If at first … tri tri again !

Escaping the troubled waters of sweet Beulah land was a very good idea;  I headed off to a place I had never (shamefully) before visited, the island of Guernsey.  The Channel Islands has been on my bucket ‘to visit’ list for many years but it had never quite made it onto the planning board.  The impetus came from my youngest daughter who now lives on the island and was organising the very first women’s Triathlon event, a Tri Tri for novices and those with some experience.  She is heavy into the three aspects of the triathlon, cycling, swimming and running and earns her keep as a fitness trainer on the idyllic isle.  It seemed a good opportunity to go visit and hopefully be of use in the running of the event.

Guernsey Tri Tri 2015

The intrepid women make their way to the sea for the 8 a.m. (yes, that’s in the morning !) kick off.

I am really impressed how many folk are involved in the outdoor activities of cycling and running, even here in the hill country of mid Wales.  Swimming is and always has been, fairly popular but the lengths (excuse the pun) that people now go to are far and away beyond what used to be the norm.  A friend of mine who actually came along and took part in the Guernsey Tri Tri, regularly does eighty plus lengths in her local pool.  To go swimming in some outdoor waterway, sea or fresh, is a different matter altogether.  To take a plunge, at 8 o’clock in the morning in October, is shear madness to my mind but 125 women did last weekend in the waters of Pembroke beach on Guernsey.

Preparations for the event had only begun a few short months ago but the turnout of both participants and supporters as well as the local media, was impressive.  If I remember correctly the swim was 400 metres, the bike ride was 10 kilometres and the run 5 kilometres and the chaos of the transition corridor was just as mad !  I hope the ladies won’t be offended if I say that the event was an absolute pandora of shapes, sizes, ages and levels of fitness.  In one way that is what made the event so joyful, everyone was willing to have a go, everyone was ready to put aside shyness, vanity and fear and do their best.  My duty was to marshall the final stretch of the bike ride and thus I got to see the competitors – and competition there was ! – as they turned the final bend in the long road.  All of them were red faced and puffing but all of them smiled and shouted ‘good morning’ or some such at me as they whizzed past and I saw, on every face, the sense of pleasure and achievement.  Well done all of you !

Guernsey Tri tri - ladies only.

Dawn creeps across thesky as the ladies of Guernsey get themselves ready … Tri Tri day has arrived !

Needless to say I also had a little bit of a smile and a whole lot of pride in the achievement of my ‘little girl’.  She ran around in her ‘Race Director’ vest with the widest of grins and a spring in her step, ably supported by her dear friends.  Guernsey has welcomed her with open arms !

Tri Tri Fry

Little Miss Waller bossing the event – she never did like walling anyway …

The island has some interesting coastal geography and rocky shoals create broken shorelines with lots of scrambles and pools.  The beaches in the north and west of the island are as good as any I have seen and the glorious early autumn weather added to the enjoyment.  The roads around the island are generally quite narrow and mostly busy but with a maximum speed limit of 35 mph it is generally a safe ride although I did spend the whole time worrying about my wing mirrors …

Copo beach, Guernsey

This is the norm when it comes to the sandy beaches and rocky shore – awesome !

Of course the Channel Islands have the unfortunate distinction of being the only part of Britain to have been occupied by the Nazis in the Second World War and Guernsey, being one of the two largest (Jersey being the other) had an immense amount of fortifications around the coast.  Those sinister concrete bunkers which held the sea-pointing guns, ready for any attempt to reclaim them, now have become a part of the landscape and indeed the tourism of the island.  It is almost impossible to go anywhere on the coast without finding them, mostly hidden in the cliffs or blended into the rocky outcrops.  In a few places they have been adapted and turned into useful accommodation for businesses or beach facilities.  They are not places I enjoy exploring nor even seeing but they remind us all of a time, not so very long ago, when all of Europe was threatened with a long darkness which would still have been with us were it not for courage and sacrifice, duty and fortitude.  We may well be in need of similar traits in the not too distant future.

Guernsey blockhouse

Blockhouses like this are all around the island reminding us of the terrible events of 75 years ago.

I was interested to better understand the political structure of the Channel islands in relationship to the United Kingdom.  Each island is technically a ‘Bailiwicke’, a self governing state with responsibility for it’s own finances and it’s own governance.  I was confused to find they are not a part of the European Union and if they are not a part of the UK why don’t we need passports to visit ? Why also is there a ‘duty free’ shop on the ferry ?  All very confusing indeed. It’s all to do with medieval history and the wars with the French, apparently !  Just in case we decide to leave the European Union maybe you better all get over there PDQ !

The French influence is of course omnipresent and is particularly and pleasingly adopted in matters of the heart, well the stomach actually.  The food I enjoyed was memorable, all three meals a day of it !   Although, in fairness, breakfast was a pretty good impersonation of the traditional ‘Full English’ !

One bizarre event will stay with me for a while; I got to watch the English elimination from the Rugby World Cup in an Irish bar on the island of Guernsey , surrounded by an increasingly quiet crowd of  Red Rose supporters …. and no, I didn’t cheer each time Australia scored and, no, I didn’t wear anything which identified my true allegiance but I did utter a muted ‘Yes’ as the final whistle blew … Apologies to all my English readers …

The memory I have most of Guernsey is Tomatoes !  When I was young it was the only tomato we ever saw, delivered in small wooden crates which stacked onto each other, the label is in my mind’s-eye even today.  The other Guernsey product was cream which came out of those lovely light brown cows.  Alas those days are long gone and today tomatoes come in to Britain from anywhere but Guernsey.  Throughout the island the graveyard of tomato growing is to be seen, large areas of glass houses still stand, empty and forlorn.  There is so much of it because grants were available to erect them and the growers employed large numbers of islanders and Portugese seasonal migrant workers.  By the 1980s that vast horticultural industry was doomed as cheaper imports from Europe cut the demand to zero.  Few of the extant glass-houses are in use today, those that are concentrate on flowers and seedling growing and cultivation.

I must tell you about the most bizarre discovery I made after a tip-off from my daughter.  The Little Chapel is one of the quaintest and mind boggling constructions I have ever seen.

Broken pottery chapel

Millions of pot sherds stuck onto mortar makes the Little Chapel one of the quirkiest ‘follies’ I have seen.

Little Chapel interior.

The brightly coloured decoration resulting from all the pieces of broken pottery was quite stunning.

A welcome break in sunshine and history and just a little family reunion;  I should indulge myself more often …

Then it was time to get back to the day job…. and return to my friends at the Brynmawr Buddhist centre to continue building the wall around the old cemetery.

Baptist to Buddha

How’s this for a good use for an old Baptist Chapel ! The temple of the Buddhist centre in Brynmawr.

The more I visit the centre and mingle with the folk who attend the more my faith in human nature is restored.  I love the colours of the rejuvenated chapel.  How the old Baptists would scowl to see such ‘joy’ in a place of worship where serious contemplation, doom mongering and fear was supposed to be instilled in the congregation.  How well I remember the dark scumbled wood grained pews and doors of my own childhood Baptist Sunday school, how much more inspiring would it have been to be in these bright colours and joyful celebration.

This time I was attending to run a couple of dry stone walling workshops of two days each.  The participants were not Buddhists as such but several had experience of retreats and meditation along the lines of the teachings of Buddha.  A part of the course was spent engaging with the notion of ‘Mindfullness’ , something I am familiar with as it is very pertinent to a dry stone waller.  I was very taken with the teachings of the ‘Lama’ and it was a lesson in dealing with the issues that currently threaten to over-run my daily thinking.

Brynmawr Buddhist centre garden.

The old cemetery of the Brynmawr Baptists now sings with blooms and birdsong.

The walling is not easy as the stone is variously large blocks of Pennant sandstone and much smaller pieces which come from a demolished building and are not really suitable for dry stone wall building.  The old cemetery has been transformed now and most of the huge memorial grave stones have been removed from their positions above the bones of the nineteenth century Baptists.  Flowers bloom over much of the lower garden and there are plans to create various meditation areas and a small wildlife pond.

The two courses had ten trainees each most of whom found the whole experience very enthralling.  They, for the most part, had never done any walling before and some had plans to go home and build a small wall or repair one in their gardens.  It is difficult stone to learn on, it can be very challenging but they all did very well and I take the view that it is better to learn on difficult stone than lovely layered sedimentary stone !

Walling at the Brynmawr Buddhist Centre

Budding wallers at the Buddhist centre in Brynmawr.

One of the courses  enjoyed sunny weather and the next, just a few days later, was wet and cold.  Both groups knuckled down and built a substantial amount of wall which is good for the developmental plans of the project.  Funding for the course came from an usual source, the Gwent Police community fund which aims to assist groups to improve the general environment of their areas.

Whilst teaching is somewhat harder than doing (‘those that can do …’) and on this particular site involves quite an amount of walking to and fro between the different building areas, I get an immense sense of satisfaction from empowering folk to go and build a wall that will stand for a long long time.  Albeit the walls are small and in gardens.  In addition, through the introductory talk and instruction, folk get to better understand why walls exist where they do and to get an idea of the historic periods in which they were built.  Even better is …. I get paid to do it !!

October has crept in un-noticed whilst I was away and there is a definite change in temperature but thankfully we are getting some late sunshine to compensate for all those weeks of rain.  I have a few small jobs to get done and I am  therefore glad of a little dry weather but the change is on its way with some strangely named hurricane heading our way.  Thank you Guernsey, thank you Brynmawr Buddhists, you’ve put a smile on my face as I face up to a rather hectic slide toward winter.


October 1915

Friday 1st.  Skirmishing at dawn.  Afternoon off.

2nd.    Working party all day near Forceville.

3rd.  General’s inspection and practise attacks.

4th.  Bath at Acheux.

5th.  Working party at Forieville.  Stopped by rain at 2.

6th.  Relieved Dublin Fusiliers in trenches.

7th.  On sentry in trenches all night listening post.  Rotten time.

8th.  Easy day.  On sentry at night.

9th.  Working party at night on listening post shelter.

It is noticeable, as the year drags on, how little energy and enthusiasm Great Uncle Dick can muster for his diary.  The battles are raging all around him on the Ypres Salient but he records the mundane activities and omits the fear and losses; perhaps, at last, he is not even noticing them.







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