“Where have you been my blue eyed son ?”

I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains – and a whole lot more besides !

Firstly, thank you all for your kind messages and queries as to where I’ve gone !  Moving home, working on a project with some Veteran soldiers as part of a Help for Heroes team and lastly, but not leastly, I popped over to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival to catch up with some friends.

The Spring just seemed to disappear into an endless journey of moving between locations.  The new base for my collection of Historic Farming bygones is just wonderful and I am excited to get some time to get it all sorted and displayed so that others can finally enjoy it also.  The dozens and dozens of boxes – enough to actually build a new damn house in fact – surround me in all directions but time is on my side and slowly I will get my life back into some order …. he says !

IMG_20160525_162813  The Stroudwater Navigation near Stonehouse / Stroud in Gloucestershire occupied my time for six weeks during May and June.

Sometimes in life the ‘Small World Syndrome’ has the ability to shock.  In 1792 a man became a lock keeper at a rather unique double lock at Ryeford.  He was a Lewis, a good Welsh name, he carried out the duties, onerous ones at that, of operating the double lock for several years.  One of his descendants married another Lock keeping expert, a man named Cantle, who eventually moved to be a lock keeper on the Five Locks flight of the Mon and Brecon canal at Pontnewydd.  His descendants stayed for several generations and eventually my mother popped out into the line.  The family tree shows that original Ryeford Lock-keeper to be my 4 x great grand father.  So there I was,some two hundred years later, standing in the porch of the very house he had lived in on the side of the Ryeford Double Lock between Stroud and Stonehouse.  A strange coincidence and a very strange feeling indeed…

Lock-keeper's cottage, Ryeford Double Lock

Welshwaller – suitably attired in PPE for canal-side working – stands in the doorway of his ancestor at the Ryeford Double Lock on the Stroudwater Navigation section of the Cotswold canal.

The reason I was in the area was to be a facilitator for veteran soldiers to work alongside the canal restoration folk.  For best part of forty years the canal has been undergoing some astonishing restoration such that it is quietly returning to its former glory.  That includes the complete restoration of some of the lock systems which were and are so fundamental to lifting the canal from the flood plain of the river Severn just south of Gloucester to the Cotswold plateau and then lowering it down to join the Thames at Lechlade.

Having grown up alongside the old and disused canal in Pontnewydd I have an affinity with the water highways of eighteenth century Britain.  Today they are being brought back into use throughout the land for pleasure cruising but they are also a wonderful place for all manner of wildlife as was certainly the case when I was a lad  pottering along the canal bank in search of all the ‘critters’ that inhabited both the banksides and the water.

Help for Heroes become Heritage Heroes

Happy Heritage Heroes working on Lock restoration in Stroud as part of the Help for Heroes / Canal and River Trust joint project.

The Help for Heroes charity has joined forces with the Canal and River Trust and with the aid of funding from the People’s Lottery have been able to hold four six week long courses for men and women who have various injuries as a result of their service.

So for the merry month of May and much of June we small band of Heritage Heroes busied ourselves on canal bank restoration, putting up signs, laying footpaths and restoring benches in and around the town of Stroud.  The enthusiasm and enjoyment of the volunteers who work tirelessly to bring the old waterway back to life is something to behold as was their warmth and gratitude to the soldiers.

My next project takes me north to the York area and the restoration of the Pocklington canal.  Thus September and October will be spent up north enjoying a new adventure in a part of the country I have never yet visited.  Watch this space, as they say !

Having finished that ‘posting’ I immediately headed west, very far west, to the land where much Trump eting is taking place !  I returned to Washington DC to visit the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and catch up with some folk I haven’t seen in a while.

Basque programme at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival 2016

2016 Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall in Washington DC. The Basque region has walls too apparently !

Those of you who regularly read my chuntering stories will know that I took part in the Festival back in 2009, building a number of dry stone structures as part of the Wales programme that summer.  A young lady took an interest in the craft and she has been a regular visitor to my part of Wales honing her skills and becoming a very competent waller in her own right.  This year Whitney Brown squared our circle by herself building a section of dry stone wall on that very same hallowed ground as part f the Basque programme at this year’s Smithsonian Folklife Festival.  Hell, the girl done good too !

Of course, as her tutor and mentor I just had to go see what she had built…. as we say in this part of Wales “It stands looking at !”.

Whitney Brownstone stands by her wall at the 2016 Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

Miss Carolina, Whitney Brown, stays in the shadows and allows her rather splendid dry stone wall to do the talking for her ! Proud of you Girl !

It was HOT in the city and being there for the July 4th celebrations (the second time I’ve managed to do that !) was a real bonus.  I met up with some of the fine Smithsonian team once again and revisited some of the old haunts of that long ago trip.  In particular I took myself off, on the actual 4th itself, to the wonderful Zoo which that city boasts.  I had visited it briefly in the dead of a cold winter in 2012 when many of the animals where inside keeping warm.  This hot July day many were still inside but mostly visible.

Panda in DC

Giant Panda in Washington DC zoo – worth travelling several thousand miles to see don’t you think ?

The Giant Panda is top of my list of animals to see, they are just so astoundingly beautiful.  I guess this one must have a name but I’m afraid I didn’t find it out !  Apologies GP !

Another animal I desperately wanted to see was nowhere near as exotic, in fact it is one of America’s most common wild critters but I’d never seen on in real life and it was very necessary for me so to do.  The Beaver is a most remarkable creature;  what it is capable of in terms of habitat management is quite astonishing, what it is capable of in terms of shere destruction is also quite alarming !  Why was I so interested in the ‘critter’ ?  Well it so happens there is much debate going on in my part of Wales, and indeed throughout Britain, as to whether or not a re-introduction programme should be undertaken…. Yep, some folk, professional wildlife folk at that, think it would be good for our environment to bring them back. Me ?  I’m not so sure.  I’ve been very interested in how they have been used to change the environment and ecological balance of some of the major river systems in the west of the U.S.A. The results have been very positive allowing  the return of many other animals which have benefited from the raised water levels and the resultant vegetation growth which in turn has rejuvenated the food chain to allow Grizzlies and Elk to re-populate zones they left a long time ago.  But that is on a macro scale compared to what we have available her in Wales.  I know some successful re-introductions have taken place in Scotland and there are some in Devon but the areas I have heard suggested as possible sites in Wales are not really suitable in my humble and somewhat ignorant view.  I am worried that the lessons of previous centuries whereby captive animals, such as Mink and Coypu -not to mention Grey Squirrel ! – escaped and colonised the country with detrimental effects on a grand scale, are being forgotten.  Apparently a little family of Beaver are happily living in a  pen on the shores of Llangorse lake …. How long before one escapes !?

I made a point of seeking them out at the Zoo, to get a sense of their size and what they can do.  They are BIG and boy can they chew their way through some fairly large trees.  Yes, I would love to be able to go down to the banks of the Wye or Towy and see them swimming serenely upstream and wonder at the great dams they build but, really ?

Beavers in captivity

Beavers in Washington Zoo – they are not exactly Water Voles are they ?

Pine Martens have been successfully brought back to the forests of mid Wales and that is fantastic but I’m not persuaded it is either a good idea or of ecological benefit to introduce larger species.  No doubt time will out, as my friends out west are prone to say !

Of course, much of the talk in DC was about our decision to leave the European Union.  The Americans I spoke to were pretty astounded I have to say, they were also pretty astounded at what seems to be going down in their own country.  This is not the place to enter the debate, in any case what’s done is done, but as someone who has been largely dependant on European funding to carry out my work, Welshwaller waits with some interest to see what funds come the way of farmers to allow them to continue the conservation of our landscape and wildlife; oh yes, and keep feeding us !  What a tumultuous year of change I have lived through and what awaits all of us in the coming months !?

Back to the side of those misty mountains for me, no more “walking and talking on a crooked highway”.

Good to be back in Blog land !



2 Responses to ““Where have you been my blue eyed son ?””

  1. Beth Says:

    Hi Welshwaller, I stumbled across your blog two or three years ago when I was googling dry stone walling. I am from Orkney and live in Australia. I saw pandas at the Adelaide Zoo here – yes, fascinating to see.

    Anyway, just thought I would say hi – and that I read your blogs with pleasure, as you always have something interesting and life affirming to say. So thank you.


    • welshwaller Says:

      So you’re the one ! Orkney to Oz, that’s a looonnngg way, or is it shorter over the top ? As you will no doubt have read, I ADORED Orkney, can’t wait to get back up there. I would love to do some work on those walls and they certainly need it. Sorry about my absence for the last few months, plenty coming up I hope. Diolch yn Fawr Beth, Hwyl Fawr.

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