“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.”

Someone mentioned to me that some crazy happening way out in space was affecting my star sign, apparently it was going to cause all kinds of bad things to happen in my little corner of the world. “Really ?”, I remarked as I concealed a somewhat sceptical grin.  But ‘oh boy’ was it ever true.  Various terms come to mind, “it never rains but it pours” seems the most appropriate, “s…. happens” might be another.  For a couple of weeks, since a few days before my birthday in fact, all sorts of calamities have befallen poor old Welshwaller.  Mainly it involves betrayal, insults, humiliation; some received, some given out.  All of it is resulting in fairly major changes to life here in the tranquility of ‘Beulah land’, where Heaven has been pretty much invisible of late.  Much anger and hostility has been the result and some long-time friendships and relationships are gone forever.  Much of it I can’t relate just yet, processes need to be gone through and it will likely be some time before the final result is known but “A change is gonna come” !

When such things land in the breakfast bowl it’s best, in my experience, to take to the hills.  Go build a wall, it is a guaranteed way of dissipating negative feelings and it certainly burns up energy, negative or positive.  If I’m not in the mood for stone moving (then you know things are bad !) just wandering looking at some historic landscape usually does the trick.  In extreme situations I generally find attacking the chaos of my yard or one of the sheds is the best medicine.  If I tell you the scrap-man has called twice these last few days and taken away masses of items I once considered precious artefacts awaiting restoration, you’ll get the picture.  But the result is so uplifting, for one thing I can now turn my vehicle without having to shunt back and forth ten times and risk bumping into a solid cast iron chaff cutter or some such.  “It’s an ill wind…..”, as the saying goes.  For several days I have not ventured out nor spoken to anyone, I have just put in a nine hour shift, and ‘shift’ is the operative word.   I don’t know where my energy has come from but I have been heaving and hauling, cutting and stacking, smashing and chucking and suddenly there is SPACE !  I’ve even managed to finish painting the windows and door, a job I started some months ago.  I realise that inside I am absolutely raging and to release the pressure I am engaging in a maniacal attack on mess rather than people, which is what I really want to do !

Unfortunately my time for avoiding the face to face confrontations that are an inevitable consequence of those stellar inputs is fast running out.  Sooner now, rather than later, people who I would prefer never to have to see or talk to again will have to be  dealt with.  In the meantime some little respite was called for and off I took myself for some stones and some landscape and some pleasant people.

Orthostat wall

These great slabs – orthostats – line one of the old track-ways that traverse the Marteg valley. Very ancient indeed.

A short journey up the Wye valley brought me to the peaceful and scenic nature reserve at the Gilfach, once a traditional upland farm but now owned by the Radnor Wildlife Trust and operated as their visitor centre.  The longhouse sits snuggly in the shade of a north facing hillside looking out over the valley of the river Marteg in its final rocky cascade to the Wye.   Woodland walks along the slopes of the heather covered hill are an absolute tonic and the September sunshine still had the birds singing.  I wandered and pondered, as is my wont, spending time examining the fascinating orthostat walls that align old trackways.  These barriers of huge stone slabs are a distinct feature of the valley and trying to evaluate when they may have been erected in that situation takes up an inordinate amount of my time when I visit the area.

Stone faced bank at car-park

The low stone faced banks which separate the car park from the road have become well colonised after just two summers.

I was pleased to see that the car-park at the entrance to the valley, Pont Marteg (just off the main A470)  which I was involved in constructing some two and a half years ago, has become well established and well used.  The stone faced banks which define the parking lot have become colonised with all manner of plants and grasses, even a tall Great Mulleen had found a home on the bank furthest from the road.  The grass has now rooted well into the soil and has locked the stones in place and the whole area looks to have been in existence for millenia !

I was summoned to that place to have a discussion with the Wildlife Trust’s project officer but, much to my surprise, found myself involved in a larger meeting of Trust staff and committee members and those intrepid volunteers who did most of the work on the car-park.  The discussions were concerning some new proposals for the car-park and how it should welcome visitors and offer a better information and interpretation facility.  In the assembled group were two professionals whom I have known, in various guises, for twenty five years or so.  They are so knowledgeable in the area of bio-diversity, habitat management and species specific identification and ecology that I am constantly astounded whilst in their presence.  For one thing they are old enough to now be forgetful but their ‘hard drives’ show no signs of being either full or malfunctioning !  Now, where was I …. Oh yes.  Nice people.

Lift up your eyes to the hills to lift your spirits - works every time !

Lift up your eyes to the hills to lift your spirits – works every time !

It was SO refreshing to spend some hours in the company of people who really, really care about our environment, who understand the interconnectivity of it all and who do something about it at every opportunity.  To sit and talk with professionals and dedicated amateurs who give freely of their time and their knowledge to promote and enhance good practise in farming and countryside management was such a pleasant way to spend a few hours.  It was such an extreme alternative to the desecration of habitat and countryside that surrounds me daily.

As if to counter that no good solar wind I then immersed myself in two days of interaction with yet more ‘nice people’; this time they were attending a Dry Stone Walling course at Ty Gwyn Farm (www.tygwynfarm.co.uk) in Llandrindod Wells.  The one thing that can be guaranteed about folk who give up a weekend – and spend their hard earned money – to travel some distance, albeit to a particularly special place, to learn the skills involved in building a wall, is that they will be enthusiastic and pleasant.

DSCF4103The weather was as bright and sunny as a September day can be.  Six intrepid students travelled from Bath, Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan.  It can be slightly worrying, as the tutor, when some of the participants had the course presented to them as a birthday present – one even had it as a present for last year !  If they had requested it that’s not too worrying but when it is a surprise ….

If a picture says a thousand words, they had a good time !

The rebuilt wall blends in well with the old and the builders are happy !

The rebuilt wall blends in well with the old and the builders are happy !

The wall we were repairing is an enclosure some two hundred years old and is built with some particularly difficult stone in terms of shape and size – no shape and no size !  It presents a difficulty for the student and the tutor but I generally take the view that it is better to learn on difficult stone than nice easy flat, evenly sized sandstones. If they can build with that stone they should be quite capable of building with some ‘nicer’ stone.

There’s nothing better to counter the sourness of ‘not nice people’ than to spend a day with really, really super folk who have no reason  to judge me other than in my ability to teach them how to build a dry stone wall.  Hooray !!  And now it’s home to watch some Rugby !!  Apparently there’s a Welsh encounter to endure …

1st World War, September 1915:

Sunday Sept. 19th.  March past General.  Afterwards practise attack in fields.

20th.  Practise attack.  Bath at Acheux.  Went to Follies at night.

21st.  Working party, all okay, near Forignyville (?)

22nd.  Relieved AH in Guard trench.  Fire dug-out

23rd.  Easy day in Forniche (?). I put Pioneer to clean trenches.  Much rain.

24th.  Easy time in trenches.  Saw 22 aeroplanes ! Ours.

25th.  Easy time in trenches.  We had a good time in trenches, good dugout with fire,

26th.   In trenches.

27th.  In trenches.  Easy day.

28th.  Easy day in trenches.  Plenty of rain.

29th.  Relieved, marched through Colincampe (?) to V (?) *

30th.  Easy day in trenches.  German airship knocked down near Varennes.  Changed billet.

  • It is difficult to read the town names which Uncle Dick writes in his diary, partly, I suspect, because his own spelling of the French names inaccurate.
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