“Daffodils that come before the swallow dares and take the winds of March with beauty…”

At last ! At last the wild winter of rain and wind has passed and AT LAST my phone line has been finally put back into service.

The onset of spring may be still some-way off, despite my daffodils raising their nationalistic heads.  Although I have finally dumped the wellies and even peeled off two layers of clothing – the thermal underwear has definitely been shelved – there is still the likelihood of a further spell of wet and cold weather.  After all, was it not this time last year that heavy snow spelled calamity in the Welsh uplands with the death of hundreds of new-born lambs.  I’m not dwelling on that just now, no, I am enjoying being able to work without slipping and sticking in mud !

So, back to the day job and back to writing.  Just to close the saga of my absent telecommunications, it was a three month battle to either speak to or get action which might fix the  problem.  To cut a very long story short, I spent 23 hours on the telephone (generally those of neighbours and friends) made up of 14 separate attempts to connect to the faults department, or to complain, 8 of which resulted in success (after an average of 1 hour and 20 minutes of waiting).  I was promised on four occasions that an engineer would call at a specified time on a precise day, usually between the hours of 8 am and 1 pm or 5 pm.  Those promises required my being at home which in turn meant a day of lost income.  No-one ever turned up and on each occasion I then had to go all through the calling and waiting again.  Once-upon-a-time an engineer did arrive but was unable to locate the fault in the two hours he was allowed.  He promised to ensure that the ‘broadband’ engineers followed up.  Nothing happened of course.  Eventually he came back, 3 weeks later, and confessed that he knew precisely where the fault was – between a post 19 metres from my connection box and the box itself BUT he was not allowed to climb that post as it had not received a safety check since 1987 – it was supposed to have been checked every 12 years, signified by a metal tag nailed to the post.  We agreed that my scaffold tower would solve the problem and he duly replaced the length of wire, badly chewed by pesky grey squirrels !

I now face being cut-off as I am refusing to pay an apparent bill for line rental since January.  I pointed out that as I had no connection since December 18th it was hardly credible that I owed anything !!  We’ll see, I may not get to the end of this post !!  The phone has already been cut-off, strange as it’s usually the broadband that goes first.  I spent another 2 hours trying to get through to and (after 45 mins) speaking to five different Indian gentlemen only to be put on hold for 25 minutes and eventually arriving at Technical Help – apparently Billing goes home at 8pm and so I was just sent to anyone !!  I did find out that BT no longer have a complaints department as it was just too busy … Why do they still exist !!??

Back to the Day Job.

For nigh on two months not a stone was placed upon another.  This year is already promising to be a busy one with a large rebuild of an old Drover’s enclosure and a sheepfold awaiting attention as part of the new Glastir Advanced farming scheme.  A myriad of small jobs await also, many as a result of the horrendous weather which caused several sections of walls to collapse.  Thus far I have built one large cheek-end and repaired some small collapses.

A rebuilt cheekend.

A sunny Saturday in March and a 6 hour task to rebuild a large cheek-end which had been down for several years. It is of Old Red Sandstone and is on the western edge of the Epynt above the main trunk road from Brecon to Llandovery.

The cheek-end (or ‘wall end’) was done for a farmer in the west of the county of Brecon, in fact I think his land is the border between Breconshire and Carmarthenshire.  Actually I think of them, him and his dear wife, as more Carmarthen than Brecks.  They are first language Welsh speakers and have a long family history in the area.  The farm is called Crugybwbach, which is generally taken to mean the ‘rock of the scarecrow’ (and should therefore be craig y bwbach as crug means heather but these terms often get mixed up and as there are rocks all around the place …) but in reality is more likely to mean the rocky place where the ‘little people’, the Goblins, live. Spooky ! If I were a Goblin I think heather would make a more comfortable bed than rocks.

The farmer is one of life’s amazing characters, full of stories – in response to me chiding him for being ‘tight’, that is always moaning about having to pay me ! I likened him to folk in an expression another friend of mine, John the Rocks (he is a geologist of some repute!), uses about folk from Cardiganshire, “they sell their kittens” (i.e. they are mean !!). Pritch explained that he came from ancestors who were known to draw water from the well to scald the pig carcass and return the unused water to the well afterwards … Enough said, well except to say he was very pleased with the job and did pay me without grumble !!  But then, he is having a significant birthday this year…

The main activity has been to commence THE major job of 2014 back at a farm on the Rhogo near Howey and Llandrindod Wells.  The first task is a number of collapses on a very old and very large boundary wall which divides two farms and forms one side of an ancient roadway.  The main wall is over 6ft/2mtrs tall and inordinately wide which makes for a hard day’s work.  Hundreds of buckets-full of hearting stone has to be lifted and tipped into the wall and then packed tightly.  The stone is a mixture of large field clearance type boulders of dolerite and some slabbed sandstone.  Unsurprisingly I quickly ran short of stone and await a time slot in the farmer’s hectic schedule of feeding livestock and lambing wherein he can bring me more.

Collapsed wall in Radnorshire

The collapsed sections have been down a while and the father of my client told me he never ever thought he’d see the walls put back up  but up they are going, slowly and surely.

When I first arrived on site the ground was absolutely glutinous, claggy clinging mud that made movement difficult and dangerous.  Matters were not helped by a nearby sheep-feeding cratch but within a week of the sun appearing the ground has dried out amazingly and it is an altogether ‘nice’ place to be.  Not least as it is an area I know increasingly well and is the venue for my Walking Through History programme run in conjunction with my colleagues at nearby Ty Gwyn farm (www.tygwynfarm.co.uk).  However I had not had the opportunity to explore and examine this particular section of the hill before and have been exceedingly excited by what I have discovered.

Bronze-Age Cist

Not ten metres from my wall stands this amazing ‘cist’, a Bronze Age burial chamber.

I have been exploring and recording the well preserved Iron-Age landscape in the vicinity of Castle Bank and the farm on which I am working.  The defended enclosure of Castle Bank is recorded as being of late Bronze or early Iron Age and thus it was fairly certain that relics of the earlier period would be in evidence somewhere.  I had not, however, expected to stumble upon it quite so dramatically or that it would be so prestigious.

The farmer had mentioned to me that there was an interesting burial chamber in the field adjacent to his, the other side of the wall in fact.  I had scoured the Radnorshire records to see if there was anything listed in the area.  Nothing was showing on either the Clwyd and Powys (CPAT) Historic Environment Record (HER) nor the Archwilio site of the Royal Commission (RCAHMW).  Indeed a full survey of the Radnorsire Prehistoric funerary and ritual monuments which was completed in 2006, does not mention any such sites in the area (see Nigel Jones in Radnor Society Transactions, 2004).  However, the farmer recalls that many years ago ‘someone’ came from one of the organisations to do with ‘Archaeology’ and stated there was such a grave (though erroneously he thought it was said to be Mesolithic – in my view the most likely ‘culprit’ would have been someone from the National Museum of Wales, a body famous for losing and/or not recording gathered information; at least not in any place the public can find it !!).  It is quite astonishing the number of times I get told a similar tale, that something was indeed identified by ‘someone’, many years ago but I am never able to find any record.

Burial cist on Rogo hill

The wall I am repairing can be seen in the background, a matter of metres away from this relic of 4 thousand years ago.

The cist is now exposed whereas at one time it would most probably have been surrounded by a large stone revetment and covered in a mound of earth.  Indeed what may well be the remains of the stone curb which surrounded the burial cairn can be seen on the eastern side.

It is an altogether intriguing site.  For one thing the position of the chamber is not characteristic of Bronze Age funerary cairns.  Whereas the major Neolithic chambered tombs, the Cotswold/Severn type which abound in the Llangorse area for instance, are generally set just below the summit or skyline thus visible only from below and relatively close-by, Bronze Age cairns are generally on a ridge-line or summit which make them visible from some distance (notwithstanding the density of forest cover at that time).  In Radnorshire however, there are a number of sites which occur in the valley bottom but this site is in neither of those more common locations.  An examination of the area around the cist shows several other likely burial mounds and all are set in a small west facing enclave below the surrounding hills and hidden from the valleys below.  Indeed the whole site, approximately 15 acres or thereabouts, is sufficiently well hidden as to be ‘secluded’.

Stone wall of prehistoric origin

The size of the stones in this ‘wall’ and its proximity to the burial chamber suggest it may be the remnants of the original revetment which surrounded the mound.

The remnant walling which exists at several locations around the site has a characteristic ‘prehistoric feel’ about it; by which I mean that the stones, all of which are placed in situ and not naturally occurring, are so massive and stupidly irregular as to be classically that which are found in pre-Roman structures, such as the Dolmens of Pembrokeshire and Glamorgan.

Of course this little parcel of possible Bronze Age settlement is a mere half mile from the field systems and defended enclosure of the later Iron Age site at Castle Bank, a major Dinas in the area.  I’m sure you can imagine just how long my lunch breaks are with this little discovery t’other side of the wall !

Probable mound of Bronze Age origin.

Another likely site for a burial mound lies in the next field on a more prominent hill-top and is an enticing suggestion of a wider settlement.

When I first became seriously interested in all this ‘Landscape Archaeology stuff’ (as a friend so aptly calls it) I genuinely assumed there was nothing left to be discovered but here is a perfect example of what lies out there just waiting for someone to ‘see’ it.  The problem is of course that geology and geomorphology leave stones in places which hint at  ‘man’s influence’ and it is easy to get caught up in the euphoria of discovery when in reality there’s nowt there.  In this area for instance the soft Ordivician shales which underlie the fertile farm land and create the gentler rounded hill-tops are intruded by harder igneous rocks and dolerite which do not erode so easily and can create the exposed stone cairns on the more prominent hillocks.  I must be wary; what I need is someone who knows a whole lot more about the subject to come and opinion on the matter !

Meanwhile, as I await the arrival of hundreds of lambs which is altogether consuming every waking (and many sleeping) hours of my host, preventing any transportation of stone to my repairs, I am progressing with another wall, this time of sandstone and partly a retaining wall.  The mound which the wall surrounds is another element to ponder…

Whilst I was laid up waiting for ‘winter’ to blow through I sought some solace on a day out with an old friend at the Malvern Tractor show.  It was some years since I visited the major ‘anorak’ event for vintage tractor enthusiasts and thought it would be a good break from the monotony of bad weather.  An early morning start saw us arrive at the Three Counties Showground on the outskirts of the Worcester spa town of Malvern.  The first problem was the car-park field, it was like a paddy-field with water oozing from under the tyres as we edged our 4 x 4 across the grass.

Massey Ferguson 3 cylinder 35 at the Malvern Tractor World show

My travelling companion, the irrepressible Mr Smith, Radnorshire’s finest tractor mechanic and diesel engine guru, admires a MF35 3 cyl knowing full well he will be causing green eyes in an overseas tractor nut !

The major attraction on the Saturday is a huge auction, and I mean HUGE !  Run over three sites simultaneously – hence useless if you are interested in lots in more than one section – the auction sees literally hundreds of tractors, thousands of odds and ends all farm related and a large selection of smaller items such as hand tools and literature relating to the collecting and restoration of such items.  I used to have the patience for auctions, I used to be able to stand for hour on end awaiting the lot I was after, generally to then  lose it to a higher bidder.  No more, those days are long gone, I have neither patience nor enthusiasm to be pushed and jostled by a seething mass of crazed machinery nuts.  We walked on past and arrived at the large indoor display arenas in which were arrayed hundreds of pristine restored tractors.  Again I found my patience had drained away and I was no longer as enthusiastic to peruse the long lines of machinery and side-step hundreds of other promenaders.  Clearly my long standing assertion that “I’m not really into tractors” is  true after all.  Only one or two items caught my eye, including a rather nice line-up of early Land Rovers.  I wasn’t in a position to purchase some items I badly need to complete the restoration of my own Massey Ferguson 35, like a complete new bonnet unit, but I did get chance to examine the stock of a dozen or so suppliers of those items and found some good prices for future reference.  Sadly, as no work had been possible for such a long time, I was not able to make a grab at a rather excellent ‘show offer’ for a bonnet unit at nearly half the normal price !

FE35 at Malvern

This rather over-done FE35 was worth a photo I thought. Whilst it would not be my choice it is fair to say the restoration was immaculate and had produced a machine that could quite easily be a mode of personal transport at the beach or down-town Llandrindod Wells.

Of course there were a number of old friends to chat with, a large bus load of folk had come from Llandovery and the wives had gone off to a Craft Fair next door.  It was something of a shock to realise just how long it had been since I last attended the Tractor World show and even more of a shock to realise just how long I had been going to the show all told – was I really that young ?!  I suspect it may be a long while yet until I visit again but it served the purpose of lifting the spirits of both of us and for me it sent me homeward enthused to get into the barn and begin the task of running up the engines of those tractors that languish therein and which, apparently, I’m not really interested in …

TE20 half track

Another that did catch my eye, a Grey Fergie tractor fitted with a track system.

Apart from finally being able to return to the ‘day job’ and giving some lectures and talks there is not much else to report from the land and life of Welshwaller;  Spring is not far off, another week sees the clocks go forward – or is it back ? I never can tell – and soon the Ides of March give way to April, will it be rain or snow, is it too much to hope that a late Easter will see the sun shining?  If today is anything to go by those thermals will be coming out of the drawer pretty quickly.  Onward and upward and all else being equal, which it generally is not, I may be able to report again from this green and pleasant land where hundreds of lambs are already gambolling along field edges; or BT may well sever my server – I’m on a mission and there may well be casualties !

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