In the ten years I have been writing Letter from Aberystwyth I have prided myself upon being both succinct and factually accurate.
It was therefore a surprise to find Letter from Aberystwyth, with a startlingly similar font, appearing in the online news service Nation Cymru on the 6 November.
An article published in Nation Cymru
This proved to be an article in which the author Shara Atashi shared a variety of thoughts stimulated, or perhaps stunted, by the rigours of cold water swimming at Aberystwyth. Consider the following extract about the scenery viewed from the sea at South Beach:
Behind that there are a few pyramidal green hills, and upon one of them is Pen Dinas, an Iron Age Celtic hillfort, and on it a column with no monument.
The monument, built in the 1850s, carries the name of Wellington, but his statue was never installed. Visitors to the area are likely to wonder why.
Wales is full of mysteries, which remain unsolved to remain mysteries. I never tried to find out why the Wellington Monument is without Wellington’s statue. I just thought that a monument with no statue on it feels just right, especially when it is situated upon an Iron Age Celtic hillfort.
If a single person’s lack of knowledge and disinclination to find out about their subject constitutes a mystery then the bar for Welsh Mysteries is set extremely low!
The author has also refrained from consulting a bird book :
When I watch a heron standing there with its wings open wide in the sun, I wonder whether it is troubled by the wind tousling its feathers. They seem to be boasting when they dive for more than a minute and resurface with a big fish in the beak.
and she conjures a puzzling image of her early morning swims at North Beach
I swim here North Beach early mornings, when it is quiet and I can enjoy the horizon while following my thoughts. The scene is never the same.
Sometimes I am surrounded by a group of sea gulls and their juniors rocking on the surface of the water. They look like little boats. Sometimes there are a few herons fishing around me.
There can be no doubt that these herons are in fact cormorants!
I do hope that none of my readers have attributed this article to me.
I don’t often settle scores via my blog, but here is a tale to curl your hair.
I’m in the process of renovating a small house, which is being rewired. Lacking any form of heating and having just one live socket it understandably uses very little electricity. With great difficulty I convinced Scottish Power of this situation, and agreed to a direct debit of £14.54 /month to cover the standing charge and negligible usage.
Today I thought I would confirm the situation by submitting a further meter reading, showing that in the last 6 weeks I had used 3KWH of electricity.
As soon as I submitted the reading, this notice popped up! Increasing my bill to £191.44.
Something wrong here.. So I went to Direct Debit Manager which enables me to set my own payment. I planned to revert to the original sum.
It wasn’t that easy because this is what happened:
But I tried and tried and eventually I got to the right page, and set about amending the Direct Debit. Interestingly here they wanted not £191.44 but £171.00. Still pretty exorbitant for using no electricity. So I tried to set my own payment.
Read the bottom line! I am allowed to revert to the old payment. But there is one tiny problem: the penalty will be an immediate one-off payment of £2,659.82!!
Deeply puzzled I took a look at the panel displayed if you click on “View your payments breakdown”
Beyond astounding. This panel tells me that my next payment review takes place in April 2024. However, according to Scottish Power paragraph 2, this is only 5 months away! What calendar are they on? Would you trust a direct debit to a company which doesn’t know what year they are in? And increased your bill thirteen fold because you used three kilowatts of electricity?
I’ve since received an email, telling me that they are going to take not the recommended £171 but the far nicer £191.44 which appeared in the first pop-up. Seems dates and figures are pretty labile in the Scottish Power computers. My account balance is already £47 in credit, which would cover almost three months in a house with no electricity.
Complain you suggest? The chance would be a fine thing! The system allows you to communicate online with bots or listen to a couple of hours of canned musak and then speak to an operative trained to resemble a robot. I already have one unresolved complaint with Scottish Power running since early August. I have 31 days before they start helping themselves to my £191.44. I am going to need it.
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.
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
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.
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 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!
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.
The diggers are out again. You will find them at the corner of Penglais Hill and Waun Fawr where tall pines and dense undergrowth filled the corner space which screens Cwrt Mawr from the road. They are having a lovely time.
Ground clearance by JCB
Trees, some fallen and others not, have been removed
It seems that the objective is to create a clear view through the boles of the pines to the Student Village opposite. And of course to enhance the non stop drone of vehicles climbing the hill.
The road skirting Cwrt Mawr on the campus
A vast area of churned mud has been created, with heavy machinery compacting and scraping away at the waterlogged soil covering the shallow roots of the big pines. The pines are important as home to a rookery, and the undergrowth which was formerly a haven for various wildlife is all scraped up into piles beneath the trees.
Topsoil scraped up amongst the trees
A sea of mud
The view from the layby on Penglais Hill
Thus a woodland understorey has been destroyed, and we must assume will be followed by a sprinkling of the only herbage favoured by the present administration – a monoculture of grass.
Now there are those who like things ‘tidy’. And in their brick bungalow with a tarred parking space and a sheet of mown grass there are many exemplars of this style of gardening in Ceredigion. That is a personal choice. But Aberystwyth University is not a three-bed bungalow, and its denizens include leading ecologists, foresters, plant scientists, ornithologists, mammologists, entomologists, social geographers. Many of them care deeply about the campus. Back in earlier times the appearance of the campus reflected the commitment of its many and highly respected academics. Believe it or not Penglais Campus featured in 1980 in Arthur Hellyer’s book Gardens of Genius as an exemplar of coastal gardening, alongside Tresco and Inverewe! Many influential names are still remembered, Professors Lily Newton, Professor P.F. Wareing, Curator Basil Fox (formerly of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh), head gardeners John Corfield and Joy Harris.
Today’s academics are no less enthusiastic about the campus and it was encouraging to learn in November that several representatives from IBERS and from the Welsh Historic Gardens Trust had been co-opted onto a new advisory committee which would oversee a new Conservation Management Plan for the campus.
Unfortunately I understand that commenting on current work such as this does not fall within the remit of this committee, the work is viewed by the University as “maintenance”. There have been a series of such scorched-earth maintenance activities in the last few months. Today I also revisited the vast cleared bank below the Hugh Owen Building. Here roots and and stones project from an unmow-able re-seeded slope, and nearer the path is the scruffy tangle of the last years’ wildflower planting, in which plantain and ox eye daisy now predominate.
The re-seeded bank, and ‘wildflower planting’ below the Hugh Owen library
Nearer the entrance the new laid turf is yellowing as a result the incautious administration of weedkiller to the bark mulch adjoining it.
Below the Hugh Owen building.. new turf killed by weedkiller directed at the adjoining bark mulch
It is important to recollect what we have lost, and to hastily rediscover the expertise to create a low maintenance beautiful garden on a slope. As the Estates Department is already discovering, the new look is far from pristine, and will get a lot worse before, if ever, it gets better.
The Hugh Owen building in its majestic setting in 2003
The new look created in October 2017 is proving hard to maintain, even under grass and bark.
Early last month I lamented the loss of the shrub planting below the Hugh Owen building. Never have I had so many readers, 1600 within 24 hours of posting, and the cries of anguish echoed far and wide. But the destruction continues. Gardening, according to the Aberystwyth Estates Department, is an activity best performed with a mechanical digger.
In the last two weeks whole shrub borders have scraped from the ground. Adjoining the Student Welcome Centre were three trees, two phyllyrea and a griselinia, and a border of hydrangea, fuchsia, escallonia and evergreen olearia species. Now only the trees remain. The border has been grubbed out entirely. Viewed from the Llandinam concourse there is little to see now, but an unkempt lawn with a circular bed containing a dead tree, and, beyond it, a large green painted metal box.
Recently uprooted border at the Penglais campus
The border on 7 October before its destruction
The border needed some weeding and maintenance it is true, but it formed a handsome screen at the top of a concrete retaining wall outside the Llandinam building concourse.
Where the steps lead down towards the Cledwyn building, a broad swathe of ground hugging cotoneaster and vinca on either side of the descent was badly invaded by brambles. A gardener might have dug these out, or cut them and poisoned the stumps. Instead a few hours with a digger have obliterated the lot, and the bramble roots will be the first to recover in the broken earth.
Formerly a bank clothed in prostrate and low growing cotoneaster?
Further down, the iconic view of the terracotta-coloured end of the Physical Sciences building is framed by some freshly mangled trees, chopped off at some 8 feet above ground.
Crude pruning of a group of mature shrubs
Border on the corner between Biology and Physics on 7 October
A distorted, one-sided Myrtle, Luma apiculata reaching over to the left (one of many seedlings on the campus), echoes the space formerly occupied by a large cotoneaster and a purple berberis beside it. This was all looking quite tidy as a group at the beginning of the month, though it adjoined a building site. Now the designed planting has been hacked away, and the accidental incomer has been preserved. It was the same below the Hugh Owen, where randomly spared trees include self seeded willow and ash.
There is some fine planting further up the slope on the terrace leading to the Physics entrance. I wonder whether that will survive.
The triangular bed at the west end of the Biology building used to contain big evergreen daisy bushes Olearia avicenniifolia. This tender New Zealand species first came to Tresco in the Scilly islands in 1914 and according to the RHS Plantfinder is available at just one nursery in the UK today. It’s gone. But we get a marvellously unimpeded view of the connecting glass corridor which seems function principally as a box store.
One of the uglier features of the Biology building is exposed to view
Adjoining the end of the building was a Crinodendron hookerianum, the Chilean Lantern Tree, approaching its mature height of 20 feet. This slow-growing narrow tree dangles fleshy crimson flowers about an inch long from summer till autumn. It has had its top cut off, though an adjoining dead tree cloaked in ivy has been spared.
Continuing down the road between the Sports building and Biological Sciences, the corner has been cleared to display a few stumps and a manhole cover. The metre-wide strip adjoining the road was cleared back a year ago and has been seeded with teasels and foxgloves which will look quite pretty next spring. Not for long though. Foxgloves are biennial, so the current crop will die next summer, and dock and creeping buttercup will take their place. Soon we can call this teasel corner.
The corner between Biology and the the Sports Centre
There are shrubs on the campus so choice and rare that one would be hard pressed to find them anywhere else. As a random illustration I include a picture of one of the Australia acacias planted against the Biology building. It displays most elegant heterophylly. The long leathery Mistletoe-like leaves are born on the same stems as the feathery new growth. ( Students generally learn about heterophylly by studying water crowfoot. How much more magnificent in a tree!)
Heterophylly in an Australian acacia
The hackers and diggers may be there soon too, destroying more botanical heritage. There is also a Hoheria sexstylosa nearby, a rare Berberis and another rare daisy bush Olearia rotundifolia flourishing far from its native habitat the southern alps of South Island, New Zealand. The list could go on. But no-one making the decisions about the contractors’ actions seems to know or care about plants. I doubt any future planting will be more than commonplace.
My final picture is of one of the recently completed works. An extensive border was removed and bark chippings laid to frame these unattractive pipes and utility sheds beside an arterial path to the Student Welcome Centre.
The future gardening style for the Aberystwyth University campus
The is not the style for which the gardens were listed Grade II* by Cadw just fifteen years ago.
It seems to be a little known fact that the Penglais campus, in conjunction with the adjoining sites of the Llanbadarn campus and the National Library of Wales are listed Grade II* in the Cadw Register of Landscapes, Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in Wales. This is praise indeed, this grading makes it one of the three most important gardens in Ceredigion, and one of the very few 20th century landscapes deemed of national importance. The listing was published in 2003. The inspector summarizes it thus:
The landscaping of the University of Aberystwyth campuses, particularly the earlier Penglais campus is of exceptional historic interest as one of the most important modern landscaping schemes in wales. The sophisticated layout, including the landscaping, is sensitive to the character of the site, and the planting, which is unusually choice and varied both enhances the buildings and helps to integrate the the sites. Several densely packed pages describe the grounds and their plantings in detail, and the steep bank below the Hugh Owen library gains especial praise.
It was indeed justified, and I have dug out a photo from 2003 which shows the clean lines of the modern building embraced by a swathe of shrubs, hebes, fuchsias and the ground-hugging Cotoneaster microphyllus clothing the steep banks. (The red flowered shrub was Embothrium coccineum, the Chilean Firebush, a connoisseur’s tree, frost hardy and fussy about its soil, cleverly planted by knowledgeable gardeners).
The Hugh Owen building, Penglais Campus, Aberystwyth with original planting in 2003
All gone now! Last month contract gardeners with a caterpillar digger were hard at work and today’s view is of turf, bark and a few retained trees, some of them self-seeded ash.
The Hugh Owen Building, Penglais Campus, Aberystwyth in 2017
There have been maintenance problems at the campus in the last decade, and regular visitors have noted the vigorous incursions of brambles, sycamores and ash trees, self seeded amongst the shrubs. Back in the 1990s when I sometimes visited head gardener John Corfield in his potting shed I would find up to nine gardeners, who together tended the Penglais campus and the mansion gardens and botanical order beds on the other side of the road. Today his successor, gardener Paul Evans is responsible for three campuses, Penglais, Llanbadarn and Gogerddan with a team half the size! Little wonder that the brambles got away..
Bit by bit the character of Aberystwyth’s distinctive campus is being whittled away, while new 21st century innovations have been introduced with no provision for aftercare. The new IBERS building next to the Edward Llwyd is a case in point. Its landscape architect included a green wall, a complicated beech maze and a sedum roof. The green wall died and has been cleared away, and the maze was never pruned and became an interlocking thicket of beech trees. The roof gets rare maintenance by contract gardeners, because none of the grounds staff have received training for working of roof tops.
The beech maze beside the new IBERS building on the Penglais campus
And the agenda of Biodiversity and Native Species has led to a tendency to ignore the merits of a garden which brings together beautiful non-native plants from all over the world. For some odd reason ecologists seem to assume that only native species are agreeable to bees. How wrong! Recent research at the National Botanic Garden of Wales analysing the DNA fingerprint of pollen in the pouches of honey bees showed that two of the top six favourites are the despised sycamore and the invasive Himalayan Balsam!
The 1960-1970s planting of the campus was supervised by botanists and involved the trialing of species and hybrids suited to windswept maritime situations from every continent. Many still survive in gardens around Aberystwyth. But is the campus on a trajectory to turf, bark and the utility planting of an average supermarket carpark?
And what about the street furniture? Back in 2003 it seems that students found their way around without notice boards or banners telling them how happy and lucky they were, and motorists kept left and slow without constant reminders. Certainly the elegance of the first picture is in stark contrast to the tired building in the second, grey with age but cleaner at the base where the shrubs formerly embraced it.
Why haven’t I posted a single interesting blog in the last eight weeks?
Well it has quite a lot to do with the arrival, on the pole opposite my house, of a lovely green box, what BT call a Cabinet, bringing fibre optic cable from the exchange.
The Cabinet outside my house attached to an optic fibre line
Having endured years of download speeds of 1 MBPS I was excited. I placed an order for BT Infinity broadband. I even bought a Smart TV.
Engineers came and connected the cabinet to a new optic fibre cable joined to a box on the outside of my house. Another engineer came and attached it to a pretty Openreach router which he installed inside the house. One little problem, a light showed red, indicating no connection to the exchange.
My OpenReach modem. Three pretty lights but no action
After 3 weeks the red light went green, and spirits soared. The helpful Openreach engineer came back and confirmed it was now working. But it needed an activation code. All I needed to do now was get it activated.
I have spent much of the last 10 weeks trying to get it activated. BT Faults thinks I have copper wire slow broadband which works. BT billing is charging me for installation of the fibre and the new expensive contract which they are not providing. BT Orders won’t let me cancel and re-order because the order is “Pending”. All routes lead eventually to the FTTP team ( Fibre to the Premises) who can only be spoken to after you’ve listened to 150 repeats of the “We are very busy at the moment, your call will be answered as soon as possible” message. Often , after an hour or two the line goes dead, unanswered.
I’ve spent 19 hours on the phone to various departments. I’ve been promised connection dates and callbacks which are never delivered.
And don’t underestimate the mind draining effect of the repetitive BT musak after an hour or two.
Today I took to Twitter to protest. You’ll find the strand on @BTCare if you tweet. I don’t know if BT has any skilled engineers or decisionmakers, but they obviously have a roomful of young people called Ash, Stephen, ClaireC, Alana, Kevin, and Pete, highly trained in emitting pointless platitudes in 140 characters.