On the way to Crickhowell (Crug Hywel)

Today, I had a little jolly with Liz to Crickhowell. Unfortunately, we got terribly turned around and confused on the way. Missed the turning that would take us to Crickhowell via Llangynidr and ended up having an adventure along Hafod Road above the Clydach Gorge.

Neither of us knew where we were going, but as the road rose, we left the fog behind and drove into bright sunshine. That was soon followed by the glorious view of fog shrouding the valley below.

It was amazing! The photos don’t capture how it roiled and caught the light with subtle changing hues. Nor did they capture some fog starting to seep down the side of the hill from behind us a little further along the road. It was beautiful to take some time to stop and watch the wonder and gloriousness of nature. I wish I had the photographic skills to capture it better. However, these will serve to jog my memory of the feelings I experienced – wonder, gratitude for seeing such a sight, the warmth of the sun, the beauty of the natural world, and more I can’t put into words just now.

We found our way to Crickhowell with the help of the satnav. But, fair play, the satnav outperformed itself today in terms of a lack of logic. Sometimes, I think all the satnavs I encounter are possessed by little, mischievous imps!

Fog veiled the sun as we completed our journey to the little market town at the edge of the Brecon Beacons, not far from Abergavenny (Y Fenni).

We visited a little shop called Natural Weigh – Zero Waste Shop. Loads of products, all organic! I picked up some face moisturiser, and Liz did a good shop of all kinds of raw ingredients.

Next, it was time for brunch/lunch in the cafe at Book-ish. As well as a pot of tea for me and a coffee for Liz, we both had the Book-ish dhal – a sweet potato, cauliflower and spinach dhal served with natural yoghurt, a lemon wedge and a toasted flatbread. It was lovely if a bit unusual, for my breakfast (even though breakfast for me is often at lunchtime for others!).

Eventually, after much chatter, it was time to move along. So, into the Book-ish bookshop, we went. I could hold off buying any stationary or chocolate, but I couldn’t resist buying The Sad Ghost Club 2 book. That will be read later today, no doubt! I may have to get the other two volumes in the series so far!

So, after a little wander around some lovely shops, it was into the Latte-da Cafe and Kitchen for tea and a piece of a rather delicious carrot cake that we shared. It was very light, with plenty of raisins and nuts in it.

Then it was time for the drive home, in bright sunshine.

A nice few hours out, for sure.

Steam Gala at the Pontypool & Blaenavon Railway – Saturday 10 September 2022

I had such a lovely time at the Pontypool and Blaenavon Railway in South Wales! I had been a member and volunteer there for many years until, around 10 years ago, I left as I had to focus on other things in my life at that time.

This is the first time since then I’ve paid a visit to the railway, and what a lovely day to visit! Not only was the weather glorious, but the Steam Gala was taking place with six different steam locomotives operating that day, including one of my favourite engines – a GWR Pannier Tank.

Not only was it lovely to smell the exhilharating combination of steam, coal smoke and engine oil, it was fab to see some people I’d not seen in 10 years.

It was also fantastic to see how much positive good work had been done in the intervening decade. The line has been extended, new station buildings erected, and the rolling stock was spruced up too. And seeing so many volunteers working in so many different roles, and so many youngsters too, was fantastic to see.

I spent a lot of the day chatting and catching up, as well as learning more about my digi-SLR. I even got some photos that I’m quite pleased with.

The landscape around the railway is very much an industrial one. There’s a branch line that curves round to Big Pit National Coal Museum. There’s plenty to do and see there including exhibitions, a shop and it’s even possible to take a trip underground to a coal seam in the cage that used to transport miners to the tunnels that led to the coal face. There are plenty of coal spoil heaps, or tips, around the area.

The mainline extends from the Whistle Inn to the north, down to Blaenavon High Level in the south. The main station, Furnace Sidings, is in between the two.

Furnace Sidings is named for the extensive ironworks that used to be in the area. Blaenavon Ironworks is a fantastic piece of industrial archeaology with blast furnaces and other structures of note preserved there.

The ironworks was crucial in developing the ability to use cheap low-grade, high-sulphur iron ores world wide. The basic iron process was developed by Sidney Gilchrist Thomas and Percy Gilchrist between 1877 and 1878.

The whole area around Blaneavon is a World Heritage Site, awarded by UNESCO for it’s importance to ‘the pre-eminence of South Wales as the world’s major producer or iron and coal in the 19th Century.’

Small though it currently is, the P&BR wends its way through this landscape, giving lovely views of the surrounding areas.

It was one of the delights of my visit to remember the rugged beauty of the landscape, all the more glorious in it’s late summer hues of gold, green and pinky-brown heather. I’ve never lost my love of trains, steam trains in particular, and my first visit to the P&BR was about the same time of year, but just before the end of August. I was then convinced to join as a member and the following weekend I spent a day helping to scrape the paint from an old carriage.

So, it was quite fitting I returned on a similar kind of day, at a similar time of year to renew my friendships, both with some of the railway people and friends of the railway, but also with the railway itself. Who knows what this will lead to … only time will tell!

That Late Summer Feeling

Heleniums, ©AngelaPorter | Artwyrd.com

Both warm, golden sunlight and a cool breeze flow in through my open windows. The combination ignites memories of the end of the school holidays and the pleasure of buying new pens, pencils, and colouring media ready for the new term. I remember trips to the local Woolworths, a department store chain now long gone from the UK, and a local stationer, which sadly closed just before the pandemic, to get these supplies, and a notebook of some kind to try them all out in.

I could barely wait to get home to try the supplies out in the notebook and the pleasure of writing and drawing. There were a couple of sets of encyclopaedias in the family home. No novels. No other reference books. Just encyclopaedias and a dictionary or two. I can remember flicking through one and finding an article about red squirrels. I delighted in carefully copying out the information about them in my best writing. Then I did my best to draw a squirrel with some acorns and foliage and added some simple colour. The same golden light flowed through the windows, and there was a gentle breeze through the open doors, just as I’m experiencing today.

The dappled light I associate with this time of year also brings back memories of reading a book about a boy and a dinosaur. The book’s title is long forgotten, but the memory of dappled light coming in through the car windows as the family returned from a day out at Southerndown is clear in my mind, as is how I went to lie on my bed and continued reading when we got home.

The balmy warmth always makes me feel like I need to nap, bringing back more autumn memories. I remember lying in bed, reading some murder mystery book, on a Saturday afternoon not long after my long-ago partner and I moved into this house, the house I still live in. Sunlight was coming in, warming the bedroom and along with a refreshing, cool breeze. I could hear the sound of a rugby match in the distance, where he was and wasn’t expected home until late that evening. So, I indulged myself that afternoon, cuddling up under the covers, safe, secure, and comforted, just like so many Saturday afternoons in childhood, and gently dozing off. And even now, in my late middle years, I still enjoy that comfort and safety and a nap, especially on these balmy days that presage the coming of autumn; “The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,” as Keats wrote.

I’m focusing here on the happy parts of these memories, for they are what lift my heart at this time of year, and those feelings are ever-present.

My love of pens, paper, writing and drawing, reading and napping still remains, as well as of this time of year that leads to autumn.

There was a time when this time of year, the summer holidays ending, I’d be increasingly anxious and stressed about my return to school – as a teacher. But those days are now long enough ago that I just feel the excitement of the soon-changing seasons, the autumnal equinox, and the glorious fiery colours of nature preparing to sleep through the cold months.

It fascinates me how repeating a particular pattern of weather and time of year can bring up powerful memories that I never think about at other times. They trigger a journey into the recesses of my memory, and nowadays, only the good ones surface, mostly. Finally, however, the demons of the unpleasant ones have been put into demon jail, thanks to EMDR therapy; for that, I am very grateful.

It will be a while longer before summer’s dull, monotone greens start to be brightened with pops of the golden-fire colours of autumn. But I can feel the change in the air, and I long for it.

I hope that the feeling of autumn will ignite a sense of wanderlust in me, much as it did for both Bilbo and Frodo in JRR Tolkien’s writings. I do not intend to debate a dragon or cast a magic ring into Doom’s Fires. However, I hope it will encourage me to leave the sanctuary of my home a bit more often, local trips and visits particularly.

Small these journeys will be in terms of distance and time, but they will be the start of a long journey for me to work out how I can feel safe and calm in the big outside world in a way I never have. And preparing myself mentally and emotionally to do even the most minor thing takes some time; I have to practically sneak up on myself and just do it without thinking about it!

But there is no rush to start today, even if I had a burning urge to do so! I am waiting for a delivery, and the westward-moving clouds are gathering and filtering the gold and warmth from the mid-afternoon sunlight.

Until I and my schedule are ready, I can research to find places to visit close to me, both the familiar and unfamiliar. Then, I can practice hand lettering as I make a list in my ‘travel’ journal. Then I can try to find my set of multi-sided dice to roll to choose a destination as I can become overwhelmed by choice!  Though, to be kind to myself, I will give myself permission to re-roll if the original result overwhelms me. Or perhaps I should have some lists for how I’m feeling each day. Hmmm… this needs some thinking about!

Thinking about going forward

I last visited Curious Stops and Tea Shops and posted over two years ago. The past two and a half years have seen a global pandemic; for many, life has changed an awful lot. I am one of those people. I don’t get out and about as much as I used to. Living by myself means I have been able to finally know what it’s like to have very little or no anxiety; that is, once the fear of Covid had eased off. I’ve realised that being out around people causes me so much anxiety and stress, which I thought was ‘normal’, but now I know that isn’t the case.

So, as I’m slowly learning how far I can push myself (or not) in re-engaging with the world outside my home, I need to think about this blog and where to take it going forward.

There are many ways to travel, and many curious stops can be made. Travel isn’t always physical; it can be intellectual, philosophical, emotional and spiritual.

I am inquisitive, and I often spelunk my way through some subject that has caught my attention, often with lots of mugs of tea to accompany me on my journey of discovery.

Books, novels and fiction are another way to travel, learn more about the world and experience things through other people’s eyes and circumstances.

Then there’s cooking. The easy-ish availability of foods, spices and herbs from around the world means that a journey through new recipes can be taken too.

I hope this will get me out more often for gentle local walks to learn more about my area’s history, nature, and much more. I hope this will get me to use my digital SLR more and journal more about what I discover, notice, feel and experience. I look forward to visiting places in different seasons, times of day and weather. There’s always a different story to be told, a different experience.

During the last two years, not rushing here and there has given me time to take courses in art and illustration, hand lettering and typography, and writing and journaling. In addition, I’ve watched documentaries and films, listened to podcasts and audiobooks, read books and taken journeys of discovery through blogs, websites and YouTube videos, to name a few. All these are journeys, in my opinion, as they have all led to a richer life experience.

This blog was always meant to be one about journeys of discovery. It’s taken a while for the penny to drop that some of the most meaningful personal journeys we take in life aren’t physical ones but ones that lead to inner growth on one level or another.

So, going forward, I’m likely to do blog posts here on all kinds of journeys that I undertake periodically. I hope these will be surprising and interesting, both for myself and you.

Southerndown and Newton

Looking east towards Ogmore-by-Sea and Nash Point from Newton, Porthcawl.
©Angela Porter 27 Feb 2020

Today, Liz and I had a jolly day out to the Glamorgan Heritage Coast.

The sun was shining beautifully in clear blue skies with just a few puffy white clouds floating above us. The sunshine was most welcome after what seems like weeks and weeks of wet weather here in South Wales, UK. We both got a full day’s dose of Vitamin D, that’s for sure.

It was also an opportunity for me to use my new Nikon DSLR camera. I’d be the first to admit I don’t consider myself a photographer, but it’s nice to get some snaps to remind myself of days out, and of things that have caught my interest too.

The wind was, however, rather fierce and piercing. Bracing, some would call it. We called it fecking freezing.

We drove the pretty way towards Southerndown, our first planned stop. This route took is through Pontyclun, Cowbridge, and past Llandow.

We made a very sudden stop at Bramble’s Tea Room at Meadowvale Nursery on Cowbridge Road for a second breakfast. I had toast and marmalade with a lovely pot of tea. Liz opted for a toasted teacake with a mug of coffee. The food and tea were freshly made. The people running the cafe were lovely and friendly, the premises lovely and clean. We’ll definitely return another time we’re in that area.

From there, we wended our way to Southerndown. We could see snow on some hills to the north; a lovely contrast with the clear blue, sunny skies and the warmth of the sun beaming in through the car windows.

Looking towards Porthcawl from Southerndown.
©Angela Porter 27 Feb 2020

The car park was really rather busy at Southerndown, but we found a space that was just right for Binky, my lovely little SmartCar. We gathered our cameras and went for a walk towards the beach.

The tide was out far enough to walk on the beach. However, the stormy weather had thrown boulders around and destroyed the end of the walkway onto the sand. We decided we weren’t in the mood for clambering over slippery boulders to get on the sand, so took a walk across the rock ledge.

Boulders and layers of rocks, Southerndown.
©Angela Porter 27 Feb 2020

I’ve always loved Southerndown and the dramatic and fascinating rock strata there. I love the patterns and textures of the rocks. Today wasn’t a day to wander looking for fossils, however. Carboniferous limestone is the dominant rock here and layers of it contain ammonites and belemites, along with fossil molluscs. As a child, I was always fascinated to see them, even the ghostly imprints left by a fossil, the fossil long since either collected or destroyed by the rolling sands and pebbles in the waves.

Looking across to Witch’s Point, Southerndown.
©Angela Porter 27 Feb 2020

The sun was warm when we were out of the wind, but the wind stole away any warmth from the sun and a bit extra from our bodies. Soon we were quite chilled, despite being bundled up. My fingers were feeling quite numb. So, we headed back to the car.

We drove through Ogmore-by-Sea, on to Ewenny, then Porthcawl. We went to Newton and had a lovely walk along the long, sandy beach there.

There were lots of people walking their well-behaved dogs there, making the most of the sunshine, just as Liz and I were. The views were lovely in the midday sunshine. Again, I was fascinated by rocks, and also by the behaviour of some members of the corvid family.

Corvid surveying his kingdom.
©Angela Porter 27 Feb 2020
Interesting rocks…
©Angela Porter 27 Feb 2020
Rock pools at Newton.
©Angela Porter 27 Feb 2020

By now, we were feeling rather windswept and chilly, so we drove into Porthcawl to see if we could find somewhere to park and get something to eat. Not a space to be had!

So, we drove off from Porthcawl. I took a wrong turning at a roundabout which lead us to the Cornelly-s (North and South). Liz made use of Google Maps to find a cafe in North Cornelly – Season’s Cafe – where we had a rather late lunch.

I enjoyed a cheese and onion toastie with some chips, while Liz indulged in fish fingers, peas and chips. Tea for me, coffee for Liz.

After a long, rambling chat, with random interjections and facts and information by me (we did think I should have a blog called ‘The Randomness of Angela’), we decided it was time to head home.

So, we went on a road through the Kenfig Sand Dunes, towards Margam, then on towards Pyle. A brief jaunt eastwards on the M4 , exiting it at Sarn to head towards Bryncethin, and onwards via Gifach Goch, Porth and then to my home once again.

Again, it was wonderful to see the world bathed in the golden light of late winter sun, but this time hills and valleys, rural and built up areas, contrasting so beautifully with the flatter lands of the coast.

What a lovely day we have had!

National Botanic Gardens of Wales, Llanarthne

Today I paid a visit to the National Botanic Gardenof Wales (NGBW) in Llanarthne. My last visit there was over ten years ago now and it was interesting to see how it has changed.

The gatehouse is the same. You can just make out the inverted ‘pyramid’. this funnels rainwater from the roof and it’s mesmerising when it rains. Today was a mostly sunny and non-rainy day. It still makes an interesting and unique entrance to the garden, either when the weather sunny or raining.

My first trek was to the British Birds of Prey Centre. This has been added since my previous visit to NBGW. I was just in time to see an owl flying demonstration.

Bartok the Ural Owl

The first owl was a five month old Ural Owl called Bartok. He was amazing and loved to fly around. The picture is of him sitting on the bench in front of me. However, his handler did put him next to me a couple of times. I love their feather feet so much, and the rest of them too. Being able to see him swoop just over my head or in front of me was absolutely awesome!

Lily the Little Owl

Next up was Lily, a little owl. And she was little. She’d decided that she’d moult all her tail feathers at once; usually they moult just one or two at a time and let the new feathers grow back before they moult the next feather. Obviously Lily never got the owl post memo about that this year! So, she didn’t fly very far, but it was fascinating to watch her in action. She bobbed close to the ground, whereas Bartok glided above head height.

Allan the Barn Owl

The last owl flown today was Allan the Barn Owl. He was a real character and flew the way he wanted to from his perch back to his handler, sometimes landing where he wanted to. Barn owls are one of my favourites and it was a delight to see Allan fly.

Allan in flight

This very poor picture of Allan in flight was taken moments before he flew right at me and his wing feathers brushed against my hand holding my camera. That took my breath away in joy, delight and wonder.

Leaving the demonstration still smiling I made my way to the Birds of Prey centre. I always find it sad to see animals in cages, no matter how big they are. I know all the birds here are flown; I saw jesses on most of them, if not all of them. I don’t remember all the species they had there, but all were beautiful.

From there I walked towards the domed Great Glasshouse which houses a collection of plants from Australia, South Africa, California, the Mediterranean Basin, the Canary Islands and Chile. This is the largest collection of Mediterranean plants in the Northern Hemisphere.

The Great Glass house is also the largest single-span great glasshouse in the world, designed by Noman Foster and Partners. It sits like a raindrop on the landscape; you can make it out in the background of the above photograph.

I stopped at the cafe in the Great Glasshouse for a late lunch – Earl Grey Tea, black, and a rather delicious beetroot and onion sandwich. I took some time to write in my journal, sketch some flowers and put on some sunblock before wandering around the Glasshouse.

Inside a network of paths wind their way up and down through the various regions of the world. I took many, many photographs of flora and foliage. Many bees were seen busy gathering pollen and drinking nectar; the NBGW has many hives.

It was very warm in the glasshouse, so I was relieved to return to the cooler air of the outside world. I wandered up to the Physician’s Garden. Here I also saw some butterflies; however, they refused to stay still long enough for me to get a photo of them.

Finally, I wandered around the double walled garden and towards the Butterfly house. I didn’t go into the butterfly house on this visit. Maybe my next one.

On my way back to the gatehouse, I passed some fountains. One you’ve seen in the photograph of the glasshouse. Here are a pair of them and in the distance you can make out the roof of the gatehouse.

There are many water features around the garden. I love the sound of water. The gardens are able to stimulate most of our senses – smell, touch, sight and sound.

One of the textile pieces in Y Pot Blodyn Cafe

Taste is taken care of by the various cafes in the NBGW. I stopped in Y Pot Blodyn as I exited the garden. I was ready for another cup of tea! This time it was a traditional black tea, with milk. I also indulged myself in a scone with clotted cream and jam.

On the cafe wall were two textile pieces representing the plants found in the Great Glasshouse. They have been created by members of the Garden’s stitching group. Embroidery, needlefelting and felting along with crochet and knitting were evident.

I took over 170 photos today, many of which will be sources of inspiration for artwork from me I’m sure.

I know I will be returning there again. The autumn could be fun and I may be able to add photos of seeds, capsules and seed pods to my collection.

I also know that I didn’t visit every part of the Garden, so there’s more to explore on another visit.

Glyntaff Cemetery and Crematorium

I live not very far away from Glyntaff Cemetary and Crematorium. When I was 11 and 12 years of age, I used to walk too and from school through the cemetery as it was the shortest route to take

This walk never ‘freaked’ me out. Indeed, I often used to take my time on my way home to wander around. I was fascinated by the variety of gravestones, and also with the stories of the people they commemorated.

These wanderings laid the foundations for my life-long love of cemeteries. Not just the social history contained within them, but the peace and stillness and the wide variety of nature that is there.

I also like the relative lack of the living in cemeteries. I’m not good in ‘people-y’ places; I get anxious, panicked, and can become startled and hypervigilant. These are some of the delights of living with CPTSD.

Cemeteries are one of the few places I know I can visit and walk around without any anxiety or panic. Well, other than that worry that perhaps I shouldn’t be there. I do tend to forget, when I know I need to go for a walk or when I’m trying to convince myself that I need to go for a walk, that cemeteries are good places for me to go!

Today, I managed to convince myself that it would be good to take a walk in my local one, which is quite sizeable for sure. You can see an aerial photograph of it here –https://www.peoplescollection.wales/items/33736

This photo only shows part of the cemetery. It extends to the left.

Now, for a little history…

The cemetery in Glyntaff, Pontypridd, South Wales, UK was opened in 1924. It was the sixteenth to open in Great Britain, but for almost thirty years it was the only crematorium serving the whole of Wales.

Its crematorium is the oldest in Wales. Also, it has links with Dr William Price (1800-1893), who lived in Pontypridd and was actively involved in getting cremation legalised as a way of disposal of the dead.

Following the death of his son Iesu Grist in 1884, he followed his Druidic beliefs. He refused to bury the body; instead, he conducted his own cremation service on a mountain near his home in Llantrisant.

The police intervened, believing cremation to be illegal. Dr Price faced a court hearing. During this hearing, he argued that while the law did not say cremation was legal, it didn’t say it was illegal.

The judge agreed with Dr Price and freed him. This case set a precedent that led to the Cremation Act of 1902. It was under this act that Glyntaff Crematorium was opened.

My first stop – the columbarium.

I was so happy to see that the columbarium is, at last, reopened. I used to look in there on my walks home from school from time to time. It fascinated me. The last time I went to the cemetery, the columbarium was closed. I’m so glad that it has been repaired and reopened.

A columbarium is a room or building that has niches and shelves where urns can be stored. Sometimes photographs, flowers or other tributes to or personal belongings of the deceased are left with the urn or memorial plaque.

The one in Glyntaff is a building that is separate to the crematorium but is nearby. You can walk through the columbarium to and from the rose garden. It is a symmetrical building with two wings leading off the entrance hall. Each of these wings has three sections with lovely mosaic floors.

The west wing houses urns, drawers with ashes and tributes/belongings in, as well as memorial plaques. The east side has plaques on the walls.

I had a lovely look around there, and I want to go back sometime soon and look again. It’s going to take many visits to look at all the memorials and so on that are there.

My wander around the cemetery

It took me a good 40 minutes to stroll around the old part of the cemetery. Also, I didn’t walk every single roadway that I could. To the south of this section, there’s another part of the cemetery that is almost as big. I saved that for another day. Today it was quite sunny and humid, so I appreciated the shade cast by the trees in the old part of the cemetery.

The diversity of styles of gravestones is fascinating. I also find the symbolism used on headstones interesting, particularly those of the Victorian era. Little stories about the family are contained within those symbols.

Every time I visit, I notice different headstones. But there’s also the variety of nature too. It’s high summer here, so the grass is mostly sere. Also, I visited during the middle of the day; the wildlife was, quite sensibly, resting. Still, a few butterflies were fluttering around. I also had a chuckle at the jackdaws playing around some graves.

Dr Who and Glyntaff Cemetery

You can find out from drwholocations.net which parts of the cemetery were used in Dr Who and Torchwood.

Catching up on some jolly days out

Well, I’ve had some jolly days out in recent months. However, events have got in the way of me updating this jolly little space on the interwebs.

Worcester – 25 October 2018

Medieval floor tiles at Worcester Cathedral 25 October 2018

Liz and I had a lovely day out to Worcester in chilly weather but with bright sunshine.

Our first stop was to a medical museum based at the hospital in Worcester. Well, we are both retired science teachers! Neither of us took any photos there, but it was an interesting little exhibition with many comments such as ‘They did WHAT with that?’ and ‘How on earth did that fit there?’. Some of the history was very gruesome, and some very sad indeed, particularly around child mortality and so on. The one thing that I think I found the weirdest though were the death masks of prisoners hung at Worcester Gaol.

A long leisurely lunch was had in the Cathedral Cafe, which isn’t in the Cathedral itself but is at 7 Severn Street. The surrounds were lovely and calm and the food was nice too, as were the staff.

Then we just had enough time for a whistle stop look at the Cathedral itself before the parking ticket ran out.

Liz hugging the Romanesque door into the Cathedral

I loved the Cathedral very much. But then I tend to do so with most old ecclesiastical buildings. Lots to look at here, lots of effigies and little side chapels to investigate, and the tomb of a King of England – the infamous King John, Google just told me.

We also crept down to the crypt. Well, not so much crept as made a noisy entrance. I don’t think creeping is something Liz or I do. The crypt is the only part of the Anglo-Saxon cathedral remaining.

It’s definitely a cathedral on my ‘must return to with sketchbook’ list sometime in the future!

I know we drove home via Hereford and then wended our way past the Malverns and on to the Honey Cafe in Bronllys where we stopped for a break. Then, it was back along the lower edge of the Brecon Beacons and we reached this point on our journey just as the sun was turning the grey skies gloriously smoky shades of red. This light was just catching the tops of the mountains and setting them afire. A beautiful autumnal evening journey home.

St Mary’s Kempley – 8 November 2018

Medieval Wall Painting at St Mary’s Kempley

This was a crazy kind of day. First, finding somewhere for my first breakfast and Liz’s second breakfast in the Wye Valley was bonkers. We ended up backtracking to Tintern and having something in the White Monks Tea Room. White Monks because it’s next door to Tintern Abbey and that was a Cistercian abbey until Henry VIII dissolved the abbeys. The Cistercians wore white habits, hence white monks! Once refreshed we decided to head up to Kempley to visit St Mary’s Church.

I’d been there once in gold spring a decade or more before. Kempley is in the Golden Valley and when I first visited the grounds were covered with daffodils, jonquils and narcissi, painting the ground in glorious shades of gold. Not a hint of them in November, however.

We stopped at a curious looking church on our way into Kempley –The Church of St Edward the Confessor. This church was described by Sir John Betjeman as ‘a mini cathedral of the Arts and Crafts Movement’. It’s pretty, and we both had a good mooch around, but then it was on to St Mary’s.

Medieval wall painting at St Mary’s Kempley

St Mary’s is a Grade 1 listed building and is said to have the most complete set of Romanesque frescoes in N Europe. It is a simple Norman church – Romanesque, which is my favourite kind of church architecture.

It was like visiting an old friend and it brought back fond memories of a couple of peaceful hours sitting and drawing while I was doing my A level art over 10 years ago now.

Liz was suitably impressed with it too.

Another medieval wall painting at St Mary’s Kempley

The inside of the church was colder than outside, so we didn’t linger long and were glad to be back in the car which warmed up quickly.

Our journey again took us back towards Hereford and then the Honey Cafe at Bronllys for a pit stop, before driving back in the dark of late autumn.

Aberglasney Gardens – sometime in December 2018

We chose a very, very wild and rainy day to visit Aberglasney for lunch! We broke our journey in Dunvant for a late morning drink and snack. It was raining fair fierce then, but by the time we got to Aberglasney it was an absolute deluge!

We sheltered in the cafe there and had a lovely long and leisurely lunch while the rain passed over, and then we took a little stroll around the gardens and into the orchid ‘house’ before a good browse around the shop and a drive home through country lanes and lots of different terrain – rolling hills, highland marshes/bogs and the mountains of the Brecon Beacons. We passed through Myddfai, somewhere I wanted to visit since reading the books of the Physicians of Myddfai a long time ago. They were medieval doctors to a King of Wales. Then we headed towards Llanddeusant, Trecastle, Sennybridge and home.

Along the homeward bound journey we saw loads of buzzards and more than a couple of red kites. These birds always fill us with a sense of awe, especially when they choose to glide down low above the car as we pass by.

We were home not long before dusk, not tarrying on the way back.

RSPB Newport Wetlands – 25 January 2019

RSPB Newport Wetlands

Today, I had a little trip out by myself. Yesterday I’d had quite an emotionally draining day after giving an anti-stigma talk as a Champion for Time to Change Wales to a group of police officers from the South Wales Police.

I woke up still headachy and tired and by mid morning I knew I needed some fresh air, a walk and a change of scenery and the one place on my mind was the RSPB Newport Wetlands.

I’ve visited here a number of times before, but not for a couple of years. As it’s familiar to me, I knew I’d have no problem actually getting out and taking a walk there.

It’s been such a mild day, temperature wise. The sun was out and though I was carrying a coat I didn’t even put it on once!

Yes, the sun was out, but the skies were also filled with bands of leaden, dark clouds. When the sun struck the tall, sere marsh grasses they positively glowed against the sky! Very dramatic, even for someone who’s not a photographer, like me.

It was lovely to just walk in the fresh air. There was a constant background low drone with clanks and clangs of industry, but overlaying this were the pleading cries of gulls, the raucous caws of members of the corvid family, and the noisy tweets and whistles of the little songbirds gathered in large numbers in hedges. There was also the rustle of dry leaves in the breeze.

Lots of things caught my eye on my walk and photographs were taken as references for later on. One thing I do want to do this evening, while the colours are fresh in my mind, is to create a color palette, or a series of colour palettes, for the different things I saw, particularly the dramatic colour combinations.

I enjoyed watching mallards and coots bobbing in the water. I think I also saw a heron, though it could’ve been a stork, at the end of the pond you can see from the cafe at the visitor’s centre.

Yes, I had a lovely mug of tea and a nice open sandwich there, writing up my thoughts in my journal and watching the ducks go by!

Looking towards Nash Lighthouse

I didn’t walk towards the lighthouse at Nash this time; there are plenty of little walks for me to explore here, and no doubt I’ll settle on my favourite ones. I expect they’ll change as the seasons change too. I think my next visit there will be a walk to the Lighthouse though, and a look down to the shores of the Severn Estuary. Not far from there is Goldcliff where footprints of prehistoric (mesolithic) humans have been found preserved in the mud.

Fungi festooned log

I like nature in winter – it has an architectural quality. It’s the time of year when I can see the underlying structure of the world without leaves and so on in the way. I get to see things that usually lie hidden, and that includes colours and textures.

Despite it still being very much winter, even though today was a mild 13ºC, there’s still signs of spring ready to wake the world up. There’s still signs of life continuing.

Final words … for now

I don’t think I’ve covered all the little trips out in the past few months, but I have covered the ones of some interest. I do know these won’t be my last, that’s for sure. As the days lengthen and grow warmer then the desire to venture forth tends to grow too. Today was one of those days, bright with the promise of spring and the warmer days to come.

To Hay (on Wye) and back again

Angela Hay on Wye 11 Oct 2018
Market place, Hay on Wye

Today, I took a little jaunt to Hay on Wye.

I wanted to drive through the Brecon Beacons as summer turns to autumn. I needed to visit Bartrum’s, the stationers in Hay on Wye and to have a bit of a walk around.

Typically, after a couple of days of gloriously sunny autumn days, I decide to go on a wander on a day where the skies were leaden and rain was threatening.

However, the sullen grey backdrop of the sky helped the autumnal colours to shine against it, especially on the way home. The colours of nature had changed with the rain. Reds were clearly apparent in the brown reeds at the foot of the mountains. Water darkened the bark on the trees so the glorious colours of autumn seemed more vibrant. Wet foliage always seems brighter in colour.

I cursed myself for not being able to take photos as I drive, and there was nowhere to stop safely so I could take quick snaps of the glories of autumn.

I travelled the A470 between Merthyr and Pontypridd on Tuesday, and the change in colours of the trees and the land was noticeable indeed.

More trees seemed to be crowned with their autumn gold. There are more fiery flashes of trees resplendent in their autumn finery. The brown bracken and reeds on the hills had more red, magenta and purple tinges to it than just a few days before.

I felt quite sad that some trees have already lost their leaves, missing out on joining in the great, colourful celebration of the turning of the seasons and another productive year.

There’s more changes to come and I hope I’ll find the courage to visit Westonbirt Arboretum this year to wander through the woods in their autumn beauty.

I also enjoyed seeing the clouds forming mantles around the heads of the mountains of the Brecon Beacons and the Black Mountains. There’s something mystical, secretive about it, and a lot of power in the strong winds today and the eddying and swirling in the low clouds was particularly visible today.

One particular highlight of the day was when a red kite swooped in front of my car, turned and returned in the direction it had come from. Seeing them close up always takes my breath away!

When I got to Hay, I popped quickly into Satori to have a look at their pretties (crystals, jewellery) and did pick up a piece of hypersthene to add to my collection.

Angela Porter Lunch Hay on Wye 11 Oct 2018
Oscar’s Bistro, Hay on Wye

My next stop was Bartrum’s for a look around. I do have a bit of a thing for stationery. I did restrain myself from visiting the downstairs area of the shop where they have soooooooooo many beautiful fountain pens. I did have a good look around the upstairs section where there are pens and pencils, notebooks and sketchbooks. They have a huge selection of Moleskine and Leuchturrm notebooks, as well as other brands, along with all kinds of other stationery supplies. They do have a small selection of sketchbooks and I picked up a 25cm x 25cm Blue Acorn sketchbook (I’d forgotten to pack a sketchbook to take with me).

After that, it was time for lunch and I thought I’d revisit Oscar’s Bistro.

Liz and I went there before our trip oop t’Dales and we had a pleasant lunch in nice surroundings.

Today, I had a big pot of tea all to myself and for lunch I ordered a veggie burger with cheese and some chips. I forgot to ask them to leave out the bread bun, which I left anyways (my preference, I’m sometimes not in the mood for bread). The veggie burger was delicious. They make them themselves and I could detect mashed swede, parsnip, leek, onions carrots in my burger. They were beautifully seasoned and not at all bland, unlike so many commercial vegetable burgers.

The chips were lovely; hand-cut, still had the skin on (which I like), and golden and crisp, freshly cooked.

I did say that I would’ve been more than happy with two veggie burgers (no bun) a scattering of chips and some salad.

The time I was there with Liz, I had a vegetable curry and it was delicious too. A little spicy heat but not so much that you couldn’t taste the other spices or the veggies.

It really is a lovely little place!

I sat there and made some notes about my thoughts on my drive there and started drawing my illustration for Inktober 2018 day 12 (the prompt is ‘whale’) in the sketchbook I’d bought in Bartrum’s. Well, I mean, you just gotta try out a new sketchbook!

Once I’d finished my pot of tea (which was also lovely and much needed), I planned on a wander around Hay, but as I took the quick pic of Oscar’s it started to rain, and the heaven’s opened as I took a pic of the market.

On my way back to the car I stumbled upon a little shop called The Thoughtful Gardener and I just had to have a wander.

As well as pretty flower pots and cards and so on, they had a range of soap, scented candles, room fragrances and skin creams made by themselves.

I had a sniff of some of the soaps and creams and ended up with a pot of Wild Mint balm which is deliciously minty and the tiniest bit softens/smooths the skin. I’ve tried it on the touch of very dry skin I have on my forehead to see if it’ll help. I couldn’t resist some soap ‘flavoured’ with patchouli, and delicately done too.

I’ll certainly be visiting The Thoughtful Gardener again!

I had thought to wend my way towards Hereford, maybe visit Kilpeck before returning home, but the dark, dark glowering clouds suggested I should think otherwise. So, I made my way back home, driving through strong winds, heavy rain and the start of the rush hour traffic!

Oh, strong winds – that reminds me, flurries of autumn leaves were fun to drive through! Far nicer than snow as far as I’m concerned.

A little jaunt to Neath

Approximately once a week I have an appointment in Neath. I enjoy driving, but today I wished there were places on the way there and back I could pull over and snap a few piccies of nature.

The places I could pull over and stop were places where I lost the view I wanted to catpure.

So, instead of pictures, I’ll try to use my words to paint a picture of my journey.

My route was from Pontypridd, up the A470, past Merthyr Tudful to join the A465 which I then followed until I reached Neath.

Along the way I get to see the mountain tops of the Taff valley. They currently look like a rich tapestry of abstract patterns in a rich russet tinged with purple, dull yellow-greens and straw-yellow.

The trees that line much of the road are no longer the uniform green of summer. There’s flashes of yellow, brown, orange, magenta and purple along the way that break that unformity up. Rowans and hawthorn are so bedecked with berries that they already appear bright red-orange and red in colour.

Traces of morning mist lingered about the trees beside the A465 in the Vale of Neath, and low cloud wreathed the moutain tops to the east. Definitely an autumnal view.

I got the sense that nature is trying on her new wardrobe, working out what looks best in different places, what colours work well together.

I feel the anticipation of seeing nature in all her glorious, majestic, blazing autumnal colours in the coming days and weeks. All to celebrate the end of the year’s harvest, the warm, glowing colours clothe the world like a snuggly quilt laid down to help it ease into it’s winter slumber.

The colours also act as a memory to remind us in the cold, dark, bare days of winter the world will wake up once again.