s mansion here in Beulah.  There are a number of areas of the buildings and grounds that need attention and so I have agreed with the ‘Master’ that I will spend a week a month for a while, carrying out various remedial stone work, some dry, some mortared and some even requiring carpentry skills !

The final pieces of the Llan-nant-bran jigsaw was a simple set of steps and a bench atop the main steps betwixt the levels of dry stone retaining walls which I have been building for what seems like ages.  The problem with a lengthy job is that inevitably stone begins to run out.  Generally speaking I like to ensure I have about a quarter more stone than will actually be used in order to have sufficient choice, there’s nothing worse than having to use every stone – the last piece inevitably gets to look a little scabby.  So it is here, building steps requires good stone, it needs to be thin enough to enable the risers to be built to a level, the treads / flags need to cover the flat area of the step and provide sufficient overlap on which to build the next riser – thereby locking each tread in place with the weight of the stone on top.  Scratching about for the last remnants of over 100 tonnes is guaranteed to result in a rough looking build.

Steps built with rough stone

They are functional, and safe but they leave much to be desired in the 'looks' department - that's what happens when good stone suitable for step building is not available, but that's the skill I suppose.

I do have a supply of stone which has been accrued over time, in fact I was recently asked if I still wanted a fairly large pile of good Old Red Sandstone slabs which I had left at a friend’s farm quite a while a go -too long to mention !  Luckily that pile was reasonable close to the Llan-nant-Bran site and so I took the old Land Rover 90 together with its very well used and somewhat dilapidated ex-army trailer (which is featured in the introduction to my Blog site) to move a load.  Luckily the 90 has recently had her annual M.O.T. ready for the winter which will surely see her once again (for the third year in succession) serving me well.  She provided a little piece of nostalgic entertainment for the last evening in Wales of my dear Carolinian visitor.

We went on a little off-road adventure up the hill behind my old farmstead, a place she had taken a real liking too.  Driving the left-hand drive Landie was second nature to her and she thoroughly enjoys the thrill of off-roading.  Thus on a bright Sunday evening in early October the three of us found ourselves on top of the world….

Whitney Brown Off-roads a Land rover 90

My faithful old 90 land rover, driven by a Llandie-lover from the southern U.S. through the ford of the Cammarch above Beulah on her last night in Wales. 90 is ready for a hard winter...

So October is well on its way, I am back to the hard winter walling work and my trusty little ‘helper’ Dan is alongside to keep my spirits up with his inevitable theories of conspiracy and his humour, and I am thankful for that.  I hope to get back to a steady programme of interesting posts for you in the coming weeks after a slightly disjointed couple of months.  Thanks to everyone who has sent me kind comments, thanks to patient customers and faithful family and friends but it is fitting in this post to thank my summer visitors for a great time, I thoroughly enjoyed the short American invasion and of course the slightly longer campaign of an amazing waller, artist blacksmith, cook and superb house-guest, Whitney Brown of South Carolina, come back soon y’all !!

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