“Act the way you’d like to be and soon you’ll be the way you act.” L. Cohen Esq.

I have to say that I’m rather hoping Leonard is not absolutely correct in that assertion – it bodes badly for the United States if it is true !  On the other hand, most of the folk I regard as my friends and close associates must have followed that course as they flowed through their lives.

Many whom I have spoken to and corresponded with the last couple of weeks are variously dismayed or frightened or both – the world suddenly seems a rather darker place to them.  I’m not losing any sleep over it, though I certainly forfeited one night to watch events across the ocean, just as I did a few months back when we in this country decided to re-flood the English channel.  Que sera sera.  I’m far more concerned at the latest report from the climate scientists, another year when record temperatures heated the globe.  I do hope The Donald is at least correct about that; please, for all our sakes, let it really be a con trick by people out to make a quick buck (or millions) from making air conditioning units and freezers !

My time in Yorkshire was a period of no rain, my friends in the Carolinas are suffering drought – raging wild fires in November in the Blue Ridge !?  Since returning to Wales it has been mainly dry and warm as toast in the day and reasonably cold at night.  Creepy-crawlies and biting insects are still assaulting me when really they should be asleep or dead by now.  What a good year for fungus though !  Thankful we are for that, at least !

As for me well,the pleasures of a quiet retirement have yet to manifest themselves, work seems to keep popping-up and try as I might, my customer seem unable to take ‘No’ for an answer.  Thus it is I have found myself back in the upper reaches of the South Wales valleys with my friends at the Brynmawr Buddhist centre – or Palpung as it is correctly named.  Since first going there a few years back to train some of the folk in dry stone wall building – they have a large perimeter wall around the old graveyard at the rear of the old Baptist chapel they have re-branded – there has been an area of the ‘garden’ which has been of great concern to me.

Cemetery garden at the Buddhist centre in Brynmawr.

Cemetery coming alive with bright flowers and hard working volunteers. The Baptists are looking down, frowning no doubt !

The ground at the rear is much higher than the building and to ascend from the ‘back-yard’ to the cemetery (or garden as it is gradually becoming), some seriously dangerous steps, or rather, the relics of some steps, have to be tackled !  I seriously cannot believe one of the tribe have not come a real cropper whilst negotiating them.  I had rather hoped they would get a local builder to rebuild them but no, they wanted me to do it – that is a sure sign I am too cheap !

The important thing to make sure with any step building is to keep the height of each step and the depth of the tread the same all the way up and all the way down.  To not do so is to ensure someone will trip or fall headlong.  20cms or 8inches is the standard rise and the depth of the tread should either allow one foot to be placed comfortably, i.e. about 30-40 cms or 12 to 13 inches, or should allow for a land and one step before rising again.  Of course it all depends on the distance the steps have to rise vertically and horizontally but the given is the height of the riser.  A simple mathematical exercise will give you the answer, measure the vertical height, divide it by 20cms/8″; measure the horizontal distance from front to back of the ground the steps are to ascend and divide that figure by the number of ‘steps’ (risers) you have.  So for a vertical height of  4 metres you would have 400 divided by 20 = 20 steps.  If the horizontal distance was 10 metres you would divide that by 20 giving you a tread depth of 50 cms.  In order to get a nice even tread depth over the whole range of the steps some digging away of the slope or filling-in can be done.  Whichever way you chose, get it right, there’s nothing worse than an uneven, unequal set of steps !

Stone steps at the Palpung Buddhist centre in Brynmawr

New steps for my friend ‘Dai’ Lama, he has struggled far too long up very dangerous steps – but the carpenters had better get all that junk of my steps !

Fortunately there was sufficient stone, slabs and rubble to make quite a large lower set of steps and even though the upper five were much narrower I was still able to continue the 20cms rise by 32cms tread.  Of course, as the stone was not suitable for a dry stone set of steps I had to use a mortar mix.  Actually, where there is going to be  regular and fairly numerous ‘people traffic’ I always use mortar – in these days of ‘blame’ you can’t afford to have any accidents as a result of your workmanship.

Accidents are always just waiting to befall the unwary, especially when hugely heavy tombstones are involved.  I knew when the lady asked me some months ago, knew I didn’t really want to be doing what she was asking.  The old cemetery of the Brynmawr Baptists is a real reflection of how wealthy those old non-conformists were and just how determined they were to be remembered.  I have wandered around a lot of grave-yards in my time and yes, now and then you do come across large tombs and rather over the top memorial stones.  This cemetery must have had an income qualification, a bit like wanting to go and live in Jersey !  The memorial stones are just so ridiculously huge and massively heavy.  How do I know that ? Because I’ve just spent three days moving some of them, or rather, me and my little helper have.  Such huge stones are so very dangerous and have caused some serious injuries and even death to unfortunate visitors to churchyards.  At some time in the past twenty years or so many of the Baptist stones have fallen down or been taken down and stacked at various places around the acre or so cemetery.  In order to respect those graves the Buddhists decided to place the stones around the boundary, just leaning them against the wall.  Some have been broken and they are going to be used to create a sort of crazy-paving patio.

Moving tomb-stones - with difficulty !

“How do we move it?” Don’t forget, my ‘little helper’ – holding the stone – is 6ft 8 ins. tall and as strong as an ox and even HE was nonplussed.

The only way to get them moved was by a slow ‘walking’ motion, it was very difficult and extremely dangerous.  Several times we had to just let it fall when we inadvertently lost the balance.  I was both worried and annoyed; worried about my back and annoyed that I had been stupid enough to have allowed myself to be talked into it.  I am definitely paying the price, both my knees and back are feeling very damaged and painful !  We managed, with another helper, to move most of the large ones but in the end I had to say “No more” as ‘she’ tried to persuade us to move some really stupidly heavy stones which were lying out of the way under a yew tree.  I could see even my youthful helpers had expended their reserves of strength and energy and I had certainly done more than I should have done.  I suspect ‘she’ was not best pleased (as she didn’t give us her usual fond farewell !) but “frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn!”  I’ve not got through twenty something years of building dry stone walls without damaging my back to fall at the last hurdle, or gravestone!

Grave-stones moved to the boundary wall of the old Baptist church in Brynmawr.

Grave stones of the Brynmawr Baptists now safely leaned against the boundary wall. How on earth did the memorial masons ever get them there in the first place !?


Whilst the journey time to Brynmawr is now somewhat extended as I have moved further west, I feel a sense of duty towards these fine folk but they will have to allow me to enjoy my religious celebrations before expecting me to return; that’s the birthday celebrations of Jesus and his death …. first full moon after Lent is quite late in 2017 I believe !?

Physical work is only one activity just now; I am engaged in some ‘archaeological’ research also but not the normal sort of landscape stuff I usually bore you with.  No, this time I’m in pursuit of some agricultural archaeology in the form of an unusual vehicle.

I say ‘vehicle’ because to call it a ‘cart’ would be to mislead the reader, it is not strictly of that type, albeit it is a two wheeler.  Neither is it a ‘wagon’ or ‘wain’, those terms by tradition would be four wheeled vehicles.  It is classed as a ‘car’, a wheel-car in fact but I rather suspect that term is a throw back to the Welsh name for a sled, car-llusg.  This particular ‘wheel-car’ is very much a peculiarity of the old border county of Radnorshire (now apart of the modern county of Powys – itself an ancient Kingdom of early medieval Wales).


 Radnor Wheel Car

I have been on the trail of the makers and the last remaining examples -one of which  I recovered from the hills of the old county.  Hopefully I’ll give a much fuller report in my next post – before the end of the  year !

Finally, with thanks to those of you who sent me ideas as to what the ‘mysterious’ object at the end of my last post might be, here is the answer ….

A large relic from a canal lock

No, not a watering can ! I’ll give you a clue or two, it’s been cut down, it’s upside down …. and it weighs over 300lbs !

It’s a section of the main frame of a lock gate – it is upside down and is the bottom of the ‘hanging’ post.  The metal pin sat in a ‘cup’ set into the floor of the lock and acted as the hinge to allow the gate to swing open and shut.  A real piece of history which, can you believe (!!!) a friend of mine actually identified.  I was absolutely astonished but then, William Brittain is a fairly astonishing Welshman.  Son of a ‘Llani’ doctor, expert cabinetmaker and educationalist and a man whom I shared a rather illustrious period of higher education with …. way back …. when Wales ALWAYS won a rugby international … yes, we are that old !

Happy Thanksgiving dear American friends – enjoy it while you can ! Black Friday eh ?  We’ll see.



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