Thursday, 19 July 2012

How We Came to Be In Wales (6) - "A view won't pay the rent"

The quote in the title came from Yorkshire friends of ours - salt of the earth - and was a good Yorkshire saying and never a truer word spoken.  When we waxed lyrical about how beautiful it was here, that was their reply!  Whilst we don't have a view from the house as such - just across the valley if we are up in the attic - the surrounding scenery is stunning, and it is so tranquil here - and SAFE. 

They were right, of course, but we were still on Cloud 9 then, before everything started to go pear-shaped, but that will be written about in the fullness of time.

I can remember the Farmer Next Door saying to us, when we had been in residence a few weeks, "I suppose you think it's beautiful here."  Well yes, actually we DID.  We still do.  He had lived here all his life and just saw work when he looked at the fields hereabout . . .

And yet - this is the view a couple of miles up the hill from us, looking across to the Carmarthen Fans (aka Black Mountain, on the right of the picture) this morning, with the twin flat-topped peaks of Pen-y-Fan behind them, some 45 miles or so away.  Our eldest daughter is home next week and plans to climb Pen-y-Fan.  I think it will be her father accompanying her, as I won't be up for it by then!  I had better pack a picnic and take a good book to enjoy in the car park at the Storey Arms!

If we drive towards Horeb, on a clear day (as it was this morning) we can even see the sea at Llanstephan. Centre of the picture you can see the stepped hillsides where Llanstephan Castle dominates the landscape when you are closer.  However, you CAN see the sea there, and the slightly yellow bit which is the beach - so the tide must have been out a fair way for that amount to show.  It's about 18 miles away, as you drive it.  I've always lived within at most, 40 miles of the sea, and I know I would find it hard to be totally land-locked.

I can remember one of the first exploring journeys we took, driving along a narrow steep-sided lane and then through someone's FARMYARD.  They must have been moving sheep or something as we had to open and shut the gates either end of the farmstead (which had buildings both sides of the road) and it felt like we were trespassing! There was nothing like that where we came from in Dorset.

We used to get lost sometimes, particularly when the children were school age, and we had to take them to their friend's houses.  None of this "just along the road" round here - schools had quite big catchment areas and housing is dispersed in the countryside. Sleepovers were the norm. We had to learn where to shop for things, as Carmarthen was a very quiet little market town, with a tiny Tesco's, and a bigger Woolworths, and then individually owned shops with a few chain shops like W H Smith, and shoe shops.  Quite often, if we wanted anything remotely out of the ordinary, we had to drive 25 miles to Swansea for it.  We grew very used to long trips to buy "things" or quite often, went without.  When you are ten miles from the town, and living on a budget, if you have run out of something then it just has to wait until next week.  Making a shopping list of items the moment they got low became a necessity, and I soon learned to keep one spare.

Ah yes, keeping a storecupboard was also something I learned early in our time here, as when the nearest shop is a 10 mile round trip and it only stocks essentials anyway, you need to be a little self-reliant for when circumstances - a broken-down car, icy roads, flooding, keep you within your own four walls.  You do NOT want to run out of loo-paper if you are snowed in!

We had to get used to the mud too.  When you live next door to a working dairy farm, then mud - and worse - are a daily part of your life.  A hundred or so cows puddling past your front gate twice daily make for mess.  Now there are 200 plus, and it's even worse!

When we hit hard times, in those early years, I can remember trying to keep house with a dustpan and brush when our vacuum cleaner bit the dust.  Finances were very tight - almost non-existent in fact - and I can still remember wearing a mask (I am allergic to dust) and taking a stiff brush to the hideous nylon carpet up the stairs.  If you can imagine the colour of the mud outside the front gate, mixed with a Saturday night pavement between the boozer and the takeaway, you have a rough approximation of the decor underfoot when we arrived.  You have no idea of how ECSTATIC I was when that sh*tty carpet finally went!  I felt pretty much the same when we had saved up for a new vacuum too . . .

We soon realized just what a bad state of repair the house was in.  One of the jobs we had to have done, under the terms of our mortgage, was to treat all the beams etc for woodworm, which it had had in the past.  We had a company in to do the work before we took up residence.  Then we worked on a room at a time, taking down the horrid pine "ceilings" (great for firewood) and in later years, when we took down the plasterboard to reveal the joists and rafters, we treated those ourselves.  So no self-respecting wood worm can move in here now without quickly perishing.

Sadly, it wasn't just woodworm (and downstairs, Death Watch Beetle) which was in the house.  The roof needed replacing, and a main beam where two stretches of roof joined in a gulley, had been leaking for years and the big beam beneath it was weak with wet rot.  Every time there was a bad storm we held our breath, praying that the roof wouldn't collapse in that corner.  We made sure we slept in the bedrooms away from it!  As it turned out, it held on for 8 years, when we had a large Council Grant for restoration works.

The first couple of years were so happy - if incredibly busy, as I was proof of the old saying: "New house, new baby" and our middle daughter joined us at Christmas the year we arrived.  I also started a business . . . and we had 5 horses stabled at one point.  I must have been mad . . .


  1. Such wonderful views of your beautiful bit of Wales! They have cheered me up on a grey morning.

    Great to read another chapter of your story. I can imagine how happy you were with a young family and horses in the back fields!

  2. I've enjoyed reading your story so far. I can echo all of it, we escaped here in 1990. Even the books you read, I also read.

  3. DW - happy then - the rot set in later - but I mustn't complain, not many people get to live their dream!

    Cait - Aha - we shared the same inspiration then, by the sound of things.

  4. I'm meant to be working on checkbook and paying bills, but when I noticed another installment of your 'story' was up I had to read it right away. I've always liked 'back to the country' books and your tale is as well written as any I've read.
    I can't imagine living with the sea so close. I'm trying to decide if your landscape might look a bit like the Cape Breton highlands--[Maritimes, Canada.] You have landscapes 'plotted and pieced.'

  5. No, you weren't mad BB - look back on those times and think of all the happy memories.

  6. Sorry I am distracting you MM. I had better warn you now, I am about to post a letter to you as well . . . I will have to post some more landscape photos to help you make your mind up.

    Weaver - I am fortunate that I got to "live the dream" - not many people do.

  7. This made very interesting reading as my best friend lives at Efailwen and they have a 120 head dairy herd. I asked her about shopping and she said they all use Tesco on-line :-)
    I am enjoying this series of posts very much.

  8. I'm really enjoying your posts! Looking forward to the next one!

  9. Wow, incredible views;such food for the soul. I am so into these stories. More, please.

  10. What a stunning place. No wonder you feel the way you do about it. Views like that can cheer up the worst of days.

  11. Stunning views amid this, another excellent story installment.....

    I can so deeply relate to your practice of keeping a pantry overstocked, lol. After the first year or so you'd have thought I was a bit of a mad 'survivalist' sort, roflmao. In truth it was exactly as you so well said: diverse shopping was far off, hard to come by in bad weather (here we have wicked deep snow blocking roads oft' times). And loving an old house means (as you've shared) the repair and refurbishing that is costly. Oh what funds have been spent in paint alone, lol. So shopping also was and remains much about gathering up any good price offerings to stow aways for weeks of thinner bank balance weeks.

    Still we are both lucky to live the life, walk the path we love!

    PS I've some other pics of 'found pieces' that have survived from the fields as did the bottle (thank you for your comment note!) What think you of my posting a few more of those images? (I worry they'd be boring)..... Let me know what you think Belle

    Have a lovely weekend!


  12. Issy - As an archaeologist, I would LOVE to see what else you have dug up from your farm. Even as an ordinary person, I would as well. It would seem we were both driven by the same dream - it was a hard taskmaster . . .

    Em - I adore the countryside around here but here I must confess I have never felt that I "belonged". Nothing to do with the people (friendly) or the area (lovely) - I just yearn for the West Country.

    SAS & Jan - glad you're enjoying my tale.

    Kath - Ah, Efailwen - Rebecca Riots land! These days, Tesco home delivery makes life so much easier, but we have now more or less forsaken Tesco and we tend to shop for various things in individual shops. I am hoping to be near a Waitrose when we move . . . though I'm quite happy with a Sainsburys.

  13. I am so enjoying reading your story.

    cheers, parsnip

  14. Wonderful photos :D I've so loved reading about your early days in the house, such a lovely adventure :D