And it came to pass that in those days ….

Winter slips unwillingly into hibernation, hopefully not to be seen or heard of for ten months or so.  Its departure is elongated and just when it seems Spring is abroad another little death throw casts us back into a frozen landscape, often with a dusting of snow.  Saint David’s day arrived with wind and rain to rock the slow rising daffodils and I retreated to the wood stove early.  By the next evening snow had covered the land once again.

Mainly my time has been utilised hauling yet more timber for the huge wood burning furnace that heats the mansion.  I’ve been grateful for that work as it has been much too unpleasant to venture out onto the hills where some wall repairs await.  The last Friday of February finally brought some respite and a warm sun and some high air pressure sent the wind away and allowed me to sally forth and attend to an overdue build.  It is a year since I began the repair of an old wall on the farm which occupied much of last year’s work.  I was unable to complete the gateway until the gate-posts had been knocked in and as that didn’t happen before I moved to the Pool House enclosure, the gateway has been in a somewhat derelict looking state.

It has been a year waiting to be completed; for once not my fault !  I was waiting the arrival of a post !

It has been a year waiting to be completed; for once not my fault ! I was waiting the arrival of a post !

Whilst it was a good 3 square metres and the cheek-end of wall building I had the benefit of some good stone.  Often when a cheek-end is to be rebuilt or built new, there is insufficient corner stones with suitable right-angled edges and length to build a strong and well interlocked end.  Having been aware that a gateway was to be built, and having already been able to build one of the ends – one cheek-end can be built before posts are knocked in but the second needs to be left until the posts are in to ensure the wall is tight to the post – I had set aside a goodly supply of corner stones and large through stones to enable me to complete the job.  Thus I was able to get the cheek-end up and sound in a few hours and was homeward bound before the sun had set.

At last, the gateway is now just waiting the GATE !

At last, the gateway is now just awaiting the GATE !

There was a large section of repair left over on an adjacent wall, left for a whole year also.  The land was far too wet when I began the repair in March of 2014 which made it impractical to bring the required extra stone to the site.  Then, before we knew it, lambing was upon us and then, within the month, I removed to the restoration which was to consume the greater part of the year.  So, there still remains a substantial section to complete and it was whilst viewing that wall from this gateway that my eye was suddenly attracted, or rather was ‘horrified’, by a further problem !

Oh no, another section succumbs to age and weather ...

Oh no, another section succumbs to age and weather …

A large collapse of the 2 metre high boundary wall had occurred.  It is on the same stretch of wall and is a real disappointment.  Firstly, it is a difficult build with large stones, insufficient hearting – hence the need to import extra stone – and an uncomfortable steep bank on which to work.  Secondly, and this is a common issue with part rebuilds and gapping – see my previous post on the great deer-park wall at the Dinas in Llansawel – which is grant aided under some scheme or other.  I have had to deal with the problem for twenty years, or rather the farmers have; the wall is assessed at the start of a funding programme and the gaps or derelict sections are measured at that time.  It is expected that at the end of the scheme the whole wall will be in a state of good repair and, most importantly, stock-proof.  If further collapses occur after the start of the scheme, or as in this case, after the repairs have been completed, then the farmer is faced with either leaving the work and risk being financially penalised at the end of the scheme for not maintaining the wall in good condition, or funding the extra work.  It is a dilemma for both of us.  It is generally not possible to foretell the collapse of sections of wall, indeed it is often the case that sections which look for all the world as if they will collapse imminently remain, often leaning at Tower of Pisa angles, for years.  I had certainly not seen any signs that this particular section was terminal.  Annoyingly I had only just agreed the fee with the farmer for other repairs on a wall some distance out on the hill and that had pretty much used up his funds for wall repairs this year.

It was satisfying to get back to the day job after some weeks away but it did emphasise the loss of fitness; I certainly slept well that night !

Some r & r was justified, or so I reckoned, and so it came to pass that I ventured westward to the end of Wales, the St. David’s peninsula to be exact, just a few days before the celebration of ‘His’ day as the Patron Saint of this little land.  ‘My little helper’ was celebrating his own day, his birthday in fact, and had been hauled off with his family to stay in a rather enchanting castle.  Roch castle has been renovated to the highest standard architecturally and tastefully fitted out as an up-market bed and breakfast enterprise.  Have a look at it !  When I was young and holidaying in the area, the old ruinous Norman Keep dominated the flat surrounding land of the peninsula north west of Haverfordwest, on the road to Newgale and onwards to St. David’s.  It has been an amazing achievement to bring it to its present condition though, in some respects, the historic presence of the old ruin has been removed forever.

We ventured a little way further up the coast to the Saints eponymous city, the smallest in Britain, and spent a short time visiting the medieval cathedral and adjacent Bishop’s Palace.  It is strange to visit a holiday hot-spot in the dead of winter.  In the summer months it is hardly possible to find a parking place nor a seat in a cafe let alone walk on the pavement without having to constantly step into the road to avoid pushchairs and gossiping holiday-makers.  In the chill of February whilst there are still a large number of visitors to the cathedral, the town is closed and few promenaders are encountered.

The restaurant is definitely one of west Wales' top eating houses and the local sea food tops the menu - look out fishies !!

The restaurant is definitely one of west Wales’ top eating houses and the local sea food tops the menu – look out fishies !!

Our lunch venue was the well proclaimed restaurant in the small sea port village of Porthgain.  ‘The Shed’ has earned a reputation for excellent sea-food and did not disappoint.  Situated in an old port-side factory unit which once housed a brick making enterprise,  Indeed the little harbour is dominated by the ruined industrial archaeology of earlier quarry and brick making.  The local dolerite was crushed for road-stone and the slate was crushed to make the dark grey bricks.  It is strange to see a quaint sea-side harbour with large structures right alongside the harbour wall.  I last went there over twenty years ago when the ‘shed’ was used by local shell fisherman.

The old stone buildings and the large brick kilns dominate the little sea-side harbour of  Porthgain

The old stone buildings and the large brick kilns dominate the little sea-side harbour of Porthgain

Lunch in the Shed was very enjoyable and is to be recommended, of course fish was the chosen food and judging by the number of diners it is as popular in the winter as it is in the summer months.  Luckily I was warned that booking was necessary !  A visit to sea-side is a great way to re-generate after a long cold winter.  I can always find something of interest, usually geological and the little cove of Abereiddy provided it this time.  The strata of the sand and soil at the foreshore was fascinating and complex.  Apparently the dark slate shale was taken on a tram road over to the brick works at Porthgain.

These interesting layers at the sea shore in Abereiddy show why the area had such an important stone industry.

These interesting layers at the sea shore in Abereiddy show why the area had such an important stone industry.

An hour standing on the shore on a wintry day is as good a dose of uplifitng therapy as a shot of serotonin !

An hour standing on the shore on a wintry day is as good a dose of uplifitng therapy as a shot of serotonin !

An enjoyable day out ended with a game of Trivial Pursuits at which I did not excel …

The Diary of Great Uncle Dick:

Monday March 1st 1915;  We celebrated St. David’s day at Dispary Farm. Visited Brigit. Plenty of sniping.

2nd.  At Dispary farm, easy day.

3rd.  Drew rations for 2 days. Transport to farm.

4th.  Easy day. Visited Le Bisertin (?) and removed to billets.

5th.  Easy day. Q.M. Smith came back from England.

6th.  Plenty of rain and German shelling.  Our big guns doing a lot of damage.

7th.  C.O. inspection. Stayed in at night.

8th.  Relieved Essex guard at Dispary farm. Plenty of sniping.

9th.  On guard at Dispary farm.  Our artillery shelled the Germans.

10th. On guard at Dispary farm.  Germans shelled near (shrapnell)

11th. Relieved by Essex.  We had 5 killed and 20 wounded.  Captain Taylor killed.

12th. In billets.  Sgt Major acquitted for being drunk.

13th. Taunton made a fool of himself by inspecting rifles.  Arthur and I exchanged rifles, Arthur’s is clean and Taunton said “same dirt”

The more I re-read the diary of my Great Uncle and marry it to other sources which give account of what was actually going on around him, the more I understand how understated his account is and thus how ‘normal’ the whole trench warfare had become (to him).  How easy we become accustomed to every day events regardless of how dreadful they actually are.  How easy does ‘normality’ overcome us.  We are seeing it still in the awful accounts of child abuse and of the lives being experienced by those in Syria and Ukraine.

On a lighter note, I saw a caption post on a friend’s Facebook page the other day which consisted of a rather middle class 1950s mother sitting next to her equally middle class young daughter; “What is ‘normal’ mummy ?”, she asks. “Oh, it’s a setting on the tumble drier”, answers mother ….. Yep, that about sums it up, don’t you think !?


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