Last autumn it was too dry to burn the brushwood from our extensive hedging operations.
Now, when most years we have snow, I’ve been farming in my shorts! We’ve had the hottest February days since records began (here anyway). There are wildfires on Saddleworth Moor but here the ground is still a bit soggy so Alan announces that the conditions are right for a bonfire!
As we had a spot of bother with our last big fire ( see Uncall the Fire Brigade) our friend David takes it upon himself to supervise us, bringing his grab on the big tractor — always exciting for us!
There was a shower over night so it is slow to start.
But, after a bit of encouragement:
We have a spark to work with — piling on the brushwood on an industrial scale!
Until we have a decent bonfire!
Satisfying to watch!
It burns all night and no hedgehogs are injured in the making of this fire!
By next day it is manageable by a retired lady with a pitchfork.
Now we are ready for the spring and, you guessed, it’s raining!
The first of February was the last day of the season for shooting pheasants in the United Kingdom and presumably the last day for taking pot-shots at innocent little ladies walking in the woods which is what my friend and I were doing that day.
Hoods up against the sharp wind, we leaned on our stout sticks and felt our way through the frozen puddles along the bridal track from Bwlch y Ffridd to Gregynog Hall — so muffled were we that we could have passed for the ghosts of Margaret and Gwendoline Davies, the great patrons of modern art, who will have passed this way a century ago.
“That’s where von Ribbentrop used to stay in the thirties,” said my friend pointing out a building on the far side of the wide valley. I pricked up my ears but before I could question her further we became aware of several large four-wheel-drive vehicles crunching through the snow in the valley below and stopping one after the other to disgorge men with guns who seemed to be scrambling to take up positions along the valley, parallel with our route along the track. “Are they hunting today? Is it a shoot?”
“Shootings over for this year… I think” said my friend.
Young men with dogs and sticks appeared above us in the wood lashing at the tree trunks and clapping.
“I think we had better turn back and quickly.”
“They are bloody shooting!” In a state of extreme arousal we slid and stumbled our way past the gunmen, along a fusillade that rained lead shot down through the trees like unearthly hail. They weren’t firing at us and probably were 30 feet away but it really was quite exciting!
I bet von Ribbentrop came here for the shooting or perhaps to meet Mrs Simpson (lovers evidently) as they both wooed the future king — it’s a small world.
When you meet someone for the first time, it seems to me, that you can nearly always find something that you have in common — places you have lived, people you have known, views, tastes, maybe you have the same sense of humour — we humans like to do this, to forge bonds with new people.
I have just met Madrun and she is a remarkable woman. She’s been dead 1500 years.
Whatever you call her, Madrun or Materiana, this woman must have learned a thing or two from the turbulent power struggles that raged around her in her early life. She was born a princess, eldest daughter of Gwerthefyr Fendigaid (Vortimer the Blessed), the 5th century warrior king of Gwent who opposed the Saxon invaders from Germany who were allied with his father. He temporarily overthrew his father and took power but eventually is said to have been poisoned by his Saxon stepmother (that’s a recurrent theme!) On his father’s death, his daughter, Madrun, succeeded from her grandfather and rulled with her husband Ynyr (descended from Roman emperor Magnus Maximus). (Thankyou, David Nash Ford for this information from Early British Kingdoms)
The details of her life are obscure but we know she was Christian and that, like many of her contemporaries she travelled to Ynes Enlli (Bardsey Island — at the tip of the Llyn peninsula in North Wales) as a pilgrim.
On the way she and her servant Annun stayed a night at Trawsfynydd. I have visited this area — infact I blogged about the visit and the spooky nature of the place.(Off the Straight and Narrow)
Madrun found it spooky too. She and Annun both dreamed a dream of founding a nunnery there, which they did –the church there still bears Madrun’s name.
Yesterday we were at Tintagel, Cornwall, in a magnificent gale, shouting greetings to fellow walkers with excited wind-tousled dogs. We watched the huge swell and the breakers hitting the offshore islands and sending spray 60 feet into the air.
As we drove away we caught sight of a small church on the cliff and we were drawn to look. Here it is — St Materiana’s (that’s the same Madrun — she ended her days in Cornwall)
Relatively modern –rebuilt in 12th century! But there’s been a church here since the 6th century — I bet you Madrun’s buried here — look at the view.
It’s a misty autumn morning with dew on the pasture where Aby is getting to know her new companion.
The other sheep (including her old friend Twts) have gone to meet the ram. Aby, who had retired from lambing, has a new friend to keep her company — no sheep is happy to be alone (although this particular, hand reared one might well prefer to be back in the kitchen with the dog and me).
That’s why she looks so grumpy — to top it all, the new friend (who is very undersized) is getting extra rations which is very irritating to Aby who is on a diet! New ewe lamb who is from a neighbour’s farm, is still nameless but was an orphan like Aby, so is very bold with humans but still not at ease with Pedro, the dog. She stamps her feet in an unfriendly way when he comes near — it’s early days.
As the sun appears over the hill the whole area is bathed in amber light reflected from the dying bracken.
The woods are glowing with new colors.
and dew, on spider silk, drapes the dead stalks of yarrow in gossamer.
and polishes the mellowing bramble.
Even the dead wood on the compost heap is looking its best.
Last night was very quiet — I went to listen for owls and nightjars at 4 am but all I could hear was the occasional high pitched bip of a bat passing overhead, looking for the last of the midges.
Night Sky by gaigegarza966 (CC BY-NC 2.0)
I leaned against the field gate and listened very hard — faintly there was the white noise of the stream, fifty yards below, a billion splashes and glugs of millions of different, asynchronous frequencies vibrating the air. But above that there was another sound. Above, because it seemed to come from above, but below in pitch — a celestial hum. There was no wind, no traffic for fifty miles, not a plane in the sky — only drifting cloud over a hazy moon and this strange brown noise (or maybe it was purple). Infinite sound from an infinite number of sources — jet planes in Cardiff, a generator in Machynlleth, the creaking of the trees, dogs in far off farms barking at the moon (too far away to distinguish individually and too many), thunder on the coast and the sea lapping on the shore, back doors opening (to let out cats), snoring from upstairs windows and sheep (millions of them) eructating — burping in the moon shadows.
All these sounds bounce over the Earth, off the sides of houses, resonating in tin sheds and ricocheting off cliffs and bouncing off the underside of the clouds. They can be muffled by the mist and absorbed by the moss and the snow but they all combine to make the hum of our planet.
We value the darkness of our nights (the lack of light polution) that allows us to see the brightness of the firmament. Last night I appreciated the stillness of the night that allowed me to hear beyond the silence!
Here they are: last years baby barn owls safe in the arms of local owl whisperer, Jan, from the Species Habitat Protection Group that monitor the owl box on our land. I couldn’t show you these last year as their location was better kept under wraps — there are evidently still people out there who will abduct baby barn owls to rear as pets and for sport.
We hear barn owls every night but this year Mum and Dad have not used our box again. It should be a better year as the dry weather allows the parents to hunt every night.
Two days ago Alan and I went to inspect the osprey nest over the hill. This year there are three chicks, two male and one female, just about ready to fly, jostling for space in the untidy nest. The location is well known now so their custodians have made a car-park with a hide which provides many volunteer watchers (and doubtless electronic surveillance).
One fuzzy ‘fish-hawk’
Here are pictures from a previous year from the Osprey Centre webcam in the Dovey Estuary courtesy of the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust .
The mother was sitting on the cross-bar above the chicks, when we visited, waiting for the male to return with a big fish. Below, the reservoir was shrinking fast in our only dry summer for years!
Whoops — I spoke too soon — with a crash of thunder the drought appears to have ended!
We are reminded that, despite the drought, our habitat is Temporate Rainforest and that our garden, tended only by the Almighty is, this year, very fashionable!
It would merit a gold medal at any of the horticultural shows — Chelsea, Hampton Court or Tatton Park!
Well… Prosecco and nibbles — wonderful artichoke dip, goat’s cheese and black olives, smoked salmon sandwiches and little cheese scones topped with prosciutto followed by bite sized strawberry meringues.
That, according to my daughters, is how you do a book launch — but that seems to be what they would recommend in any number of situations (where did I go wrong!)
Anyway — it seemed to work. We launched Iolo’s Revenge locally on Saturday.
It was carnival day and the streets were decked with flags and the numerous pubs overflowed with revellers in fancy dress. Having an artistic director of our own helped — Wendy, the artist who illustrated the book, and who goes to lots of private viewings of exhibitions, colluded with bunting, flowers and colourful napkins. She also exhibited some of her original artworks that head every chapter.
The previous night I had fallen from the kitchen work surface while retrieving a jug from a top shelf — the jug was smashed but I survived, stiffly, despite the numerous tellings-off. Alan’s son, Daniel, saved the day, by putting out the chairs and remembering all the things I forgot in my percussed and anxious state — including the TV for the silent film show that had taken me weeks to prepare.
There was a good turn out on the night — about 100! There I am, above, talking to some of them. The readers: Libby, Alan and Gay did us proud. The guests all laughed in the right places!
Wendy posing with Su and Richard Wheeler, of Logaston Press, taking a break from selling books, while I catch up with the signing!