Marching in Wales

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.

Kirk out



The Pub and Beer Situation

I don’t know if there’s any connection with the aforementioned pub sign showing a man and a devil, but the village pub in Grosmont is called The Angel.  I could maybe work in a line about non angli, sed angeli if I tried, but I don’t know if it’s worth it – anyway, it’s a great local pub and last night as I met a couple of the inmates I found out some of the history of the place.

Above the bar there’s a sheep’s head.  Not a real one, you understand, but a reasonably convincing one at that.  Turns out the sheep’s head is a prop from a film made a few years back and set in the village.  Mick was scratching his head trying to think of the actor’s name: I assumed, being a low-budget film, it’d be someone obscure.  First he came up with Damien Hurst until his wife pointed out that the sheep’s head was misleading him there; then, not really believing it would be him, I came up with Damien Lewis.  ‘That’s him!’ they cried triumphantly.  ‘Really?  Damien Lewis?  Blimey!’

‘Yes, they said.  ‘And that Michael guy.  Something to do with ham.’

‘Michael Gambon???’

‘That’s right.  Him.’

Bloody hell.  So in a film that went straight to DVD and was set in Grosmont, they had Damien Lewis and Michael Gambon.  He was very nice, apparently.

The film is called the Dandelion and they’re going to try to dig out a copy for me to watch.

Not only that, but there’s a book set in the valley as well!  On the walk I took yesterday which went rather drastically uphill and then obviously equally drastically downhill on the way back, I went through a farm.  Now apparently on that farm there were six brothers, none of whom ever married, and when Bruce Chatwin visited the area he was so struck by the story that he put it into a book, though he changed the six brothers into twins.  ‘On the Black Hill’ is set in and around Grosmont and also features the Black Mountains, which you can see quite clearly from the road.  I can’t find the film on imdb, but here’s the book:

It’s amazing what you find out when you go down to the pub!

Kirk out