Monday 30 May 2011

In limbo

Squirrel photographed recently in Dinefwr Castle Woods.

That's how I feel right now. I am on the hamster-wheel of life and can't get off! We are busy putting the final touches to this year's work on the house and garden, and another agent is coming out to do a valuation this week. Then we will know where we stand (my darling husband doesn't believe that Welsh house prices have sunk as low as I know them to be from my internet searches). The over-pricing agent last year did us no favours whatsoever.

I am still deep in my Edward Thomas (poet) research and reading, and still fighting off this chest infection (3rd lot of anti-biotics now). The infection, plus sleeping poorly, have knocked me for 6. If I work, then I pay the price the next day, but housework doesn't do itself, more's the pity.

Nothing exciting to report. Brain in neutral at the moment. The petrol strimmer was completely mangled inside the motor, so we will now have to cut the paddock by hand. Deep joy.

I was volunteering yesterday, at the Big House, and it was very busy, being a Bank Holiday. The house loved having lots of people there!

The view above is the last of the bluebells a couple of weeks ago, in the fields just below the castle.

Friday 27 May 2011

Open Heart Surgery on the Strimmer

The last 1/3rd of the paddock was just too much for it. THEY lied when they wrote 1:50 on the side - it should have been 1:25 (oil to petrol ratio - I "think") . . . It overheated. And how. We took it to our neighbour to try to fix this evening. I hope it will survive. We joked about taking it to be blessed in church on Sunday. I think it could do with a prayer and a wing behind it . . .

Thursday 26 May 2011

The Year of the Clouded Yellow . . .


1983 I think it was. It seems a lifetime ago now. Nearly 30 years. Yet it still seems like yesterday. I have no photographs to record what we saw, what we experienced. It is all "just" a memory. One which is unlikely to be repeated, so I shall share it with you. Illustrations? I have none. Go to Dartford Warbler's lovely blog, Where Beechmast Falls, and you will get an idea of the locale, as her photos were taken just a little way along the coast. Look up "Clouded Yellow butterfly" images on Google. Then you know what just ONE looks like. For what we saw that day, you will have you use your imagination.

The place? The beautiful coastline of the Purbecks near Encombe House, overlooking Chapman's Pool. The sea shimmered in a heat-haze, studded with diamonds of light reflecting the sun like a shattered prism. The grass was dry underfoot, for we were enjoying a wonderful summer. June had brought thunderstorms - huge hailstones the size of golfballs had pelted Weymouth, and there were reports of "pink" lightening. July shared the thunderstorms, but also temperatures up in the 90s as weather systems moved up from the Mediterranean. With the weather systems came the butterflies. It was a good year for the local ones - the Blues, the little brown Skippers peculiar to Dorset and this part of the south coast, the Commas, the Peacocks, the Tortoiseshells, the Red Admirals, Painted Ladies and a profusion of Fritillerys of various persuasions which flew too fast to identify and Hairstreaks which were fairly unco-operative about lingering for identification too. As we walked along the cliff path, clouds of butterflies flew up like someone shaking a silk shawl of a hundred different colours. They landed again on Knapweed and Mallow and Rest Harrow, fluttered where the Harebells danced and the Hawksbeard nodded, past Thistles and Plaintain and Yarrow and Toadflax and Trefoil, feeding on Thyme and Scabious and Bedstraw and Clover. Meadow Browns vied with Gatekeepers and Marbled Whites had hatched in epic numbers.

Then came the "foreigners" - the Clouded Yellows - and as we stood looking out to sea, shading our eyes against the glare of the sun-dimpled waves, we saw what looked like a small cloud on the horizon which, as it neared, showed movement and we realized that it was a host of butterflies helped coastwards by the warm winds of the south. Then then were on us, a swirling sulphur cloud of butterflies, flying beside us and beyond us. We walked on, and with every step a profusion of butterflies fluttered up and then returned to feeding, basking and resting. It was as if the hand of Midas had lingered and touched the landscape with a wand of gold. . . . .



Lady's Bedstraw.

Small Tree Mallow.

Scabious in "bud".


Small flowers of Bindweed.


Scabious again.

Tuesday 24 May 2011

Unidentified rambler rose

I call this one "Gelli Aur" (pronounced, roughly - Gethly Ire in Welsh). I was given a cutting of it and it will happily root if it touches the ground, so I have several more in planters and have planted 3 out the front too.

It flowers once, in May, heavily scented, single white petals with a touch of pink at the edges when in bud. No hips I can remember. Grows quite strongly and vigorously.

Any suggestions? It's not in any of my David Austin catalogues and I can't find it searching on line.

Monday 23 May 2011

Mondays . . .

This is Jarvis, more commonly known as "Little Whale"! One of the three Muskateers : )

Monday morning, and I feel like I used to do when I worked, and it was the first day back after a lovely weekend or holiday. I just feel like a HEAP, with no energy to do anything! Sadly, it is my day for volunteering at the Big House and I had to change my day last week, so can't let them down two weeks in a row. I feel I shan't be doing much house-history today as my poor brain just wants to go to sleep!

Ah well. Such is life. I have been busy painting (still, again, etc) this time in the Junk Room (oops - LIBRARY!). One wall was still in the terracotta limewash and looked dark and shabby, so I laboriously moved the first stretch of junk away from the wall and out into the hall and I got the lid of the lovely clay paint (white) and started work. I still have a big pile of junk in the hall, but it's now finished and dry and so I can get the camping stuff back in the cubby hole in the corner which the kids used to have as a den, and then go through and remove anything which doesn't have good reason to HAVE to be in the house . . .

We had some local "wildlife" this past week. First one of the boys (who stay out all night and like to bring me "presents") left me a bat on the kitchen floor. I'm not sure what sort, though I did go and have a look at a couple of bat sites - and I was very amused to find there is such a thing as a SOPRANO Pipistrelle - so called because it has a higher pitch to its squeaks!

Then, when I was in what used to be called the intake area in the paddock, I found a big fat hairy caterpillar. Again, I'm not sure quite what it is exactly, except it's a moth caterpillar, but it could be a Drinker?

I leaned out of my office window at the weekend and took these photos of the garden. Here's the Aquilegia acre on the right hand side of the garden.

Another view of it, showing part of the big fish pond on the left and the wildlife pond on the right.

This is the left hand side of the garden, with the herbaceous border all the way around it, and trellis at the back with various roses and clematis growing up it.

This is the bit I extended from the original herb garden - which had amazingly survived despite the horses marching over it and eating around it. The herb garden is the bit behind the young pear tree. The bit in front is planted up with all sorts and where I have a gap I add other plants I've grown from seed, dug out from elsewhere etc.

This area is by the front gate. When OH cut down a dead willow tree, one big branch was almost completely hollow, so we have utilised it as planters for geraniums and nasturtiums.

A closer view of the Irises in front of the house. I have another big clump down by mum's patio.

Above and below: Darling Alfie. All the "boys" throw themselves on the ground at your feet to have their tummies tickled!

This is Lucy, Lucky's daughter.

Dear old Lucky, who must be at least 16 now . . .

This house is such a money box - we had to get a neighbour to come and re-dig the soakaway so we can put an alternative pipe in . . . Then we will have to back-fill by hand as money is tight and we can't afford to have the digger back . . .

Thursday 19 May 2011

Astrologers, Cunning Men and Conjurors . . .

A chance remark by a neighbour yesterday suddenly brought into mind the once-famous Wizards of Carmarthenshire - the Harries family of Pantcoy, Cwrt-y-Cadno. The extent of their skills is uncertain. Some saw them as fraudsters - John Rowland, writing in 1889, insisted that Dr Harries was "a conjuror, fortune-teller and a quack-doctor". However, you have to remember that they lived in a very rural area - a very parochial rural area - and the people consulting them often had no better alternative. Medically, folk remedies were the norm and healers were respected - think of the Physicians of Myddfai - perhaps 15 or 20 miles distant and still spoken of with respect today. However, John Harries, "wizard", combined medicine with astrology (which must have seemed like magic to the ignorant) and a natural ability of second sight. The people who consulted him still believed in witches and faery folk like the Tylwyth Teg.

John Harries (1785 - 1839) and Henry Gwynne Harries (1821 - 1849) were father and son. John Harries did actually have a medical training and was presumably a qualified Surgeon, as he later became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh where he lectured. A tall man of some 6 feet 2 inches, he was described as having mutton chop whiskers, a wide mouth and straight nose, short dark hair and "blue wistful thinking eyes".

You would know him if you saw him for apparently his favourite attire was "a full-length heavy velvet cape, which he had lined with red flannel as he felt the cold. The cape was fastened on the left shoulder with a three inch solid silver buckle with the family Coat-of-Arms design incorporated above the buckle part. This he had made with a London silversmiths." However, he was acknowledged as being "a countrified man, in countrified attire with knee breeches, always cheerful, bright of eye and pleasant of speech."

He was greatly respected - especially by people in desperation - and indeed lunatics were brought him from as far away as Pembrokeshire and Radnorshire that he might heal them. Indeed, he did seem to have a power over them, although his treatment was somewhat unorthadox and involved taking the patient to the bank of a river or pool, whereupon he would fire an old flint revolver, with the effect that the startled patient would fall into the water. Herbs and blood-letting were also part of the cure. He had the power to charm away pain and it is no wonder that people assumed he was in league with the devil.

His son Henry was described as being 6 feet tall, with a pale face and long dark hair hanging in ringlets, and he had piercing grey-blue eyes and a very high narrow forehead. He had a weak chest and in consequence, a poor constitution.

Charmers in those days tended to have "specialities" which they were able to treat, such as mental problems, skin complaints (think - wart "cures" are still passed around to this day!), stopping bleeding, and healing wounds and sores. However, in addition John and Henry Harries could also predict events, find lost or stolen property, and combat witchcraft and "invoke benign spirits".

Of course, the very fact that the Harries menfolk had a library of books was an anathema to ordinary folk whose "library" would consist only of a copy of the Bible. It was generally believed that within the library at Pantcoy was a copy of a demonic book which was kept locked and chained and only opened - and then with great care should the demons and evil spirits escape - once a year, and then only out in the woods and in the presence of another wizard (a schoolmaster from Pencader apparently), and even THEN, the occasion would be accompanied by terrific storms of thunder and lightening up and down the Cothi valley . . .

John Harries was never bothered by people not paying their bills, for he had a neat way of billing which included the statement: "Unless the above amount is paid to me by . . . . . (date) adverse means will be resorted for the recovery." Hmmm . . . What it is to have a Reputation!

John Harries was once accused of murder, after he had told the police where the body of a missing local girl would be found (she had been murdered by her boyfriend). This case was passed to magistrates at Llandovery. They were modern-thinking men and thought they had an open and shut case, until Harries offered to demonstrate his powers of second sight as part of his defence by asking them to give the hour they came into the world and he in turn would provide the hour they would depart it. . . needless to say, they declined to pursue this line of questioning and Harries was released.

John Harries knew of the day of his death - by accident - on May 11th, and determined to stay in bed that day to avoid accident. However, there was a fire in the house of Pantcoy, and in trying to quench the fire, he slipped from the ladder he was on and died. Rumour has it that his coffin suddenly became lighter as it was being carried to the grave - this was, of course, the evil spirits who had claimed his soul at death, came back for his body!

His son was always in the shadow of his father, and whilst he possessed a few of his skills, never shone in them. However, it is said that John Harries passed on his skills o certain pupils, and one of his servants was said to be skilled in divining the future. Henry died from Consumption, aged only 28, on 16th June 1849. Sadly, something his father had no cure for . . .

This piece could not have been written without consulting an excellent and fascinating article by Richard C Allen, and published by the North American Journal of Welsh Studies in 2001.

Aquilegias . . .

An unusual "chocolate" colour. One to identify . . .

I think this is Adelaide Addison.

The palest pink and a deeper shade.

This is a really stunning black stellata form.

This is the form I started with here. I have these- doubles and trebles - in light pink, white, dark pink, lilacy-pink etc.

This is a lilac-blue hybrid I bought somewhere last year - and it flowered on and on until late July.

Purple stellata petal - isn't this a gorgeous colour?

Black Barlow.
Predominantly paler pink in the Aquilegias this year, but I love this darker shade.

Pink Norah Barlow.

I think this is possibly Red Hobbit, or is it Cardinal?

A white Norah Barlow.

William Guinness.

One of my fancies. I think this could be Aquilegia formosa but don't know its 'pet' name.

Above and below. A very old rose - name unknown - which came from a neighbour, who in turn was given it as a cutting (very prolific and easy to take). It came from Golden Grove, the other side of the Towy Valley, and once an important local landowner's house. I am still trying to identify it. It just flowers the once, but is COVERED in blooms, and has the most divine scent too.

Above and below, views across the garden from the front door, looking to the right.