Travels with MaryE

Most things I love best are about good light and good timing. That's where the adventures start. Don't be in no hurry here. Here you'll find a little bit about bluegrass music, fox hunting, life on the road, time on the mountain, and a whole lot about other things, too.

Friday, December 08, 2006


My eyes hurt this morning what is that bright thing in the clear blue sky? Against all predictions, the sun is shining brightly - and has been all morning. I'd heard that today was supposed to be rough and wet (like the last two or three weeks!) but luckily the forecast was wrong, at least so far. The sun and a "light" breeze are doing what they can toward making the valley just a little less soggy.

Though I might (read: should) have been editing photos or making Christmas gifts I chose the route toward immediate gratification and just took the hounds (Pastime and Paxo) for a two hour walk around the farm. What a perfect morning it is. They say you appreciate the sunshine more when you've had a bunch of rain. Well, I for one am appreciating every bit of sunshine coming this way. Hopefully tomorrow will bring more of the same as the Daily Rag or whatever it's called is predicting something akin to the end of the world in the coming months...100 mph winds and blizzards and the worst winter in 50 years and stuff like that. Gee, I hope they're just exaggerating to sell some papers (you don't think newspapers do that? What I learned in journalism class is that one shouldn't believe everything one reads in the newspaper. But you knew that anyway, right?)

Though farmers are glued to the telly whenever the news is on, particularly the weather forecast, they all know that they're just going to have to get out there and deal with whatever weather they get anyway and the forecast is often wrong. I guess if I were a forecaster I'd predict at least a 75% chance of rain on almost any given day; that would be pretty safe.

After spending some 25 years in office situations where even folks who work inside all the time in cushy air-conditioned offices like to gripe about the weather every chance they get (though mostly the only weather they see is that which occurs between getting out of their cars and walking into the office or home) it's sort of refreshing to be around folks who actually do have a reason for serious concern about weather.

Anyway, the sun is lovely. I'm already plotting an afternoon walk with Paxo and Pastime and I'm thankful to be here in Wales, land of the rainbows. Haven't seen one in two days so I reckon tomorrow should provide a few...

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Full of Surprises...Bluegrass at the Priory

You ever go someplace just because you couldn't come up with a reason not to? I do it all the time. Anyway, my friend Nigel (great guitar player!) calls me and asks if I want to go to the new bluegrass pick (jam session) over near Hereford at the Priory Hotel in Stretton Sugwas? It was cold and rainy and after a day out on the chilly Welsh moors then exercising my own two hound puppies I was thinking how nice it felt to be in the dry, warm bungalow, but gee, Nigel's such a nice guy and I'm not very quick on my feet so I said, "Ummm yeah, sounds fun." So Nigel and Sandy meet me down at the Crown and Andy's along, too, but he didn't bring his bass, and we all head off in the cold rain for the Priory. WELL. I admit it was pretty dark so I couldn't see much of the outside, but the Priory looks LARGE and once inside...what a lovely place!

We were meeting in the pub there and what a lovely room it is! Nice wooden floors and tasteful furnishings, a crackling warm fire and two long benches, cushy settees in red leatherette and nice drapes...plenty of straight-backed chairs for pickers...and even quite a few folks along just for a pint and a listen. Accomplished musician Martin Blake was heading up the session and he kept things rolling along from one of those red leather settees. We began picking around 8 and the last song was played about midnight. We all had a jolly good time. Sorry, I didn't take any photos, but we had quite a variety of music from about 10 or 12 pickers and singers, all within the bluegrass-country-old time vein of things.

The Priory's owners (?) were most hospitable and genuinely seemed to enjoy the music as well. Let's hope we'll be meeting there at the Priory the first Wednesday of every month for many months to come! I'm told they're open 7 nights a week for drinks and a tasteful, cozy ambiance. And while they don't do meals for a walk-in trade, they do cater special events and large parties with advance reservations. If you happen to be around Stretton Sugwas, outside of Hereford, on the first Wednesday of the month, stop in for some live bluegrass music. And if you're passing by some other time, stop in for a visit and a drink anyway. I think you'll be glad you did!

Me? I had a great time and am looking forward to the next pick. See, usually when you get yourself out of the house - even when it's because you couldn't think up an excuse - you have a great time! Do it!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Meet You at the Crossroads

In life we all come to many crossroads. The one I was at today is one of my favorites..."The Cloggau" as it's known around here; also called Cloggau Crossroads or the Cloggau Turn, just down from Mike the Cnwch's farm (pronounced "nuke"). Anyway what's special about this crossroads is that it is several miles from nowhere and about 50 or 60 people meet there once or twice during the hound exercising season around 11:oo in the morning. For the next 30 minutes we all talk a lot, eat too many sausage rolls and welsh cakes, sausages rolled in honey and mustard, and other little finger foods.....and drink more than our share of port and whiskey, too. Again, this happens at a little old Welsh country crossroads, not a building in sight, and all the ladies who follow the hunt bake the whole night before to provide us with all these delicacies. We all stand there in our wellies and waxed coats and rain parkas and whatever, eat, drink and have a jolly good time. Now I've been lucky the last 5 seasons I've shown up at the appropriate time at the was nice. Not so today. Despite an unusual forecast: sunny and dry, what we actually had at the Cloggau was pouring down cold rain. Tell the truth, I didn't want to get out of the Land Rover, but the sausages were calling! So I threw on another little coat and braved the cold rain and said hello to a bunch of folks I haven't seen since last year and even had a kiss off Mike the Cnwch. Of all our meets, this is one of my favorites because it is just so country, down home if you like. Like something ladies might do down in Tennessee (except for the drinking part!)

Here in Wales we have lots of showers and clear spells in between. Well lately the showers have been longer and the clear spells shorter. So much so that I'm not sure it's not just one continuous shower that gets worse and worse. At least the wind was a bearable 30 mph or so up on the hills today - a vast improvement over yesterday.

So I'm riding with Mike and Charlie and it isn't long before we get called to come and pick up an injured hound. Not sure how she injured herself, but she appeared to have dislocated (or worse) her hind hip. Poor girl. So she got put up in the back of the Land Rover with me and I petted her all the way back to the box (which, considering the very rough and slippery hill we were on at the time was quite a long while). With her safely back and comfortable, we headed on up to the nearest village, a truly lovely place, and tried to figure out where all the horses and hounds had gone while we were back down the road with that poor hound. Hmmmm....a car rounds the blind curve and here's Conway wanting to know could we give him a tow - in trying to miss some of the water lying about in the road he sailed off the edge and into a fence. Conway has just retired from farming a place up the road and he's got one of those country faces that I find absolutely fascinating. Of course he's dressed all in green as is appropriate to his age and station - today it's green waterproofs, like most of the other farmers we bump into during the course of the day, out tending their sheep - like Mike the Cnwch.

We go to bail Conway out so to speak and find that he's not exaggerating! His Land Rover appears to have careened through the mud for quite a way, heading ever more toward the fence, hit a telephone pole, and taken out some fenceposts before stopping to rest guessed it...a 45 degree angle to both the road and the pasture below. Yikes. This brings back recent memories though you COULD see the bottom of the water HE was tryin to avoid.

Anyway, moments later, Conway decides maybe it's better if he comes down with his tractor to pull himself out and meanwhile the guy who owns the fence comes along, thinking someone has wrecked his fence and then run off and left it for him to fix. There's a bit of laughter as he learns its his neighbor and all is well. The Land Rover is soon righted (though quite a bit worse for the wear!). Meanwhile I hear a shout from Mike and there's Mr. Fox casually trotting across the hallowed ground of the local village church, on across the road and up the fields just in front of us. Now when you spend a lot of time out in the countryside you see a lot of wildlife, so seeing a fox isn't that surprising, but it isn't often that I see one close enough to photograph (and truly this one could have been a bit closer if I'd had my druthers). Still, it was a joy to see him, and he's still up there on that hill trying to dry out a bit from all of today's downpours. Even the sheep look miserable.

We eventually found the hounds, the horses, Betty Cotton the eagle owl and her handler John, and a few more neighbors. We ate our sandwiches in the relative comfort of the Land Rover watching the wipers go back and forth while the mounted field, I suppose, felt the rain rolling down their backs. Not a day I'd have wanted to be on a horse.

Meanwhile, Conway is back on the road again, I'm just about dry now, and all is well.

On the homeward trail...

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Did It Rain? Pearly Gates, Arthur and the Tilt

A friend from up Yorkshire way asks if it's wet here in Wales. Uh I think so. Just when you think it cannot possibly rain anymore it starts coming down in buckets. Now I suppose a good thing about so many storms is that if you're crazy enough to be out in it, or at least near a window, there's a good likelihood you'll spy a rainbow. There must be 100 times the rainbows over here in Wales that I've seen in the USA. But that's not enough.

Like today. It rains, the sun peeps through for 30 seconds, then it rains twice as hard. All my friends in their little wool jackets that are nuts enough to be out on horses in this monsoon-like weather are like drowning by now and that's just the start. Then the wind picks up. I mean really picks up. Like I swore it was gonna pick up the Land Rover I was stood next to. How many thousand pounds does one of them weigh? It was rocking pretty steady and there wasn't a soul in it. Go figure.

A Proper Welsh Rainbow
Anyway, those of us with hardy hearts got out in the elements today and found the highest hills we could to stand on and gaze off into the distance. Some people are nuts, no? I was riding with my friend Arthur, 81, a farmer and stronger than most men only 3/4 his age. There's no B.S. about Arthur and I like that. Straight shooter he is. So he decides he wants to get around this gorse patch the quickest way rather than the prudent way. He goes for it, a narrow patch of sodden (and I mean water standing on it) grass on a 45 or worse degree angle to the fence we're following on a steep incline, and then below that it drops off into this deep pool of water (NOT a puddle). So we start up there and I'm feeling a bit doubtful about this, but keeping my mouth shut. Finally I squeak, "Have you been this way before," and Arthur slowly says, "Noooooo..." just as we begin to slide off the grass down the slope toward this pool. I'm thinking "not good..." and somehow Arthur stops and I've got a prayer under my breath and I'm feeling like we're dangling from some spider-thick strand and one tiny motion will send us reeling top over bottom into the pool and I'm thinking I can't swim and my cameras!!! They'll be ruined! And all those kinds of things you find yourself thinking when you're in a situation you know you should've avoided but didn't...

So we stop there, on the verge of sure destruction. It's all quiet like we've already gone to heaven and I'm looking for friends and loved ones at those pearly gates. And maybe Bill Monroe and his big Heavenly Perpetual Bluegrass Jam Session with Benny Martin and John Hartford and Jimmy Martin and Roy Huskey Jr. and Jimmy Campbell and Jimmy Arnold and Clarence White and a whole bunch of them fellers. And then I come back to reality as Arthur says, "MaryE, you'd better get on out of" And I'm thinking, "Who, me? Do I look like someone who wants to open this door and jump out and maybe bring this toppling over on top of me?" But for once I do as I'm told and I quietly get out and after I've closed the door I'm thinking "Uh-oh, I only brought one of my cameras with me! What if the other drowns?" but I scurry on up the hill out of harm's way and look back at poor Arthur sitting calmly in the truck.

As I get up this hill I see Will and Steve and Dave and Paul and Colin (who have wisely come to this point the long and easy way) and they're all there with various trucks and Land Rovers and already ganged up together as men tend to do deciding how best to deal with this tricky situation, you know scratching their heads and stroking their chins and stuff and saying, "Well, we'd better...". Will jumps in his Land Rover and begins backing down toward Arthur. He can't go all the way, mind, or he'll be in the same situation. He goes part way and stops, also at an impossible angle on a steep grade on sodden grass. A well-frayed tow rope appears and is hooked to Arthur's Land Rover which, thankfully, has decided to stay put for the moment. I notice Will's tires are barely legal and he has this steep wet grass and a couple of tumps to climb over pulling all that weight and I think, "Uh-oh." Try and try again, Will can't do anything but perhaps leave Arthur in an even more precarious situation. Next Dave hops in his Toyota and reverses down to the brink and hitches up the tow rope and two or three guys jump in the back of Dave's truck and start jumping up and down over the rear wheels for all they're worth and Dave's truck moans and spins and huffs and the guys jump harder and higher and Arthur gives his Land Rover some petrol and it inches forward and finally slides up over the big tump and sails on to a reasonable slope.

Poor Arthur. I climb in to the passenger seat with all the guys saying "No wonder he got stuck...look at all the weight on the passenger side" and all like that and we head on up the hill and out of that boggy ground. It's getting dark by now and we see the hounds and huntsman on the road ahead heading for the box in the last frail light of the gloomy afternoon and it's drizzling (again). Ian and Robert are on their quad bike bringing up the rear. We join the procession.

I quietly ask Arthur if his heart rate has returned to normal and he just grins and shakes his head and says, "Oh I don't get too bothered about getting stuck anymore," and I think how nice it must be to be 81 and laid back like Arthur. Here's to Arthur!

We had a good day out on all those hills and rose above wind and wet weather to enjoy the camaraderie of good country people out doing what they love to do. Better than stopping at the house in front of the soaps with a bag of crisps.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

View from the Top...and Taking Time on the High Street

Thought you might like to see a couple of views I saw "from the top" yesterday. It's those changing weather conditions that produce some of this nice light. It sure is great to be here among all these wonderful folks in some of the most beautiful countryside in the world! If you've never visited Wales you owe yourself a holiday over here. Bring your hiking shoes and prepare to see some of the wildest, most wonderful countryside imaginable. Be sure to stop off at some of the little old country chapels and the market towns. It's fun on market day (changes from town to town) to see the elderly ladies with their market baskets. They look like my granny's egg basket. They're full of fresh-baked bread, vegetables from the WI (Women's Institute weekly sales at the Baptist chapel), the weekly paper (headlines usually about some very petty crime, isn't it a wonderful thing!) and probably some scones from the local baker.

Now you can't be in any hurry around here because getting up the narrow sidewalks with all these folks standing around chatting can sure take some time. And while there are small grocery stores, many folks still go to the local butchers (also on the "High Street") for meat and to the baker for bread and to the greengrocer for vegetables and the newsagent for get the picture. It's not one-stop shopping at WalMart - it's two hours of shopping at 15 shops on the High Street. And I like that. Do it and don't be in a hurry.

I'll have to make some photos of local market towns; right now I'm afraid I don't have any.

Poor Paxo! Locals and Cats

Paxo on a happier day.

My sweet little doghound pup, Paxo, had a bad day. While out for a walk with Pastime, "the girls" (L & K) and I, Paxo decided it would be a good idea to slip through that metal gate and go down the field. Pastime apparently thought it was a good idea, too, and slid through after him. A moment later as I was calling them to come back through and continue down the hedge-lined lane with the girls and I there was the most horrible screaming hound sound, like it had been run over by a car. Since there were no motor vehicles about I realized that one of my pups had an unfortunate encounter electric fence.

I haven't been back on the farm for long so was unaware there was an electric line along the far side of the hedge, but never mind. Paxo went from being very Welsh and independent to following along with the girls, Pastime and I quite nicely. It's a shame that happened to him, but he seems to be okay. I know I wouldn't want to put my wet nose on an electric line! Ouch, especially in the UK - I reckon the jolt is a bit heftier than that in the USA!

There are several local pubs which have come back to life these last months and it's nice to stop in and visit with the neighbors now and then. Friday night was a really fine fillet with peppercorn sauce and nice fresh veg at the Red Lion; Thursday night was gammon, pineapple and chips at the Crown, and last night steak & ale pie and veg at the Ox. Mmmmm...I'm treating myself for working so hard on that article the last couple of weeks.

Pastime...1/2 of my exercise program.

Of course for every treat there's a lot of extra exercise to be found somewhere, so this week I'm gonna have to pay.

We had a lovely day exercising the hounds on one of my favorite hills yesterday. Most days here in Wales are very changeable and yesterday was no exception. Though many days feature at least one rainbow, I don't recall one of those yesterday. But we had a nice breakfast meet in a nearby village then we were all off on the hill, up on some common ground. It started out as a beautiful sunny day, then went cloudy, the wind picked up and it began raining like...well, you know. Sun comes back out, then some more rain. Of course while this is inconvenient at best for the mounted folks, it makes both challenging and delightful lighting situations for a photographer. So yesterday I managed to capture a few decent shots...and I had a great time along the way.

This week, thanks to all those nice meals I've enjoyed at local pubs and the realization that I have FAR too much sugar in my diet, I'm going to get out and get more exercise and eat more carefully. Oh, and have a riding lesson with Billy; it has been several months since I've worked on learning to ride a horse. I'm looking forward to it.

These cats think that dog food is better than their grub, and they eat it every chance they get (like when the hounds are out for a walk with me). About four years ago all the farm cats had died off so I got a couple from another farm and...well, the rest is history. There are plenty of lovely cats about now, and they're all well-fed. Most of them are even tame. Anyone need a cat?

Christmas time's a-comin' and I'm listening to some fine bluegrass music at the's free over the internet and is 24/7, some of the best bluegrass music anywhere, so click on and check it out....