One of the great things about retirement is the ability to devote more time to other things; particularly photography. I’ve been trying to get some decent landscapes (and I’ve never considered myself too much of a landscape photographer) for a while now that we live in such a beautiful area. However, landscape photography is all about the light (usually early in the morning or in the evening). So with Derek, the BBC Wales weatherman, forecasting a misty start followed by a sunny day we set the alarm for 5.30 and set off into the Breacon Beacons.
We were rewarded with some lovely cloud and light for about 20 minutes or so. I got one or two good shots. I’ve been trying to photograph Carreg Cennen for a while now and this is probably as good as I’ve got so far.
In any event it was a glorious morning to be up on the Brecon Beacons. A full English breakfast when we got home would have been heaven but Liz doesn’t allow those on health grounds!!
Having bought the right tractor (AGT 850) to work on our steep slopes it was necessary to get a mower/topper to deal with the overgrown grass, bracken and rushes on the land. At this stage things are not too bad, but the land has been let go for a while and if not tackled soon the pasture will start reverting to being overgrown with bracken and scrub etc..
First decision was whether to get a rotary mower (less expensive) or a flail mower. The former is more usually used for simple pasture topping the later for ‘chewing’ up scrub and bracken. The former is generally much cheaper (and uses less fuel). However, the need to deal with some bracken and thick grass meant that I thought the later would be more suited (and also have better weight distribution when attached to the tractor on the steep land). The next question was what make to buy? There are numerous models out there; many now made in China some with what can only be described as ‘chocolate’ gearboxes. Good second hand flail mowers rarely come on the market and often the bearings and gearboxes have had a thrashing; hence it was a case of buying new again for this key bit of equipment
I settled on an INO flail mower which are made in Slovenia by a company that has been going for 20 years or so (they are also rebadged by other manufacturers in the UK and sold under their own trade names).
I purchased it directly from the importers (Willow Farm Machinery) who shipped it by carrier. Unfortunately the carrier’s lorry was too large to get down our lane! After some lateral thinking the driver delivered to a nearby agricultural dealer who kindly brought it here on a trailer for a small reward (drink!).
After hitching up to the AGT I had to cut down the PTO shaft which was too long; greased the bearings and off I went. We have had a particularly dry spell which is ideal (as working on our slopes in the wet could be suicidal!). The tractor and mower coped admirably on even the steepest bits. However, turning at the top of the steepest slopes looked a tad dangerous – so I dealt with these by reversing up and then mowing coming down. I did notice one or two local farmers slowing down on the road below to see what I was up to; most seem quite intrigued to see an Alpine tractor rather than a traditional tractor!
Once all the land has been topped (I didn’t get it all finished due to it turning wet) I shall use some Asulox spray to treat the worst areas of bracken as they start to regrow and probably also spray some of the rushes with Headland Polo. Once this has been done (perhaps a couple of times) I should not need to use chemicals much with an annual top with the flail keeping things under control.
Our friend Paul was renting a small cottage in Trefin on the Pembrokeshire coast this week with the intention of doing some walks and taking some photographs for a story he was hoping to do, so we decided to go and help him. Paul used to work together with John doing wedding photography. Paul continues the business, now that John has retired, at www.wessexweddings.co.uk
We met Paul and his dog Ben at the cottage in Trefin and started the walk at Garn Fawr a short drive away. Garn Fawr is an Iron Age hillfort situated on a craggy outcrop of the west end of the Pen-caer ridge. It is a short walk up to the summit of this craggy outcrop from which there are superb views over the bay to Strumble Head and Pwllderi. From there it is a rocky steepish descent down to the coastal path. Paul had to be careful because Ben always had to be in the lead and was upset when he wasn’t. We soon passed a brick building, one of an aligned pair, which were used for carrying out tests on low level air to surface vessel radar. The other building, located at Strumble Head is now used as a bird observatory. Apparently there are also the remains of a two man coast watchers hut from the first world war.
The walk towards Strumble Head was very pleasant weaving in and out of little hillocks and a mixture of gorse and heather. From the cliff edges we could see Choughs doing their aerobatic display and hear seals on the rocky islets. We even saw House Martins which must have just arrived from their long journey from Africa. There are several rocky inlets and small bays along this route one in particular, Porth Maenmelyn caught our attention. This is a small wild cove with steps cut into the cliff face apparently cut, about a hundred years ago, by an engineer working on the construction of Fishguard harbour and wanted his own private access to this cove.
After passing the light house at Strumble Head we continued further along the coast path until we reached a white holiday cottage owned by the National Trust where we turned inland. We followed bridleways which, considering how drive the weather had been, were quite muddy because they had been churned up by the horses. Probably this is not a walk we would do in the winter. We passed the smaller iron age fort of Garn Fechan on the way back to the car park at Garn Fawr.
After finishing the walk we drove back to Traeth Llyfn where John took some sunset photographs on the beach. As dusk fell on a perfect day we walked back to the Sloop Inn in Porthgain for something to eat before driving home.
Since arriving here in Carmarthenshire last November we’ve been taking our time to decide what to do with things. We do not plan to actively farm our smallholding but to get the land back into shape before perhaps letting the pasture for sheep, creating some more woodland and harvesting the wood from our established woodland.
During January and February John spent some time with our adjoining neighbour cutting back the overgrown branches and mending the fences as the existing posts were breaking off. During March we have had such a long spell of dry warm weather that we started cutting up the timber and burning the brash.
We did get quite distracted watching the Buzzards and Red Kites circling above us in the valley.
We decided to explore more of the coast so drove down to the Stackpole estate owned by the National Trust on the Pembrokeshire coast, between the villages of Stackpole and Bosherton. We started our walk at Stackpole quay, a delightful little bay now used by fishermen and pleasure boats. There you can find tea rooms and toilets. We then walked along the coastal path to Barafundle bay. This walk takes you along high cliffs which are a haven for seabirds and occasionally choughs can also be seen here.
Barafundle Bay has the reputation of being one of the best beaches in the UK. To be honest we thought it pleasant enough but not fantastic – but then we are not ‘beach people’. It is accessed from the path by some steepish steps and is certainly very sheltered and has beautiful sands.
The exit from the beach is up some more steps through a lovely wooded area.
The walk continued along the cliff edge to Broadhaven beach where we turned inland to Bosherton Lakes, also known as the Lily Ponds locally. To reach these lakes we walked across the Stackpole Warren Dunes. These lakes were created by the Earls of Cawdor between 1780 and 1860. The lakes occupy 3 narrow valleys which were carved out by glacial meltwater in the carboniferous limestone of the area. They are important for the wildlife found there which includes otters, bats, birds and many wild flowers. It is also an important Stonewort area. Stoneworts are a type of green algae occurring in freshwater and may become calcified. Many British Stonewort species are under threat due to water pollution as they are very sensitive to nitrates and phosphates.
It is a beautiful area to walk around the lakes passing through many wooded areas. The walk back to the car park was across farmland and we went past the site of a standing stone but were unable to see it as it was hidden by a wood.
Back at the car park we had tea coffee and cake in the tea rooms (pretty rock and roll huh?) before heading home.
When we moved here we were hoping that we could use a normal second hand tractor like an old Massey Ferguson 35 or 135. Failing that a small 4 wheel drive might have been suitable. However, our land (17 acres of pasture and 6 acres of wood) really is very steep. The farmer who used to own it told us that he had had a few ‘incidents’ with a tractor on the land! John thus decided that buying the special tool for the job (even with the extra cost) was the better part of valour! Working a tractor on steep hills is one of the biggest causes of fatalities on the land and he has no plans to shorten his retirement unnecessarily.
This led us to undertake a lot of research an eventually we settled on buying an ‘Alpine tractor’. This type of tractor with it’s low centre of gravity and with the engine weight over the front axle is very popular on small hilly family farms in Italy and Switzerland. They are not used much in the UK and indeed many farmers have advised us not to buy one as ‘they are an unknown quantity’. Actually their mechanical simplicity was a plus point for us in that any decent mechanic should be able to repair it without needing to plug his computer in or have access to the service error codes.
The downside is that they are very expensive (for what they are) and second hand ones do not come on the market very often. Thus our new AGT 850T was delivered today. This is the ‘non articulated’ version of the tractor; i.e. it does not bend in the middle (although the two axles can pivot in the horizontal plane for better traction). We’ve also specified wider and lower tyres and set them as wide as possible to give maximum stability. The engine is a 48 hp Lombardini engine. It has 12 gears and a shuttle box. The driving position is reversible so that you can swing the seat and controls round to face the other direction. This means that you can face forward with some implements. It has a single and a double spool valve on the hydraulic side of things.
As there is not much user information on the internet we are hoping that this blog will become a little review over time. As we use it more we will add information and give details of it’s performance and reliability etc.
Anyway we unloaded the red tractor today and after filling it up with red diesel John took it for a spin up some of our ‘lesser’ slopes. It seemed to cope with things pretty well. We’re hoping to get a pasture topper, transport box and set of chain harrows in due course.
Another reason for choosing this tractor is that we will need to get up into our wood to start pulling out fallen trees. This tractor will hopefully be ideal for working in such an environment on the side of a slope. A number of people use them with a forwarding winch for extracting wood out of forestry land.
As said we’ll keep the blog updated with how we get on with this machine.
After our trip to London to Ecobuild the day before we set off for Ireland. The Stena ferry for Rosslare left at 2.30pm so we had to leave at about 11 am as we needed to pick up some food for the journey as we did not want to pay ferry prices. The drive to Fishguard only takes about one hour and a half as the roads are pretty good. We were quite surprised how pretty Fishguard is. Stena actually own the ferry terminal the rest of the harbour is a small fishing port surrounded by a small picturesque town and beautiful coast. The railway station stops quite close to the ferry terminal making it convenient for foot passengers. We met some people who had travelled from Bath with only one change at Cardiff.
The journey to Ireland is about three and a half hours. The England v Ireland cricket world cup was on live so that passed the time. Ireland won!
The drive the other side to County Clare is about three hours. We got off the ferry at about 6.20pm and were in Peppers Bar by about 10pm. Peppers is a famous music pub in Feakle. As it was a Wednesday evening we were expecting a session but it was very quiet as everybody was at the festival in Corofin. We went on to our friend’s B+B Clondanagh Cottage near to Tulla. Clondanagh cottage is situated in peaceful countryside on a donkey farm and overlooks Clondanagh Lake. Dorothy is an amazing hostess and she and her husband Michael and their two children make you feel very welcome. The B+B is very cosy with lovely bright rooms and super ambience.
Dorothy certainly spoils you with her lovely breakfasts which set you up for the day.
The area is famous for the fishing being in the East Clare Lakelands. Dorothy, who herself is a keen fisherwoman, can give advice and hire out tackle and provide a boat for Clondanagh lake where there is private lake frontage.
This area is also very famous for Traditional Irish music which is the reason we started to visit. We decided to go to Corofin festival this year as this is the first opportunity we have had (a big advantage of being retired). Corofin is a small village just on the Burren only about a 45 minute drive from Clondanagh Cottage. Corofin together with Tulla and Feakle are hugely important in the traditional music of Clare (and Irish music in general). If you want to hear the ‘real thing’ as opposed to a tourist pastiche this is the area to come.
The festival itself was excellent. It is quite small but very well organised. We had specifically gone to see Lamond Gillespie, John Blake and Mick Leahy of Traditional Irish music of London and Humours of Highgate fame. They rarely play together and were brilliant giving a lesson in how to play traditional music – perfectly together without being over the top – letting the music speak for itself. True masters.
In fact there was excellent music the whole weekend. We will certainly go next year as well if we are not travelling.
The Burren is a karst landscape area in Northwest Clare and is famous for its biodiversity and it’s archeological sites. As we were exceptionally lucky with the weather, dry sunny and quite mild for the time of year, we decided to explore a bit more of this beautiful area and take a few photographs. We eventually found, the very well preserved dolmen, Poulnabrone (well we didn’t have a map!). The name means the hole of sorrows. John managed to take some good photographs at sunset.
We had a quiet day on the Saturday, when John helped Michael building some sheds that Dorothy is going to use for fishing tackle and then went to at Macks Bar with the Healy brothers later that evening. They were brilliant as usual.
On Sunday we had to come home as there is a lot of sorting out to do with the house alterations. The journey back was all right. We managed to find a 24 hour Tesco in Clonmel which is useful to know about for a break, especially if we ever used the late ferry. The ferry arrived on time, in fact, it may have been early. We arrived home at about 1-30am.
This walk is slightly further north on the coastal path than the previous one and is about 45 miles from our house. Porthgain is a pretty village that was once a granite quarrying area and industrial harbour in the early 1900s. At the beginning of the walk we walked past the brick hoppers on the south side of the harbour and climbed some steep steps at the side of white building to reach the coastal path. The brick hoppers were used to store crushed granite before it was shipped. There are many ruined quarry buildings to explore at the start of the walk.
We then continued along the path with the watch tower at Abereiddi in sight. Along this first section are high dramatic cliffs.
We then came across the tiny beach at Traeth Llyfn which is reached by some steps. This is a stunningly beautiful remote beach with sand and rocks making it ideal for some photographs and a very pleasant lunch stop. There are very strong currents in the sea here and apparently it can also come in very quickly. It is a spectacular spot.
We then continued onto the Blue Lagoon (Ed. looks more green in my photo – John!) where there are very steep cliffs. The Blue Lagoon was formed from an abandoned slate quarry which was filled with seawater through a breach in the outer wall. This area is popular with coasteerers and divers. The beach at Abereiddi is accessed by a winding path. The is a large car park here and just inland a group of houses built for the quarry workers but abandoned in the early 20th century after a flood. The ones that remain are presumably holiday cottages. There are ruins of old buildings around the Blue Lagoon. The rocks of Abereiddi bay are easily eroded Ordovician slates and apparently there are fossils of graptolites in the rock. We will have to have a look next time we go there.
We made our way back to Porthgain by an inland route following the yellow footpath arrows. There is a lovely view of the valley up to Llanrhian which was carved by glacial melt-water during the last ice age.
The total distance walked was 4.5 miles. We did not time ourselves as we had several stops for taking photographs.
Pen y Fan is the highest peak in the Southern UK at 886m.This walk was based around the info on the BBC Wales ‘Weatherman Walking‘ series. The walk described there is a slightly longer version of our walk.
We started the walk from the car park in Taf Fechan forest walking along the road for a short way and the along a track at the side of the forest. The track then gradually ascends around Neuadd Reservoir towards Cribyn. After a while you have a choice of ascending Cribyn or contouring around the side before starting up to the summit of Pen y Fan. The summit is marked with a stone cairn. Unfortunately it was surrounded in mist obscuring the views.
Then continue south west where again you have the option to go up to Corn Du before continuing in a south easterly direction along the ridge. Eventually after the reservoir there are two steep descents, we chose the second along side the wood. Note that this area can be boggy and the steep descent tricky in icy conditions as we discovered. We then followed the track back to the car parkWe were walking for about 4 hours including stops and covered 8.5 miles. Unfortunately we forgot to take a memory card for the camera so have used a royalty free photo!
As part of John’s research into tractors which would be suitable for use on our steep hills we decided to go up to the LAMAS show in Newark which was on the 19th and 20th January so that we could look at some of the options.We travelled on the 18th taking a picturesque route through the Brecon Beacons and then the border country to see John’s mother first. We then went on to Nottingham after stocking up with supplies from Waitrose in Newport, as we do not have a Waitrose locally. Our son Mark and his girlfriend Emma kindly put up with us for one night. It was good to catch up with their news and be introduced to their pet tortoise and King snake.It was an early start the next day so that we arrived at the show at 6am before the traffic had built up. We had our early bird full English breakfast before having a look round the show at some very expensive pieces of machinery. It was worth the trip as we ordered an Alpine tractor at a special show price. Hopefully it will do the job nicely.