Sunday, 1 July 2007

Rain and a big concert - that reminds me...

It is cold and wet. I’m going to light the wood burning stove later. We were in the mist yesterday – the clouds were so low we were shrouded in them for most of the day. This weather reminds me of when we moved here 22 years ago.
The date was July 12th 1985. The place was a large Victorian house set in 1.75 acres of ground with stables, adjoining woodland in rural Worcestershire. It was sunny and in the near distance I could see the Malvern Hills shimmering in the sunshine.
We were packing, Mum, Dad, my elder sister Jackie and me, then aged 18. The biggest removals van I had ever seen had inched its way backwards up our long, potholed driveway and two young men in sandy brown coats were loading all our possessions into its cavernous depths.
Eventually everything was loaded and the van set off. We put our assortment of goats, six ducks, two cats and three dogs into the horse trailer and Land Rover and Mum set off in the wake of the removals van, for West Wales.
Dad and I waved them off, my sister headed back to Birmingham University where she was training to be a dentist.
Minutes later the telephone rang. It was Mum, in tears. Somehow her beloved mongrel, with the incongruous name of Prince, had leaped from the back of the Land Rover, through the dog guard we had bought specially for the journey, over her shoulder and out of the window. The accident had happened opposite the veterinary surgery and the staff had rushed out to help, but there was nothing they could do. Dad sped off in our blue Rover and came back later with the body.
Mum continued on her way to Wales. Halfway, at Manordeilo, she telephoned, again in tears, to say how the journey was going. She arrived later that afternoon at our new home in the Preseli Hills.
I stayed at what had been our home, now echoingly empty, with our two horses and their luggage. Later that evening the new owners arrived with their most precious items that could not have been trusted to removals men and I annoyed them by helping to carry the items into the house. It was an eclectic mix – a Roman bust, a statue of an elephant, Persian rugs and various peculiar ephemera collected on their world travels.
That night, after Dad and I had buried Prince next to the lavender bush in the front garden, I took my sleeping bag on the floor of my empty bedroom and failed to sleep, lying awake listening to the noise of the empty house and feeling oppressed by the atmosphere of change.
We always said that house was haunted. It was Victorian red brick, and had been extended over the years. In the garden was an old slaughterhouse, complete with cobbled floor with channels for the blood. There was even the old water pump which would still give water if you pumped it for long enough.
The house had big fireplace surrounds with slate mantels, and one day we decided to unscrew the board which was hiding the fireplace in our dining room. Previous owners had boarded over the fireplace and installed an ugly wood burning stove instead. Its chimney fed through the board and up the chimney. We decided to see what was behind and started to remove the board.
As it came away clouds of black soot descended into the room. We wiped our eyes and in front of us was a black old fashioned cooking range, complete with oven. My grandmother was not impressed! She remembered such things from her childhood when her job had included cleaning and black leading such ‘monstrosities’. We were delighted! It was An Original Feature. We cleaned it up and used it instead of the wood burning stove. We cooked on it too. But it was then that we decided we had some sort of ghostly presence. Some mornings we would come downstairs to the smell of cooking – bacon or bread.
When Mum and Dad decided to sell, with the aim of moving to Devon, the house gave us some most unpleasant smells. It treated some of the early viewers to a smelly clammy coldness and they didn’t stay inside the house for long! The eventual buyers were greeted with a lovely warm, friendly smell, so whoever was haunting us obviously approved of them.
So I spent that final night in the house, with terrible mixed feelings of grief for our dog, a sense of finally bidding farewell to my childhood and nerves about the move, mingled with excitement.
The following day, July 13th, saw crowds flocking to Wembley Stadium for Live Aid. I remember desperately trying to tune my radio to hear the concert. I was – still am – a huge fan of U2 and was distraught that I would miss their spot on stage because of the move.
In the morning the horsebox came to take me and my horses, Jamie a 16hh bay thoroughbred and Jojo, a 15hh flea-bitten grey Welsh-Arab cross, to our new home. Loading them was ‘fun’. They were used to a trailer and did not much fancy the steep ramp and dark interior of the lorry. But eventually after much patience and a few rope burns to my palms, they were loaded and we set off.
As we approached West Wales the weather became greyer and wetter. There was no sign of the Preseli Hills; they were shrouded in thick mist. I remember, as we drove through Clynderwen, the driver handed me his business card, he said: “In case you want to go back.”
It did look pretty grim. Grey houses and grey weather. I had never been to the farm, so it was a fairly nervous journey and seemed never ending. We turned off the main road and wound round and around tiny lanes with the tree canopy meeting above to form a dark, damp dripping green tunnel.
Eventually we arrived, headed up the steeply sloping drive and I got my first look at my new home.
I was appalled. It looked awful. The house seemed tiny in comparison to the one we had left. It was damp, it was smelly, it was raining. I was homesick for Worcestershire. With a heavy heart I unloaded the horses and we led them to the nearest field, of the 22 acres we now had available, and opened the gate.
Now, these two horses had been used to Worcestershire clay. In the winter it sucked them in up to their hocks and there was lots of mud, but no grass. In the summer it was as hard as iron, with deep cracks and there was no grass. Apart from a brief period in the autumn when the sky rained cider apples and perry pears, their Worcestershire quarters had left a lot to be desired.
So Jamie and Jojo came tired and blinking out of the hated lorry and looked at their new field. They looked at six acres of rolling, south-facing lush greenness. They looked at each other and their faces lit up. They kicked up their heels and disappeared to the far corner, paused, galloped the perimeter, threw in a few bucks of joy and then put their heads down and started eating.
For days we were unable to catch them, or get anywhere near them. They were afraid that anyone coming into the field might be coming to get them and take them back!
We were too busy with unpacking to have much time for them anyway, but eventually we did manage to catch them and were able to saddle them up for long exploratory hacks around the lanes.
The sun did peek out from time to time that summer. Mum cleaned up the house, redecorated and put in a new kitchen and things didn’t seem so bad after all. We even learned to pronounce the name of the farm and the surrounding villages! This was the 1980s when most of the farms were still inhabited by Welsh people. We were in advance of the English invasion and have watched since as the countryside has gradually changed. I’m not sure if it is a good thing or a bad thing. The incomers have brought money and enterprise in many cases. Most have attempted to learn a little Cymraeg. Many have brought children and helped to keep the village school open. But 20 years ago we were comparatively rare, and were sometimes greeted with suspicion and ill concealed hostility. In the main part we received a warm welcome, and our new next door neighbours were English anyway. They invited us round to dinner and gave us a crash course on fitting in with the locals – I sometimes think that should be compulsory for all incomers!
So there we were in our new home. I managed to get a very snowy picture on my little black and white television to catch the end of the Live Aid concert – although I still haven’t seen U2’s famous performance!
Eventually the rain stopped, the mists cleared and the hills came into view. When my sister visited the tallest Preseli Hill always seemed to be under a mist or sea fog and it was years before she believed us that it really did exist.
After our first summer there I went off to college to study equine husbandry, then got a job back in Worcestershire, but it no longer felt like home and I ached to get back to the Preseli Hills. It took a few years, my parents’ divorce, and the death of Mum’s new partner, but I now live here with my family, and it would take a lot to make me leave it again - even if it does rain copiously at times and I haven’t seen the hills for days!


  1. I love the area you have moved to having found it a couple of years ago...but can understand how you were torn at first. As time goes on we are tempted to move into Wales towards the coast but I keep having a panic and cold feet!

  2. Great blog! It reminded me of a series called 'Down to Earth' starring Pauline Quirke & Warren Clarke (originally) and I absolutely lovely watching it! Your story is much more romantic, however, and the thought of the horses finding paradise is wonderful.
    Crystal x

  3. Oh goodness me - there is a whole book in this blog. I could just imagine arriving in the mist and a bit like today. How strange that we both thought about our 'Princes' - we've done that before haven't we? Must be a ley line or something between our places!

  4. How wonderful to be able to live where you do with family memories there too!

  5. Very enjoyable blog, reads like a book. I love the Preseli Hills and Pembrokeshire. I also love U2, Can you get the DVD of Live Aid to see them?
    I love the last photo and the poppy one below.

  6. Great story Mags - I'd always thought you were Welsh - I guess you pretty much are by now! Sad about poor Prince, but glad you ended up where you did, your part of the world sounds beautiful.

  7. Thanks so much for the good wishes. Don't faint but the sun was out for a while here - did you see it?

  8. came back to read it all again....and to tag you to share the five things you would do to lift your spirits when they are down!

  9. great to read your story. it takes a while to put down roots but you sound so settled and at home now and your garden blog shows what a wonderful place you have made.

  10. Can I tag you to write about how you beat/fight/prevent the blues? And then tag five others...


I am sorry to have to add word verification thing again but I keep getting spammed.