The New Year began with snowdrops aplenty, but as I mentioned last time, no warmth for them to spread their petals wide, so a selection was brought inside for a New Year’s Day lunch, along with some snipped Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ flowering twigs. The house entered 2018 filled with wonderful scents.
Do the kites mind? I’ve no idea whether they notice the wind chill, but with consummate skill and no wing beats they angle down into its very teeth, gliding across the valley, without a single wing beat. Just concentrated, or perhaps involuntary, tweaks to the forked tail posture.
I’ve just started a page trying to capture what we do here during the year.
Trying to leave a record for us as we get older, or maybe even for whoever takes over the stewardship of this special place, when we eventually move on. As likely as not, it will never get read, but many aspects of our current regime have been developed by trial and error over the years, and several, like our path weed management and track maintenance, highlight the stitch-in-time philosophy – frequent small-scale work avoiding much bigger catch-up attention when things have got out of control.
An example of this followed from me removing the dead Saxifraga fortunei foliage from the copse. This dies ungracefully after frost to a sludgy brown mess. It would probably disappear from the scene on its own, given time, but in the meantime leaves a very unattractive vacant space, amongst the generally green and mossy feel to this part of the garden. A few years back I decided that this scene would be improved by planting some early white Crocus to supplement those already established in this section of the garden.
Over time I’ve discovered that whilst all were bought as C. chrysanthus ‘Snow Bunting’, I have at least two different clones, and neither is at all prolific with seed production – even if I hand pollinate the flowers on the rare occasions that they open. Lack of self-seeding with Crocus becomes a big issue over time, because one is then completely reliant on new cormlet formation around the original planting, if the display is to ever improve over the years. But the real danger is if predation of the corms does occur, which is likely at some point over the long term, there is no scope for gradual natural replenishment.
So, I was really disappointed to discover that, once the sludge of the S. fortunei leaves was pulled up with gloved hands, the tell-tale neat holes and scattered, brown corm tunic sheaths, indicated that a number of corms had been carefully dug out and eaten. Almost certainly the culprits were mice or bank voles. Interestingly the nearby corms growing through evergreen cover provided by S. x urbium ‘London Pride’, or moss, seemed untouched. Though most of these were the slightly later flowering clone.
In a rural garden where such animals are ubiquitous, one has to have a management strategy to mitigate such predation, or not bother with trying to grow Crocus in a significant way. What I now tend to do is use organic, ferric phosphate slug pellets in a targeted, but diffuse way in these areas whenever I find such damage.
My suspicion is that the voles may eat these. In any event possibly 2 or 3 times a year seems the maximum frequency of such attacks if vigilance and appropriate action is taken. In addition, restricting cultivars to those which seem less appealing (e.g. C. tommasiniaus), as well as growing one’s own from saved and scattered seed, is likely to give better results.
Beyond blue Monday
Today the rain’s so heavy.
The sheep just stand.
Time drops, heavily.
Minutes still, immobile.
Brief body spin flicks,
Fling off the worst of the wet.
Snatched. Quickly. The rain’s easing.
Before beginning. Again.
How do they do that?
But mostly, motionless.
Lashed to the spot.
Miserable beyond thought.
Beyond blue Monday,
Trees’ shelter declined.
Resigned. Just wet.
Just woolly, and warm.
Gwawr and Noddy hang. Still.
Kempy coats declined.
Just stiff. Just cold.
Transformed, and nameless.
Just memories now.
Or slumbering. Soil-bound.
Spring plans already rooted,
For glorious bulbed resurrection.
Before this, some ten days ago, we headed West for familiar territory, but at an unfamiliar time of the year.
Fiona and I spent our very first holiday together, decades ago, with the plan of walking some of the Pembrokeshire coastal path, from North to South. In the end it wasn’t a complete success. I managed to scrape the side of my father’s borrowed VW camper van as I exited the main car park in Fishguard (Abergwaun), and then succumbed to glandular fever, so further walking was limited.
Rarely have I dreaded having to make a phone call home as then, explaining how I’d managed to scrape the side of the vehicle along 3 panels. Only a shallow scratch. But. Dad’s terse suggestion of smearing the scratch with butter to limit rust getting a hold, was, with the benefit of my own parental insight, about as upbeat as I’d have been likely to muster, under such circumstances. All a necessary gritting of teeth in the ushering of male progeny from the now disrupted family nest. Taking on board his encouragement, and as always unbound by conventional wisdom, Fiona and I continued with our relationship, and were married two years before I’d finished my veterinary degree.
We spent a fair bit of our time on this holiday based in the then very large and empty municipal car park to the East of the city of St. Davids. This is now a fantastic gallery, shop and cafe space (Oriel y Parc) Click here for more.
During this trip we even stopped off again in Fishguard, in the same car park – though we noticed it now has a new, and safer exit – and after a great lunch at the small Gourmet Pig deli and cafe, with views over mountains to the North,
This brought back memories of walking through the Gwaun valley maybe nine years ago, before this blog began, with Phil and John. Two itinerant walkers who, by chance, Fiona had ‘picked up’ in our village one day, after walking to visit the tiny village post office, occupying the front room of Gwenda’s bungalow. They were wistfully gazing in through the windows of the by then permanently closed Red Dragon village pub. Fiona asked them if they were lost. John and Phil explained they were hoping for a pint, since they were walking from Malvern to Fishguard. Fiona said that I’d be able to help out with some refreshments since I was then a keen home brewer.
I was working outside in the garden and had a slight inkling that something was different as I spotted a mop of white hair walking up the track, but was still caught off guard as Fiona arrived at the front door, as I’d nipped inside to put the kettle on, and start bottling my latest 40 pints, by her cheery
“I’ve picked up a couple of tramps in the village, and brought them up for a drink”.
In due course, outside on our terrace over a bottle or two of my previous, matured batch, I asked John why he was doing the walk to Fishguard, it being a strange place to head to from Malvern, and he explained that it was en-route to Tipperary.
“OK, so why walk to Tipperary”, say I?
“Well ‘cos its a long way to Tipperary” was John’s tongue in cheek, but actually honest reply.
We later discovered that this was just John’s Westerly walk. He was also engaging in a Southerly walk, (to the Bosporus), having already tackled the Land’s End to John O’Groats walk as a Northerly one taking his home town of Colwall, at the centre of his walking compass. His modus operandi was to spend a couple of days at a time knocking off sections of a particular more local walk, with longer trips, as his trips began to take him further afield.
Not long before this chance encounter, I’d been intrigued and mused on the approach taken by Danny Wallace in his book ‘Yes Man’. With the background that Danny had recently become single, and had realised that he was falling into loneliness and isolation, a complete stranger on a bus advised him to “Say yes more.”
Wallace vowed to follow this advice for a year by saying yes to every offer, invitation, challenge, and chance. This significant effort to say “Yes” to questions, and follow where this led him, rather than the much easier, and more normal cautious default “No“, even when dealing with complete strangers, is recorded in the book and demonstrates how one’s life canc hange dramatically as a consequence.
So when John asked us if we’d like to join them for the rest of their Fishguard walk as they were leaving that afternoon to finish the section earmarked for that day on the top of Mynydd Llanllwni mountain, after giving it some overnight thought, I said yes.
Fiona subsequently joined us too. For a few sessions over that summer, and I think the following spring, and based here for overnight accommodation, we walked from Rhydcymerau, past Newcastle Emlyn, over the ridge of the Preselis and down the Gwaun valley and into Fishguard.
In preparing for this post, I’m delighted that I was able to find, squirrelled away on John’s website for Ledbury station (where he is still the independent station master), some links to a few of his past walking trips, including the one he was moving onto after Tipperary. Walking from Malvern to the Bosporus! Apparently 2,650 miles walked, over 11 years, and completed last September. You’ll also see there are also walks in Australia, South Africa, Panama, Canada, which I didn’t even know about. Click here for more on this remarkable fellow’s exploits, and to see what can be achieved with a lot of determination and focus! And a sound body.
My map reading skills are minimal by comparison, but still good enough to manage a fabulous circular walk beginning from the village of Llanychaer, crossing the beautiful Gwaun river, and following it upstream a while before cutting back through the old oak wood clinging to the valley’s deep cut side.
The Gwaun valley has a fascinating history, and just days after we were there, the locals would have celebrated Hen Galan, their New Year, according to the previously used Julian calendar, on January13th. Click here for more on an ancient tradition maintained to this day, in spite of the fact that the Gregorian calendar replaced the Julian one back in 1752, in most of the UK.
Fabulous afternoon light greeted us as we reached an ancient stone, in the middle of a field. Presumably placed with great precision, millennia ago? But why, or for what purpose?A kite, working hard this time with beating wings, not glides, headed East to roost.
Before dropping back down to the river, a final treasure – a ruined St. David’s church, click here for more on this site and the nearby better maintained Llanllawer holy well. Apparently, the derelict church was on the market for £25,000 in 2013, “with potential, subject to planning“ and contains a weeping stone in the nave which never runs dry. Presumably nothing came of the sale. The church was unsafe, boarded up and just a roost for pigeons, with the churchyard brambled, so I’m guessing no consents were granted, and it will slowly decay. The concentric hearts, carefully chiselled on Anne Harries’ lichened headstone, reminders of a long forgotten love, and distant Napoleonic times.It was indeed just before the date on this tombstone (1810) that the last invasion of Britain took place nearby in 1797, when a force of some 1400 French landed, just outside Fishguard. However, within 2 days they had surrendered, intimidated and defeated by the redoubtable ladies of the town, and eventually a force led by Lord Cawdor. More can be read about this little known incident by clicking here.
On towards St Davids and wonderful hospitality for 3 nights at Crug Las hotel. A former farmhouse with a fascinating history over centuries, even linking back to the early bishops of St.Davids, this proved to be an ideal base for revisiting some favourite local spots.
Instead, they’d tunnelled along the grassy, footpath margins, presumably there being a few more worms and life, in this undisturbed marginal strip. The wind blew, and we were delighted to find after clambering down the steep steps into the tiny harbour and hamlet of Porthgain, that not only was “The Shed” open for lunch, but that the nearby Harbour Lights art gallery also welcomed in two scruffy walkers with friendly hospitality and a chance to view their amazing selection of quality art works. An exhibition worth visiting in its own right. Click here for more.
By afternoon, the clouds had rolled in, the warmth had left, but still the rain held off.And the blue lagoon and rock colours took on more sombre Kyffin Williams like tones.We nipped into St. Davids nearly deserted cathedral for a quick wander round and cup of tea in the recently opened, imaginatively designed, refectory cafe. What an amazing place, and history here.
For a change of scene on our last day we headed West of St. Davids to the small village of Middle Mill, which indeed still has a working woollen mill, and where decades earlier we selected colours for two stair carpet widths to be woven for our previous home, one of which, now relocated, still has masses of wear left in our current cottage home. Click here for more on this, the oldest working woollen mill in Pembrokeshire.
The planned walk here saw us circling the upper Solva valley, which exits at the sea just a couple of miles below the mill. What a fantastic walk again, skirting through woods hanging on the valley sides, before crossing the river in more open country over a wonderful old stone bridge and heading back past a Baptist’s chapel dating back to the late 1700’s. Here the graveyard was again looking sadly neglected, with evidence of recent bramble control which may well have created collateral damage to the Butcher’s broom and clumps of snowdrops distributed around the steep site.
More simple treasures.
More rich memories.
Back home the weather has continued in changeable mode. A few light frosts. Quite a lot of cloud and much rain.
It’s about a month now before we open the garden for the NGS for the first time this year, on the third weekend in February. My American friend, fellow blogger and galanthophile Carolyn fortunately alerted me this week, that the garden was featured recently on the Daily Telegraph’s website as one of 17 snowdrop gardens to visit in the UK this spring, and we already have a couple of groups booked in for the weekend, so if any readers are thinking of visiting us then, it might be worth booking a slot sooner, rather than later.