Monday 28 February 2011

Living on Exmoor

The photo is one of only two I have of Exmoor, and it is raining . . . bucketing down in fact!

This is the title of the most beautifully written book, one of several by its author, Hope L Bourne, who lived alone on Exmoor, near Withycombe. To say she lived a frugal self-sufficient existence is an understatement as she lived on £5 per month in the 1950s and 60s - most of which was spent on cartridges for her guns! Here is a link to a spoken obituary on her life (she died in August last year, aged 91): I had the greatest admiration for her indomitable spirit and determination to be self-supporting in every way. She is one of the "walkers" I thought of when I was writing about walking recently, though she puts any walk - even the longest and toughest, on Dartmoor - I have ever done to shame . . .

Hope was born around 1920, and grew up in Hartland, near the North Devon coast. Her mother was the headmistress of a small school, but Hope's education, like many of her generation, ended at 14, when she kept house for her mother and fought against the misery of Asthma (as a fellow asthmatic, I know only too well the miseries of it, especially before I had medication to control it). Sadly, her mother died when Hope was in her 30s, after they had moved to the Cotswolds, and the house had to be sold to pay off debts. Left homeless and virtually destitute, Hope took herself to Exmoor, where she was happy to live in a succession of remote and derelict cottages, growing her own vegetables, shooting for the pot, tickling trout and fly-fishing Exmoor's streams, gathering wood for fuel from the hedgerows. She worked for local farmers, tending stock, to gain an income of around £100 a year, half of which she managed to save.

She was an accomplished artist - indeed, the tribute to her speaks of there being few Exmoor churches which don't have one of her drawings of Exmoor beneath their roof. Writing only in pencil, she kept a diary, which she used to write the first of three books, Living on Exmoor, which was published in 1963. This was followed in 1968 by A Little History of Exmoor, which told of farming on Exmoor, from prehistoric times to the present and again, illustrated by her. In 1978 her third book, Wild Harvest, was published and her final book, My Moorland Year, in 1993.

During the 20 or so years she spent living in the burnt-out ruins of Ferny Ball Farm, in a ramshackle caravan, held together by binder twine, she rose at 5 a.m. to tend her neighbour's livestock at the busier times of the year, wrote her diary, and would set out to walk 20 miles or so across the moor, without any but an inner compass to guide her, following the hunt on foot and quenching her thirst, as ever, from the stream. The caravan, barely large enough for her needs, was strewn with the hooves, skins and antlers of the animals she killed herself for the pot and which were cooked (or dried as Jerky) on or above the wood burning stove which was her only form of heating. She didn't believe in washing up and ate straight from the pan!

These walks and her knowledge of the moor were fuel for the 1,000 word weekly column she wrote (in pencil of course) for the West Somerset Free Press, and she also submitted articles to the Exmoor Review. She reached a wider audience when two documentaries about her life were shown on television in 1978 and 1981.

is a link to the Daily Telegraph obituary of this remarkable woman (and from which I obtained the facts of her life, as well as from THIS article on the Exmoor National Park site, which also gives some excellent links to other remarkable literary people connected with Exmoor.

Let me share with you some of her writing:

This piece is the inroductory paragraph of her "Living on Exmoor" and aptly-timed on this, the final day of February:


"A February afternoon. Under the leaden, rain-filled sky the moor lies desolate, wind-lashed, streaked and curdled still with snow, rolling in heaving undulations like the billows of a tideless sea, reaching up to dark skylines swallowed in grey cloud. Soaking bent and sodden rush, black dripping heather, bracken soaked to dark mahogany, and the icy white of snow a livid dappling in every hag and hollow. There is no life, no sound but the beating rain, no voice but that of the wind. It is loneliness and desolation, the western land as it was in the beginning, storm swept and primeval. The wind blows over the dun-coloured bent and the squelching peat bogs, over the forlorn barrows sunk in mystery on the hills, over the long blue moorstone walls and down through the tattered, cowering beech and twisted thorn and into the combes where sallow and rowan coil about the rushing streams. The rain beats on tthe strange stones that stand knee deep in the wet lack heather and on the dark low thickets of gorse, and drives splashing into the pools that lie at the feet of the lonely gateways and all the little quivering rills among the rushes."

"Sun, shadow and a sou'west wind. Here I sit on the lonely barrow, set in the midst of the sea of sedge, with the sky like a bowl coming down to the horizon all round. North and south, east and west, the morass of bog laps unbroken about the barrow, about this one spot of sound ground in all the welter of sogging liquid peat. here is the heart of the Forest; here are desolation and emptiness. Here are silence and loneliness. Even the sky is empty, for neither raven nor buzzard quarters this preyless waste. Solitude, utter and complete.

As I sit on the sunward side of the barrow under the blowing breeze, I can just see, afar off, the summit of Exe Head, blue above the rim of sedge, and beyond, farther still, the head of Dunkery like a small smudge of cloud under the sky. That is all of the outer world beyond the great bog, and it is no different from the clouds. It might almost be a landscape from the moon, or some planet untrodden by man rather than a piece of our own country. It is as a world unformed, a land in the making, holding still the grandeur of desolation.
But now I must arise and go, retracing my uneasy steps by the way that I came. The going is slow. I tread from tussock to tussock of the short tufted deer-sedge, avoiding with care the thick mats of sphagnum moss that spread around in blotches of sinister yellow, coiling snake-like amongst the sedge. All beneath is the treacherous peat, black, oozing and seemingly bottomless. Here and there, thrusting up through the sedge and moss, are the lilac-purple heads of small spotted orchis, strangely exotic in such company. The ground for a moment seems even more spongy and uncertain; I thrust y stick into the mat to test it; the stick goes in up to the grip - goodness knows how deep is the morass. I veer my course a little and keep more carefully to the sedge . . ."

I share this piece of writing with you because it reminds me of walking on Dartmoor, far away from humankind, almost in another lifetime . . .

Friday 25 February 2011

Confidence and comfort-zones

If you met me (well, some of you have!) you would probably put me down as a fairly confident person - which I am, up to a point. But there are always issues which lurk in my subconscious, and which would tend to push my panic button.

Whilst I am happy to drive long distances, I'm not at my happiest driving on motorways, and joining a busy motorway - especially the M25 - requires me to take my fears and shove them in a mental cupboard before I can cope with it. Driving on the M6 around Manchester's not too much fun either. I once had a panic attack as I joined the M25 as I had got myself so worked up, and believe me, it is not an experience I would want to repeat. However, once I have actually "done the deed", my confidence levels soar. When I got back from driving up to Aberdeenshire and back for an Archaeological Dig, I had so much confidence that I volunteered to collect my m-in-law from Essex, and coped admirably with the dreaded M25.

How easy it is, however, to persuade yourself that you really CANNOT do something - can't deal with a new piece of equipment - in fact, this post has been prompted by a new follower of mine, the Village Queen over at Butterhill Dreaming, who had been putting off using a new gizmo and when she finally got around to it, wished she'd not left it so long as it saved her so much time and effort!

When your confidence takes a knock or when a family member makes pointed remarks about your inability to programme a recording on Sky, or even use the DVD player (you know who you are!!) then you begin to believe this propoganda! Now and then I force myself to get out of my comfort zone - and though it is a trite and over-used expression it is very apt - and sometimes I surprise myself that I CAN actually manage. I'm not the prisoner I sometimes think I am!

- all the same, the next time I climb to the top of a church or castle tower, I don't think I will persuade myself to look DOWN without feeling giddy!

Thursday 24 February 2011

Chasing my tail

This is a post I meant to write up over Christmas, but other things happened. Now I am back in "getting the house and garden ready for sale" mode again, and despondent that there is still MORE painting to be done, and repainting, and the garden looks like it's been trashed by a herd of elephants . . . But I DO have some seeds started and now I've managed to get some biodegradable pots, I can get a lot more things started. I have Peas and Nasturtiums sown so far, and spuds chitting, oh and Sweet Peas soaking and about to go in pots today, and bulbs bunged in out the front, for a nice "kerbside appeal". We were also happily cutting down the overgrown pussy willows which made it look very unappealing out there (and are going to be replaced by post and rail fencing) when the chainsaw gave a couple of apologetic coughs and died on us . . . It is now in for repair. "They" said they were very busy and it will be three weeks!, so we may have to borrow Next Door's . . .

So, briefly, I have been knitting in my spare time, having discovered (at nearly 60) that I can actually deliberately MAKE holes in knitting. I will thank my eldest daughter for this as she was knitting something very complicated-looking and asked me to do a few rows for her one night. I found I could do the complicated-looking sl. 1, k.2.tog. and p.s.s.o. ! Oooh! So I have been knitting a lacy shawly "thing" and am about 2 feet further along than this photo:

In the book, it is knitted in a ribbony yarn and looks like this:

And this is the neck warmer which my daughter knitted.

Seen from the back . . .

It is really warm to wear though I'm not sure if I'd see myself in one . . . Doesn't really go with jeans, wellies and an old fleece, which is what I tend to live in these days . . .

Sunday 20 February 2011

Look back

Please check out Sunday 13th February for my fresh posting - I finally managed to finish the Pre-Raphaelite exhibition write-up today. No photos, sadly, but hopefully enough to whet your appetite to go and look for yourself.

Thursday 17 February 2011

Life gets in the way

This is flowering again, and I still can't remember what it is! These pretty flowers are followed by gigantic leaves.

I have had a partly-written piece about our visit to the Pre-Raphaelite Exhibition on the back burner all week and STILL haven't had time to finish it. I will, have faith.

I have had a busy week, one way or another, but am glad to say that spring is definitely putting in an appearance - heck, I even got out in the garden yesterday, and what's more, TOOK MY FLEECE OFF! Gosh, 5 layers instead of 6 . . .

I spent two hours tidying up down in what was my mum's little patio garden. When I ripped off the sodden dead leaves of the irises, there were cheerful little green shoots pushing up through the soil. I cleared away 3 whole wheelbarrowfulls of dead leaves (mostly oak) and dug through the soil, dragging out the endless wiry grass roots which are always trying to make a return. I cut the Hydrangea back, and noticed the crisp pinky-green ruffled leaves of the Aquilegias kept snug beneath their blanket of leaves. It was SO satisfying.

Then I moved up one of my big glass cold frames into the raised bed which used to house the herbs, and has grown tomatoes in since. It is a proper hot bed as it is raised, and in a south-facing plot. I plan to start some Spring Onion seeds off in the ground beneath it today, and also some peas in pots, the sort which rot down in the soil so I don't disturb their roots when I come to plant them on.

It will probably snow next week now . . .

Sunday 13 February 2011

Pre-Raphaelite Exhibition

I still haven't forgotten Walking part II, but I wanted to try and write about the wonderful Exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite drawings at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery whilst it is still relatively fresh in my mind.

If anyone lives close enough, I can certainly recommend it. My daughter and I spent nearly two hours slowly examining and enjoying the wonderful drawings, and the few end-product paintings on display. If only we had had time to take in the entire Art Gallery and Museum displays, but sadly we had to travel onwards.

The quality of the drawings was enough to deter me from EVER trying to draw again. A few lines and a figure came to life, showing emotions, attitude, tension, despair, love . . .

One painting drew me like no other - Holman Hunt's painting of a birds nest with primroses and apple blossom. The detail on it was exquisite. Minute detail - as of sunlight catching strands of moss, and the apple blossom was so perfect it looked like it had just fallen on the painting from the tree . . . I would love a print of that. Nearby was a painting of a Gentian (by John Brett) and again, the most miniscule detail made it look as if you could reach out and pick it.

As I said, it was primarily an exhibition of drawings, but included designs, studies and watercolours. I was thrilled to see it included the work of Aubrey Beardesley, who was greatly influenced by earlier Pre-Raphaelite artists. I always admired his work, having been introduced to it by a girl I went to school with, who had a passion for his work.

There were designs by William de Morgan, and the most fabulous Medieval style table by William Burges (he of Cardiff Castle design fame). You could tell it was his work the moment you set eyes on it.

We feasted on the most wonderful painting by Arthur Hughes, The Long Engagement, and I swear you could FEEL the velvet of the girl's mauvey-lilac cloak, and the sheen on the satin petticoat as it fell in delicate folds rippled across the painting.

Ford Madox Brown's The Last of England starred, I believe, the artist himself and his wife as the couple leaving the Old World for the New, and the little hand of their child clasped in his mother's hand, as her other gloved hand is held by her husband as they sit, surrounded by a fringe of cabbages obviously destined to be eaten on the voyage. A strange border for a painting!

The artists were not above the mockery and contempt of others, however, and there was a clever parody of Millais' Sir Isumbras at the Ford, where Frederick Sandys had drawn a grizzled donkey being ridden by Millais as the knight, a small Dante Rosetti in front of him on the pommel and an even smaller Holman Hunt on the donkey's rump.

But of course, the drawings took centre stage and Millais' detailed drawing of Elizabeth Siddal for his painting of Ophelia will be forever stamped in my memory for the quality of the drawing, her slightly parted lips, unfocused eyes and arched eyebrows. Superb.

Sadly, for a posting about such wonderful pictures. I have no illustrations. I hope you will go and find out for yourselves. . .

Saturday 12 February 2011

If you have ever planted Snowdrops . . .

can I just offer a heartfelt "THANKYOU".

(Snowdrops in a quiet corner of Clyro churchyard).

After about a 500 mile round trip up North, I can honestly say my heart was SO gladdened by the drifts of snowdrops planted along roadsides, hedgerows, banks and woodland. Never has their appearance been so welcome. I even saw Crocuses just coming into flower, the first leaflets on a few shrubs and when I got back to around Leominster, I saw the first Daffodils in bloom! In fact, I stopped at Clyro (more of that later) to stretch my legs, and someone had left a bunch of just-picked Daffodils in a vase in the church porch.

The journey to Sheffield was to deliver the first car-full of our daughter's belongings as she and her partner have relocated. She is thinking of doing an MA, so fingers crossed she gets funding. Meanwhile she is going to get back to her old volunteer jobs with two local charities. Her sister is travelling up next week with the 2nd load . . .

I am not a city person by any means, but living where we do, I really DID appreciate being able just to have all the shops I needed within a walk of just 100 yards. What a novelty!

Before leaving, I crossed the road to the local newsagents for a newspaper, and there on the shelf was a good selection of craft magazines (a more varied one than we can get in Carmarthen anyway), including Just Cross-Stitch, which is an American publication. I can remember subscribing to this over 20 years ago, using Christmas money to pay for my subscription. How I looked forward to this arriving every couple of months, and I still have every copy. I didn't buy this copy, as there were no designs I particularly wanted to stitch, but I shall ask my daughter to buy any future copy I want once I've checked out the contents of on-line.

Later on I shall post about our visit to Birmingham Art Gallery to visit the Pre-Raphaelite exhibition of drawings . . .

Wednesday 9 February 2011

Old Maps

Many thanks to whose map I have shamelessly copied.

I cam across a fabulous link to searchable Old Maps recently. I have spent several hours exploring our present area, finding that little bits of wall ("oh that was a barn once" I was told on several occasions) were actually cottages with names, and what's more those names lasted on the map until the 1970s, when I can only assume these cottages were condemned and no longer homes . . .

Anyway, this morning I had a bright idea, and have begun searching the area where I grew up in Southampton - Sholing. I knew that the area was called Weston Common, but what I didn't know what that there were brickworks BOTH sides of the road, and that the wooden cabin of Old Queenie Goddard (who I thought was a witch, though she used to give me little packs of biscuits which had gone soft with age . . .) hadn't always been there forever.

The earliest map showed the common before any brickworks, it showed the tumuli by the Roman road at Thornhill, and the Keeper's Cottage, and Spring Road, and Dumbleton Copse and Netley Firs (how could I have forgotten Netley Firs?) and Botany Bay, and a common which was almost totally devoid of any houses.

The next map was dated 1909 and showed a Cricket Ground where I never knew there had been one, and I found that the Surrey House clinic in the middle of a 1940s estate, had got its name from a by-then-demolished Surrey House. Likewise, a Heathfield House had made way for Heathfield Avenue and school and assorted houses . . . The orchard where we used to go scrumping became part of a farm, with a name - Step Bottom Farm. Spring Hill at some point would become Bursledon Road, but not yet. . . There were gravel pits - disused and otherwise - everywhere, and many springs marked.

The next 20 or so years saw a huge building project take place. "Our" road became a row of houses which replaced one sett of gravel pits and disused brickworks. The house where I grew up was built, and shown with the big barn still attached to the back - it was later moved to the side of the house and used as a garage.

By 1938, more building, but still many Small Holdings marked on the map, as well as the Allotments which had been shown 30 years before. Surrey House and its neighbour Daintree House were still standing in their leafy grounds backing onto the gravel pits. However, a grid of side roads were starting to be etched in, all roads I was very familiar with though I hadn't realized they were pre-War houses. Houses began to be built on the other side of the road now - houses with wonderful 100 foot gardens where people were able to keep a few chickens and grow wonderful vegetables. I notice an Antelope Farm where none was marked on an earlier map - not a place I knew of either, but by my time it was flattened beneath Council Houses . . .

By 1952, there were villas neatly lining the Botley Road, with names such as Cholwyn, Tresco, Pine Coppice, Dudley, Doonan and Ambleside. The small holdings had disappeared beneath a sea of housing and roads. There were still bits of the old gravel works which were unsuitable for housing and they were left - areas where we played as kids and had wonderful camps. Around 1960 the brick works finally closed and housing appeared. The area marked on the map as The Birches (never knew this) became a smallholding and strawberries were grown there (this I remember as gypsy ponies were turned out there, ones we looked after and galloped up the strawberry rows to jump our home-made jumps - all this bareback and with just a rope halter for control! Palomino Shane, skewbald Storm and a hogged grey who jumped like a stag. I cannot for the life of me remember his name . . .)

There are even more houses now . . .

Tuesday 8 February 2011

Lemon Curd

Just very quickly, is the Lemon Curd recipe I promised MM:


2 large or 3 small lemons
4 large eggs
6 oz caster sugar (3/4 cup I think)
4 oz unsalted butter (1/2 cup I think)

Grate rind of lemons, making sure not to include any pith, into a basin. Add sugar. In another basin, beat eggs well with juice from the lemons. Pour over lemon rind and sugar. Add butter, cut into small pieces, and place basin over a pan of hot water or use a double saucepan. Cook very gently, stirring frequently, until thick. This will take about 20 mins. Pour into warm jars and cover in the usual way. Store in a cool place nad use within 1 month of making.

(Vvariation: St Clement's Curd: replace 1 lemon with 1 large orange.)

Monday 7 February 2011

Being ME.

You would think, wouldn't you, that I am me all of the time, doing the usual run of the mill housework, doing the things I enjoy doing, chosing what crafts to occupy me, what books to read, what to plant in the garden, trying to find our next dream house. But there is a "real me" which doesn't often get much of an airing these days. This is the "real me" who has a brain, who springs head over heals in excitement at something new learned, who desperately wishes she could have gone on and done an M.Phil - who knows, even a PhD. But this "real me" is subjugated by the demands of still being a wife and mother, who puts other people's needs before my own, who has to think about housework and the logistics of family having to be at work on differing shifts, of their worries as well as my own. This isn't meant to be self-pitying, just a statement of fact - life gets in the way for many of us, doesn't it?!

On Saturday I was "me" all day, as I enjoyed a series of talks about the achievements of Exploration Tywi, which I had hoped to be involved with, but it happened at the wrong time in my life. I would have enjoyed being involved in the churchyard surveys, the Hedgerow surveys, the Digs. I have at least been able to do some studies under my own steam, and hope to do some more research to submit. I loved hearing about archaeological sites which had been checked out but whose position or lack of remains proved a stumbling block; I loved hearing about the stories behind one or two of the names on gravestones in Llandeilo churchyard; I enjoyed hearing the story of a short-lived farmhouse which finally was reduced to rubble by fire, and what the finds said about the last family to live there. I had my brain well and truly stretched by the talk about the movements of the Twyi which is one of the most dynamic rivers in the UK, and certainly the busiest in Wales.

I jotted down something which I found really inspiring about one of the "lost houses" of Wales - that of Danyrallt in the Towy valley, which was raised to the ground about 1840, when new house improvements/extension were found to be wanting. I think I may go into the Archives tomorrow and call up one of the boxes of estate documents . . .

Imagine an old Elizabethan mansion, all angles and tall chimneys, surrounded by fields called The Court, The Bowling Green, The Cherry Orchard, The Orchard, Little Orchard Meadow and Old Hop-Ground - it sounds almost self-sufficient . . . It was formerly called Alltymeibion although this name was dropped around 1628 in favour of Danyrallt. Roughly translated, "meibion" is sons or youths, and "allt" is slope or hill . . . "Dan yr allt" would be roughly translated as under the slope or hill.

But think what was lost when it was demolished. I jotted this down from one of the posters around the hall on Saturday:

"The old house of Danyrallt was a very ancient structure, partly built of excellent masonry and partly carelessly yet strongly put together. There was a chapel above the small parlour, painted and gilt with these mottoes: Ascendit orado, descendit gratia, and Solideas gidria (I think - I DID scribble so). The chapel had a ceiling coloured with azure powdered with gold stars and the sun and moon to represent the firmament . . . ."

I may have dropped a few words in my scribbling, but it was more or less so. What a loss, but I guess this branch of the Lloyds had other houses elsewhere and this one was considered old and tatty by then . . .

Anyway, I haven't forgotten Part II of the Walks, so I will get that sorted in the next day.

Sunday 6 February 2011

Busy weekend and an award.

I received this lovely award from Laura, at Our Scented Cottage blog. Many thanks Laura.

To Accept The Award Requirements: Thank and Link Back to the Blogger Who Awarded You With The Award and Share 7 Things About Yourself. Award 15 Recently Discovered Great Bloggers and contact the bloggers, inform them of the award.

Seven things about me:

1. Apart from family, cats and photographs, the first thing I would rescue in a fire would be my Dissertation from Uni.
2. I dislike gardens with flowers planted in straight lines - I like Cottage Gardens.
3. When I was younger, I thought people who raved about Church and Cathedral architecture were batty - now I find I'm one of them!
4. If I could go back in time, I would go back to 1812 and ask my 3 x g. grandfather which village he had moved from.
5. When I was still at school I wanted to become a journalist.
6. Whenever I go to Dartmoor, it is like going home.
7. I have more than 200 recipe books - most of them about country and farmhouse recipes.

I don't think I can run to 15 blog nominations for awards, but . . .

1. Wisteria and Cow Parsley
2. Ravenwood Forest
3. Kit and Kaboodle
4. The Wind and the Wellies
5. Needles, Sticks and Hooks
6. Seasonal Hearth
7. Frugal Queen

Argggh! I just pressed publish instead of save as draft!!!!! Back later to sort this out and inform 1 - 7 that they are the chosen ones.

Then I will tell you about my weekend . . .

Back - I hope I got everyone. I had a fabulous Saturday where I spent all day making my brain work for a change, enjoying a series of lectures and talks on archaeology and history local to where I live. I just wish I had been able to participate in the 3 years of the project, but life got in the way. Meanwhile, some of my blog postings and research may still be able to be used to contribute to the store of knowledge.

Today I made Lemon Curd - I have to tell you, on ice cream it is DIVINE!

Friday 4 February 2011

A Need to Walk - Part 1

I walk because I enjoy it, and for my health. My walks are usually of the 3 to 4 mile variety. When I get myself fitter again (after a winter of more infrequent walking due to the icy weather) 5 or 6 miles will be introduced. But even at peak fitness back in my 20s and 30s, I'd have been hard-pressed to keep up with some of this lot.

View from the top of Hay Bluff, on the little road to Capel-y-Ffin.

The Rev. Francis Kilvert was an inveterate walker. One of his favourite walks was up into the mountains to visit Llanthony Priory and the little chapel of Capel-y-Ffin, with its lopsided bell tower. The name translates to the chapel on the boundary and was described by Kilvert as ‘the old chapel, short, stout and boxy, with its little bell turret, squatting like a stout grey owl among its seven great yews’.

Tuesday 5th April 1870

"The day broke cloudless after a sharp frost. Up early and went to Cae Mawr to breakfast at 8 o'clock. Drove to Hay in Morrell's carriage. We drove on to Llanigon, the air fresh, cold driving. Alighted at Llanigon village and sent the carriage back. Walked up by the Church and took the field path to the Cilonw Farm. Down the pretty steep winding lane we went skirting the Honddu. Across the valley at the mouth of a great dreadful dingle stood the ruins of the house which was swept away while the people were dancing, by an avalanche of snow or a torrent of snow water let loose by a sudden thaw. a young man who was coming up from Llanthony to join the party was saved by his greyhound unacccountably hanging behind, whining and running back so as to entice his master home again. "

"A few minutes walk up a lane now dry but which is probably a watercourse in winter, and looking through the hedge we exclaimed, "There they are". Two black figures were working in a sloping path of ground laid out as a garden, one digging and the other wheeling earth to him in a barrow. They were dressed in long black habits girt round the waist with scourge cords knotted at the ends and dangling almost to the ground. The black hoods or cowls were drawn over their heads leaving their faces bare, and their naked feet were thrust into sandals with which they went slip slop along as with slippers down at heel. . . . . We spoke to the masons of whom there were two working at the foundations. They spoke with great respect and some awe of the monks and did not seem the least inclined to laugh at them. They answered all our questions too very civilly. We saw the foundation stone which Father Ignatius came down to lay three weeks ago. Then he returned to London and at present there are only these two monks in residence."

Father Ignatius was the name given to
an eccentric, Joseph Leycester Lyne, who was determined to establish an Anglican Benedictine monastery on land near Llanthony (which edifice he had failed to purchase from Arnold Landor. Sadly despite 40 years' of labour, the monastery failed due to lack of building knowledge on designing and building a church from scratch. The domestic buildings are now a private dwelling.

Friday 24th June, Midsummer Day (1870)

"Up at 6.30 and to breakfast at Cae Mawr soon after 7.30. Perch
(Kilvert's brother) ready for a walk to Llanthony. . . . . When we entered the Abbey precincts the courtyard was swarming with people. Some were walking about, some sitting down under the penthouse on either side of the Abbey Tavern door, some standing in knots and groups talking. The kitchen too was buzzing and swarming like a hive. Beauchamp came forward and met us and we were shown into the upper long room. Here the servant girl Sarah told us that it was Mr Arnold Savage Landor's rent day."

George Borrow's "Wild Wales" has spent many a year included on my bookshelves and I have read it several times and dipped into it regularly since moving to Wales. Borrow's book was published in 1862 and tells of his family's "holiday" in Wales, whereby his wife and daughter were left much to their own devices whilst he walked the length and breadth of Wales from Wrexham across mid-Wales to the borderlands by Newport and Chepstow, taking in the copper-smelting delights of Swansea, and the coal-mining valleys around Merthyr. Having had a Welsh groom, he "had" the language, although I believe his pronunciation must have confused on occasion, as much as it startled true Welshmen to hear an outsider speaking it (for his roots were in East Anglia). I dare say the inhabitants of Wales were mighty relieved when he didn't repeat his holiday, for his manner at times might be construed as overbearing and condescending. Here he is at Merthyr Tydfil;

"The morning of the fourteenth was very fine. After breakfast I went to see the Cyfartha Fawr iron works, generally considered to be the great wonder of the place. After some slight demur I obtained permission from the superintendent to inspect them. I was attended by an intelligent mechanic. What shall I say about the Cyfartha Fawr? I had best say but very little. I saw an immense wheel impelled round with frightful velocity by a steam-engine of two hundred-and-forty-horse power. I heard all kinds of dreadful sounds. The general effect was stunning. These works belong to the Crawshays, a family distinguished by a strange kind of eccentricity, but also by genius and enterprising spirit, and by such a strict feeling of honour that it is a common saying that the word of any one of them is as god as the bond of other people. "

Part of the Blaenavon ironworks, below:

And leaving it:

"I left Merthyr about twelve o'clock for Caerfili. My course lay along the valley to the south-east. I passed a large village called Troed y Rhiw, or the foot of the slope, from its being at the foot of a lofty elevation, which stands on the left-hand side of the road, and was speeding onward fast, with the Taf at some distance on my right, when I saw a strange-looking woman advancing towards me. She seemed between forty and fifty, was bare-footed and bare-headed, with grizzled hair hanging in elf locks, and was dressed in rags and tatters. When about ten yards from me, she pitched forward, gave three or four grotesque tumbles, heels over head, then standing bolt upright, a yard before me, she raised her right arm, and shouted in a most discordant voice - "Give me an alms, for the glory of God!"

The Irish woman then tells her story, on his insistence, it being involved with her being cursed whilst she was living yet in Limerick, and continues on for several pages, by which time the poor man must have been quite overwhelmed by her vociferousness and gives her a shilling to go on her way!

View from Postbridge, looking towards the Drift Lane.

One of my cherished books is "Crossing's Guide to Dartmoor". There was a man who knew Dartmoor like I know my garden, and had walked every inch of it and then set these perambulations down in a book, noting the skylines from many viewpoints and drawing thumbnail sketches of the tors and how they were viewed from other points in the landscape and jotting down how to find every "antiquity".

Below: tor near Seven Lords' Lands - I think . . . . Can't recall WHICH tor though.

Born in Plymouth in 1847, his mother encouraged him to take an interest in the antiquities and traditions of the countryside and as they holidayed in a cottage on Roborough Down his love of Dartmoor was set at a very early age and when the family business at South Brent failed (he had little interest in it, preferring to roam the moor!), he moved on to Brent Tor and then Mary Tavy. His guide was the result of a lifetime's roaming the moor.

Here is an extract from an excursion of his from Postbridge, the first part of which I know well: Exc. 46 : Drift Lane, Roundy Park, Broad Down (Sandy Hole) Hollow Coombe, The Cherry Brook, 6m.

"In the section dealing with the old tracks on the moor we have spoken of Drift Lane, a path which branches from the high road not far from the western end of the bridge, and runs up by the side of the Dart. This we shall now follow, having the Archerton enclosures L, and shall be led past Still Pool, and Hartland Farm on the opposite bank. The path then turns away from the river, and about 1/4 m beyond this point is an enclosure to the R of it, the wall of which is built on the line of a much older one. This is known as Roundy Park. It contains a few hut circles, and close to the wall is a fine kistvaen. Some of the stones composing it have been replaced. Two fragments of flint were found in it, and some bone charcoal, as well as a coking-stone which had been used to trig one of the end stones. . . ."

I might add that this pathway is more of a challenge coming home to your tent after dark, having been to the pub . . .

Hound Tor and Saddle Tor.

Stone circle near Widecombe.

Thursday 3 February 2011

Today's walk

Sunrise this morning.

I decided I needed a walk to blow away the cobwebs and did a 4 mile circuit along the valley bottom.

Recent higher water levels have jammed stones into the nooks and crannies at the river's edge.

I crept along a different bit of the river's edge, where I think a cottage may once have been squeezed in, high above the river, to get a view of a different stretch of the river.

Another different view, with a different pebble beach.

Moss-covered trees along the river bank.

The rough pasture of a neighbour's field lit up by the weak winter sun.

If you enlarge this you will just be able to make out the cream-coloured Italianate tower which is all that remains of Pantglas Hall.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz . . . Burp!

One or two Celendine leaves can just be picked out either side of the leaves of Shining Cranesbill.

This is the smallholding at the top of the hill. Fabulous views on a good day.

Back down the - steep - hill again.

These Snowdrops were planted at least 60 years ago, when the tiny cottage nearby was still standing.

The Dippers were busy along the river today. I saw four pairs and an odd one, but they were very alert and difficult to get photographs of. At times like this I wish I had a wonderful zoom lens.

My husband chopping up some firewood. This tree fell in a storm 4 or 5 years ago so is pretty well ready to use.

Of course, my four miles is just a hiccup compared with some of the marathon walks folks had no choice but to undertake in years gone by. I once did a 15 mile walk across Dartmoor - that's the furthest I've walked and across the most difficult terrain too. It pales into insignificance beside this effort of Thomas Jenkins, who lived in Llandeilo in Victorian times. This is Byron Rogers writing of our local ingenius hero:

"But the main impression is of one man walking. We forget just how much our ancestors walked before the railways came; they had to, on account of the stagecoach fares. In 1838 Jenkins earned 12 shillings a week but it would have cost him 2 shillings to make a 30-mile return journey by coach. And not only did our ancestors walk, they were prepared to turn night into day to do so.

"...May 3, 1836. Left Carmarthen for Haverford West at 15 minutes past 1 a.m. Got to Narberth at 8 a.m. and Haverford West at 12 noon..."

There followed a day of sightseeing with his uncle, this after walking 29 miles in less than eleven hours. The following day he returned, "feet sore, the weather being warm". It was not just the men who walked. At one point, Jenkins records that his wife left Llandeilo to walk to Carmarthen at 4 a.m., though she was pregnant at the time."

The rest of Byron Rogers' article can be read HERE.

As I said, my 4 mile walk was but a hiccup! More extracts from marathon walks tomorrow.

Tuesday 1 February 2011

The day of the Snowdrop

This is where I have been today - Newton House/Dinefwr Park at Llandeilo, which is run by the National Trust. I have asked to volunteer there and been taken on. Yippee! I had a tour of the house today, seeing bits I'd seen before but some of the behind-the-scenes parts too. I am really looking forward to getting involved and it will be great to meet like-minded people and to visit such a lovely setting regularly. The house has been frozen in time to the year 1912. Think of Downton Abbey, recently on tv . . .

Over the years we have had many walks in the parkland, across to the Castle, and my eldest daughter and I have also been involved in two archaeological digs run by Dyfed Archaeological Trust. Both were looking for the Roman remains in the park, and indeed there are the remains of not just one but two Roman forts. I can never look across the parkland without thinking of the Romans and how they lived there with the little vicus of local folk attached to the fort. I was thrilled to bits to find half a beautiful glass bead - dark blue with a twist of white in the glass. The position of the fort was such that they would have seen the camp fires of the local tribe, the Demetae (whose "towns" were modern-day Carmarthen and Dolaucothi, near Pumpsaint, where the Romans mined for gold), across at Garn Goch, a vitrified hillfort.

I was delighted to find these flowering - the first Snowdrops of the year.

Triceratops fallen . . .

View across the park, looking towards Paxton's Tower on the horizon.

I had a lovely wander through this woodland just below the Ice House. This stretch of woodland and the 2nd part I walked past are known as The Rookery.

Green and gold moss on a stump.

The Ice House for Newton House. It was a fair way from the main house and would doubtless have caused much muttering when ice needed to be fetched.

One of the herd of White Park Cattle which roam the parkland. There have been White cattle such as these at Dinefwr Park ever since Medieval times.

Heading back down towards the house.

A long view across the Park.

This pathway led me round in a circle, although had I carried on across the next field, righthanded, I would have ended up just below the Roman fort.

This oak tree had such a beautiful winter shape, and I hope to take other photos of it throughout the year.

The early mist was finally starting to rise as I was leaving.

A long view of the castle remains. I will try and find links to past posts about visits there and its history. The round "tower" to the left of the castle was used as a summerhouse for picnics in Victorian times.