Monday, 28 July 2008

Castle week

I am very very busy right now, so have decided to have a castle pics week and hope have time to write properly next week.

Here's our nearest local castle, Dryslwyn. If you've seen any of these photos before, tough! Most annoyingly, I can't find the best pics, which are the views of the Towy Valley from the top, the meanders in the river etc. May try and update later.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Transition Towns (Llandeilo)

(Click on photo to enlarge).

This is the Towy valley from Llangunnor, just outside of Carmarthen.

I have discovered that one of our local towns (Llandeilo) is the first Transition Town in Wales. What is a Transition Town?, I can hear you asking. Well, I think basically this can be explained as a local community-based response to Peak Oil and all that implies, by seeking to reduce our carbon footprint and to empower ourselves by living sustainably and with the emphasis on local. Growing up on the edge of Southampton in the 50s and 60s, my mum shopped daily for fresh (local) produce. There were no end of market gardens to the East of Southampton and lots of strawberry fields which were picked by local people. Nearly every neighbour grew their own vegetables, had fruit trees, and quite a few kept chickens in their back gardens too. Many also had allotments. Very few people had cars and we relied on public transport. I foresee a return to a similar structure again. I would happily catch a bus into town - except at present I would have to walk three miles to the nearest bus stop . . .

Llandeilo became a transition town in the spring of 2007 and there are already several sub-groups in existence: -

  • Allotments
  • Food and Farming
  • Renewable Energy
  • Permaculture
  • Afallon Teilo - the Apple project
  • 'Heart and Soul' - the psychology of Energy Descent
  • Diwylliant a Iaith - culture and language
I have not yet been along to a meeting - I only found out about this last month - but I intend to become involved and hope that I have something to offer (if only how to make jam and chutney!) as well as learning from the group. I am especially interested in the Apple project. St Teilo is the patron saint of apples and Llandeilo derives from his name (the main church is dedicated to him). There are three local varieties of apple local to Dinefwr alone. Apparently the Towy valley was once renowned for its apple blossom and on the 1905 map, there are over 100 apple orchards between Llandeilo and Llandovery. As an apple-oholic, the project to plant new orchards, correlate information on existing ones and the creation of an orchard near Llandeilo sound right up my street.

I have a lot to learn, and I am looking forward to going to the first meeting, and possibly the Summer Party which is being held locally tomorrow.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Back to Powis Castle

I am feeling lousy with a lingering summer cold, so rather than witter on, I thought I would try and load some more of the photos of the fabulous gardens at Powis Castle. Enjoy.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Woodworking and an old stove

In the downstairs inglenook (we have two!), is this little Art Nouveau style stove, beautifully decorated with enamelled tiles and honeysuckle motifs. It needs a little restoration - the ash tray is off to have a fresh tray to replace the rusty old one - and a new flue pipe, but then it will warm the kitchen - currently my husband's woodworking workshop - using wood and/or anthracite. We had thought of selling it once - I'm so glad we didn't as it's so pretty and really suits the inglenook.

Here are a couple of photos of my husband and son working on a Medieval style bench to match the table I pictured a few weeks back (I will take photos together when finished). I love the way my formerly totally-disinterested-in-woodwork son is now taking an interest and learning from his father. As it should be.

These wedges will be hammered home to widen the pegs and hold them firmly in place.

Outside the kitchen, a mass of purple and pink tumble, and the perfume of the Buddleia is wonderful.

Living History

(Click on photos to enlarge)

A re-used beam, bolted to an even older re-used beam in our first-floor bathroom(out of sight behind it and covered with plaster). I'd love to know where they came from and whether it was the great hall here . . .

I am very fortunate to live in an very old house, on the site of a very much older one. I have found out some of its history, but much is still hidden. When I was tidying up this week, I found some of the research I had done on the house - at one time it was going to be the topic of my Dissertation for my archaeology degree, but then I decided I would write about the equine iconography of Pictish sculptures instead. Now it will be an illustrated booklet - a copy for us and a copy for the next custodians of this house when we finally move and downsize.

When looking at Parish registers, I found several of the servants from our house (when it was a working farm and farm-servants lived-in) marrying in the locality - one married the blacksmith's lass from just down the bottom of the hill. One of the tenant-farmers here married the tenant-farmer from the ancient farm 3/4 mile away. An orphaned tenant-farmer and her brother farmed here in Victorian times, and on the census I discovered two of her younger siblings were categorized as "idiot". Perhaps that explains the chain catches still on some of our doors - that they had to be locked up for safe keeping when everyone was working on the farm....

People were virtually self-sufficient within our parish - the blacksmith lived at the bottom of the hill, and the miller a bare half a mile away. There was a tailor, a sawyer, a shoemaker, charladies, many labourers, a carpenter, seamstresses, a clockmaker, weavers, a hat maker, farmers and the occasional "gent" of this parish.

Farmers paid steep tithes - 2 pence for every cow; 2 pence for the wool for every score of sheep and 4 pence per hive for the bee/honey tithe.

I don't doubt that there were some good times and bad. Revelries perhaps, when Lady M lived here in the mid 18th century - not long after the house had been "modernised" - I found some incredibly fine glass in the footings of a wall when I was extending a border in the garden recently. As for the older pre-Tudor "great hall", and its inhabitants, spoken of with eloquence by bardic poet Lewis Glyn Cothi, I wonder what it looked like? Did the rafters ring when this house provided High Sheriffs for the town, when prestigious marriages were agreed, or when positions of high office (esquire to the King's body no less) were achieved? So many hundreds of years ago.

There are still some enigmatic reminders of the farmhouse's past. . . the putlogs which were left in place when the house was extended; the date of 1831 carved into a massive beam, showing when the house was re-roofed; the marks on massive beams - either builders' marks or witch marks?

Date-mark from when the house was reroofed.

Part of the mill machinery went through here. There is a corresponding wear-mark in the oak flooring 1 1/2 floors lower.

A putlog from 18thC? or earlier building scaffolds.

We have found other protections against witches over doorways in the house - a cat skull, a child's much-worn and rat-nibbled tackety boot, and a mummified rat.

The old mill pond now has trees growing from it, but we have moved the leat which powered it further away from the house. At one time, all farmhouses by a water source would have a water-powered mill for cutting timber or milling flour. Self-reliance again. What we know as the old cart shed, has a window above it, and a window in the back wall and I believe may well have been the bake house back in the early 18th century. I found the footings of a wall of a building identical in size just above this one, so perhaps that was the brew house? "Finds" are few, as the yard was concreted over back in the 50s and we have concreted (from necessity) over the top of that too. Just a couple of old donkey shoes, the candle sconce from an old piano, and metal bolts and screws from old farm implements.

Well, things change, life goes on. My menfolk are taking advantage of the sunshine and making the bench which matches the Medieval table I pictured a few weeks back. I shall take photos when it's polished up and finished.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Some Me-Time

(Click on photo to enlarge.)

I had a lovely walk up the hill this evening before our evening meal. I felt a need to unwind and touch base, and walking in the countryside always does that for me. We are fortunate to live in a very beautiful area and I never tire of the views from the top of the hill, across to the distant Brecon Beacons, with the vitrified hillfort of Garn Goch inbetween. The foothills of the Carmarthen Fans sweep the skyline, topped by huge defiant stone ring cairns, clearly visible from many miles distant. My eldest daughter and I walked to these once and they are immense and have 360 degree views of course. Amazing places.

I picked a few wild strawberries as I walked along, and looked at the hedgerow flowers - returning after the verges had their summer trim recently. There was Wood Sage, right in the roots of the hedge itself, and a few furtive blooms of Meadowsweet had survived the cutting by being similarly placed. There was Nipplewort, Perforate St John's Wort, Red Campion faded in the summer sun, a few battered Foxgloves, Meadow Vetchling with its yellow pea-like flowers, and two stray and very late Large Stitchwort. The ferns had revived and put out fresh growth too.

I walked up nearly as far as old Isaac's house, now lived in by his grown up son and family. The remains of the old once-thatched cruck-frame cottage are collapsing more with every passing winter, and the hens no longer choose to roost there as it isn't particularly weatherproof any more. The wind plays with the rotten thatch that pokes out from the twisted lengths of wriggly tin, and horsehair plaster falls from the crumbling walls. How pleased the family must have been to have finally built the cottage's replacement around the turn of the 19th century, when Victoria was in her final years, though it resolutely faces away from the wonderful view and into the prevailing weather! - which is South-Westerly in these parts. That attitude reminds me of our kitchen when we moved in - the sink resolutely faced a blank wall as if to say "you've no time to look outside you know - you're here to work!" and our farmer neighbour, who stopped us when we had been here a few weeks and said, "I suppose you think it's beautiful here." Well, actually we did - and we still do . . .

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Returning to my mother's time?

A general view of our inglenook and the Hergom stove and some of my bits and bobs including the big copper pans, cast iron kettle (in use for hot water in winter) and brass preserving pan.

My "indulgence" arrived today, a cheap book from Amazon - one originally published several years back to accompany the tv series, "Frontier House" which I missed. However, I could see through the book how it all panned out between the families. I had this book on long-term loan from a friend and only reluctantly returned it! Now I have my own copy, and hope it will be helpful in the preparation of travelling back in time, away from our current over-reliance on oil, electricity etc - we don't have gas here. In fact we don't even have mains water or drainage. Having our own water supply is a good thing, as we are less reliant upon the powers that be and don't pay water rates. Many farmsteads in our neck of the woods have their own water supply. One of our neighbours has never had an electricity supply and always been off-grid as the cost of connecting electricity to his property was estimated at £14,000 20 years back! They rely on a whacking big generator. Electricity didn't arrive to this area until the 1950s. . . .

I think back to when I was growing up in the 1950s, and we had no fridge, just a zinc meat safe in the larder, and the cheese was always a bit sweaty in the summer, with a dry rind to it, and butter soon went rancid. Mum kept the milk from turning by keeping it cool in a pan of cold water. Shopping was done daily - from necessity - and mum didn't keep a store cupboard as I do. There were four private small grocery shops, a hardware store which also sold wool, childrens' books, toiletries on one side, and a small Co-op within a short walk.

Of course, there was no washing machine either, and we had a "copper" in the corner of the scullery and of course, Monday was washing day. Stuff to be boiled first - sheets and towels, and then progressively through the less heat-tolerant clothing until you ended up with woollens last. Mum had a clip-on mangle which attached to one end of the enamel-topped table in the kitchen.

I've been thinking - how would I cope if we had no oil - if the cost really was SO prohibitive we couldn't afford any central heating? Well, we would have to change our Hergom stove back to solid fuel, so as we no longer have the ratcheted grate for it, we would have to botch up a grate on bricks to support it to the right height. We would have to source a large quantity of seasoned wood or pay the going rate for anthracite. We have about half an acre of our own woodland, plus plenty of streamside and hedgerow trees on our land, which we could harvest for fuel, but would have to wait for it to season. Our current supplies of seasoned wood might just last the winter if it wasn't too bad a one. The kitchen would be dustier, and a big chunk of the day would be taken by cutting up wood for it, to keep the woodshed supply topped-up. It would, however, give me oven cooking again, though a roast would be out of the question unless the stove was seriously stoked up to temperature. It would give us a warm room though, dry clothes (we use two Betty Maids hung from the beams to dry clothes on) and I could cook on and in it. (I currently just make soups and stews on the top). Plus it would supply the hot water and we could boil water on top for tea, washing up etc. We've never had a tumble drier, always the Betty Maids instead. We tend to live in the kitchen throughout the year anyway, just going into the sitting room in the evening to watch tv/do crafts (me) and we have a wood burning stove in there, which would also provide room on top to cook stuff to cut the electricity bill.

Downstairs, where we have another inglenook, even bigger than the one pictured above, we have an old Art Nouveau enamelled stove, which is about to undergo some renovation (mainly a new ash pan soldered to the pretty front of the old one) and have a pipe attached from it to the main flue pipe, a quick clean up and we have a wood/anthracite burner for the bottom kitchen, which was mum's but is now my husband's workshop for his woodworking.

Life wouldn't be so easy, and I would rather have a nice warm house and not the same struggle to keep warm as we experienced when we first moved here 20 years ago, but we would manage, with a few extra layers of clothing! I can remember having to go to bed fully clothed when I was first married (my previous husband) and we had tied accommodation which was so cold and damp.

I will leave you with a quote from the Glenn family, writing in the Frontier House book, which fairly sums it up for me - she was talking of their embarking on the hardship of pioneer living and leaving their past lives behind:

"I just walked by and heard the families talking about the rations, and I understand their anxieties, but what are they thinking? It was not a soft, easy time, it was a struggle, cruel and mean. But it was a good struggle. That's what brings a family together. Families aren't made of good times. They are made out of struggles, hardship, and pain and doing without. There are a lot of things I would have liked to have had. I do not have a sunbonnet, which any sound Southern woman would have brought. But there is a difference between what you want and what you need. In our life we are used to getting what you want."

Those last two sentences say it all for me and how things will probably be in the future. Reports of gas bills increasing by a staggering 66% in the near future must be very frightening for people in modern houses, reliant on gas, and with no fireplaces. There will be a lot of hardship.

Going back in time - York Minster

Right. Having had a fortnight and more where my time was not my own, I am hoping to get back to daily blogging again, though the computer still has to go back in to be tweeked again and at present I can't just load my photos off the camera, which is a real bane. My daughter manages to do it in a very roundabout fashion, but I don't know how.

I thought I would just put up a few photos of York Minster, as it was such an amazing place. I have quite a few more photos, but these will have to suffice until I can get the others loaded.

This was the most amazing piece of stained glass, but I have yet to check my bestiary and work out exactly WHAT beastie is being ridden - has a face like a lion, but hooves and not paws and he has a fierce face on the end of his tail!

Two of the windows in the Chapter House which had the most amazing atmosphere and energies.

Can you imagine working upside down making this?

More stained glass.

One of the beautiful little streets in the Shambles area of York.

A lovely cottage garden near the University.

Also near the University - pretty cottage and garden.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

HAVING to be frugal.

Click on photo to enlarge

I think many of us these days is not in the habit of being frugal. I know that in the papers in the last year or two, there was mention of a few people who bought nothing new for a year and greatly reviewed their buying habits - and habits is what they are. So many of the "things" we purchase we don't actually need, just want. I am a guilty party here, especially with books and magazines, though the books I buy are usually 2nd hand from charity shops or car boot sale stalls, and are often useful books of recipes or craft ideas. I also keep my craft magazines forever and refer to them over the years.

Pause a while then, and think what the future may hold, if inflation continues to soar, food prices make grocery shopping increasingly difficult, and people actually have consider leaving "treats" on the shelf. On tv recently, a Sheffield couple were interviewed about the cost of living. The wife said that they "were having to eat leftovers" - um, doesn't everyone? - and then the husband said, "Yeah, and we have to buy fruit and veg from the wholesaler," at which point there was much rolling of eyes in my household, as we get the majority of our fruit and veg (though we grow some ourselves) from the local wholesaler in Abergwili. It is a FRACTION of the price of supermarket fruit and veg. True, some needs to be eaten or used quickly, but it is priced to reflect this. During the current week, for £1 per box, I have had plums, bananas, peas and damaged apples. I will be jam making today (Dark Plum and Banana Jam), shucking peas for tonight's meal and the freezer, and we are still eating the apples. Dessert tonight is going to be an Apricot and Blueberry Crumble Cake - I bought several punnets of Blueberries when they were on offer in a certain supermarket earlier in the year and froze them. Fresh apricots were £1 for 2lbs in the wholesalers this week. Even at £8.50 per 56lb sack, Maris Piper potatoes are FAR cheaper than small bags in the supermarket, as they work out at around 15p/lb.

I need to go and get some more eggs today. A neighbour has a free-range set-up and I swop jam or chutney for eggs; I like bartering.

Let's hope that things never get so bad that we HAVE to exist as folk did in the Channel Islands in WWII, when they were occupied by the Germans and supplies were extremely difficult to get hold of. Housewives had to return to Victorian habits, such as gleaning, which provided grain which they could take to the mill in return for the same weight of flour. Frying Pan Scones were made from gleaned oats and flour, baking powder and salt. Once supplies ran out, baking powder was made from cream of tartar, bicarbonate of soda and either ground rice or cornflour. Alternatively, bicarbonate of soda and vinegar was a useful raising agent, although the vinegar flavour needed to be masked by ground ginger.

When tea ran out, islands became very resourceful and turned to the hedgerows for inspiration. Bramble tea, made from blackberry leaves, became a very popular drink, as were the leaves of wild strawberries which, when dried and brewed, made a passable approximation of China tea. Young bramble shoots and woodruff were sometimes added to greater improve the flavour. The islanders also made "tea" from baked parsnips and carrots, camellia leaves, lemon balm, lime blossoms and green pea pods, although the name "winklewater" was often given to the resulting drinks! Coffee was made from grated and roasted parsnips, and even acorns were also used, and of course dandelion coffee was popular. I'm not sure if the coffee substitute of Lupin Seeds ever caught on though! (Many thanks to Bryan Chalker's "Out of the Frying Pan into Der Fuhrer" - the story of the Channel Islands' Kitchen Front of World War Two.)

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

My new Larder

Well it's finished, and didn't take my husband too long from start to finish, though he has built it to last! It wasn't quite how I imagined, but is just what I needed. The two dark bits of "worktop" are slate slabs we bought at auction a couple of years back for just £10. There is some more grey slate slab on the top shelf too, two pieces which were hanging about our farmstead.

The Elderflower Champagne (18 litres) and Elderflower Syrup are in plastic bottles at the far end. My jams and chutneys and pickles are in the nearer view. The two little tan coloured pots are my Elderflower Handcream, and just beyond them is a mesh cover to keep flies off food such as cakes or pies.
On the top shelf I have quite a few tins - beans, potatoes, fruit, sardines, tuna, soup etc. I have several weeks' supply. The white plank in the middle needs painting - it was last used when we had the kitchen floor up (new concrete base being laid) and so it is still splashed with concrete! It was just the right length though . . .

The preserves end. It will be added to this week as I got a box of bananas today (£1) and intend to make Banana Jam, for bartering for eggs!

This room is very much cooler than the rest of the house, and was an offshoot of the original Dairy (which became my mum's bed sitting room when she lived with us). It is built into the hillside and probably a constant temperature, and with the quarry tiled floor, absolutely perfect for a Larder. I am SO pleased with it, and the extra storage space it has freed up in my upstairs pantry. It is easy to see at a glance when stocks of anything are running low too.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Going back in time - York Minster

Right. Having had a fortnight and more where my time was not my own, I am hoping to get back to daily blogging again, though the computer still has to go back in to be tweeked again and at present I can't just load my photos off the camera, which is a real bane. My daughter manages to do it in a very roundabout fashion, but I don't know how.

I thought I would just put up a few photos of York Minster, as it was such an amazing place. I have quite a few more photos, but these will have to suffice until I can get the others loaded.

This was the most amazing piece of stained glass, but I have yet to check my bestiary and work out exactly WHAT beastie is being ridden - has a face like a lion, but hooves and not paws.

Two of the windows in the Chapter House which had the most amazing atmosphere and energies.

Can you imagine working upside down making this?

More stained glass.

One of the beautiful little streets in the Shambles area of York.

A lovely cottage garden near the University.

Also near the University - pretty cottage and garden.