25/05/2018: Cwmisaf, Mynachlogddu: the Completest History

Cwmisaf’s old sign, given a fresh coat of paint

Estimated reading time: one hour.

This is, of course, the most complete available history; not the most complete possible history. Following a bit of reading during the colder, darker months of 2017/2018, I am now in a position to offer a roughly researched and poorly edited history of the house known to the Royal Mail as Cwmisaf, Mynachlogddu; where at the time of writing I reside. Why anyone should want to read such a thing I will not venture to guess, beyond stating that I wanted to read it when I moved into the house last year, and was mildly irritated—though of course unsurprised—that no such thing was available to me.

For the casual (non-Landskerian) observer, this text offers a potted history of a monastic farmhouse in the Preseli region of rural Pembrokeshire; which later became an integral industrial element of the emerging parish of Mynachlogddu, chiefly owing to its association with the process of turning wool into cloth; and which later still became a half-forgotten satellite of the village it was once the centre of—herein I trace the story of Cwmisaf from its murky beginnings in Tudor Wales, right up to the present day.

I am hopeful of one day expanding this “history”; but until I find time to pore over ancient documents in the National Library of Wales, this is all you’re getting.

I am thankful to the writers and editors of the most useful of my scant sources, the following three books:

  1. O’r Witwg I’r Wern / Ancient Wisdom and Sacred Cows—edited by Hefin Wyn (2011)
  2. Mynachlog-ddu: A historical survey of the past thousand years—E. T. Lewis (1969)
  3. The History of St. Dogmaels Abbey: Together With Her Cells, Pill, Caldey, and Glascareg, and the Mother Abbey of Tiron—Emily Pritchard (1907)

I also made good use of the website findmypast.co.uk, the current monetizers of the UK government’s census-based data archive; who at least offer a free trial period, although they charge exorbitantly and obnoxiously for any further access to our collective national heritage/birthright beyond said trial period. Google was also useful to me, as no doubt I was to it.

So without further ado.

Cwmisaf, Mynachlogddu: the Completest History

PART ONE

A Pre-History: Before 1795

1. The Southern Stony Shore

“A small intrusion of coarse-grained, decomposed dolerite is exposed near Cwm Isaf Factory. When fresh, it is blue-green in colour, but is usually ironstained to a deep brown colour. It is usually so soft that it has been extensively used for making stone troughs which have been excavated from blocks of this dolerite. It is known locally as “Careg Nadd” (The sculptor’s stone).” — from ‘The Geology of the Prescelly Hills and Adjoining Areas in North Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire’ by William David Evans, MSc. (1940)

The rocks are presumably the oldest aspect of the landscape at Cwmisaf, and most have been exposed either by glacial impact, or by the force of the river: now called Afon Wern, in pre-modern times it was variously referred to as Clydach Australis, Combkaro, or Cwmcerwyn. There is a small quarry behind the house, reputedly used to extract stones for the building of both the house and the woollen factory; this quarry might also date to “Pre-History”; but prehistory being what it is, we have no way of knowing. There are a few megaliths scattered about, within and without the modern borders of Cwmisaf; but none look like they were (at least in their current situations) deliberately positioned by human hands.

The Cwmisaf Passage Tomb, which probably isn’t one

One notable menhir leans against a partially embedded and immovable-looking boulder on the Llangolman bank of the Wern near the old mill-race for Pont Hywel, just southwest of Cwmisaf. Another classic pointy-shaped longstone (over 6′ in length) lies in the tailrace of the Cwmisaf leat.

Beside the river, an arrangement of boulders we grandiosely refer to as “The Passage Tomb” (but which probably are no such thing) might more feasibly have been used as an animal pen or else contrived as a modern recreation of a Neolithic arrangement. About half of the rocks are small enough that they might have been pulled into place by one or two horses. At least one looks far too large to have been moved without machinery; but then so do most of the rocks in the ancient cromlechs and circles across Wales.

Regardless, these particular rocks are neither scheduled as an ancient monument nor likely ever to be.

Gorsfawr, over which we enjoy (but do not exercise) pasturage rights

The nearest scheduled ancient monument is the well-known Gorsfawr stone circle, formerly called Trallwyn, situated about a mile north on the bog whose peripheral waters form a stream which drains into the Cwmisaf leat. This circle is thought to have been arranged 5000 years ago, either as a meeting place or a burial site. (More likely the former.) If there was another, closer, prominent pagan site—perhaps on the location of St Dogmaels church, overlooking Cwmisaf—no evidence of it remains. The suitability of the area for the construction of several farmhouses, a church, a bridge, and a mill with a water-wheel, suggests it was probably one of the original (i.e. early medieval) settlements in the wider area; although there is no evidence of permanent habitation near Cwmisaf in the bronze/iron-age eras of the hillforts of Foel Drygarn, Bank Ddu, and naerby Castell Blaenllechog in Llangolman.

In terms of the village or parish, our little junction on the east bank of Afon Wern was Mynachlogddu on maps as recently as 120 years ago, though nowadays the signs place the village a couple of miles to the north, where the vast majority of new houses have been built in the past century.

bridge 1600s

The Preseli region of Kipp’s 1607 map of Pembrokeshire

“The bridge existed in 1598” we are told by the Sense of Place leaflets handed out to tourists. They cite no source for this claim, but William Kipp’s 1607 version of George Owen of Henllys‘s 1602 map of Pembrokeshire indicates a bridge over Afon Wern in its (approximate) current location; and E. T. Lewis writes that one of Cemais‘s 28 recorded bridges in that year (1598) was indeed Pont Mynachlogddu*, then called “Pontymanachlogddy y awrch super clidach Australis”—this being the case according to the aforementioned Elizabethan writer, Lord of Cemais, and appreciator of Irish whiskey, George Owen of Henllys.

The village on the Kipp map (pictured) is called something like “Menaghloggdhy” and Afon Wern is called “Cyddach Flu”. That first word seems to have fallen out of use in Welsh, but is similar to the Goidelic Celtic “cladach” meaning “stony shore”; the latter might well be an abbreviation as I cannot translate it; but it appears consistently alongside rivers all across the map, so we can draw obvious conclusions from that. I have seen a version of this map which was labelled as Owen’s original where Pont Hywel (crossing below the confluence of Wern, Cleddau and Glandy) is represented, and Pont Mynachlogddu is not; the opposite of what has happened here. Pont Hywel is generally thought to be older, but both are naturally suitable crossing places, and were thus likely to have been in use before the earliest preserved record indicates. The river-island belonging to Cwmisaf, which Pont Mynachlogddu uses to straddle the river, makes this an obvious location for a crossing. Even without the bridge, a low-flowing river would allow livestock to be driven across more easily than it would either to the immediate north or south, where the river is considerably deeper. I (in my finite wisdom as a non-expert on the history of bridges) would think some form of constructed crossing was here long before the 1500s; even if it were just made of felled treetrunks.

E. T. Lewis’s wonderful local history book

In 1081, at the time that Welsh myths were gradually overlapping with Welsh history, the Battle of Mynydd Carn took place somewhere in the county of Pemrbokeshire. Talfynydd and Carn Menyn (Mynachlogddu’s northernmost points, stretching into the Preseli Mountains) have been cited as the likely site by some historians; though others favour Templeton, south of Narberth.

If a bridge in this area was used by soldiers heading north to battle, to help decide the fate of the embattled Welsh kingdoms of Gwynedd and Deheubarth, it might well have been Pont Mynachlogddu or Pont Hywel—or even both if they got confused. Trahaearn ap Caradog’s Norman arbalisters might have set off from their base camps in the south of the county and arrived late, thus ensuring Gwynedd’s defeat. They probably didn’t, but if they—or indeed anyone else—did cross Afon Wern over the land that is now Cwmisaf during the year 1081, we cannot know whether a smoking chimney, or a turning water-wheel, or indeed a humble Celtic Christian chapel, clas, or hermitage, might have been visible among the foliage of the riverbank.

A couple getting married at St Dogmaels, Mynachlogddu, in 1906. Those trees are no longer there.

E. T. Lewis discusses the likelihood of a monastery having been located in the village (as suggested by its name: Mynach-log-ddu; approximately “Place of the Black Monks”) but concludes that the village name is likelier to indicate land pertaining to a monastery. Now, we know very well that Mynachlogddu once belonged to the Tironensian Abbey at St Dogmaels (more on that to come) but E. T. Lewis says there’s an outside chance the land might have previously been associated with a “clas”; a Celtic Christian monastery—perhaps located at Pentreglas or Fronlas in the southeast of the parish; whose names are more ordinarily supposed to relate to the Welsh word “glas”, meaning “blue”; which can also mean verdant (i.e. green, somewhat confusingly for English-speakers). The notion that the village name related to St Dogmaels’ “black monks” has always struck me as problematic, because although Benedictine monks wore black, Tironensian monks (who were the order at St Dogmaels abbey, and therefore presumably those seen in its outlying cells or chapels) wore grey. So in my view the village name must (in some form ) pre-date the founding of the abbey in St Dogmaels.

Village-name diversions aside, Cwmisaf’s “Pre-History” truly begins with the history of Mynachlogddu’s parish church; which is in itself unfortunately murky, and in turn begins with the history of the aforementioned parent abbey at St Dogmaels—the first daughter abbey of the Grey Monks of St Bernard of Tiron. It was probably some of those monks who referred to Afon Wern as “Clydach Australis”, the name George Owen used centuries later, employing the Latin suffix (meaning “southern”) either to differentiate the river from several other Clydachs in the Preseli region, or to demark the southern border of the land gifted to the Tironensian monks by the abbey’s founder: the Anglo-Norman Lord of Cemais.

2. For Saint Bernard and Saint Dogmael

“Robert Fitzmartin approached Bernard of Tiron and reserved from him a group of twelve [monks] under an abbot, Fulchard; these he settled in West Wales on the banks of the Teifi near Cardigan and constructed for them an abbey that became known as St Dogmael’s.” — from ‘The History of St. Dogmaels’ by Emily Pritchard, 1907

All that remains of St Dogmaels Abbey

Robert fitz Martin was the West English son of a Norman knight (called Martin de Tours) who came to England with William I during the Conquest. He supported Henry I in his military campaigns in Wales, and became the first Lord of Cemais; giving him jurisdiction over the central northern cantref of what was to become Pembrokeshire—the Anglo-Norman administrative division of an increasingly multilingual and multiethnic (and increasingly divided) Celto-Germanic region of Wales.

The land around Pembroke in the south became largely English-speaking, populated by Anglo-Saxons, Anglo-Normans, Norse Vikings, Welsh, Irish, and Flemings; while Cemais remained Welsh-speaking and was populated mostly by indigenous Welsh, but with an Anglo-Norman ruling class—and with significant periodical communities of Irish; notably (in Mynachlogddu) in Cwmcerwyn, or Cwm Garw, according to George Owen, writing in the early 1600s.

An artist’s impression of St Dogmael.

Although the St Dogmaels monks came from France initially (presumably thus speaking Latin and French) novices were soon recruited locally from North Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion. The abbey took its name from Dogmael or Dogfael, a 6th-century Welsh saint. Reputedly the cousin of St David—Wales’s patron saint—little else is known about Dogmael except that he requested his followers bathe daily in the Teifi river, whatever the weather—which sounds unpleasant. The order at the abbey followed the teachings of the similarly hard-line Bernard of Tiron, a Benedictine purist who founded his own religious community in rural France after becoming disillusioned with the luxurious standard of living enjoyed by established French monasteries. One hopes he might have approved of the new abbey’s location, at least. (And the standard of living at St Dogmaels Abbey would not be accused of equating to luxury for a good while yet.)

St Dogmaels was the only Tironensian abbey in Wales (and there were to be none in England). It’s believed that Fitzmartin chose the site deliberately because he thought it was the location of a former Celtic Christian “clas” which was known to have been raided by vikings a few centuries previously. Perhaps the dedication, as well as the location, was borrowed from the previous holy order.

St Bernard of Tiron presenting his model abbey

Once the “new” abbey was up and running, gifts flowed in. In 1118, Robert generously granted what would become “Mynachlogddu”, then part of the “black grange” or “Nigra Grangia” to the Tironensians. The grange at that time comprised 5 carucates, and two or possibly three chapels. One was on the southern slopes of Foel Cwmcerwyn in the north of the parish. One was on the southern slopes of Foel Dyrch in the east.

What later became the parish church was also likely to have been a chapel or a monastic cell of some kind before it served as a place of worship; but no written record indicates its genesis, so the details remain frustratingly elusive. E. T. Lewis speculates it may have been a 14th century oratory (a sort of private chapel) built by the abbot of St Dogmaels long after the abbey acquired the land. Of the other three chapels recorded in the area prior to the Reformation (identified by E. T. Lewis as Capel Cawey, Capel Bach Cwmgarw, and Capel Silin Cwmcerwyn) only scant ruins remain.

The centuries following the founding of the abbey in St Dogmaels saw much conflict in Pembrokeshire, including numerous attempts by the Welsh to take back control of Cemais (and the rest of the region) from the Norman Lords. References to Mynachlogddu are few. King Edward I refers to the “Manor of St Dogmael” (a synonym for Nigra Grangia) in a letter to Burgo de Neville, his “Justicia” in West Wales, in the context of making sure the revenues from reclaimed lands ended up going to the rightful(!) people. Gerald of Wales described the “rivers Cledheu” in his Descriptio Cambriae (1193) as rising in the Preselau; but alas he began his description of the Eastern branch (Y Cleddau Ddu) at “Lahaden”, about 8 miles downriver of Afon Wern. Gerald travelled through Cemais in 1188 with Baldwin, Archbishop of Canterbury, gathering support for the Third Crusade, and picking up strange tales about man-eating toads, &c. He even spent the night in St Dogmaels Abbey on his last day in Pembrokeshire; but alas there is no record of him ever visiting Mynachlogddu.

Amusingly, though perhaps unsurprisingly, the first written descriptions of the land around Cwmisaf come not from a scholar, nor from a travel writer, but from an audit of church land conducted remotely—from the Holy See in Rome—for the purpose of raising money for a crusade against the Saracens in the Holy Land. The references occur in the “Taxatio Ecclesiastica Angliae et Walliae Auctoritate” ordered by Pope Nicholas IV and dating to 1291. This document (in translation, courtesy of Emily Pritchard) mentions Mynachlogddu explicitly (and perhaps Cwmisaf, implicitly) for the first time:

“The Abbot of St. Dogmaels hath the town of St. Dogmael with its appurtenances; namely Crugau Gryffydd Mynachlog Ddu five carucates of land with rents of three mills for grinding and one fulling mill.”

3. Dissolution and Mutability

It’s unclear whether the dedication of Mynachlogddu’s parish church to St Dogmael has any significant bearing either to the saint himself having ties to the immediate area, or (which seems likelier) to the church (or chapel, as it was) enjoying a special relationship with its parent abbey that was not enjoyed by its many other holdings around Cemais—or farther afield in Pembrokeshire, Ireland and Devon. Dogmael is thought to have lived and died in the 6th century, as previously mentioned, and is presumed to have been mostly active in North Pembrokeshire. But whether Robert Fitzmartin gifted Mynachlogddu to his new abbey because of a known connection between the two, or simply because the farmland in this peripheral part of his cantref was comparatively poor, we can but guess.

For several hundred years the scattered community that made up Mynachlogddu (variously recorded as the Manor of St Dogmaels, Nigra Grangia, Manoglokdewe, Menecregh the Black Grange, and many things between) was the property of the Abbey, and thus only recorded in their records, none of which are known to have survived. George Owen of Henllys (writing in the early 1600s) says that the inhabitants of Mynachlogddu “untyll of late years within the memory of men now living … did christen and burye in the parishes adjoininge”; so, although like most medieval churches, St Dogmaels in Mynachlogddu belonged to the Catholic faith prior to the Dissolution, it seems its life as a parish church might only have begun with the advent of Anglicanism.

The first whisperings of a name connected to a building, or to a piece of land, between the church and the river, are provided to us as a direct result of Henry VIII and his frustration with the Catholic Church and/or his own reproductive powers:

“And of viij viij rent of a tenement in the township aforesaid called Maenochlog ddu y tharch so demised to Howell ap Thomas ap Owen … And of xvj rent of ij tenements with appurts called Lounder monoglolc dwg in the hands of Ludovic ap Jevan by indenture sealed with the convent seal given the xth October the 27th year of the reign of King Henry the 8th.”

The above barely legible sample from “Rents of assize, Manoglokdew” as reproduced by Emily Pritchard was a tiny fragment of a mass administrative harvesting of ecclesiastical financial data by the state of the day. “Lounder” is instantly recognizable as “Llandre”; the name of both the upper and lower (uchaf and isaf) farms on the road heading north from the church. The other tenement mentioned (Maenochlog ddu y tharchis said by E. T. Lewis to be synonymous with Cwmisaf—and also with “Manoglodye y llothie”, a tenement mentioned in a “bargain and sale of lands” document held in the Noyadd Trefawr Estate Records and dated 75 years later (1611).

Milking parlour at Cwmisaf; possibly also the Old Mill

The former claim is partly explained by Pritchard’s own footnote in which she informs the reader (albeit without showing her reasoning) that “tharch” in this context means “ddechrau”—i.e. start, or beginning. Cwmisaf is on the border of the parish, and thus, arguably at the beginning—provided that you happen to be coming from Llangolman. If you were coming from Eglwyswen or Cilymaenllwyd, it would be at the end, or “y gorffen”/”y diwedd”. Having said that, it is also at the location of the church, so perhaps has a claim to being the “beginning” of the parish in a chronological or even in a spiritual sense. “Llothie” I’m even less clear on; either in terms of what it means**, or why E. T. Lewis decided that it meant Cwmisaf (and was thus synonymous with “… y Tharch”). Alas, the Noyadd Trefawr Estate Records document which contains the reference is safely under lock and key at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth, and they have thus far fiercely resisted my attempts to pay them £10 for a scanned copy of it.

Assuming, as seems reasonable, that these two historians more-or-less knew what they were talking about, the above tells us that there was a distinct property (probably a farmhouse; specifically a Tudor monastery farm) on the current location of Cwmisaf at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries—when the chapel (as it was then) and its “houses, buildings, tithes and sheaves” were leased by the crown in 1537 to Moran John of Llangadock. It also tells us that the property had a recognizably different name only 75 years later. And yet another name 164 years after that, by the time it had become an irrefutably identifiable historical location. The name “Cwmisaf” meaning “lower valley” clearly identifies our land in relation to the rest of Mynachlogddu; or the Nigra Grangia, as it was. The house and its associated fields are situated at the lowest point in the parish, where the river that is now called Afon Wern flows south rapidly over rough rocks, down toward the Eastern Cleddau, or Cleddau Ddu. The fields south of the house (which are still legally accessible via an unmanaged public footpath) were once part of “Cwmisaf” which was in turn (before being so named) part of the Manor of St Dogmaels.

Unless “llothie” is an extinct Welsh word for “cloth”, “weaving”, or “fulling”, no evidence exists of the presence of mechanized industry at Cwmisaf during the “Pre-History” period. It’s a perfect location for a water-wheel, as later centuries proved; the voluminous, fast-flowing Wern provides power for most of the year, and the naturally formed river-islands did half the work of digging out a mill-race or a leat long before anyone ever had the idea. A mill-pond would certainly not be required; although I have very recently discovered the remains of some kind of concrete weir several hundred metres upriver; probably dating back no more than a hundred years or so.

There might feasibly have been a corn mill here once; there were, after all, three of them to be found in the parish at the time of the Taxatio. Likelier yet is that this was then (as it was later) the location of Mynachlogddu’s fulling mill, to process the material rewards of the monastic grange’s many sheep farms. Whatever the truth of the matter, we can be sure nobody had the time or inclination to write it all down. Or that if they did, the text does not survive.

Cwmisaf while up for sale in 2017: note “The Shop” adjoining to the right, and the wall to the fore, which is said to be the only remaining wall of the Old Mill.

My own potted theory about the names Mynachlogddu y Tharch, and Mynachlogddu y Llothie is that the Cwmisaf farm was once synonymous with the word “Mynachlogddu” and only became gradually qualified as “y [something]” as the scattered farmsteads to the northeast gradually became recognizable as a community of sorts in late medieval times, and thus the name “Mynachlogddu” expanded in scope to embrace a wider area. Many villages in rural areas (West Wales included) are synonymous with their oldest or central farm dwelling; this is more easily recognizable in newer villages whose progenitive farm houses often share the names of baptist chapels; or in the English-speaking communities where almost every “-ton” village has a house called “-ton Farm”.

So perhaps Cwmisaf only acquired its new name (first seen on the census records in the 1800s) once the emphasis of the village had gradually shifted toward the northeast of the parish, away from its origins at the church (once an oratory for the grey-robed Tironesian abbot of St Dogmaels, or maybe even a clas or a hermitage housing one or more black-robed Celtic Christian monks).

The lands in the area changed hands many times over the centuries after the Dissolution. The deeds were often traded between men from London, while most of the tenants who farmed the land probably came from the same local stock who lived here during the Abbey’s tenure. In 1737 the bridge was repaired, but other than that, the next few hundred years were quiet ones from the perspective of local history.

The 1660 “Monachlogddy Hearth Tax”, however, does provide us with one name notable for appearing alongside a professional occupation which would become synonymous with Cwmisaf in later years: David John, weaver.

PART TWO

Modern Times: 1795-2017

1. The Coming of Cwmisaf

1795A woodworm-riddled beam in the loft still bears the date “1795” along with some initials, which are impossible to connect to a name. If it wasn’t inscribed in that year, it certainly looks like it could have been. And if any other part of the house which now stands pre-dates this, there is nothing to say so.

Maybe the lower part of the house was around for a few hundred years before the second storey was added. Maybe one of the dilapidated stone sheds in the garden was the original farmhouse—Y Tharche, or Y Llothie.

What we can be sure of is that a sizeable chunk of the valley’s east side was hacked into (presumably over quite a long period of time) and a house was built in the recess, accessible by a similarly gouged-out track, which is narrow, but mercifully short by local standards. There is what looks like a holloway down by the river, leading from a ruined milking parlour with relatively modern metal remnants toward the sloped, boggy-edged fields to the south of Cwmisaf. There are some walls which we are told by locals once belonged to the old mill building that was pulled down in the mid-twentieth century. And there is the leat, which still flows under Pont Mynachlogddu, down under the drive, and out onto the rusty water-wheel, which has not turned for over half a century.

Cwmisaf’s old gate, found behind the milking parlour

It’s worth noting that the surviving house at Cwmisaf was (apparently) erected the year the baptist chapel at Bethel opened its doors to nonconformist worshippers, several miles to the north. It’s entirely possible, therefore, that the residents of Cwmisaf followed the majority of the Welsh-speaking populace of the area in turning their back on the Anglican St Dogmaels church in favour of the Welsh-language sermons at Bethel.

The next chapter of Cwmisaf’s history is mostly provided by a combination of snippets from travel writing, and census data; the latter gathered for a century (approximately) from 1841-1939. The following paragraph about Mynachlogddu is from ‘A Topographical Dictionary of Wales’ by Samuel Lewis (1839):

“There are two slate-quarries, two mills, and a small woollen manufactory. The Eastern Cleddy river has its source here, and is joined at the extremity of the parish by two brooks named Glandy and Wern. The living is a curacy, endowed with £1000 royal bounty; present net income, £180; patron, Lord Milford: the tithes have been commuted for a rent-charge of £52. 10., payable to the curate. The church, dedicated to St. Dogmael, and situated at the extremity of the parish, was once connected with a monastery, and is capable of containing 2000 persons, but without seats: it is not remarkable for any architectural details, and has been left in a very neglected state.”

2000 people in the church?! Surely this is meant to be 200. That aside, the woollen manufactory must be at Cwmisaf, and must be the old mill building. There is no indication of how long it had been there at the time, but we must be thankful to Mr Lewis for this snapshot which provides the earliest conclusive proof (in conjunction with the maps and  censuses) of the presence of a mill at Cwmisaf; and while we still frequently refer to the more modern building as a “mill” I’m not certain any actual milling took place in either building, and local maps mostly refer to the building adjacent to Cwmisaf’s rusty water-wheel as a “factory”, as seems common in this area.

cen41The 1841 census, taken just a few years after the above was published, might tell us who was working the woollen manufactory when Lewis compiled his book; but certainly not who built Cwmisaf, or first lived here in 1795. One John John (farmer and clothier, originally from Cilymaenllwyd, just over the border in Carmarthenshire) was master of the house (entered into the register as “Cwmisha”), and living with his wife Martha (both aged 30, and thus not born when the house was built) and their one-year-old daughter Hannah (written as “Hana”). Also entered onto the census at the address was a William Roblin (clothier, 30), Stephen Prethroe (spinner, 30), Ana John ([?], 20) and Moris John (wool carder, 15); the latter two likely being children, if not nephews/nieces.

E. T. Lewis says John John was at Cwmisaf in 1820; but this would have made him only ten years old. He also says a James John was there in the 1870s as a fuller. This does not agree with my research, and I can only conclude he got the names the wrong way around, and perhaps John John inherited the farm and factory businesses from his father James John? As for fulling; it’s probable that both cloth-making and fulling were undertaken at Cwmisaf; but it’s the former than tends to be listed on the censuses—perhaps because it sounds more respectable.

The “Monachlogddu” tithe map (dated 1848) calls the building at Cwmisaf a “Tucking Mill” (tucking being synonymous with fulling) and lists the names of the fields which were farmed, but not actually owned, it turns out, by John John; those amounting to some 15 acres. The owner was either “James Reverend James” or “Jones Reverend James” (or both if it’s the same person?) who also let nearby land (mostly on either side of the Pont yr Haiarn [Iron Bridge] Road to David Thomas of Llandre Isaf. We can assume this vicar lived in the Vicarage, as they tended to. Old maps indicate this used to be on the patch of land now occupied by Parc y Banc, just up the road from Cwmisaf. The “Trellan” vicarage father east, toward Tynewydd, was not present on the 1888 ordnance survey map, and has the look of a Victorian building.

The fields occupied by John John, immediately surrounding the mill and stretching south along The Wern as far as the Cleddau Ddu, were listed as follows:

Tucking Mill & Lands
272: Burgage [A medieval term for a streetside manorial field enclosure] (pasture)
274: Homestead
275: ”
276: Fron ucha [Upper hillside] – arable
283: Park canol [Central field] – pasture
284: Park y bank*** [Bank field] – arable
285: Park y berth [Bush field] – arable
286: Waun [Marsh/Moor] – pasture
287: Park issa [Lower field] – pasture

As an aside, the Rebecca Riots kicked off in 1839, instigating a trend spreading from the Preselis eastward of common Welsh folk donning women’s clothing and destroying toll-gates. These attacks followed preliminary meetings at Glynsaithmaen—just a few miles upriver from Cwmisaf, but on the other side of the Wern, and thus in Llangolman parish. 28-year-old John John might have been present at those meetings alongside Mynachlogddu’s own Twm Carnabwth; then again, he might have been too busy grieving for his father James John, or too busy working in his woollen factory/tucking mill—or simply too prosperous to be driven to such desperate acts.

1851 mapAnyhow, no other descriptive or narrative sources relating to Cwmisaf come our way for half a century, but the regular censuses provide snapshots of the house and business through time. The first (1851) Ordnance Survey map of the area, though not as detailed as future editions, clearly shows the “Woollen Factory” beside Afon Wern, and the village/parish name “Mynachlogddu” directly above the church. Plas-y-Meibion, the big house up the road, had probably only relatively recently appeared, but its drive then came out toward Llangolman on the Pont Hywel road. (Nowadays it comes out on the Mynachlogddu road, and last time it was up for sale they listed its address as Mynachlogddu; which is a nice idea, but factually incorrect.)

In 1851 (the year the map was published) John John was still at Cwmisaf (or “Cwm Ishaf”) and listed as a “clothier, wool spinner and carder”. Martha was a “wife”, and Hannah (now 11) was a “scholar”—but not at the village school, because it didn’t open till 1903†. The other Johns are gone (died or married or moved away?) and so are Prethroe and Roblin. In their place are Martha Phillip (house servant, 18), John David (wool spinner, 16), and Edward Mathias (wool carder, 13). Thus the population of the house has dropped from 7 to 6; although the population of Mynachlogddu as a whole was by now 502—a high point from which is would fluctuate, but gradually drop to half that number by the 1960s, possibly never to return. At the last census, the population was finally close to reaching those dizzy heights once more; but nowadays the number comprises the “community” of Mynachlogddu and Llangolman, not just the parish itself.

Ten years later, in 1861, the house name is finally spelled “correctly” (i.e. in standardized Welsh) fand John John (now 50) is a “Farmer Of 35 Acres Employing One Labourer And One Boy Clothier and one manufactory”. Also recorded at Cwmisaf in 1861: Martha John (Farmers wife, inexplicably now 10 years older than her husband, despite them being the same age as one another 20 years ago), Hannah John (farmer’s daughter, 21), Walter Davies (visitor and wool-weaver, 60), John Lewis (cartman, 21), Mary Davies (servant, 18), David Lewis (hand-loom wool weaver, 16), and Thomas Perkins (apprentice [?], 14). Back up to 7 then—with an 8th squeezed in temporarily.

In 1871, when the house (and maybe also the factory) was nearly 100 years old, John John was entered into the census as the head of the household for the fourth and final time, this time as a “Clothier and Farmer of 50 acres”. Martha was a “Clothier’s wife”, and since John had lost 5 years (he is now 55) and she had gained 12, she was by now 17 years older than the man she used to be the same age as. Being the wife of a farmer/clothier will apparently do that to you. Also listed are Martha James (farm servant), Arthur George (farm servant), Harry Thomas (farm servant), and John Evans (spinner). What’s more, after 30 years (in which John aged 25, and Martha aged 42), William Roblin in back living and working (as a “Clothier) at Cwmisaf. Life has been kind to him, although not as kind as it has been to John; he has aged just 28 years in the past 30, and is now 58. Joking aside, some of this can be put down to a lack of written records, poor memory, censuses being conducted at different times of year, etc. But it does seem quite a significant discrepancy in the case of John and his wife. Maybe she was always older? Or maybe he genuinely forgot how old they both were and had a more favourable opinion of himself? We will probably never know.

Nor do we know whether John² remained a tenant farmer all his life; but his successor at the Cwmisaf factory by 1881 (and there might have been another in the between-census years, but if there was we have no way of knowing) was one Philip Jefferies, 42, originally from Swansea, reporting his trade as “wollon manufactorer” (“cloth” is inserted with an arrow as an afterthought in-between the two words). Sarah Jefferies (46) is the “manufactorer’s wife”, and their home is also home to Sarah’s daughter Martha Morgans (employer with manufactory, 16), and their children in common: Emily Jefferies (scholar, 12), Florence Jefferies (scholar, 10), Margaret Jefferies (4), Phillip Jefferies (3), and Jane Jefferies (1). At the same time one Ivan James was living with his family in one of the two “Bank” cottages next to the church (empty 10 years prior to this census, and to be demolished just 7 years after this date) and his occupation is listed first as “fuller”, which is crossed out and replaced with “clothier (tailor)”; so it sounds like he worked at the factory too. Did the factory still do both fulling and weaving? Probably. But people preferred to be known for the latter. Maybe the latter involved more skill, or was a less-automated process, and thus took more time?

Adjoining Cwmisaf on the other side of Bank on this census are two properties called Sciborwen and Sciborfach. I mention this only because they do not appear near Cwmisaf on other censuses, and I can find no evidence online or in E. T. Lewis’s book of them existing in Mynachlogddu at any point. “Ysgubor” (pronounced almost identically to “scibor”) means barn, so one barn was small (bach), and the other white (wen). They’re hard to find on maps and other censuses, so it seems most likely that they were real barns on the property of Cwmisaf, or Plas y Meibion—or one of the nearby Llandre farms—temporarily made into dwellings for local workers and their families. Anyhow, one of these buildings contained a “wollon weaver” called Daniel Davies in 1881. However small the factory might have been, it seems to have been providing employment for a few locals at this time.

1888The above map from 1888 shows that St Dogmaels Church is now twice the size, having been extended with a second nave as a result of either an explosion in the size of the congregation or a windfall from an unknown benefactor. The buildings of Cwmisaf are also very clear (south of St Dogmael’s Church), with the village name printed again in the same place, albeit for the last time†*. Cwmisaf’s house is there (below the . in the 522.3) complete with its rear extension (added at some point in the last 100 years), and so is the Shop, adjoining to the south. The alleged Old Mill is directly in front of it (or southwest), and the Pig Sty/Chicken Coop is farther west, as are a couple of other buildings; one of which remains as a dilapidated milking parlour, the other of which (adjoining the smaller sty/coop) is now just a crumbling U-shaped stone wall (but might have once been a rudimentary barn).

After studying this map for the 100th time, it occurred to me that the leat as depicted on here does not correspond to the version of events I’d previously associated with the lay of the land. Perhaps in 1888 the “Old Mill” was not in fact a mill at all, and served as a barn or cowshed. Perhaps the Milking Parlour (as it certainly became later) was the Mill. It certainly looks like it takes the whole flow of the leat (or at least part of it) past its West wall; which fact might explain the deep cut through the land from this point down to the river, which I had previously accounted for by general surface drainage combined with overflow from the Wern during heavy flow. Either the Milking Parlous is the real Old Mill, or part of the natural river flowed that way in the past, and the “leat” of those days was a much shorter one following the last half of its current journey.

From the following description we might surely imagine that the working buildings of Cwmisaf were better able to be viewed from the bridge back then, and thus that fewer mature trees were to be found in the immediate area:

“We approach Monachlogddu, the landscape assumes a thoroughly Welsh appearance. A clear trout-stream, that comes rippling and dancing down the glen from the dark brown ridge of the moorlands, is here put to turn the wheel of a little flannel-mill. In response to our request, the goodman describes in broken English the simple processes of manufacture, and explains the movements of his archaic machinery. Then, after a glance at the lowly parish church, dedicated to St. Dogmael, we bid adieu to the village of the Black Monastery, and take to the road.” — ‘Nooks and Corners of Pembrokeshire’ by H. Thornhill Timmins (1895)

Phillip Jefferies, who put himself down as bilingual on the 1891 census, would have been disappointed to learn that four years later his English was considered “broken” by Mr Timmins; not to mention that his machinery was considered “archaic”. If you read up on manufacturing processes at this time, the “power looms” that were yet to be introduced to Cwmisaf were by now commonplace across much of Britain; but then, based upon the general trends of the woollen trade in Pembrokeshire and the UK/Europe in general, for the majority of its existence, the machinery at Cwmisaf would have been making cloths and blankets primarily for the local populace. So what if it was archaic? It did the job.

Back to the 1891 census, the second and last that saw Phillip Jefferies as master of Cwmisaf. Phillip and Sarah were still there, with their children Margaret Jefferies, Phillip Jefferies, Jane Jefferies, and Jonathan Jefferies. Florence and Emily were both old enough for their disappearance from the family home to be expected, so we can hope it did not happen under tragic circumstances. Of the aforementioned children, Margaret (14) was old enough to be “knitting stockings” as an occupation, and Phillip Junior (13) was an “apprentice”, while the other two (11 and 9) were scholars (perhaps at Bethel; perhaps at the church; if not, somewhere farther afield). Phillip’s stepdaughter Martha Morgans (now 24) was still living with the couple, and amusingly has her occupation listed as “winner and spinner” on the text entry on findmypast.co.uk, but I’ll leave you to decide whether that’s what it really says:

winner an spinner

By the 20th century, the Jefferieses had left Cwmisaf and were spinning and knitting wool in a house on Wallis Street in Fishguard. None of the children they had together were there, but Phillip’s stepdaughter Martha Morgans, 34, was still living with them, and by now had somehow produced a 3-year-old son whom she had named “Phillip J”.

2. David James’s Factory

Cwmisaf woollen factory when I first saw it, April 23, 2017

In another of those happy coincidences that saw Cwmisaf (the house) being erected the same time as the first baptist chapel opened in the village, the new factory building was to begin operating the same year a permanent primary school was established in Mynachlogddu.

There is a small marble block in the factory building among the detritus of previous occupants’ hobbies (lenses, optics, radio parts, etc.) engraved with the date 1902. Presumably it used to be mounted somewhere within or without; probably on the south-facing central wall, above the double doors, which looks like the only part of the factory’s structure that has been significantly modified since it was built.

You might recall (or you might not) a “David John, weaver” being recorded as living in Mynachlogddu in 1660, courtesy of the Hearth Tax. We don’t know where he lived; but the implication is that wherever he did live, had a hearth. Two and a half centuries later a man with a similar name was to bring Cwmisaf into the future, or at least the present, with the construction of a sizeable two-storey power-loom woollen factory with a 12′ water-wheel. And just on the other side of the leat was a smaller building (formerly either a barn or a fulling mill) which would (according to later maps) be converted into a sawmill.

So, David M James (woollen manufacturer) and wife Maria J James, both 31, were recorded in the 1901 census as living at Cwmisaf with David’s sister Mary (15) and their two children, William (7) and Hannah (6). But E. T. Lewis tells us that James (originally from Lampeter Velfrey) and his wife (from Nevern) acquired the factory back in 1893 when both were very young. Either it was going cheap, or one of them had some money from somewhere. The intervening years were hard on the Jameses, as the graveyard at Bethel chapel in Mynachlogddu testifies; in 1900 they lost two infant children in quick succession: Annie (4) and Dinah (3). Nevertheless, in spite of these tragedies, they accumulated, in time, enough capital to modernize the local woollen business with the construction of a large factory building that would open its doors in 1902 and provide employment and services to the local community for just under half a century. By the time of the final (currently available) 1911 census their son William has changed his name to the Welsh form of Gwilym†** and proudly declares his profession as “Weaving Welsh flannels by powerloom”. Hannah still lives with them too, as does their new child Benjamin Ll James, born shortly after the last census and thus now 9 years old. Both Gwilym and Benjamin wrote their names in the factory building in later years; the latter many times, and his extravagant handwriting can still be seen on the beams in pencil and crayon—most of it quite legible. The writing tends to be in English. Languages were only recorded in the censuses from 1891 onward, and although initially most of the farming families spoke only Welsh, by the early 20th century, the few remaining monoglots in the area tend to be old farmers or infants; strongly suggesting that Welsh was still the language of the home, but that English was creeping in as the language of education and business. Mind you, who knows: perhaps just as now we are encouraged by the authorities to say we speak Welsh even if we know only a handful of words, the reverse might well have been true back then.

Because the census of 1921 isn’t yet available for public consumption, this is where we start relying more heavily on books—particularly the second and third of three I credited at the beginning of this blog-post. David M James, says E. T. Lewis, was a district council representative, and a President of the Pembrokeshire Baptist Association; in addition to a farmer and factory-owner. The early decades of the 20th century seem to have been profitable for the Jameses, and although I’m not yet sure whether all their immediate family survived those turbulent years, they kept Cwmisaf operational until it was sold in 1943 to a Tenby businessman called A. Sweet. After the Jameses sold it, it only lasted five years before closing, and before the land and buildings were acquired by a farmer who grew up in the neighbouring farmhouse: Hughie George James of Llandre Isaf. I had presumed the brevity of Sweet’s tenure was probably down to changes in global textile markets, but a local lady who was alive and working at Llandre Isaf at the time told my wife that Mr Sweet suffered a personal tragedy when his back was broken by a bull; so, presumably unable to farm, he probably sold the place to Mr James shortly thereafter.

Hefin Wyn’s local history collection ‘O’r Witwg i’r Wern’ provides us with a couple of reminiscences specifically concerning Cwmisaf, both of which are in Welsh, and both of which I will translate short passages from.

The first concerns the factory as seen by a local boy who had moved to the Swansea valleys aged 3, and visited Mynachlogddu in the summer holidays. Unfortunately undated, it can be broadly placed between 1926-1938.

“When my family weren’t working, we lived in Bryncleddau every August. We were free there; as long as we took care not to disturb Mr Campbell who ran Tyrch Quarry. I’d play with little boats, with my friend Ben James, Cwmisaf, in the baptism pool. And we’d catch fish by diverting the water that ran the fulling mill; the fish would be left floppling about in the little pools there. All we had to do then was scoop them out into a bucket.”— from ‘Whilber Rowland Penrhiw’ by the Reverend John Young, from ‘O’r Witwg i’r Wern, Ancient Wisdom and Sacred Cows’ edited by Hefin Wyn (2011)

The possible dual flows of the leat  (N to S). The right side of the fork by the Factory (green) still flows; the left side by the Milking Parlour/Fulling Mill (orange) doesn’t. The house is also shown in red, and the no-longer-existing Sawmill in yellow.

I’m sure there was no baptism pool at Cwmisaf, and that this refers to the one up near the chapel. But the sentences concerning the catching of fish speak to the complicated system of sluices and overflows that line the leat north of Pont Mynachlogddu; and might also have involved the remaining pools in-between the Milking Parlour (or possibly the True Old Mill) and the outflow of the tail-race from the factory’s leat.

Diverting the water might have been achieved by the operation of some mechanism then, though now it would involve removing armfulls of branches or depositing piles of rocks and moss. And who knows whether any fish might be lured in the process? I saw some small ones (probably bullheads) last autumn but have yet to see evidence of the shoals of migratory sewin and salmon that apparently provided poachers with such tempting fare as recently as the early 20th century.

The reference to “Ben James” initially confused me, as David’s son “Benjamin Ll James” ought to have been 18 years older than John Young, and thus probably too busy to be making paper boats or catching fish with him. But E. T. Lewis lists another “Benjamin L James” as a grandson of David (the son of Gwilym, a local informs me) who must have been of a similar age at that time, and is thus a more likely playmate. John Young eventually became a baptist minister in Ammanford, Carmarthenshire; while young Ben James took the same calling, and was (by 1969) serving in Briton Ferry in the same county.

May & Gruff on their wedding day

By far the richest portrait of life at Cwmisaf in any era comes from Ben James’s sister, born Mary M James. I’m told both she and Ben came to live at Cwmisaf with their paternal grandparents after their mother died, leaving Gwilym James with four (I think!) children; too many to raise on his own.

At the outbreak of the Second World War when the 1939 register was compiled, Ben (aged about 19) was perhaps fortuitously “incapacitated by illness”, and Mary (about 22) was an “unpaid household assistant” at Cwmisaf. Mary’s surname in the register has been crossed out in a different colour pen and replaced with “Morris”, and we know from her own recollection (and from the above photograph) that she was married to local man Gruff Morris on August 14, 1941, and that they soon moved to Meriden, Coventry, to work in a factory. We are very lucky to have her short but vivid description of life in this corner of the parish at that time. Much of it concerns social life centred around Bethel chapel and Sunday school, but I’ve included those parts relating more closely to home life; a translated and edited extract from her 2011 recollection (published just two years before her death in Exeter at the age of 96) follows:

“I was brought up in Cwmisaf, just below the church, in Mynachlogddu parish, during the 1920s and ’30s. My family kept a woollen factory, and I still have one of the blankets that was made there on my bed. Though I have lived in Meridien since 1941, I still think of Mynachlogddu as home … My uncle Bill George kept ‘Railway Stores’ in Maenclochog, selling a little of everything edible, for the families and their animals. Because everyone baked their own bread at that time, he also sold a lot of flour. He lived with “Granny Plasdwbl” (Mari George, his mother) in the yard of Allt-y-Gog [down the road from Cwmisaf]. His sister Martha and brother-in-law Ama Owens lived there too.

“During the 1930s, before the Second World War, many ‘gentlemen of the road’ would call at Cwmisaf. (It was no use calling them ‘tramps’.) There was Twm Martha Fach from Maenclochog, and Ben Abergweun … another was Twm ‘Barrels’; he’d call at each house offering to mend umbrellas. But the favourite was Twm Shot from Ceredigion, who ‘walked the road’ in the summer; but went home to his address in Llanybydder, I think, in the winter.

“I’ve a clear memory too of a caravan being parked over the winter at Plas-y-Blodau crossroads, in which Mrs Evans and her children lived. They called everywhere with their basket, begging for hay for their horse and potatoes and vegetables for them. She had two lovely daughters called Annie and Jennie—and a lad too, though I never saw him. Mrs Evans smoked a pipe full of Ringers Shag, and everyone knew which direction she was coming from by the clouds of smoke. She would while away each Saturday night at Glandy Cross Inn … On my wedding day to Griff in Bethel chapel, who should I see in the gallery but Annie and Jenny! They gave me a big rice-pudding bowl as a wedding present; and that was the last time I ever saw them.” — from ‘Y Badell Pwdin Reis’ by May Morris, from ‘O’r Witwg I’r Wern / Ancient Wisdom and Sacred Cows’ edited by Hefin Wyn (2011)

Just two years after May Morris (as she was later known) left for England, Cwmisaf was sold, and since very little is known of the short, war-time period in which it was owned by A. Sweet, this really seems to be the end of an era for the factory. The modern building remains, and is in pretty good shape. But the smaller sawmill (once a fulling/tucking mill, or a barn) was knocked down at some point in the mid-twentieth century, and only one of its walls still stands.

I know nothing about “Ben John”, the lad pictured in the black-and-white photograph on the Mynachlogddu community website; except that he has a very local-sounding name, and that the proportions of the loft he sits in mark it out as either the older of the two factory buildings—the one no longer with us, which was apparently by this time a sawmill—or the Shop (the shed adjoining the house to the south); it is certainly not the larger factory building that still stands by the leat; nor the milking parlour, which might have been a fulling mill. Still with me? Great!

No one I’ve met in Mynachlogddu is old enough to really remember the factory when it was running; though their parents might have. A note on the Trallwyn Holiday Cottages website provides an insight into the role it played in the community:

“There used to be a mill down by the Church and I remember Roland [Francis] telling me how his family would take the fleeces from the sheep down to the mill…and a few months later bring back shirts and caps and other clothing…so different today!” — Trallwyn Holiday Cottages website: http://www.simplystonecottages.com/historytrallwyn.html, 2014

The following brief excerpt from a mid-century history journal also provides some context:

“Mynachlogddu. Cwm Isaf. Run in conjunction with a thirty acre smallholding. In the 1940s their products—tweed, knitting yarns and flannel—were sold at Fishguard market.” — ‘Pembrokeshire And The Woollen Industry’ by J Geraint Jenkins, from ‘The Pembrokeshire historian’, journal of the Pembrokeshire Local History Society  (1959)

The war years did not immediately halt the production of woollen products at the mill (WW2 at least; for WW1 we have less to go on) though the increasingly internationalist world that unfolded thereafter would be the death of the Welsh textile industry. A visiting farmer from Brawdy way told me his uncle Dilwyn James worked at the factory during the war. E. T. Lewis also lists a couple of (unfortunately undated) names associated with the factory in its later years: Brynmor Davies of Rhydwilym (who worked there as a boy), and Amaziah Griffiths of Penrhos (up by Gorsfawr stone circle)—the latter went on to be active in the woollen trade around Pembrokeshire, and I was told by a visitor with a relative who worked in the factory that Amaziah was the manager.

B James, June [6th?], 1797

Finally, the graffiti on the beams and crumbling plaster of the factory commemorates some of the folk who worked there (or maybe just visited) in its later years. Gwilym James adds “Esquire” to his signature, dating it March 2, 1910.

Ben[jamin] Ll. James signs his name many times (1914, 1918…), once confusingly on a day of the week that did not fall on the claimed date in that year, and once, perplexingly claiming the year to be 1797.

Some other signaturees include B L James, 1942, (as distinct from B Ll James, usually signing much earlier); Ryta Edwards, Pont y Glasier [Eglwyswrw]; Beryl Morgan; Joan Francis, who “left on July 2”; Eirlys [?]; and George Kirkkan.

PEGGY DAVIES GATE

Peggy Davies (who often signs with the word “Gate”, presumably placing her as a resident of Gate Farm, Llangolman) is by far the most frequent signaturee. Her only dated entry looks like it says 1947 (the same year as one Ryan John signed) which would be in the latter years of A. Sweet’s ownership. The pencil etchings on the beams by the first generation of James children tend to be earlier than these that are cut into the plaster with compasses. My theory is that most if not all of the latter were probably done after the factory became derelict. As a teenager I spent plenty of time in derelict buildings writing my name on the walls, and I’ve no doubt teenagers did just the same in the decades (and centuries) before Elvis Presley supposedly invented them.

3. Afterlife

H. G. James

Hughie George James (1910-1982) owned Cwmisaf for twenty years between ’48 and ’68. He was a Mynachlogddu farmer and probably bought the house because it was next-door to where he grew up, and because it came with 30 acres, which perhaps he could add to any he might have inherited from Llandre Isaf. Hughie was no direct relation to the Jameses of Cwmisaf, according to local sources, and I was also told that he had no children. One local resident who remembers Hughie said the Old Mill was still up while he lived at Cwmisaf; maybe still functioning as a sawmill, maybe derelict. Another local (a nephew of his) told me it was Hughie who put in the drainage and electricity, and thus prevented the house from going the way of other rural houses whose glory days were over, and falling into ruin. I was also told Hughie ran the New Mill as a Corn Mill for a while, and later as a carpentry workshop, while keeping chickens in the ground floor. It also seems very likely that he installed the metal harnesses in the milking parlour (AKA the Older Mill).

The ’48-’53 Ordnance Survey map is not worth including here as it shows no differences from the turn-of-the-century map except one tiny detail: the addition of a small square by the church, signifying the telephone box, which remains but is no longer in use. The shapes of the buildings at Cwmisaf are less distinct than they are in the 1888 map, so we cannot see whether the small extension incorporating the utility room (also where the water and electric come in) and the bathroom was yet there, but it seems likely from what I was told that these were put in during Hughie James’s tenure, and that the next owners raised the roof above to a flat roof to accommodate a complete bathroom.

Hughie James moved to Maenclochog in 1968, selling Cwmisaf to a retired couple from outside the area, and with it:

“such rights of pasturage over a certain piece of undivided land called Gorsfawr containing 385 acres or thereabouts and also over other common land about one mile distant therefrom as has hitherto been held and enjoyed by the owner for the time being of said premises.”

Van Doorninck in 1950 as Commander of HNLMS Evertsen

Damiaen Joan van Doorninck was a Dutch WW2 naval officer and POW who escaped Colditz, and—according to a testimony by one of his comrades given to the BBC—used to entertain himself during his captivity by breaking into the German officers’ quarters to use their private lavatories. After the war he commanded a Dutch destroyer called HNLMS Evertsen (D802), previously known as the HMS Scourge (G01) when it was owned by the British. I’m pretty sure he was at the Battle of Pusan Perimeter, and quite possibly also involved in the West New Guinea dispute, after the ship was converted to a fast frigate.

Both he and his wife Susan had been married once before. Damiaen married Henriette Sophia Wilhelmina, baroness d’Aulnis de Bourouill, (with whom he  would have two daughters) in 1933; and they divorced in 1948. Susan van Doorninck was previously married to Swiss lawyer/diplomat August R. Lindt (apparently a relative of the famous chocolate-maker) as detailed in this blog post about their 1937 travels in the Persian Gulf. I’m not sure when they separated or divorced; but August ended up in New York working for the UN after the war (later marrying a Romanian socialite and would-be art collector), and Susan had moved to the UK by 1948. I am told (by a grandchild of the couple) that Susan and Damiaen had two children together: Adam and Catherine. Adam (then Lindt) was naturalised as a British citizen in Torquay, Devon (where Susan’s father Lionel had died two years previously).

The veranda that Damiaen built to the fore of the house. This photograph, from the ’80s, also shows the concrete pebbledash render, which was probably added in the ’50s or ’60s. The house was probably lime-rendered before.

The van Doornincks moved to Cwmisaf together in 1968 (6 years after Damiaen began receiving his pension, according to this Dutch website, and after the ship he had commanded was scrapped). Mr James had made the house attractive to the couple in their advanced years by installing electricity, water, and a complicated surface drainage system that nobody would ever maintain—at least not up to the year when we bought the house. Electricity was also extended to several sheds, and to the old factory building; and while the downstairs of the factory seems like it’s been used as a bit of a rubbish dump down recent decades, the better-kept (and rendered) first floor is littered with old optics, spyglasses, radio parts and electrical devices—I had presumed them to be the tools of Damiaen’s various hobbies, but his granddaughter, who kindly sent me many stories of this era, says many of these also belonged to the couple’s son-in-law, her father, who visited often and rebuilt the demolished Old Mill wall in front of the house. A brief selection from her email follows:

“Damiaen was so regimental/routine. We knew exactly what was happening and when, when we would visit Cwm Isaf. He was also a very loving and kind man. We had nibbles at 6pm every evening. Dinner at 8pm, Saturday would be steak and kidney beans, Grandmother would make a chicken soup for starters and a Lemon syllabub for afters. [Damiaen] oversaw the steak and beans. He had porridge every morning with an inch of salt on top! He watched the news at 7pm and no one could make a sound! It was a B&W portable, with a terrible reception! Being at the bottom of the valley’s didn’t help, he would mumble and swear in Dutch.”

Having battled with the terrible internet since we moved in, I can sympathise with the latter sentiment.

There were stacks of papers found in the mill, but most are well-rotted. There was a lightly annotated 1932 Dutch poetry book called Tuin Van Eros by Jan Engleman. One very short poem has a single word in pencil in the margin: “Klank!” (Apparently a comment on the quality of sound.)

Probably General Dunsterville’s favourite picture of himself. He never visited Cwmisaf, but how could I resist posting this picture?

History’s women are generally harder to place than the men, even outside of the difficulties presented by name-changes following marriages. Most tend only to be recorded within the context of their relationships with the men in their lives, so if that’s what I write about here, it’s only because that’s what is readily available. That said, Susan Margaret van Doorninck pops up on Google from time to time in the context of her father’s diaries and the Kipling Society. Her father General Lionel Dunsterville was once tasked with stemming the flow of Bolshevism through the Caucasus, and briefly (in 1918) took the oil-rich city of Baku, today the capital of Azerbaijan, from the Ottomans during the First World War†***. (He published a book about his exploits in 1920.) But long before all this he was the inspiration for the character “Stalky” in Rudyard Kipling’s boarding-school novel “Stalky & Co“. Lionel had also kept a diary throughout his life, which apparently provided invaluable biographical information about Rudyard Kipling, and which Susan later helped the society to compile.

As for Susan’s life before Damiaen, her granddaughter also offered some insight which Google could not:

“Susan had a lot of stories about India … She would also boast about her affairs and exciting life. I believe [she and Damiaen] came back to either Torquay or the Isle of Man. Lionel was an important part of the Isle of man, I don’t remember how. But both of those places were mentioned. Stories that were often repeated, 1) She got bit on the bum by a scorpion, when sitting on a toilet in India. 2) She never liked curry until she was on the ship coming back to England. She’d make my Dad cook her curries when we stayed. Susan was in Switzerland with Lindt when my Grandfather Escaped from Colditz with Fowler and went to neutral ground, Switzerland. The rest, as they say, is history!”

Once they’d moved to Mynachlogddu, Damiaen and Susan lived at Cwmisaf for the rest of their lives; and, as far as I know, these years were less eventful than their lives in the earlier part of the 20th century. (They could hardly have been much more eventful.) A small plaque in St Dogmael’s church commemorates them, and their devotion to the church; though I cannot tell what it used to be attached to, and now it lies loose on a shelf. One neighbour mentioned that she used to go swimming in the river with Susan. A carpenter I met who used to live nearby recalls drinking tea in the now dismantled conservatory (or veranda) at the front of the house, and Hughie’s nephew mentioned that some filmmakers once came to Mynachlogddu to talk to Damiaen about Colditz. Damiaen’s granddaughter recalls that the BBC spent a lot of time with Damiaen.

Damiaen’s life ended on 24 September, 1987, 19 years after he moved to Cwmisaf; and Susan’s ended on 25 March, 1994, six and a half years after her husband passed away, and 26 years after she moved here.

In 1980 a Grant of Easement was drawn up allowing the Welsh Water authority access to the land immediately north of Pont Mynachlogddu to install (and subsequently to maintain) a water pipe. However, this agreement was drawn up between the Authority and the Phillipses at Llandre Uchaf; not the van Doornincks. So it seems highly likely that the parcel of land adjoining the souce of the leat was at some point sold off, along with the rest of Cwmisaf’s former farmland (about 28 acres), either by Hughie James or the Van Doornincks.

Defunct old drainage (or water?) system at Cwmisaf

What also appears likely to the point of certainty is that the small section north of the river was bought back by the previous owners, John and Margaret McDonald, who bought Cwmisaf in 1995. I met John briefly after we bought the house (I had been sneaking a look around the garden, and he was arriving to read the electricity meter) and he mentioned that he once had plans to get the wheel on the factory building turning again, and gave me advice on how to get water flowing down the leat again.

Perhaps it was him who built the miniature waterwheel I found abandoned among brambles in the area between the Factory and the river? Perhaps it was Damiaen (a naval officer, after all) who deposited the disembodied ship’s foghorn in a rotten tree stump up by the concrete shed? Just a small sample of the many questions I will probably never have an answer to. I gave Mr McDonald my mobile number, but he didn’t give me his, and I didn’t ask for it. When you sell a house, you normally want to turn your back and think of it no more. You certainly don’t want regular phonecalls from the new owners asking how this-and-that works, or why this-and-that is infested with bats, etc.

For many years the McDonalds had been living and working on a farm (with a moo-moo here, etc.) in Lamphey, South Pembrokeshire; so Cwmisaf’s story had been in the hands of the tenants they let it out to. I know some of their names, but not all; and not the exact dates of their comings and goings. Once we start dealing with living people it feels less like history and more like snooping; though there’s probably very little difference. This is probably the right point to bring this very long blog-post to an end. I don’t think I will publish any additional entries in this vein, but I hope to return to this and edit it should new information come to light, or should additions, retractions or corrections be offered or demanded by anyone who stumbles across it.

Enjoying the foghorn which I suspect was salvaged from the HNLMS Evertsen (D802) following its scrapping

We bought Cwmisaf in 2017 and I moved us in at the end of August—with the help of my mother, my uncle Michael, and three men from Clunderwen. Meanwhile Victoria was away in Norfolk with the children, her mother, and her sisters, scattering her father’s ashes on a beach in Great Yarmouth.

Who knows how long we will be here? Not forever, certainly; so I hope this text is of some interest to whoever comes next, whether I know them or not.

As a final thought: the legally defined boundaries of what is now registered as Cwmisaf are currently under the jurisdiction of the Landskerian parliament, with the house retaining the name “Cwmisaf” for administrative and ceremonial purposes, but the land as a whole also using the name New Landskeria, and “Landskeria” for short. The Landskerians occupy the land as a stateless micronation, with a view to declaring a republic at such time as legal and administrative powers allow, and thus declaring the whole of Cwmisaf a sovereign microstate. Claims over land previously belonging to Cwmisaf (referred to as Greater Cwmisaf; but crucially not Greater Landskeria) are few at this stage; however there are several contested territories immediately adjoining the boundaries of Landskeria to the south and north, where the trajectory of a barbed wire fence, and the lack of willingness by the council to maintain a road surface (respectively) have conferred a de facto burden of ownership upon the Landskerians, which we will dutifully shoulder. Similarly there are numerous river-islands along the Wern which seem neither to fall naturally into Llangolman nor Mynachlogddu parish; these are being observed closely, and where it seems right in natural-legal terms, the Landskerian parliament will propose subsumption into the Landskerian jurisdiction.

All glory to the republic, doubt over all.

A Velky, 2018.

(Most recently amended or updated: 13/04/2019)

Footnotes:

* the bridge is normally called Pont Mynachlogddu, and sometimes called Pont Cwmisaf. It was once, erroneously I suspect, referred to on a 1980s legal document pertaining to the Water Board right of access to a pipe as “Ddolwen Bridge”.

** A few guesses as to what “Llothie” might mean:

1) llo + tŷ = calf + house = a cattle farm; perhaps to distinguish it from the more common sheep farms?
2) lle + tŷ = place + house = a lodge or roadside inn. Feasible but unlikely.
3) [g]lo + tŷ = coal + house = coal house. There was coal-mining in Pembrokeshire in the early 1600s; but not in Mynachlogddu, so they probably wouldn’t have a house full of it, or indeed built out of it.
4) llath + tŷ = rod/beam + house = sawmill. The “a” sound (also the “ə” sound represented in Welsh words by a “y”) is sometimes rendered as an “o” in old spellings.
5) llaeth + tŷ = milk + house = dairy; it’s quite possible it was the only one in the immediate harea.

None of the above seem better than rough guesses. For my money, 3 is the least likely, then 4, then 2, then 1; leaving 5 as the least-least likely. (I won’t say “most”.) “Llaethdy” is an actual word for a dairy in this area, and bears as much resemblance to “Llothie” as “Mynachlogddu” does to many of its historical renderings. But this remains a very amateurish stab at etymology. At least a “dairy” does not tie the history of Cwmisaf’s farming down to cows, for whose popularity in this upland area at that time there is no ready recommendation. I have, in fact, learned on a popular BBC TV history programme that sheep were more commonly milked at this time than cows; and who am I to argue with the TV?

*** Cwmisaf’s nearest neighbouring house is now “Parc-y-Banc”, built at some time in the past 50 years. It was built in the field called “Burgage”, but this was presumably deemed an unsuitable name for a new house in a predominantly Welsh-speaking neighbourhood.

† E. T. Lewis says that prior to 1846 there was no regular school in the area. Rev John Griffith held one (probably at Bethel) around 1789. From 1846 there were schools at Eglwyswen (on the way to Crymych), Maenclochog and Llanfyrnach. There was also (“mid-century”) a man called John Morris educating children in the parish church; and beating them, according to a poem (in Welsh) written by one of his pupils. The children had to go to church on Sundays, even if their parents went to chapel(!)

†* Future editions, and indeed road-signs, place the village itself a couple of miles north centred on the collection of mostly newer houses that were built around the smaller bridges on the Crymych road, by the post office and the baptist chapel.

†** Or whoever wrote it in the census could be persuaded not to translate it into English? Who knows how these things work…

†*** It would be remiss of me not to mention at this juncture that only 96 years after General Dunsterville took Baku, the Eurovision Song Contest would be held there for the first time. And no, I do not think I am straying from the point here.

DISCLAIMER: Every effort has been made to faithfully represent the facts as I see them. Corrections or clarifications would be very welcome. Any questions or complaints can be directed to the author via the comments section, or by email to alexander dot S dot H dot velky at gmail dot com. Most images are my own but others found on the internet have been reproduced without permission. If you would like any removed, ask me.

16/04/2018: First Quarterly Report from Landskerian Government

29749719_10155130247067133_67362807973621691_oWhen one is approaching blogging from a narrative angle it becomes easier and easier to put it off. To decide that nothing particularly noteworthy has happened; either from the point of view of interested outside parties or from the perspective of our future Landskerian selves, should we want to consult historical archives for evidence of what we were up to. For weaving historical narratives, or because we want to sue one another, or something else. Who knows for what purpose these words may one day be used?

This is of course a philosophical way of acknowledging a periodic lapse in entries. These are usually caused by psychological blockages rather than anything more substantial. And those might arise from the intrinsic aforementioned doubts which simultaneously bless and plague our Landskerian way of life, or from the burdensome gift of technology, which offers so much but at such a high cost. That high cost is partly manifested in hosting and domain registration; but the toll on time, if we are to make any kind of effective use of this medium, is much greater. Especially if we want to use pictures. So perhaps in future we’ll be lighter on those here (since Instagram is a better medium for them anyway) and this text-based platform will be reserved more for matters of state. Records and administration. This First Quarterly Report from the Landskerian Government is an attempt to do that. It is the first. It might be the last! Who knows? But in theory it should set the standard for official seasonal updates from the central ministries of the Landskerian state, such as it is at this time (which is to say that whether or not there even exists a Landskerian state is a fraught and complex philosophical question in itself).

Whereaboutswithallnotsomuch further ado, here are reports from the Ten Ministries, which although they are split between the two joint First Ministers, will be reported here, for convenience’s sake, entirely by me, Joint First Minister Alexander Velky.

Spring Report 2018

Finance Secretary’s Report from the Bank of Landskeria (Treasury Office)
We lost one of those little calculator things that helps you log in to your online bank account. So another one has been ordered. Finances remain adequate for conducting the basic affairs of state. But no Grand Projects can be greenlit at this time due to a lack of liquid assets; most of our assets being tied up, as they have been for some time, in a complicated combination of real property, theoretical debt, and conceptual art. Income sources are a combination of marketing consultancy services, tourism revenue, and foreign aid. Expenditure is chiefly the aforementioned debts, coupled with ordinary budgetary constraints relating to the support and maintenance of human and non-human life within the borders of New Landskeria.

Nature Secretary’s Report from the Office of Natural Law (Environment Office)
Drainage has continued to occupy most of our time and money in this department. The Great Drainage Ditch of Landskeria was completed in the winter, and more recently the existing surface drainage channel behind the house was cleared to the first then the second inspection chamber, and is now discharging smoothly once more into The Pit. Watercourses are in rude health, at least cosmetically, and we have even begun discussions with ourselves about introducing legal constraints over development and earmarking some peripheral parts of New Landskeria to become National Parks, in support of numerous endangered species rumoured to be native to our home, specifically in terms of fauna: European otters, brook lampreys, bullheads, and migratory salmon and sewin. In terms of flora there are several pondweeds and bogweeds, in addition to water crowfoot. All of the aforementioned are protected as part of the UK state’s Afon Wern SSSI and the Preseli Hills sub-region of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park; so we thought it prudent that safeguards were in place in the (possible future) event of a unilateral declaration of independence from the Landskerian people.

A recent visit from Natural Resources Wales (following an invitation issued by the Nature Secretary) mainly focused on Factory Office jurisdiction, but crossover was recognized, and it was as a response to their advice that a piece of purportedly otter-friendly land in The Common has been renamed The Holt, and is now under a development moratorium until the Landskerian National Parks committee has been formed and has held its inaugural session. (For the record, the remaining areas of what was formerly The Common have been renamed The Sluices, The Finger, and The Neck; these new names will be reflected in all future cartography produced by the Office of Domiciles and Citizenship.)

Landskeria remains heavily dependent on food (and wine) imports, and due to budgetary constraints in the R&D department this is unexpected to change soon. However it should be noted that wild strawberry plants have been discovered along The Drive, and that there are an abundance of suspected gooseberry bushes along The Holloway. Brambles are ubiquitous, however nettles have still not been officially given food status by the Office, and thus remain officially inedible until further notice.

Finally a note on invasive species: Japanese knotweed has returned as expected, and will be dealt with by the Office forthwith.

Industry Secretary’s report from the Office of Industry and Energy (Factory Office)
Investigations into the feasibility of hydropower installation on the site of the Factory’s disused waterwheel remain in slow progress. Some contacts have been procured for preliminary feasibility studies, with a view to deciding what sort of technology might afford the most efficient and cost-effective means of energy-production. Self-sufficiency in electricity remains a high priority for the office. Having sought advice from the better-funded environment agency of our neighbouring country, budgetary constraints (as opposed to environmental ones) remain the chief concern; on the upside, we are confident we could undertake works with minimal negative impact on the environment, and could afford any necessary licenses to proceed with works. But a True Returns forecast of no more than fifteen years remains the target, and no major works will be undertaken without such a forecast in place.

A tourism effort staffed by Landskeria’s stateless nation continues to operate from Landskeria’s nationless state, formerly The Most Serene Republic of Landskeria, now referred to colloquially (if not officially) as Old Landskeria. The house where Landskeria began is now a holiday cottage rentable on Airbnb. Vague plans are in place to sell the property in 2019, thus releasing liquid assets to (quite literally) pour into developments at New Landskeria; which territory will in such an event lose its temporary title and revert to the simple official name of “Landskeria” until such time as a republic (or, perish the thought, some non-republican state entity) should be declared.

Transport Secretary’s report for Fleet (Transport Office) 
One of the cars began to smell and fall apart, so was replaced with a similar one. The other car was smelling, but not falling apart, so was cleaned. A tarpaulin has been requested to prevent leakage in the latter car, and currently its handbrake has been temporarily replaced with a few large bricks/logs. Landskeria’s three bikes remain in poor repair. The children’s bikes are due some maintenance in anticipation of dry weather at some point in-between now and 2019, and the one adult-sized Landskerian bike remains in a shed in Old Landskeria and needs removing to a secure location. The Home Office have mooted the possibility of procurement of drones to help with cartography, but budgetary constrains have precluded it in the near future. Finally, our space-hopper is discoloured due to an algae contamination, but remains functional.

Home Secretary’s report from the Office of Domiciles and Citizenship (Home Office)
Recent cosmetic works in Cwmisaf include but are not limited to painting the banisters, moving furniture around in the lounge, and procuring tradesmen to move a wood-burning stove from one end of a room to the other. Works booked in for the Factory include minor repairs to roof and windows. Upcoming groundsworks external to the House will be shared between the jurisdiction of the Home and Environment Offices. These include (at least in terms of having been mooted) a domestic extention into The Shop, tarmac along The Drive, and a turning circle and/or car-port to the west flank of The House, where currently there is only a raised bog and a surface drainage channel.

Cartography is on hold due to the administrative flux inherent to the governance of a non-state entity with statelike pretensions. Names and borders are amended regularly at this stage, and ought all to be drawn in pencil until such time as pens become appropriate.

In citizenship news, a Landskerian national anthem has been written, and is being practised by most citizens in advance of our December 1 National Day celebrations. Budgetary constraints have slowed progress on the development of the Landskerian language, and currently the only place in which it exists in its true form is in the aforementioned anthem, or “shanghuur” – a rough English approximation of the Landskerian word which translates back into English as “adoration song”.

Children’s Secretary’s report from the House of Tomorrow (Second Chamber)
The House of Tomorrow remains a conceptual entity in terms of its powers as a second chamber in the Landskerian parliamentary system of government. Although two actual real children are under the jurisdiction of the Children’s Secretary they do not yet have voting power, and talks pertaining to the mooted awarding of said powers have not been timetabled. The “chamber” thus currently functions more like one of our offices; while the Landskerian parliament, which had neither a formal sitting nor a representative office in and of itself, remains at loggerheads due to one of the two ministers (myself) having repeatedly claimed to have a vote equating to a 51% share of legislative influence. Thus despite the attempt to remove legislative blockages by amending the 50/50 vote-share between the Joint First Ministers to a more pro-active 51/49 share, the result has actually been that even less legislation has been passed than before. There is an optimistic notion that the House of Tomorrow could somehow be the answer to this conundrum, but the exact details of how that might happen remain elusive.

Foreign Secretary’s Report from the Embassy (Foreign Office)
Most Landskerians spent a large proportion of the Easter holidays visiting family in Herefordshire. Relations with closer foreign territories are ongoing and cordial. Landskeria’s reliance on foreign aid, and on tourism income and other income sources from corporate entities in neighbouring territories, necessitates a pragmatic rather than an idealistic approach to our dealings with “outsiders”. We have neither the arsenal nor the diplomatic resources to adopt an expansionist approach to policy; although we believe strongly in the Landskerian way of life, no digestible written description of this currently exists, so we have no doctrine to spread with missionary zeal, even if we thought our neighbours might be receptive. Landskeria’s Home Office remains a bigger priority in terms of budget and resources. Once we have our house in order we might be better placed to consider our official policy on relationships with extra-Landskerian entities; until that time the work of the Foreign Office relies on common sense and is mostly reactive. That said our Foreign Secretary has established ties with the local Anglican church. Of course there is no church in Landskeria, and there almost definitely never will be; but the presence of a church so close to Landskerian borders has been seen as an opportunity for community outreach into Mynachlogddu, and the wider historical area of Dyfed. The nearby school in Maenclochog is also an entity we mean to keep close ties with; for at least as long as young Landskerians are attending it. Most Landskerians are attending Welsh language lessons, and also frequenting local shops, leisure centres and libraries. So far anti-Landskerian sentiment has been minimal and we hope to keep it this way. With a view to maintaining a state of low tension, early forays into a semi-aggressive expansionist foreign policy have been abandoned. That said, three of the four original disputed territories at Landskeria’s borders have been retained as official claims, namely: The Golden Triangle, The Gate, and The Far Island. The latter, however, might be incorporated into any National Park established alongside The Holt in the area formerly known as The Common, so development of any kind on this island seems highly unlikely.

Lord Commander’s Report on the Arsenal (Defence Office)
No machines of war are in our arsenal at this time and no R&D to this effect is scoped. A private offer was made of an air rifle for the purpose of shooting vermin, however agreement could not be reached on the proposed storage location of the weapon since Landskeria’s “Arsenal” remains an abstract entity at this time; so plans were shelved. Landskeria’s defensive means remain secret by necessity, but it is understood that they mostly comprise wood and stone, with minimal metal given over to this purpose. Landskeria is not a nuclear state and has no ambitions in this area. We currently rely on the UK state for defence, but have not yet needed to call in any favours. As long as foreign relations remain cordial, we see no need to divert budget into this Office, and it exists mainly as a ceremonial entity; the Commander reserves the title that comes with the Office, regardless of the lack of a standing army to be commanded.

Health Secretary’s Report From the Hospital (Health Office)
One of our dogs is due some vaccinations, and we have discovered by accident that one of our daughters is not allergic to hazelnuts. We have yet to register our citizens with the local doctor’s surgery in Crymych, but intend to in the near future.

Chief Justice’s Report from the Jury of Landskeria (Law Office)
Landskeria remains entirely free from any and all domestic crime. However, a known individual from Rhosfach has been regularly dumping bags full of rubbish (including documents bearing his name and address) into Afon Wern from Pont Mynachlogddu. Reprisal strategies have taken up the majority of the time and resources of the Jury; however whether responses to these perceived hostile acts should be lead by the Jury, the Arsenal, or the Embassy remains a moot point. When UK defence assistance was sought, both the Welsh environment agency and the county council have suggested this matter is not their responsibility. Informal advice from the latter amounted to a suggestion to enact direct reprisals, but no resources were promised to aid with the effort. We remain vigilant in this area. Meanwhile, the Jury would like to spend more time on domestic policy in future.

This was the Landskerian Spring Report 2018.

The weather is mild. The environment is resurgent. The economy is stretched.

All glory to the Republic. Doubt over all.

Joint First Minister A Velky

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25/01/2018: Bogd-dawn in langwij

Since moving to Pembrokeshire five and a half years ago I’ve come to appreciate bogs. Bogs, mires, marshes, moors, swamps, mangroves (possibly) and all related upland and/or wetland areas. In Central Pembrokeshire they’re often referred to as “commons”, because the only land in or near any given village that hasn’t been successfully enclosed and surrounded by high-tensile barbed-wire fencing by its owners is generally poor-draining virtually unfarmable muck, and is thus given over to relatively rare grazing by the relatively poorer local farmers paying either a pittance or nothing at all to the local landowner who is usually descended from an Anglo-Norman warlord and usually probably hasn’t seen the land with his (or her, hahaha; but obviously usually his) eyes for several generations. And, thus, technically, never.here are terms like “rights of pasturage” and “court leet” that hark back to a feudal age we think ourselves far removed from, but whose rules and influence are there to be seen pretty much anywhere you look in modern British society; not just in the bogs.

I’m no expert on bog-based wildlife or anything like that. A lot of it is microfauna and microflora; so you don’t even necessarily see much when you’re traipsing around in it. There are protected species of butterfly (Marsh Fritillary, etc.) and dainty flowers that make some of the local mires SSSIs. There are sometimes skylarks where the marshes become more moorish. There are often red kites overhead (as there are increasingly all over rural Wales and England). There might be sheep, ponies, rabbits or rather unfortunate cows; but the bigger beasts stay away from the muddiest bits if they can. (They’re prone to getting stuck otherwise.) In Wallis there’s sometimes a couple of goats chained to a tree, looking for all the world like a sacrifice idly waiting for the local dragon to turn up. Where there’s enough flowing water there might be a heron.

Our river, Afon Wern, is essentially called Marsh River; and it drains the eastern slopes of Pembrokeshire’s highest mountain (or “hill” if you’re a racist) and Gors Fawr: the placid expanse of common land to which our home has centuries-old rights of pasturage which were unregistered in the ’60s and are therefore not legally recognized by Pembrokeshire County Council. Gors Fawr means Big Bog, and it’s home to Pembrokeshire’s only complete original stone circle. Some few thousand years old. Nobody really knows. The water from Gors Fawr actually comes into our leat before it’s allowed into the Wern; and while the majority still joins the Wern after escaping through the sluice channels in The Common, the fact that water from the land around those ancient sacred stones flows right outside the front of my house makes me very happy.

But this week I’ve been getting bogged down in words more than bogs. I’m learning Welsh. Re-learning, I might say; because I was close to studying for a GCSE when I first moved to England. But then I didn’t use it for over a decade, except on rare occasions when I was drunk at a party and wanted a “code” language in which to converse with a brother. Then we’d speak a debased form.

Now I’m learning Pembrokeshire Welsh; even Preseli Welsh, which is different again from the former, which is different to South Welsh, which is different to North Welsh.  This all pleases me. The notion of full standardization of language is always a con, and serves only to elevate one person’s tongue above another’s. Proper English might serve a practical use (as any standardized language does; usually the justification of state control over the provinces) but ask anyone with an ounce of intellectual curiosity and they’ll soon reveal a penchant for dialect from some or other corner of the country. I won’t pretend to know what Welsh attitudes are. It’s no doubt different in a country where standardization has been more recent, less strict, and (arguably) less successful. And in a country where a foreign language has gradually become dominant; first as a colonial language, with all the accompanying oppression, and then as an adopted majority native language, with all the accompanying ambivalence.

The concept of Landskeria simultaneously exists (in my mind, at least) as an earnest attempt to enrich our lives with joy and wonder through unbounded creativity, and as a playful satire on nationalism generally. I’m quite confident that it can be both. (Even if Welsh nationalists on Twitter think it’s some form of errant neocolonialism.) And it’s in that spirit (the creativity and the satire; not the neocolonialism) that I decided (partly spurred on by a discussion in my Welsh class) that Landskeria needs a language of its own; separate from, though undoubtedly also closely related to, English and Welsh.

The language will be referred to in English, at least temporarily, with the same word we use for the people, in singular form: Landskerian. This will be fixed later. Although English will remain our first language, and Welsh our second (technically of equal legal and administrative importance; but we must recognize reality), the intention is that Landskerian will one day join these two as a third official language, and maybe supersede both to become the ceremonial language de jure of our nation.

I will share with you what I have so far.

 

Landskralphabet

That’s not the real term, but it’s the name of the text doc I’m working on to outline a simple phonetic alphabet which will serve as the bricks and mortar for the written (and trasnferrably oral) Landskerian language. It’s based on English with a little Welsh thrown in for good measure. The English letters c, q and x have been jettisoned in favour of, respectively, k/s, kw, and ks; the first because I have always hated c, as I imagine many English-learners do; the second because q and x strike me as consonant clusters and not true digraphs. The Welsh double letters ll, ch, and dd are included as lh, kh and dh. (I think these types of two-letter consonants which make a single sound are referred to as “digraphs” so that’s what I’ll call them.) Most other included sounds, which ought to (between them) replicate the majority of sounds available in both languages, are present in a recognizably phonetic form. 23 core single letters are pronounced in their basic form, which ought to invite something like a consensus among anyone likely to actually see any of this: a, b, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, r, s, t, u, v, w, y, z. They all do a different job, and are all thus necessary. I’ve (so far) only added one new letter, which is “ə”. I think it’s called a “Schwa”, but I just call it an “uh” at the moment, because that’s the approximate sound. It’s the most common vowel sound in English and not uncommon in Welsh; sometimes it’s represented as e, u, o, a… depends when and where it appears in a word. Take “word” as an example. Most of us say that as “wərd”; not “word” at all. In fact, most English people say “wəəd” because most English people only pronounce a r if it’s near the beginning of a wəəd. Here’s the working (wəəking) alphabet, with digraphs and diphthongs included alongside their core letters:

a (aa) “father”=”faadhə” (ae) “hay”=”hae” (ao) “out”=”aot”
b
d (dh) “this”=”dhis”
e (ea) “here”=”hea” (ee) “hair”=”hee”
ə (ə) “the”=”dhə” (əə) “girl”=”gəəl”
f
g
h
i (ie) “eat”=”iet”
j (jh) “church”=”jhurjh”
k (kh) “loch”=”lokh”
l (lh) “llan”=”lhan”
m
n
o (oe) “no”=”noe” (oi) “boy”=”boi” (ou) “power”=”pouə”
p
r
s (sh) “shop”=”shop”
t (th) “think”=”think”
u (uh) “look”=”luhk” (uu) “caught”=”cuut”
v
w (wh) “soon”=”swhn”, “view”=”vywh”
y (yh) “by”=”byh”
z (zh) “vision”=”vizhən”

I’m more or less pleased with the above and confident that using those letters, digraphs and diphthongs I can replicate all of the sounds I might want in my language. But I am just slightly troubled by the idea of a perfectly “logical” set of letters (including a delicious new addition in the form of ə) being compromised by the innately less “logical” inclusion of the diphthongs and digraphs. If I could conjure up 22 (I think?) new symbols that were clear and unambiguous I’d favour those over the double-letters. Of course I have to consider keyboards above pens, but, ultimately, both must be catered for. Special modifying symbols are a maybe. I’ll consult with the other Landskerians over the coming months. In the meantime we’re working with these. And I’ve come up with a set of numbers from one to ten, and a translation of a verse from a poem I wrote in 2017. These will follow as images with accompanying comparisons for curiosity’s sake. Which is, let’s face it, the only sake of any of this.

Count to ten in Landskerian!

cap2

You can use the above to practice counting to ten in Landskerian. Roll your R on “tres” please. I haven’t decided whether ten will be “dejh” or “yondejh” yet (mirroring the numerical presentation). I think we can assume that the first use of “dejh” means 10, and that subsequent multiples (20, 30, 40) would be dawdejh, tresdejh, kwasdejh, etc. if we want to keep things simple.

The world’s first verse of Landskerian poetry

Captureup

The verse here is the first from a simple poem I wrote in 2017. I say simple, but obviously it’s laden with hidden meanings and depths. The form is simple. The themes involve drainage as a literal thing and a metaphor, and accompanying cross-considerations of ecology, pollution, defecation, sanitation, sewerage, precipitation, corruption, etc. The Google translate is included just to show I put some actual effort into the Welsh translation! That’s not to say it makes sense. I couldn’t tell you. Ask someone who can actually speak Welsh. I wanted to keep the rhyme scheme in this, and most of the rhythm, though I allowed the third non-rhyming line to deviate. I also used the real name of the river in the Welsh one (Wern, or Marsh – some added ambiguity for you there). I also swapped “veins” for “hand”, retaining a sense of empowerment or control, keeping the rhyme, but losing the commonality with rivers. Bowel became bola (mutated to mhola) which is stomach, but sounds right. And “baw” means “mud” rather than “drains”, but confers a similar meaning I think. And I like that baw is also used for “feces” (especially an animal’s) in Welsh. Notably in the poem “Preseli” by local poet (and local hero) Waldo Williams, where the call-to-arms against an invading beast signifies the campaign to prevent the MOD from seizing the Preseli region for the armed forces after WW2. My Landskerian translation is mostly a made-up word-for-word translation of the English. I’ve had to change the rhythm a bit, and the rhymes are replaced for echoing assonance (as an -a sound usually signifies a plural or a simple present verb conjugation in Landskerian; at least so far!) The one real difference is that in this version the river (vən-tuu; literally river-water) rises (rusha) when (pen) rain falls (we-tuu; literally air-water) falls (vola). I can’t remember why there’s an r after “wetuu” but… you know… this is a work-in-progress.

Thanks for reading, if anyone did.

Landskerian Culture Minister,

A Velky

08/01/2018: Memento Wombli

Serious political contemplation has very much taken a “back foot” to drainage this winter.

It’s not that the winter of ’17-’18 has been peculiarly wet. More that the territories of New Landskeria are perpetually wet. Thousands of gallons of water (probably, IDK imperial measurements?) are being hurled our way every second of the day and night, from the north, from the east, and (when it rains) from the southwest. Afon Wern is a constant raging reminder of the perpetuity of all that is not human, and of our own ephemeral existence as sparks in creation’s dark. But even more than that, it is a river. A river which drains the eastern slopes of the highest peak in Pembrokeshire, and the highest, and probably the boggiest, bog in Pembrokeshire, and (last but by no means least) the freest and no doubt one of the muddiest settlements in Pembrokeshire: our home.

So whenever it hasn’t been raining (or snowing; we have had some proper snow this winter, for the first time in five years) I’ve been out there digging. I had to give back the pickaxe I borrowed from mum, so V kindly bought me a much wider fibreglass-handled pick from Wickes. It dwarfs its predecessor. And me. Alas, no treasure has relinquished itself to me from the murky depths of the mud and rock beneath our sodden drive. Only shards of pottery, porcelain and glass. And waste pipes. And older, deeper drainage systems. Perhaps roman. Or just pre-1960s. And electric cables. And water pipes. And mysterious brick-walled chambers.

Every day I dig, an unforeseen object blocks my path, and slows my pace. The straight line I plotted out has become a serpentine passage to who-knows-where. At least it’s still mainly going uphill. Because the water will always flow down the hill. Until it gets into that weird pen thing that I think might have been a sheep-dipping pit, and V thinks might have been something to do with wool. Then it disappears into a rocky hole and under The Lawn. To who-knows-where. (Well, the river eventually; then the sea. And then back again for more of the same…)

December was tiring, but fun toward the end once school broke up and Christmas and New Year’s Eve approached, with their festive promise. We were supposed to be going to England, but ended up staying here because of dogs and (theoretically, I suppose) a fish. We also had our second and third set of guests in our holiday-home. And fortunately both sets seemed to have a better time than the first. Even though the boiler packed up twice during the second lot’s tenure. Our own boiler (and our aga) also stopped working on Boxing Day (I think) because we forgot to have the oil tank refilled. This facilitated some lengthy learning opportunities of the heating-engineering variety. I can now control pressure, and remove air from both the water system and the oil. Between boiler-tinkering and faffing about with a car that seems to magnetically attract nails to its tyres, the holiday involved more admin than I might have chosen. But at least some of it was of the practical variety, rather than phone- or computer-based. I have no problem with computers (as any of my hundreds of friends* will tell you). But I hate phones, and probably always will. Give me screwdrivers, drills, saws, axes, etc. any day. They don’t talk back. Which is fortunate, because I’m usually swearing at them.

What else has happened? We hired a power-sander and power-sanded some floorboards. The girls both performed in their first school play. Sybil had a line: “Ni’n hoffi canu a dawnsio”. She was a star. I mean, literally; she was representing a personification of a luminous spheroid of plasma held together by its own gravity. And she did so quite well. Fury was a sheep, and she picked her nose. Both enjoyed the singing.

Christmas with Marek. NYE with Samantha and Harry. For Christmas I got a Japanese saw, a bottle of Xinomavro, and a framed picture of Alan Partridge performing air-bass to Gary Numan’s 1982 single “Music for Chameleons”. We made short work of the Xinomavro. I’ve been enjoying the saw ever since, and have almost completely wiped out the laurels on the 2 acres of New Landskeria that lies south of the C-road. I haven’t yet worked out where to put the picture.

Some time before Christmas I set out to trace the course of Pont Hywel’s old mill race. They had the mill downriver from ours, but their mill-race (through which the leat no longer runs for the entirety of its length) is much, much longer. A couple of miles perhaps. It begins opposite the end of our own, in-between The Lawn and the Brambles. A fallen ash lies across the river here. I’d once thought it fortunate that the widest point of the river adjoins our land. But fortune is not the only reason for this. A line of boulders were put there to break the current some time over a century ago, thus creating a diversion for part of the current behind what is now The Forbidden Island, flowing south almost parallel to the Wern proper, though growing more distant as it gets farther south, and benefiting from the drainage of the eastern fields belonging to Plas y Meibion.

When they stopped using Pont Hywel’s mill (perhaps the same time they stopped using ours; a short while after the Second World War) the diverted part of the river was either re-diverted or re-diverted itself back into the Wern only about ten or twenty metres south, in a little waterfall. Thus, at some point in the past half a century, The Forbidden Island was formed. It is very unlikely to be accurately depicted on anyone’s land registry title deed. It is represented as a small field on ours. Now the boundaries that restrain the beasts are far back behind the boggiest ground of the West Bank, nowhere near the island. The island is untended, unloved, and unclaimed. Or at least it was

Somewhere between the island and Plas y Meibion’s ditches, when I charted the path of the former leat, I found a sheep’s skull. And I returned to claim it with Marek on Christmas day, so V could incorporate it into her costume for the fantasy-themed murder mystery dinner party we were hosting on the 30th. Marek seemed somewhat bemused by the walk, which (like most central Pembrokeshire walks) mostly featured mud, barbed-wire, and brambles. I admit, it’s probably not a walk I’ll do very often. It’s not a public footpath for one thing. Although with a modicum of maintenance it would be a very lovely route, affording advantageous vistas of the marshy land between the Wern and the Plas y Meibion ditches. The field in-between looked like it rarely (if ever) holds cattle, and was too wet to provide any kind of marketable crop. I’m not sure whether it’s a viable habitat, or just a field where damp fodder is grown for farming subsidies. Whatever it is, it looked very peaceful.

Following a successfully mysterious murder-themed party (uniting, temporarily, members of clans Keeble, Velky, Kynaston and numerous client clans) in which only Sybil guessed that Harry was the murderer, and a (somewhat) traditional New Year’s Eve game of Lord of the Rings Risk in which good vanquished evil as it usually does, and probably ought to, 2018 arrived, with a bit of a cough, and a bit of a hangover, but some pleasant clarity of aspect. Perhaps the day itself was muggy, but the moon was wonderful, and a frosty stillness soon returned to the mornings. So I assembled my pickaxe and ventured out to claim the large trumpet-shaped object Harry and I had spotted in the brambly undergrowth where the parking area of The Sheds thickly borders The High Mire. The object turned out to be far more exciting than I expected. It’s part of an air-horn, which might have in turn been part of a steam whistle on a ship. Or an air-raid siren system. Hard to say for sure, but it’s fun to shout through. Even though I haven’t cleaned it properly yet.

The digging is hard in the frosty clay. It’s not all toil though, this rural life. I had a lot of fun with that saw; and I even took my spade over to the brambles, to dig some rotten wood and soil from around what I thought was a pig-pen, but which I now think might be (or at least might be better marketed as) a neolithic passage tomb. This afternoon, after their first day back at school (and Fury’s first ever full day at school) I took the kids over there with half a bag of popcorn to show them the stones, and the pool that drains from The High Mire, and the piles of murdered laurels. They liked it all. Especially the popcorn. We imagined what it would be like living in The Mill. Sybil was excited by the idea of rope bridges and rope ladders to attic bedrooms. Fury looked quite worried.

Later on I found a fox skull on an unexplored corner of the second island of The Common. On returning with my prize, I joked with Sybil that a bestial noise we heard outside might have been the headless fox coming to reclaim its skull. She correctly pointed out that a headless fox would have difficulty making a bestial noise. I asked her how she would make a noise if she had no head, and she said that she’d make a noise by kicking me in my head. So we left it at that.

We’re coming to the end of Bogwoppit, which we’ve been reading at night (or rather, which I’ve been reading to them at night; it’s a bit advanced for their current skill-level). And I’m coming to the (bitter) end of Savage Continent, having finished Sapiens over the holiday. My editors Adam and Dave are suffering through my publicly undemanded third poetry book, Has Doubts Volume Three: In the Men’s Room. And I’m contemplating future career options: web-editor, copywriter, community-manager, tour-guide, tree-surgeon, navvy… gameshow host? Only time will tell.

The weather is appropriate. The environment is revealing. The economy is stretched.

Your (gameshow) host,

A Velky

* Facebook friends. I don’t have hundreds of real friends. Nobody does.

06/11/2017: Another partial audit, with a view to completing the audit

Hello.

Last time I wrote, I detailed a partial audit of the as-yet-undeclared state of New Landskeria, which (due to said undeclaredness) we probably ought to refer to ambiguously as a “territory” for now. That this is the same term I’m provisionally using to refer to the smaller administrative regions within New Landskeria (and the adjoining disputed areas) is, I admit, unfortunate.

What’s happened since that update? Well, we weathered the afterstorms of Hurricane Ophelia, during which all schools in Pembrokeshire were closed. I found out that a previous resident of our house once escaped from Colditz. I’ve tinkered with the flow of the Leat (almost causing a flood at one point). We’ve continued with minor refurbishment at New Landskeria (flat-pack furniture, paint, new linoleum, etc.) and Old Landskeria (new carpet, stripping old carpet, painting floorboards, etc.) The boiler has bust in New Landskeria, so Autumn seems a lot colder than it ought to; or, alternatively, about as cold as it ought to, depending on your POV. We’re saving up to fix it, and it ought to be dealt with by next time I write an update (and, crucially, by the time we next have guests!)

The dishwasher is also still bust, but we have hot water and a working oven, so we’re basically halfway to achieving “developed nation” status. We hope to be there by Christmas. Minor concerns like knotweed, guttering, sulphur damage in the chimneys, mice in the Shop, etc. will have to wait. All my current time and efforts are being taken up with the very serious issue of drainage (relating to the less serious, but still rather annoying issue of mud). Drainage occupies most of my waking thoughts these days. Usually when I talk to other people in real life (and even sometimes on the internet) I am unable to talk about anything but drainage. My last three poems have related at least partly to drainage. The next (which I’m working on in my head at the moment) is explicitly drainage-themed.

You’d probably love to know more detail about my drainage issues, but this blog-post is for auditing land, so now we’re back from a brief half-term holiday near Betws-y-Coed, and the kids are relatively placated after being taken to see the My Little Pony movie, I will continue with that task.

The House

I didn’t mention the House last time, did I? There is a house in New Landskeria. One of the things which attracted us to the territory; though by no means its finest asset. The house is a standard Pembrokeshire cottage with a double-reception and a later kitchen extension to the rear. Three bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs, and a weird utility area with an oversized Belfast sink in the back corner under the bathroom. The guttering is buggered and the loft space is batty. Obviously it’s damp, but other than that it’s basically okay. More relevantly to this audit, the House also comprises the adjoining concreted areas for run-off, surface-drainage and waste pipe running, the overgrown gravel area of the Drive, from the Bridge down to (but not including) the septic tank  (which is under the jurisdiction of the Lawn territory), the bit of rear garden behind the kitchen and along the back toward the Bog, and the bit of raised garden to the left of the Leat if you’re facing the Mill from the House, which bit of garden contains some rusty hay-grabbing apparatus of yesteryear. It also includes the Shop (which is really a kind of semi-glorified shed, whose name might or might not be a contraction of “workshop”) and the Greenhouse, which greenhouse is meagre and dilapidated and haunted by the ghosts of Tibetan prayer flags. There is also the ghost of a porch.

The Brambles

In the last blog-post I forgot the Brambles existed, and kept referring to it as the Chase. The Chase is north of the Brambles, but both could form a contiguous territory in the semi-flooding rocky and wooded area that acts as a buffer between the Sheds, the Drive, the Leat, and the River (which territory is mostly not considered part of New Landskeria, being part of the Western Cleddau SSSI). The Brambles comprises rocky riverside, some large alder, ash, sycamore and hazel, a pond (of sorts), lots of invasive laurel, some invasive knotweed and balsam, the ghost of a pig-pen, and some (but not many) land-locked boulders. And lots of brambles, obviously. It is suspected that some of the semi-active river-courses in this area used to be used as pools to trap migratory salmon, which practice was mentioned in a Welsh-language snippet of childhood memoir by a former reverend from Bethel Chapel in the local history book O’r Witwg i’r Wern. I have seen no salmon since we moved in, but then there are generally fewer things in the world now than there used to be. (And yet more record of fewer things.)

The Chase

Despite its name, the Chase does not provide habitat for megafauna as far as we know. The sometimes-seen grey squirrels are likelier to be resident among the conifers on the South Island. The salmon and sewin are yet to make an appearance. Nevertheless, the Chase is called the Chase for now, and not the Boulders, which was another possible name, perhaps because of the promise of otters (seven breeding females are said to be present along the basin of the Western Cleddau, so I could imagine at least one choosing the Wern as her home); or perhaps because it’s the likeliest place to find human megafauna, in the shape of me, laboriously chopping down sycamores with a medium-sized fibreglass axe from Aldi to free up airspace for New Landskeria’s only known oak tree. A large, impressive specimen, whose roots embrace the riverside rocks just south of the biggest boulder on our land, situated opposite where the tip of the South Island oversees the confluence of the two main branches of the Wern after they pass beneath Pont Mynachlogddu. I’m calling it Benny the Big Boulder until I think of a more poetic name. The Chase also currently comprises the overgrown and boggy areas to the north of the main territory, alongside the Leat and the Drive, to the north of the car-park area of the Sheds, and to the south of Pont Mynachlogddu, also known as the C-road, also known as the Road. But all of these things may change in time, because nothing lasts forever.

The South Island

The South Island is the southern half of the lemon-shaped, or almond-shaped, or island-shaped, island that supports the central base of Pont Mynachlogddu, sometimes, or possibly formerly, known as Pont Cwmisaf. Certainly it’s nearer the latter than the former, but I’ve no immediate wish to be more closely associated with it unless I can charge people to cross it. And charging people to cross a bridge into (or indeed out of) Mynachlogddu seems an unwise plan if one knows anything about local history; for it’s only a mile or two upriver that you get to the former home of Twm Carnabwth, father (or mother?) of the Rebecca Rioters. I can’t see a tollgate lasting long up there, so we’ll call it Pont Mynachlogddu for as long as Pembrokeshire County Council maintain it. Back to the island: about ten large conifers (Scots pines, I think), some smaller deciduous business, and not too much else. The barbed-wire border from the West Bank crisscrosses the river here to prevent cattle from getting south. There is an abundance of Japanese knotweed on the South Island.

The North Island

The North Island on the other side of the bridge is technically access land (and can be accessed by a sort of slate style, which I feel is a subtle hint toward this) but it’s not hugely accessible once you’re on it. Mostly hazel, battered ash, and thick bramble. A barbed-wire border makes it unpleasantly militaristic, and numerous ancient alcohol bottled are littered among the undergrowth. It remains unclear why either the North or the South Island were kept by Cwmisaf’s previous owners when the rest of the farm-land was sold off; presumably because somebody has to own everything, and nobody would want to own these. The one section of the Wern-proper bordered on both sides by New Landkeria owes its sovereignty to this split island, though the legal status of this short stretch of water is much murkier than the river itself, which is crystal-clear for this short bend, and can often be seen to contain small dark fish.

The Common

The Common comprises three pieces of irregularly-shaped land whose main purpose (like the purpose of the short, sharp waterways that divide them) is to accommodate the passage of river water into the Leat that comprises the mill-race for the former woollen factory which we refer to as the Mill, and (presumably) its older brother (or cousin?) whose north wall is the only remaining part. The Common is overgrown with brambles, hazel, knackered ash, and an unfortunate abundance of laurel. The land across the Leat to the north, containing a feeding stream from Gors Fawr and a feeding drainage inlet from beneath the C-road, is not part of New Landskeria; and yet it is part of the thin bottleneck of access land leading to (and indeed forming part of) common land unit CL040, commonly known as Gors Fawr, over which New Landskeria enjoys (disputed) rights of pasturage.

The Far Island

The Far Island is an as-yet unexplored territory between the North Island and the northernmost tip of the Common, where the Leat begins. We suspect it of being a disputed territory and are currently building a portfolio of evidence to that effect. Much of the case will probably rest on “manifest ecology” and the likelihood of the merging of the Far Island with the Common following the formation of an oxbow lake, perhaps as soon as before the next ice age.

The Woodland

The Woodland is an ample square of woodland, largely hazel and willow, with ash borders, that acts as a buffer zone between New Landskeria, St Dogmael’s Church of Mynachlogddu But Not Actually In Mynachlogddu of England in Wales (Or Whatever It’s Called), and the neighbouring house to the north. It remains largely unexplored due to its density and political sensitivity.

The Quarry

The Quarry is situated in a raised position to the rear of the House (almost worryingly close, in fact) and bordered to the north by a boggy stretch of the Woodland which is in the process of being turned into a drainage channel. During heavy rainfall it acts as an overflow for the neghbours’ lane/pond/spring/ditch (details remain unclear). The Quarry is rumoured to have been the main source of stone for the Mill, and perhaps even for the House itself, which is thought to pre-date the Mill (but not to predate it, because that would be terrifying) by at least one hundred years. If this is indeed the case, the Quarry might be the oldest functioning territory in New Landskeria. It’s not doing much functioning now though, and hasn’t for many years by the look of it. It is overgrown with brambles and fully grown ash and sycamore trees. It has hardly been explored so far, due to a very real sense of geological dysmorphia.

That will do for now. Other non-territorial entities improper, such as the Leat, the Drive, the Bridge (not to be confused with Pont Mynachlogddu), and the disputed areas of the Gate and the Forbidden/Golden/Stolen Triangle, remain too contentious to be audited even partially at this time. As you can see, the political task ahead of us is at least as complex as the physical and psychological aspects of nation-building, if we are to ready a new Republic on this land. The (defunct) Most Serene Republic of Landkseria now seems like a distant dream from a simpler time. (When in fact it’s actually mostly just a house.) But we have marched on to this brave new future (or current present, to be more chronologically accurate) with the belief that Landskerian destiny requires, perhaps even demands it. Here we are then.

The audit ends. What follows now will be a time of serious political contemplation. And drainage. Lots of drainage.

The weather is foreboding. The environment is encouraging. The economy is tense.

Your beleaguered diarist,

A Velky

PS: there will follow a map which attempts, and largely fails, to indicate the geographical features and the borders of New Landskeria. It is compromised by a combination of the failures of technology and the failures of the author to master said technology. We are still working on a more detailed map indicating administrative divisions. Any questions, complaints, or declarations of war, should be addressed to the embassy as usual.

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10/10/2017: A partial audit of the new realm

I’m waiting for washing to wash in Old Landskeria, formerly known as the Most Serene Republic of Landskeria. I think we can safely say the republic has been dissolved, being as there are no ministers (joint, first, or otherwise) to administer the goings-on. Both Former Joint First Ministers have taken up residence with the bats in New Landskeria and are serving as absentee landlords. A worrying situation which I seem to recall had repercussions when it became common in rural communities in 19th century Italy.

We’ve had our first booking for the commercial enterprise that is currently operating in Old Landskeria. And to celebrate, the cluster flies have taken up residence in the loft. Despite the fly-bomb I set off just a couple of weeks ago. Typical.

V has gone to London to work, and will be late because her phone mysteriously broke all by itself shortly after the children stopped playing games on it, and my stupid Huawei Nexus crashed overnight (as it always does when charging) and failed to activate its alarm function on time. Good luck conquering the world, China! I bet Germany will get there before you.

I thought I’d use this time while Fury plays Duplo and the washing washes and the cluster flies perish to fill you (by which I probably mean future me) in on the progress made in the first month of residence in New Landskeria, the as-yet-to-be-formally-named future Republic of Landskeria. And being as I can’t deal very well with chronology, I’ll do it using the placeholder geographical terminology for the approximately 3 acres of land that our new home comprises. (2.5 on the deed, 0.5 disputed territories; more on that later.) We’ll go geographically from south to north, for no particular reason.

The Bog

The Bog is a largely uncultivatable territory, and at least partly untravesable. There’s a lot of Himalayan balsam, and not a whole lot else. Some hazel, some of which has been coppiced. The farmers who neighbour to the northeast have erected a fence relatively recently, on the high ground. Fortunately this provides a dry path to exit our land to the south and pursue the (also boggy) public footpath through horse pastures along Afon Wern toward Afon Cleddau Ddu. We walked it yesterday, but didn’t dare pass the horses with the little dogs, in case they tried to eat them (whichever way round you picture that scenario unfolding). We stopped by the Wern for a picnic and happened to find the kids’ plastic fishing net, which Fury dropped from a rock by the river in the Flood the first week we were here.

The Flood

The Flood is a largely uncultivatable territory, which borders the bog to the south, and stretches from the southern extremity of our border with Afon Wern up to where it meets a discernible former holloway, at which point the brambled growth meets a wall and becomes the administrative territory at the front of the house, which we sarcastically refer to as the Lawn. (There’s no grass. It’s pretty boggy; but you can’t call every territory the Bog.) The flood mostly comprises mossy rocks on flood plain land alongside the Wern, but there’s also some solid and tussocky ground with brambles, hazel, ash and sycamore. And Himalayan balsam of course. An invasive plant, but quite a pretty one; and nowhere near as problematic as Japanese knotweed. The Flood is a largely undisturbed territory, and I’d like to keep it that way in the vain hope that an otter might take up residence. Good for a wander, and to reach a felled tree (an ash, if my memory serves me correctly) which serves as an excellent (if precarious) bridge over which one can access the Forbidden Island.

The Forbidden Island

The Forbidden Island is a disputed territory enclaved between the diverting currents of Afon Wern. The diversion forks opposite the Lawn, overlooked by the Mill and then comes together again opposite the central span of the Flood.  The island is uncultivated wet woodland which I have visited only once and have no plan to develop; however, until anyone tells me otherwise and produces a legal document to support their claim, I’m going to assume the island is a Landskerian island, because it just feels like it is. No grazing takes place upon it, nor coppicing, nor any other form of management as far as I could tell. I removed some litter, and thus my claim was established.

The Lawn

The Lawn is a flat expanse of boggy ground with some low-growing plants, some ash trees, some laurels, some fruit bushes and an elder tree. It also includes the holloway and further overgrown walled structures leading down to the broadest part of the river, where it diverts around the Forbidden Island. I haven’t done much with the Lawn apart from chop down a sickly looking spruce or fir tree (some kind of Christmas cast-off) which had been planted in a daft place. The Leat which used to turn the mill wheel flows between the Lawn and the Chase, pooling high after heavy rainfall around the flimsy roots of both Himalayan balsam and Japanese Knotweed. A fallen ash tree provides a small diversion for the river here too. Technically it’s easier to classify the fallen tree as part of the Eastern Cleddau SSSI (not a Landskerian administration) rather than enter the complicated process of dividing its physical parts between the Chase and the Lawn territories. But if it were divided, its uprooted base would be in the Chase, and its trunk and the various shoots and branches that still supports (though mostly within the body of the Wern) would fall in the Lawn. The Lawn, it should be noted, is also the site of the Old Mill, which was demolished at some point within the last half century. Thus we may rebuild a stone structure there one day, using the existing wall which shores up the bank beside the Drive.

The Drive

We’ve spent quite a bit of time (with help from Mum and Keith) clearing the Drive of mud and leaves in an attempt to prepare it for a gravelling. It stretches from the Pembrokeshire County Council-administered Crundale-to-Crymych C-road to the Shop (a fancified shed which abuts out house); and old maps in my possession suggest the Drive used to extend beyond the Bog (before it was so boggy, presumably) all the way down the public footpath toward the Cleddau Ddu, back when Cwm Isaf was a working farmhouse. The Drive territory does not include the adjoining car-park (which is also part of the same rough concrete structure), nor does it include the Leat, a man-made diversion from Afon Wern, which watercourse actually passes under the Drive twice; once through pipes and a concealed tunnel, and once under rough slate slabs, one of which is perishing.

The Sheds

Perhaps the most inadequately named territory of them all, the Sheds comprises the car-park, several sheds and other historic outbuildings in various states of decay, but also the Garden (overgrown) and (until it is redesignated as a functioning building) the Mill itself; which is not actually a mill at all, but a former woollen factory with an adjoining iron water-wheel. Thus far the actual structures we are aware of are (in order of most useful to least):

  1. The Mill (not a mill) – a large two-storey 1902 structure built from stone quarried in the Quarry, and partially renovated at (as far as we can tell) several different times in the past few decades, containing much old machinery, old furniture, old building parts from this and other buildings, old radio equipment, old optical equipment, old poetry books and other literary materials, and one or more species of bat.
  2. The Tin Shed – a corrugated metal shed with a pallet and hardboard base, found to contain numerous tools in various states of decay, now being used to store wood.
  3. The Concrete Shed – a prefabricated construction on a concrete base comprising concrete panels with a pebbledashed outer effect and a corrugated asbestos roof, bolted together with metal brackets and containing a store of various irregular double-glazed windows without opening mechanisms, a couple of unglazed windows within the structure itself (one of which looks south toward the Chase where a fantastic old alder tree dominates the scene), some heavy-duty reflective workwear which I have claimed for myself, a workbench with a rusty vice, and some other assorted rubbish.
  4. The Milking Parlour (also called the Cow Shed) – a good stone structure with a mostly-functional corrugated asbestos roof and one collapsed southern-facing wall overlooking the Chase, and a recently built open window on the north wall. Containing old cow-milking apparatus, piles of sand and chalk, old rubbish including a radio and a motorcycle helmet adapted into a bird-box, a rusty but functional scaffold, various tools (some useful) and a porcelain cup depicting cartoon dogs designed by a (presumably unsuccessful) Scottish artist.
  5. The Cow Shed (also called the Pig Sty) – a large derelict stone-walled structure housing foliage and hazel withies and an ancient rusty chassis from an early automobile, with no roof nor evidence of a roof, presumably once used to house livestock of some kind, presumably under a roof of some kind. Unless it was just a pen.
  6. The Pig Shed (also also called the Pig Sty) – a small stone structure with reasonable integrity, but severely threatened by mature ash and sycamore trees shoving it over from behind; a good slate and timber roof is almost completely fallen in now, and the one metal camping cup inside is little consolation for the sorry story of neglect this structure tells.
  7. The Cauldron – a square stone structure adjoining the rear of the Cow Shed, with a bricked base allowing fires to be lit beneath an huge integral iron pot (which gives this “shed” its name); various theories have been proffered for the former use of the pot (pig-butchering, wool-treating, workwear-washing) but little evidence was to be found within on the afternoon I emptied it (spectated by Sybil and Fury – the former of whom commented “the strange thing is, I’m still not bored of this). Bits of stone, wood, brick, nails and a hypothesized dismantled iron fireplace were found therein, among the muck and slime.

It should be noted at this point that the Shop (although technically a shed) is not to be found within the Sheds territory, and so will be dealt with when I discuss the house. That this blog post has taken up so much time and data already would suggest I ought to leave the House, along with the Quarry, the Woodland, the Chase, the Common, the North and South Islands, the (disputed) Far Island, the Common and the Leat to another time.

There is much to document, and even more to administrate.

The weather is kind. The environment is good. The economy is hollow.

Your intrepid administrator,

A Velky

04/10/2017: Death and rebirth

In the year and a half since our last update, much and little has happened.

The news is that the Most Serene Republic of Landskeria is vacant. It still exists, but it is no longer our home. This poses both logistical and administrative problems; but opportunities too. We’ve done this on purpose, you see. The area of land which we declared independent from the UK in 2015 is still there, and we still own it. But in the short term we’re planning on renting it out as a holiday let. So it will technically be a vacant state. And we will be a stateless nation. Or, a nation in self-imposed exile; that might be more accurate. But this isn’t a temporary exile like when we had the herringbone parquet put in last year and stayed with my mum and Keith in Hebron. The place we’ve moved to I hope to remain in, and for my sons (by which I mean daughters) and sons’ sons (by which I mean daughters’ children and/or pets) to enjoy long after I am gone. Of course they probably won’t because it’s not in the nature of children to do what you expect them to do or to want what you want them to want.

But a new republic will be born here where we now reside, on the outskirts of the historic and sublime landscape of Mynachlogddu in North Pembrokeshire, yn Y Fro Gymraeg. It will be a Landskerian Republic, because we are as we were (and will be) Landskerians. But I have a feeling it won’t be serene.

I don’t know what it will be yet. Or whether it will be a new state or an exclave. I have a feeling the new country will become the primary Landskerian state and our Most Serene Republic might have to be demoted to the equivalent status of a dodgy tax haven or an oil rig. Like Bermuda or Kaliningrad.

That is the news. I didn’t blog for a long time because I wanted to finish writing a novel. And I did manage that. (Among other time-consuming things.) There was a year. We were in Florida seeing V’s family. We came home and winter set in, mild and wet as it has been in recent years. V’s father was diagnosed with lung cancer toward the end of winter, and died only a few months afterwards. There was a funeral. The rest of us continued to age, and this was (as it always is) most remarkably apparent in the children. Evidence of all that happened in the interim, to us and to the rest of the world, exists; so I won’t detail it inexpertly here. At some point in spring we found Cwm Isaf, and although I didn’t really think we would, we ended up moving here. I booked a van the weekend V took the kids to scatter her father’s ashes in Norfolk.

We moved in here at the end of summer. I’m optimistic about how we can spend our time here. There is enough to keep us going for as long as we have. That’s a good situation. We have some of Calvin’s ashes to scatter here. I think I’d happily have mine scattered here. And I never thought that about anywhere, except Penmon, before. This is different. No sea view. No mountains. At least not for about a mile. It’s a small, wet-woodland valley alongside a thundering river. Terrible internet, but (amazingly) that doesn’t bother me that much yet. (Although I know it will when I work.) The garden is full of old buildings. There’s even a derelict woollen factory, which we tend to (kind of inaccurately) call “the mill”. I picture it as an art factory and a walkers’ hostel. V pictures it as a holiday home, or maybe our home one day. Her suggestions make more sense, but I like mine better.

I never imagined such a place existed, much less that we would live in it. I’m glad we found it.

Among the undergrowth so far I’ve found a miniature waterwheel, a rake, a hoe, a fork, a cow-shed, a huge iron pot, the chassis of an ancient automobile, a Dutch poetry book, some dismantled fireplaces, and numerous other curiosities. I’ve seen nuthatches, robins and treecreepers aplenty, as well as red kites and crows overhead. I’ve heard ravens and owls. I’ve seen numerous pipistrelles and something bigger that might be a noctule. All kinds of funny water-and-wood-loving insects. And some bullhead fish in the Wern. No otters or salmon yet, but I’ve not really sat still long enough to have a chance. Lots of Japanese knotweed of course. And Himalayan balsam. I’m looking forward to next spring when the giant periwinkles will come out in force. I beat a wood mouse to death with a walking stick the other day. I didn’t enjoy it. I don’t think I’ll do it again. I thought it was a rat, and it had been in the house for days, eating the children’s toys and our potatoes, and shitting everywhere. I thought it would move. And then I thought why did I even try to hit it if I thought it would move. I don’t know. And would it have enjoyed being caught in a trap more?

As well as clearing the carpark to its “natural” extent and beginning on scraping the drive clean, I’ve begun to attempt to protect the older, rarer trees (which friends have helped me identify) from the virulent sycamores (which even I can identify). And to work on the drainage, and letting the light in to the sunny side of the house through the thick low scrub-growth. Everywhere in the 2.5 acres is evidence of other humans’ previous failed schemes. We must tread softly. (Not least because the brambles have claimed most of the land for themselves.)

I’ll stop there. Now on to painting, decorating, sanding, filling, tree-felling, wall-building, light-fitting, ditch-digging, bramble-hacking, leat-dredging, and all that stuff. But sleeping first. The affairs of state will have to wait. They’re used to that.

The weather is respiratory. The environment is overwhelming. The economy is tense.

Your friend,

A Velky

12/07/2016: Summer’s end

Winter has come.

Or, summer has given way to rain, at least. In the two months since my last post we had the good weather, I walked a lot – mainly on public footpaths near Landskeria, also up  Foel Cwmcerwyn with Keith once – and Sybil completed her first half-term at her new school. And Wales elected proven crook Neil Hamilton to the Senedd, and the UK voted to leave the EU.

But let’s start at the beginning:

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Landskerian flag above a TV.

Eurovision happened. This might not sound like an actual thing to you. It does happen every year after all. But here in Landskeria it’s an important annual event, and we hope one day to be accepted by the EBU as an honorary member. We have already been approached by one professional songwriter with a viable entry, but of course we would ideally aim to write and perform Landskeria’s entry ourselves. This year, in case you have forgotten or didn’t ever know, Ukraine won. Unremarkable, yes; they’ve won before. But this song was a weird trip-hop ballad about Stalinist purges of ethnic Tatars in 1944 Crimea. Arguably political, perhaps incongruously emotional, and impossible to really do justice to in 3 minutes – but I liked it, I voted for it, and I was glad it won. I took this as a good omen for the rest of the year’s democratic events. (Lol.)

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“Can I count on your vote?” Stephen Crabb hasn’t really been seen in Pembrokeshire since he was trapped in a cabinet in London.

Of course, that would prove to be dumb. Ukip, a party without any real policies apart from leaving the EU, continue to poll as well as Plaid Cymru in Wales, and areas with lots of poverty and high EMIGRATION continue to be convinced foreign people coming over here and taking their jobs is the cause of all woe. It is easy for us in Landkseria to consider ourselves wiser than this, because we have full employment, zero immigration, and access to the internet, where websites like Wikipedia and Full Fact allow us to investigate the truth behind such assertions, and find said assertions wanting. Nevertheless, I was sure the UK as a whole would vote REMAIN because the UK media as a whole kept telling us that was the likely outcome. Pictured above is our local MP Stephen Crabb canvassing opinion on Marloes Sands. Pixie, our Pomeranian, is Russian, so she voted Bexit, like all people who value sovereignty above world peace and economic stability.

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A Vote Leave campaigner in Haverfordwest abandoned their post. THIS was the real omen.

V was in London a lot throughout May. Leonie and Rob and Peggy visited for a few days, which was nice, but we only got to all sit down together properly once – the rest of the time V was in London or I was camping with Sybil at Llys y Fran reservoir to mark the end of term and raise funds for Ysgol Maenclochog. The latter was fun though; Sybil ran around with glowsticks and ate marshmallows until about 11:30pm, by which time I was very grateful for her suddenly falling asleep in Fury’s sheep hat in our new four-person tent. And to think I’d brought a book in case I got bored AFTER she went to bed!

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Toasting marshmallows.

Samantha and Harry had been due to come and see us in Landskeria too, but Harry fell off a ladder and broke most bits of his body. Sounded absolutely awful, but encouragingly he seems to be on the mend now. We’ll see them when we go to Florida in August, when both Sybil and Harry have birthdays, by which point he’ll hopefully be well enough to enjoy his holiday and his birthday. S&H have been seeing plenty of Victoria anyway because she has been working in London so much. We saw Sally and Calvin for a short while in June, when Sybil’s first scheduled sports day date was unfortunately rained off. Oh, and the Euro Football Championship thing began. That was fun at the beginning, as it always is, and very gradually became less fun as all the teams I like got knocked out. Landskeria has no aspirations to enter this particular competition as we do not anticipate reaching the required numbers of adult males at any point in the near future.

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Fury and her playgroup friends throwing rocks into the river on Newgale beach.

Fury did a sponsored walk with her playgroup in late May or early June. And over half term we spent a few days in North Wales, glamping on Anglesey, where I saw uncle Michael for the first time since winter, and dad for the first time in over a year. He is in the process of moving up there for good, now he has retired from his position as a reluctant university administrator due to ill health. (And age, I suppose – although I’m sure I won’t be able to retire when I’m his age.)

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Central Anglesey sunset.

Anglesey was a lot of fun. We went to the Sea Zoo and Newborough beach, and Beaumaris and Llanddona. We drove around a lot, but it was nice. Our yurt south of the A55 was in close proximity to some others so we met some other families, all of whom were from Lancashire, and Sybil and Fury got to play with their children. I attempted to speak Welsh to the woman who ran the campsite, and largely failed.

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Peniel chapel ceiling, Llanddona.

We visited Michael in his home at Peniel Chapel. It’s a beautiful building, and it’s quite sad to think that it (like so many churches) is probably in a slow decline. The carved wooden ceiling is unlike any other in the world, Mike claims, except one in Patagonia, which he has heard of but not seen. The services there are increasingly poorly attended. It briefly made me feel like I ought to go to our local church, if only for the sake of community and architecture; then, running my hand along an antique pew, I was stung by an unidentifiable animal (which I can only assume was some kind of bee) and I was given to understand that if there is a god, that god is angry with me, and does not want me to go to church – even when no service is happening.

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Blue lines on our map of Landskeria and the surrounding central Pembrokeshire region formerly known as Dungleddy. Indicating footpaths explored.

I finished writing the first third of my new book (well, old book; rewriting) and sent it off to Dave to proofread. While taking a break, I proofread his new ghost stories from his upcoming second volume. They were good. Perhaps even darker than the first lot, though not a complete volume yet. It’ll be interesting to see how it takes shape over the next year or so.

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The Great Herb Garden of Landskeria. It actually has herbs in it now.

Some time around mid-to-late June I also finished building the little raised bed for the Great Herb Garden of Landskeria, in the space left by the demolished wall on our front lawn. Other garden endeavours have been limited by time and the unpredictable weather. Preparations for the new floor, which is quite literally an inside job, took precedence this summer.

Wales did better than expected in the football, and England did worse than expected – which is to be expected. Mum had a birthday. I had a birthday. The UK voted, by a slim majority on a decent turnout, to leave the EU. Landskeria considered its position, and decided to seek EU membership independent of the state that claims (unrecognized) sovereignty over its dominion. The EU is not perfect. Indeed, I like it less than I thought I did before this campaign began. But it’s marginally more democratic than the UK state, and I still admire the ideology behind it. With the right micronation guiding its evolution, it could be a truly benevolent force in global politics.

In late June Restore-a-Floor came over to put in some parquet, so we left Landskeria and moved in with mum and Keith in their brand new home, just the other side of the border in Hebron, Carmarthenshire. This froze matters of state.

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Fury enjoying her pasta.

Other than listening to the radio news and marvelling at the unusually quick speed of politics in the wake of the Brexit vote, early July allowed us, as scattered Landskerians, the opportunity to chillax and consider our position in the world. I took Fury to Pizza Express in Carmarthen. Victoria and I got into our new roles at a new (London-based) agency we’re now working for. Theoretically this means no more freelance headaches like invoicing, collecting receipts, and managing crazy schedules; though, in practice, the change has not been as sudden or jarring as I feared/hoped. It’s been a gradual sort of transition. V is in London a lot more – indeed she was there for nearly a whole month from June to July – but the unusual mood conferred upon us by our status as economic migrants in the neighbouring county has made it hard to really get to grips with what this change means.

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“Carreg Bertie” – a favourite resting place of Frida, our Papillon, while the sun is shining.

We both helped and hindered the moving process of mum and Keith. They’ve got a lot done in a short space of time; but probably not as much as they’d have got done if we weren’t having a new floor put in. I excavated the earth around a large capstone-shaped rock in their new garden, but alas found no trinkets thereabouts. A smaller excavation around a smaller rock in front of their house revealed numerous shards of pottery and crockery. Much of it, predictably, blue and white.

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The interior of the old house at Ffynnon Ceisiad, Hebron.

In UK politics, the Labour party seems to be very slowly trying to dismantle itself, while the Conservative party – over whose schizophrenic nature this entire EU referendum has been fought and won – has very quickly reformed and united (just as I predicted) in the manner of the T1000 melting robot from Terminator 2. As I write this Theresa May is in the process of becoming our new Prime Minister. A year ago she seemed like the greater of three evils (the other two likely candidates being Boris Johnson and… that chancellor guy we used to have… I forget his name…)

Now her media profile is such that she actually seems like a much more reliable and sensible choice for the job at this time than any of the other available people (if I put to the back of my mind the near-fascist rhetoric she’s spouted on immigration and state-surveillance). Weirdly, yesterday she made a PM-acceptance speech that sounded more akin to Ed Miliband than Nigel Farage. But there we go; that’s politics today in the UK. It’s mad. And you’re welcome to it!

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Sybil really not enjoying the rainy walk on Parrog beach that she definitely didn’t want to go on last Sunday.

Of course, this blog is supposed to log life in Landskeria, not life in the UK, but when your country is surrounded by another much bigger country, whose culture is unavoidably entangled with your own, it’s hard to maintain an isolationist policy on all such matters. Especially if you haven’t even been living in your own country for a fortnight.

We moved back in to Tynewydd just yesterday and V has gone back to London for the week. Whether the working arrangement will suit us long-term, we can’t be sure yet. It’s difficult for her, spending so much time on trains and sleeping on other people’s sofas. And she misses the little pickles, and they (we) miss her too. They are incredibly well-behaved when she’s away, oddly. And very sweet and helpful. Theoretically it should be more difficult, but I think they’re somehow aware of the labour division, so they become more compliant and less rowdy when parental resources are stretched. For my part I must try to make time to actually sit down with them now and again – to practice literacy and Welsh with Sybil; and to just play with Fury – in-between the life cycles of cooking, cleaning, driving, washing, walking the dogs and trying to find a spare moment to mow our expansive tracts of lawn. The kids have had their sports days now. The end of term approaches, and we’re going to Larmertree Festival at the weekend. At some point the house will be clean enough and my brain will be open enough that I can crack on with the writing again. But this is not that time. Right now it feels trivial and distant again. All of it.

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Floor.

The future is uncertain. Landskeria’s place in it is also uncertain. But Landskerians will strive to look after one another and to ensure that our weather does not get the better of us, that our economy thrives, and that our environment is cared for.

For now the weather is changeable, the environment is unruly, and the economy is uncertain.

But we have a nice new floor.

Yours,

Joint First Minister, AV.

03/05/2016: Beltane

This post is being put together in-between complaining to Plusnet about our broadband. It dropped off during Masterchef the other night and has not since returned to a degree that enables us to stream video. Which in turn has meant I’ve watched the entire first season of Girls (which V’s sister lent us on DVD about a year ago, and which was very good) and started reading my EPIC European history book (by Norman Davies) again. I’m just getting up to the late medieval period. Plantagenets. Jagiellonians. Frisians. Schisms. Etc. People are being horrible to Jews. In history I mean. Although, also on Twitter in the present day. Not here in Landskeria though. There is no racism in Landkseria, because everyone is Landskerian. Even the dogs.

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Deflated mud monster.

At the end of March Sybil had her last day at Nant-y-Cwm kindergarten, and everyone was very emotional about it. Especially us. This heralded the start of the Easter holidays. We had begun plans to go to Ireland to celebrate the Easter Rising (well, just for a holiday really) but events conspired. Nevertheless, we did manage to get away to Cambridgeshire for just under a week to stay with V’s parents and to meet up with her sisters for a day out at a farm in Northants and to celebrate Calvin’s birthday in a very nice pub in the amusingly named town of Towcester. (An English pronunciation-dependent amusment.)

The further things got from winter, the more winter seemed determined to happen, despite having officially missed its window. We have had frost as recently as last week.

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Obese rabbits.

It was pretty chilly in Northants too, but the rabbits were huge. The weather in Cambridgeshire was generally sunnier than on the West coast. Sometimes people seemed convinced rain was happening, even before the water was ankle deep. I have it on good authority that for the majority of Easter, the rain continued to fall in and around Landskeria. Real rain. Not that light mist they have in England.

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Making a kennel for her new charity shop puppy.

Sybil busied herself with craft activities while away. V’s mum Sally was enjoying her last week at work before retiring and Victoria had bits and bobs to be getting on with, so V’s dad and I entertained the kids on our last day in Cambs by getting the car washed, taking Sybil on a bike-ride to the pub, and wandering round a very large garden centre. When we got home to Landskeria Fury decided to potty train herself, and I took the kids out up Foel Dyrch, in what was – with hindsight – pretty dreadful weather. We hunkered beneath some gorse and ate Quavers.

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On the side of Foel Dyrch.

Despite the contrariness of the weather, after a warm winter, signs of spring were in abundance in advance of early April. Collared Doves were nesting in the larch, as were blackbirds in the hedge, and some tiny birds in the front garden, whose names I do not know.

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Collared doves’ eggs.

Torch lilies had begun sprouting. The abundant wild garlic was flowering. The chives by the pond were towering. The heather was purple. The daffodils were waning. Elf cups were popping up on rotten logs in the hedge. And that tiny plant with purple heart-shaped flowers was also getting going underneath the shade of a big hydrangea on the Eastern border with the Letterston road.

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Elf cup.

Sybil began at Ysgol Maenclochog full time, and soon decided the school dinners were better than our packed lunches. V & I went to see a screening of the Martin McDonagh play Hangmen at theatre Mwldan (very good). I began digging a hole in a flowerbed at some point, but got bored.

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Torch lily.

We ascended part of the bridleway that heads west from Rosebush to Cwmcerwyn. I tried it with Frida first, then with the kids. Both times we got as far as Pantmaenog “forest” – less than a mile, I’m sure, but a lovely walk nonetheless.

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On the approach to Foel Cwmcerwyn.

We went to Skomer with Ann and Mark and Raif toward the end of the holidays, and I saw a lot of puffins. Sybil very much enjoyed collecting the bird bones that litter the little paths that criss-cross the island. I picked up a(n almost) whole dead crab from the beach we got the boat from. It is now on top of our woodstore. Not really sure why.

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Puffin.

I’ve been rewriting the fantasy novel I began again in Ireland last summer; which I first wrote a draft of in 2006, and which began in my head (and on some old lost Word documents) some time after I moved to England in about 1998. I read the Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England over April – highlighting about half of the sentences on any given page – so now I feel far better equipped to realise a fantasy world. The plot is gradually sorting itself out; or seems to be – but it may yet all come to nothing. That I haven’t played any computer games since Easter has left a lot more room for reading and writing. But one does what one feels like doing with one’s free time (or tries to) and so I hope not to make the hobby become onerous.

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An unfinished map of an imaginary city.

We went to Bosherston Lily Ponds, which were lovely and mercifully free from lilies at this time of year and therefore not too busy. The ponds themselves, with the narrow bridges and walkways, are tricky to navigate with a pram, but nonetheless great; the estuary at Broadhaven South (or is it Broadhaven East?) is worth the parking price itself.

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Estuary downstream from Bosherston Lily Ponds.

I forgot to mention. We got another dog. This one is a pomeranian. I didn’t want another dog, but Victoria decided it would be best for all of us – especially Frida. The new dog is called Pixie (named by Fury, who immediately thereafter began referring to her as “that other dog”) and she is a delight. She has a rounder ribcage than Frida, inferior ears, and a broader stance. She is less flouncy, but more hunched and pathetic in her aspect. She has an amusing habit of cocking her leg to wee, like a boy dog. She growls at the children when they take her by surprise, but so far hasn’t bitten anyone or shown any real signs of agression. She’s managed to fit in pretty well by now; it took her a little longer than Frida because she was already an adult dog (albeit a diminutive one) when we brought her home. Although there isn’t the time or money, part of me thinks I could quite happily have four or five of these silly beasts on the go at any one time. They live about twice as long as great danes, you know, and are almost half as light as a cat. And despite what you might imagine, they love a good walk.

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Pixie and Frida (their Kennel Club names are MUCH longer…) perched on a stone at Gors Fawr.

Since Sybil has been at Maenclochog and Fury has begun at Clarbeston Road playgroup a couple of mornings per week, I’ve been trying to explore more of the publicly accessible Landskerlands. This means locating a dotted green line on my central-Pembs OS map, or even stopping on the side of the road by a footpath sign, and sticking the harnesses on the dogs and seeing how they get on. They can be quite selective, and will not tolerate thick bramble paths or nettles. But they love to romp through a bumpy field and sniff at cowpats.

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Exploring the Landskerlands.

We’ve discovered numerous standing stones that aren’t considered worthy of scheduling by the Welsh ancient monuments folk, and added them to our own OS map with a biro, highlighting in blue the route we took to get to them. Central Pembs is woefully devoid of open access lands (outside the Preselis) and woodland walks. The majority of the routes are fenced-over farmland where the footpath can take a while to locate, if indeed any indication of it still exists.

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The Step-Sister Stones. (Named after the nearby Step-Aside Bridge.)

But the land is rich in prehistoric remnants, and even the most mundane-looking farm track is worth traipsing across on the off-chance. I should also add that I’ve yet to be shouted at by anyone for trespassing in my 4 years here, even though I’ve probably strayed from the green dotted line once or twice (mainly because the maintenance of the paths and accompanying signage is so woeful).

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Dam.

I finally went down the bottom of Llys-y-Frân dam the other day (with the dogs) and had a mooch about down there. Lovely area (lovely church too, where one can avoid the exorbitant £2 parking fee Welsh Water demands). But it depresses me to think about how much more tranquil the valley would have been before this massive wall of concrete flooded it out. How many farmhouses and cottages were bought up and destroyed in the process? 100? 10? 1? Zero? I have no idea. It’s not the sort of thing Welsh Water (who actually took over the existing site in the 1990s, post-privatisation) would have on their website. There’s a tumble-down stone cottage near the dam on the west side where a (locally) famous composer of a well-known Welsh hymn grew up, and a dull vaguely modernist memorial in his honour, unveiled by the CEO of Welsh Water in a grand gesture of corporate social responsibility some time in the ’90s. More than they did for the original unveiling of the dam, which just involved the Queen’s chain-smoking sister turning up to cut a ribbon or pull a bit of velvet away from a plaque.

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Trick questions.

I was faced with a dilemma the other day when I had to fill in Sybil’s national identity on a piece of paper for school. Welsh? English? British? Landskerian? My heart said the latter, but I didn’t want to unnecessarily cause embarrassment or confusion – and there are already plenty of black helicopters circling our borders at the best of times. So I went for the former. I don’t regard Britain as a nation (because of the ready availability of dictionaries and history books), and she (like me) has spent most of her life in Wales. I did consider Anglo-Welsh, but it seemed pretty pedantic. And I’m really not sure that any such distinct identity really exists.

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Spring toad unsettled by digging dogs.

I suppose Welshness is a broad church – especially here in Pembrokeshire’s Landskerlands, where bilingualism is a very real thing, as is the phenomenon of the Welsh-speaking villages surrounded by Anglophone areas, and the odd folks who have lived in Wales their entire lives but cannot recognize that when I tell them to deliver a curry to Tynewydd, Walton East it might mean the same thing as Newhouse, Walton East. I was thinking of renaming our house (because it’s pretty old by now) but it seems like it’d be more trouble than it was worth.

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Live Canon launching 154 at the V&A.

I went to London the other week for Zef’s 27th birthday celebrations, and slept on his floor, and drank some very exciting cocktails at Nightjar, and played football with his friends in Victoria Park, and ate street-food for the price of restaurant food in a fancy warehouse in Canada Water. Not necessarily in that order. I also popped into the National Art Library at the V&A to witness the reading of a number of sonnets from Live Canon’s 154 publication. One of these was mine, which I wrote on my phone on the sofa in V’s parents’ house, after being sent one of Shakespeare’s sonnets to “respond” to by Live Canon head-honcho Helen Eastman. It was nice to be involved in the project, and I’m flattered to have been included in the book, alongside many better-known and better-liked poets. (Not least Billy himself, of course.) I sense I was making up the numbers, but if this ends up being the pinnacle of my poetic career, I reckon I’ll take that. I still plan to enter some competitions, and to publish at least four more full-length poetry books in the Has Doubts sub-brand, but I don’t expect any of them to sell more than 50, based on projections from the first two, or to be read by more than about 10. Poetry isn’t really a growth market. Mine sure as hell isn’t.

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Pork joint.

That said I did manage (partly based on my wife’s haggling) to swap a couple of poetry books for just under 5kg of pork this past weekend. That felt good. Got to be up there with the 2nd place in the Fish Poetry Prize in 2010. Maybe better than that, because they never sent me any pork. And I’m pretty sure I had to pay for the book that came out of it too…

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Victoria and Amber seesawing with Fury and Myfanwy. (And Sybil.)

Mayday bank holiday weekend has just been. We mowed the lawn, went swimming at the Blue Lagoon at Bluestone, and took Sybil and Fury to the ramshackle wonderment of Clerkenhill Farm for Raif (Sybil’s friend)’s 5th birthday party. It was raining, and nobody was there but our party, but the kids cared not a jot. Indeed, it was nice to have the place to ourselves. I nearly injured myself, and several other people, trying and failing to get up a hill on a peddle-powered cart. But I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.

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Sign. Of the times.

We finally got the “slow down” sign up on the bend opposite the layby outside East Landskeria, and despite kerning issues I’m pretty pleased with it. It’s made from a sawn-up old pallet and a sawn-up old bedpost (I think) that came with shed #2. The verge we planted it on might belong to the council, but they said we could put a sign up, so I hope they don’t mind us encroaching on their territory for the mutual benefit of both our nations. Chances are, it might get knocked down by a tractor before the year’s out. But if it does I’ll try nailing it to a sycamore.

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Democracy in paper.

We’ve got some more elections coming up. Welsh Assembly. Police and Crime Commissioner (which nobody really knows much about) and possibly some local ones too. London will be choosing a new mayor, but we will be deciding who represents us for education, healthcare and… something else I can’t remember, way over there in Cardiff. I cut out all the heads of the candidates and mocked up a script for a satirical puppet show in my head:

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Choice.

But, you know, sometimes you have to know when to stop yourself, avoid the glimmering temptations of trinkets on the side of the road, and focus on pursuing your true will.

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Our Most Serene Republic.

Affairs of state grind slowly on. Nobody has invaded us yet. But neither has any official international body acknowledged our sovereignty. V knighted both our daughters the other day, which came as a shock because I didn’t think we had such a system of honours in place. Nor would I have supported the implementation of it! They seemed pretty pleased though. I think she may have been getting me back for the other day when she was in London and I decided to fly the New Leaf (our national flag) from a bare sycamore branch to protest the coverage of the (UK) Queen’s 90th birthday celebrations on BBC Radio 4.

Frida has a bad leg. Victoria has a cold. Everyone else is currently well.

The weather veers from heavy hail to summery sunlight.

The environment is exponential in its growth.

The economy is elastic.

Joint 1st Minister, AV

20/03/2016: February ills, March joys, and a walk round RNAD Trecwn

Our last full diary update was two months ago amid the monsoon season of January. Something about that constant rain left us all with rotten colds for much of February. Sybil spent half term constantly vomiting and lying on the sofa all day, but was surprisingly chipper considering.

Once the illnesses shifted (except Fury’s, as she tend to hang on to them longer) kindergarten term began again. Vcitoria has been popping off around the country and we’ve been taking the first steps to properly establishing the business (Velky & Velky). Sybil has been preparing to move on to Ysgol Maenclochog, a state school and therefore her first taste of non-Steiner education. She’s excited about it, but a bit confused so far by how much sitting still is involved. We’ve had carpets put in to the study and the girls’ room. They’ve had a bunk bed put in. Well, I put it in. We’ve been looking around houses with Mum and Keith. We even looked around on without them! A lot can happen in two months. When I’m not finding time to write text entries here I tend to social media the updates as pictures via Instagram (along with stupid miscellaneous stuff like food). At some point I might try to integrate the feed into this website, but until then – and until I find myself more frequently sat at a desk – the updates will be sporadic and jumbled like this.

So, what else has happened??

Victoria’s parents visited, Mum and Keith went on holiday to Los Angeles to see my brother Adam and his family. Sybil practised for her drama club production of Wind in the Willows, and Fury very patiently put up with me taking her for walks in the thick mist and pouring rain. I do try to keep the longer ones for Wednesdays when she was being looked after by Ann.

But together or otherwise we’ve visited many wonderful places in the past couple of months: Gwal-y-Filiast burial chamber, Holgan Camp in Drim wood (where I nearly had to abandon the car in a muddy ditch), Gors Fawr stone circle (an old favourite by now), Dinas Island, the old mill at Welsh Hook, Wallis Moor, Rosebush & Bellstone Quarry, Parc-y-Llyn burial chamber, Rudbaxton Rath, Mynydd Castlebythe. We even went on holiday for V and her sister’s birthday at the end of January. That was ages ago but probably didn’t fall into a diary entry. So, for the record, we went to Llantwit in the Vale of Glamorgan and visited the Welsh heritage park or whatever it’s called, in a relatively posh village on the outskirts of Cardiff. It was cold.

I built a table so I could write a novel. Pretty sure I already mentioned that. I got back to the novel after a month off being ill in February, but have recently been distracted by compiling an arts podcast about fear, which I’m excited about as some of my favourite musicians, poets, etc. have contributed things.

At the risk of this snowballing into a regression-therapy session, the children and their mother are happy and healthy. (They are playing duplo, she is in bed.) We will later build a fence to try to prevent the dog from getting herself killed on the road outside our house. Affairs of state have been slow of late, but I have a few state-sponsored art projects I’m trying to get past the join first minister.

The weather is encouraging. The environment is blooming. The economy is stable.

And with that I will leave you with some pictures from a recent jaunt around the abandoned naval base RNAD Trecwn. The photographs are not in chronological order:

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“For the shepherd’s sake” is a polite way of saying “For fuck’s sake”, I think.

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Sheep apparently get into the valley, though people are not allowed.

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The steep slopes that descend to the valley floor are bare cliff faces in some areas.

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Photographing part of the old railway, and a depot or warehouse of some kind. (Engine shed? Is that a thing?)

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Suspect graffito on the external wall of a knackered little office.

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Probably Billy Bragg did it then.

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A view from the desolate platform.

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Old signs.

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Shed thing. Shooting from the hip with a camera phone. Please excuse the tilt.

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WC? WMD? YMCA?

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One of the most beautiful areas in all of Pembrokeshire. Seized by the state in WW2 then sold to private developers. This land… This land is your land…

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When we first arrived I was worried someone would arrive on a manually propelled rail vehicle to tell us to leave. With hindsight, that was unlikely.

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One of many bricked-up excavations cut into the side of the valley (in a herringbone formation, so I’m told) years ago to store naval mines. The company the Royal Navy sold to wanted to store low grade radioactive waste in them, but locals complained. Now they’re bricked-up. Wonder what (if anything) was inside when they sealed them?

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A little canal that guides the water that flows down the southeast side of the valley.

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If you can’t find a footpath, the water will guide you.

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At some point this was a matter of state security. Now there are many man-sized holes in the rusted fence, and nothing within worth securing.

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A very hirsute form of lichen.

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Some kind of pumping station at the top of the river/waterfall. The concrete area outside it was ankle deep in flowing water. Not sure what’s going on, but it ain’t doing what it used to.

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At the top of the valley we found a little brick cabin (probably one of many). The door was half-smashed. Within were ladders descending – probably all the way into the tunnels below. We couldn’t get in without causing criminal damage, so we left them be.

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WM. Not sure what that signifies.

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There are two layers of this surrounding the valley. It seems very unlikely they will be repaired or replaced to protect the business park they keep threatening to build.

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The view south toward Puncheston over one of Pembrokeshire’s few dry stone walls.

Adios,

A Velky