Goodbye and Good Riddance 2012 !

It’s gone, hooray !!  Surely the next 12 months cannot be like the last !? I am, of course, not referring to the NICE parts of my year, for there were many, no, I am referring to the damnable weather.

I realise looking back over the blog posts from 2012 that I have made an inordinate amount of reference to said climatic influence on the theory and practise of Welshwaller.  Now I am proven to have been correct all along, it was the WETTEST year – though apparently not for Wales… that’s no surprise really – for several hundred years.  Of course it was, I knew it was, I kept telling you all that it was and indeed now we all know it was !!

Tywi in flood at Llangadog bridge.

Visiting my old home of Llangadog required me to cross a huge flood, I mean, I waded through it.

As if to reinforce exactly how much rain we have endured, the last couple of weeks of the year brought forth the deluge to end all deluges.  It rained before Christmas, during Christmas and afterwards.  I think Christmas day was a non-stop wet event and for days afterwards it did not stop. (What foresight on the part of TV to broadcast Joanna Lumleys’ pursuit of Noah’s Ark !)

I returned to my old village of Llangadog in Carmarthenshire for the festivities, a place which I know only too well has its fair share of flood issues during such heavy rainfall.  The road from Llandovery is apt to flood at the drop of a hat (or a few inches) as the Bran tries in vain to empty into the Tywi.  The small rivers which drain out of the Eppynt and Mynydd Myddfai areas and the hills to the north of Llandovery often struggle to enter the main river.  The large reservoir of Llyn Brianne has a controlling influence on the flow of the Tywi but that influence is far from benign.  It provides a large amount of water for the urban areas of Swansea and to get there it uses the course of the river as far as another of the significant places in my past, Nantgaredig, from whence it is pumped into a large pipe and onward to the City.  The problem comes when that huge reservoir gets too full – how does that happen !? – and surreptitiously, large volumes of water are released into the river.  No-one knows for sure if and when that will occur (it is never admitted by the water board) but sudden surges of  water at times when little or no rain has fallen is a bit of a give-away.  It causes local fisherman some headaches as such a surge gets the salmon running without them knowing !

Such a heavy flow in the main river means that the dozen or so important tributaries such as the Gwydderig and Bran, the two Dulas’ and the Sawdde  are held back and cannot empty, thus the dozens of even smaller nants / brooks which drain into those are also held back.  The result is flooding right up into the foothills, and this tends to manifest itself in waterlogged fields and inundated roads.  Such was the case on the last days of the year.  The Tywi ran brown and fierc-some and covered large areas of its flood-plain downstream from Llandovery.  The deluge which had descended on the Carmarthenshire Fans ran swiftly into the Sawdde and quickly emptied into the main river just downstream from the main crossing of the Tywi at Llangadog.  The force of the Sawdde overcomes the main river and its vast volume slows and spills onto the surrounding land and one of the results is that the road into the village from the A40 becomes blocked.

Road flooding in Dec 2012

The main road into Llangadog from the A40 at the (old) creamery is a casualty in heavy floods.

I suspected as much as I drove down the course of the Bran which rises near the Sugar Loaf mountain between Llandovery and Llanwyrtd, it too was menacing.  The ‘Llwyn Jack’ bridge over the Bran was ‘out’ and the main A40 south to Llangadog had several bad flood spots.  I left my little Ford on the west side of the river and waded through the flood past the old creamery of Llangadog (now a Pet Food plant) which once employed several hundred locals and serviced the dairy farms of the valley.  The water was over the tops of my Wellington boots almost as soon as I entered the water but it was passable, until that is a large truck came through pushing a bow wave which reached my waist !  Fortunately my rather awesome ‘Dry’sabone’ full length wax rain coat protected me but the driver got my meaning as he passed by…

Walking on water... not quite

The water came over my boots almost immediately… thank goodness for my long mac.

Even my little lane which leads to the village finally gave in and became a small lake, the fields on each side being unable to absorb one more drop of the incessant downpour.  It becomes dangerous to attempt to drive through these ‘not-very-deep’ floods as modern engines, especially turbo-diesel, have very low air intakes to allow cool air to be rammed into them as the vehicle speeds forward.  Such low intakes gulp water as soon as an opportunity presents itself and the result is becoming a common experience for many inexperienced, or plain silly, drivers.  Several were pulled out of the Llangadog water, a rather expensive Audi and an even more expensive Volvo 4 x 4 which the driver thought would easily get through…

Flooded lane in Beulah

A little flood but one that could catch the unwary.

The weather became ‘climate’ when it affected the day to day lives of people, when finally individuals came face to face with the effects of the changes we have wrought on the natural cycle of sun, wind and rain.  I’ve mentioned it often this past year or so, for those of us who work outdoors it is a meaningful and influential fact of life.  Can we dare hope the coming year will be different, more conducive to building walls in the uplands of Wales !??  Who knows.

Even so, looking back over the past 12 months – the real purpose of this particular post – all I see is highlights, events, happenings, new and valuable encounters and experiences.  We can always depend on our ‘memory’ to eradicate pain and difficulty and focus on that which made us, albeit for a short time, forget the trials and tribulations and ‘enjoy’ !

Washington D.C.

Sometimes I have to look at photographs to believe I actually stood in those places.

A year ago I was packing for the journey of a life-time, I was heading to the New World to experience a month of touring in that huge and amazing land with my dear Carolinian.  The first week was spent in the magnificent Capital City of that huge country visiting the sites and sights.  The great monuments, the seats of Government, the Library of Congress, the wonderful museums of the Smithsonian and, of course, the Zoo where I finally gazed on that iconic symbol of World Wide Conservation, the Giant Panda.

The week also brought me back together with those wonderful folk I had first met three years earlier when, as a participant in the Wales delegation at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, I spent a month in the very centre, the National Mall, of that great City.

From there I was taken south down the great valley of the Shenandoah and on to the home of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello….. hard to believe now.  I found myself at the Ranger School in Fort Benning all the way down in Georgia.  I woke up in a cabin the the hills of Table Rock and spent some amazing days building a bridge only to then find myself crossing the most amazing bridge in Charleston.  I met the wider family of my host all of whom would feature in my list of all-time awesome folk !

Monticello, home of Jefferson

I still find it hard to believe I stood in Jefferson’s home at Monticello.

I could go on and on about that ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ excursion; I won’t, I’ll just say thank you to all those who made my trip so memorable – “Thanks y’all !”

No sooner had I returned to work than the rain began, I have no memory of being in any other footwear than ‘wellies’, in fact by the end of April I actually was suffering from a form of trench foot !

Much of that time was spent back at one of the all-time favourite sites, the Grafog, at the high end of the Rhiangoll valley above Talgarth.  I may have now finished up there, but I keep my fingers crossed that the economics of farming hold-up for a while yet, sufficient enough to persuade the farmer to undertake a little more wall restoration…. we’ll see !

Rain continued into May and as the departure date for my next adventure loomed I was anticipating a rather soggy holiday.

Ness of Brodgar, Stones of Stenness

I got to see the great monuments on the Ness of Brodgar, the huge Stones of Stenness were also awesome !!

Whilst I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to the U.S. of A. it was not something I had spent a lifetime wishing to see.  Indeed I hardly had time to plan or pack for that trip, so quickly did it come about.  My ‘holiday’ on the other hand was both long in the planning – my dear sister had booked it a year or so earlier – and a lifetime in the longing.  The Scottish Highlands and the Orkneys have long been on my wish list of places to see.  In 2012 I did !

Not only did I get to see the great pre-historic monuments of the Orkneys but I also got to wander in the Highlands for a few days on the way.  That two weeks will remain as one of the great holidays of my life and again I look at the photographs in some disbelief.

From Scara Brae and Maes Howe, from Scapa Flow to the Old Man of Hoy, the places of history assuaged my eyes day in and day out.  Of particular fondness for me was the old farming relics of deserted Crofts with their ancient tools and field systems.  I was fascinated by them and the sad history of the Clearances which drove the smallholders from the land in favour of sheep and shooting.

Crofts on the shoreline of the Naver.

The old crofts on the seashore and estuaries, such as here on the Naver, are relics of a turbulent times which saw tens of thousands driven from the land, some to the coast, many overseas.

Strange that many of those that escaped the hardships which the Clearances multiplied, headed west, to America.  Stranger yet is the heritage of the paternal line of my dear Carolina lady, she is a Brown !

My wanderings through that rugged landscape on my journey to the coast at Scrabster and then to cross the sea to Orkney, was a holiday in itself and one I very much hope to repeat before too long.

My photographs and thoughts of both these fine trips can be read in the relevant posts of January and June 2012.

The ‘summer’ never was, in truth, although a very strange hot and dry spell overcame us for the July week of the Royal Welsh Show, and yet, during my two weeks in a land that is supposedly wetter than even Wales, I saw only one day of rain and that was the last day on Orkney.  Meanwhile Wales in particular and much of England in general was suffering serious flooding and holidaying was no fun for those in tents and caravans.

I continued to work at the mansion here, on the estate on which I live, and the restoration of the Walled Garden advanced greatly, sufficient in fact to allow the planting of ‘cordon’ fruit trees at the end of the year.  A short severe frost caught me out and a slab of concrete I had laid succumbed to damage and will need attention.

Man in a Walled Garden

My good and trusty little helper ‘Dan the Garden Man’ was always on hand to help his crippled ageing mentor…. or something similar.

There has been some serious flooding there too as the torrents pour down from the hillside into the area of the garden and I will again be returning to carry-on the task of giving the great walled garden some future use and dignity.

The only other large project was in the vicinity of  Lower Chapel in the Honddu valley.  I was engaged in rebuilding a retaining wall at the rear garden of an old farm now turned into a very fine house and holiday cottage enterprise.  (www.alltbrainfarm.com) Here too mud was a big issue and lengthened the job considerably but it was eventually completed in time for a planned wedding celebration of one of the daughters.  I was to return, again in mud, in November to rebuild an ancient hedge-bank.  Apparently there is the prospect of a ‘Ha Ha’ in the near future.

Building a wall in the mud.

The red mud of Alltbrain was typical of what the year contained.

The work of building and restoring the dry stone walls of my part of Wales, ably assisted by my two trusty side-kicks, was greatly influenced by the dreadful conditions which prevailed for most of the year.  It came of something of a surprise to me to discover just how detrimental such conditions were to my productivity.  The wall I rebuilt at the Grafog, begun in May prior to my expedition north and completed in June on my return, was a shock.  The first half of the wall took three weeks, struggling and toiling in the clinging mud and the downpour.  The second half, built in the brief sunshine of a June week, showed just how the conditions slowed my productivity.  In one sense it proved that attempting to battle against such conditions is almost uneconomical, especially when the job is an hour’s drive away and a twenty minute walk through sodden fields.

old Red sandstone n red mud

The oldest wall at Grafog forming the boundary of the old, pre 1750s, field system.

The coming year will consist of good and bad times, like every year.  Sitting here in the gloom of the first few days of January, bright sunny days in the open air are inconceivable as is any thought of exciting holidays.  The greatest downside of the 2012 fiasco is the lack of income I was able to generate and that makes the winter a slow hard slog.

I have not, as yet, been able to even think about planning any jaunts in 2013 but ‘hope burns bright in the hearts of men’ when strife abounds !

I continue to be excited by new discoveries made in the ancient landscapes that surround me and to that end I am looking forward to exploring further the valleys around the Llanwrthwl area.  My collection has stabilised, which is to say I have  not accumulated any significant amount of new items.  Two I wish to mention to end this review of the year.

Scottish Flauchter

One of my greatest aquisitions and from one of my greatest holidays, a Scottish Flaughter spade from the Highlands.

The nature of farming in the bleak open moors of the Highlands had a similarity to that which prevailed in upland Wales during the medieval and post-medieval periods.  The use of the ‘breast-plow’ was ubiquitous and similar in design.  I managed to find some examples of the Scottish spade, the flauchter, to go alongside my several Welsh styles that I already have in my collection.

The second was the arrival, after many years, of the Garrat Living Van which I finally brought home to begin its long awaited restoration.  Those two items alone are sufficient to bring a smile to my face and bring some joy into an often wet and cowed Welshwaller.  Watch out for more interesting items, restorations and discoveries. Watch-out for some interesting discoveries in the ancient landscapes which surround me and, God willing, watch out for some more enthralling tales of Dry Stone Walling as Welshwaller plies his trade in the Principality.

Living Van

The Richard Garrat Living Van of the 1920s finally arrived at my little hovel in the hills. Soon it will be restored to its deserved condition, and if things don’t change I may end up LIVING in it !!

Blwyddyn Newydd Dda

Happy New Year to all my readers, many thanks for your support and comments, apparently nearly 24 thousand of you have read me in the last 3 years !!  Now if only you had all paid 20 pence a read !!!

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