Remembering Kathleen ‘Kay’ Humphreys

by the Curious Scribbler

When I got to know Kay Humphreys she was a tiny elderly lady living at the far end of the long low row of ancient cottages in the shade of a huge acacia tree at Pontllolwyn in Llanfarian.  There was just one chair for guests which could be reached with difficulty, for she lived a frugal life hemmed in by huge sloping stacks of weekly magazines, the Spectator, the New Statesman, The Week.  The cottage was very much unimproved, cluttered with the memorabilia of her long life.

Loves in her life included the big house, Aberllolwyn, (which had formerly belonged to her clergyman uncles Tom and Griff Humphreys, and which she always felt was really hers), and cats.    A rector’s daughter herself, she delighted in tormenting vicars with theological questions on the subject of cats’ souls, and whether she would meet her favourite cats in heaven.  One of these favourites was our cat, Kevin, a handsome un-neutered  tabby tom who in the 1990s often attended the services at Llanychaiarn Church, where she was a worshiper.   On Sundays when Kevin failed to put in an appearance, Kay would often appear at our door, imperiously asking ” Where is Kevin?”  Kevin became a beneficiary of her will – a legacy which he did not collect because he predeceased her.

In 2004 she endowed her own memorial bench outside the church.  Ever practical, she donated it while she could have the use of it, and on a chilly April morning, eighteen years ago today,  a party of relatives and villagers assembled around her as the Revd Hywel Jones dedicated the bench.

The dedication of the Bench on 3 April 2005

Kathleen Humphreys on her bench, with cousin Mary Ellis and niece Cathy McGregor

By this time in her life Kathleen Humphreys was best remembered for her long-running column in The Cambrian News, ” Kay’s Corner” a weekly opinion piece, which drew on a wide knowledge of folklore, gardening, theology and her own strong ideas.  She had always been a writer, and now, as I assemble her archive and diaries for donation to the National Library of Wales, one gets an insight into a remarkable woman.   She was born in 1916  into a clergy family and grew up at Llangan Rectory near Bridgend.  Her sixteen-year-old diary reveals a girl on the brink of adulthood, aware of male eyes upon her, and already sure that the life of a married woman is not for her.  Aged nineteen she was working in London, going to auditions, and working for Central Editing ( would this be the BBC?).  Her London diaries from the war years unfortunately do not survive.

Her big literary break came in 1959 when she published Days and Moments Quickly Flying under the pen name of Perry Madoc.  It is significant to remember how many women in the early 20th century adopted male cognomens to increase their chance of being taken seriously.  The manuscript had been first submitted under the name of “Pen Severn”.  Perry Madoc was published by Collins both here and in America and was very favourably reviewed in The Spectator, and compared with Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall.   Its knowing portrayal of homosexual school teachers and vulnerable schoolboys would have perhaps been expected of a male author.

Kathleen Humphreys’ 1960s diaries reveal a woman who felt her career blighted by the influential Literary Advisor to Collins, Milton Waldeman. There is more than a suggestion that his rejection of her next manuscript was influenced by her rejection of his sexual advances.   She was no longer resident in London, having moved to Pontllolwyn to be near her uncles.  Two other novels survive in manuscript: The Ink Blot  ( which was rejected by Collins and by Gollancz 1960) and The Coal Scuttle Triptych ( rejected by Heinnemann 1961).  A later novel  The Washerwoman of Sevigny  was rejected by Hutchinson in 1989.  It may have been a disadvantage that she was no longer a face on the London scene, but she was certainly publishing articles and short stories in Punch,  in John O’London’s Weekly and in Argosy.  From the 1960s she was also a regular contributor to The Cambrian News.

All her life, Kathleen Humphreys needed to earn a living  to supplement her income as a writer, and did a number of jobs in Aberystwyth.  Her  Pontllolwyn diaries span fifty years 1953 to 2004,  and record the experiences of her daily round.  Her accounts include  Rosemary Christie, mother of the actress Julie Christie and mistress of Douglas Hague of the Royal Commission for Ancient and Historic Monuments, the Jervis family of Bryneithin, the geologist Nancy Kirk, Prof and Mrs Parrott, the Thomsons of Glanpaith, the Roberts of Crugiau, the Mirylees at Nanteos, the Condrys and the Chaters as well as many local neighbours.  She was active in the CPRW, the Cardiganshire Horticultural Society, the Ceredigion Antiquarians, and in art and pottery classes.  She never owned a car, and travelled everywhere on foot or by bus, chatting to all she met and often expressing her delight in the scenery, the wildflowers and the weather.

Her handwriting is hard to decipher, but the diaries are surely a treasure trove of local life, as well as  a signpost to a huge output of published writing hidden away in old newspapers and magazines.  I end with a small sample which I have transcribed, the diary entry for 18 July 1959.

Last night I wandered up to Aberllolwyn like a ghost, jumping down over the wall from the woods, now overgrown, and the back all high weeds smothering the wallflowers and sweet williams I had in the old basins and the flowers against the wall! It was exactly like a dream in the dusk with all silent and deserted. I felt so desolate and so acutely homesick I cried bitterly and rained down curses on Uncle Griff and his smug wife and their smug house and on Providence for losing me my home and my little cat.  In two months I have only seen him once, briefly, and then he looked scared, thin and ill. 

In vain I called him, and I sat on Uncle Tom’s seat in the field in despair.  On one last impulse I went down along the bottom of the orchard to the farm and there coming through the entrance to the Dingle from the farm was a glimmer and red and white.  My darling Ginger!  And in the trim, fat as butter and coat very sleek.  How pleased he was to see me, Kissing and rubbing my face with his nose.

By this time it was pitch dark, and warm, and I resolved to spend the night with him on the hay stack.  I climbed up a very steep ladder, Ginger clinging on and purring.  We settled down.  At first it was very cosy with heat rising from the rick but presently my temperature dropped and I got chilly.  I tried to arrange these angular blocks and fetched an old raincoat of Dai’s from below.  Ginger bore it all very well and when I was too fidgety stationed himself near, so I could hear him purring gently. 

Later there was a terrific row below and footsteps.  We were rather alarmed, me especially, but peeping over the top I saw it was Dai and Mrs Hughes with a torch.  What were they doing?  Extraordinary noises of clanging zinc.  They were arranging the fallen zinc sheet from the garden wall before the calf shed to keep the geese in.  And I had nearly settled in there with Ginger for the night!  Why put the geese there? 

The haystack very humid. At daybreak Ginger and I went down through the Dingle to the cottage and into bed.  It is wonderful to have that warm lump once again snuggled up on the bed covers and his purring and sonnerations.  At 2.30 I took him up to the farm and asked Mrs Hughes to give him milk in the cowshed, which she does, the part behind the stalls where the dogs can’t reach.  There  are several tins of catfood in the farm piling up  because no-one has seen Ginger for days and days.

Kathleen Anne Humphreys, Perry Madoc or Kathleen Hatling ( as she was published in Argosy 1944) deserves to be disambiguated and rediscovered.

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A New Bee on the Hellebores

by The Curious Scribbler

Saturday’s spring sunshine led me out to tidy up the winter garden.   Already rising proudly from the ground are the Sweet Coltsfoot Petasites frigidus palmatus, whose big star-shaped  leaves will later shade out all the competition.  It is an invasive plant from the arctic and cool temperate Europe, and a bit of  a mixed blessing, but its confident sentinels of March flowers thrusting up before even the primroses have got under way is a harbinger of luscious foliage to come.

Petasites frigidus palmatus ( Sweet Coltsfoot) is erupting in the orchard. So invasive, but such pretty golf balls before the leaves emerge

Also performing spectacularly are my Oriental Hellebores … so many different forms are now to be found at Farmyard Nurseries in Llandysul.   Cross-bred in Carmarthenshire the new varieties range from white through yellow and green to pink, purple, and almost black, and from frothy double petalled to the wide welcoming stamens and nectaries of the simple five petalled flowers.

It was these latter flowers which attracted my first bumblebee of the season, a hard-to-miss bee with ginger thorax, black abdomen and white tail.  This was not a bee of my childhood.  Bombus hypnorum is known by the common name of Tree Bumblebee, or New Garden Bumblebee: for it is just that: not until 2001 was one recorded in Wiltshire, and that was probably among the newest arrivals from the continent.  The migration was a resounding success and within the next ten years the bee had spread throughout England and Wales.  In 2017 it appeared in Ireland too.

Tree Bumblebee ( Wikimedia Commons)

This bee is now reckoned amongst our commonest eight species.  My bee was a queen and will soon be setting up home in a tree hole, a nest box or perhaps a compost heap, or my loft, where she will rear her first first small daughters over the following five weeks.  Later there will be larger better-nourished workers, and finally drones and queens.  In a season she might rear as many as 300- 400 bees.   But her sons are fated to have only a fortnight’s independent life, zooming around looking to mate, and  it is only the daughter queens, fertilized in autumn,who will survive the winter to emerge in March 2022.

 

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Ambitious new planting on the Penglais campus

by The Curious Scribbler

After a week marked by terrible rain and wind,  Thursday’s watery sunshine illuminated an unusually optimistic scene on the  Penglais campus.

Readers of this blog will remember the widespread dismay five years ago when the heavy equipment moved in and uprooted the iconic shrub borders adjoining the main drive into the campus.  Planted in the 1970s to complement the newly completed Hugh Owen building, this varied drift of perennial and deciduous foliage was one of the features which had led to the grading of the campus grounds as of national importance in the Cadw Register of Historic Parks and Gardens in 2002.

The original planting of the bank below the Hugh Owen Building as it appeared in 2003

For the last four years the area has presented a stark appearance of grass and bark, relieved only by a few scrawny trees which had been spared.  Few of these had lasting potential, they included sycamore, ash, Italian alder and goat willow, hardy weed trees which had opportunistically seeded in among the ornamental plantings.

The Hugh Owen bank was denuded of its shrubs in 2017

When the chainsaws and diggers reappeared a couple of weeks ago and  these trees were removed in a sea of mud some passers-by wondered if worse was yet to come.   But over the last two days a  transformation has been wrought by a  swarm of grounds staff in high-visibility jackets.   Almost 2000 shrubs have been planted,  in swathes of contrasting foliage textures.

All hands to the planting, which was done by the University’s team of grounds staff

 

New planting continued on Friday on the bank below the Hugh Owen building

The planting design by Dr Peter Wootton Beard references the border which preceded it, using many of the same or similar species to those selected by former curator Basil Fox when the building was new.   Other newcomers have also been selected.  As with the original design, the layout provides swathes of contrasting evergreens  and areas of deciduous  shrubs which form dark patches in winter.  Flowers, berries and scent have not been neglected, so the tapestry will change as the seasons progress. In the next few years mulching and aftercare will be necessary, but the shrubs will fill out to create dense low-maintenance ground cover which should be good for the next fifty year.

Afternoon sunshine on Friday catches the scheme nearing completion.

I am told that last year alone required no less that fourteen rounds of grass-cutting on this bank, much of which is challengingly steep for machinery.  The next few years will require mulching and aftercare, but as the shrubs fill out they will create a low maintenance continuous cover which should be good for the next fifty years and more.

It is good to see some long-term investment in the appearance of the Penglais Campus.  Aberystwyth is the only Welsh university  to have been awarded a Grade II* Cadw listing, for what is described as ‘one of the most important modern landscaping schemes in Wales’.

 

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Storm Barra rips up the promenade again

by The Curious Scribbler

I’ve written about at least seven storms in the lifetime of this blog, but here we go again!  Storm Barra has devastated the prom, and perhaps most evocative has been a video posted on Facebook by Clare Jonsson.  Viewed from an upstairs window overlooking the area in front of the Marine Hotel we see huge waves breaking over the parked cars which bleat plaintively at each blow, their alarm lights flashing as they are inexorably shunted across the road and deposited at the inland side.  One shudders for the owners, who presumably overlooked the weather forecasts on Tuesday afternoon.

Cars scattered by the sea, photographed on Wednesday morning.  Posted on Facebook by Aberystwyth Town Centre and Justin Carroll

Many people’s thoughts turned to the homeless man who customarily sleeps on the landward side of the Victorian shelter on the prom.  Apparently a kindly neighbour Kash Smith took him into her flat and rescued some, but not all of his possessions.  Other items including his mattress  could be seen on the bench in a turmoil of backwash while daylight shows that the southern end of the shelter has been broken through, its long bench stranded on the paving.

Posted on Facebook by Aberystwyth Town Centre and Justin Carroll

The shelter, which is a Cadw listed structure, was meticulously restored in 2014 after the January storm ripped it apart and a huge hole, remnant of the earlier bathhouse on the site, opened up beneath it. It survived Storm Frank in 2015 and Storm Ophelia in 2017 , Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis in 2020 and the many lesser storms which brought loads of sand up onto the prom.    But last night’s damage is far more reminiscent of the storm of 3 January 2014.  Big sill stones at the edge of the prom have been lifted up and slid across the paving, and large tracts of smaller slabs behind them have been lifted away.  Flower beds have been demolished.  Once again a big clear up will be needed.

Posted on Facebook by Aberystwyth Town Centre and Justin Carroll

 

Photo by Anthony Elvy

Posted on Facebook by Aberystwyth Town Centre and Justin Carroll

I have yet to visit my other favourite haunt, Tanybwlch Beach, to see what changes have been wrought by Storm Barra.  The huge retaining wall on the river side of the car park has been dangling dangerously since Storm Ciara hit on 9 February 2020, creating a great void behind it which has been roughly covered with fencing material, but growing larger ever since.

The hole which opened up during Storm Ciara and has been growing ever since

And each year recently the sea has managed to breach over the shingle bank towards the southern end and flood the low lying fields below the mansion. As sea levels rise this area of farmland, former site of the Aberystwyth Show and once the prospective Aberystwyth Airport is likely to revert to permanent marshland.

The sea poured over the Tanybwlch shingle strand during Storm Dennis

Storm Dennis flooded the Tanybwlch flats 16 February 2020

 

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Ceredigion’s first black gentlewoman

by The Curious Scribbler

A year ago today I posted a short blog about my researches on Justina Jeffreys, the Jamaican-born woman of colour who was adopted and reared near Tywyn and became a prominent  member of north Ceredigion society in the early 19th century as wife of George Jeffreys at Glandyfi castle.

Glandyfi castle sketched by Francis Wood in 1838

It has been a particularly gratifying post, leading to much correspondence and the identification of at least six present day descendants of Justina or her brother Charles McMurdo Leslie.  I have been writing up the story in much greater detail for next year’s issue of  the history journal, Ceredigion.

I note that Wales has led the UK nations in making Black History a mandatory part of the national curriculum.  Among the early black Welsh to be enjoying renewed attention is John Ystumllyn, the 18th century black gardener, from north Wales.  Two weeks ago, to mark Black History Month, a pretty repeat-flowering yellow rose was launched by Harkness Roses in his honour.

The John Ystumllyn Rose

For many years school children have been taught about Mary Seacole, who nursed in the Crimean war, and was the  daughter of Lieutenant James Grant, a Scottish army officer, and a free mixed-race Jamaican woman.    Our curriculum could instead have more local resonance, if focused instead on Justina Jeffreys, some eighteen years older than Mary, and the daughter of another Scottish officer, Captain Charles McMurdo and a free ‘mulatto’ woman, Susan Leslie.

Justina was brought up at Bodtalog as the only child of McMurdo’s brother officer, Edward Scott and his Welsh wife Louisa, and is believed to have been a muse to the young poet and author Thomas Love Peacock.

Bodtalog, near Tywyn

It wold be wonderful to discover a portrait of this talented young woman.    She died in 1869,  so it is also possible that somewhere there is a carte de visite, depicting her in her sixties.  Although carte de visites were often collected in albums, the photos were very seldom labelled, so it will be a very happy chance if an image of her is ever identified.

 

 

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A Garden of Concrete Memories

by The Curious Scribbler

There has been quite a lot of publicity this summer about Carreg Llwyd, ( Google ‘Mark Bourne Wales’ for a selection: the Daily Mail, the BBC, Wales Online, and even The Times ran articles this summer).

The story concerns the extraordinary scale models built by writer and chicken farmer Mark Bourne, who died about ten years ago.  Some will remember his many contributions to the Cambrian News and Country Quest.  His remote garden on a terraced slope near Corris has become dilapidated and overgrown and The Little Italy Trust has recently been set up  to preserve it.  Jonathan Fell, gardener and conservator showed me round.

A medley of Italian buildings climb the mountainside

Looking up from the adjoining footpath one sees an amazing medley of model buildings, their facades facing westward, marching up the slope, fading away into the dense conifers above.  Nearest to the house is a signature piece, The Duomo in Florence, just four feet tall and neatly labelled with an inscribed slate slab reading Santa Maria del Fiore.  Nearby, ascending from the top of the boundary wall are the Spanish Steps from Rome.    These and every other garden feature have been fashioned out of concrete, often impregnated with pigments to mimic the warm tones of southern Europe. There are palazzos, churches and towers, mostly palladian and always clearly labelled, often like a guide book with architect and date, which you approach by a labyrinth of concrete paths and steps. Interspersed are a number of breeze-block and corrugated-iron stores and workshops in which the creative process took place.  Timber moulds and formers were built to imprint the decorations, and reclaimed objects, chickenwire, hub caps, dustbins, bottles, washing machine drums and bedsteads often form the basis of these three dimensional structures.

Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence

It is certainly true that about thirty of the models are of famous Italian  buildings, and that Mark Bourne and his wife Muriel holidayed regularly in Italy, taking photos and making drawings which were then copied in concrete at home in Wales.  It rains a lot in the mountains, and no doubt when the concrete would not set he had plenty of time to inscribe the calligraphy on the slate plaques which adorn each piece.  But there is much more than Italy represented here.  Rather, it seems that while Mark Bourne might have written an article, or I a blog on a subject which caught our interest, he instead committed it to concrete.

Randomly perched among the models, and all labelled, are the Brick Kiln at Amlwch, Anglesey, the Nash Lodge at Attingham Park, Boyana Church at Sofia, Bulgaria, and the worlds longest brick bridge, the Goltzsch Viaduct which takes trains from Mylau to Netzschkau in Germany.

‘World’s largest brick bridge. 26,000,000 bricks’.  Jonathan Fell surveys the garden.

A model of York Minster and accompanying plaque marks the accession of Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury.  Another plaque list the names, ages and occupations of the occupants of Carreg Llwyd as recorded in the 1841 and 1851 censuses.  When Mark Bourne wanted to remember something, he did not make a note, he made a model.

People gave him stuff which he incorporated into the garden.  Pieces of architecture, concrete urns and figures, and Victorian bricks.  One friend, John Oliphant, gave him an entire brick collection, and many of these are built into a wall visible from the passing footpath, set on their sides to display the lettering on the bricks.  Farther up the same path Mark mounted a concrete geological relief map of north Wales into the wall.

A small part of the John Oliphant Brick Collection

Someone else gave him a bit of artificial stone salvaged from the cargo of the Primrose Hill, a vessel which foundered with great loss of life, on South Stack, Anglesey in 1900.  A complex slate memorial records the story.

And somehow he became the owner of a great many tiny bricks.  They are built into small didactic walls demonstrating different bricklayers’ patterns.  Where else can one find labelled examples of  Flemish Bond,  Stretcher Bond, English Bond, Header Bond and Garden Wall Bond?

Exemplars of five types of brick wall ( and an old bedstead)

Carreg Llwyd is certainly unique, a monument to one man’s creativity, but what is its future?  Its tourist potential is limited. It is up a steep footpath away from the nearest road and there is nowhere to park within a mile.  Once one arrives it is perilous, for the paths, the terraces and some of the buildings are beginning to collapse, ( the Leaning Tower of Pisa is already just a memory.)

Some structures have already collapsed and others are at risk.

Concrete formed upon corroding metal has a limited life, and the whole project though impressive  is crudely executed.  It is magical to stand among the crumbling ruins, overreached by rhododendrons, briars and sapling trees, scraping away the moss to read more of Mark’s explanatory calligraphy on slate. One can also see where once there were vegetable beds, roses, cats’ graves,  a little lawn and water channels flowing through the grounds. But this very personal space was built by hand (and  prodigious amounts of cement), by one poor but passionate amateur, who was still adding to his oeuvre at the age of eighty.   There is no place or access for the machines which might repair its inherent faults.  To achieve maintenance would require the services of a full-time hermit.

A former flower garden among the ruins

Every space within the plot has been adorned with models

A vertiginous view of turrets and workshops from above

This is the ultimate secret garden – most people who come across it by chance feel it is their personal discovery.  Even were it fully repaired and made safe it could take only a tiny number of visitors at any time.  Its plight perhaps bears comparison with Derek Jarman’s shingle garden created around a modest shack in the shadow of the nuclear power station at Dungeness, Kent.  Last year it was announced that the crowdfunding led by the Arts Council had raised £3.5 million to preserve it, and that artist residencies and very limited visiting opportunities will follow.

But Derek Jarman was a famous film director (and gardener)  with many influential showbiz and artist friends.  Mark Bourne, throughout his lifetime, was a very private man.

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Five new swallows

By The Curious Scribbler

Every year we have swallows, who build their nest just outside the kitchen door where their poo piles up inconveniently on the mat, a hazard for the unwary.  Their arrival is nonetheless eagerly welcomed, and their breeding success a matter of note.  Last year there was a tragedy.  The whole clutch died, fully fledged in the nest.  I believe this was because of two days, 25 to 26 August, in which we were continuously buffetted by ferocious gales.   I was reminded of this only yesterday when a news item about climate change included a scene of huge waves battering the seafront below Alexandra Hall.

The Aberystwyth storm of 25 August 2020

The sea breaking over Aberystwyth Jetty on 25 August 2020

Neither swallows nor insects could fly in that howling gale and I think the chicks simply perished unfed.  We wondered whether they had flown before the storm, but a couple of weeks later I inspected the nest to find four dead swallows, their tails still a little on the short side, but otherwise perfect.  The parents hung around on the electricity wires for some days, but then departed.

This spring was also unusual.  During the early spell of warm, fine weather one or two swallows appeared, scoping the house, even indulging in occasional aerial squabbles, but nothing came of it and and the nest remained unused.  They knew best perhaps,  for  that fine spell brought on all the shrubs in the garden, only to be scorched off by frost a few weeks later. There followed a May marked by its coldness and wetness, – not good conditions for feeding young. They were wise to wait.

I had pretty much given up hope when, in June, a swallow appeared, and sat singing its burbling chirrup on the wire, and before long was joined by a mate.  They patched up the old nest, and devoted their spare time to intimidating the cats by their dive bombing.   At first the chicks were pretty quiet, just a whisper of begging when the adult birds returned with beaks full of tiny insects, but over three weeks their cries become a loud cacophony breaking out almost every minute as the parents swooped in with food.  The droppings began to pile up on the mat beneath.

The hungry swallow provides an irresistible target for its harassed parent.

And on the 23 July they flew at dawn.  I woke to find them balancing precariously on the wire outside my window, and fluttering effortfully back to the roof.  By 10 am they were all back in their nest.

The exercise programme for a young swallow seems carefully calibrated by the parents.  For the rest of the day the feeding continued unabated, but the next morning the chicks were out again, for longer, tackling more demanding routes under the car port and lining up on different perches to beg for food. After a week they were out all day, and nowhere to be seen,  but would suddenly swoop down in mid afternoon, a twittering gang of five, and return to their nest on the beam, where their parents continued to feed them till dusk.

The five Swallow chicks return to the nest at bedtime

It is now day 9 since they first flew, and every evening we look out the back door to check that the five youngsters, still sporting their yellow flanges to their gape, are lined up for the night.  It wont be long now before they leave us, and I wonder whether their parents will fit in another brood before Africa beckons once more.  They sometimes do.

 

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An Invasive Alien in Ceredigion

by The Curious Scribbler

This pejorative title is still acceptable when applied to a foreign plant!  An alien species which has more than found its feet in Ceredigion is the Large Leaved Avens Geranium macrophyllum.

Geum macrophyllum at Black Covert, Ceredigion

It is bigger and brighter than our native Wood Avens, with lemon yellow flowers, and a dense cluster of bright green foliage. Once it gets started it seems to flower constantly from June to October.  The flowers ripen to form soft burrs of hooked seeds which when ripe are readily dislodged.  I would speculate that its spread is correlated with the ability with which these seeds attach themselves to human socks and dogs’ faces.

Geum macrophyllum seedhead

I remember first noticing this unfamiliar plant by the roadside at Black Covert.  Arthur Chater, in his massive Flora of Cardiganshire recorded it there, and rapidly spreading, in 2006.  It was already widely distributed on roadsides in the Llangwyrfon/ Lledrod/ Bronant area, where it was first recorded in 1993, though local recollection has it that it had been there since the 1950s. It is native to North America and North-east Asia, and it has also been recorded as a garden plant since the 19th century.   I wonder whether it was by accident or design that it made its way to Cardiganshire, one of its main strongholds in the British Isles at present.

Its potential to exclude other native plants is well illustrated by the progress it has made in the last ten years at Nant Yr Arian.  On the circular path round the lake from the visitor centre it is flourishing.  At this time of year mature plants are mainly seeding,  growing to more than two foot tall in favoured spots.

Geum macropyllum growing tall by the water’s edge, Nant yr Arian

But the secret of its success is that the plant loves being strimmed, and soon regrows  faster than the grass and starts flowering all over again.  I found it forming an almost unbroken border on either side of the path.

Strimming promotes new growth and a further flowering.

I wonder whether it deserves some selective control before it joins the ranks of Himalayan balsam and Japanese Knotweed, both aliens which are pretty, but now designated enemies by British ecologists.

Geum macrophyllum smothers the competition with its dense foliage, and is still flowering in late October.

 

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A new assault on Pen-yr-anchor

by The Curious Scribbler

Two years ago I was among many shocked by the appearance of the first residential block on the site where the ill-fated Plas Morolwg formerly stood. That build is now complete and the  massive and unattractive ramparts of Maes y Mor now tower above the road to Tanybwlch beach.

Many people felt that  planners displayed a distinct lack of aesthetic sense in approving this development overlooking our pretty harbour. Now, it seems that opportunist developers Ellis D&B Ltd have concluded that this part of Aberystwyth is a taste-free zone, and provides the perfect opportunity to cram in a yet taller tower block, this one to house six rather expensive apartments.

A montage of the end view of the proposed building, with Alltwen beyond.

I am always intrigued by the tricks of the planning application.  This building is described as six storey, which would already make it the tallest building in Aberystwyth, but if you look at the plans it actually has eight floors!  it is topped by an entirely unnecessary roofed ‘amenity area’, and, owing to the sloping site, the occupants would enter the building from Penyranchor on the second floor!  Most people would think it an eight storey development.

Another quirk is the ‘two bedroomed apartment’ description.  It is probably true that there is a need for more accommodation of this size.  However look at the floor plans! Most people would consider them three-bed flats.  The third ‘bedroom’ is designated an office! Two bathrooms seems quite lavish.

The timing of the application is understandable,  for the new structure will block the view out from balconies of the new Maes y Mor flats and would generate shrieks of objection from the 56 new owners, were they already installed.   There isn’t much about the visual impact in this application except for one elevation plan.  Look closely –  the proposed building gazes straight into the windows of Maes y Mor, and is level with its roof.

It will also tower oppressively above the established owners of the flats in Y Lanfa and St David’s Wharf.

Just room for a tower block? In the space between Y Lanfa, St David’s Wharf and the new residential block on the Plas Morolwg site.

The Ceredigion planning portal is filling up with letters of objection, many of them from the residents of Y Lanfa and St David’s Wharf.  It is intriguing that the residents hold 999 year leases to areas where they park, but which are included in the land subject to this development.  The Applicant states Certificate of Ownership – Certificate A – Town and Country Planning (Development Management Procedure) (Wales) Order 2012   I certify/the applicant certifies that on the day 21 days before the date of this application nobody except myself/the applicant was the owner (owner is a person with a freehold interest or leasehold interest with at least seven years left to run) of any part of the land or building to which the application relates.

It might be hoped that this alone would be grounds to refuse Planning Permission, but wider public opinion is very important.   I am told that the yellow planning notice (Application A210143 Residential development comprising 6×2-bedroom self-contained apartments) only appeared a few days before the closing date for comments, but that actually these can be submitted until 28 May.  The view towards Pendinas from across the harbour, and indeed the visual appearance of the balconied front of this development are entirely overlooked in the application.

Several commentators have also remarked on the cosmetic appearance on the plan of three green circles, representing trees to enhance this development.  This is an interesting idea, and I wonder very much what sort of trees they have in mind.  The garden of Windover on Penyranchor has a hedge of beech trees, approaching 80 years of age, wind burnt, sloping away from the westerlies, and not more than 15 feet tall after all these years. Valerian, Thrift and Sea Campion thrive on this thin soiled site.  Both trees and an eight storey apartment block would be aliens here.

Afterword:

I have just read the comments submitted by Neil Gale.on the Planning design and Access Statement.   This apparently reads:

7.11 “Considering any visual prominence the land is only able to be seen from locations to the west which are limited to the lower section of Aberystwyth Marina/ end of South Marine Terrace Road, neither of which constitute protected view points”

How far from the truth!  Mr Gale supplied a recent photo from the Castle Grounds:  An eight story apartment block springing up in the centre of this view would break the only unifying character of the developments here, which is that each building is, in relative propertion, long and low(ish).

The view of Maes y Mor from the Castle Grounds.  Photo: Neil Gale

 

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The fright of the Bumblebee

by The Curious Scribbler

I have spent the last two Tuesdays being trained in bumblebee identification, and I have to say it was challenging.  The course, provided by the West Wales Biodiversity Information Centre ( popularly known as WWBIC) aspired to render us confident in identifying the eight commonest species of bumblebee and our homework after the first session was to send in our photos of bees.

Popping outside to the Cotoneaster horizontalis I found several candidates: gingery brown bees, black bees with red on the tail, and black bees striped like bar codes in yellow with whitish, buff or peachy rear ends.  Confusing enough, they do not keep still for long, and photographing them proved challenging.  Often I found I’d caught a perfectly focused leaf, but the bee had just droned out of the picture.  Memorizing the stripe patterns is also demanding.  To the superficial glance, quite a few bees have one or two yellow bars across the body, but some have three.  In this case there are adjoining stripes on the back of the thorax and the front of the abdomen as in the large and attractive Garden Bumblebee.  But bumble bees are noted for their rounded appearance so that the ‘waist’ between thorax and abdomen is far from obvious!  And distinguishing between white and buff on the tail of flying bee is also quite subjective.

A Buff Tailed bumblebee

Claire Flynn, project officer for Skills for Bees Cymru guided us through this minefield and we learnt that there were in all 24 different species of bumbles recorded  in the UK, and with the differing appearances of queens, drones and worker bees this adds to the variety.  The Bumblebee Conservation Trust has produced some helpful guides to sorting them all out. There is also an online chart.

Then there is the distinction between Cuckoo Bumblebees and the regular sort.  The Cuckoos do just what you would expect, zooming around looking for bees nests in which to deposit their own eggs and get a  free bee-rearing service.  They are seen eating nectar from flowers but they do not have pollen baskets on their hind legs, for they have no need to carry pollen home.  If they would keep still for long enough one might see that they have hairy thighs, rather than the smooth patch on which their more industrious relations scrape off the pollen.  In class we were introduced to  six species of cuckoo bee, each of which tends to bear an uncanny resemblance to the species which it parasitizes.  I find this particularly remarkable.  Does their disguise aid their  entry to the nest?  The cuckoo bird has no such deception, foisting an entirely different looking chick upon credulous warbler parents.

In all I photographed four species of bumblebees on my cotoneaster, the most abundant being the carder bees, medium sized furry ginger jobs which might be deemed among the easiest to identify.

A Carder Bee on my cotoneaster

However the experts are in doubt.  One of my bee portraits might, just possibly, be not the Common Carder bee Bombus pascuorum but the rarer Brown Banded Carder bee Bombus humilis.

How to be sure?   Apparently I need to look out for black hairs amongst the bee fuzz. B. pascuorum has some black hairs on the abdomen while B. humilis only has a few black hairs in the armpits (wing bases really).  And if I can lay my hands on a male bee I could inspect his genital capsule for additional clues.

An Early Bumblebee worker, unlike the queens and drones has one yellow stripe not two!

The Red tailed Bumblebee seems easier to identify, though there is also a cuckoo bee and a carder bee with the same colouring!

It is hoped that with further practice we may submit useful records of the bees we see on the WWBIC website or via the LERC app on our phones.  Bee recorders are in short supply, and can provide vital information on the fortunes of our bumblebee populations.

Postscript:  Having sent in a number of additional pictures of my Carder bees they have now been accepted by the experts as definitely the rarer Brown Banded Carder Bee!

 

 

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