Even more history on your doorstep

Zulu! One of my favourite films, Michael Caine’s big break and a classic movie of the 60’s.

Zulu tells the story of the defenders of Rorke’s Drift during the Anglo-Zulu war in the late 19th Century. Over two days – 22 and 23 January 1879 – around 150 British and colonial soldiers successfully defended the mission station from attack by between 3 and 4 thousand Zulu warriors. By any standard it was a heroic battle; 11 Victoria Crosses and 4 Distinguished Conduct Medals were awarded for that one action.

Of the 150 or so defenders, one stands out for me. Not because of his actions but because this afternoon I came across his grave in the local churchyard. I didn’t know it was there and I was in the graveyard for a completely different reason. But the clean and well tended headstone with fresh flowers attracted my attention, situated as it was in an older part of the plot amongst old and collapsing grave markers.

Private ‘David Lewis’ was born James Owens in 1852 near Whitland. In his teens he sought and obtained work in the tin works at Swansea Docks before he became a weaver. He married in 1875 and had two children, one of whom was named David Lewis Owens. He enlisted into the  2nd Battalion, 24th Regiment of Foot at Brecon in December 1876 under the name David Lewis. His pay was sent to his sister.

In 1878 he sailed with his regiment to South Africa where he fought in the Cape Frontier war and the Zulu war between 1877-79. He was invalided to England and discharged from service in August 1879 with heart problems. He returned to Swansea where, as James Owens, he resumed his trade as a weaver. Years later, he lost an eye in an accident when he went into work on his day off to collect his wages.

James Owens died on 1 July 1938 in Brynmill, Swansea, aged 87 and was buried with full military honours at Bethel Church, just down the road from where I live.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A walk in the woods

In the quest for the perfect misty woods photo every opportunity has to be taken advantage of. No matter how wet and muddy I’ll end up getting, it will be worth it. Or so Rufus told me this morning when I looked out of the window at the mist and drizzle and contemplated another day indoors. Of course Rufus didn’t actually say that to me. To imply that he can talk would be silly. No, he used his Jedi mind tricks to ensure that I knew that going out to Gelli Hir woods this morning was the right thing to do.

Gelli Hir is an ancient woodland, which means it is has been in existence since the 17th Century, probably longer. In the middle there is a pond which hosts ducks and dragonflies and boasts its own little hide. As you walk from south to north you pass through the oak and willow to one dominated by sycamore and beech. This place is one of my favourite woodland areas, with plenty of birdsong doing its best to drown out the occasional aeroplane from nearby Fairwood airport. In the spring, a carpet of bluebells fills the southern part of the wood. It’s always wet and muddy and all you have to worry about is how wet and muddy this time.

We set of in thick mist and the prospect of some lovely soft mist swirling around the old, twisted trees had me picturing what kind of photos I was aiming for. Too often I am guilty of not really visualising in advance and while sometimes I enjoy the spontaneity, I know I will get better results applying a bit of thought in advance. It’s one of the things I’m trying to get into the habit of doing.

We left the main path almost immediately and stepped into the mud and leafy mulch. It would be more accurate to describe the first 100 yards or so as marshland rather than path and we both splashed and squelched through, all the while getting wetter as water dripped from the leaves. And the atmospheric mist swirling around the trees? Nope! For some reason, there was next to no mist in the woods. We had dropped down slightly from the level of the moor when we left the main road and I hadn’t noticed. Rufus wasn’t worried and he enjoyed the myriad of new scents and aromas as he dashed back and forth, making sure he also sampled all of the mud.

In the distance, cows called to each other and it was eerie in the silent woods. For some reason, there were no birds singing and the mist helped to deaden any other sounds. Apart from the cows, all I could hear were out footsteps and the drips of water from the trees. Everything was a lush green with the recent rain, even in the dull grey light of an overcast morning. But still no mist.

We emerged from the woods back on to the main path and almost immediately reached the pond. A couple of moorhens were surprised to see us and disappeared with much flapping and splashing into the reeds. Two ducks remained calm and aloof and just kept an eye on us as we passed. A little further on, we climbed a small but steep hill and surprised a buzzard. Before I could even reach for my camera, it had spread its wings and flown off between the trees. Shortly afterwards, I started to hear birdsong again.

With little prospect of the beautiful misty woods I’d envisioned, we set off back to the car. Out of the woods, I grabbed a bag and we did a #2minutelitterpick along the road back to the main road. Looking back from the junction, the woods were shrouded in a thick mist. In around 10 minutes, I managed to remove plastic bottles, glass bottles and food wrappers discarded by the side of the road. Most of what I picked up was recyclable. Its a shame that people can’t be bothered to do a simple thing like take their rubbish home with them.

Back home, Rufus was so muddy that a shower was required and no amount of Jedi mid trickery prevented it from happening. We’d done more than two miles through the woods and so while Rufus dried out on the sofa (which involved a lot of snoring), I set off down the road to the local graveyard as I’d had a few ideas about capturing black and white images of the gravestones in the overgrown site.

When I was a kid, my gran lived opposite this graveyard and whenever we stayed with her, which was often, I’d sleep in the room overlooking the graves. It never bothered me and still doesn’t. I find graveyards fascinating; the inscriptions on the headstones are very much of their time and a lot can be read into the style of words and design. This graveyard has become very overgrown in recent months and while it’s a shame that some of the graves have all but disappeared beneath brambles and tall grass, it also makes for interesting photographs.

Many of the graves had collapsed completely, or were not far from doing so. A couple of the taller headstones were leaning so much that I was wary of going too close. Other graves were marked by simple wooden crosses that remained upright and betrayed their age through weathering. I always look for the distinctively simple military headstones and there were only two. One was from 1915, a ‘Serjeant’ Evans of 6th Btn, the Welsh Regiment. (I looked it up and found that the 6th Btn was sent to the Western Front in 1915). The other (Webb) was from 25 years later, in 1940. I couldn’t find out much about him other than the regiment was in the Western Desert at that time. He was 42 when he was killed, so he would have been 17 when Evans was killed and the chances are Webb would have served in WW1 too.

A grey day weather wise, and grey describes how I feel after having researched these two soldiers.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Rufus and Dave’s Fortnight of Fun part 7: Preseli

I’ve never walked the Preseli mountains before. They’ve been in the background of photographs and they’ve been visible from other places I’ve walked, but I’ve never climbed them. So today was a new experience for me. And, of course, Rufus. I memorised the route and we set off in the commuter chaos that is Sketty at 8.30am. I’d read about the area and planned a route that would take us onto three separate peaks over about 6 miles.

I missed the correct turning off the A40 and took a secondary route. By the time I’d actually found the village nearest to the start point, I must have completely circumnavigated the mountains and we’d driven 50% further than the route I’d planned. But eventually, we got to the little layby and we were off.

The moor between the gate and the slope of Foeldrygarn was covered in sheep, but they parted before us as we made our way north. Once we’d cleared the sheepline (there was a definite line above which there were a lot fewer sheep) Rufus was off the lead and charging all over the moor while I tried to slow him down so he wouldn’t wear himself out. I knew this walk would be the longest we’d done this year and I didn’t want him struggling towards the end.

We passed over the ramparts of the iron Age hillfort and on the the central burial cairn, where there is a trig point. From there, the views were wonderful, although they would be even better in clear conditions; a haze was coming down over the mountains. To the west was the peak that had first attracted me to this part of Wales. Carn Menyn (Butter cairn or top, also known as Carn Meini) was where the Bluestones that form the inner horseshoe of standing stones at Stonehenge were quarried and worked.

We dropped down off the hill and walked parallel to a managed forest on our left. This track was the main route across this part of the country and is reckoned to be up to 5,000 years old. It provided safety from the wild animals (wolves and bears) that once roamed the valleys below. The whole area is home to a number of ancient monuments and dwellings. Graves and standing stones line the track; likely to be travellers who didn’t get to where they were going. Hut circles and platforms litter the hillsides and the remains of hillforts sit on the mountain tops. Near by the wrecks of two WW2 planes can be found.

After 20 minutes or so we were at Carn Menyn. The rocks are weather in such a way that they form natural rectangular blocks which would need relatively little effort to quarry and shape into the stones that form part of Stonehenge. The great mystery is why they used these stones, and how they got to Salisbury Plain. A little while ago, there was an experiment to see if a Bluestone could be transported to the site of Stonehenge in modern times, using ancient methods. They got the stone as far as the sea, where fell from the boat being used to sail it around the coast. An altenrative theory is that glacial action moved the stones to Salisbury plain, where they were found and used by Stonehenge’s builders.

Scattered around the outcrop were large and small slabs of Bluestone, some of which may have been quarried but not used.

By now the day had turned grey and hazy. The Preseli Mountains are bleak and remote despite being fairly close to the major centres of Pembroke and Cardigan. They reminded me of the granite tors of Dartmoor – smooth moorland dotted with rocky outcrops in a seemingly random pattern. A wind was blowing but it wasn’t cold. After a wander around Carn Menyn, we set of for the final mountain of the day; Carn Bica. A walk of a mile across open moorland got us to the top of the mountain and a solitary figure sitting amongst the rocks. I waved and called a greeting but it was met with stoney silence. Still, we weren’t here to make friends so we sat sheltered from the wind by the rocks and snacked.

A few yards from the mountain top was a small setting of stones called Bedd Arthur. This translates as ‘Arthur’s Grave’ – one of many such places throughout Wales. King Arthur is supposed to have chased a wild boar up along this ridge, following the ancient trackway. It was an odd ring of stones. It was decidedly oval, almost rectangular, with the long axis aligned roughly NW-SE. From the northern end, looking along the axis, it seemed to line up with the trackway. The stones had been placed to line and earth bank and ditch (henge).

It was time to turn back and we retraced our steps for about half the route before continuing on the ancient track and bypassing Foeldrygarn. We dropped down towards the gate and crossed the sheepline once more. It was as if we were herding them along as they refused to turn off the route we were taking. As we descended, the sheep in front of us built up as they were joined by others seeking safety in numbers. Then, all of a sudden, they all veered off towards the left and we were left with a clear path to the gate.

Just down the road is Gors Fawr stone circle. I’d visited there a few years ago and since it was on our route back, I decided to make a brief stop there again. Rufus didn’t complain and we spent a few minutes at the small arrangement of stones. They were overlooked by Carn Bica, where we’d been less than an hour before.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Around and about

In total contrast to yesterday, today was grey and grim and drizzly. I was tired after gigging last night and so I spent the morning indoors, cleaning and more cleaning and other necessities to make sure the house is at least presentable. I hate cleaning, as it tends to throw up dust which I’m allergic to. But it has to be down.

As a reward, when the drizzle lifted, I went for a stroll down through Sketty. I took the infra red camera and called in to a local graveyard on the way. It’s opposite where my Gran used to live. When I was very young and my dad was in the RAF, we’d come to stay when he was posted to a new station while he got the housing sorted. Even at that age, I was never frightened of the graveyard despite knowing what it was. Since then, I love walking through old graveyards and reading the inscriptions, which often tell a story. I was taken by one large grave, topped with a large white memorial written in French. The inscription was for a Swiss born woman and, later, her husband. But what made it more striking was that her son was buried there too, before her, as he was lost at sea as a merchant seaman during the war. It’s not only the servicemen who died to keep this country free.

From there, it was a short walk to Singleton park before calling in to the local supermarket and then, as the drizzle started again, home.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Whitby

On our tour of York and the North East, we spent Friday on the north east coast. Our first destination was Robin Hood’s Bay.

The breakfast was delicious and there was a lot of it. Buffet style, while immensely attractive, is fatal for me. I inevitably pick the best bits of bacon (‘ooh, that one looks better’) and the nicest sausages (‘ooh, that one looks nice too’) and suddenly I need help carrying the plate back to my table. Today was no exception.

Squeezing into the car, we set off to cross the North Yorkshire Moors towards Whitby and the East. The last time I came across here, there was a massive thunder storm over Whitby and the lightning was flashing constantly, putting me off driving, Today, the weather was beautiful and clear; warm but not uncomfortably hot. There was a wonderful moment when the silhouette of Whitby abbey came into view on the cliff top above the town. We skirted around and headed south towards the little fishing village, which was once more important than Whitby according to Dutch sea maps, which showed Robin Hood’s Bay but not Whitby.

Parking at the top of the hill, we walked down the steep lane towards the sea. There were few people here and it was lovely to see the streets and lanes uncluttered by tourists. We explored some of the narrower paths until it began to feel as if we were intruding into people’s gardens. At the foot of the hill, the tide was in and washing over the slipway. It was lovely to watch the waves, and hear them too, without the interruption of man made noise. After some sun and sea air, we trudged back up the much steeper hill to the car and headed off to the Abbey.

The main entrance to the abbey was closed and so we had to walk around the perimeter of the grounds to get to the alternative entrance. Which was also closed, as there was a private group being showed around. It was very disappointing especially as there were no notices in the car park. Fortunately, we were heading down to Whitby too, otherwise it would have been a waste of money in the car park.

199 steps lead down from St Mary’s church to the East harbour, the oldest part of Whitby. They weren’t as bad as I was expecting and very soon we were in Church street, one of the older and original streets in the town. In the lore of Dracula, this is the route he took after coming ashore from the grounded ‘Demeter’, heading up to the church and the grave of a suicide, where he spent some of the 10 days he was in Whitby. I’m guessing he didn’t stop at the souvenir shops to pick up some Whitby Jet.

We crossed over the Drawbridge to the west side and walked alongside the wharfs, now home to tour boats, one or two fishing vessels and the large fish market. A lovely coffee at the Marine Hotel was followed by a stroll out to the pier and back. We then spent some time in the little art galleries in the side streets. Captain Cook was born here and started his seafaring career at the harbour. I love little details like that. It reminded me that I’d been in Stromness, where the Endeavour stopped to water and provision before heading south (so I was told). An odd route but it turns out that as Britain was at war with France at the time, it was safer than using the English Channel.

All too soon it was time to climb back up the 199 steps (now mysteriously steeper and more numerous) to the church. We were passed on the way by schoolkids whose only purpose was to show us the differences age brings. They were waiting at the top of the steps, bouncing with energy. We wandered through the churchyard, with its Gothic gravestones. They all appeared to be made of the same sandstone, and to a very similar design. Unfortunately, the ravages of the sea air and storms had worn the surfaces back considerably. Most stones showed a characteristic pitting and many had worn thin to the point where they seemed they might snap in the slightest breeze. Some had already done so.

From the church we walked back around the abbey ruins to the car. It was time to head back to the hotel and our three course meal. We stopped on the way back in the little village of Goathland on the North York Moors. Goathland played the role of Aidensfield in the ITV series ‘Heartbeat’ and every souvenir shop (almost every building in the tiny village was a souvenir shop) had all the merchandising you could imagine to remind us. There were even two Ford Anglia cars painted up as police cars from the 1960s, when the series was set. The station was also used as ‘Hogsmead’ station in the Harry Potter films (I’ve only included that to justify the Harry Potter keyword tag I’ll add in a cynical attempt to boost my site traffic).

We made a brief stop at the Hole of Horcum (not part of it, the whole of it). The hole is part of the valley formed by the Levisham Beck and ranks 11th in the  Rude Britain top 100 list (which includes North Piddle, Titty Ho and the classic ‘Twatt’, a place I’ve been to on Orkney – these may not be in my tag list because I’m not that desperate for traffic). We got back to our hotel at about 5.30. After a welcome shower and change, we were out in the beer garden enjoying a beer with the guests of a wedding reception.

Food was lovely, more so because it was part of the deal we’d had. Then it was time for bed.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.