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.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Importance of Being Inconspicuous

Kids nowadays. I know folks have been saying that kind of thing for a long time. L&K, the girls who live across the farm, came over one Sunday morning. For the past 3 years, our "tradition" was to take our hound pups walking on Sunday mornings. But this year I can't have hound puppies to walk (they're supposed to work on the stable where they stay) so we've had to look for other ways to pass our Sunday morning time.

We decided to draw and fool around on my laptop. "L" is especially adept at working a computer. So while "K" used her time to make wonderful sketches of animals and such in her black artist's notebook, L started finding interesting pictures of red foxes for me on Google Images. Ever been there? I never noticed it myself but it is pretty cool. So here's one of the things she found for me (this was sent to me years ago by someone and I'd lost it; it's kind of like having an old friend come back for a visit.) You have to admit that whoever did this was clever. Now I've got plenty of photos of foxhounds so maybe I can make some of these myself some day. Kudos to whoever created this (and my apologies for "borrowing" it). I'm sure glad I have friends like L&K to spend Sunday mornings with!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Art of.....Falling!

Don't worry; she probably wished I wasn't there with a camera to preserve this moment, but I guess she liked these photos since she bought a copy of them!

This story has a happy ending. The young lady was having a very good time jumping these huge bales and after this unfortunate moment she got back on (despite an injured ego) and rode on up the ridge to Yew Tree Bank above Gladestry. She was just fine. But oh, that must have hurt!
I used to avoid taking photos of folks who I could sense were about to part company with their horses, but soon learned that most of these crazy horsey people actually LIKE photos of themselves "hitting the floor" (as they say here in Radnorshire). Strange to me but maybe it's part of that British "stiff upper lip." Anyway, here's to falling off...and being able to get back on.

A Visit with Friends

Last week my dear friends from Illinois came for their first visit and we got out in the beautiful hills around Radnorshire and west Herefordshire and had a great time seeing wonky little churches, the ruins of what must have once been a breathtaking priory (left in ruins back in, say, 1539), the beautiful views and clouds of fog from Hay Bluff, and other sights.

It went something like this. I drove the 50 minutes to Hereford, the closest "big" city to where I stay and picked Judy and Leon up at the train station. After navigating the most evil roundabout, one I've successfully avoided for 5 years now) we headed on down the A-465 toward Abergavenny. The further we got from Hereford the more lovely the countryside became (though I will say the cathedral and the River Wye in Hereford are well worth seeing, and once you reach that city and manage to park it has a nice small-town feel and quite a few good shops).

We made our way some 20 miles down toward Abergavenny and then turned for Cwmyoy, a sign easily missed! near the village of Llanfihangel Crucorney. Now these roads are not for the faint of heart and there's more than a little bit of luck involved, but since I was in my
Daihatsu with cattle bars across the front I figured we'd probably fare pretty well against most oncoming traffic with the exception of perhaps a big John Deere with a muckspreader attached! Haven't seen many of them up that road, though.

J&L thought it would be nice to visity the lovely and wonky church at Cwmyoy so we made our way up that little lane. In this country when you get way off the beaten track you often find that the road you're on passes right through someone's farmyard, so much so that if you stick your hand out the window you can touch their house or barn. In this case I easily could have touched someone's house but I suppressed the urge and we wound up around to the church on the hill. It's a lovely situation for a church and it doesn't take much imagination to see all the people threading their way there on a Sunday morning a few decades ago (back when it was expected, if not required, that EVERYONE attended church on a Sunday). The first thing we noticed when we passed through the gate was a nice walkway made of quarried stone and I wish I'd written down what was inscribed on the stones (my memory is a blank slate) because it was nice and cleverly done -- just one word for every pace or two -- a short message spread out over the space of maybe 75 feet! The next thing we noticed was how the church seemed to be going in 4 directions at once. I'm no geologist but I suppose it had to do with a building settling in different directions over a long (a few hundred years, at least) period of time! It was SOOOO noticeable from outside and perhaps even moreso inside where one could picture the congregation sitting there listening to the vicar preach his sermon and their eyes being drawn to the altar which was at a radical angle from where it should be sitting. M photograph really doesn't half show how bizarre it all looked and yet in some odd way it added real charm to the place.

We were in kind of a hurry since the days are very short indeed here and it's getting very dark by 4 p.m. this time of year, so we didn't linger as long as we would have liked at any of the spots. Next we passed a few miles up this beautiful and tranquil road toward Llanthony Priory, one of my favorite spots. On the way we passed a man out hedge-trimming (with a tractor and apparatus these days) who courteously found a passing place to let us by. Up the road to the Priory, I think Judy and Leon were gobsmacked at the ruins of the Priory and noticed right off that there's a cafe and B&B there (though they were closed). The ruins aren't as grand in scale as those of the famous Tintern Abbey (if you're a Wordsworth fan) but to me they are far more beautiful because of the setting in which they stand. It is about as remote as it gets around these parts and the arches are surrounded by lovely bracken-covered hills. For me, in some strange way, a cathedral without a roof and stained glass windows, walls and all the trappings of some of the beautiful houses of God is somehow even more uplifting - it is literally a part of nature and it is nature that inspires my spiritual side.

We had just a few minutes at Llanthony (I'd like to go pony trekking there some day) and headed on up toward Capel y FFin, a favorite spot of mine. It's a little settlement with a farm, one of those famous red phone kiosks, and church and a chapel (they both look like chapels to Americans, small and white and surrounded by weathered tombstones, nestled below looming hills). If you go into the church by the road, you'll find that as you sit in a pew and gaze up at the window above the altar, the window is etched with the scripture, "I will lift mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help." And there, in the distance behind the window are the beautiful hills.

We headed on up toward Hay Bluff where I've done some climbing in the past. I pointed out the smallholding (small farm) where my friend Maz was raised nestled under the looming peaks and a nice stand of pines and across from Lord Hereford's Knob. We made our way through the Gospel Pass and up across the narrow road that winds through Hay Bluff. Leon and Judy were reminded of Scotland here with the craggy peaks wreathed in fog. We parked where I often see my friend Viv out flying his hawks or folks flying kites and had a few pictures with the gorse (in its lovely yellow flowers) and the free-range horses who kindly posed for wide-nostriled photos in front of the hills.

Down yet another exciting single lane road and into Hay-on-Wye, a very interesting place to visit full of artisans and cute little shops and.....well, bookstores. We stopped off at the Black Lion for hot chocolate and coffee - that's a good spot and then made our way back up the hills around Clyro and Newchurch to home. We had a little trouble as the clutch went out but I managed to coast home slowly in second gear. Later in the evening we enjoyed the best steak I've had in I don't know how long, and good cider and perry, and handcut chips (french fries) and nice fresh vegetables and the company of good friends and a warm crackling fire...all this at the Harp Inn in Old Radnor. For all the pubs I've visited in this country, the Harp is still my favorite and David and Jenny are fine hosts.

Next day we started up Smatcher for a view of the valley, then cruised down into New Radnor and up Mutton Dingle, across into the forestry for an even more spectacular view of the Radnor Valley. Since L&J only had a day and a half here, we were always pressed for time and didn't linger long at any of the places that surely deserved far more than a glance, but such is the nature of whirlwind tours. We followed the A-44 through Llandegley and Penybont (they often remarked at the sheep in the road as we passed through various "commons"), Crossgates (where we found a much-needed loo) and on to Rhayader. We were lucky enough to find a parking spot on the main drag just past the war memorial that sits smack in the middle of the "square" in a sort of roundabout kind of place, a junction of two "main" roads. We decided to go to Carole's there for some lunch and soon found ourselves huddled over our Welsh cawl - bowls of soup with chicken and "root" vegetables (carrots, swede, potatoes), Welsh cheddar cheese and crusty brown bread. Absolutely delicious! And more hot chocolate. It was one of the colder days we've had this season and that lunch absolutely hit the spot.
Soon we were headed out to the Elan Valley and we took the sort of backwards way around because the sun was just too much in our eyes, following another narrow mountain road up past some farms, a "tombstone way marker - "Aberystwyth 29, Rhayader 1/2," a lake with ducks, a stream that spilled down the hillside to the lake, the sheep pens up on the hill, and then coming over a hilltop (masses of wind turbines in the distance to our right) to see the River Elan winding through the valley like some twisted silver thread, what a sight! Of course we stopped a dozen times for photos, then made our way down to the valley and started winding our way past isolated farms and century-old dams and back into Rhayader.

We stopped at the dams and made photos, of course (doesn't everyone) but it was getting near dark and there was a real bite in the air, so much so that there was ice on the road in several places, quite unusual for this time of year in Wales (it rarely dips below freezing here).

That evening we went to the Hundred House Inn, another nice old pub in the shadow of Aberedw Hill, for a nice dinner and pints of Old Peculier. I think Leon liked that. And before we knew it it was time to head home for some much-needed rest!

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Country Ways, Foggy Days

Today I headed for such well-known spots as Snodhill and Urishay; I reckon they're in the west of England, but perhaps they're in Wales. At any rate, they're not too many miles from Hereford or Hay-on-Wye. Up that way (like so many places around here) the lanes are narrow and passing places are few and far between. It wasn't so many years ago that I had nightmares of meeting someone coming the other way on one of these lanes. Going up toward Dorstone this morning I took a narrow and winding lane up from Bredwardine toward Dorstone with a 25% grade!!! Try stopping quickly on that with mud in the road and blind curves at every turn. It's quite amazing that more wrecks don't happen around here.

So I reached Snodhill after passing the Pandy Inn in Dorstone (a good place, I'm told) and it wasn't long till I found a bunch of my friends, as they so often are, leaning over a galvanized gate straining to catch a glimpse of the horses and hounds as they enjoyed their exercise. I was standing on a high field looking down at the scene in front of me. Behind me were castle ruins (Snodhill Castle) and a small wood that surrounds them. I stood there on the hill with men named Dai and Derek, regular old names in these parts. Soon a very distinguished gentleman way up in his 90s strode up to us with his horn-handled walking stick, dressed in fairly traditional garb for the gents of his generation (posh wellies, very tidy appearance and a good dose of wool and tweed), and we all started chatting about the things we'd seen in past years from this same spot. Back in those days we saw foxes running this way and that from the creek below across the fields and on up into the wood; now these things are relegated to memory.

Soon the horses and hounds appeared below, a few fields off, down by a bit of a stream. I left the gentlemen and walked down close to the road where I thought the horses would soon be coming past and got my big Nikon ready for some action shots.

My guess proved lucky and soon the hounds and huntsman rounded the bend toward me followed by the mounted field. They went on up around the castle tump (hills provide better exercise) and came down through the little wood by which I happened to be standing. Dai, a local farmer and good guy, courteously held open the old wooden gate so the huntsman, hounds and mounted field could pass through. As it happened that was the closest glimpse I was to have of horses and hounds all day.

Following the hounds has helped me to learn the countryside and meet its humble people in a way that few other activities could have. For this I am eternally grateful as it is the countryside and the ways of its down-to-earth people that keep me returning here again and again. It's the roadside chats with friendly folks and the chance glimpse of a red kite or a fox or a hare or a hedgehog that keeps me roaming and rambling the countryside with eyes peeled and heart wide open.

The door here is just one of many such doors I glimpsed today as I passed up narrow, inviting lanes. I met a nice chap on whose door I knocked after (never done this before) I chanced to skid on some wet leaves and went straight into his hedge, leaving a fencepost at 45 degrees to the ground. He was surprised I'd stopped to confess and in his country way insisted that I not worry a bit about it, he'd go down and put it right just now. That's the kind of folks I live around.

On the way home as the light (what little there was today!) was dipping lower in the sky and the hills were shrouded in fog, I saw an older lady near a quarry entrance who had a flat tire. Now I don't have a clue how to change a tire but I stopped to lend moral support - and flagged down a lorry driver who soon put it right. Good folks out here in the country, to be sure.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Rosettes for Secret

Golden Valley "Rustic" and "Cromwell"

Up early this morning, I headed out for the Welsh Winter Fair held near Llandrindod Wells in Llanelwydd. After forking over a 10 pound note (that's about $22 folks) just to get in I got myself over to the Welsh hound show, the only reason I went to the Winter Fair. I must say the hounds did not disappoint. They moved the show this year into a kind of big shed which unfortunately we shared with the farriers. Nothing against them, but all the clanging and banging sort of distracted our gorgeous hounds.

About 15 Welsh packs were represented at the competition and the Teme Valley proudly left with the Supreme Champion cup and rosette for T.V. Secret. My pal Tasha, now about 9 months pregnant, got to lead the parade of hound champions. Due to misinformation I missed the parade which is always a Winter Fair highlight for me. The Teme Valley brought home a slew of red ribbons (in this country red is for FIRST prize, blue is second). And the Golden Valley also had a very good showing winning several classes as well as champion English foxhound. All in all it was a lovely day for hounds.

GV English Champion "Pansy"

Teme Valley Supreme Welsh Champion "Secret"

Lots of folks stopped by to cheer on their favorite hounds. Judges were John Holliday of the Ledbury and Mr. Evans. The Golden Valley's Chris Davies, MFH, did a superb job emceeing the event. Billy Thomas forgot her lipstick but still won several firsts for the Teme Valley. It's good to know the judges can't be swayed by Billy's feminine wiles!

Toward the end of the hound show I had a chance to catch up with my old buddy, hunt photographer Jim Meads. Jim stays busy traveling between the States and packs around the U.K. and is about to publish yet another fine collection of his hunting photographs so watch for it in 2008.

I wandered around the rest of the Winter Fair, through several halls full of goods for sale, but the hounds were the main event for me today. It's always nice to stop in at the Gray's exhibit to check out their latest Border Fine Arts pieces. That place was full of animal, tractor, and farming collectables. The sun was setting over Aberedw Hill in a splendid palette of blues and pinks as I headed back through Hundred House on that winding road for home.

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Just Say NO to Turbines!

This morning I joined with about 100 friends and strangers to walk up near the top of one of the local "tumps" in protest of a proposal to build 3 wind turbines on that land. Though the turbine company wants us to believe that these nearly 400 foot high turbines would merely be visible for 3 miles (never mind all of us who would see them every day) they would in fact end up providing precious little energy to anyone, let alone those who have to see them when they look out their windows. They would provide a sizeable lump of cash to the farmer on whose land they sit but any advantage to others is dubious at best (and it doesn't matter which farmer we're talking about here; if these turbines are approved dozens of other applications will soon be made and the hills will be obliterated by these things -- look at the ridges around Llanbadarn Fynydd to see the proof in what I say). There is no way that they would be visible for a "mere" 3 miles as we've been told....the thin mast on the top of the nearby Radnor Forest can be seen for at least 20 miles and it is only half the height and nowhere near the size of the proposed turbines!

These turbines haven't lowered anyone's electric bills. They haven't helped migratory birds and contrary to the propaganda freely handed out by the wind company (which seems to amount to a lot of hot air) they certainly do not improve the sense of peace and serenity of one of the most beautiful natural landscapes I've ever seen.

While it looked at times like it would rain we were fortunate enough to have reasonably good weather and we got there early so we viewed various groups of people, dogs and trekking ponies making their way up to this high point to gather in protest against these wind turbines. A representative of the company was there with his Nikon, and I with mine. Many people took the time to create some very clever banners and signs (the ponies did NOT like them) and we spent a pleasant hour or two up on that hill chatting about this and that and getting together for these group photographs before making our way down to our Sunday dinners. We were waiting for the delegation from the pony trekking group that regularly ride these Radnor hills to appear...they did, and predictably these steady steeds were spooked not only by the sheepdogs and the people talking but also by the big posters being waved around. As one of the women on horseback asked me...can you imagine how they would react to turbines with 100 foot blades making loud noises and whirring in the air? Not good.

Unlike most American protests I've seen there were no police or militia, no shouting, no fists waving, just a group of folks in wellies and raincoats, flat caps and scarves, tugging sheepdogs and spaniels and assorted dogs, out to voice their disapproval of what can only amount to a blot on the face of a gorgeous landscape.

Let them build these things out at sea - or somewhere around Merthyr Tydfil, not here in our lovely Radnorshire hills. There are some areas of natural beauty that must be preserved for our children and the generations that follow. These areas are quickly being swept away by clever businessmen out to make a buck. Let's not let these beautiful Radnorshire hills fall prey to such vultures.

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