February: Moon of the Dark Red Calf, the Ice Moon, the Festival of Purification.

For me, February can’t be gone soon enough; it is the last month when snow could really come hard and unexpected – true, we do get it as late as April, and it can lay on the hills until May  but generally speaking, if we get to the end of February without it, the Winter is beaten.  Six weeks after Christmas it’s light at  six (pm that is), light when I get home is a true spirit lifter.  Even though in this twelfth year of the new Millenium we have an extra day to endure ( I wonder if anyone really will propose !) I feel we are on the way to better times.  I feel like I’ve cheated this year, haven’t endured like I should have, not suffered the deep sub zero temperatures and severe frosts, not even been soaked too often.  My shame is overwhelming, I bow my head when standing in the local store as the winter weather is discussed and the relief at the coming of March is expressed…… I’ll just have to grin and bear it.

Thatch close-up

'Clutching at Straws' - I sometimes think this should be my 'T' shirt.

As if that wasn’t enough to plague my conscience I have been working in one of the most beautiful places in Wales (nay, on earth !).  A right Royal command of a very urgent nature bade me attend to a number of wall repairs at Ty Mawr, my little ‘office’ on the shores of said beautiful place.  The first day was chilly and mist hung on the surrounding hills, that in itself is a special environment.  By the 29th (as I watched for text messages of a propositioning nature – in vain unfortunately) the sky was bright blue and several layers of outer garments were flung away, indeed my little white face feels quite on fire !  Llangorse has oft been mentioned in this place, my role as ‘resident waller’ at the Great House, Ty Mawr, means I have to respond when an S.O.S. is sent forth, and especially if such a soul saving request is linked to the visit of a V.I.P.

Looking out over Llangorse from a work site.

This little piece has been on the list of 'to do's' for best part of two years ! It just needed a new post putting in and some extra stone to extend the wall to meet the post ! Simple, you'd think..... things move slowly, until ....!

Ever since 2010 there have been several little sections of wall that have been awaiting rebuilding.  I attended to one of them prior to my recent overseas trip and agreed that, on my return, if the required posts were in-situ I would attend to the jobs asap.  I drove by a few days after my return only to discover nothing had been done,  I left a message to remind the boss-man.  Last week I got a panic call, he had suddenly remembered there were urgent jobs to be completed……

The extent of the rebuilds was not a challenge, three days would see it done easily.  However, I was given two days and it was urgent !  I like urgent, it means all previous pricing policies can be set-aside … Yes, urgent is expensive !

The nice thing about building walls at Ty Mawr is the excessive amount of excellent stone that is at hand, just waiting to be turned into my next masterpiece.  Prior to the start of the 1800s a very grand and exceedingly large Tudor mansion stood on the site (archaeological excavations are gradually revealing its extent – the stone tells me it was huge !) but it was knocked down in readiness for a modern Manoir with a French influence.  Alas, that never happened and so, for nigh on two hundred years, a large pile of stone lay wasting and waiting.  To have such a supply of ‘ready to use’ stone, often dressed and cut by hand, is a real rarity in the life of Welshwaller I can tell you.

Old window mullions

Carved over 500 years ago, it's sometimes difficult to just plonk them into a dry stone wall. I find it somehow disrespectful to those master masons of the Medieval period, to treat these carvings as just another stone.

A nice supply of stone

My very own Tudor mansion just waiting to be rebuilt, and my very own yellow dumper to move it - albeit I have to pick it up and throw it in.

The problem is that the stone is just too nice to be used to build a simple dry stone wall.  In my normal building activities, to find a stone with a nice right-angled corner (for building an end or opening) is rare indeed, here, to find a stone that doesn’t have a right-angled corner or four, is almost impossible.  I find that, even after all these years of using it, a certain guilt overcomes me when building with such hand worked beauties.  The other problem of course is that I have no excuses for an inexact wall end or corner nor indeed for inaccurate coursing.  Give me the random stone of the hills any day !

The three ‘quick’ jobs were the wall to the hay meadows in the front of the house, a section of the garden wall between the yard and the old orchard and some building on the old cart horse wash.  The last included some mortar construction using the lime-mix made on site; Calch Ty Mawr is now a renown centre for such products and has an expertise in much demand in the area of Conservation building.

Wall over looking Llangorse lake

A simple little wall repair, but it took a while, stone had to be hauled from the Manor pile.

The house has been an important feature of the lake for hundreds of years.  Following the Norman invasion and their arrival into Brecon around 1068, the basin became a Manor of the Lordship of Blaenllynfi and later of Talgarth.  The church of Llangasty sits in an enclosure nearby and is the 7th century home of Castyn, he is one of the early Welsh Saints who sought peace and solitude in the marshy reed beds of the lake.  Those same reed beds are an essential element of this week’s story.

My call to arms results from an event which began back in the summer of 2010.  The coming together of students of the Prince’s (of Wales) Foundation for Building Community at a summer school at Ty Mawr resulted in the construction of a rather fine bandstand at the National Botanic Gardens of Wales.  The following year, summer 2011, the students again assembled here and this time they set about designing a rather fine building, of oak and thatch, set around with stone.  It has finally been installed.  The grand official opening of this edifice is imminent, hence the urgency of the repairs.

Dry stone wall repair at Ty Mawr

The other 'urgent' repair, the field is a very important part of the events !

The rebuilding takes little time, it is the constant journeys to the stone pile and picking and choosing suitable stones, throwing them into the dumper and driving back around.  Mind you, the ride along the driveway with its view out over the lake is not to be rushed…

Repaired wall

Old Red Sandstone takes some beating in my view, it is the perfect blend of colour and shape.

The cart horse wash I will carry over until the next post – it has been an extended project !

However, the reason for all this activity is worth reporting on.  It is not often I am left speechless when confronted with a ‘new build’.  This is different. oh yes, believe me, you will want to go see this for yourself.

The reed beds I mentioned earlier are a highly important habitat area for birds.  Indeed the whole lake is a top site for all manner of birds, water and land.  The reeds are particularly valuable as nesting and feeding areas for many species of smaller birds, especially Warblers and Buntings.  The wide variety of ducks and geese on the water as well as large numbers of swans and waders, make the shores of the lake a mecca for ‘Twitchers’, those dedicated folk who love to spend hours gazing into optics to spot and catalogue all the birds they see.  To assist them various benches and car-parks have been provided around the lake as well as marked footpaths and ‘spotting’  places.

Llangorse lake reed beds

The reed beds are huge and important; the near beds which are above the low water mark have been recently cut to encourage new growth.

The summer school of 2011 saw the multi-national participants design and pre-fabricate a new bird-hide.  The Prince’s Foundation is all about using traditional skills and materials in a modern application, this year they exceeded even His demanding standards.  Built of green oak and roofed with thatch and shingles and set about with a dry stone walled ramp to allow disabled access, the new hide replaced an aged ‘garden shed’ type structure on the edge of the reed beds on the Llangasty side of the lake.

This sign on the lake-side footpath means it's hard to miss the hide. A walk that will well reward you. Start at the common on the east side of the lake near Llangorse village and walk anti-clockwise or park near the Llangasty church and walk with the lake on your right, both lead to the hide.

The hide looks out over the reed beds and is well equipped with slit hatches and benches.  I called by one lunch time (I always walk to the lake during my break when I’m working at Ty Mawr) and was met with a sincere ‘ssshhh’ as I clattered the beautiful hand-made iron latch and entered.  Several ‘Twitchers’ were squatting behind their high-tec optics, gazing out over the reeds and the blue water beyond.  As I returned to my lime-mortar and stones I pondered what it must be like to be able to spend long hours watching for birds………… much as I like birds…….. would I ?  “A dull life this, if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare”.

I will let the photographs speak to you.

The new hide at Llangorse lake

The hide hidden. It sits in its environment at one in design and materials with this ancient place.

Thatched bird hide at Llangorse lake

The hide is approached by this long boarded ramp, it looks out over the ancient waterway of 'Brecon Mara' or Llyn Syfyddyn .

New bird hide at Llangorse.

It stands tall, looking out over the reed beds to the water beyond, this is one bird hide I would happily spend all day in.

Built by students of the Prince's Trust, the new bird hide at Llangasty, Llangorse lake.

Looking from the old medieval dock that served the Manor, the hide stands proud on its oak stilts.

The hide gives a good view out over the reed beds.

The view from inside the hide out over the reeds and the lake.

Stone frames the ramp to the bird hide at Llangasty, Llangorse lake.

The dry stone walls that frame the ramp up to the new hide at Llangasty Talyllyn.

Ramp of stone leading to a fine oak bird hide on the shores of Llangorse lake.

The long stone ramp leads slowly up to the oak and thatch of the most amazing bird hide now gracing the shores of Llangorse Lake.


Inside of a new bird hide at Llangasty

The inside is superb, timber and iron work set below a fine birdscape in glass.

There is no doubt that the workmanship and design is outstanding, the whole hide is a marvellous example of modern use of traditional materials and skills.  It is without doubt, a Bird Hide fit for a King.  Which is just as well, as a future King arrived to inspect it and stated how very very impressed he was.

Official opening of the Llangasty Talyllyn bird hide by HRH Prince Charles.

HRH The Prince of Wales officially opens the bird hide at Llangasty Talyllyn built by students of his Foundation for Building Community.

The official opening of the Llangasty Bird Hide by the Prince of Wales. March 2nd 2012

Every official opening must have a curtained stone - except this one wasn't quite ready so a plastic board had to substitute !

The visit of The Prince of Wales is always cause for great celebration, especially the day after St. David’s Day !  In these troubled times it comes with all the necessary security precautions and armed police escorts from the local force and the Royal Protection Officers.  We all had to be inside the security cordon  a good hour and a half prior to the expected arrival.  A police cordon was in place once He arrived.  A short time after, as He made the walk to the bird hide, two little ladies came running out of the house and began to run up the long drive.  The sandwiches and quiche for the luncheon were in a little van, with two more little Welsh ladies and they had been refused permission to pass the security cordon !!  Luckily an old friend of mine and a serving Officer had a radio and he managed to call up to the check point to tell them to let the sandwich ladies through.  Lunch was duly served.  A short time after, whilst my old friend and I stood at the bottom of the drive chatting about times past, an old bone-shaker of a van came bouncing and rattling down the long drive. “Where are you going ?”, asked the Policeman, “We want to buy some lime”, said the confused occupants (one of whom wore a hoody and was clearly a definite security threat !!).  “How did you get here?” asked the Bobby, “We came up the road”.  They came ‘up’ the road that runs along the back of the Manor,  the Police cordon was ‘down’ the road – where the sandwiches came from…….. anybody use a map these days !?

By the time HRH was leaving, I was back in the cart horse wash building my little lime-mortared wall. As he came alongside – a matter of 2 metres – I stood and bowed my head, he gave a big smile and waved at me.  As the other invited guests left, in their various ‘posh’ vehicles, few if any glanced my way, none acknowledged me with smile, nod or wave.  Such is life, such is the road-show of Royalty,  such is the varied and charmed life of Welshwaller.  Catch you soon, Spring is around the corner….

Ty Mawr,  Llangasty

The great Granaries of Ty Mawr, built in the style of the Normandy Farms. Not a bad place to spend a couple of days and catch the odd Prince walking by....


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