A day after the novelty of waking with the bedroom suffused with golden light, I hit the keys under grey gloom, first thing. Lowering mists, a full rain gauge, and the still cold saturated ground, struggling to recover from yesterday’s sleet. The Google banner yesterday cheerily proclaimed the first day of spring. But there are mixed messages out there in the landscape, a disconnect away from the current media battles over commercial adverts placed beside extremist You Tube videos.
At least none of this puts the Mistle thrush, Turdus viscivorus, off its rhythm. An ever present dawn, noon, and dusk songster in the clear valley air, it’s moved a little closer of late, back to its familiar larch topping post, so that as I nip out for a morning pee, it’s the first true auditory sensation of the day. Though sometimes it faces competition for such a great vantage point.
If it weren’t so chilly, I’d linger, dressing gowned, for ages, counting its apparently infinite variety of riffs.
And maybe glimpse the pair of Red kites, Milvus milvus, which I think are sussing out a tall larch or spruce in our copse beyond the Afon Melinddwr, as a suitable nesting site for this year. We’ve never seen them so much before, and their eerie 3 or 4 note, two tone, rising whistle, has been another constant recent background sound track. A blog post is way overdue, and so I’ll tackle it in appropriate staccato, soundbite style.
I checked whether I’d used the opening part of the title before, and was relieved to find that I hadn’t, though under the post “Easter Honey Bunny; Planting For Pollinators; Narcissus Names”, from 29/03/2013, is the remembered text.
This had come to mind as this post’s easy anchor, when Fiona brought back the posters for this year’s new annual exhibition at the Welsh Quilt Centre in Lampeter, where she still volunteers, and indeed still organises the volunteers. The famous titular line from Oscar winning obsessive compulsive Melvin, Jack Nicholson, came into my head – “What if this is as good as it gets?”, as he addresses his waitress muse, Helen Hunt.
This is the eighth annual exhibition of Welsh Quilts from Jen Jones’ extraordinary collection, and for me, my favourite so far, in that it highlights the extraordinary visual effects that can be created using just single colour, whole cloth fabrics, which are then quilted with the thick springiness that comes from using a sheep’s wool batting, needled and stitched into intricate design patterns.
The Quilt Centre’s introduction to the theme of the exhibition says:
EXQUISITE WELSH QUILTS FROM 1921-1939 AT THE WELSH QUILT CENTRE
As Good As It Gets – this year’s main exhibition at The Welsh Quilt Centre, is a celebration of magnificent Welsh Quilts made especially for a luxury market. These fine quilts were produced in Wales from 1921 to 1939 during a time of hardship in the socially and economically depressed areas of South and West Wales.
There are two other exhibitions as well, and below is one of the entries to Jen’s quilt challenge competition, where many contemporary quilts are hung, and visitors can vote for their favourite. You will never see an exhibition like this anywhere in the world, so in this year, that has been designated by Visit Wales as “The Year of Legends”, why not plan a trip to Lampeter? Click here for more on the quilt centre.
Yesterday, I had the smell of the ocean on my hands. A unique aroma, from the sometimes annual, sometimes twice a year, task of spreading dried seaweed meal around the garden. A 25 kg sack just about does the job, and as your hand becomes damp in the dank conditions, the aroma is beguiling. 25 mm of rain over the following day will have washed it off the foliage, and it can begin releasing all those micro nutrients leached from the landscape over the winter months. I’m convinced it helps with foliage and flower colour vibrancy, and along with wood ash from our stoves, is still the only additional “fertiliser” added up here.
For years I’ve become sceptical about the use of NPK fertilisers. After hearing Ray Woods speak passionately and eloquently at the WWBIC meeting 3 weeks ago, I’m even more concerned about how the landscape and ecology of most of rural Wales is being forever changed to one of “NPK or slurry” mono-tonal green. Click here for more on my report from this event.
At the very beginning of the month, we escaped for 3 night’s break staying just outside Tenby at the small village of Penally. I’d first come across this name in research on the history of St. Teilo, as part of my ongoing Welsh Historic Snowdrop Hunt. It’s likely that he was born there, and indeed the remains of the old abbey church feature within grounds of the fabulous Penally Abbey hotel, where we enjoyed brilliant hospitality, and consistently excellent food. Going at the fag end of February meant a 3 for 2 deal as well, so it was very good value too. It was the ideal time to concentrate and comment on the first few chapters of a book, my brother is writing. More in due course, perhaps.
Lots of time too combing for pebbles, on the local beaches in between squally wet weather, and although we made it into Tenby along the beach in the dry, our luck ran out and we got drenched in its charming narrow, and largely deserted, streets woven with traces of the historic walls of this mediaeval town.
We never knew before that the mathematical = (equals) sign was invented in Tenby. By one Robert Recorde, (1512-1558) a Welsh physician and mathematician. Click here for more of his biography, and read how he subsequently fell from grace and died in shame and in prison. The town’s museum is a real delight, and here there is a significant exhibition of the artist Augustus John’s work, another of Tenby’s significant sons and an intriguing link for me, was that it was John, who introduced Dylan Thomas to Caitlin Macnamara (the daughter of Mrs. Macnamara, of the eponymous and well-known snowdrop, which is one of our favourite cultivars).
Tenby is also famous for its native species daffodil, Narcissus pseudonarcissus obvallaris, and we did indeed see a few, although sadly the authorities have also planted many big yellow jobs as well. This year our N. obvallaris have excelled.
A walk around Manorbier was another treat, with the coastal path, stunning views across the bay, and the wonderful castle, where the famous chronicler of mediaeval life, Giraldus, or Gerald of Wales, was born. Click here for some wonderful internal photos of the well preserved castle, which sadly wasn’t open when we visited.
In an area of outstanding history and ancient buildings in this part of Pembrokeshire, nearby Carew castle and tidal mill are equally impressive.And even a rare part field of daffodils to add some more colour to the muted landscape at this time of year.
All too soon, we headed home, and, as is the fate of the ageing male after too many morning cups of tea, I needed an emergency pee stop, on our way back over Mynydd Llanllwni mountain, which was indeed fortuitous timing. As I returned to the car, I spotted a small bird of prey fly towards me into the howling gale. Grabbing the camera, from the back seat I whizzed round only to see it disappear beyond the fenced off old quarry, but then saw that rather than sinking beyond the brow of the hill, it had landed on one of the fence posts ringing the quarry’s easterly limit. There it sat, and began plucking its prey gripped firmly in its talons, whilst all round me skylarks sang.
There were occasional flurries of feathers or fur, and over a few minutes, as I watched through the maximum zoom, one could appreciate how much effort goes into ingesting your meal, even after you’ve caught it, if all you’ve got to work with is a very sharp beak, and powerful neck. But even this predator wasn’t secure. Every few moments it paused and glanced around. The ever present local Goshawks could indeed take a bird of this size. (One seen 2 weeks later, whilst we waited in a car park for a meeting).
Friends have confirmed that the bird was a male Common kestrel, Falco tinnunculus, which are now apparently quite rare in this part of the world, and haven’t been recorded on Mynydd Llanllwni mountain for at least a couple of years. So, it was indeed good timing, for a stop there.
The snowdrop season is nearly over again for another year, and I must once again record my sincere thanks to all who have helped me this year in my forays near and far… Carol, Roger, Michael, Ruth, Margaret, Tony, Kay, Lizzie, Rachel, Tony, Llinos, Martin, all spring to mind in what has been a bit of a blur. I haven’t managed quite as many trips as last year, but as always, the stories have been fascinating, and at least, and at last, the snowdrops are now all well recorded, and labelled. It looks like next season will begin with some 230 forms for visitors to see. As I mentioned previously, I aim to get more snowdrop images (of which I now have many) onto the website this autumn.
One of my last trips this year, was a brief foray into mid-Wales to assess whether there are snowdrops in the vicinity of Strata Florida abbey, located just East of Pontrhydfendighaid, in Ceredigion. “Strata Florida” is a Latinisation of the Welsh Ystrad Fflur; “Valley of Flowers”. Since I’ve already found snowdrops in the vicinity of several of the other significant monasteries and nunneries which were active at the same time as Strata Florida, (from about 1150 to 1550), I was hopeful.
How wrong I was.
Admittedly it was a poor day with drizzle and overcast skies, and I had the whole site to myself. But it was a complete disappointment. On March 10th, in a very early season for flowers at home, I couldn’t see a single flower out.
Apart from a few gracing the serried slate memorial stones, immaculately laid out in the graveyard adjacent to the monastery’s ruins. Facing East.
Click here to see the official website for the site, and see if you can see any flowers in any of the photos, from throughout the seasons.
So a flowerless site, in the valley of the flowers? Why?
I’m inclined to think that the site was actually never a particularly good one for growing many plants. A flat valley bottom, high annual rainfall, and likely frost pocket, would make it a challenging site for anyone with even very green fingers. Bear in mind that these are some of the daffodils in bloom with us in mid March this year.
But here’s another unexplained, to me, at least, mystery. In part of the site, you’re drawn towards a huge inscribed grey slate slab, the text of which celebrates one of Wales’ most famous early poets. This slate plaque was erected in 1951. You have to look very hard to see a quoted example of said poet’s work, exhibited to the bottom left of this enormous slate slab.
No flowers, and racy poetry.
Both enigmas with no answers.
No clues from the circling Red kites, or the pair of Dippers, Cinclus cinclus, who whizzed through the neighbouring culvert, and dipped or bobbed, with virginal white bib on the far side, as I left the abbey, yet again searching for a pee stop.
Did you know that dippers are the only native bird which actually walks beneath the fast flowing water of upland streams looking for its food? I had no idea.
The official website above describes an aura of magic around this place. I’m afraid I experienced none of this, and sympathised with the sculpture glimpsed on the hill above. Never mind that this was a historic site of significance – get me out of here! Presumably others have felt the same way since, which might be why there is no significant modern development nearby, in spite of the undoubtedly dramatic scenery.
Finally, it’s with great relief that I feel that my other very considerable time drain over the last month – Carmarthenshire Meadows Group – (CMG), which some readers may know I’ve been involved with for some time, is now past its busiest. Last Saturday we held our first public meeting of 2017, at which I showed my film “Soft Rush – A Growing Problem” about our efforts to control soft rush and increase floral diversity in our wet meadows. There was also a wonderful talk from Sinead Lynch, the local officer of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.
More significantly, in spite of it being the first decent sunny Saturday of spring, we had a full hall, and a great number of people paid up for annual membership on the day, so the group has at last become a more formalised entity with an exciting programme of events ahead for the rest of the year. A huge joint effort with many folk volunteering hours of work, and discussion to get it to this stage. Click here for more on CMG.I must end with some photos from the garden – the last 5 weeks have been pretty grey and gloomy, windy and quite wet, and it’s been a struggle to get decent photos of the daffodils, which have been exceptional this year, though a little battered, however even grey clouds can look spectacular, on occasion.If you have a look at the separate Welsh daffodils 2017 page, which I’m still working on, you might find a few varieties which appeal – this year they seem to be at least a fortnight ahead of their usual timing, and we managed to have several types out for St. David’s Day. A firm favourite amongst the newbies is ‘Trena’, a Narcissus cyclamineus group cultivar.