Marchon marchon, All hearts resolv’d on victory or death.

The English were quietly but efficiently put to the sword, our Celtic cousins were both trampled into the mire and now, once the Roman armies, the Azure, are despatched this weekend – no offence but I can’t see any other result…. – the sound of La Marsellaise will resound around the Millenium stadium and, no doubt, the odd live Cockerel will crow arrogantly as it struts around the pitch prior to the commencement  of the finale, the re-run of many similar Grand Slam deciders…. except now that Les Bleues have drawn with the Irish it is ONLY the Red Dragon that can triumph Bring it on, Cymru am Byth !

I mentioned we could still get snow but it would be unlikely to linger long.  We did, I spent a quiet Sunday in front of a blazing woodburner, chilling-out, ironically that is precisely what I would have done had I ventured out.  I was grateful for the restful day.  I was soon back at the Cart Horse wash in the grand surroundings of Ty Mawr.

Ty Mawr cart horse wash

The old cart horse wash at Ty Mawr is undergoing restoration although, like most of those I encounter, it is planned that from now on it is to be a pond.

To begin with I need to clarify some terminology.  Most farms will have something akin to a pond, and most pools of standing water are defined as ponds.  The ‘cart horse wash’ is rarely identified as such, its original purpose has been long forgotten.  Not all farm ponds were washes but all washes could be described as a pond.  The difference is more than semantic however, it differs in structure, use and management.  Firstly the horse wash will have a mechanism, like a sluice gate or removable stone slab, which allows all water to be drained away.  Indeed as most washes are built to take advantage of a small stream which is impounded by the structure, they were rarely full, as the water was allowed to flow into and out without being impounded.  It was only required to have a depth of water when the draught horses (I use the term ‘cart horse’ as this is what such washes are called by the few authors who identify them in books on farms) were involved in ploughing and other cultivating activities which brought their feathered legs into contact with ‘mud’ !  Anyone who has owned a dog with long hair will know only too well how much mud clings to its feet and lower legs, imagine then how much sticks to the large feet of a cart horse !  It was necessary to remove this clinging soil to avoid skin disorder and infection thus the horses were walked into the wash and the osler would generally hold a long rain and walk around the outer edge of the wash – which often had a stone walkway exactly for this purpose – so as to cause the horse to walk around and wash away the clinging soil.  Naturally the soil would become quite a deep silt after a season’s ploughing and it needed to be removed from the wash.  By ‘pulling the plug’ the water ran out taking the silt with it.  It helped that most washes had a pitched stone bottom and a gently sloping ramp which was also pitched to allow ease of entry and exit.  These features differentiate a ‘pond’ that was intended to be used as a wash from a ordinary pool of water used for drinking and water fowl.  Today most old washes are either dry or permanent ponds, generally due to the   failure of the sluice system.  In addition to the system for enabling water to be fully removed or allowed to run through, washes have an overflow which is mostly built into the walled surround of the wash.  The surrounding ‘U’ shaped wall is another feature that often denotes a wash.

Stone overflow from pond

The overflow and outlet sluice of the Ty Mawr 'cart horse wash'; the upper opening allows excess water to run out when the wash is filled whilst the lower channel is the 'drain'. In this case the 'plug' is a large flagstone.

Where the impounding wall is on the edge of the farm yard it is usual for it to be built as a dry stone wall, as any water which seeps through merely soaks into the surrounding land or field.  Where the wash is surrounded by buildings or is in the centre of a village, the walls are normally built with lime mortar.  Such is the case with the Ty Mawr wash and this last few days I have been using a hydraulic lime mortar which is water-proof, to build up the old walls again.  The intention now is that the water should be permanently impounded to make an attractive pond at the entrance to the old medieval farmstead.  Unfortunately the old pitched stone ramp has long since been removed, mainly because no-one realised this structure was far more than a duck-pond !  It is one of the major problems which has led to the demise of many such important old features – they are just not known about.  Thus, even when the farmstead is listed (usually Grade 2) and hence protected, the old water features are not investigated and are often just assumed to be an un-important pond (though they too need protection) and are not recorded nor included in the survey.  Similar fate has befallen such old features as corn-drying kilns and corbelled pig-sties.  I wish the esteemed archaeological fraternity, who are charged with such surveys prior to any development or restorations, would look more carefully and accurately record these structures.  But then I mustn’t go on  about those ‘professionals’, earlier comments have already seen me alienated from some I thought were friends !

Hydraulic lime used to seal an old pond

The repaired walls set with hydraulic lime mortar. The stone- work is built using as near as possible the pattern of the original.

In my travels around the farms of the Welsh uplands I have listed sixteen such structures most of which are now dilapidated but often they still hold water.  I reported on the restoration of the Penlanole wash some months ago (Mingle Mangle 6/9/11) and that is now holding water quite well.  The floor of the Ty Mawr wash has been damaged by earlier attempts at dredging the silt and that resulted in the clay and stone base becoming porous.  The walled sides were also dubbed-out with puddled clay to the depth at which the water was normally held.  This would generally only be around 2 ft (60cms) and thus to convert the shallow wash to a more substantially deep pond means the walls will also need to be made waterproof, hence either hydraulic lime mortar or clay will need to be used.

Old disused horse wash

This is another wash, at the rear of a large medieval estate near Carreg Cennen castle, it retains the pitched stone ramp and base and clearly the clay lining is still working. The dry stone wall is in need of attention but at the moment the whole thing is a superb natural pond full of wildlife.

It’s strange how life throws up events in little bundles, for years I never encountered a wash then suddenly I get two or three, the same with stone steps and cobbles.  I find it is often the case with going somewhere new(ish) or where I haven’t been for a long while, then suddenly I end up visiting it or passing through several times in quick succession.  I hadn’t been down to the Llangorse area for quite a while and now I have been there several times and have to go again shortly to rebuild the wall which approaches a very unusual little bridge.  More on that soon.

For now I have to get a couple more gaps repaired back at the estate where the first cart horse wash was restored, at Penlanole.  Each year the ravages of winter results in yet another piece of the old wall which surrounds the lambing field, collapsing.  It needs doing urgently as little lambs love to clamber up onto old piles of stone, or indeed any high point, and once they get out they are woefully bad at finding their way back in.  There is no better way of testing whether hedges, fences and walls are stock proof than having a host of gamboling lambs testing them,  Many will be the time in the coming weeks that I will be stopping along some quiet lane somewhere to lift a stranded lamb back over the fence or through the gate so it can re-unite with its mother.  A little lamb doesn’t survive long away from the warmth and protection of mum and it soon gets weak if deprived of milk.  The farmer that keeps his flock around me and along the track I drive has a silly system of leaving four fields open, every morning and every evening there are distressed little creatures who have got separated from mum and are bleating pitifully one side of the fence whilst mum is standing frantic the other, they can’t work out to go along the fence line until they find the gate – which is actually several hundred metres away.  I don’t know why he does it, every year his lambs are, at best, knocked back by the stress and lack of milk and, at worst, die in large numbers by being unable to get back to their mothers at nightfall and die of cold or wet.  Every year I re-unite dozens of his lambs with their mothers, catching young lambs running along a fence line is no fun, I can tell you !

Well, a quiet and somewhat un-exciting week for Welshwaller following the hectic time since my return. At least I feel I have brought y’all up to date and now that March is upon us, now that Wales is on top of the Six Nations rugby, now that daffodils are beginning to slowly open their sleepy heads, I can get on with the many work jobs, restoration jobs and perhaps a little more aquisitioning !  I definitely need to get out and about, my colleague who visits, records and photographs old Welsh ruins has located several interesting dry stone features and some fascinating farming relics at places he has recently visited out in the hills of mid-Wales and I am anxious to go forth and discover them too (have a look at his site at http://www.welshruins.co.uk).  In addition there is nothing I like more than a stroll in the hills after the  long hours of bending and lifting the dozens of tonnes of stone which I inevitably move in a week.  The down-side of the onset of warmer weather is that the damned lawns need cutting and my little garden maintenance jobs come back on stream.  Do you know it’s less than 10 weeks before I travel a long long way north, to the Orkney Islands !  With fuel now at £1.50 a litre I need to work all the hours I can to pay for the trip !!  Maybe I’ll just hitch-hike and give you Welshwaller’s hitch-hiking guide to ‘The Road to the Isles !!  Hwyl fawr !!  C’mon Wales !!!

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