Hibernation IS the Future….

It surely must come our way, it is the only sensible evolutionary path for we humans.  If climate and diminishing resources carry on their exponential road and people continue to make less and less use of the active parts of their bodies – I read that scientists are already predicting  human legs will cease to be the motive force they were designed to be – then a sleep-over to avoid winter is what’s needed.

Snow Cockerell

My rooster kept his outrageous squawk going despite having his ‘delicate’ parts in the freezing snow !

After an extended break forced upon me by some serious precipitation, I finally got back to building walls.  A HaHa had been requested by my customers in Pwllgloyw near Brecon.  I called by on the way home from a visit to the Dentist, to ascertain how the intended hedgerow removal and ditch digging was progressing.  In truth I had not expected anything to have been achieved as the rain had been dreadful.  To my surprise it had, in fact, been made ready for my arrival and my host was stunned at my appearance as he was about to (that very moment !) call me.  I was somewhat relieved as I had little work waiting and the ‘hole-in-the-wall’ was already refusing to vomit paper money my way.  “Computer says NO” !

As usual on this site things are never quite as simple as just turning up and building a wall…  A short while before Christmas Miss Carolina and I had undertaken the rebuilding of a retaining wall along a bank at the top of the orchard.  Mud was a real issue and we both struggled to move around.  On that particular job the stone was relatively nearby, about ten paces of clinging red glue.  This time the stone was not near enough to just walk back and fore, it needed to be moved nearer to hand.  Mine-host (as always…..) promised to have the stone in-situ ready for me.  I spent a day and a half with him moving the stone a mere 20 metres or so, it was hard work, we had to load the stone one-by-one into the transport-box of his Massey 35x and then off -load it.  The stones were heavy, they were slippery and the ground was ankle deep mud.  I slept well those nights !

HaHa ditch and Massey 35x

The 35x was the only way to move the stone but it churned the ground and the ditch in which I had to work was wretched !! The ‘pipe’ in the bottom of the ditch is in fact the electricity mains cable coming from the post at the top of the picture – of course it was armoured !!  Of course it wasn’t safe – water and electric !?

There were some really heavy stones which were almost impossible to deal with.  They had to be rolled down into the 4 feet deep ditch which was full of water and claggy mud.  Some of them sunk in so deeply they became glued in place.  There was an added issue which should have moved the decimal point of the estimate, the little matter of the mains electricity cable which had been un-earthed when the hedge had been removed – I should say it WAS known about !

I was standing in water with 240 volts humming past my feet…. and then I had to man-handle the cable into place behind the first course of stones. And yes, I did remember to place yellow warning tape on top of it and again a foot or so above it.  Not that anyone is likely to be re-excavating for a while – not until some while after I may be called upon to honour my life-time guarantee…..

It is true that the brain has the ability to erode memory of pain and discomfort and thus it may not be totally accurate to say that this job was THE most difficult, most disheartening and physically demanding of any I have previously undertaken.  And then some !!!

Mud Walling

She came to Wales to indulge her passion for mud….. say no more. “Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood”.

I found myself getting very demoralised by the constant difficulty of trying to extricate my feet from the mire.  In the time it took to pick up and place a stone on the wall my wellington boots had become gripped in a concrete-like morass.  Normal body physics mean that the centre of gravity, your weight, moves forward over the feet prior to a step being taken.  In other words, you move before your feet which normally follow-on behind with no problem.  When, however, they are stuck, the brain is caught out and the inevitable result is a fall, a fast and headlong plunge toward stones and mud.  The problem is exaggerated tenfold if a heavy stone is being held at waist level, the centre of gravity is moved even further and the fall is that much more sudden and violent.  I hated every moment of every hour I spent in that ditch.

What I realised was how different it can be when the trials and tribulations are shared with another.  When Ms Brown from sunny Carolina was alongside we laughed our way through every trip, every slip, every curse.  Expletives are so much more effective, so much more satisfying,  if heard by someone else !  Sipping coffee and eating a mud encased sandwich is no fun alone but sitting on a stone under a tree having a chat and a joke lightens the day.

Ditch cut for a haha

The HaHa will provide a good open vista from the newly constructed extension, just visible. At just over 4 feet high (1.20 metres) it will prevent the sheep from getting into the garden.

It took me about four long days to build the wall, every one of the days meant slipping and sliding in that red mud.  Luckily the rain held off sufficiently to allow me to complete it and then the big change occurred.

On the final day – Tuesday 14th Jan – I woke to a covering of snow, the temperature had plummeted over night.  The main road was not gritted and was therefore an interesting drive but when I turned up over the Eppynt – with the assumption in my mind that the morning sun would have melted the heavy frost – things took a dramatic turn, for the worse !!

Overnight the hills had been covered in about 4″ of snow, quite a surprise as the forecasters were stressing Friday would be the day when Wales (and much of south-west England) would receive snow.

A modern HaHa

The laugh was on me, the HaHa wall is designed to present an unobstructed view from the French windows out over the pastureland whilst forming a sound stock-proof barrier. What the origin of the term is no-one seems absolutely sure.

I was committed to the journey across the bleak upland moor that forms the military training range.  The problem is made worse by the fact that the people who decide what roads get ‘gritted’ in Powys have forgotten that this road exists.  It almost never gets gritted and certainly not ploughed.  It is only a minor road but it is the major artery for people travelling from the area in which I live to the town of Brecon.  I struggled through virgin snow, which is actually preferable to following on the frozen ice created by earlier drivers.

The other issue and one that is an increasingly significant factor in winter travel, is that the road salt currently used to keep the roads free of ice is impotent once temperatures dip below around minus 5 degrees centigrade.  It does that regularly.

Clearly, that particular Tuesday night caught out the resilient Highways managers.  For once I reached the main Builth Wells to Brecon road which runs through Upper and Lower Chapel – a very busy road for locals and travellers – I was astounded to find it too was snow and ice bound and at least two vehicles were sitting in fields on the outside of sharp bends !

An un-gritted road in Powys, again !

The long pitch of the Garth Bank was a fore-taste of what lay ahead… and the snow hadn’t even arrived yet !!

The weather forecasters were very sure that by Friday 18th a severe snow storm would assail most of Wales, south- west England and the Midlands.  They got it right, it did.  In fact by the Thursday afternoon snow was falling heavily and around 4 inches lay on the frozen ground by the time the main show arrived.  It was the end of walling for two weeks, it was the end of going anywhere for five days or so, it was the start of a great deal of walking and Land Rover driving.

Snow field

I’m getting used to this view out of my back door…

For over a week I could do little, the depth of snow kept increasing daily with more falls.  What amused me was the resilience and versatility of my three bantams.  The roosters have THE loudest squawk which seems to be forthcoming regardless of the time of day or night.  (Don’t ever believe anyone who tells you cockerels crow  at dawn !).  They stand on legs around 4 inches tall and hence their belly and delicate parts were constantly in the snow.  Did it deter them from wandering around ?  Not at all, they just kept on going and took to sitting on my window sill shouting for food.  They were lucky my air-rifle didn’t get pointed in their direction, oh yes, they were very lucky.  Their wanderings also caused me some confusion whilst tracking animals that visited my farmyard and fields each night.  Clearly there was a regular night-time meeting of two foxes, him and her I suspect, as January is the month they get to ‘make-out’ !  A Pole-cat had passed through on several nights and I eventually tracked him to a small hole in the back of my upper barn.  In the back field was a pair of tracks which I am sure belong to Roe deer.  Surprisingly there were no Badger tracks even though they were present along the woodland edge some 30 yards away.  Whilst there were no tracks in the snow to betray her presence, a brief visit into my top barn revealed my usual winter resident was back.  A fine Barn Owl sat on the wall plate of the old building – I had created an entrance especially in the hope of attracting owls when I had to rebuild a section of the rear wall some years ago – she peered threateningly at me and I withdrew.

I noticed the Red Kites and Buzzards circling endlessly overhead for several days, their cries seemingly getting more frantic.  In the end I despatched some local vermin on which they could feed, I cleared two areas of snow and left the carcasses for whichever creature wanted them.  Within a few days I had four foxes feeding, five Kites and several Buzzards gorging on the feathered dead-meat.  I liked the irony, the hunters are normally the hunted in these parts, a perceived threat to the tens of thousands of birds raised and released for the local shoot.  For a short while the ‘shoot’ fed the wildlife, and much appreciated it was.

Living Van in white.

The old Garratt Living Van is not yet covered but she has endured many winters without care or damage but soon she must be housed.

A gradual thaw through the following week slowly opened up roads and allowed normality to return.  By the following Friday the constant day-time thaw followed by night-time freezing, had made the roads and pathways treacherous but that night a massive storm coincided with a rise in temperatures and the heavy rain washed the snow and ice away.  Of course the result was flooding, all throughout the land melt water filled the streams and rivers and the rain added to the accumulation until water was literally running off the land.  It poured out of fields straight onto the roads and driving became a dangerous activity.

Finally some clear sunny weather arrived and the wet land created some interesting spectacles as once again, I headed over the Eppynt to build some wall.

Valley of mist.

Mist sits in the valley, it was more like thick fog when driving in it, caused by temperature inversion. Cold heavy air, high in the atmosphere, traps warmer moist  air at ground level. The sun was not strong enough to move it and the fog remained all day.

I enjoyed my forced leave of absence from the stones and the mud.  I cut fire-wood, fiddled with machinery, read and thought a great deal.  There’s something in me that is quite happy to retreat from the harsh elements, to stay motionless in one place for hour after hour – as long as I have some treats !  Coffee and cakes are too readily consumed, comforting chocolate devoured daily, feet rested and eyes rested !  I could indeed hibernate and not worry a jot about how long it lasted.

Alas, money needs to be earned and jobs need to be attacked.  I suspect forced hibernation is not far away for me, for many.   There’s just the hint that things out there are slowly getting worse.  Agriculture is beginning to worry about falling livestock prices and the ever increasing price of feed, fertilizer and fuel.  The countryside has yet to feel the full cold wind of recession but I think it’s coming and coming fast.

For now Welshwaller is venturing out as little as possible….

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