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An itinerant observer and thinker about life in general, sharing some moments of wandering and wonderment.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012


This morning we headed up to the cattle grid onto the commons. Anyone stood here on Sunday would have seen a Sky Ranger parked up on the grass where sheep now graze and shortly after would have witnessed it taking off from right to left of this sunny scene.
What wasn't here on Sunday was a field full of grazing beef cattle who were curious about this quiet person with a camera and as you can see the sheep were intrigued by the dog who sat quietly watching them as they approached closer and closer towards us.
This young bullock approached closer slowly, sniffing the air as if to ascertain quite what we were but decided to keep his distance and just watched as we stood in the warm sun making the most of the warmth.
I love the view from here. Looking down across to the farm were Ffin was born. The lovely old beech trees in the fields that have just recently been harvested for hay, but have quickly returned to the verdant green of lush new growth. It's hard to believe that  part of that ground was once the site of an open cast coal mine, the remains of which can still be seen.
As we stood there with our backs to the fence watching the sheep come closer, I became aware of a snuffling sound behind me and as I turned, I came face to face with this >>> A very curious bullock with a wonderful face and such lovely colouring and that sweet breath that these grazing beasts have. The dog stayed perfectly still and just looked rather bemused by all this attention from both sides of the fence and didn't even flinch when he got a snort of bovine breath full in his face but the bullock seemed more curious about me, this strange human with a camera.
<<< this cow was resting her head against this sturdy fence post. What a wonderfully glossy dark coat! She almost looks as though she's been polished. All around us was just a warm, calm, relaxing scene, it will all change tomorrow with the heavy rain front that is heading our way, meanwhile today's skies were a welcome sight with their ever changing clouds chasing each other above the ground.

Monday, 27 August 2012


Yes ... it is Dank Holiday Monday here in U.K. Conditions? Well ... wet ... very very wet. But, totally different from yesterday when the skies were blue and ideal late afternoon ... 
for a small two seater plane to be taking to the air and landing along the mountain road, avoiding wandering sheep and vehicles to park up right by the mountain gate where we met up with it as we have done many times before. <<< This photo was taken back in August 2009 with the dog bemused by such a seemingly alien craft, parked up on the commons. It's a Sky Ranger and comes in kit form. The owner built it back in 2005 and takes every opportunity he can to fly. It is a highly versatile little light weight with a maximum take off weight of only 540kg! Well yesterday it took a 52kg passenger ... no ... not the dog! ( He was safely grounded at home.)

I was safely strapped in, had a pre-flight brief about all the instruments and we taxied for take off along the mountain road, much to the bemusement of two ladies in a car that had to pull onto the verge to allow us to pass. This lightweight only needs a very short distance to take to the air, we turned into wind, throttle open and we were off rumbling along the "taxiway" within mere seconds we were airborne over the cattle grid and away into the skies above where I live. I've flown before in gliders and jets, but never anything quite like this. Designed by a french-man, Phillipe Prevot in the 90's, the prototye took to the air in 1992. As the years have gone by, improvements to performance have meant that this aerobatic little aircraft has won the World Ultralight Championships five times! It's "Do it yourself kit" is apparently so simple that it can be built by two folk in two weeks. Now that may make it sound as if it is going to be under performance, but don't you believe it, it really is an awesome small aircraft.
For this trip. I was quite content (this time) just to be a passenger as we flew over the landscape that I know so well from ground level. To see the geography of land from the air, gives a whole new perspective and understanding of how this glacial formed, very heavily mined area looks from above ... just wonderful! (Sadly no photo's to share, maybe next flight). We flew over the mountainous landscape, with sheep like small dots in the green fields and browsing amongst the purple heather. Then the scenery changed as we flew over Blaenavon and the World Heritage Sit of Big Pit where the ravages of the coal mining decades can be clearly seen for miles. The land bare of trees, with great gaping scars and pock marked with sites of long disused mine workings, crumbling deserted old farms and now crumbling stone houses. All across this bare, almost inhospitable landscape there are rutted tracks and roadways. looking like some erratic spiders web. We flew in low to asses one of these tracks as a possible landing site and gave one poor lone cyclist a bit of a shock as we flew a few hundred feet overhead. Then it was off to have a close aerial look at The Sugarloaf Mountain near Abergavenny and a low flypast along The Skirrid Mountain, waving at walkers as they headed back along the narrow track that wends it's way up to the peak. After that we left the bleak (but strangely beautiful landscape) and headed towards the lowlands of Hereford where the arable cereal crops shone gold in the evening sunlight. It was obviously a hive of activity as combines were working hard to get the harvest in before the rain that was forecast for today. Below us the houses had changed, large expensive mini mansions were now the norm, surrounded by acres of large open fields, so different to the smaller patches of our homeland. And all too soon we were about to land ... we held in circuit for a microlight before we approached on finals to land on this thin, green, private strip of a runway in between as yet unharvested, knee high corn fields. It all smelled wonderful.
What you are looking at in the foreground is the "taxiway" leading to the small hangars.
And there we were ... safely back on the ground after a really fascinating, if all too short flight, on a lovely, mild August Sunday evening. 
All that remained towards the end of the day was to get this amazing little aircraft safely stowed away and for the pilot to greet his patiently waiting dog ... who has by the way ... in the past, flown as a passenger!
I looked back towards where we had flown, over The Skirrid and The Sugarloaf, content.
All that remained of the day,  was to be a passenger in a car as we headed back home.
A tired but blissfully happy soul, looking forward to being greeted by my own loving dog. 

Friday, 24 August 2012


Only a week ago and things were mounting up ready for use in the construction work ...
These oblong blocks of concrete weigh 2 tons each and ... are on a daily hire rate ... which considering they were standing by for two weeks before being used seems costly to me.
But during the week they were finally put to good use, diverting the water to the far side of the river, enabling the heavy plant machines (also on a daily hire rate) to move them into position, basically splitting the river in half on the top weir. This enables a safe area for the machines to work in, as they have begun to redesign the river bed. dramatically.
The concrete barrier allows a relatively dry area for placing the stone that has come from Trefil & Raglan quarries into place. The large stones weigh 3 tons apiece and the spaces between are then filled in with smaller rubble.
This is the view from just above the top weir, there's been a dramatic change in the river-scape over this last third week. Heavier boulders have also been placed down the left side of the river, which will eventually, hopefully, meld into this new man made landscape.
Meanwhile more stone of different grades has arrived from the quarries ...
It all seems so angular and jagged compared to the smooth,  river rounded stones.
But ... given time with the fast flowing water, these too will have their rough edges worn away, forming smaller grains of stone grit that will just sink into the crevices in between.
In one way it could be seen as an admirable project, allowing salmon, trout and eels to migrate  from The Severn Estuary up the now, post industrial, clean and healthy Afon Ebbw. But one cannot but wonder at the vast cost of this project, which will have taken two months to complete by the end of September when the work is due to be completed.
And this is not the only area to be regenerated by the Environmental Agency in favour of migrating fish ... the expense of all these separate projects combined must be phenomenal.
At some stage, the 2 ton rectangular blocks will be removed leaving only the "natural stone" behind to be gently reshaped by the flow of water from the heads of the valleys. The benefits? Hmm ... fisherman and herons will certainly appreciate these man made changes and as nature reclaims her own and re-covers the scars left by human endeavours, these stretches of the river will to future generations seem more naturally wild. About fifty years ago now, the weirs we see today were man made. Industrial processes such as coal mining and the steel industry, changed the landscape and also inevitably affected the river quality in a way that made it inhabitable for local wildlife. 
So ... maybe future generations will possibly unknowingly, appreciate human intervention as they walk by well stocked rivers with banks of healthy green trees and undergrowth.
When I look back at my photo files, this was the scene on June 6th this year ... 
It will be interesting to stand here in June 2013 and see the difference.

Thursday, 23 August 2012


 Yesterday afternoon, we took one of our pensioners down for a medical appointment. Heading back home and I was amazed to discover that he had never seen the Memorial statue up close. So we parked up by the chapel and having letting the dog out for a roam around in the now long grasses, we headed up the newly laid tarmac path  towards this simply amazingly crafted construction of corten steel on its plinth of welsh sandstone.
The ground we were walking across is now no longer recognisable as the site of a colliery.
Originally it was known as Arrael Griffin but in 1960, Six Bells Colliery employed 1,200 men and on the morning of Tuesday 28th June in that year an underground explosion reverberated through the floor of the valley. Out of the 48 men working on one seam in the W district, 1000ft down, over a mile away underground from the pit shafts ..only three survived despite the efforts of all the many mine rescue workers. A very sad day for all.
Approaching this 20m tribute to those miners one can clearly see the huge almost 13m steel spine that is the internal support for the whole figure which is made from slices of Corten steel. This type of steel has been designed to rust unlike mild steel. Originally designed for use in shipping containers which were exposed to much rough weather, the deliberately rusting finish provides a stable, protective barrier to the steel underneath. It therefore also makes an ideal material for statues that are open to the elements such as this. Designed by Sebastien Boyesen it is a cleverly crafted figure.
As you approach it, the see through quality of the figure changes, especially with the early evening light behind it, which is when these photographs were taken. The head and shoulders start to darken and become more solid and the lower part of the body starts creating almost swirling patterns as light shines through.  To those who have not seen this statue, it is not yet clear that the figure is of a miner, but that is part of the seeming magic of the experience and as one gets closer it gets better.
The figure of the miner with his lamped helmet, becomes a solid dark being with his arms outstretched as he regards the now regenerated site area beneath him. The details are quite amazing, though one cannot fully appreciate them yet with the evening sunlight behind him making this dark silhouette with his arms outstretched and it is up to you to wonder what such a figure might be thinking about this once disfigured landscape of pit head baths, winding wheels and industrial activity that looks so very different now, just over 50 years on from that fateful  disaster.
Then ... stood underneath this now solid seeming structure, it seems that he is raising his arms to the heavens, maybe asking "Why?"
Why the loss of 45 lives? Several in their 50's, the youngest a mere 18 years old all due to an explosion caused by an ignition of coal dust and gas. The reverberations of that tragedy still live on in those living in the surrounding communities today. Everyone knew of someone lost in the explosion or ... of members of the families concerned ... it was a close knit community and the effect on this area is still very strongly felt.
Behind, with the sun shining on the memorial miner one can clearly see the names cut out of the band of Corten steel that gives the details of all 45 that died on that fateful day in June 1960. My friend recognised so many of the names and I left him in quiet contemplation as ... like so many who live locally, he circled the stone plinth, quietly revisiting memories of those that lived and survived and those that died, it was a sad, quiet, little spoken moment.
From behind the details of the creases in the trousers, the musculature of the arms, seem so solid, but that is the amazing achievement of this monuments design.
It was an evening of ever changing skies as the clouds sped overhead, creating a very odd sensation ... it seemed as if it was the figure moving ... not the fast racing clouds. At times it was as if the miner was swaying in the little wind there was ... very disorientating!  We spent quite a while looking upwards marvelling at the odd sensation of perspective ... moving clouds above and us on the ground. As my friend read the information board of all those who died in that massive explosion, including their ages and trades, I took one last photo to mark the end of the day ... 
A now reassuringly peaceful scene where the elders can remember and the young, healthy descendants  can play, not knowing the pain of such loss that our community suffered.  These valleys, will never see the same sort of loss again.

Sunday, 19 August 2012


A short walk this morning up towards the cattle grid leading onto the mountain commons.
Either side of the road is a mixture of the more modern fencing and lovely old stone walls.
I love this spot, where the two meet by an old tree and one can see right across the valley.
In the far distance, a recently harvested hayfield and closer to, the lush green pasture being grazed by cattle and out of sight here ... sheep, this farm runs both. They graze grassland differently, sheep eating where cattle will not and yet both re-fertilising the soil with their dung, They are also complimentary by reducing the burdens of the gastrointestinal worms that can effect both species, which can help reduce the cost of drenching the animals against worm infestation.
Sheep are very selective about the plants they eat, cattle are less so and also by tramping the ground they create bare patches of earth which encourages new seeds to germinate. Sadly after the devastation years ago of B.S.E and the continuing concerns about T.B fewer local farmers are stocking both on their farms, but it is a lovely sight to see. And for those who think that grass is just grass ... 
well there is a lot more to it than that. The fields are multi-purpose and a rich variety of grasses and flowering plants are needed to ensure herd and flock are well fed, not only during summer grazing but also these same fields can also be harvested for winter feed in the form of hay, haylage and silage.
Each has a different moisture content, with hay being the driest, silage the wettest.
<<< This field (as you can clearly see) was recently half harvested, unfortunately just after being mown, the rain came (again) and so with the grass just cut and still green, it was baled as haylage. This is when you see the big 4ft bales in plastic wrap which adds about £2 per bale to the cost for the farmer, over many acres that all adds up to the cost of providing winter feed for the sheep and cattle . The harvested acres quickly become green again as the grass (well watered at the moment) starts growing again.
And what happens to all the left overs from cattle kept in barns over the winter?  It's this >>>
A huge mound of winter bedding and dung piled into one giant manure heap quietly rotting down and maturing outdoors which next year will be put in a muck spreader and scattered all over the fields to enrich the pastures for lush summer growth. Good stuff!
This farm also divides the fields with double fenced boundaries, inside which there are hawthorn hedges which have been pleached to form thick new growth and also provides safe haven for many other plants to flower,  areas that are attractive to bees, buterflies and moths. These not only form barriers between fields, they also provide areas for nesting birds and small mammals. The grasses in them, allowed to mature fully are attractive to all these small creatures who rely on areas such as this to survive. I've loved watching the swallows and swifts swooping low over these fields building up their reserves for the long flight to warmer climes, which will be all too soon.
Meanwhile as the season changes into autumnal hues, the vast variety of grasses provide for all sorts of animal, bird and insect life!

Saturday, 18 August 2012


Whilst the British Isles are divided weather wise with the eastern side having what could be their hottest day of the year. We on the western side have had two very overcast days.
<<< this was taken yesterday and the same angle was much the same today. One could hardly read the road speed signs and the whole area was just shrouded in dank mist. The strange thing was that the mist was moving at some speed in an ever different but similar looking pale greyness.
The sheep were barely visible (hardly surprising) they just seemed like more solid objects of the same colour and then the mist turned to driving drizzle. The long grasses and bracken and us ... were quickly soaked.
We headed back to the car through the old churchyard, the building and gravestones standing out against the white background which makes it seem that the sky doesn't exist.
The old stones glistened with droplets that gave a pleasing sheen to these monuments of the departed. Strangely the inscriptions were easier to read in this dim light, but the grasses and flowers just looked bedraggled and sad.
All sounds of the few passing vehicles were muffled and the whole place was wet and quiet. But, as always a feeling of peace pervades this ancient sacred space.
The wind and rain had played havoc with the tall grasses. Normally at this time of year, the whole churchyard goes has an annual strim and all the grass is taken away off site to ensure that the soil stays poor, to encourage the annual growth of natural wild flowers.
And this is one of my favourites ...  A brave native, Welsh Poppy, one of the remaining few.
They, like their famous red relatives have such tender, almost translucent petals and on days like these last few have been, they are a small but much appreciated splash of colour.

Thursday, 16 August 2012


After another night of that wet stuff from above, the mountain tracks were a long chain of muddy pools. Amazingly in this one
<<< I saw a vole swimming but could not get the camera out in time get a photo, it  was just such an incredible sight to even see one of these small, secretive creatures so out in the open. It climbed out and disappeared into the thick green undergrowth. We decided to drive elsewhere and went along a footpath down behind the old church. From here one can look  down into the valley.
The trees are looking healthy and green, a lovely backdrop to the purple of the heather in the foreground, where the bees were busy ... so lovely to see them out and about, but the bracken is already beginning to turn rusty coloured as the season turns from a barely recognisable summer into an autumn that we hope will be drier and warmer.
<<< a narrow track leads down into the shade  of the beech trees, with a deep ravine on the right ... the remains of old coal workings. The path itself is coal dark and can be slippery in wet weather but along its sides all sorts of small seedlings of heather and trees do their best to survive in the poor quality soil and despite the tramp of feet, human, ovine and canine. On a properly hot summer day, it is a pleasant walk down under the cooling canopy of the trees, today it was just overcast and the grasses were wet ... unsurprisingly after last night.
I love this small bridge >>>
made of old railway sleepers that nature has decided to decorate with mosses and grass. It is actually more sturdy than it looks and beneath it the water runs the slope from the old  mountain, heading down.
Looking back up the slope a reminder that in nearly four months time it will be Christmas, when a much larger tree than this will be cut down to decorate the old church ready for the annual Carol Concert. It is hard to believe we are three quarters of the way through the year. The normality of seasonal changes has been so mixed up with all this extraordinary weather that we've had that there hasn't really been a clearly defined winter, spring and summer and here we are approaching autumn and all too soon the swifts and swallows that were flying low around me will be ready to depart for warmer climes, who can blame them!
Down just as far as one of my favourite stiles, but no going over that today as there were cattle grazing in the field and with calves to care for the cows can be very aggressive towards a dog, so we turned back to see how the new Sitka Spruce seedlings were doing. At least something is flourishing in this warm, damp weather, they're looking healthy.
Whilst I was looking at the various plants that have thrived since the old 45 year old Sitka stand was harvested, the dog was nowhere to be seen until I realised he had found a rather large chunk of old trunk, which he was determined to bring back along the old forest track. I waited patiently on this single plank of a bridge as he struggled towards me, obviously chuffed with his prize. When he was a pup, not yet a tear old, he did this trick with a log twice his own weight, hence the term "Mad mutt!" He was obviously chuffed that five years on he can still manage to be a bit of a weight lifter. But another stile meant he had to leave it behind.
Having got over this lovely "log assisted" stile we headed home across the field with swallows and swifts darting low across the pasture to catch the evening insects.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012


The great watering cans in the sky had a right old party this morning, a noisy one too!
(It's getting ever harder trying to find ways of describing rain.)  The dog was not amused because I refused point blank to go out and get pummelled by pluvial missiles.
When eventually we ventured out mid afternoon, the mountain road was puddled ...
The gate with a stile to a footpath down through a local farmers land, was ... puddled.
The lovely gentle footpath or the old "roman road" as it's locally called, was ... puddled.
The wonderfully old beech trees along the boundary were getting an easterly bashing ...
sheep were sheltering behind the security of the old stone walls, can't say as I blame them.
They were also seeking some sort of wind break in amongst the very tall green bracken,

<<< which was so tall you couldn't even see the ewes and now well grown lambs unless they put their heads up above the fronds, curious to see who was mad enough to be out and about apart from themselves. Some ewes that had escaped the big gather, still had a full, thick woollen coat and looked very heavily rain drenched.
And ... at the turning point of our foray into the water ways ... another gateway, puddled.
Not that the mad mutt minded at all, he was happily splashing through even the muddiest of places, even lying down and rolling over in some of these temporary, tiny ponds. I feel as though the only footwear I've worn for months now is good old Dunlop wellies!
Then just as we got back to where the car was parked, I found our first golf ball sized puff ball. Delicious when young and the flesh is still white ... but only the one? No doubt, weather permitting there will be more to come, but they are a sure sign of autumn. I can only hope, having eaten the first ripe blackberries just the other day that we get a reasonable fungal season to add to the autumnal harvest, but we need drier days ahead!