Sunday, 30 November 2008

Sunday is Long Walk Day . . .

Stream and trackway by Cwm Heligan.

. . . and I'm shattered now. One photograph to keep you going, and I'll be back with more and a proper write up in the morning.

Saturday, 29 November 2008


What a lovely start to the day. My dear friend at A Bite of Country Cupcakes (go visit - you'll LOVE her blog!) has given me an award! It's so nice to think that people do enjoy the things I blog about. Now I get to pass it on . . .

The rules of this award are:
*Put the logo on your blog or post
*Nominate at least 5 blogs (can be more) that are Uber Amazing!
*Let them know that they have received this Uber Amazing award by commenting on their blog.

So here are my nominees:

If you are interested in archaeology and history, Thelma has an AMAZING blog.

To my dear friend Kim (who I hope will be visiting next year!), for her excellent horsey, artistic, country blog.

I have only recently discovered Jane's blog, but there is someone else out there who is still dotty about the pony books of their childhood . . .

Anyone who rescues horses, dogs and cats has got to be a Good Egg in my books. Take a bow . . .

To dear GTM, whose blog ) is a constant joy.

Walking through history

Off the beaten track . . . "part of an early trackway from the village to the Aber Cothi ford across the Tywi".

I had a late afternoon walk yesterday, being dropped off in a nearby village with ancient roots and walking a question mark shaped route back towards home, where I met up with my husband driving out to pick our son up from the school bus. It was a dull day, so photos weren't very good, but I did a lot of thinking about the past and it was a real journey back in time.

A very gloomy view looking across the Towy valley towards Dryslwyn Castle.

Looking down the Towy Valley towards Merlin's Hill.

Across the Towy Valley with Black Mountain vaguely on the left hand side. In a field just like this one, and only very vaguely visible as slight undulations beneath the grass. the "Via Julia" ran. This road ran between Carmarthen town and the Roman Fort at Dinefwr (where my daughter and I worked on a Dig some years ago), fording the Cothi below Kincoed and still remembered in the line of a farm trackway which crosses Station Road, Nantgaredig just below the school, crossing the Doctor's Surgery Car Park and then heading off across the fields towards Danyrallt. I listened for the sound of marching Roman feet, but heard only the echoes of time . . .

This curious bump on the landscape is Pen-y-cnap. The Transactions of the Carmarthen Antiquarian Society, around the time of the First World War, described it thus:

"This is a small mound castle standing about three hundred yards west of the parish church, and evidently intended to defend a ford over the neighbouring Tywi. It has a height of from 25 to 30 feet, and a summit diameter of about 50 feet. Long prior to the formation of the present plantation, the top of the mound had been a garden, but there still remain slight traces of the depression so frequently found in the centre of the summit. The encircling ditch is much filled in. Of the bank surrounding the bailey only a very faint outline exists; it seems to have measured about 200 feet in length, by 150 feet in breadth, and ended in a point. The external ditch has altogether disappeared. On the slope of the mound are slight remains of walls, of no defensive intent. The lane which skirts the south of the earthwork, between it and the river, is part of an early trackway from the village to the Aber Cothi ford across the Tywi."
An old barn at Kincoed farm, typical of many hereabouts. The two big doors were probably earlier threshing doorways, where the wind could blow the chaff from the flailed corn out over the "threshold" . . .

Past the farmyard and down the trackway towards the river.

Looking back on the tree-clad slopes.

The sun set in a wonderful lemon glow behind the fields of Cilarddu. Once there was an extensive forest here - huge maiden oaks, like the few remaining I saw in the Deer Park at Dinefwr this summer, when my daughter and I were on a Dig there. Here in 1291, Edward I:

"Granted in Cethinog, Wydigada and Elvet to Venerable Thomas (Beck), Bishop of St. Davids, rights of common in the woods, the undergrowth, oak for timber, and other trees. They may cut and carry away for their own profit as it shall seem most advantageous." John Brunker, from his booklet on Llanegwad. He adds, 'It must be kept in mind that Llanegwad had at this time a very extensive forest of Killardun (modern Cilarddu).'

The sun has gone down behind historic hills where an Iron Age Promontary Fort sat atop steep sided hills, half a mile or so from 'Bwlch yr adwy' - 'gateway gap'. Around 1100, a Norman motte and bailey with its wooden tower, was built here, controlling the valley and the main E-W routeway along what is now the busy A40.

So my walk took me through two and a half thousand years of history, from the Iron Age, and the Romans, to the rigid control of the Norman lords, and the ecclesiastical control of the countryside to the farm buildings and farmhouses of the 1700s and up to modern times. A true palimpsest of history a landscape so familiar to me.

Saturday 7's

Nita, over on her blog, has tagged me to join in these "7s". I won't tag anyone, but join in if you want to on your blog.

7 things to do before I die:

Ride sidesaddle
Finish writing the book I've been researching
Find some of the answers to those riddles in my family tree
Be a granny
Travel abroad
Move down to Devon
Walk the Shaftesbury Drove

7 things I do now:

Make my own bread

7 things I can't do:

Make a sponge cake
Swim very well
Look out of a tall building without feeling dizzy
Make soap
Join the M25 without worrying about it
Public Speaking

7 things I find attractive in the opposite sex:

Nice eyes
Kissable lips
A nice smile
Nice bottom (think Michelangelo's "David" here . . .)
Good sense of humour
Generous nature

7 things I say most often:

Oh rats
Kettle's on
Bl**dy Talk-Talk
Where's Trixie gone?
Give Banshee some cheese to shut her up!

7 Celebs that I admire:

I don't admire any of them! At a push, Clarissa Dickson-Wright and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall . . .

7 favourite foods:

A good prawn curry
Ice cream (pref. mint choc. chip)
Fresh home-baked bread
Steak and chips with a creamy pepper sauce

Join in on your blog if you'd like, and leave a link here.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Llanybydder Auction

A few of the cob youngsters offered at Llanybydder Horse Sale today . . .

The last Thursday in the month is when our local horse auction is held, at Llanybydder in Carmarthenshire. I was meeting up with a friend from a Horse Charity (Equine Market Watch)
which I also try and support along with Lluest Horse & Pony Trust. As I had used rugs which I no longer had any use for now the horses are all gone, and also things like bandages and brushing boots which are no longer needed, I have shared my "leftovers" between the two charities.

Anyway, after meeting up with Siobhan from EMW Wales, my husband and I looked around the sale, and the car boot sale in the hall - where a man in the entrance was surruptitiously trying to sell a tiny Jack Russell pup which was not old enough to be weaned. This is NOT allowed on the mart premises (hence him lurking in the entrance to the hall), but unfortunately although there was a big police presence - about 10 of our men in blue - the RSPCA inspector appeared to be invisible so I couldn't report this. I was fortunate enough to find a book about Arab breeding from the 1970s, so I added that to my collection. The photographs in it were wonderful and a lot of them are horses which are related to my darling lad - I still think of him as "my" lad, though he's settled in at his new home now.

Apparently recent horse sales at Llanybydder and Brecon have been swamped with people offloading horses and ponies of all sorts because of the economic climate - though the bulk has been mongrel youngsters with little or no future outside of a tin of cat food. Numbers were down today - average figures for the last few autumn sales I have attended in recent years. I took a few photographs, but was glad to see that hay was being provided in most pens and stalls, but I don't think I noticed one bucket of water . . .

Spots always sell. I felt sorry for the wormy chestnut at the back.

These looked pretty enough to attract a few bids.

A couple of pocket Shetlands . . .

I think this little chap had cornered the market in "cute and hairy"!

I had to walk away before I took even more of a fancy to the little black on the left.

One of the coloured foals on offer - it should grow out of being so croup-high, but I doubt it will ever have a longer neck . . .

There were some horses and ponies in the riding section which were being "talked up" with photographs and testimonials about their abilities - I hope they went to good homes, but if they are "right" it shows how desperate people are to sell them. Sometimes they're very much NOT right though - bigger horses with navicular or "invisible" ailments, or have problems under saddle - described as "has been known to buck" for which you may readily interpret as "would suit rodeo", or "takes a keen hold out hunting" : "Unstoppable", or "has been seen to crib" as it demolishes anything it can get its teeth into . . .

The coloureds - "gypsy cobs" - usually sell (though their owners have inflated ideas of their value; come Autumn no one will touch a Thoroughbred with a barge pole because they have to be FED over the winter; Section Ds (Welsh Cobs) usually find good homes with farmers, especially if they are mares which will be bred from or have good blood lines. In the summer months there used to be (haven't been this summer) some mares with quite tidy bloodlines being offered - this is the traditional "old farmer" way of selling homebred stock, though if it's REALLY good, it will go off to the Cob Sales at Builth.

If you're thinking, don't you get upset? Or "how can you walk away?" The answer is that not every pony goes to a necessarily bad home. I'm not there to see which - if any - go to the Meat Man. It's a case of not allowing your imagination or your compassion to run riot. Most of the ones there today were in pretty fair condition. The late-winter sales are another matter.

Anyway, we had other fish to fry, and had to head down to Ferryside, to what had been a series of old milking sheds (blooomin' cold and miserable and windsweapt it was today too). I bought a fixed cheek twisted pelham for my bit collection and a gorgeous Victorian (or older?) glass rolling pin with wonderful flaws in the glass, and my husband, who had gone for pitch pine and old brass handles for his current renovation projects, also struck lucky.

Cast iron fire surround anyone?

It was an Alladin's cave . . . largely of rubbish! Unless you wanted pitch pine pews of course!

There's a nice butterchurn at the back (just like one I have).

Now I have drawn the curtains against a wet, black and miserable night and shall settle down with my Arab book and my sewing tonight.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Living in an old house . . .

Living in an old house usually means a lot of work and this room is no exception. It is lacking one length of coving where the wall had been badly affected by damp, the old coving rotten and that wall had to be replastered. It is our grandest room, and was described as the "Morning Room" on the house details. In recent years it has turned into a junk room, when everything came down from the attic. My husband's going to replace the coving before the carpet's laid, so hopefully I won't be holding my breath too long!

I'm quite handy with a paintbrush, which is just as well as OH seems to be allergic to them! I enjoy painting with Radio 4 on in the background to keep me company (though today's play was rather strange!) and I even got the table polished up too. You'd never believe this was once covered in stick-on floor tiles would you? That was a Dorset farmer's answer to a kitchen table back then. It took my husband a week with a hot iron and lots of patience to soften the glue to get the tiles off and then he had to rub the table down so much it made the mahogany look like new, so I was polishing it today to get it to at least shine. That "newness" has taken away any real value, which is a shame, but it's still a lovely table.

This is one corner of the room, with one shortened curtain. I'm half way through the other one, and then it and the swags can go back up. The yellow - it's VERY yellow isn't it? - is just what the room needed as with a light colour in there - we've had magnolia, and we've had a washed out primrose - is just what the room needed. It's about 18 feet square, so can take a deeper shade like this.

The fireplace with my two x £1 plates which I found at the car boot sale recently. The marble fireplace is French and travelled home with us from Suffolk one holiday a few years back. I don't care for it, but my husband likes it and it quite suits the room.

This is as far as I've got (though I painted down to the skirting board after I took this picture.) The roll of carpet is the one to be laid in here, and whilst it might not go with the walls now, tough, as it's been sat there for 8 years waiting to be laid, so we're not changing now! The bureau bookcase stands in what used to be the main entrance to the room in Georgian times. If you're thinking, there's a lot of junk in there, wait till you scroll down a bit further!

The flash wouldn't work because of the light from outside, but it gives you an idea of the huge window (it faces North) complete with Georgian shutters.

I did warn you. LOTS of junk, waiting for my dearly beloved to carry it downstairs to be stored in what used to be mum's bedroom. Underneath all that are four more Victorian balloon back dining chairs in a state of great undress (e.g. NO seats!) so I will have to get my upholstery book out shortly. We are NOT looking forward to moving the pitchpine cupboard/bookcase as it ways a bloomin' ton . . . I'll update you when it's all finished and the carpet is finally laid . . .

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Who left the map behind?

One of these two photos shows snow on Black Mountain, but you'll have to double click to find out which is best! Taken from the top of our hill.

I was reading one of Trevor Fishlock's "Wildtracks" books, which accompanied his popular tv series of walks in Wales. He mentioned a walk around the Llansteffan area, which is our local beach, and so my husband and I decided we would take a drive and see if we could find the church he mentioned, which had some very unusual gravestones and connections with the Pilgrim's route to St Davids. However, Someone (who shall remain nameless) left the 1:50000 scale map at home and so we couldn't go looking for it properly, though we got a rough lie of the land and now we've checked, know exactly where to find it next time. In fact, I shall put the map in the car right away and save my blushes . . .

Instead, we dropped back into Llansteffan and visited the church there, but unfortunately that was locked, and I had to make do with a few photos of headstones! For once, we didn't climb up to the Castle, which has a fabulous site on a hill overlooking the estuary and facing up to the headland and the sea beyond Ferryside.

Driving home up the Towy Valley, Black Mountain was white with snow and it is definitely colder out today. We are still gritting our teeth and not having the central heating on till late afternoon, but it is not very enjoyable. Still, needs must . . .

When we got a bit lost we ended up at Wharley. View across to Tenby in the far distance, and slightly nearer, the Laugharne peninsula.

The edge of the village nearly marked on an old millstone.

Looking over the village and the Towy estuary, with Ferryside on the far shore.

Llansteffan Church.

A sad reminder of the maritime history of this part of the coast.

A very somber grave . . .

Monday, 24 November 2008

Lost in time

Farmbuilding or earlier dwelling I'm not sure but there's a line where it looks like the top half may have been added.

I took myself off on a long (5 mile) walk yesterday, camera in hand, planning to record the many abandoned ruins of cottages which were once homes in the 1881 census of this area. I found a fair few and discovered the remains of a tall old mill, so ruinous now that only one wall remains anything like the original height. I had ridden past it on Fahly, but usually in the summer, when the leaves on the trees in the cwm where it is situated hid it from view. I am still trying to positively identify it, but having compared the details on the 1881 census with properties on the map I have reached the conclusion that the census enumerator must have been roaring drunk or else been incredibly gormless when it came to trudging the lanes as he has taken a most tortuous route, bearing very little relation to the layout of properties today. He also seems to have gone from one side of the map to the other, shooting off at tangents. Matters are not helped by the fact that half the properties mentioned are mis-spelt in the census as it was translated to the record the disc was taken from, and the other half are no longer there at all . . . I would not recognise any property names for page scroll after page scroll - suddenly one would seem familiar - but where had I seen it on the map? A good way of relaxing after the walk anyway.

I am pretty certain that the tiny very elongated triangles of land fenced off still from bigger fields, have quite possibly contained a cottage in the past, but one that was robbed out for building maintenance elsewhere. Some were probably of the "built-overnight" sort in the first place - when one could lay claim to a tiny piece of the common land if (with the help of friends) you could build walls and roof them and have smoke coming out of the chimney next day. The Welsh term for them is 'tai unnos' and they would have been very basic to start with, barely habitable, but able to be improved upon. We once viewed a cottage for my mum, in a nearby village, which still had the cloam fireplaces squatted out from the chimney stacks. I should imagine these are long gone now, but they survived until 1988 . . .

With the enclosure of common land, poor people, desperate for a roof over their heads, had to build the tiniest of cots on the roadside, although sometimes placing a cottage on marginal areas was encouraged as it would contribute a rent - however meagre - to the income of a marginal farm.

Throughout the 19th century neighbours would join forces to build "tied" cottages of a more lasting design, with windows and loft space (an improvement on the earlier cottages which were more like the Scottish 'black house' which had four walls, a door (often in the gable end) and a thatched roof.

Many thanks to an overview on the following link:
Up by old Isaac's. The remains of what was once the main residence on this farm, the thatch being covered by wriggly tin many moons ago, and reused as a barn when a more modern farmhouse was build around the time of the First World War.
This gives you a good idea of the Cruck Frame construction. The gable wall was, for many years, leaning at ever more an acute angle towards the lane, until finally taken out by one gale too many around Christmastime a few years back.

It was nice to have a change of scenery as I don't often walk this side of the hill.

If you look carefully you should just be able to make out mossy stones which are all that remain of a tiny cottage on the edge of woodland, which I didn't know existed until yesterday, so well is it camouflaged.

The bane of so many Welsh cottages and farmhouses - the slate wall (we have our fair share in this house, especially on the side which catches the weather so has been slated-over). We live on slate bedrock here, and there's more slate than stone. It is very porous and lets in the weather . . . I rather like the way they have eeked out the stones in this gable wall.

Beneath the brambles, you would hardly know it was there at first, apart from the rusting framework of an old caravan which for some reason, has been thrown up in place of a roof!

As you can see, walkers are not encouraged round here!

You can barely make it out, but there is the remains of an old mill down in this cwm. Only the front wall is at anything like its original height (it would have been three floors).

The original gateway to the mill . . .

A slightly more substantial wall shows where this cottage was. I have yet to find it on the 1881 census though.

From the front, with the doorway blocked.

This name hasn't come to light on my census scanning yet - perhaps it was the name of the more modern cottage behind it.

The other end of the footpath was scarcely more welcoming without secateurs!

All that remains of a roadside cot - now little more than a passing place along the narrow lane. The walls were a little bit more substantial 20 years ago, when we first moved down here.

Clues. . . this path cut into the bedrock is, on the map, just the end of a footpath. But a little triangular corner of the field is fenced off here, and I can't imagine anyone going to the bother of cutting the rock away just for a footpath, so I suspect there was a cottage there once, and these steps accessed it.

Another cottage clue - a cottager's hedge, not one planted for enclosure purposes. There is a wild gooseberry in this stretch of hedge (just out of shot) too, and a flat area behind. This is just the other side of our land.
One that not only survived (and was bought in the last 5 years as a derelict farm building, though it had windows and doorways for two dwellings and is reminiscent of a small longhouse) and has now been restored and extended. My sort of cottage, this . . .

I am still trying to identify the missing cottages on the census, so if I find them I will do a quick update.