pwllderi from garn fawr pembrokeshire

Blessed by the sun – this year so far in Pembrokeshire

When, spurred by guilt, I started to compile these photos the sun was blazing on Pembrokeshire. It was the warmest day since the dry grass smelling, dusty laned days of 1976 (I remember it well, those days when I was tanned to a single whole freckle and my brother’s hair was chalk white in the endless sun). I thought we were in for another such summer, maybe we still are, the forecast looks good. Today though the rain has returned, coming in bursts, and the relentless swish wash of it falling from the trees around the house makes them sound like waves rolling on pebble banks.

Still, it has, so far, been a beautiful year. Winter was mild, with infrequent frosts and the last storm of Spring rushed towards us driving black heart clouds before it and the gale whipped the white cap waves to froth in the brilliant sunshine that followed. Storm Doris was wild but beautifully lit.

Now in the long slow days of summer, with the wild flower boom over and the high grass, swallow swooping fields turning gold in the sunlight we enjoy Pembrokeshire, one day at a time. We love the hot days and we also love the refreshing drizzle days because we remember how we longed for them when we slow roasted in Turkey!

Legends in the land – Drovers’ roads and forgotten woodland

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These frosty November mornings are wonderful, the dogs are excited by the spring step cold crunch of the grass and our woods are full of ice cauled leaves that chime as they fall. On the old drovers’ road beside the house the leaf litter is deep for kicking and underneath the iron hard ground is pitted with fox track, badger tread and the scratches of squirrels. The dogs are in scent heaven when my daughter and I take them for their morning walk down to our woods.

My woods are a sharp triangle of folklore and myth caught between old walls and guarded by a grey menhir with a hole through it. This patch of land came with the old slate works we built the house on. A little leftover from an old title deed so we thought at the time. A crumpled corner of a piece of field cut away when the railway came through. But it isn’t. It was always thus, so it seems. On the old maps, from the time before the railway came, before they threw iron across the land, it was there. Complete and of itself. Alongside the drovers’ road. And I wonder, when I look at it, what was it? Why was it?

An oak tree in its midst, a writhe of old trees on its edges, a gateway now a gap, a trenched corner with raised platform under a tripping tangle of briars, hiding its truth.

what-emma-sees-01.jpeg.jpgEvery now and then we clear a section of blackthorn scrub to create sunlight clearings and we ponder it. Was there a smithy here? Was this a waypoint for the drovers’? The first stop after the slow first day on the road, with the cattle still lowing for their home fields whilst the leather booted pigs grunt in the grass.

I stand in the drovers’ road, looking down its clear straight avenue and beside me my patch of land hides its secrets and whispers to the old tales, the old worlds, before iron ruled the world.

I think I hear the ring of a smithy in the morning air, all bell like chime. Did they shoe the cattle here; meld the half-moon cws to their cloven hooves before they took the wider, harder road to the east, to the markets in the towns?

The Drover’s Roads of Pembrokeshire

Our drovers’ road is a remnant of an ancient network. Until the railways came in the late 19th century the drovers’ roads were active arteries, herding the cattle, sheep, geese and turkeys to markets in the major cities and as a sideline dealing in news, carrying money from relative to relative, ferrying legal documents and generally ensuring commerce on a large scale functioned across the land.

Cattle in their droves were shod with half-moon iron shoes to protect their hooves on the long journey whilst pigs on the move wore leather boots, and geese had their feet tarred to endure the miles.

The legendary Welsh Black cattle – the black gold from the Welsh hills – who have roamed this countryside since pre-Roman times, were a valuable part of the drovers’ trading and such an integral part of the Welsh economy that in 1799 one drover, David Jones, founded what came to be known as the Welsh Black Ox Bank. The Welsh Black Ox bank was bought up by Lloyds and the black horse that gallops across their advert replaced the Welsh Black Bull that the bank originally had on their notes. Maybe they should have kept the bull!

Lloyds Banking – tales-of-the-black-ox

Where the old roads run

lane1-01.jpegOur roads are old; the drovers followed the routes the romans cut and they followed the ways our Neolithic ancestors used, all the desire ways across the land. Our myths and legends are woven into the roads, old heroes pass on by. Arthur and his round table, questing for love or glory, women of flowers drifting in the summer green and queens on white horses, slipping between worlds in the search for a suitable king. In these short days after Samhein, when the low winter sun speeds the day and the nights are long and fearsome cold the legends come out to play on the old roads.

Down in the woods my dogs go hunting through the litter fall, every now and then they pause, freeze, scent the air for something I can’t sense. They are always alert here. Quivering with pause before the chase. Sensing a hunt going on just the other side of the now.

On winter nights when I take them out for their last walk they bark at nothing and in the clear cold sky Orion hunts the heavens and in the lane the ghosts of the drover’s sly clever dogs slink home alone and in the thinness of the icy night the Wild Hunt waits, maybe.

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Christmas about to come – the best of Pembrokeshire in the run up to Christmas 2016

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img_20161122_134038.jpgThere are ghosts in all we do at Christmas; memories of memories tied up in red ribbon and smelling of cinnamon and oranges.

I love that here in Pembrokeshire the rolly polly ghost of Christmas past is still around, laughing his great rolling laugh, and I find him every year in the familiar places and long running county traditions, of shopping and eating, and making ready for Advent.

Favourite Pembrokeshire shops at Christmas

Vincent Davies Department Store, Haverfordwest

img_20161123_130056-01.jpegVincent Davies, the department store on the outskirts of Haverfordwest, has been a favourite of our family for generations. Our grandparents, along with all the old county families, bought their furniture there. As young parents we bought from the garden centre the baby versions of the plants that are now taking over our gardens and our children bought their first hamsters and gerbils there.

Every decade the store reinvents itself, remaining relevant, and its current incarnation is a great big grotto of things you’d just love to buy and my Mum and I regularly spend many a happy hour burrowing through its thoughtfully chosen goodies. We browse the china and buy yet more baking tins because you can never have too many. We wonder if we can fit one more piece of pretty furniture or well stuffed cushion into our homes, before spending an hour sampling the scented candles, getting pickier and pickier by the minute – soy wax, wooden wick for crackle, depth of scent, christmassyness – the perfect choice takes ages but it’s fun, it’s part of the choosing the best for Yule.

From a pile of fat fabric robins at the entrance (I’m sure I saw the same robins in Liberty of London two years ago), all the way past the glittery fripperies for Christmas and New Year’s Eve parties and onto a vast array of decorations and Santa’s grotto, the store is at its best at Christmas.

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Ever quick to spot a trend – Hygge is huge! – this year they have beautiful Scandi style decorations alongside the more usual glass baubles – delicate birch bark Christmas trees with curled fronds, plain wooden reindeer with natural grain and little glitter and even a full size tree of frosted twigs.
It is impossible to visit without buying something, even something small, that will become another little Christmas ghost to add to the host in the years to come.

Vincent Davies’s website can be found here – Vincent Davies Christmas Website and their Facebook page is here –
Vincent Davies on Facebook

The George’s, Market Street, Haverfordwest

At some point during the run up to Christmas one of the family will suggest lunch at The George’s in Haverfordwest, at the top of the town, amongst the eclectic shops of Market Street. This quirky cafe bar and restaurant with shop which exemplifies the word emporium, all various levels and nooks, is another family tradition. Rich with essential oils, glowing in the light of salt lamps, full of healthy goodies, adorable little bronzes, hand crafted mirrors and a plethora of organic products there is so much to discover here.

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We like to think we discovered it first, decades ago, when my daughter was little, and fair trade and ethically sourced were strange sounding words nobody really understood. We used to go there and share plates of delicious pate and we having been eating their crab bake for (eek) nearly thirty years.

Every year they have a winter theme and this year it’s silver and white and based around the stone selenite which is supposed to bring good fortune, truth, integrity, forgiveness, achievement & success, which is a lot to ask of a mineral but definitely welcome if it can manage it!

Find The George’s on Facebook here – Facebook Page

Upcoming Christmas Events in Pembrokeshire 2016
Castell Henllys – A Christmas Fayre

11:00 until 16:00 27 November 2016

The Iron Age settlement offers an interesting venue for a Christmas Fayre – there will be stalls selling local crafts for that special gift, Santa and one of his elves in the grotto, mince pies with mulled wine and carol singers. There will be activities to entertain the children whilst adults shop!

Castell Henllys Iron Age Settlement Events

Pembroke Castle Christmas Market 2016

Pembroke Castle’s Christmas Market this year will be running between Friday 25th and Sunday 27th November.

The Christmas Market is a community event with free admission to all visitors. The Castle will overflowing with Christmas cheer, the castle walls and towers will be lit up in bright colours, there will be music and entertainment, and Santa’s Grotto in Western Hall.

They ask the question on their website – Where else will you see Santa abseil down an 80ft keep? Where indeed!

Pembroke Castle Christmas Market

Fishguard Christmas Festival

6th December 2016

In Fishguard the energetic and inspiring Seasonal Events Team – a group of people addicted to festivals – have this year arranged a Christmas Festival which will include, on the 6th December 2016, a chance to late night shop in the wonderful Market in the town hall which will be full of local arts, crafts and produce, music and activities. Always a great atmosphere.

Fishguard Christmas Festival Facebook Page

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