Saturday, 28 February 2009

Thursday's long walk

Wonderful old tree - shame about the phone wires!

I've just realized that I haven't written this up yet - though some of the photos are over on Nature Notes. On Thursday I did a walk from Court Henry (where my husband dropped me off), and up along a trackway which formed two sides of a square leading back to a road on the top end. Then I left the village behind me and walked back up towards Llanfynydd. The sun was out, occasionally, and it really felt like spring was tentatively coming out of hiding.

All sorts of wild flowers are putting out leaves in the shelter of the hedgerow - Dogs Mercury, Lords and Ladies, overwintered Foxgloves, Stitchwort, Ground Ivy, masses of Cow Parsley leaves which were even pushing through the winter snow this year, much as they have in milder winters recently. In sheltered spots, leaves of various wild geraniums, especially the Shining Cranesbill which always flowers early. There were flowers on the barren strawberries too and of course, the gorse coverts were well in bloom. Just the time to pick flowers for Gorse Wine.

I took a short cut back through the grounds of Pantglas, once a beautiful Italianate mansion, but then its fate was sealed once it came into Council hands and housed the mentally ill of the county. It is now demolished, all bar the tower, and the grounds house a series of holiday log cabins . . . It's history is here:

I watched the ducks on the lake in front of the former stable yard, and had a lovely chat with the groundsman, who told me all sorts of stories about the wildlife of the area, and where various birds of prey nested and lots of duck-talk! I walked around the bigger lake in front of the house - or rather, the tower, which is all that remains of it now. The maintenance of old buildings is not usually a priority with local Councils . . . and of course it was demolished.

Fortunately the lane home was downhill after that, though our hill took some climbing as my legs were quite tired by then. I must get back into the routine of the daily walk which fell by the wayside during the perishing cold days of January and early February. As for sayings, "February fill-dyke" - not this year. We had our "peck of March dust" ("worth king's ransom") THIS month instead - unheard of in Wales. I do hope this doesn't mean a dry winter equals a wet summer.

January lambs are quite well-grown now.

Just to the right of this first upright fence wire in is a curious valley. i cannot decide whether it is totally natural (flat bottomed too) or navvied out for some reason - it doesn't look like the normal quarries we have around here, which tend to be into the side of a hill. The railway never ran this way . . .

Looking across different fields to Black Mountain beyond.

The tower of Pantglas hoves into view.

A close-up - all that remains of the grand Italianate mansion house build in the 1830s.

The wonderful stable block was retained, but turned into a gym, cafe, games room, and restaurant etc.

The lake in front of the house and below, a wonderful patch of snowdrops.

Friday, 27 February 2009

BB's nature notes are born!

Ain't nature grand? A wonderful display of deep pink Valerian, Ox-eye Daisies, and I think the yellow flower is either Hawkbit or Dandelions with VERY long stems! Link to new blog is playing up - please use

This idea has been forming in my head in the past week or so, and indeed on my long walk yesterday, I began taking photographs to be incorporated in my new blog - Meadowsweet's Nature Notes After yesterday's post, and when I couldn't sleep in the night (yet again), I mulled over how there is a gap in education which used to be called 'Nature Study' when I was a child. How we had a 'Nature Table' in the corner, to which we would regularly bring things of interest - a bird's eggshell discarded from a nest; a Jay's feather; a jamjar of frogspawn; the pupae of a caterpillar or moth; a branch of sticky Horse Chestnut buds left to open in the warm; fungi in the autumn; bunches of wild flowers to identify.

Below: Jay

All this has gone; ignorance is bliss, but it comes to a pretty pass when the lecturer on a field trip at University, specifically to identify hedgerow trees and thus patterns of habitation in the past, actually had to rely on my eldest daughter to help him out as even HE couldn't identify some they were looking at.

So, BB (my pseudonym on several sites is Bovey Belle) has decided to fill the gap. Hah - if anyone ever finds their way to my new blog that is! Please come and visit, tell your friends, and their children, and get them to tell their friends.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Things my mother taught me . . .

Another of Mary Webb's poems to accompany this.


The lonely cuckoo calls
With a long hollow sound among the rocks
Of sun-touched sandstone, and the echo falls
Between the straight red pines to me, and knocks
Upon my heart again and yet again.
It thrills me
With some mysterious mingled joy and pain
That slumbers in the echoing refrain
And stills me.

If only you were here,
We'd go together through the buckler-fern
And watch the nuthatch climbing to his dear;
Then - so that you might follow - I would turn,
And, smiling, mount the steep, and leaning so
Above you,
Await your laughing kiss with eyes a-glow.
Ah! foolish dream - you do not even know
I love you.

I love Mary Webb's understanding of nature, the memories which cherished her when she was ill and had only her pen for company. This week I have been thinking how little some mothers have to pass on to their children, especially about nature. My mum grew up in a small country market town in Hampshire, and I was taught about the country and nature from her, and then went on to learn (and still am) about wild plants, birds and animals, to love nature in every season, to recognize trees without their leaves, wild flowers without their blooms, to appreciate the landscape as it changes when you pass from one county to another.

In turn, I took my children out for walks and taught them what I knew of wildlife: how to identify different trees, wild flowers, birds, insects, and where to find the earliest blackberries, where the wild raspberries hid, the sweetest wild strawberries grew, which plants could be used as medicinal herbs, how Soapwort was planted near a fulling mill as a washing aid, how Navelwort could cure earache, where the Blackbird had made her nest, and why the seagulls follow the plough. I am sure that mothers in the country still pass on their knowledge to their children, but so many town mothers seem to think it un-necessary to learn about the country. I think it is vital, for with the knowledge comes respect for the countryside and everything that lives in it and often the desire to learn more about the natural world.

How sad to think that natural history no longer has a place in the National Curriculum, that there is no longer a Nature Table in the corner where grubby handfuls of bluebells, or primroses would be crammed into empty jam pots, no wonderful collections of fungi in the autumn - I still remember the amazingly stinky Stinkhorn my friend Tricia and I found in Thornhill Woods - it cleared the classroom when the teacher took the lid off the box! No caterpillars in glass jars turning into butterflies or moths; no glutinous masses of frog-spawn to delight as they turned into tadpoles; no pond dipping; no leaves to identify. Nothing. So continues the transition into a world where to be stupid is to be "cool" and to be clever is to be villified and the countryside just doesn't exist for millions of children in cities. . . .

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Quick Update

Just to say that Lucy is much brighter today, but can't/won't eat because it obviously hurts her. This is my main worry right now. Hopefully I can find something that will make her eat, as it is a worry. She wants to come out and be with us now though, and was sat on my lap earlier on today (door shut). That's a good sign. Next worry - how to get the antibiotic pill down her when even the vet failed yesterday as it hurt her too much . . .

Thank you all for your kind words. I'll come back later on and comment.

Teatime - updating to say she's EATING! I got a selection of little foil sachets and pouches today and it is the salmon pate which she can manage! She's on my lap now and purring away! I disguised an anti-b as a bit of pate and just slid it in her teeth. Will try it in bread pellet later soaked in fish oil or similar. Good tip.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Catching up

A rather wobbly picture of Lucy in happier times . . .

I have had a worrying two weeks with Lucy, who was my mum's little cat. Her mother hit her in the eye, claws well out, and we have been backwards and forwards to the vet, but sadly it resulted in Lucy having to have the eye removed yesterday. She is tucked up in my eldest daughter's wardrobe (which has no door and was the warmest place to be in the middle of the night). I shall spend some time with her this morning, so she can have her buster collar off and eat and drink freely. I didn't sleep well last night because I knew she wasn't even going to try and eat or drink with that collar on and I had to trickle some water into her mouth with a syringe. Poor little girl, she didn't deserve this.

To take my mind off worrying, I have been working hard in the new soft fruit and vegetable plot in the paddock. It gets the sun all day long, and I did have a salad area there about 15 years ago. The side I'm putting the soft fruit in has a lot of tree roots, which make digging difficult, and I had to clear brambles from along the fence line, so have to mattock the roots out as I go, and remove all the tangles of grass roots . . . It is doing my waistline the world of good though!

So far I have planted half a dozen redcurrant bushes and ditto blackcurrants (the latter grown by me from cuttings last year) and I got 10 summer raspberries in yesterday, and also Fall Gold, a yellow autumn raspberry. I have more blackcurrants, raspberries, tayberries and blueberries to put in, and a couple of rhubarb crowns too.

Area cleared and planted up with red and black-currants. Established bushes on right.

The "path" across the middle which we will cover with chippings. Fruit trees either side. Bonfire far left and trash pile, to be cut up for burning, beside it.

We have bought some cheap fruit trees from Lidl and planted them beside the path - 3 Doyenne de Comice pears, two Victoria plums and a Cox's Orange Pippin apple tree. We probably won't reap the benefits with the planned downsize (now postponed for a year to let the market settle), but hopefully it will paint the "Good Life" picture for prospective buyers. Should we not sell next year, then we will enjoy the fruits of our labours . . .

Close up of new currant bushes.

I started off several lots of tomato seedlings yesterday - Brandywine, Sub Arctic (in case we have another cold wet summer), and Pomodoro (an outdoor type too). I also have Tigerella lurking in the long grass somewhere in my basket of seeds so I will look those out today. I have them under glass and in a flip-top plastic tray that held Iced Donuts (nothing gets wasted in this house!) on a warm windowsill.

I took myself off for a brisk walk up the hill yesterday afternoon, to take my mind off worrying about Lucy. It's a walk I do so often that I thought I would leave the camera behind. I should have known better - the first Primroses were out (their perfume is so delicate) and the sky was amazing. It looked like a water colour painting, with layers of grey from slate grey to lilac, palest as it sunk behind the horizon, all the colours bleeding into one another.

I just wish I could shed the worry over Lucy. I'm in my third week of it now and it drags me down. I only started worrying like this when I hit 50 - the Menopause has a lot to answer for . . .

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Some more Devon dialect

I got another old copy of The Countryman today (spring 1948). This wonderful piece of Devon dialect was in it:

'I'll baste thy hide vur thee e thee dissent come intu th'ouse dreckly minit!' exclaimed the old lady to her five year old grandson. 'What with yurr mumbudgetting an' trapsying roun' th' drangway, yu'll be rinnedaver.' When she caught sight of me, she crooned, ''Aw, me dear sawl, how 'ee be grawn zince I zeed 'ee last! Come in an' zit yersel down, midear!' Little Archie followed us into the cottage where a fire burned cheerfully in the 'bodley'. Giving the boy a playful clip over the head, his grandmother said, 'It vair makes me biver tu zee littul Arch, the way 'e du so love a drap o' dirt. 'E's wors'n 'is farthur were at 'is age. An' 'ave 'ee zeed 'Aryot Webb's littul maid zince 'er comed back vrom schule?' she rambled on. 'Er's a praper maid right enuv. 'T'ath adued 'er gude gwaine away.' (Michael Blackmore submitted this piece.)

Saturday, 21 February 2009

The Shell by Mary Webb

What has the sea swept up?
A Viking oar, long mouldered in the peace
Of grey oblivion? Some dim-burning bowl
Of unmixed gold, from far-off island feasts?
Ropes of old pearls? Masses of ambergris?
Something of elfdom from the ghastly isles
Where white-hot rocks pierce through the flying spin-drift?
Or a pale sea-queen, close wound in a net of spells?

Nothing of these. Nothing of antique splendours
That have a weariness about their names:
But - fresh and new, in rail transparency,
Pink as a baby's nail, silky and veined
As a flower petal - this casket of the sea,
One shell.

Sorry it's makeweight today. I have a poorly Lucy-cat, and her eye injury is getting worse so it looks like she will have to have an operation on Monday. I'm worried and a bit down about it, poor little girl.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Hennock, Devon

This little gate is at Seven Lords' Lands, which is a wonderful name and isn't actually a centre where seven Medieval manors abut, but actually refers to the Bronze Age Cairn you can see through the gateway, itself probably associated with the B.A. settlement at Foale's Arrishes. There are seven boundaries which meet in the vicinity of the cairn, and these are Widecombe Town, Natsworthy, Buckland, Bagtor, Halshanger, Great Hound Tor and Dunstone with Blackslade. Wonderfully, in the West Devon Records Office in 1994, a small piece of parchment was found which recorded the Beating of the Buckland bounds in 1683.

'Hoartsberry where the seven Lords meete and seven stones are pitched up together to each Lord a stone, and the stone that belongs to the Lord of the Manor of Buckland is the South Stone save one', (Brown, 1994, p.14).

I discovered all this courtesy of the wonderful Legendary Dartmoor website which I haven't visited for ages, but can heartily recommend. I was trying to remember how many lords it was and now am absolutely fascinated by what I have read about the area through the millennia, and I may be Gone Some Time now!!!

The Dartmoor branch of my dad's family lived in Hennock for 3 or 4 generations, by which time the oldest had died and the younger folk moved away for work, to Plymouth, London or emigrated to New Zealand or America. I have been fortunate this week, in my latest bout of family history research, to suddenly find some new "rellies" which I'm excited about. One, believe it or not, lived within 25 miles of us when we lived in Dorset.

I came from poor stock - "Ag. Labs" - workers on the land until they were too old and infirm to do so - late 70s and early 80s some of them. Then a pauper's grave. The fate of many. My 3 x g. grandfather was a sailor in his youth and indeed was at Trafalgar, aboard HMS Belleraphon and another a branch of the family tree gave me an Adams ancestor on board the Victory itself. Poor William Bolt found himself hoeing swedes with the best of them when he came home from sea though. . .

To say I love Dartmoor is an understatement and I feel the pull to return to my roots getting stronger and stronger with each passing year. Hopefully next year we may downsize there for good.

It will be to a far better house than my ancestors could ever have dreamed of. Even the long-houses mentioned below were something they could never aspire to. Sabine Baring-Gould, in his book "A Book of the West: Devon", writes thus:

An old moorman's home was a picturesque object: built up centuries ago of granite blocks unshaped, set in earth, with no lime or cement to fix them, low-browed, with the roof thatched with rushes, the windows small, looking into a small court-yard, and this court-yard entered through a door in a high blank wall. On one side the turf stacked up, the saddles, the harness; on the other, a cow-house and stable, the well-house accessible from the kitchen without going from under cover, the well being nothing other than a limpid moor stream diverted and made to flow into a basin of scooped-out granite. the door into the house gives admission into an outer chambr, where is every description of odds and ends; where are potatoes, old barrels, infirm cartwheels, and the poultry hopping over everything. On one side a door gives admission to the kitchen, hall, parlour, all in one, lighted by a small window looking into the court-yard. Or again, on the one hand is the cattle-shed, on the other the kitchen, all under one roof, and beyond the kitchen the common sleeping-chamber. Rarely is there an upper storey. The object of making these ancient houses so tootally enclosed was to protect the dwelling from the furious storms. They were castles, but walled up against no other enemy than the wild weather. Nowadays these ancient houses are rapidly disappearing, and new, vulgar, staring edifices are taking their places - edifices that let in wind and water at every joint and loophole.

A view taken from the Churchyard in Moretonhampstead. My g.g. grandfather and his family lived in the town, and he was firstly an ostler at the White Hart Inn, then a postillion and then a coachman, ending up as the licensee of a local pub. He is buried in this churchyard.

The Medieval Clapper Bridge at Postbridge. I have spent many happy weekends camping down here, and walking the moor.

The modern road bridge above the West Dart just upstream of the Clapper Bridge.

On the way to Widecombe - looking back towards the edge of the moor near Postbridge.

Hay Tor in the distance. If I didn't have two copies of Crossing's Guide to Dartmoor, and had one and the other one Worth's guide, I could quickly identify the nearer tor.

Can't remember where I took this, but t'was the other side of Widecombe and near Hound Tor I think.

And if you're wondering, 'arrish' is Devon slang for field (elsewhere is refers distinctly to the stubble of wheat or grass) and Foale was a farmer who owned those fields at one time.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Panorama of Pen-y-Fan . . . ish!

This was meant to be a panorama of the fabulous cloud and sunlight over Pen-y-Fan yesterday. Erm - spot the deliberate mistake! Ah well, you get the general idea anyway . . . it improves if you click to enlarge.

Day out in Hay-on-Wye . . .

This was the view across t Pen-y-Fan yesterday - rainclouds lit from behind by the sun which highlighted the runnels of snow in the gulleys.

Anyone who knows me soon realizes that I am slightly dippy about books. With the emphasis on 'slightly'. I simply can't resist them. Unfortunately this disease appears to be infectious and my husband now has a bad case of it too. For people like us, the ultimate indulgence is a day out in the bookshops of Hay-on-Wye. So there are no prizes for guessing where we ended up yesterday, after deciding we needed a family day out to blow away the winter woes.

It was lovely just to stroll round, not having to hurry because we'd left late and had to get back to do the school run. We had dragged Danny along with us, slightly the worse for wear as he'd been to a party the night before. A bacon butty when we arrived was just what we all needed. We called it brunch . . .

Of course, temptation is there just to be indulged. I left home with a specific remit: look for books by Mary Webb; find a cheap copy of Thomas Hardy's The Trumpet-Major as I have loaned my copy to someone and want to read it - (don't think I ever did) and look for any early-Victorian or before horse books. I clean forgot about C Henry Warren, though I didn't come across him in my browsing of the Topography and Countryside shelves in any of the shops. I found several Mary Webbs, and bought Seven for a Secret, The Golden Arrow and House in Dormer Forest. There was a lovely anthology too, but it was £12.95 and so I passed on that. I also found a little book of Francis Frith's photos of Southampton, where I grew up. Some of them were taken when I was a child, so were very familiar to me.

I was delighted to find in Richard Booth's shop that the other Sabine Baring-Gould book was still there. Last visit I had bought "A Book of the West" and brought it home only to find I had picked up Cornwall and not Devon. Devon was still there waiting for me and so I have the pair now, both first editions too, but they are obviously not much sought after as they were only £4.50 each. I have several books by him, and a biography about him. Interesting chap, and really knew his West Country. Typical parson-antiquarian and I think he was a sort of "squarson" in his time - a cross between the local squire and the parson.

My husband didn't come home empty-handed either and was last seen with his nose in a book about the myth and magic behind Beowulf whilst I watched Poldark last night. (Which I am enjoying SO much, though my menfolk think it very melodramatic!)

We also had a stroll round the antique shops, though I kept my hands firmly in my pockets. There is one shop which is sub-divided into individual stall-holders' rooms, and it is always interesting to look round, if fairly reliant on pretty china, but we rarely buy as a) I've plenty of china at home already, and b) we would rather pay auction prices . . .

We did, however, stop as usual in the junky antiques place at Trecastle on the way home and a little enamel colander insisted it came home with me and I gave it a good scrub and used it for rice last night. Such things were meant to be used, not just to dress up as "kitchenalia".

Window-shopping . . . love the yellowy part tea-service on the right.

My eldest daughter would LOVE this, especially that green necklace - just her cup of tea.

Endless bits of china . . .

A lovely Log Cabin quilt (beyond my pocket though).

A view of Hay Castle, where Kilvert once socialized. He lived a mile or so across the River, at Clyro.

A lovely building, and that pale blue paint looks just perfect.

I couldn't resist taking a photo of this beautiful window display - the catkins were splendid.

The old stables at Hay Castle.

Looking out over the town from in front of the castle. I wish I could tell you about the statue on the wall - all I have gleaned is that is is Henry VII (the same one that a son from this house was Esquire to the body of) and that Mrs Hitchcox is worried whether or not it is securely fixed to the wall (parish meeting July 2008). . . . Google is wonderful . . .

Looking across to Clyro between the houses . . .

Today it is back to gardening and cracking on with the intake area because my husband's told me he's taken down the sycamores which needed taking down, so I can get on with digging and planting now . . . I have weed-surpressing membrane down across the middle now for the pathway, and as it was getting dimpsy on Monday afternoon, we put the little Lidl fruit trees in - a Comice de Doyenne pear, a Victoria plum and a Cox's Orange Pippin. I have three more (2 pears and a plum) in big tubs down on mum's patio, so we will bring them up and may plant them yet (though I'd intended them to move with us when we downize.)

Monday, 16 February 2009

Mary Webb's poetry: The Wood

Ancient maiden oak tree in the Deer Park, Dinefwr Castle.

Last time we went to Laugharne, I came across this copy of The Collected Work of Mary Webb - Poems and The Spring of Joy. It has an inscription dated 1935 and cost me £6. Here is one of the many delightful poems within its covers.


Tall, feathered birches, on the tides of air,
Wash to and fro, like seaweeds fine and fair,
And deep in leaf and blossom from all eyes
The ropewalk of the honeysuckle lies.
There, crimson foxgloves taper slenderly,
And the brown-seeded brake grows ten feet high.
There are strange, flaming toad-stools, and the berries
Of ash and rose, that shine like scarlet cherries.
The rose-bay willowherb, in her bridal hour,
Bloom, and the larch sets forth her rosy flower.
Kestrels are there, and tawny foxes play
Amid the shadows in the early day
Low cry the sheep, and leave their shining fleece
On the long vines of purple blackberries.
High in their minstrel gallery above,
Hidden in fretted leaves, dove answers dove,
And like a distant bell, melodiously
Haunting these glades, the music of the bee
Chimes all the summer . . . Like a bird, with wings
Dusky and silent, I would flit through spring's
Wistful, immaculate colours; through the dream
And hush of summer; down the rush and gleam
Of autumn; and when winter, with a moan,
Swept through the freezing wood aloof, alone,
Prisoning the pine needles in shining, hollow
Cases of ice, yet the brown bird would follow.
Light as a last year's leaf I'd flutter by,
With the sad note of finches in July.
Still would the foxgloves gather, spring by spring,
till should the feathered birches wash and swing
Upon the tides of air, and in the sun
Each autumn should the little foxes run,
While I in shadow dwelt. Dark on the sky
Should kestrels anchor, watching warily
For small brown birds: but in the meadow green
I'd fearless flit, beneath their gaze unseen.
Cases of ice

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Moving to New England

Yet another extract from The Countryman magazine from all those years ago. This is a list of provisions felt needful for "such as intend to plant themselves in New England, for one whole yeare." I have changed the 'f's to 's's to make it more readable. This list was "collected by the Adventurers, with the advice of the Planters".


Meale, one Hogshead.
* Malt, one Hogshead#
Beefe, one hundred weight#
Porke pickled, 100 or Bacon 74 pound#
Pease, two bushells
Greates, one bushell (could read greases?)
Butter, two dozen
Cheese, half a hundred
Vinegar, tw gallons
Aquavita, one gallon#
Mustard seed, two quarts
Salt to save fish, half a hogshead#

These things thus marked # the poorer sort may spare, and yet find provisions sufficient for supplying the want of these.

* of which the poorer may spare to the greater part, if they can content themselves with water in the heat of summer, which is found by much experience to bee as wholesome and healthfull as beere.


Shoes, six payre
Boots for men, one payre#
Irish stockings, four payre
Leather to mend shoes, foure pound
Shirts, six
Handkerchiefs, twelve*
One Sea Cape or Gowne, of course cloth
Other apparell, as their purses will afford

* Which for the poorer sort may be of blew Callico; these in Summer they use for bands.

As for bedding, and necessary vessels for kitchinuses, men may cary what they have; lesse serving the turne there than would give contentment here.

Tooles which may also serve a family of foure or five persons

One English spade
One steele shovell
Two hatchets
Axes - 3. one broad axe, and 2 felling axes.
One wood hooke
Howes 3, one broad of nine inches, and two narrow of five or six inches.
One wimble, with sixe piercer bits.
One hammer.
Other toles as mens severall occupations require, as hand sawes, whip-sawes, thwart-sawes, augers, chissells, fowes, grinde-stones etc.

For building

Nayles of all sorts +#
Locks or doores and chests#
Gimmowes for chests#
Hookes and twists for dores#

+ According to the proportion of the house inteded to be built.

Though for the more convenient and plentifull accommodation of each planter it were to be desired that they carried the provisions of victualls above said, if their estates wold reach thereunto, yet they may (having meanes to take fish and fowle) live comfortably that want all the rest, Meale for bread onely excepted, which is the staffe of life.


One musket, rest and bandeliere
Powder, ten pound
Shot, sixteene
Match, six pound
One sword
One Belt
One Pistell, with a mould#

For Fishing

Twelve Cod hookes
Two lines for fishing
One Mackrell line, and twelve hookes
29 pound of Lead for bullets and fishing lead

The total (cost) £17 7 shillings 9 pence

Out of which take that which the poore may spare, having sufficient in that which the country affords for needfull sustenation of nature £7 4 shillings 8 pence
Remains for their charge besides Transportation £10 3 shillings 8 pence

Printed at London for Fulke Clifton 1630


Dartmoor view from near Hound Tor I think. Just to make me even more cheerful, as it's Dartmoor and it's summer . . .

Bless you everyone for these comments. I am glad to report that an evening spent curled up with a good book, a few cats, and a descent into watching rubbish tv for the last half hour before bed (which cheered me up no end as I watched Wifeswap and counted my blessings!!!) led to a good night's sleep and I am positively FRISKY today. I think a week's very disturbed sleep pattern led to the black dog day. I don't get them very often, thank heavens, and hugs to those who also have the glums right now. Normal service will now be resumed!

Friday, 13 February 2009

Normal service will resume later . . .

Sorry, I had been planning to type up a list of what early pioneers to America needed to take to keep them going for One Year, but instead of being upbeat as usual, I am having one of those 'black dog' days where I just feel Very Glum. I am going to sit in a corner with a book until I can shake it off (hopefully a good night's sleep will do it).

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Those Good Old Times (The Countryman again)

One of the delicacies at a commercial travellers' festivity at the King's Arms Hotel, Kendal (Cumbria) on Christmas Eve, 1840, was a pie which 'contained two fat geese, two large turkeys, four fowls, two pheasants, four grouse, two hens, four prize rabbits, three tongues and eight pounds of beefsteak and ham. Its circumference measured seven feet, it was ten inches in depth, and weighed 5 stone 8 pounds.'

In the exercise book of 'Master George Howse' of Over Norton, dated 1818 and written in his schoolmaster's best copperplate, two addition sums involve items of ten marks, and a moidore, which is valued at £1. 7shillings. There are two queries as to the amounts payable by the neighbouring parishes, assessed (for £30. 15shillings 6 pence in one case) in respect of a 'robbery committed on the highway', and a final question is, 'What sum did that gentleman receive in dowry with his wife whose fortune was her wedding suit, her petticoat having two rows of furbelows each furbelow 87 quills and in each quill 21 guineas?' Answers on a postcard please . . .

Below is the first paragraph of a manumission of serfs document on the fly-leaf of an Anglo-Saxon Gospel Book in Bath Abbey: Here is declared on this Christ's book that Leofnoth the son of Aegnelnoth of Korstune (Corston) hath brought him and his offspring from Aelfsig the Abbot and all the brotherhood at Bath for five ora and 12 head of sheep. Witness the port reeve Kuscilla and all the citizens of Bath. May Christ blind him that ever upsets this.

An ora was the eighth of a mark and the mark is said to have equalled 13 shillings and 4 pence. The phrase 'May Christ blind him that ever upsets this' occurs again and, in the Anglo-Saxon, rhymes. The document deals with the freeing by purchase of, in all, five persons and their offspring.

The rule of the Blewbury Friendly Society, dated 1794, include the proviso: 'Every member shall provide himself with a Hat-band and Gloves to attend the funeral of any brother member at his own expence, or forfeit two shillings and sixpence.'

From the 'New Universal Parish Officer' of 1771: 'And whereas women wandering and begging are often delivered of children in parishes to which they do not belong, whereby they become chargeable to the same, it shall be lawful for the churchwardens to detain such woman until they can safely convey her to some justice of the peace who shall examine her and commit her to the house of correction, until the next sessions, who may (if they see convenient) order her to by publickly whipt.' There is a form of warrant to a constable 'to command you to strip from the middle upwards a rogue and vagabond found wandering and begging and to whip him or cause him to be whipt at the common whiippping-post in your said parish.'

A little book found at Bishop's Waltham, a village in Hampshire (not far from where I grew up in Southampton) records a bachelor's purchases from March 1739 to September 1747. Tea cost six shillings a pound, coal about eleven shillings a ton. 'Idle' expenses include:

March 11th, 1741 Lost at Cockfighting and cards .. .. 17 shillings 4 pence
March 15th Lost at cards 2 shillings, spent 6d 2 6
March 18th Lost at cards .. .. .. 18 0
Memo Not to play in a Publick House more.
April 9th Lost at cards .. .. .. 2 3
April 15th Spent (cards) .. .. .. 2 10
May 4th Lost at coits (quoits) .. .. .. 1 4

The diary then jumps to October 1742. Four pounds of beef cost a shilling; a duck ninepence; a chicken tenpence; 'half a hundred oysters' threepence; lobsters ninepence each; asparagus one-and-sixpence a hundred. Then:

Sept. 12th, 1742 Lost at cards 4 shillings at Baynes's.
Promised to pay a gallon of beer when I play again.
Sept. 24th Mind never more to drink or call for half-a-pint at Baynes's.

But alas for human nature: November 29th, 1743: Mind never to play at cards any more at Baynes's nor drenk by half-pints.'

Here is a quotation from the 'Peterborough Advertiser' about the annual meeting of the Court Leet at Godmanchester: You shall swear as Swanherd of this Borough (is the wording of the oath which is administered) you shall if any stray swan come within this Borough be careful to save for the town's use, and if you shall find any swan foul marked or foxed you shall seize them for the town. You shall watch in winter time for them that set lime twigs or lay panters or snares where swans frequent in the high stream or elsewhere, within this Borough, and take them up and show them to Mr Bailiffs that the offenders be punished; and other things belonging to your office you shall do the best of your power. So help you God.'

The Little Old Woman in Clogs

Taken from The Countryman, Winter, 1946.

Beatrix Potter, author of the well-loved Peter Rabbit children's books, was never known by her maiden name in the Lake District, but Mrs Heelis was a name which commanded respect. For nothing but the best in management and stock was tolerated on the fell farms owned by the resolute, strong-willed little woman, who wore clogs and liked old-fashioned ways. She lived in an old oak-beamed, whitewashed cottage, beside the smithy on the west side of Windermere Lake.

(Beatrix potter as a child.)

(Hilltop, Beatrix Potter's home)

Once I went to her to ask if I might lop off the lower branches of a tree where a buzzard had made its nest in a wood on her property near Coniston. 'Yes,' she said, 'you have my permission to try and stop people robbing my buzzard's nest, but the carrior-crows are the worst thieves. last year I saw some crows buffer my poor buzzard off its nest in Troutbeck Park and steal its eggs.' Mrs Heelis strongly believed in the protection of rare birds. She was interested to hear that the peregrines had come back to their eyrie near Coniston, but she had rather mixed feelings about ravens. 'They sometimes kill my newly born lambs, but they are not as bad as those vile carrion-crows.' She told me that one of her earliest girlhood memories of the persecution of rare birds was seeing two hen-harriers on a barn door near Keswick. Harriers are unknown in the Lake District today. 'Last year,', she went on, 'a barn-owl which nested in a barn at the other side of the village lost her mate. The male of a pair which nest in a barn at the back of my cottage mated with the widow as well as with his own wife, but he would not help the widow to feed her young, fetching all his rats and mice to his first wife's brood. The neglected owl could not satisfy the appetites of her young ones by herself, and they all died. I don't know whether the widow has found herself another mate this year, but all the village hopes she will.'

(Garden at her home)

One wet winter's morning Mrs Heelis looked in at the smithy on her way home after visiting a farm. She was clad in an old dress with a sack over her shoulders and was wearing clogs. a tramp who was sheltering there gazed sympathethically at the newcomer, whom he took to be a sister of the road. 'Eh, it's a dirty day for the likes of us to be on the road, missus,' he said. 'If you'd like a cup o' tea and a shilling, just call at the back of the house across the road. The maidservant always gives me something when I calls.'

Mrs Heelis believed in looking into all matters concerning her farms herself, even when well advanced in years. An old Westmorland drainer once told me that she asked him to meet her on one of her farms. They walked up the rough fellside together until they came to a beck, and Jack looked inquiringly at his companion and wondered whether he ought to offer to carry her across. But, as he later told me, 't'owd body slipped off her clogs and paddled through t'beck and niver said owt about it, and it must hev bin gey caald.'

If anyone went against her wishes or annoyed her, she could be severe. A farmer, who lost a horse which had been poisoned through eat yew leaves spreading out of her wood, sent in a claim for its value. It was a justifiable claim, and he received his money, but he also got notice to quit the tenancy of the field where his horse had been grazing. The autocratic little woman had expected the farmer to call and settle the matter in a more neighbourly manner.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Walking through history

Above and below - the tree-covered valley showed how it must once have looked totally covered in woodland and how it is since clearance and Inclosure. Various bills were passed between 1750 and 1860, although the 1845 Act allowed Inclosure without submitting a request to Parliament.

I managed to get a good walk in today - about an hour and three-quarters, a good half of it steadily uphill too! I was shedding layers till I thought I would end up arrested for indecency! As I walked I thought about how the landscape of this parish and beyond was formed, what it looked like in different ages from the Mesolithic onwards, when it was dense woodland, and the only way of exploring it was along the river valleys, where I don't doubt the earliest population followed the sewin and that king of fish, the sturgeon, the last of which was caught locally in Edwardian times and offered - as it must - first to the King, as it it a Royal fish, but he declined and so it was sold for a shilling a pound on Swansea market. . .

Along the Towy Valley they went, leaving worked flints and stone tools to be found by later generations, clearing woodland and colonizing the land. Spreading out into the river valleys of the Gwili, and Cothi, and Sannan, they formed settlements, building homes for the living and homes for the dead, with Neolithic burial chambers incorporating huge boulders, some of them - near Brechfa - being huge pieces of white quartz. The people of the Bronze Age topped the mynydd land with their burial cairns and tumuli, proclaiming their ownership of the summerlands where people of the valleys brought their livestock to pasture in the passage of transhumance. They built temporary homes, just as their descendants did in the Middle Ages, the Hafods, or summer dwellings.

Hilltops were claimed anew in the Iron Age, when the fires of our local tribes glowed in the blackness of winter nights, claiming grazing land, and ancestral land, and ritual land, just as the Iron Age enclosure beyond our field boundary lay claim to the area on our land where three streams met - a magical place where the Gods dwelt. The sign of three - three Gods, three heads incised in stone, three deaths, a lucky number three . . .

(Above, the swell of the hillfort bank above the gorse covert).

The Romans marched along the valley bottom in their cohorts, from fort to fort with their supply wagons and slaves and amphoras of olive oil and fish paste, their glass and their careless money, their leather sandals hopeless in the mire of the Welsh winter. Small townships grew up at the feet of their forts and became trading posts and market towns like Carmarthen.

Christianity spread like tendrils into the landscape, monastic cells in sheltered hollows where cows now graze, leaving their sainted bones as the focus for a small church. A farm now sprawls where once Egwad dwelled. The old Welsh divisions of Elvet and Cathinog and Hernin still dwell in this landscape. Mynachdy Grange, beside a rushing river, marked the boundary of Talley Abbey's lands, falling into disrepair until it was a stable as many years ago as my walk was in minutes today, its dressed ashlar stone carried to be built into my old farmhouse floor.

A promontary fort for early colonizers became the perfect situation for a motte and bailey when the Normans arrived, but their influence was soon absorbed into the Middle Ages, and local warfare and skirmishes happened elsewhere in and about the parish, focused on the Welsh castles and struggles between the Welsh and the English, and the Welsh against the Welsh . . .

The influential homesteads in the area were rated on their hearths and our house provided High Sheriffs for Carmarthen town, and an Esquire to the Body of Henry VII no less . . . the first Tudor monarch - and on the English throne. Maenors and farmsteads grew up in the landscape, quarried stone to build them from the ground beneath. Talley Abbey grew rich on the fleeces of its vast flocks. The Bardic poet Lewis Glyn Cothi warmed his feet by our hearth and compared genealogies with his host here, when our farmhouse was still a Great Hall and not rebuilt into the hunting lodge (and finally farmhouse) it would become.

Inclosure changed the landscape again, as the common land was fenced off. Labourers on farmsteads were grateful to be granted a small corner of land to build a hovel on - on which their landlord then demanded rent when times were hard for farmers.

Indeed, the influential homesteads became grand buildings, where the gentry invited each other to games of cricket, tea parties, and to dances. They met at church on Sundays and married each other's children off. How sad that some of those houses are now just ruins - like the wonderful Italianate Pantglas - the tower is all that remains, and the stable yard which is now part of a leisure and holiday complex.

The abandoned cottages of last century are now being reinvented as new homes for land-hungry English incomers, and disenchanted Welsh townsfolk. They have a value again. Some are beyond memory and serve merely as a windbreak for a passing tramp, with his billy can and his wood fire, cooking his wet socks on sticks beside the flames. All this I saw today . . .