Real Life on an Organic Dairy Farm in West Wales:
The Journal of a Farmer's Wife
Thursday, 13 June 2013
TEIFI; FROM SEA TO SOURCE
It is always a good moment when a project comes to fruition & last night saw the culmination of what has been a long and fascinating experience in film-making.
The Farmer & I belong to an independent tourism group, the Teifi Valley Tourism Association (www.teifivalleyholidays.co.uk) (TVTA) which was set up 4 years ago to promote the beautiful part of west Wales in which we live. Four years ago the membership stood at 9 businesses, now it has over 70 small local businesseslisted , mainly holiday accommodation providers, artists & craftspeople.
As an independent organisation we have, without any grant funding or outside sponsorship produced a film showing the wonderful and varied landscape of the the Teifi Valley from the air.
I was the producer & scriptwriter and our good friend G. (www.maesymush.co.uk) who had in a previous life worked in film, directed & edited the film. Another friend with small light aircraft was drafted in to fly the entire 75 mile length of the River Teifi with small but incredibly clever camera attached to one of the wing struts of the plane. This all sounds very Heath Robinson but in fact with the state-of-the-art technology of the camera it was anything but.
The resulting footage was superb. What was a 2 hour flight following the course of the river from the estuary in Cardigan Bay to the source in the hills of mid-Wales has now become a beautiful 35 minute journey through a dramatic and ever-changing landscape.
The filming was only the start of a very long process involving many months of editing, script-writing & hours sitting at the kitchen table researching the history & stories of the valley & continuous emailing over small points of editorial and details in the script. As well the narrative script we recorded music of the valley, some of which was played by the Farmer on fiddle. We were incredibly fortunate to be given permission by Ceri Rhys Mattews of the acclaimed Welsh folk band Fernhill (www.fernhill.info/) who lives in a small village near by to use some of his recordings and also a talented harpist Harriet Earis (www.harrietearis.com) arranged some traditional tunes from the Teifi Valley and recorded them for us. As result the sound track for the film is as beautiful & haunting as the landscape it portrays.
Our script was read for us by the actor Richard Mitcheley (www.dragontrails.co.uk) who lives in the valley & we were given permission to use a poem about the River Teifi written by a noted Welsh bard 'Cynan'. The voice-over is a lovely mix of English interspersed with romantic rolling Welsh poetry.
The cover illustration was supplied by the local artist Diane Mathias (www.dianemathias.com) . She allowed us to use one of her lovely paintings of one of the many handsome bridges that span the Teifi
As you can see the emphasis was very much on keeping the whole project as local to the valley as possible.
Last evening we had the premiere of the film at a delightful venue (www.waunifor.com). As well as showing the film for the first time to the members of the TVTA we had invited lots of friends. local press & community councils from the length of the valley and after biscuits & local cheeses washed down with a glass of wine the film was played to what turned out to be very appreciative audience.
As a project run on minimal funding and many hundreds of voluntary hours the end result was well worth the effort and goes to show that all that is required is enthusiasm, energy, imagination & a commitment to producing a good a piece of work using the skills of a network of people who believe in the project & a real sense of place.
Croeso i Cwm Teifi
DVD copies of the film are available from me @ £6.20 incl. postage (UK)
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to order a copy.
The last three days have been spent doing some much needed renovation & maintainence work on the holiday cottage.
This work is usually done in February when we have very few booking but this year of course the weather was so atrocious that it was impossible to do anything. So, this week with lovely dry weather & a gap in the bookings we got on with the replacement of rotted window frames & the threshold of the front door.
Of course the whole job just growed like Topsy as it always does until I found that I completely re-painted all the windows front & back and the front door several times over... primer on the sections of new wood, undercoat, top coats x 2 on everything and various little touching-up patches around the whole building.
I was out at 6.30 in the mornings wielding my paint brushes like a woman possessed in order to get the requisite number of coats on and dry before the arrival of our next guests today. Considering the work started on Thursday evening I've done jolly well, though I say it myself.
With the wonderful weather the Farmer & the Sons are frantically busy making silage. They mowed last night & this morning and now just after lunch they are out picking up with the forage wagon. It seems there is good crop despite the gloomy forecasts after the desperately slow late, cold spring.
The Sons have been off doing other peoples silage since the beginning of the week and as soon as our own crop is in the clamp & sheeted up they will setting forth again to various neighbouring farms.
We are back with cold wet weather after what was a stunningly gorgeous weekend.
The Farmer & I went down to St. David's on Sunday to the Really Wild Festival (www.reallywildfestival.co.uk) which was being held in the beautiful ruins of the Bishop's Palace adjacent to the cathedral. A more perfect setting would be hard to find. The small medieval-style pavilions set up by the Meibion y Ddraig Archers looked amazing in the walled enclosure overlooked by grinning gargoyles and ancient stonework. As well as archery demonstrations there were falconry displays, gun-dog displays (by our friend Meurig Rees of BASC, see last post) and most fascinating of all a shoe maker who specialises in making historic shoes for museums, theatre and re-enactment groups. Ana Deissler (www.anaperiodshoes.co.uk) makes shoes from earliest stone age foot-coverings to Tudor style shoes...they are beautiful and she is so knowledgeable on the history of footwear and the technique of making period shoes, the Farmer & I were talking to her for ages.
We also spent along time talking to someone from Coppicewood College (www.coppicewoodcollege.co.uk) which is not far from where we live. The college offers courses in a wooodland near Cardigan using traditional tools and covers all aspects of coppice practice and craft., from spoon carving to natural dyeing & charcoal making.
It is extraodinary how small circles of acquaintanceship reveal themselves...we had a number of mutual friends with N. from Coppicewood College and he had in turn heard of us. Wednesdays are open days at the woodland centre and we must go over sometime to catch-up again and continue the debate over power tools (the Farmer) and traditional non-powered tools (Coppicewood College). I must admit to being more on the side of pole-lathes & hand carved spoons than chain-saws and power lathes...I find them much too noisy & scary to use whereas a pole-lathe is quiet and rather soothing in its action.
On Sunday evening on our return fromSt. David's we went just couple of miles up the road from the farm to art exhibition to which we had been invited.
A couple of weeks ago we had a visit from an Italian artist Rebecca Maria Bellestra who was the artist -in-residence at the Rhod project in Glonc Mill, Drefelin (www.therhod.wordpress.com). She spent the day talking to us about sustainability, ecological matters, organic farming, the future of farming, all the things that we spent so much time discussing with many of those who end up sitting around our kitchen table. The difference on this occasion was that this conversation was filmed for her project which has taken her all around the world.
Part of her project was shown at the exhibition but most of the work on display was by the Rhod group of artists .
The theme was Future Nature Culture & to quote from the programme notes,
'Rhod is a place for encounters between art, nature and people...the artworks...have been made in response to the site of the mill and its grounds...The artists have eschewed grand gestures and definitive statements in favour of sensitive interventions in which the work is completed by nature.
Future Nature Culture is arejection of the pastoral which idealises and aestheicises nature as something separate and other from human beings. We are animals too.'
There were some beautiful and strange and interes
ting pieces of work including a piece wood cut from the middle of a fallen branch, that had been french-polished, and looked wonderful, but was then put back in its original place in the wood by the stream where of course the french-polish would very quickly deteriorate in the damp and so the wood would eventually rot away like the rest of the unpolished branch as though man had had no part in its existence.
It was a thought-provoking evening with lots of good conversation.
It is always rewarding when we are able to introduce any of our visitors to country sports. Today for the benefit of the children from a high school in Cardiff who come regularly to the farm I had arranged for Meurig Rees the Director of the British Association for Shooting & Conservation in Wales (BASC),(www.basc.org.uk) to come to talk about shooting and to demonstrate his lovely gun-dogs.
Meurig spoke of the importance of gun safety and the law regarding possession and misuse of firearms and then the children were shown how to use an air-gun and were allowed to fire at target papers. They loved it of course and asked
sensible questions and responded well to the experience.
After the talk of guns we moved onto the training and use of dogs in shooting. Meurig gave a wonderful demonstration with his beautiful dogs Ceri & Sky, a mother & daughter team. The children were involved in the demonstration when they were required to throw dummies and walk the dogs around...of course they all thought it was great and were very impressed, as were the Farmer & I at the level of discipline of the dogs. We think our own dogs are pretty good in terms of obedience and working ability but compared with Ceri & Sky we have barely started!
As well emphasising the rules of handling guns Meurig also explained how shooting and conservation go hand-in-hand, how shooting ensures that there is a healthy wildlife population including quarry species and well managed habitats which results in the well-being of the countryside. No political axe was ground and the children were given facts and information on an aspect of country life that they in all likelihood would not experience any other way.
At the end of their visit the teacher in charge, the wonderful Mr. C. said that it had been a brilliant day, which is all we can ask.
'Welcome, with your lovely greenwood choir,
summery month of May for which I long.'
From a 14th century Welsh poem
May Day! A glorious golden 1st of May but this photograph shows what was happening last year in May & it certainly won't be this year. The season is so slow that it is reckoned to be 20 days later than last year which is going to have severe knock-on effect on the harvest. Many farmers will struggle to get third cut silage and that will have a serious impact on the fodder supply for next winter.
It may seem a bit mad to be thinking in these terms on such a beautiful day but this is our livelihood and having just gone through a very long winter the prospect of a short summer is worrying.
Here in west Wales the trees are only just beginning to show signs of life and whether it will be the oak or the ash first is anyone's guess at present.
May Day is of course the ancient festival of Beltane when fires are lit to bring the power of the sun to the Earth and was regarded as a blessing from the gods to purify & sanctify the community.
Beltane fires were kindled using nine sacred woods, their names preserved in an old Scottish rhyme, but the ninth will always remain a mystery;
Choose the willow of the stream,
Choose the hazel of the rocks,
Choose the alder of the marshes,
Choose the birch of the waterfalls.
Choose the ash of the shade,
Choose the yew of resilience,
Choose the elm of the brae,
Choose the oak of the sun.
I found the first violets yesterday and the hedgebanks are begiining to look more spring-like each day. The hedges themselves are slower in that the quickthorn, blackthorn & hawthorn are only just beginning to show glimpses of green. We had one glorious warm shining day on Saturday when we were all out working in the various gardens on the place, though the Farmer was up on a roof fixing tiles most of the time which he said afforded him a splendid view of the toiling gardeners below.
Over the weekend when the weather was so lovely I had a group of Americans staying in the cottage. They were from Colorado where snow had been falling for three days just before they left last week, so Wales in the sunshine was great for them. They went down to Pembrokeshire to walk Dinas Head & could not have seen it under better conditions.
Dinas Head is a small promontory between Newport & Fishguard and makes a wonderful circular walk of about 2 hours along the cliff path. The walk passes through the tiny hamlet of Cwm yr Eglwys where the remains of a 12th century church can be seen. The church was washed away in huge storm in 1859 as well as a large number of fishing boats. Apparently a storm of almost equal severity hit that coast in the mid-1970's. We have only ever seen it on beautiful clear calm days and it is hard to imagine just how fierce & frightening the storms must have been.
I have been harvesting the first 'wild foods' , wild garlic leaves, ground elder & chickweed, all of which make delicious additons to salads as well as being very nutritious, full of vitamins. Having had a long season of winter salads of cabbage, kale & leeks from the poy-tunnel it is lovely to have fresh outdorr green stuff, though the produce from the poly-tunnel has been wonderful to have through the winter.
The wild garlic or ramsons grow vigourously and have lovely heads of white starry flowers but the leaves add a fine gentle flavour to green salad. Ground elder is an invasive weed of positively Napoleonic ambition and almost impossible to eradicate so we've just learned to live with it and eating does at least make it useful & the flowers are quite attractive though I do spend a lot of time in the summer removing them in the vain hope that by not going to seed the plant will weaken...it doesn't but it makes me feel better! Chickweed is odd little low-growing herb with insignificant flowers but a very delicate & interesting flavour that makes it a good addition to salad dishes.
So, lunch today is a quiche made with organic shiitake mushrooms (www.maesymush.co.uk) & home grown leeks accompanied by foraged green salad with a hemp oil dressing & organic sourdough bread from our friends at Mair's Bakehouse (www.mairsbakehouse.co.uk). I can't wait...but I'd better go & make the quiche!!
Hip, hip hooray, calloo callay, the swallows have arrived at last! They are a week or so later than usual but then the weather has been so cold that one can hardly blame them for not rushing back. The Farmer & I saw our first swallow yesterday evening at Mwnt beach near Cardigan, and then this morning the Farmer reported that he had seen a couple winging around the yard, so spring has definitely arrived.
With a few days without people staying in the cottage I have been attending to the running repairs necessary after three weeks occupation by families with young children. The paint work suffers dreadfully so I have been rubbing down with sand-paper and touching up the patches of flaked & chipped paint work in the bathroom & entrance hall. Yesterday the weather was perfect for painting and leaving the doors open to allow warm spring air to circulate. Today it is a very different picture, cold, windy & wet & certainly not conducive to spring-cleaning of any kind.
The garden has suffered badly in the last few weeks with the bitter cold. I have found that two large extremely vigourous rosemary bushes have been blasted by the east wind and are now brown crisp ghosts of their former selves and the big strong hydrangeas have had their new buds killed off. I think the hydrangeas will recover but I'm not so sure about the rosemarys. The daffodils are flowering well though for many days they looked as though they were hunching their shoulders against the cold and they are now taking a battering by the rain & wind.
On the farm the cows have gone out to grass but are still needing to be fed silage and so they are still coming in at night. The lambs are all doing well and can be seen gambolling around the fields or when the sun shines lying stretched out sound asleep beside their vast woolly mothers.
Teifi; From Sea to Source A beautiful 35 minute film following the River Teifi from the air with a sound track of Welsh folk music, poetry & narrative. Made by the Teifi Valley Tourism Association, an independent group of owners of holiday accommodation, artists & craftspeople living in the Teifi Valley. To order a dvd of Teifi From Sea to Source (£6.20 incl.postage UK) please email email@example.com
Full-time farmers-wife, cook, laundress, gardener, meeter-&-greeter, mobile gate, answerphone service & bibliophile.
Have lived for over 25 years on a 140 acre organic dairy farm in the Welsh hills, with fiddle-playing farmer husband and two sons.
We host farm walks for schools and any other interested parties and have farm open days and are passionate about educating people on where their food comes from and the importance of the countryside.
We also have a sweet holiday cottage with roses round the door available throughout the year for the perfect country retreat.
Contact for further details;
Telephone; 01559 370341
A delightful gypsy wagon on an organic farm in West Wales.
Cabin with kitchen, shower-room & wood-burning stove.
Camping with a difference. http://www.oldoakgypsywagon.co.uk/
As Seen on TV
Penyrallt has been used as a film location on a number occasions for feature films & television productions.1993Tan ar y Comin / A Christmas ReunionStarring James Coburn & Edward Woodward Directed by David Hemmings & Carol Byrne-Jones. Saban / Y Wennol (Wales) 1996-1999Yr Palmant Aur A Welsh language period drama. Opus TV / S4C (Wales) 1999A Two Way JourneySolo Spot Produciones. (Spain) 2007Y Ty Cymraeg A Welsh language programme about Welsh architecture presented by Dr Greg Stevenson. S4C Cwpwrdd DilladA Welsh language programme about Welsh fashion design. The designs of Adam Marc James were photographed at Penyrallt. S4C 2011Rhod Gilbert's Work Experience; Series 2 - FarmerStand-up comedian Rhod Gilbert trys his hand at farming.BBC One Wales/Presentable TVBBC Two