A perfect day for Pendinas

By The Curious Scribbler

It is hard to remember last week’s grey shrieking storm.  Yesterday I walked up Pendinas in balmy sunshine, and a gentle breeze.  The sea looked as blue as the Mediterranean and the recently turbulent ocean is now calm and translucent – one can see the dark shadows of clouds upon the water, but also the shaded blotches of underwater outcrops of rock under the sea.  Looking over towards Alltwen, the black cattle were all grazing on the flat land.  Some mornings they are spread right up the hillside above the woods which enfold Tanybwlch mansion.  There is a grandeur in seeing the cattle spread out  like wild things in this huge landscape, not penned in a modest field of monocultural grass.  The flats are no longer the scene of the trotting races, but viewed from Pendinas one can still see the ghost of the grass track, subtly darker, perhaps better fertilized, than the rest of the meadow.

Alltwen and the Tanybwlch flats viewed from Pendinas

The climb is a prolonged one, even from the ‘easy’ access at the top of Cae Job in Penparcau.  Families toiled up the path to the iron age hillfort, topped with Victorian arrogance by the chimney-like monument to Wellington’s victory at Waterloo.

The path up from Cae Job

At least that is what it ostensible is.  Personally I think of it more as a monument to a local gentleman, William Eardley Richardes of Bryneithin Hall who built it in 1856 and invited subscriptions from the town.  It is no coincidence how grandly it adorns the landscape as viewed from the windows of his mansion to the south.  The victory at Waterloo was in 1815, and I would have thought that by 1856 national fervour for a monument would have somewhat abated.  Richardes himself had been in the army of occupation after Waterloo, and was moved to re-name the five fields around his house  General, Governor, Captain, Lieutenant, and Major!  They appear thus on the tithe survey of 1848.

The wellington memorial on Pendinas

There were quite a few people at the top, typically facing in all different directions!  The 360 degree panorama laid out before us has no weak point.  Take your pick for views of the harbour and the sea and the distant Lleyn Peninsula, Penglais Hill punctuated by the Hospital, the National Library and University of Aberystwyth, or Penparcau spread out around its green-roofed 20th century primary school.

I first sat on the seaward side, where the bracken and gorse given way to heather and coarse grass. A wren fidgeted around a dead tree stump below me, and the honey bees came in waves, sometimes there were none, then quite suddenly thirty or more were working their way through the flowers beside me,  then disappearing back to the hive.  This is a great spot for looking down on flying birds:  red kite, herring gulls, soaring the thermals, crows  sculling steadily across the fields.  Four speed boats came south into my view leaving white trails of wake.  When they gingerly slowed to creep into Aberystwyth harbour at low tide I could see underwater the bar which partly occludes the harbour mouth.

Aberystwyth Castle just visible from Pendinas

Speedboats approach Aberystwyth Harbour

It may be a Bank Holiday during a pandemic but there is space and beauty for all to enjoy.  Looking down, one could see around twenty cars parked at Tanybwlch beach now that the concrete barriers have been cleared away.  There has always been more than enough space for social distancing on that beach, and I am glad to see these unnecessary restrictions have been removed.

Penglais Hill, Aberystwyth, viewed from Pendinas

Penparcau, viewed from Pendinas

The view south from Pendinas

The Ystwyth enters the harbour at Penyranchor

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I love a storm!

by The Curious Scribbler

Rain last night has further swollen the rivers, and now we have wind! Exhilarating buffeting winds from the west, gusting almost hard enough to knock you over!  60 miles an hour or so I’m told.  So my place of choice is Tanybwlch, where the Ystwyth debouches into the sea.  It is murky and brown with fresh run off, and further swollen in the tidal reach because the tide is obstructing its outward flow.

High seas back up the Ystwyth river

Mist from the breakers hangs over the Tanycastell fields and the riverside path is flooded in parts.

The concrete jetty largely protects the harbour mouth, though the swell still forms regular brown rollers creeping along its leeward side.

The stone jetty protects the harbour from the south westerlies but some waves roll in

But to position yourself on the windward side on the top of the shore provides an endless spectacle, as waves break in curious explosive shapes over the green and white harbour marker, sometimes obscuring it from view, and the backwash forms swirling wave patterns in the angle between the beach and the shore.  It is easy to see how the huge stones at this end of the beach get their smooth contours.  The sea acts like a giant pebble-polishing device.

Waves breaking over the stone jetty

The town is a little tamer than Tanybwlch, but still dramatic.  At 4pm the clouds were so dark that the streetlights on the prom were glimmering into light.

The Promenade takes a battering

Unwary promenaders could get splashed by the waves curling up against the sea wall and showering spray and small pieces of gravel.  As the waves pull back the perfect profile of the sandy beach is briefly exposed.

Sand is smoothed out as the big waves flow back into the sea

The full force of the open sea is greatest at Alexandra Hall but this was a summer storm, not one of the ferocious winter ones which sometimes hurl stones at the windows of that forbidding building.  The door was open and without barricades.  Students will soon be moving in again. There were a few walkers kicking the bar, and beyond it the small piece of sandy beach below Constitution Hill was white with blown sea foam.

The north end of the beach

I came home to wash the sea salt out of my hair, much invigorated by the wind and waves.

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Covid instruction fatigue

by the Curious Scribbler

I went into Argos today to collect a purchase made online.  The store was perfectly empty of customers, and a young woman at the door directed me to a young man at  the right hand end of the counter.  Separating him from me was a broad no man’s land of diagonally placed yellow tape on the floor,  a no go zone reaching six feet from the counter.  Standing obediently outside this forbidden zone I began to state my business.  But this was not good enough.  I was instructed to move to the left  and stand with my feet upon the two footprints in a red box before my order number could be processed!  I then progressed to a second red box marked with two footprints  order to receive my order. Am I alone in suffering from instruction fatigue?

At Westonbury Water Gardens, near Presteigne last week, I and my companions obediently followed the one way system around the garden.  It was disappointing that the eccentric water-powered cuckoo clock has been disabled for the pandemic.   But we were  really nonplussed by the instructions at the approach to the toilets.  On a table outside we found instructions to use hand sanitizer and don the provided blue nitrile gloves before entering, then to discard the gloves in the bin provided on leaving.  Once inside, one was faced with a dilemma:  wash the gloves, or remove the gloves and wash the hands?  And there being no hot air hand driers to blow virus particles around the room, how to refit the gloves upon wet hands? In the end I came away with washed hands and the gloves  –  which may come in handy some time.

At Lower Brockhampton Park, we had to pay online for timed entry to the National Trust  grounds and arrive in our half hour slot, or not at all.  While this laudably limited the number of people in the outdoor setting, and understandably denied access to the house, we also found that many of the paths leading to attractive features had been roped off, and found ourselves instead on a muddy track leading nowhere interesting. Could we not have been trusted to socially distance ourselves out of doors?

In Llanidloes Church I had hoped to view the 13th Century arcade rescued from from Cwmhir Abbey after the Dissolution  and was encouraged by the sight of an open church door.  Sadly we found just the porch was open, adorned with origami doves  and a plethora of notices!

The church seems to be taking an especially discouraging approach to re-opening, in spite of Welsh government permission to do so.  Other than when services are scheduled it is rare indeed for a random church visitor to find another person already present in an average parish church.  Surely one admonitory notice and a bottle of hand sanitiser would suffice here?

These small but baffling restrictions are disruptive.  I am minded to only to frequent places where there is absolutely no one to tell me how to behave.  In this respect a weekend outing to Clywedog Reservoir ticked all the boxes!  First we parked at the Bryntail Lead Mine car park below the 100 foot dam.   Respectfully passing a few  other tourists, we walked across the footbridge, and passed through a metal gate to visit the ruined mine buildings.

Bryntail lead and barytes mine works

The only admonishment came from that wonderful cast iron Cadw warning which displays people falling over around a variety of obstacles, overhead or underfoot.  (Should the central picture be re-interpreted as a warning to avoid a person with a headache and a  sneeze?)

The Cadw warning sign is an artwork in its own right

Climbing a path from the mine ruins we rose through dunnock-infested bracken and gorse to above dam level and were rewarded with the sight of cormorants wheeling on straight wings high overhead.  They look extraordinarily prehistoric circling on high, instead of flapping industriously over the sea as one usually sees them.

Clywedog reservoir

Later we drove along the western side of the reservoir, and picnicked on the grass.  At the head of the reservoir we stopped to view the Clywedog ospreys’ breeding tree and the two fledged youngsters perching grumpily in nearby conifers.  No adult brought them fish.  Later, we read that a Clywedog osprey had chosen to take that day off  to visit their colleagues on the Dyfi Estuary.

The return to Aberystwyth via the mountain road  to Machynlleth was uplifting, with another pause to gaze down the spectacular river-cut gorge at Dylife to the U shaped valley beyond.  The Cambrian mountains were sculpted by the last ice age.  They may be lower than Snowdonia, but they offer space and tranquillity and a reassuring absence of rules.  I think we passed three cars on the way.

The Dylife Gorge

 

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The Palaeontologists of Llandrindod Wells

by The Curious Scribbler

The most remarkable people conceal themselves in the Welsh hills.  Today’s exhibit are Cambridge-educated palaeontologists Joe Botting and Lucy Muir whose home is in Llandrindod Wells.  As independent researchers they work all over the world, currently  in China, the Czech Republic and Morocco and are among the foremost experts on Cambrian fossil communities  – animals which lived at least 500 million years ago.

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It was the Ordovician rocks of central Wales which brought them to Llandrindod Wells, and their research is putting their home town on the map.  To the untrained eye the local stone look pretty unexciting, grey and shaley, and there is absolutely no chance of spotting a dinosaur bone or a nice big ammonite for the mantelpiece.  Most amateurs would be proud enough to find a fossil trilobite, a segmented arthropod of a kind which became extinct 300 million years ago. This creature had a rigid carapace which formed a mould in the sediment and was thus more readily preserved as a fossil.

A trilobite from Llandrinod Wells    (Ogyginus corndensis)

But very close inspection in the right places has revealed an unguessed-at variety of tiny fossils whose soft bodies are preserved as little more that smears between the layers of flaking grey rock.

A tiny starfish just 2mm across.

A palaeoscolecid worm with  microscopically armoured skin that is exquisitely beautiful under high magnification.

An as yet unnamed creature which has tentacles

Joe and Lucy’s discoveries present a picture of an ocean teaming with life 450 million years ago.  Hours and hours of collecting, inspecting shards of rock for any tell tale sign of a fossil must be followed by days of microscopic study, to identify and photograph these tiny traces.  Important publications will follow.  It is for this reason that they have launched a crowdfunding page  to buy a high quality binocular microscope and digital camera set-up to be installed at their home in Llandrindod Wells.

Life is precarious for independent researchers: Joe busks in the summer and Lucy does part time editing to support their modest life needs.  They welcome amateur enthusiasts and have already been pivotal in launching at least one Penglais pupil on his geological career.  In Llandrindod, they run a local amateur fossil group, provide public talks and workshops, visit local primary schools, and run field trips. They are involved in the community orchard, the repair shop, and the Transition Towns Group.  As they say “We even offer our personal space, time and equipment to anyone who has need of it, simply to encourage a love of the natural sciences.”

At the Sign of the Trilobite

The high quality photo microscope would be installed at their premises and will be of equal benefit to other scientists, especially in fields such as  botany, insects, or archaeology, who will be able to use it  free by appointment.  Donations in the first week of the appeal have exceeded £5000 but there is more to go for a first rate piece of kit.  Go to their web page and read all about it!

https://www.gofundme.com/f/a-microscope-for-amateur-science-in-wales

 

 

 

 

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Upfest at Tanybwlch?

by The Curious Scribbler

Tanybwlch beach, looking north to Aberystwyth

Inspired by the video I described in the preceding blog, I walked Tanybwlch beach again yesterday, enjoying the blazing sun and balmy breeze. The sea was almost waveless, clear and the deepest blue, and the shore, as usual, was almost deserted.  I saw a family at the water’s edge, and a couple of people walking their dogs, and I passed one man who was seated watching his three terriers each of which was energetically digging its own hole in the sand.  The sea, cracked only by a single ripple approaching the shore, looked like shot silk.

Three digging dogs

The graffiti artists on the concrete sea wall have been back and have further embellished the design which appeared on the drone video I had watched.  The letters NHS are no longer brutalist boxy letters, now sporting serifs and curliques of a playful nature.  The seated figure, on closer inspection, is a dead-eyed Boris debating whether or whether not to save the NHS.  To the right are a series of weird heads, two gowned and masked blue front-liners, and then a group perhaps the public, some in outline,  one with a covid mask.  There is more wall yet to be painted, I think there is more work to be done there.

Graffiti at Tanybwlch beach

Graffiti at Tanybwlch beach

The right-hand end of the mural, yet to be coloured in?

The whole mural at Tanybwlch beach, possibly yet to be completed

It seems surprising now, that no-one has formerly set about embellishing this long wall.  Here is a canvas comparable with some of the large murals created for the Upfest Festival in Bristol, and like many of those, it is on a topical theme.  I have just noticed that the latest Upfest, which brings together British and international artists, was scheduled to take place this weekend,  30 May- 1 June 2020.   I presume that like everything else, it has been postponed, though this is not confirmed on their website.

This blog has previously reported from Upfest, and I hope to go again.

 

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Tanybwlch – A Historic Video

by The Curious Scribbler

Day 67 of lockdown – the days have become a bit of a blur.  Like a soothing nature programme, the past two months have been generally beautiful, with startlingly clear skies, lovely wildflowers, continuous birdsong.  Too continuous even, I sometimes wish that the monotonous chiffchaffs would give it a rest.

My walks start from my front door, and lead me to Tanybwlch beach, Pendinas, Penparcau and Llanfarian along the footpaths and cycle paths.  I am so fortunate to have such an amazing landscape within easy reach.    Today I found a newly posted video on You Tube  named Aberystwyth in the SKY Tan Y Bwlch which gave me great delight.  Here  is a tranquil 4 minutes of a birds-eye view of my entire domain, shot during lockdown on one of the many still days when the sea barely sucks at the shore, the sun blazes down, and people, so few and far between, are visible here and there.  There are no cars in the Tanybwlch car park (a consequence of the concrete roadblock erected in late March), no contrails in the sky.  We may look back with nostalgia on this creepily empty scene when normal life is resumed.

I am pleased that the photographer has briefly included a child and a dog, (presumably his or her own) enjoying the shore.  Children have been out and about far too little during lockdown.   Joggers and cyclists have made the most of their freedoms, but to spy a child has been a rare sight on my walks.  Hopefully today’s announcement will empower more families to take their children out on our beaches.

At the very end of the film is the briefest glimpse of a huge new graffito on the concrete barrage where the Ystwyth turns northwards.  The brutalist blue capitals contrast with the human depicted on the left, a figure more typical of the ethos of the beach.

A screen grab from the video

It would be very visible from the sea: were anyone out there to view it.

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Footpath is open at Penparcau

By The Curious Scribbler

I am delighted to learn that I am in error, and that last week I quite needlessly climbed over a gate ( as described in yesterday’s blog).   The gate in question was on the footpath across the flank of Pendinas, which emerges at the Cae Job gate to Penparcau.

I had let myself through the gate on Felin y Mor and onto the seaward end of the path, by means of lifting the little latch on the gate with my gloved hand, in accordance with best practice.  At the Cae Job gate I failed to open it, and finding the latch immobilized with a cable tie, I believed it to be locked.  Several readers have today informed me that the cable tie in fact immobilized the catch in the open position!

I am grateful to learn this and hope others will not be discouraged from taking the path.  The purpose of the cable tie, I learn, was to allow the gate to open at a push (or a pull), without need to touch it.  I don’t know why it didn’t then swing open when I began to climb it, but the good news is that the path is not closed.  The route through the fragrant gorse, with its attendant stonechats, chiffchaffs, dunnocks, linnets and wrens is a delight.  Violets,  primroses and stitchwort flank the path, and a thirsty dog can pause at the well beside the ruined remains of the cottage which formerly stood on the long slope towards the sea.

‘The Welsh Primitive’ (active 1830-1853) painted the cottage beside the path, half way up Pendinas.                                                National Library of Wales, Drawing Volume 56.

I find that  a massive 1400 people read yesterday’s Letter from Aberystwyth, when it was flagged up in the You Know You’re from Aberystwyth When group on Facebook, and the comments there were many and varied. Some feel as I do, while others feel that I should stay home and shut up!  A disputed theme concerns the blocking of car parks such as that at Tanybwlch beach.  Last week, the Government clarified that it was acceptable to drive locally to access a suitable place to walk: the guidance being that one should not drive long distances to take a short walk.  It remains the case that at present many people feel intimidated to travel even a mile by car to enable them to walk safely in an agreeable open space.  I am indeed fortunate to have  all this landscape within walking distance from my home.

 

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Enjoyment is frowned upon!

by The Curious Scribbler

The last time I walked the footpath along the flank of Pendinas, from the north end of the cycle path at Tanybwlch towards Penparcau I got a nasty surprise.  Some jobsworth had used a cable tie to immobilize the latch on the gate at the top of Parc Dinas.  It was a hazardous manoeuvre to climb out over the gate with 11 kilograms of dog in my arms, and if I had fallen  I would have doubtless put avoidable pressure on our NHS.   So I wondered what benefit, exactly, the closure of the footpath could have in the fight against coronovirus?  Amendment! see my next blog.

I also wondered about the concrete block which now prevents vehicles from parking at Tanybwlch beach.

Concrete barrier at Tanybwlch beach

This is a large open areas where locals have always walked their dogs.  There is ample space for social distancing.   Indeed even without walking or sitting on the beach itself,  ( both of which activities appear to be seriously frowned upon by the police) the stony bar above Tanybwlch beach is an ideal area for taking exercise.  There are no seats to tempt successive sitters to risk contact with a virus particle left behind.  There are no gates needing to be opened with by a potentially infected hand.  I am reluctantly forced to conclude there is another aspect to the rules of lockdown.  We should not be allowed to enjoy ourselves.

The Coronovirus Briefing on TV has just been followed by a Welsh Government Information Film.  No Gatherings! No Beauty Spots! No Picnics! it thundered, these words obliterated with a big red cross like the no No Dog Shit signs of old.  So that is the problem.  Pendinas is beautiful.   So they locked the gate.

How long will this situation persist?  Obviously this is a question on the nation’s mind, and we have all accepted we are in the second three-week tranche of repression. But I was even more appalled to read in the papers today that Messrs Raab, Hancock, Gove and Sunak think it would be a good plan to relax lockdown for many but to visit these restrictions on the over 70s for a year or more!  .. until a vaccine has been developed.

I recently joined this august age-cohort.  We may be at somewhat greater risk of serious illness ( though now the preferred tag line  “Anyone can get it”  has replaced  public acknowledgement of this fact!).  But if infected, the greater likelihood is that, like the Prince of Wales, we may become unwell and get better in an unspectacular way.

Am I to be shut away for a year or more in order to avoid embarrassing the NHS by getting coronovirus?  We septuagenarians need to rebel.  Before I am roundly reproved for my selfishness, let me say I will be more than happy to commit to refusing to be put on a ventilator if I become seriously ill.  I would either recover, or die more promptly, thus saving the NHS some money.

I think I speak for many when I say that what matters to me is not how many more years I have on the planet, but how many more healthy enjoyable years I get.    And I will continue to climb over locked gates in order to enjoy myself, while social distancing, even in the shadow of the pandemic!

 

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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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