“We are all born ignorant but one must work hard to remain stupid”. (Benjamin Franklin)

Septarian Nodules

This was a total mystery, but I knew a man who would know what it was…

I’ve worked hard, occasionally, I suspect, not hard enough, but then I come across an immediate repost.  Such was the case a week ago, a farmer friend, assuming I knew a bit about geology, showed me a strange pebble he had recovered whilst ploughing a field.  I was stupid enough to assume it was some sort of prehistoric fishing net weight whereon the net had become fossilized.  Luckily I know a man who has been very lethargic at remaining stupid, he is by far the most knowledgeable geologist and Welsh historian I have met.  Dr. John Davies, a true Welshman, reigns supreme when it comes to answering any query I put to him, without reference he just eschews a detailed explanation.

This particular oddity was not any challenge to ‘John Rocks’ (as he is colloquially known in Wales), no, not even a cause for pause.  It is a ‘Septarian Nodule’ (well of course it is !) formed when the siderite crystals (that’s Iron Carbonate to you and me) found in the local Wenlock Shale, especially where it outcrops with the adjacent Llandovery, get squashed from their original spherical shape into something resembling a smartie or M & Ms (that’s ‘discoid ellipsoids’ to you and me).  They then fracture into reticulate patterns.  The iron carbonate crystals grow into the fractures and then the softer mud-stone erodes leaving the crystals standing proud.

Fish net ? No, Septarian Nodules

These Septarian Nodules are found in the Edw valley area of Radnorshire. Nature is STRANGE !

Yes, the prehistoric fishing net weight is definitely more imaginative, but imagine just knowing the whole life story of that formation.  John, you are not working hard enough …

I enjoy being nonplussed by such natural phenomena, I never cease to be amazed at how geology can make such astonishing patterns.  I’m not surprised at how stupid I am but I am thankful that I have, within my network of friends, colleagues and associates,  folk who respond without hesitation to my queries and when it comes to stones and geology, the best in Wales responds without fail. Diolch yn fawr John bach.

The farm where the stone was found is in the Edw valley of Radnorshire, near the village of Hundred House.  John told me that when he was curator of Radnor Museum in Llandrindod Wells such finds were commonly brought in.  The soft shales erode to form the gentle rounded hills of the Radnor Forest but once the river cuts its way into the Aberedw hills the harder rocks present as great craggy outcrops and steep sided gullies.  The area is one of the most scenic zones of Wales and yet few from outside ever visit.  Fortunately that allows those of us who do appreciate its beauty the pleasure of empty roads and empty hills.

A late autumn sun-fest which coincided nicely with the half term holiday week, brought hordes to many parts of the hill country.  I had need to venture south, across the Eppynt range to the valley of the river Usk and the Brecon Beacons National Park.  When I eventually broke out of the extreme fog, which reduced visibility to such an extent even the wretched pheasants couldn’t see cars coming and dozens lay dead in the road, blue skies and sunshine greeted me.

Mynydd Eppynt 1/112015

My oft travelled road over the Eppynt military range to Trecastle is guaranteed to throw up some lovely views in the late autumnal sun.

Temperature inversion, whereby fog lingers in the valleys until midday, is common in the Welsh uplands and indeed my valley has been bathed in the opaque mist for days.  For some reason just twenty miles south,in the valley of the Usk, the mist had been burned off by the bright sunshine by mid morning but instead of totally dissipating it had risen a few hundred feet and there it sat.  By the time I got up onto the flat open common of  Mynydd Illtyd (an area of low open hill betwixt the two main communication routes of the A40 Brecon to Llandovery and the A470 to Merthyr via the high pass at Storey arms, the head of the Tarrell valley) I was in clear air but the high peaks of the Beacons, Pen y Fan and Corn Ddu, sat on a base of low cloud.

My destination was the Mountain Centre where I had to meet a customer and, hopefully, enjoy some lunch.  Alas, the sunshine and the end of the school hols had persuaded hundreds of others to head for the same venue and such was the queue for parking and eating,  I headed off in another direction!

Brecon Beacon misty

The top of Pen y Fan peaks out over the fog that lingers in the valley of the Tarrell, viewed from the BBNP Mountain Centre.

The open spaces of the common of Mynydd Illtyd attracts many walkers who are, shall we say, more of the ‘stroller’ than the mountaineer.  It is an ideal place to wander along cropped turf paths and enjoy the views south to the Beacons or north to the hills of mid Wales.

It is a place I have known and enjoyed for a long, long time but it is always a joy no matter what weather is prevalent.  But autumn sunshine, clear air and the colours of change takes some beating.  What I particularly like about the hill is that the bracken, which is very virulent throughout the common (except along the sheep walks which are kept very cropped and green), is still cut and baled for use as animal bedding.  Even though today the bales are large and round it is still good to see traditional uses being made of the nuisance plant.  In far too many areas the commons have been let go and bracken has spread upwards and downwards leaving little grazing for the ever decreasing flocks of sheep.  My worry is that, even in my life time, a time is coming when the hills will become impassable for walkers and barren of diversity in both plant and animal life;  in my view it is the reducing numbers of hill flocks that should concern us not too many sheep !

Bracken bales on Mynydd Illtyd

The hill of Mynydd Illtyd with the Iron Age enclosure of the Silures on top and the slopes of baled bracken. Walking, history and just a little tradition.

The O.S. identifies a Roman road running east/west across the common and although the line is erroneous (the road is actually a few hundred metres or so south of the O.S. line), this is the route of Sarn Helen, the major military road that ran from the fortress at Neath to the Gaer camp on the banks of the river Usk, two miles west of Brecon.  (It may interest you to know that my headline photo of a wall at the top of the page is actually on that Roman road at Coelbren, a marching camp north of Neath).  Another significant O.S. mark on the common is Bedd Gwl Illtyd, the supposed grave of Illtyd.  The custom in Roman times was to bury folk adjacent to important roads and thus there may be some truth in the folklore. Yes, Illtyd is the name of a person, a sixth century Saint (Illtud Farchog) after whom several churches are dedicated.  Llanilltud in the Vale of Glamorgan was the first school which the Abbot Illtud established and alumni included the saints Patrick and David and the historian Giraldus as well as Samson of Dol.  The link between the Celtic Saints and Dol in Brittany is an important and well documented one.  There was an old church just west of the Mountain Centre, sadly demolished some years ago as it was deemed dangerous.  Capel Illtyd was an interesting place, it was set in a circular raised enclosure – often regarded as an earlier Iron Age site (deemed Pagan by the Christians !) – with 365 trees growing around the circumference.   The fascinating aspect of it to my mind was the fact that electronic battery driven cameras failed to operate within the church.  Very spooky !

Illtyd is celebrated on November 6th and is also glorified at another site close to where I have been recently working.  St. Illtyd’s church at Aberbeeg is but a short crow flight from the Ebbw Vale site where I and my trusty band of Gwent Wildlife Trust volunteers have been persevering with the Clawdde stone-faced banks which are now adorning the entrance to the Resource Centre at the Trust’s Blaenau Gwent centre.

A bendy bank of stone and turf

One I prepared earlier, an Oo-La-La line requested by the boss lady but it adds to the entrance.

A merry half dozen or so of these hard-working folk turned up to construct a single face stone and turf retaining wall, just to the left behind the box like building in the photo above.  There was a bank which was a mixture of stones, slag waste and lumps of tarmacadam dumped years ago by the local council road-men.  The area has been well colonised by trees, in particular alder which seems to like the rather polluted soil !  Normally one would associate alder with wet ground but this banks seems very well draining and yet they have done very well.  So much so that they probably now need coppicing which will have the effect of lengthening their life-span considerably.  Fitting perhaps that alder should be growing on an old metal foundry site where workers would have worn alder clogs to protect their feet from the hot floor and red hot cinders.

GWT volunteers working hard

The trusty volunteers built a really good stone faced bank AND did it with a smile on their faces !



The stone and turf walls with a soil in-fill are an excellent way of facing or revetting a bank as nature will quickly colonise the area with new flora and insects, particularly bees, will burrow into the warm face to lay their eggs.  The whole site is a wonderful nature reserve with ponds and wet woodland areas which teem with flying critters throughout the summer.  Why, at October’s end, dragon flies should still be hurling themselves around the skies is a little peculiar.  But then, November 1st did break all temperature records with Wales recording 22 degrees (that’s C not F of course, in case my trans-Atlantic friends get worried !).  I also got caught out with those pesky midges which I assumed had gone away for the year but which ambushed me when I was unprotected.  Annoying itchy bites is not what is supposed to happen this time of year !  I blame that damn El Ninio and everyone else west of the Pecos !


Great Uncle Dick’s diary for November 1915:

Monday November 1st:  Easy day in billets.

2nd.  Working in R.E (Royal Engineers) timber yard.

3rd.  Easy day.  6.30 a.m. parade cancelled !

4th.  Working party at night.

5th.  Working party at night.

6th.  Co’s inspection and relieved to get pay.  Easy day after. Very cold.

7th.  Relieved Warwicks in Trenches.  Ration party.

8th.  Rations and working party.  Trenches rotten and much rain.

9th.  Working party afternoon.  Germans bombarded with torpedoes and grenades.

10th.  Guide to r. Irish.  Working party.   Returned at night.

11th.  Helping Sergt Yates.  Sent to Officers mess.

12th.  Helped to cook and hedgetop mess (camouflage)

13th.  Helped in mess.  good time.  Rotten in trenches. Company have an awful time.

14th.  Helped in mess.  Relieved by Warwicks.






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