Regular readers will remember from last autumn such gems on this blog as the fuel and wood situation, the dog situation and the bread situation. These situations have been revisited, revised and reorganised in my second – nay, third – trip to the borderlands where Monmouthshire and Herefordshire kiss – or perhaps spit at each other – over a river.
I’m an old hand at the Welsh Marches now: I know the roads and the villages, I know the castles and the churches; I know the pubs and the people. Most of all I know the dogs – but alas! the resident dogs have the memory of a goldfish and in spite of the fact that I walked, fed and entertained them for several weeks, they did not remember me. But the dogs are the least of it: for now we have the geese situation, the duck situation, the turkey situation and the hen situation. Further afield in an orchard resides the pig situation where a lot of digging and fencing (not the sporting kind) is happening prior to the geese situation transferring up there, whereupon the turkeys, hens and duck will all move up one place like some game of poultry musical chairs.
To begin at the beginning: the duck is possibly the most entertaining of these creatures. It’s an Indian Runner Duck (which I persisted in thinking of as an india-rubber duck, a joke which works on several levels if you think about it) a flightless bird which makes up for its lack of wings by running extremely fast. Unfortunately the previous brood were killed by foxes, so there is just the one rubber – sorry, runner duckling – at the moment. I have yet to see it run but I have observed it standing up really tall on its hind legs, looking like a cross between a meerkat and a penguin.
The geese, called George, Mildred and something else (after the seventies sitcom) have the run of the garden. They are intensely curious and follow strangers round hissing and pecking; however as soon as you turn on them they scatter in fright: it’s a sort of goose-step version of Grandmother’s footsteps. (Grandmother’s goosesteps?)
I did not interact much with the turkeys as they are keeping warm and safe inside the greenhouse while the hens inhabit their own run on the other side and produce an egg each every day. And that completes the household. Up on the orchard two pigs keep the fruit trees company; they’re a heritage breed called – hang on, scarlet and black – no, cream and brown – no, I can’t remember but something and something. They have dug up the entire patch and eaten all the weeds, roots and all: I think I could do with a couple of them in my garden.
So much for the menagerie, now for the countryside where I had a somewhat larger radius this time. This was due to Bertie. Bertie is the latest addition to our household; he is a small, faithful, silver-blue Ford Focus and he takes me everywhere. Together we explored Sir Fynwy and Herefordshire, Abergavenny and Hereford while later in the week I made a solo pilgrimage to Hay on Wye. I had always wanted to go to Hay and now I have. I bought several books – a volume of Oscar Wilde extracts with a foreword by Stephen Fry; Radcliffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness, a fistful of Penguin ‘60’s for a quid and Bruce Chatwin’s On the Black Hill.
And thereby hangs this tale:
by the side of my sister’s house there runs an ancient highway, part of the Three Castles walk which links a trio of Norman border castles. Not far from the house the path dips steeply and then climbs just as steeply right through a farm where it gets extremely muddy. I was told in the pub that this farm is the subject of much local legend as it was run by six brothers, none of whom ever married; and that in the 1980’s Bruce Chatwin stayed in the village and wrote a novel set on that very farm (though he made the six brothers into twins.) On the Black Hill is that novel.
One thing I didn’t manage to do was climb those hills. The brooding presence of the Black Mountains looms over the area and beyond them, somewhere else I intend to explore, the Brecon Beacons. But for now I have to be content with Swithland reservoir and the woods beyond.