Half a year, half a year, half a year onward…

What !!??  June is upon us, the ‘flaming’ month has run me down.  It is always the case that I am surprised at the arrival of the half way mark of the year.  I am always depressed that in 20 days time the sun begins its southward journey, the longest day is only three weeks away !

The Longest Day is also just five days away; the 70th anniversary of the invasion of the north French coast, ‘D day’ or Jour J (jay) as our French friends refer to it. Le Debarquement, the Invasion, is well honoured and commemorated throughout France but especially along the Cote de Nacre, the Normandy coast between Caen, Carentan and northwards along the Cherbourg peninsula to St. Mere Eglise.  Alas this year I will not be present, having been present for the 30th, 40th, 50th and 60th events (and many more in between) circumstances have conspired against me.  An old friend contacted me back in the winter to see if I was thinking of going as he fancied coming along and it did start me thinking.  However I am booked on a Newhaven-Dieppe ferry in early July en-route to Germany.

Whilst visiting with my Carolinian friend a couple of years ago I met the extended family.  Within the large numbers of cousins is one who is married to an ex-U.S. Airforce pilot, who himself flew C130 transport planes which carried American paratroops of both the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions in commemorative drops over the old landing fields of Normandy.  His normal day job was somewhat secret and a colleague of his, a rather attractive Lady pilot of German extract, was an adoptee of the family as she was so far from her own folk.  I met both her and her man, a Colonel pilot in the same high-tech section of the United States Army Air Force.  They are now to be married and I, along with my present house guest, are heading to the Rhineland to join in the celebrations.

Of course this year sees another important commemoration of an earlier war.  August sees the Centenary of the onset of World War One, the Great War as it has subsequently been called.  Like most other families in this country and indeed most other European countries as well as America, I had some close ancestors who fought and died in that awful war.  A great uncle on my mother’s side and another on my father’s side lie in cemeteries in the French countryside.  Hence my decision to ship to Dieppe (a port which itself saw terrible slaughter in the 1942 raid by Canadian troops) which is a short drive from the main battlefields of WW1.  I will seek out the graves of my great uncles and visit some of the memorial sites before, ironically, heading for Germany.

I have visited most of the major battlefields of the 2nd World War which relate to the invasion and the drive through France and Belgium.  The last remaining battle ground which I have yet to visit just happens to be on the route from my planned 1st WW sites to the Rhine.  In December 1944 in a last ditch attempt to turn the course of the war, Hitler launched a winner-take-all surprise attack through the Ardennes forest of south Belgium, a route dismissed by Allied planners as impossible for armour, and hit the Americans hard in the are of the major towns of Malmedy and Bastogne.  Called the ‘Battle of the Bulge’ as the thrust caused a bulge into the Allied lines, the attack took place in the harshness of winter and snow lay thick on the ground causing hardship for both sides.  So, a little stop-over in Bastogne on the way to or from the wedding will complete a rather intense 10 days.  I am already regretting not going to Normandy especially as the TV coverage is in my face every day.  It is for sure that this anniversary will be the last of the decade marking events, there are very few alive today who took part and come the eightieth there’ll be very few indeed.  This year will see me having to be satisfied with a front row seat in front of my TV.

Out on the hill things have been progressing slowly but surely.  I have been rejoined by my overseas little helper and have had the invaluable assistance of my other ‘little helper’ for a few days also.  I need them both, the stones are growing heavier by the day and multiplying before my very eyes.  Luckily the weather has been kind to us and the rough schedule I had pencilled into my diary is not too far out of kilter just yet.

A number of other jobs are looming large and it is likely that some time will have to be devoted to them before too long.  Indeed I visited one of them just today to catch up with the farmer having not seen him since late last year.  It is another Glastir Advanced job involving the restoration of a sheepfold and needs to be completed during the summer months – if indeed the forthcoming months turn out to be a summer !  The area is deep in the heartland of the Cambrian mountains near the flooded valleys of the Elan and Claerwen.  A little Sunday afternoon wander in the close vicinity was rewarded with the discovery of an old ruin which had once been a family home and farmstead though in earlier times it had clearly had a role in the Welsh practise of transhumance.

lluest in mid Wales

The now ruined farmstead that was once a summer dairy in the Cambrian mountains.

The old lluest of Abercaethon sits alone in a small cwm high above the waters of Pen-y-Garreg in the complex of reservoirs that is known as the Elan valley.  It is an interesting place showing hundreds of years of history in its now derelict structures.  The early one roomed house with a large fireplace at one end is joined to a cow-house and later barn.  Sometime in the nineteenth century, perhaps coinciding with the building of the first reservoirs, a more modern house was built next to the old.  The later house shows clearly the use of imported bricks in contrast to the grey sombre stones of the earlier buildings.

Old and derelict firebreast in a derelict homestead in the Cambrian mountains.

The old fireplace of the original homestead  still stands after hundreds of years but the lean looks menacing.

The name implies that the original steading was a summer dairy where cattle were milked and butter and cheese produced before being taken back to the old home, the hendre, which would have been up to a days walk down the valley.  The usual location was at a confluence of two streams where fresh clean water was available and necessary for the operation of the dairy.  It was the practise for some of the younger members of the family to take the cattle up to the summer shieling and live there from May until early October to give the fields of the home farm a chance to grow hay and crops.  The cattle roamed free on the upland pastures watched over by a young ‘goad’ who kept them within a given area which was the rhesfa for that farm.  The building would have been a temporary shelter of small walls and a couple of ‘A’ frames onto which was laid ling or rush as a roof.  Each year repairs would have been necessary to make the shelter waterproof and suitable for the months of occupation.

Later, probably in the early centuries after the Acts of Union (1536), these temporary summer dwellings (hafod and lluest) took on a more permanent role.  Following the change in the inheritance law whereby the old Welsh system of dividing the land of the father amongst his sons – partible inheritance – changed to one of primogeniture, the second sons had to go and find their own farm and the old summer shieling was an obvious solution albeit the creation of a permanent holding with fields being ‘stolen’ or encroached from the open mountain was often not officially sanctioned by the landowner.

The silhouette of the old farmstead  and ancient summer dairy of Abercaethon.

The silhouette of the old farmstead and ancient summer dairy of Abercaethon.

The spring weather has been kind to wallers and nature alike.  The hue of bluebells has covered the hillsides and now the incredible blossom of the ‘May’, the hawthorn trees, which populate the uplands either singly or along the ancient hedgerows.  To my mind this year the blossom has been spectacular and enduring, partly due to the lack of May gales and partly, no doubt, due to the mild winter we experienced.

The song birds are also resplendent around the hillside especially the Cuckoo and the Sky Larks.  The residents of the wall or rather the debris of the old wall, are noticeable by their absence perhaps having retreated to the marshy ground and pond that lies in the bottom of the enclosure.

Rhogo rubble

This pile of debris is an ideal over-wintering site for amphibians and invertebrates but they have had to leg it as I need the stone !

The usual culprits appear every now and then, newts a-plenty, toads and frogs and innumerable creepy-crawlies and care has to be taken when digging out stone.  Because of the large amount of soil that was used in the original building of the wall and the old house, the remains of which I am now working around, the excavation of the stone is a long and tedious operation which results in a slow build.  Thus far the upward rise of the new wall is occurring at around half the normal rate because the stone needs to be ‘won’ from the earth pile.  Luckily the ‘shoot-boom’ or ‘tele-handler’ of the farmer has been a great boon in lifting stone over the wall to the upside which saves me hours of toil.  Nevertheless it is a slow slog with each day seeing little progress, the steepness of slope and the changes in direction – there are four corners to build – make it appear as if not a lot is being achieved but in fact a wall is beginning to appear out of the rubble.  It needs to, the sixth month means I should be half the way through but am yet some way off and now other jobs loom large.  Head down and plod on is the answer, every stone placed on the wall is one less stone to place on the wall !!

For now Welshwaller is ‘in the zone’ with little other than stone and the promise of an ‘end-of-day’ culinary treat as my ‘Southern Chef’ creates another amazing meal using just ‘healthy’ foods !!  Although in reality I’m not sure such consumption aids longevity, it just feels like you live longer …… now, I’m off to find me some chocolate and a cream topped coffee !

Lamb on wall

So, now rebuilt, the wall is supposed to be stockproof ….

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One Response to “Half a year, half a year, half a year onward…”

  1. Stan Archer Says:

    Another very interesting read, whos carring your bag this time, you never ask me. Stan Archer.

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