Life on Lockdown

by The Curious Scribbler

My dog and I have enjoyed some splendid walks in the last two weeks, happily all within my authorized orbit, accessible from my own front door.

The spring has been heartbreakingly beautiful and every day brings new delights.  A fortnight ago, the first chiff chaff appeared at Tanybwlch and within days the landscape became alive with them, belting out their monotonous song from tree tops and gorse bushes everywhere I walk.  The wheatears are back in the stones below Alltwen, and stonechats and dunnocks everywhere in the scrub on the flanks of Pendinas.  Woodpeckers drum in the alder trees by the cycle path and on several days there were no less than 35 choughs probing the sloping meadow on the foot on Pendidnas.  I’ve seen kestrel, buzzard and kite overhead and a heron stalking the incipient salt marsh behind Tanybwlch beach. Today I also noticed that two Canada geese have taken up residence in the small pond below Tanybwlch mansion, and look as if they are planning on goslings.  This pond has an island which will protect them from foxes.  It is a historic feature in the landscape, formerly a public watering point on Tanybwlch flats, immortalized in old maps and a watercolour from the early 19th century.

The watering hole below Tanybwlch mansion, now home to a pair of Canada Geese

The wildflowers are equally delightful, carpets of wood anemones in shady patches on the drive, celandines in the roadside banks opening their reflective golden petals in the sun, and a great  drift of primroses on the bank facing the sea near where Lord Ystwyth built his tea cottage at the foot of Alltwen.

Only very occasionally does a jet aeroplane cross the blue vault of the sky, where formerly four of five could be seen simultaneously on any clear day.  At night the consequences are obvious, the stars sharper and brighter, and venus gleaming like an unexpected streetlight over the hill. These are, as people often say to one another,  strange times, but they are not short of natural beauty.

Also strange are the consequences of ‘social distancing’, the regime to which we must all strictly adhere and which has been interpreted fiercely since the new law was hastily put in place.  First, I noticed that people became less inclined to the usual pleasantries, least they be thought to be socializing.  Dog walkers usually say good day to one another, but now other walkers often pass silently, and on a few occasions even turn around to avoid passing me.  Many familiar faces don’t seem to come along these paths at all, perhaps because they formerly drove to commence their walk.  Tanybwlch beach has always been a prime spot for dog walkers but it is now rare to see more than a couple of dogs on the whole length of the strand.

Their place has been taken by cyclists and runners, many clad in bright bespoke costumes signifying their virtuous activity.  Never before has there been such a succession of fit young men pounding along the strand and doing  stretches, squats and press ups near the primrose patch, before pounding back towards the town.  More worryingly though where are all the children?  One day I saw a mother with her three children and a dog walking beside the Ystwyth, and another day I spied a father and his two small daughters with bikes on the cycle path.  These though were rare sightings: far less than one might expect to see when all children are at home.

I do wonder whether we have gone too far with the virtue-signalling around reasons to be out of doors.  Today the police posted a picture of South Beach, Aberysytwyth on Facebook. Taken at 2.20pm it was completely deserted,  not a lone walker, not a dog, nobody at all.  The post congratulates the people of Aberystwyth  on not being there. This, apparently, is how our open spaces should look. Not social distancing but total absence is required.

Heddlu DPPolice photo posted on Facebook

I’m glad I don’t live in the town.  The promenade and the beaches are good places to walk and get some fresh air.  Doing so, once a day, is not in fact a crime, yet possibly those who most need a walk and a breath of air now feel intimidated to do so.

 

 

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Three thousand years of Archaeology

by The Curious Scribbler

I had an enjoyable day at the Morlan Centre in Aberystwyth on Saturday, at the Archaeology Day organized by the Dyfed Archaeological Trust.  The remit of archaeologists today stretches from the very ancient to the extremely recent,  and this was reflected in the range of talks.  The morning started with the archaeology of yesterday while by the afternoon we were taken back three thousand years to the beginning of the first millienium BC.

Alice Pyper had been having fun exploring the archaeology of Llyn y Fan Fach, the glacial lake which now supplies Llanelli with a clean water supply.  It was not always thus: the water system was built by conscientious objectors during the first world war.   Some thirty of them were compelled to live in two drafty huts  at 1200 feet above sea level to work on the project.  Field archaeology involved excavating and recording the footings of these huts. Documentary sources including newspapers and humorous sketches by the objectors fleshed out the story.  This workforce was of Englishmen who had already served time in prison for refusing to fight.  Michael Freeman pointed out that in Wales objectors were less harshly treated, and that most of the thirty conscientious objectors in Ceredigion were not imprisoned and were allowed to keep their jobs.

Also representing the very recent past is the built heritage of the 20th century.  Susan Fielding of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales treated us to photographs of a splendid succession of architectural gems or carbuncles, some listed, others already demolished.  The architects of the Percy Thomas Partnership ( familiar to us here for much of the Penglais Campus) kept cropping up, with Harlech College, Trinity Chapel at Sketty, and the soon-to-be-demolished Broadcasting House at Llandaff, all redolent of the 1960s.   The Prestatyn Holiday Camp ( 1935) and the Rhyl Sun Centre (1980) have both gone, both extravagant expressions of their times, and dear to many people’s holiday reminiscences.


Rhyl Sun Centre by Gillinson Barnett & Partners
Source:Architectural Press/Archive RIBA Collections

The Shire Hall in Mold, dubbed Britain’s leading ugliest building, and the Wrexham Police station are brutalist buildings which will perhaps not be mourned too much.  Still standing, and crying out for a role in a brooding  TV Drama is Ysgol Syr Thomas Jones at Amlwch – one of the very first 1950s comprehensive schools.

Less is sometimes more, and it was strangely gratifying to learn from Clwyd-Powys Archaeologist Paul Belford that we really don’t know whether Offa’s Dyke has a great deal to do with King Offa, when it was built, or quite what it was for!  Opportunities to excavate this world heritage site are few and far between, but one did arise from the actions of a Chirk man who bulldozed 50 yards of it in order to build a stable. ( His ignorance of its historic significance saved him from prosecution in 2014).  Perhaps this vibe for vandalism is in the air around Chirk.  Paul showed us a lidar image of the grounds of Chirk castle.  In the 17th century Landscape Architect William Emes flattened much more than 50 yards of it to create smooth parkland, and submerged a further length of it in an ornamental lake!

Low water levels in 2018 revealed Offa’s Dyke in the lake at Chirk Castle. Picture: The Shropshire Star

Two afternoon sessions concerned the days of the iron age hillfort, a period lasting from at least 1000 years BC.  Hillforts are scattered like measles across the whole of the map of Wales, and with techniques of  aerial photography and lidar more are still being discovered.  Either they are on hilltops with ridge fortifications all the way round, or they are promontory hill forts, situated on the edge of a cliff or at the confluence between two valleys such that fortifications are not needed at the steeper sides.  The archaeologists have been seeking evidence both within the enclosures, where  groups of round houses were situated, and outside them where burials, and farming actvities took place.  Ken Murphy rounded off the day with an account of the iron age chariot burial discovered last autumn in a field not far from a hillfort at an undisclosed location in west Pembrokeshire.  Being buried along with your two wheeled chariot and your horse requires a pretty extensive hole and this type of burial is well known from East Yorkshire. The chariot burial discovered at the evocatively named village of Wetwang, revealed the human skeleton curled  up between the wheels of his chariot, and the horse laid transversely at his head.  The limey soil chemistry in east Yorkshire does not dissolve the bones.

In the Welsh burial bronze fragments of the bit, bridle and horse ornaments testifies to the horse, and an iron sword to the warrior, but their bones are long dissolved.  The iron rims of the wheels and the imprint of the wooden chariot were found.  These items are undergoing conservation at the National Museum of Wales and will then be put on display.

Photo credit: Archaeologists exposing the wheels of the Pembrokeshire chariot.
 Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

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Wild winds at Tanybwlch

by The Curious Scribbler

Tanybwlch beach on Sunday morning

The only people on Tanybwlch beach on Sunday morning were the photographers sheltering amongst the boulders.  Every wave rollicking in from the south west broke over the harbour jetty,  creating a  continuous plume of spray interspersed with great explosions of water hurled high into the air.  Sometimes the green and white column at the end disappeared entirely from view.

Storm waves over the jetty on Sunday 9 February 2020

Explosive waves at Tanybwlch

The incoming waves become trapped in the angle between the beach and the jetty such that big new waves conflict with the backwash from the preceding one, and create a churning mass of white water throwing up outward-bound crests.  It was in this churning cauldron that I spotted my old friend the dragon log, whose progress northward along Tanybwlch beach I have noted over the winter.  More of a sea monster now, it lay crocodile-like in the foam, then turned seaward and seemed to plunge through the incoming waves.

The dragon log trapped to windward of the jetty

The dragon log broaching the waves.

Sometimes the dragon head reared up, then the curved flank dived under the next breaker.

As the tide went out I think the dragon made it out beyond the jetty and has presumably continued its journey northward.  I wonder where it will next make landfall and whether its shapely head has avoided too much of a battering in the sea.

I walked southward along the beach as the tide dropped and the afternoon sun coloured the day.  I was eager to see how the storm had re-arranged the beach, and found a beautiful expanse of coarse sand below and beyond the concrete bar half way along. The heavier gusts here whipped up a sandstorm so that I often had to turn around to protect my face.

The stone sea defences are failing as water rushes up onto the shingle bar

The sea has been crossing the shingle bar, and the most recent sea defences, the big stones placed along the seaward side of the bar have been steadily moving down the beach as the backwash  sweeps out the sand on which they were set.  Water passing over and through the shingle bar has created two huge pools on the farmland which are already visited by oystercatcher and curlew.

The persistence of these pools has waxed and waned over the last three decades as ditches have been dug to drain the land.  However the vegetation of the larger pool below Alltwen has once again been reverting to salt marsh, and Storm Ciara is hastening this advance.

The big pool below Alltwen

A second seawater pool forming on Tanybwlch flats

I look forward to the day when the pool becomes permanent, and the sea breaks through to meet the Ystwyth at its tidal end.  We may be needing a footbridge to complete Nanny Goats Walk before too long.

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By the Wind Sailors on Tanybwlch beach

by The Curious Scribbler

Velella velella on Tanybwlch beach

I walked Tanybwlch beach today in search of velellas, having noticed Chloe Griffith’s post on Facebook last night.  Velella velella, or By the Wind Sailor is an oceanic ‘jellyfish’, but not your usual jellyfish:  instead it belongs to a class called the Hydrozoans, and is a colonial animal made up of several different types of polyps doing different jobs (feeding, defence, or reproduction) .  Under a transparent float hang many tiny stinging polyps, which catch the plankton of the open ocean.  The diagonally placed sail projecting above the water should ensure that the float moves across the wind, and the velellas remain at sea.  It is a unique species,  there is just one kind, and they circulate in all world’s warm or temperate oceans.

Stranded By the Wind Sailors amongst the wrack

I found them, amongst the rolls of wrack and kelp on the lower strand line, but how tiny they were!  Every one I found was just two centimeters long, shorter than a single joint of my finger. Velellas can be 7 cm long, and I have seen them this size in the open ocean, bobbing past at sea.  Our stranding of velellas are mere babies, and judging by the uniformity all started life from the same hatching. Drying in the winter sunshine they look and feel to the touch like fragments of stiff cellophane, with a hint of blue around the underside.

Velella velella on Tanybwlch beach

Velella velella on Tanybwlch beach, showing the projecting sail to catch the wind

It was a lovely morning, and I noted that my friend the dragon log has moved once more along the beach, and, after a period on its side and looking less dragon-like has again righted itself with head aloft.  It remains a pleasure, as I remarked last autumn, to note how very few items of domestic plastic rubbish are to be found among the driftwood and seaweed.

Wrack and kelp on Tanybwlch beach

There is though, a still abundant category of man-made waste,  and that is plastic rope and string.  What is it about fishermen and little bits of string?  Especially common are short pieces about 6 inches in length of green or blue plastic string with frayed cut ends.  In a short distance one can gather a pocketful, either here or at Borth or Ynyslas.

Velella velella on Tanybwlch beach

There must be an explanation.  Do fishermen tie closed their lobster pots and cut the string each time they open them? If this is the explanation why cannot they use biodegradable hemp which would decay after its single use rather than surviving in the ocean, breaking into tinier pieces for ever, and clogging the stomachs of filter feeding marine life?  Or they could take their pieces of string home and put them in the bin?

Our West Wales beaches are far closer to pristine than they were 20 years ago.  If we can identify the reason for the remaining offenders perhaps a small change in behaviour would do the trick.

 

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Dragon on the move

by the Curious Scribbler

The Tanybwlch Dragon has moved several hundred yards along the beach during last Saturday’s high seas.  Once again it has beached itself gazing out to sea, its lower jaw a little more abraded, but its eager expression is now almost as convincing from the left flank as from the right.

Right cheek

Left cheek

Seas have been breaking over the stony strand which separates the beach from the low lying Tanybwlch flats, the location of summer trotting races, and formerly, of the Aberystwyth Show.   Once more a huge pool has formed below Alltwen, beloved of gulls and waders.

The brackish pool on Tanybwlch flats

Over the years there have been a number of efforts to drain this area and return it to pasture, but this seems to be a losing battle and each winter the lake forms again, and as it drains away rushes prosper at the expense of grass.  It is highly likely that we will see the day when the sea breaks through the pebble bar and our walks along this wild beach will be curtailed part way along.

The Dragon has migrated along Tanybwlch beach

The strand line was not as free from human debris as when I commented two weeks ago, but as with the comments from my reader about the Gower, fragments of netting and other fisherman’s waste were far more abundant than household plastic.  The white lumps on the strand line were not polystyrene but cuttlefish bone, and the fluffy froth just natural sea spume.

Cuttlefish on the strandline at Tanybwlch beach

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A Dragon on Tanybwlch beach

By The Curious Scribbler

There is a new arrival on Tanybwlch beach, remarkably in the shape of a dragon, looking out to sea.

Dragon’s head likeness

A large tree trunk, felicitously worn by the abrasive boulders has beached itself high on the shore near the south end of the beach during a recent storm, and presented itself to best advantage in this weekend’s winter sunshine.

Tree trunk at Tanybwlch beach

Walking the strand line, I was also impressed by the scarcity of plastic waste.  I wonder whether this is entirely down to the dedicated beach cleaners who regularly patrol our beaches, or whether, (dare one hope?) the rate at which rubbish is discarded into the Irish sea is at last diminishing.

I used to beach clean here regularly a decade ago when we recorded all the items for the Marine Conservation Society records. In those days one did not go far to fill a sack with single-use plastic and hard plastic crates and bits of rope.  Yesterday there were a few bottle tops and fragments of plastic amongst the dried wrack, but the waste was predominantly what it should be: biodegradable seaweed and sticks washed down the rivers in the recent rains.

Driftwood on the strandline

How much easier on the eye than a strandline of coloured waste.  Aberstwyth Beach Buddies and Surfers against Sewage are to be congratulated for their action and campaigning, but so too is everyone who now chooses not to chuck their rubbish into the sea in the first place!  I remember standing on a cross channel ferry in the 1970s and watching aghast as a kitchen hand emerged on the deck below and tipped all the ferry’s catering packaging off the stern to bob away in our wake.  I have no doubt he was following orders. Fifty years later the public all have camera phones and I don’t think many companies would risk being observed.

Driftwood on the strandline at Tanybwlch beach

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Underground in mid Wales

by The Curious Scribbler

It can be a mistake to write about something one knows very little about.  Today I make an exception, having  attended a fascinating Historical Society lecture by Ioan Lord, a Ceredigion-born young man who is studying the mining history of mid Wales.

We learnt that the hilly country of mid Wales is littered with ore-bearing lodes, cracks in the rock of varying lengths and sizes all running more or less northeast – southwest across the landscape. For more than 4000 years these have been exploited by miners. Bronze age workings extracted the copper which along with Cornish tin would be made into bronze, Romans extracted lead, the Society of Mines Royal exploited the silver which was for a time formed into coin at Sir John Middleton’s mint at Aberystwyth castle. In the18th and 19th century a proliferation of mining companies extracted lead, copper and zinc on a massive scale.  This was the era for which we have the best historical record, photographs, newspapers and mining journals reveal the ambition and the highfalutin names of these speculative ventures, suggesting riches such were to be found around the world.

Miners Cwmystwyth in 1911

The ‘Welsh Potosi’ Lead and Copper mine was named after the highly productive mines of Bolivia. ‘Welsh Broken Hill’ Mine echoes Australia,  at Ponterwd we find the ‘California of Wales’, while Moelfre Wheal Fortune reminds us of the tin industry of Cornwall and the many miners who migrated to Wales at this time.

The industry was gruelling and life expectancy was poor, but the mines nontheless paid handsomely in their day.  There are local families today such as the Raws of Cwmystwyth who trace their ancestry to Cornishman James Raw, Mine Captain of the Cwmystwyth mine in 1850.  Ioan cited records showing that the Oliver family of Cwmystwyth were taking home £200 a month in 1810.

By 1930 there was no more mining and the workings lay abandoned.  Ioan and fellow enthusiasts are exploring this forgotten frontier, equipped with lights and modern caving equipment they find their way into the old shafts and adits, stepping into spaces last visited more than  two hundred years ago.  From time to time, on Facebook’s You know you’re from Aberystwyth when you… I have watched their videos as they squeeze along narrow adits ( tunnels) or abseil down vertical shafts.  They find abandoned wooden ladders, barrows, tools, shoes belonging to the miners, abandoned as it were yesterday.

This is more than sightseeing: their mines research is clarifying much about the history of mid Wales.   In the 17th century people tended to call all old mine workings ‘ Roman Mines’ but modern discoveries which can be carbon dated such as wooden tools  or charcoal on smelting floors have now confirmed Roman mining at Penpompren, and Cwmystwyth.  An exciting discovery, lying in a 19th Century adit was a wooden spade, typically Roman in style, which has been carbon dated to 4BC-71AD.  It had presumably been washed in there from the old workings. Hammer stones, probably from Llanrhystud beach bear witness to Bronze age workings at Copa Hill, Cwmystwyth.

On another occasion, when exploring the 18th century working which was Thomas Powell of Nanteos’ Great Adit at Bwlchgwyn they came upon a stone marker neatly engraved TP 1742.   Other sources tell us that Thomas Powell was in vigorous conflict with Sir Hugh Myddleton and  the Society of Mines Royal which had claimed mining rights for the Crown.  Ioan’s survey indeed confirms that Powell’s mine and his marker stone encroached well into Royal Mines territory!

The multi talented Ioan Lord, is currently working on a PhD at Cardiff but has also been a familiar face operating the Rheidol Valley steam trains. His very handsomely produced book on the mines of Cwm Rheidol and Ystumtuen was published last year by the Rheidol Railway and can be bought at their shop.

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/512OvlqLEuL._SX363_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

Ioan Lord is one of the Directors of the Cambrian Mines Trust which was incorporated as a Company in 2012 with the objective of preservation and restoration of mining remains.  Particularly challenging in today’s risk-averse climate will be their objective to re-open underground workings for the public benefit.  In the meantime I do enjoy the videos, without risk of either hitting my head or obliterating, with my 21st century feet, the  ancient footprints of miners and even horses preserved in the mud of the adits.

 

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A blot on the landscape

by The Curious Scribbler,

I was astounded yesterday to see the new building on the Plas Morolwg site which overlooks the harbour at Aberystwyth.  Plonked like a giant brick on the skyline is a building of unsurpassed ordinariness.  A box designed  to contain seven residential flats rises four storeys high, a positive beacon to philistine development.  What were our Councillors and Planning Department thinking of?

The new Residential Block on Penyrangor

Penyrangor is a charming small road by which one approaches Tanybwlch beach and is flanked by squat bungalows and houses of early 20th century design.  Newer development behind this rank was somewhat controversial when the railway cutting was filled in and built over, but all  are two storey in height and designed with at least some respect for their position at the foot of beautiful Pendinas.  This monstrous cube is totally out of scale with its neighbourhood, perched on the top of rising ground above the road, and totally dominating the  other developments of flats around the harbour, let alone the regular housing.

The new block viewed from the harbour

Not long ago I looked at the Planning proposal to demolish and replace Bay View, one of the small houses on Penyrangor, a 1930s cottage which started its life as a tea house tucked into the small  quarry on the left as you approach the sea.  Reading the applicant’s proposal made one feel that landscape protection is alive and well. The report alluded to the Special Landscape Area in which it is set, and presented a sensitive design for a modern energy-efficient, two-storey building which respected the setting and would be tucked in such that the low pitched roof would not break the skyline above the sheltering rock face.

The site of Bay View, the old cottage now cleared away

No such considerations seem to have influenced the Wales and West Housing Association.  Indeed I’ve just been looking at their planning application and found two remarkably unhelpful projections of how the development will look.

The bird’s eye view hardly helps in predicting how we land-born humans will perceive the relative heights of the buildings around this development.

Meanwhile a Side Section elevation shows the ghosts of the adjoining houses looming tall behind the new block.  I have no idea where one would have to stand to see this perspective!  Indeed I suspect there is there is no such possibility.  My photo shows the same houses to be half the height of the block in the foreground.

The New Residential apartment block at Plas Morolwg, by Wales and West Housing Association

It seems a great pity that such misleading schematic drawings have, I presume, allowed the impact of this building to be overlooked until it is too late and the frame is up.  Its eventual appearance, it seems, will be  that of a block escaped from Penparcau, with similar glass fronted balconies, but some render and wood-effect cladding on the exterior.

The former Plas Morolwg was widely-known locally as ‘Colditz’ on account of its forbidding exterior, and its later claim to fame was as the setting for the lowest and most disagreeable characters in the TV show Hinterland.  The opportunity to replace it with something reflecting better on Aberystwyth has been avoided.

A view from the harbour.  Nothing else breaks the skyline as this does.

 

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Up the tower at Gelli Aur

by The Curious Scribbler

It seems to be my destiny to visit Gelli Aur ( Golden Grove) in the rain. Last week was my third visit in many years, and once again it poured.  Which was a pity because one of the anticipated high points was expected to be the view over the Tywyi Valley from the windows, or better still the roof.    Dryslwn Castle and Paxton’s tower lie to the west,  while Dynefwr Castle  should be visible to the north east,    Instead the distant views were lost in the mist.

Golden Grove mansion roof light above the main stairwell

 

Nonetheless it was a fascinating visit, for a small group of us were taken around the house, which was built 1826-34 for John Frederick Campbell, Lord Cawdor, to a design by Wyatville. Not his principal residence, ( which was Stackpole in Pembrokeshire)  but a summer retreat,  staffed all year round by as many as 55 house servants, but on full performance only for a few weeks of summer.  The proportions of the house reflect this, the grand rooms approached from the port cochère at the east end of the house  are not that numerous, while stretching away to the west is an extensive two-storey range  of servants’ rooms, and the stable courtyard  beyond that.  Unusually, the house faces north.. but this is the side with the long views, and north-facing was perhaps not such bad news during a hot summer.

Golden Grove mansion, the principal rooms are in the eastern end below the clock tower

After a disastrous decade of neglect and destruction the house and 100 acres of park now belongs to a Preservation Trust which has ambitious plans to create an art gallery and cultural centre there. One initiative already under way is the restoration of the clock which adorns the clock tower of the main house. New replica clock faces have already been prepared and a specialist clock restorer has been commissioned, one who is also working on Big Ben.

The Barwise Clock at Golden Grove

The clock is by Barwise of St Martin’s Lane, London, Chronometer, Watch and Clockmaker to His Majesty and the Royal Family, and dated 1832.  It stands in a large glazed cupboard with pulleys and levers reaching out in several directions.  I don’t pretend to understand exactly how it works, but it was clear to see the winding mechanism of three drums, round which ran the cables attached to three huge weights descending through neatly formed hatches in the floor of the tower.  A man with a crank handle would have had to regularly wind the clock, bringing the three big weights back up to the level of the clock.  This mechanism drove two clock faces on opposing sides of the tower, and three handsome bells which are attached to the outer wall of the clock tower.  ( I wonder what melody you can play on just three bells?  Probably the largest of the  three struck the hour.)

Golden Grove, one of the three weights driving the clock mechanism

The tower rises at the junction between the principal bedrooms and the servants’ wing, and the bells hang above the large glazed lantern which lights the grand stairs.  When operating, this handsome clock must have been more than audible to the grand occupants of the house.

The three bells on the tower. Golden Grove

The firm of Barwise existed from 1790 to 1855, and enjoyed greatest fame in the 1820s, it seems to have been best known for its pocket watches, long case and bracket clocks.  In an article on Barwise in the Antiquarian Horological Society journal we get just one glimpse of a clock similar to that at Golden Grove.  A correspondent to The Times 26 September 1855, described the scene after the Battle of the Great Redan, an engagement during siege of Sebastopol.    He wrote ” The Great Redan was next visited.  Such a scene of wreck and ruin! all the houses behind it a mass of broken stones – a clock turret, with shot right through the clock – a pagoda in ruins – another clock tower, with all the clocks destroyed save the dial, with the words Barwise London thereon“.

Golden Grove’s clock has lasted considerably better than that one. Perhaps some others are hidden away in English church towers:  there is at least one, at Clayworth St Peter, Notts, but that is a much more modest affair.

One regulator dial of the Barwise clock at Gelli Aur

Gelli Aur. The second regulator dials in the Barwise clock bears the date

The Barwise Clock at Golden Grove ( Gelli Aur)

 

 

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Frying the field bindweed

by The Curious Scribbler

The convolvulus family includes several choice and garden-worthy species, such as the silver-foliaged shrub  Convolvulus cneorum, and the sky blue Convolvulus mauritanicus of the hanging basket, but it also includes the gardener’s foe Calystegia sepium, the field bindweed.  Who has not engaged in an unending struggle with this plant!

Emerging from the ground as the frosts have passed its fine tendrils twist their way up the young stems of our newest seedlings or the woody stems of established shrubs.  Romping to the top, the new growth soon expands to form a heavy leafy mass which all too soon entirely swamps the substrate.  We pluck it, unwind it, dig up the white wandering roots and still it comes, for the brittle roots go deep and readily break when removed.  A tiny half inch of root will soon sprout a new plant, initially an innocent miniature tendril, but left unnoticed soon expanding to its gorgon like best.

Field Bindweed Calystegia sepium smothering a hedge

Field Bindweed Calystegia sepium

In hedgerows it is unassailable, and by this time of year may largely cover the hedge beneath.  But it redeems itself in the wild by the beauty of its flowers, great luminous white trumpet blooms opening freshly every day.  As a flower it puts Morning Glory in the shade, and would be much prized if only like Morning Glory it discreetly died each winter.  Instead, the roots burrow onward and a fresh supply of seeds ensure its rapid  introduction far and wide.

Field Bindweed Calystegia sepium

The very best gardens suffer from Bindweed.  I recently heard a talk by Debs Goodenough, Royal Gardener at Highgrove for the Prince of Wales, who was addressing the AGM of the Welsh Historic Gardens Trust. The Prince is conscientiously organic, so chemicals are not in the arsenal.  It was fascinating to learn that in the last few years they have been trialling a new method of  attack – by electrocution!   5000 volts is applied to the stem.  It is satisfying, she said, to see a puff of smoke emerge from the ground.

I’ve just been watching a YouTube film by the company Rootwave introducing the Rootwave Pro.  Rather than crouching with a widger the gardener strolls around with an electrocution wand attached to a small generator,  poking it into selected dandelions, hogweed, thistles and so on.  As the publicity puts it – the plants boil from the inside, die and return their goodness to the soil.  This is new technology and Debs was not yet ready to vouch for its effectiveness.  I do wonder whether, with the long roots of bindweed said to penetrate as much as 20 feet into the ground, the boiling plant near the surface will leave a healthy root fragment  deep below, capable of sprouting a new plant to re-invade.

I wonder also how the 5000 volt affects the nearby soil invertebrates, there must be a fair number of worms which, if not cooked, get the fright of their lives. I’m feeling rather respectful of worms just now having spent an hour watching the progress of a mole through the surface of a meadow.  Excavating with its powerful claws under the root mat of the grass the mole generates audible scrunching vibrations as it creates a run just below the surface.  And don’t the worms know!  In its immediate vicinity I watched worms of all sizes hurriedly emerging onto the surface of the grass and hastening 10 centimetres or more across the surface in braod daylight before disappearing once more below ground.  I don’t suppose that evolution has equipped worms with a similar sixth sense when the approach of the Rootwave operator is nigh.

It is good to know that HRH is experimenting with the latest in organic techniques.  We also learnt that his magnificent delphiniums receive their slug protection through garlands of seaweed mulched around each plant, and that he is keen to obtain  disabled hedgehogs from hedgehog hospitals.  A fully able hedgehog requires a substantial range and the breeding opportunities which that affords.  A troupe of disabled yet hungry hedgehogs could just hang around the Highgrove borders eating their fill of slugs and snails.

 

 

 

 

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