Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Chatting at Black Lion Green

When I went down to Black Lion Green the other day to take a photo of the bridge there (which is narrower at one end than the other), I bumped into someone I know who lives down there. We had a good chat about the local wildlife - he said he'd seen a huge dog otter in the area recently. Other people have seen it around, too, as well as kingfishers flying down the Dulas Brook.
He's also seen a few amusing things happening on the bridge.
There's a little gate at one end of the bridge, which is very easy to open, but one day he saw a chap who was going up into the field to do a bit of metal detecting, and this chap tried to open the gate the wrong way. It stuck, of course. The chap got more and more annoyed with the gate until he started hitting it with his spade - like something out of a silent movie!

Something else I noticed while I was at Black Lion Green was the circle of logs on the grass, which look as if they are for story telling, maybe for the Forest School? And they have a willow archway leading to them:


That's going to be fun to run through when it bushes out a bit!

Monday, 18 September 2017

A Visit to Treholford House and Gardens

It's Brecknock History Festival this month, and the theme is The Houses and Estates of Brecknockshire - which is why Treholford House was open to the public on Saturday. A friend asked me if I'd like to go with her to see it.


It's a beautiful building - the part to the right is older, with the rounded middle and the rest of that wing added in 1837. The views of Llangorse Lake (which is part of the 3,000 acre estate) are gorgeous. It's also very obviously a family home, so it was very generous of them to let visitors in to wander everywhere - especially as some of the carpets are white, and they'll need a good clean now! Upstairs there are several school photos of boys of the family at Malvern College.
We also noticed that one of the Blackham family is a talented cross stitcher - there are several framed embroideries around the house, including a fine pair in the library of Nefertiti and Tutankhamun on a dark blue background with gold thread.
There was a lot of historical information laid out (on what is probably a Jacobean table) in the library, including Victorian family albums and reports of the big estate sale in 1919. At that time Treholford was part of the Buckland estate, which covered 30,000 acres! The death of the owner, JPW Gwynne Holford, meant the break up of the estate into smaller units.
We spent a lot of time looking round the house and gardens - although there are only two main phases to the building of the house, it was still quite complex to unravel, and there are supposed to be 17thC elements hidden within the older part of the house. We counted 20 chimneys when we were standing at the back of the walled garden (you could see in the walled garden from the house, but it wasn't open to walk round). It must be wonderful to wake up in that master bedroom to that amazing view of the lake (my friend said she'd move the bed to see it better), and then descend into the en suite bathroom (three or four steps down). What we presumed to be the mistress bedroom had only a wash basin, but it may have been installed in the 1920s, by the style of it, so would have been the height of comfort then. We did wonder where the original fireplaces were, though - those big rooms with big windows must have got chilly in winter, and there's no sign of them now, unless they were behind the big wardrobes.
We saw the sliding doors of the carriage house (now a garage) and tracked down the stables in the garden outbuildings just up the hill. Further up is an orchard, and there's also a walled garden, which is listed. We noticed drainage, and gullies in the garden - it must get quite wet in winter.
And there was also cake, and tea, provided by the members of the Llyn Syfaddan History Group, who are raising money to fund a volunteer dig at nearby Blaenllynfi Castle. Llyn Syfaddan is the Welsh name for Llangorse Lake.
Among the historical information were mentions of other places of interest in the area, which all seemed to have been part of the Buckland estate. If my friend had been on her own, she would probably have come home, but since we were together, we decided to go on and search out some of the other places in the area that we'd seen mentioned.
First was Cathedine Church, just at the bottom of the drive. It was interesting that two of the houses next to it were called The Towers and Tower House, though we couldn't see a tower. We managed to find a place to pull in to park - sadly for the church, there seems to be no place for cars to park to get to it. Someone is still maintaining the churchyard - the paths were mown, but the latest grave there we could see was dated 2003, and someone had chalked "Please Help Save Our Church" on the front step.
The church looks as if it is all one, Victorian, build, until you get round the far side and see the remains of an older wall sticking out from the tower. Some of the graves are older than the church building, too - this was the earliest one we saw:


Sorry it's sideways!

Then we explored the back lanes, looking for Blaenllynfi castle. Finding houses called Blaenllynfi Cottage and Castle Cottage, we stopped - and trespassed in a neighbouring garden to inspect what looked like a small motte. However, looking it up online later, I found that the main castle, which includes quite a bit of stonework, is actually in the woods - which we couldn't get to - and the boggy area we could see from the mound is probably the medieval fish ponds!

So then we decided to try to find Penkelly Castle (as it was spelled in the 18thC picture we saw earlier). This is in the village of Pencelli, near Talybont - and it's now a caravan and camping park! There was a picture of the original castle, which was quite substantial, in the reception area. The lady there was very helpful and told us where the castle ditch was - it's still very deep, and part of it was used for the canal when they were building it in the 18th century. That's when most of the remaining stonework was taken down and used elsewhere, too. And this was the chapel of the castle, St Leonard's, which was later converted into a house:


Pencelli Castle Caravan and Camping Park has a website at www.pencelli-castle.com, and it looks to be a well-run site - they had signs up saying they'd won awards for their clean loos! The barns by the house were full of vintage farm carts and tractors, too.

So we did quite a bit of exploring in the end, and had a lot of fun.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

New School Site Tour

I was lucky enough to be included in the site tour of the new school building this week, as I've had my arm twisted to become the minutes secretary of HOWLS, the library supporters' group. (They didn't have to twist very hard. It's easy to stand up for something you believe in.)
Also with us was a group from the Town Council, including the Mayor, Trudi, and Nigel the Town Clerk. We were supposed to be meeting the county councillor who is the portfolio holder for libraries and the Chief Librarian, but at the last minute, the county councillor said she couldn't come, so we just met the Chief Librarian.
The way into the building site is down the path at the bottom of the car park that connects with Forest Road, where there's a turnstile arrangement which is electronically operated. When we got inside, there's a path to the site huts.
Building site offices have changed since I was an archaeologist! These are very comfortable and clean, and there are signs up for health and safety issues - as well as a couple of big signs saying "No Foul Language", since they're building right next to a working school, just over the fence. We went into a meeting room, where we were issued with hard hats and hi-vis jackets before we went into the new school building. We had already been told to wear sturdy shoes - alas, my steel toe cap boots I was issued for the Norwich Castle Mall dig wore out long ago, but I was wearing sensible boots.
The tall yellow part of the building that is closest to the car park is the new school hall, and the "community" rooms are attached to it on the side nearest the car park. The hall has the kitchen at one end, for school meals. We went through to stand in the room that the County Council want to move the Library into.
The chap from Willmott Dixon, the building contractors, was very helpful, and had plans of that part of the building printed off for us.
On the side nearest the car park are five tall windows, with narrow lengths of wall between. This is where the five computer terminals are planned to go. In the corner nearest to the front door will be the librarian's counter, and on the other side of the door there will be a small office tucked into the corner. At the back of the room, on the same side as the office and against the wall with the hall will be a "Tea Point" with a sink, and behind that, two toilets, which will be accessible for disabled users. The only wall space suitable for fixed shelving will be the wall with the hall, between the office and the door to the hall (which will be normally locked, and openable with an electronic fob). The wall is double thickness for sound proofing, so anyone in the library room will not be distracted by the sounds of children doing PE or having lunch.
There is no separate area for the children's library - it's all one rectangular room.
At the back of the library room, and narrower because of the Tea Point and toilets - and the toilet for the Kitchen which also slots in at the back of the room, is the community space. This will be divided from the library by a folding partition, but when not in use for community purposes, and when the library is open, it is supposed that people will be able to sit there to read the papers or whatever else they need to do.
We paced this part of the building out - it is 10 paces long and 6 or 7 across - there were some building materials in the way, so we couldn't do a complete straight line. It has its own separate entrance, and separate entrance to the Tea Point and toilets.
The chap from Willmott Dixon would have shown us the classroom block, too, but at the moment they are laying the underfloor heating, so it would have been a bit difficult. When we were standing outside, he showed us how each classroom will have a separate front door, leading to coat pegs and toilet in an anteroom and then into the main classroom. The classrooms are four in a row on each side of a wide corridor down the middle of the building.
He said that the building work had been complicated on this particular site because they first had to demolish part of the old school to make room for the new hall, and provide a new portacabin to replace the classroom they knocked down. So normally they would start with the tallest and most complex part of the build - the hall, but this time they started with the classroom block and joined the two parts together later. He said it's actually worked out quite well, as they come to the installation of the electrics and water and so on.
We were standing in the area which will become what I think he called a "mugger" - a Multi Use something or other - I think he meant a playground with a hard surface. There will be another hard surfaced play area round the other side of the classroom block, and the rest will be grassed over.
Someone asked about the Swimming Pool building, and he said that the building contractors had been asked if they could do anything to renovate the building, so they would be having a meeting with the Pool committee to see what was feasible. He said they wanted to help, but expectations would have to be realistic - there was only a limited amount of help they could give.
When it looks less like a building site and more like a building, with the plaster board up on the walls, they are planning to have an Open Day. This will be in December. He said they are well on schedule for finishing the building early next year, probably February.

After the site meeting, I went to the Library to compare the size of the present building with what I had just seen while it is fresh in my mind. It really is going to be a quart squeezed into a pint pot. It may be a very nice pint pot, but it is still inadequate to the needs of the population of Hay and the surrounding area.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Small Business Saturday


Welcome to Charlotte of Hay, right next to the Buttermarket. They're selling clothes, scarves, bags, shoes, and oddments like Tarot cards and polished stones - and the clothes are all Fairtrade (I'm not sure what else is).

Thursday, 14 September 2017

A Day out to Stokesay Castle

This is such a lovely little castle. I've been meaning to go there for a long time, and on Tuesday I finally managed it.
The journey is pretty easy - bus to Hereford, and train to Craven Arms. You can actually see the castle on the approach to Craven Arms station, so I thought it would be pretty easy to walk out and find it. The off-peak fare, by the way, was £14.10 return, which meant that the last train I could return on was the 3.38pm.
The main road through Craven Arms is parallel to the railway tracks, more or less, so it was easy to follow, and there is a pavement up one side. A lot of lorries swept past me at speed as I walked along - I wouldn't have attempted it if there was only a grass verge. Also, the pavement was on the same side as the castle, so I didn't need to cross the road.
There's a small side road leading to the castle, and by then you can see it in the distance, with the English Heritage flag flying. The road passes the old school house, now a private house, which had a lot of bird feeders for sale outside in the garden.


Next you get to the churchyard - and if you're walking, you can cut through there instead of going round to the car park, to the entrance of the castle. I didn't know this, and went the long way round.
There's a modern block facing the gatehouse, with toilets and shop, which is also where you buy the tickets. Adult entry is £7.60, or you can add on a bit for gift aid, and they give you a device to listen to with all the details of the guided tour. I didn't take mine - I already had a guide book and I hate getting distracted by a voice in my ear.
I really enjoyed exploring - the solar which has little shuttered windows to look down on the Great Hall is probably the best preserved, with wooden panelling and an impressive 17thC fireplace. Here's the view down into the Great Hall:


One room, which can only be viewed through a glass door, has medieval tiles on the floor, and a couple of rooms had notices up about the bats that roost there. They also warned visitors not to touch any bats, as there is a danger of bat rabies.
I went right up to the very top of the tallest tower:


and down to Laurence of Ludlow's strong room, with bars at the windows - and down to the cellar where you can see what look like the marks of the ends of barrels rubbed into the plaster, so probably the wine cellar.
One lady leaned into an alcove off a bedroom, wondering what was there, and I said it was probably a latrine. "Oh, they had en suite!" she said. The couple were on holiday, and asked me about other local attractions. They'd just come down from York, where they thought they'd probably stayed too long, and Chester, where they wished they'd stayed for longer.

Also trotting round the castle was a school party, looking very solemn as they filled in the worksheets on their clip boards. They were young enough to assume that any adult nearby must be there to help them, so when I was in the shop I got a little girl waving something she wanted to buy with her pocket money at me and asking how much it said on the label!

After taking my time wandering round the castle - you can even go down in the moat, where apple trees are growing now - I went over to the church, St John the Baptist. Inside, it is almost unchanged from the 17th century, with the Ten Commandments and Creed and other Biblical texts on the walls, and the box pew for the family from the castle right by the pulpit. The font is tiny, and very plain.

I also learned, from the guide book, why the town is called Craven Arms. The big public house on the main road gave it's name to the railway station, and the pub took its name from the family who owned Stokesay Castle. After the family of Laurence of Ludlow, the wool merchant who built most of what we can see now, the castle went through various hands until it reached Lord Craven in the 17th century. He had the gatehouse built - and then the Civil War started, and he probably wished he'd chosen something a bit more easily defended. The castle was taken by Parliamentarian forces on their way to Ludlow without a shot being fired, though the walls around the courtyard were later pulled down to a less defensible height, as they remain today, and all Lord Craven's estates were confiscated.

And then it was off to the tea rooms, on the other side of the car park, very nicely done in shades of white and grey with red tiles, in a red brick Victorian farmhouse. The chocolate cake was delicious, and the friendly lady behind the counter was called Zakia, and had a floral scarf over her hair.

Then it was back along the busy main road to Craven Arms, where I found a nice charity bookshop, and the Museum of Lost Content, which I didn't have time to go into. Also on the edge of town is the Discovery Centre, with a grass roof. I think it was there to publicise local attractions, and the sign outside mentioned a mammoth found locally! So there's scope for another visit.

I was also very pleased to find free public toilets on the way back to the railway station - though it was a bit of a shock to hear a disembodied voice welcoming me as I closed the door, and warning me not to linger too long!

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Adam Dworski - A Potter's Centenary

It's h.art week around Herefordshire, and over at Pottery Cottage in Clyro there's an exhibition on celebrating the life and work of Adam Dworski.
He lived there, and had his studio there for many years, until he moved to a studio just across the main road (now demolished).
Pottery Cottage is now owned by the Balch family - Oliver, who wrote Under the Tump recently, about life in the area, and Emma, who runs A Book A Day in Hay website amongst other things, and they were keen to have the exhibition in the house. Gareth Howell-Jones was there to take me round the exhibition - which was his idea originally.
The tour begins in the room which was Adam Dworski's original studio - he really didn't need a lot of room to work in. The potter's wheel is borrowed, but the stool and rug are the ones Adam used himself. In what is now the bathroom are two black and white photographs - one of Adam Dworski, and one of his daughter Marijana, aged five, holding a pot and taken in that very room. Adam and his wife Patricia had three children, Marijana, who became a bookseller in Hay-on-Wye (and now Presteigne), Adam and Mark.
The exhibits are displayed on tables and window ledges and in cabinets around the house. Barbara Erskine has lent the sculpture that Adam Dworski made for her after the success of her book Lady of Hay, of Matilda de Braose riding side saddle on a horse. There are also sculptures of Leda and the Swan and Europa and the bull, two of the seductions of Zeus from Classical mythology. Mostly, though, he made domestic pottery - beautifully elegant little milk jugs, for example - and there's a plate with the words "Run For Your Wife, Shaftesbury Avenue" which he made for the cast of the first production of the play, because one of his friends was performing in it. He also made plaques, of fish, and mounted knights, and Madonnas. He experimented with porcelain, and he also painted. I was fascinated by the book of sketches he made of a 1950s visit to Croatia, his homeland, with his wife - some very good sailing boats, and pictures of walks in the hills, and evenings sitting at outdoor tables, waving bottles in the air.
There's a booklet on sale about the exhibition, made locally, for £4, which gives some more information about Adam Dworski's life, and comments by Marijana Dworski, Gareth Howell-Jones and Emma Balch.
It's a fascinating exhibition, and only on for this week!


And these plaques are on the wall outside Pottery Cottage.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Steampunk Weekend at Hereford Waterworks Museum


The last time I wore a crinoline, I was cosplaying Billie, a Victorian badger from Bryan Talbot's Grandville series of graphic novels, which was great fun, and Bryan Talbot himself took a photo of me and my Young Man, who was portraying the hero of the novels, Inspector LeBrock, who is romantically involved with Billie.
So that was wonderful - but I hadn't mastered the art of sitting down in a crinoline, and had terrible trouble with the hoops of the underskirt going up in the air whenever I tried to sit down.

This time, I've cracked it! The trick is to pull up the hoops at the back of the skirt as you sit down, and the hoops will stay decorously down at the front.
I needed to know this before I got on the 39 bus, on the way to Hereford on Saturday. However, it would have been difficult for anyone to sit next to me on the bus, as I took up rather a lot of room sideways!

I'd never been to the Waterworks Museum before, but I knew roughly where it was - there's a brown sign next to a church, on the ring road, and if you look into town from there, you can see the cathedral.
And Broomy Hill is a fascinating area to walk through - full of big Victorian houses, with big gardens, and in-filled with more modern, smaller houses and bungalows. There was a shower of rain, but fortunately my costume included an umbrella!
The Museum leaflet says there's a path along the banks of the river - I may try that next time I go (not while wearing a crinoline, though!). They also have a website at www.waterworksmuseum.org.uk


Here's one of the earliest forms of water power - an overshot wheel. In the buildings were many more, and most of them were working. There was that distinctive tang of oil and coal in the air.

And outside the main building there were stalls, selling Steampunk clothing, replica weapons, mirrors, candle holders, jewellery.... Up at the end of the line was a camper van, ordinary on the outside, but transformed on the inside with all sorts of gadgets made by the owner, with gauges, and bubbling red liquid, and dragons' heads in brass, and copper pipes....it looked fantastic, and he was showing it off for donations to the Macmillan Fund.
Next to that was the coffee stall. They also had a few bits and pieces for sale, and I couldn't resist the door wedge marked "HODOR" (Game of Thrones fans will get the reference). Poor Hodor. I got talking to the lady at the coffee stall, who said that they were trying to think of ways to make their coffee cart look more Steampunk. I suggested they look out for the Girl Genius graphic novels. In one of them, the Girl Genius has her first cup of coffee (she has always been forbidden coffee before because of the effect it will have on her). In a fit of manic, coffee-fuelled frenzy, she transforms the coffee making machine with her Mad Science skills - and the visuals that go with that should give the coffee cart people lots of good ideas.
Food was also on offer, with a barbequed meat stall (I didn't get round to eating anything there) and music was provided by Caroline the Musical Saw Lady.

She did a brilliant version of the Doctor Who theme (she had a backing track to play with) and also Wuthering Heights!

Inside were more stalls - jewellery, vintage clothing, chocolate (I succumbed to a chocolate Dalek and Tardis - they also did a Millenium Falcon and R2D2), mead - I can highly recommend the Trolls Bottom Heather Honey mead, which is light and fragrant, and dances on the tongue. They also do things like banana rum and coffee vodka, and have a website at www.trollsbottom.com
I bought a lovely pair of high heeled ankle boots from one vintage stall (I almost never wear heels, but these were just perfect for costume purposes). She asked where I got the leather school satchel I was using to carry things around, and I told her about Bain and Murrin's in Hay. Most people were wearing costume - a splendid array of top hats, fancy waistcoats, ruffled skirts and, of course, goggles. Also, tricorn hats - Pirate Steampunk is also a thing.

For the Coglings (young Steampunks) there was a play park with lots of water themed things to do, and round the back of the museum is a miniature railway with a proper station platform (not open during the weekend).

In the evening they had live music. There was also an escapologist who turned up on a bicycle with a large box on the front, for storage - and it was also his stage! And I saw one chap carrying fire clubs around with him.

The Museum is open every Tuesday from 11am to 4pm, all year round, with special events throughout the year, so I'll certainly be back to see the engines again, and there will be another Steampunk Weekend next year, on 28/29th April, so I'm looking forward to that!