Saturday, 31 August 2013

Blackberry time

Thursday and Friday, back to routine sessions at the CBS office, adding incident reports and images to the RadioNet users' crime data secure intranet site. I'm still mastering the technique for doing this, as I don't find it as user friendly as it needs to be for my learning need and success, so my memory of routine tasks tends to fade in between sessions. I may not be as quick to retain things as I used to be, but it might be that a few programming tweaks would - improve site usability significantly. I make brief notes about problems as I go along, but have to re-state with unequivocal clarity what needs to be addressed, so that a memo to the database developers makes sense. Not an easy task if you're unsure you're using the technical terms correctly.

Clare and I went hunting for a new light fitting for our front room on Friday morning, and then got in touch with our friendly electrician Spiro to come around a fit it for us. After a few minutes of consultation, he and Clare agreed it wasn't the right one, so on Saturday morning we took it back and went hunting for another, with our eyes a little more aware second time around of what would and wouldn't work in that space. This time, I think we have something better suited. I wonder what Spiro will think, when he next comes around?

After lunch, we went for our default Saturday afternoon stroll along the Taff through Bute Park for tea at the Secret Garden Cafe. On the way we noticed the first crop of blackberries were ripe enough to collect.
 Thanks to the fact that Clare had a spare plastic bag with her, we collected a kilo between us, and partook of the firstfruits with glad and thankful hearts. Not only blackberries stewed with just a little honey, but also an exquisite mix of blackberries and Victoria plums stewed with a little honey and cinnamon. That'll be fantastic crowned with a crumble mixture for Sunday dinner.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Homeward bound

Up at the crack of dawn, loaded washing machine, made breakfast, packed luggage and tidied up in good time before Judith arrived to accompany me to the church shop to celebrate the Eucharist before driving to Malaga airport. While I was waiting to board I had an email from a churchwarden in the chaplaincy of Costa del Sol East asking about my availability for locum duty, just at the same time as I had an email from David, the Cowbridge Benefice administrator about my availability for November and December. 

There are three adjacent Andalusian chaplaincies with a dozen worship centres between them, that will be without a chaplain over the next six months. My friend Fr Geoff is charged, in his capacity as Area Dean, to accompany them all through their various review and appointment processes, so it would be good to offer him support, as well as look after one of the busier places for a spell. It gave me something to think about as I travelled home, wedged again in the corner seat of the back row of the 'plane - steerage class' I call it, for those who refuse to pay extra to choose a seat.

At least, by leaning forward I could see out of the window of the seat in front, and had a good view of Britanny with its ancient landscape of small fields plus the descent into Lulsgate along the Severn Estuary shore from Minehead to Weston super Mare. Worth the discomfort.

The flight was on time. I walked straight on to a bus, but the train was delayed ten minutes while an extra carriage was being added, so I got home just before five as usual with this flight. It's cooler but also less humid here, which is pleasant, even if it means having to wear more than shorts and a tee shirt.

And now the necessary adjustment to a different routine of life again.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Tuesday's Nerja Mercadillio

We got up at six, and I drove Clare to Malaga Airport in the dark for her flight home. The sun rose among the subruban tower blocks of Malaga only as I was making my way back to Nerja at eight. The sun is now setting just before nine in the evening. Autumn is on its way.

Apart from catching up on a short night's sleep, doing a load of washing, and taking out the rubbish, my only outing today was to the mercadillo nearby to wander around and take some photos. When we left for the airport at five to seven, the gates had only just been opened and two vans had arrived. By the time I returned at quarter to nine, the stalls were all set up, shaded by their rag-tag assortment of awnings, and welcoming their first customers of the the day. It's still mainly shoes and clothes that are sold, with a few fruit 'n veg stalls. I was especially taken by the couple with a wheelbarrow of mangoes for sale.
  And the lady selling grapefruit and bags of grapes. And the feisty group of African women, who were offering to braid and bead peoples' hair in as many different styles as they had photos.
Each time, there's something, and someone different to be seen in addition to the predictable regular and seasonal stall holders. By the time I went out to the local re-cycling point at four in the afternoon, the entire market site was empty, the vans had gone and the place was swept clean and tidy. Time for me to get ready to travel, and set my mind on duties awaiting me when I return home tomorrow.

Monday, 26 August 2013

A Bank Holiday walk

Before I went out food shopping this morning, I thought I'd better call the solicitor making tomorrow's funeral arrangements and check on the time arranged, as I'd heard nothing over the weekend. I was told that the next of kin had intervened and arranged for the Catholic priest in Nerja to take the service today. I had not been contacted because Fr Geoff's contact details were in the office, not at home. I received a lame apology, but there was nothing more to do or say. At least it means my entire day is free after taking Clare to the airport for her flight. What might I do, where might I go, I wonder?

After lunch we walked inland up the rio Chillar into the Parque Natural Sierras de Tejeda Almijara and Alhama, up to the hydro turbine building - as far as I walked on my last visit. It was lovely to share this delightful environment with Clare. I spotted and snapped a black winged dragonfly, but three of my four photos - the ones with the wings open - were out of focus. I don't recall ever seeing anything like this before, and with such unusual shaped wings, as you can see from this.
The profile picture I took is a little clearer, and reveals the length of this creature's body. Amazing!
I also caught a glimpse of a yellow wagtail, pretty much in the same stretch of river as I saw one on my previous visit, but the birds were few and far between on this late afternoon at the end of summer. 

During our three hour excursion, we passed scores of walkers, many in family groups with youngsters. It occurred to me that the school holidays were about to end, and this was a last opportunity to get out and walk together before the routines of pedagogy took hold of everyday life again. Summer Bank Holiday in the UK too, come to think of it.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Eucharist, Wedding Blessing and Museum Visit

Saturday morning, I met with Stephen and Kerry at the hotel Balcon de Europa to get to know them and take them through their wedding blessing ceremony I'm celebrating with them tomorrow. Their daughter Lauren, same age as my granddaughter Rhiannon, was with them, she'll be reading prayers in the service. She goes to a church primary school in Cheshire where they live, just like Rhiannon. Then, Clare and I met up and walked around town for a while, then had a tapas lunch before going back for siesta. The rest of the day was spent in lethargy, as the heat and humidity defeated us.

No early morning drive for a service at Almunecar this morning, as there's just one service in Nerja for the reduced numbers during August, when many Brits return to cooler climes. There were two dozen of us at the midday Eucharist, half the usual numbers, and that included visitors. After the service a handful of us had a drink and tapas together at the bar-restaurant across the road from San Miguel parish church. My first sardinas a la plancha of my visit, cooked with way too much salt for comfort. My palate is far from being fully attuned to Spanish taste.

Home for a past lunch, then a walk down to the the Parish church of San Salvador on the Balcon de Europa for Stephen and Kerry's wedding blessing at five. It's the first service of this kind I've done since I was here two years ago, and I was just a bit nervous, but it all went well, as intended. Clare and I met up afterwards and went to the nearby Nerja Museum, established in new premises at the top corner of the Plaza Espana, a new town centre development with apartments and hotels at first floor level and a succession of bricked up empty retail spaces at ground level. A stalled development project, by all accounts. 

Despite this region being so rich in history and culture, the museum, thus far hardly reflects this. There are plenty of fine paleolithic artefacts, taken from the nearby cuevas de Nerja, which we visited when we were here two years ago, but insufficient artefacts from other eras to reflect, its Roman, Visigothic, Moorish, reconquista, or sugar cane industrial past. It's odd, and probably there are political reasons for such a lightweight representation of 20,000 years. A nice building, with good access facilities, but much space underused. I'd venture the museum is also a stalled development project.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Sights and sounds

It's not so much the heat that makes it hard to sleep but the 70% humidity that takes some getting used to, whether for sleeping at night, or getting around by day. I had a phone call from a solicitor to make arrangements for a funeral on Tuesday next, someone who was in Geoff's pastoral care but died suddenly. That morning I'll have to take Clare to Malaga airport for her early flight, before going to Velez Malaga Thanatorium for the service.

Clare discovered the joys of the urbanizacion's own swimming pool, with very few people using it in the hours before lunch, then we strolled down to town and to the Balcon de Europa for the vital arrival photo.
Out in the bay, a speedboat was towing a paragliding rig with two passengers back and fore parrallel to the shore. One minute the rig was 50 metres up in the air, the next it was close enough to the sea for the occupants to dip their feet in the water - a little risky at speed to my mind, but spectacular to watch.
After a late lunch and siesta time, we went down to Burriana beach for Clare to have an evening swim, and I took the opportunity to take a few more photos of para-gliders, still out there, from beach level.
I think their land base is somewhere up this long beach, still densely crowded with holidaymakers at seven thirty in the evening, as the sun hadn't yet gone far enough below the horizon to cast the bay into shadow. A running event was taking place in a cordoned area along the edge of the shore when we arrived First the younger school children ran, then adults and teenagers together. Members of the Protection Civile were out in uniform, taking charge of the course crossing points, and making sure beach-goers and runners didn't collide.

While we were eating supper outside on the patio in front of the house, we were astonished at the variety and musicality of bird song issuing from the tall pine tree and a flowering bush just outside. During the hours of daytime heat, the only sound is the high pitched drone of cicadas, sounding like a high tension electrical cable buzzing with static on a damp day.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Malaga rendezvous

After breakfast Fr Geoff and I said Morning Prayer together, a rare pleasure for both of us these days when we work so much on our own, although he may get more opportunities that I, since he is Area Dean of Spain, and gets to make duty visit other chaplains and chaplaincies in his supervisory and support role.  He will soon be in a position where he is supervising three adjacent chaplaincies without chaplains. It's a lot of extra responsibility for someone of retirement age working only part time. But he's a guy who just enjoys the challenge of thinking originally about tackling difficult situations. The diocese in Europe is fortunate to have him.
We headed for Malaga airport at lunchtime for Fr Geoff and Carol's mid-afternoon flight to the Midlands, UK. Then, I had six hours on my hands before Clare's flight arrived from Cardiff, so I decided on a trip inland, to see something of the mountain range that runs south along the coast. It's rich in Mediterranean forest, much of it Parque Naturale, although in some places old villages have been expanded into small well heeled towns with the development of posh urbanizacions for rich Spaniards and euro-ex-pats. So, while some parts ar remote and wild, others are well populated and suburban.

I stopped at Lidl's in Churriana to do a big grocery shop for the week, then drove on to Alhaurin de la Torre, Ahlaurin el grande, Coin, and the scenic village of Mijas perched on a south facing mountainside fourteen hundred feet up overlooking the resort of Fuengirola on the coast. This is a popular holiday area with no fewer than seven golf courses in the vicinity, and some spectacular mountain walking in the sierras. I descended to Fuengirola for the final leg of the journey and drove along the coast road as far as Torremolinos in the direction of Malaga at a snail's pace in the traffic. 

I didn't mind, because it gave me an opportunity to see the golden sanded overcrowded beaches and hundreds of thousands of holidaymakers all having a good time. All along the beach road on the land side is a seemingly endless succession of 12-15 storey tower blocks of apartments or hotels. It's not my holiday of choice, but if you live in a drab high rise suburb in a huge conurbation anywhere in the world, to be able to look out in one direction and view only sky and sea for a couple of weeks in the summer is a change for the better worth saving up for. Many people love to holiday together in groups if not crowds - Spanish and Italians more so than northern Europeans - and for most, the sea is the place to go.

I had half hour to wait for Clare at the airport as passport control was again very slow, but we were back in Nerja by ten, and I cooked us a late supper of stir fry veggies with mixed salad wash down with beer at this late hour. A stimulating day, which may be why I don't feel nearly as exhausted as I usually do with so much driving in the sunshine. The sun has cooked my arms a bit while driving, however.

Another week in Malaga

Well, the promised replacement SIM card to go with my replacement phone didn't turn up until today's post. After an afternoon in the office on Monday, I visited the EE shop in Grand Arcade and bought a new Samsung Galaxy SIII Mini, the same size as my lost phone but a lot quicker and easier to read, with an improved brighter sharper screen. My account details and number were transferred to the SIM in the new phone and I was told it would be active in four hours. I went to bed at midnight and it was still impossible to use as a phone, although it was useable via wi-fi to access the internet, and most of my contact details and phone numbers were added from the Samsung Kies backup programme. A pity the backup was several months old, so a few newer numbers needed adding by hand. A fiddly job.

Tuesday morning fifteen hours after purchase, still no phone, and my Orange internet account told me that it was still blocked. So I borrowed Clare's phone to ring up, and within minutes a helpful call centre guy had unblocked the account and made sure that all was in order. So, the guy who sold me the phone in the EE shop thought that he'd done all the right things, but seems to have missed something decisive in the complex procedure. Funnily enough the same thing happened last time I bought a phone. It's not a good advertisement for the service. Oh yes, and the SIM card mailed to me arrived on Tuesday. Should I now send it back?

With an evening flight to Malaga again, I had a leisurely day to prepare. Strangely for me, I packed most of what I intended to take on Tuesday evening, yet when I arrived at Bristol Airport I remembered that I'd not packed a toothbrush, or the Spanish grammar and phrase books. The more relaxed I get about travel, it seems the more careless about the detail I get - like forgetting to add Fr Geoff's mobile number to my new phone so that I could text him to say I was on my way. I had the bright idea as I was sitting in the very back row of the aeroplane waiting to be told to switch off everything electronic, of texting Clare and asking her to ring him before he left home to go to the airport. She did, but had no luck getting through. 

Thankfully Fr Geoff trusted that all was well though we hadn't spoken for a while. He and Carol were there to meet me. Being in the back row was not only the most uncomfortable flight I can recall, as the seat space is a little smaller in the corner, I was also one of the last off the plane, then there was a fifteen minute queue to get through passport control, and a long walk to the arrivals gate. By the time we sank into armchairs with a late night beer in the Vicarage at Nerja it was quarter to one, with a good hour's more catchup talk before surrendering to sleep.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Catching up

I stayed up late uploading all my holiday photos to Picasa web albums while working on a sermon. You can look at them here - four albums with Pembrokeshire in the title. Yes, I know that Picasa has been taken over by Google+, but as long as it's possible to revert to the Picasa User Interface that's what I'll so, as I don't like the new version. Although it's glossier and smarter, the very fact that it displays larger thumbnail pictures makes it slower to load, and the controls aren't all in the same places. It's like Windows 8, pushing new features on the users that didn't ask for them and don't like using them. Trouble is, clever guys only seem to talk to other clever guys, not ordinary routine dependent mortals.

I made it to Ystradowen to celebrate the Eucharist by the skin of my teeth today. I met red traffic lights at every junction from Ely Bridge all the way there. Leaving for a service later in the morning, there is more traffic around and that's reflected in the control system. Half a hour out to Cowbridge is usually more than enough. If this happens again I must be sure to leave an extra ten minutes.

After the service I had an interesting conversation with a doctor who, along with his wife is a cancer specialist. She works locally, and he travels globally in the course of his professiono, so he hasn't been there when I've celebrated before. There's another medical couple at another church in Cowbridge Benefice. How many more doctors attend their local church I wonder. It's always good to discover scientific minds that are not closed to religious faith.

It was nice to have lunch outdoors in the garden again. It's still a bright blaze of flowers and our little apple tree has a dozen fruit growing on it. We seldom ate outdoors while on holiday. Not only were we not around much at the cottage during the day, but when we were there, the weather wasn't good enough. We both spent several hours on the phone catching up with friends and family - a bit more grateful than usual for the connectivity we tend to take for granted, here in the city.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Back to base and digital divisions again

Time to go home, so we were up early, gathering our goods and chattels, loading them into the car. We were on our way by nine thirty, stopped at Pont Abraham services by eleven and home in Cardiff by one. 

Apart from dealing with the relatively small pile of mail and doing the food shopping, my major task was sorting and uploading photographs, and preparing a sermon for tomorrow. Our accommodation was a little cramped for two of us, let alone when Owain camped on the floor, but so well situated. I look at my pictures and am reminded just how beautiful and photogenic the West Wales coastline is. No wonder the visitors come here from all over Europe as well as Britain. But best of all is the gentle way of life, the warmth of hospitality and the food, whether you buy things to cook or go out for a meal. And there's ten years worth of holiday exploration of the region's history to prevent you getting bored, whatever the weather.

The only thing that marred the experience from my point of view was poor digital network connectivity, whether by mobile or wi-fi throughout the area. The infrastructure is not fit for purpose, given the large number of visitors that can be predicted to arrive annually. This is damaging for the tourism economy and damaging for all those who live permanently in far flung places and are expected to be there to welcome visitors. What rural Wales offers to wider society is hugely valuable in terms of health and welfare, giving people a respite from the pressures of work and urban living. Yet investment in the improvement of connectivity to rural areas comes late to government priorities. I'm talking here, not about high speed broadband to direct home deliver entertainment packages, but about reliable basic services, email and text messages, delivered as consistently as BBC Radio Four is to most remote areas. 

That identifies the problem in a way. BBC broadcasting sets very high standards of availability all over the country. That's a benchmark for mobile phone signals, and internet access by whatever means. It is possible to get on line in most places, but in some, local server capacity is so inadequate to cope with the fluctuations of demand by increased numbers that every service user is affected.

I'll never forget being able to upload photos via a BT Openzone wifi connection faster than at home on one day, then on another, not even being able to get recognition of the same memorised password to permit access to the same service. That tends to be an indication of overwhelming demand, but it was also true of Ceredigion Council's public wi-fi network access when I tried to use it in Aberteifi's library the week before last.

Sure, people learn to live with these frustrations, but the persistent failure to keep up with the rising demand is a symptom of the gulf between all consuming big city demands and the rest. Escaping from the city to the country is what a large proportion of citizens want to do when they can, but like me, they bring with them expectations about being able to stay in touch with people elsewhere that govern their attitudes and actions. 

If you can get a phone signal on top of Everest and in many parts of the Swiss Alps, why can't you get one right along the Welsh coast path, in places where not being able to call for help could be a serious risk to life? Wake up WAG and Whitehall.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Parish visit

Yesterday morning, we took Owain back to Fishguard to catch his train home to Cardiff. By special request we re-visited the Parrog beach at Trefdraeth / Newport, walked along the coat path, and skimmed stones on the sea, near the the old lifeboat station, before feeding him with lunch for the journey.

We lunched in the stylish Parrog restaurant (visitor centre) in Goodwick close to the Ferry terminal and railway station. Then we took time to look around the town before heading home. We also stopped for a look at Henllys Castle near Eglwyswrw on the way back. It's a reconstruction of an Iron Age fortress above the ancient Parish church of Meline. It's visible from the main road as a collection of thatched round houses on a wooded hilltop. Unfortunately it was too late in the day to have a good look around the site, so it will have to keep for another time.

Today we drove north to have lunch with our friend Margaret, now incumbent of a group of six parish churches in the mountains to the east of Aberystwyth. After an hour's drive along the main road along the coast it took us twenty minutes driving inland and uphill to reach her 'Ficerdy' at Llanafan. It's still a predominantly agricultural area, and Welsh speaking, which has done wonders for her Welsh. She took us on a tour of the churches after lunch, all in the most spectacular locations with small congregations, struggling to make ends meet, and yet contributing something vital to the health of rural society. It was great to see her looking so happy, and enjoying a ministry that's radically different from anything she's done before.

On my way there, I lost my Samsung Galaxy phone, which must have dropped out of the car when we stopped at a filling station. When we got back home in the evening, I had to borrow Clare's phone, also on Orange EE, to call the helpline and get the phone's SIM card blocked to prevent use and theft of PAYG credit. As ever I had to walk a quarter of a mile up the hill to get a signal, but when I did, I was greeted by an Indian lady who chatted in a very friendly and reassuring way while sorting out my problem. Whether she was in the sub-continent or UK, I neither know or care, but it was a genuinely comforting encounter, as I was coming to terms with my carelessness.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Cheese and coast pilgrims

This morning, being dull and cloudy, neither the beach nor the coast path seemed inviting, so we  made a food pilgrimage instead to Glyneithinog Farm, the home of Caws Cenarth, a favourite Welsh organic cheese of ours. 

Tucked away on a wooded hillside above the river Cych which flows down into the river Teifi, it's quite hard to find and can only be accessed up steep narrow lanes from the B-road that connects it to the village. We first came here six years ago while staying in a holiday chalet. It was good to see how the enterprise has developed since then, with expanded cheese making facilities, and its own branded van for taking supplies out to its growing market.

Thelma Adams, who with her husband Gwynfor began making and selling cheese to the public back in 1987 is still active in the dairy shop, greeting visitors in Welsh or English, talking about the range of products they now make and offering samples. The shop walls are covered with news articles and photos and award certificates celebrating their success. Clare and Owain listened and tasted along with half a dozen other visitors (including one from Spain). I just sat and soaked up the atmosphere with great pleasure.

We went for lunch of lamb cawl and Cenarth cheese at the Nag's Head pub by the bridge crossing the the river Cych down in the hamlet of Abercych. As well as being a decent country pub with good cuisine, it brews its own beer. An added bonus to find such hidden treasure of a hostelry.

From thence to Cenarth, a quick stop to look at the Teifi, not as swollen as on our last visit, when the water was two metres higher, and St Llawddog's Well was surrounded by water.
From there we drove back to Aberteifi to take the north side road to the coast for a visit to Mwnt, for the second time this week. Owain knew it only from promoting special places when he worked for the Visit Wales website, but had never been there, so for him it was a must to do. Fortunately the rain stayed away. He and Clare did the climb and walked the beach.
I was overwhelmed with tiredness after much driving and a late night, so slept for an hour in the car. We returned to Moylegrove by way of Poppit Sands, so that Owain could check out another one of Wales' famous beaches. Then, when we got back to the cottage he cooked supper for us again. It's one of those crazy things about life, that since he's been here he's been contacted about two job interviews. Given that the phone signal is so erratic down here along the coast, responding could have been a problem. However, as Clare discovered earlier in the week, there's quite a strong signal on the landward side of the Mwnt, as it's high up. Not so the beach however.


Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Family outing

We drove to Fishguard late morning, collected Owain from his train and took him to 'The Shed' for lunch at Porthgaen, followed by a walk along clifftop to the north in perfect sunny weather. On the way back to Moylegrove we visited Parrog beach and had a drink at the Newport Yacht Club, sitting on a balcony overlooking the beach and river.

We stopped in Aberteifi to see if it was possible to get a useable signal to access the internet. It was, but the main difference was taking two minutes to load Google home page instead of twenty, as it had been in Fishguard at lunchtime. I wonder how many other people's holidays are being marred by not being able to keep in touch with family and friends.

We got back later than usual, and Owain cooked us an excellent pasta supper, which made up for the frustrations of the day. Before bedding down for the night we went for a twlight walk down the hill as far as the coast path, and caught fleeting glimpses of a handful of shooting stars, the tail end of the Perseid shower, but it was a dim reflection of last night's busy display in a totally clear moonless pitch black sky.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Digital divide the saga continues.

BT Connectivity is so terrible today, that even in Fishguard Harbour with a decent mobile signal, it takes ten minutes to log into Google, and half an hour to get this far with posting to Blogger. It's been the same for the past four days. Awful. Ah, but this is Pembrokeshire. People smile in resignation. Unacceptable for the Welsh economy. 

This evening, I picked up a signal in Aberteifi on the way home. Now it only takes 2-3 minutes to load a Blogger page. All so that I could replace badly formatted text uploaded earlier with correctly formatted text. So I hope it's more readable now.(Photos inserted on return to home and a functional connection)


We went into Aberteifi mid morning and sat in Guildhall's Oasis Cafe, where a good BT Openzone signal was available, and spent half an hour email checking and blog updating with a tiny selection of the three hundred odd photographs taken since our arrival. Then we bought some sandwiches for lunch from the Coop supermarket down by the riverside car park and ate them on a park bench. Tomorrow the entire car park will be given over to a Teifi river and food festival, but where we'll be able to part if we want to visit is anyone's guess.

We then drove up the south side of the Teifi river valley to Cilgerran, a village with the ruins of a modest sized mediaeval castle on a promontory overlooking the wooded river gorge. First we looked around the Parish church, a largley Victorian re-build with a mediaeval tower on an ancient site, maybe 8th-9th century. Its original dedication was St Brynach, an Irish hermit monk who crossed the sea and presumably travelled up the Teifi in the first instance, leaving his name a hundred miles further on in the dedication of Llanfrynach church outside Cowbridge in the Vale of Glamorgan.

In this St Brynach churchyard, a small standing stone is located in among the graves with lettering in Irish and Latin, like the one in nearby St Dogmael's church. It's an impressive reminder of the close religious and cultural ties between Ireland and Wales, and the rerst of Western Europe, going back 1500 years or more.
We then visited the castle a few hundred yards away tucked in behind the main street of houses, looked around.

Then we descended to the riverside where there's a coracle sailing centre. There's a walkable riverside footpath, made interesting by the remains of slate quarries which have been largely reclaimed by the woodland, so the environment doesn't look as scarred as the landscape in other parts of Wales where slate was once extracted.

Inland the Teifi served as a communications artery and Aberteifi was in the nineteenth century a busy port with three hundred registered ships, taking out slate, bricks manufactured locally, and even tin-plate, as there were also small iron foundries and tinplate works in the alley since early in the industrial revolution, if not earlier. In this respect, it's very much like the Wye Valley used to be right over on the eastern border of Wales. Industrial growth in other strategic centres resulted in the decline of the Teifi, like the Wye during the twentieth century. They have returned to being quiet rural areas, busy only with tourists.

After our riverside stroll, we called in the Cardiff Arms pub for a drink. It has an old coracle mounted on the wall outside, and its notice board advertises fresh sewin (a large sea-trout) still caught in the Teifi below the village. Tea for Clare, and two choice half pints of different Felinfoel ales for me. We stopped in St Dogmael's on the way back to walk around the Abbey grounds, as Clare had not yet done so. She didn't get her scone jam and cream at the Cardiff Arms in Cilgerran, but the Abbey visitor centre obliged deliciously.


We made our way into Aberteifi just after ten this morning, in search of a place to park, and found a spot in the trading estate on the south side of the river, less than half a mile from the car park site of the Teifi River and Food Festival. The upper and lower levels of the car park were filled with stalls, mostly small food producers from all over West Wales, promoting their wares or simply selling freshly cooked food and drink. It shows the extent to which the niche market for locally sourced traditional recipe, hand made (as opposed to industrially mass produced) food has developed in recent decades. Real ale, cider, country fruit wines liqueurs and spirits, cheese, sourdough breads, pickles, chutneys, jams, sausages, dried meats, boar, venison -  an impressive array of well presented offerings.

There was a stage and a covered area with tables for people to sit and eat while watching performances of music and dance on stage. Radio Ceredigion was there animating the event. Several charities had stalls including the local lifeboat station. There was even a St Mary's Parish Church tent offering hospitality and things for kids to do.

On the river, there was a race between sea going longboats, high sided craft like the ones I last saw on the river Nervion in Bilbao five years ago, with four rowers and a coxswain.

The local RNLI team demonstrated the speed and manouverability of its latest craft and simulated a rescue with one of its own crew from the water, armed with an emergency flare to aid positioning.
 Finally, before the duck race, seven middle aged men in coracles came down river and messed about in front of the crowds, punting a yellow plastic float around between them using their oars like hockey sticks, while showing how quickly their small craft could manoeuvre, and stay in position against a running tide.

The weather was warm and sunny in the morning and became cool and cloudy in the afternoon.Light showers didn't arrive until we got back to the cottage. We thought the festival was busy in the morning, but it became even busier in the afternoon, perhaps because the beach became less congenial a place to be, and the opportunities for interesting food grew more attractive. Radio Ceredigion declared it was the best weather ever since the festival began four of five years ago.

Returning to Moylegrove, we went in search of the village church, up a steep hill and narrow lane on the east side. We'd been told it was de-consecrated, but to my eye it was simply closed and not in use. It was in good repair, but the churchyard hadn't been mowed this year.
 Peeping in through the windows, I could see churchwardens' staves still in place, hassocks in pews and a hymn board on the wall. Services may no longer be held here, not merely because they cannot be sustained pastorally, but because the larger parish it is now part of has no incumbent or is in the throes of being re-organised.

Maybe a Deed of Closure has been issued so that legally authorised weddings can no longer be performed there. That's as good as dead, but the estate has yet to be disposed of, and that always takes time, as I still recall painfully from having to oversee the closure and disposal of St James' Church effects in my last years as a Vicar. I don't envy anyone having to perform that task. In a village which may now contain very few people with any residual interest in the building and its content, that can be an extra difficult task, knowing that some will talk about what's happening but nobody wants to help.


We went to the Parish Eucharist at St Dogmaels again this morning. A different retired priest presided and preached. He mentioned St Clare, as it's St Clare's Day, and went on for too long about top charity executive salaries in a way that reflected newspaper editorials rather than analysing the truth of an issue stirred up by a government minister, who to my mind seems to be sniping at charities that lobby for change in government policy, and raise debates that embarrass the powers that be. Things are never as simple as the media make them out to be.

After the service we drove over the the Cilgerran wildlife centre where a lunchtime open air poetry reading session was taking place.
We arrived late, but caught two thirds of it. Prominent Welsh language poet Menna Elfyn was guest of honour. She writes in Welsh, but also translates her own work and the work of other poets into English, and her poetry performances are bi-lingual.
Impressively beautiful to listen to in both languages. I understood the English and only partly understand the Welsh, but the music of both languages appeals greatly.

We walked a mile up the Teifi gorge after the performance, and then drove back to Moylegrove by way of Nevern where we visited St Brynach's Parish Church, with its weeping yew trees and remarkably well preserved 8-9th century Celtic cross in the churchyard.
It's an enchanting village with a stream that runs into the river Nevern, meadows and wooded hillsides.
 There's been no resident priest here since 2007 when the Georgian Vicarage next to the church was sold. There's still a regular Sunday Eucharist, but I couldn't work out from the notice board which pastoral grouping it belongs to. Later I learned that it is now served from St Dogmael's. The last time I visited here was about 25 years ago, visiting the incumbent in his capacity as Rural Dean of the locality. Everything now looks a lot smarter and better tended. You have to be wealthy to afford to live here and maintain a place in a village as charming as this.


In a field on a hill by the roadside a mile out of St Dogmael's today the Pembrokeshire Association sheepdog trials event took place. Rain stayed away and despite the breeze coming from the sea it was tolerably warm enough for scores of spectators - farmers, shepherds, local residents and holidaymakers - to stand around socialising and enjoy the great outdoors without shivering. It was lovely to hear people chatting in both Welsh and English, switching naturally from one to the other.

As well as West Walian accents, I heard people speaking with English, Canadian and Australian accents. There were French and Italian speakers too. On family had come over from Belgium with their sheepdogs to take part. The competition cup was won by the Italian shepherd and his dog. So it was truly an international event. Most of the shepherds were older men, but there were several women, including a fourteen year old girl taking part. She and her dog did well, and earned the approving applause she got after her second trial.
At the top of the hill, a third of a mile away, there was a livestock pen where the sheep used for the trails were held until needed. Two shepherding competitions took place. One was based on herding three sheep and the other four. A group of animals were released and the start signal given by the referee. In eight minutes, the sheepdog had to sprint up the hill, drive the creatures down the hill through a couple of pairs of gates and into the area where the shepherd waited, whistling or shouting commands to the dog. Then dog and shepherd worked at close quarters to send the sheep first through a narrow gate and finally into a pen. It was clearly not an easy exercise, even for very experienced shepherds and fascinating to watch.
The interior of a large cattle wagon was equipped as an improvised field kitchen, offering tea, coffee and sausage or bacon rolls. A couple of ladies who'd welcomed us into St Dogmael's church congregation were there cooking and serving and enjoying this important local community event.
In the afternoon we went into Aberteifi to re-fuel the car and stock up on food. I tried to get on-line in a place where there was good BT Openzone wifi and mobile signal reception but was unable to log in on either service. Failure to recognise browser memorised passwords going on for long periods of time is a symptom of chronic congestion at a local network server level - not a problem with the equipment being used. It happens in Cardiff too on Big Match days.

It happens in rural Wales due to lack of spare capacity to meet the extra connectivity needs of huge numbers of holidaymakers, many of whom will bring with them more than one internet capable devices. A few days ago the BT Openzone service in town was easily accessible and very fast. Today, I gave up trying, annoyed and  frustrated after more than half an hour of error messages. Delivery simply doesn't match the advertised promise, whatever the marketing people say.
Before returning home with the shopping, we drove out to the Mwnt, walked on the beach, looked in the church and climbed 180 feet up on to the slate outcrop that overlooks the shore. The view of the coast and Cardigan Bay from there is magnificent. Best of all, the Mwnt area is National Trust property, so our membership windscreen sticker got us a place in the car park for free.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Tyddewi, via The Shed

As the weather on our wedding anniversary day was so miserable we decided to postpone our celebratory lunch. So, today we headed south down the road to Fishguard and beyond in the direction of St David's to visit the fishing harbour of Porthgaen, now famed for a sea food restaurant called 'The Shed'.  Porthgaen owes its harbour to the fact that it was an industrial site for a century, being strategically located with slate bearing rock strata nearby, mixed in with the old Cambrian rock which characterises this rugged coastline. In its turn, slate was extracted, then local clay was extracted and fired into bricks, then the hard bedrock was quarried and crushed into tiny pieces for use as road-stone, all being shipped out from the purpose built harbour to destinations all over Britain. Industry ceased here in 1931 and most of the associated buildings in and around the narrow bay are ruins, except one. 

A large warehouse on the quay survived long enough to be restored and put into service as 'The Shed' sea food restaurant, offering locally sourced produce, and a choice between traditional high quality fish 'n chips 'n mushy peas, or a gourmet cuisine menu of great quality and freshness. The place is very popular, with outdoor tables along one side and indoor tables on two levels, able to cater for scores of eaters at a time. 

Arriving just ahead of the lunchtime rush, we took the precaution of booking a table then went for a clifftop walk on the north side of the bay. 

There are vast fields of barley rolling right down to the coastal path, and at this time of year they are pale golden colour. We walked the length of a field to the next bay - it must have been half a mile long - feasting on the colour contrast with the sea, the dark cliffs and a sky interestingly decorated with clouds. A glorious  unforgettable sight.

We shared a bowl of fish soup for a starter, then Clare had fillet of sole cooked in butter, and I had a large luscious hake fillet, perfectly accompanied by a warm salad of butter beans, sliced onion and tomato with coriander leaf, plus 'tatos newi' - Pembrokeshire new potatoes, washed down with a bottle of prize winning Tomos Watkin OSB bitter ale. It's a great place to eat, and I hope we can return and try other dishes on the menu before we return to Cardiff.

We walked along the coastal path on the south side of the bay after lunch, discovering the extent of the industrialised area and its quarry overlooking the sea. 
Then we drove on down to St David's and visited the Cathedral. The last time I was here was four years ago, when I was invited to preach the Good Friday Three Hours devotion.

Since then, Dewi's mediaval pigrimage shrine has been restored. Five new icons have been painted and installed in niches above its old stone base and a canopy mounted above, decorated in mediaeval style. Reliquaries attributed to St David and another local saint Justinian are on display in niches at ground level. These used to be housed in a repository behind the high altar wall which served as focus for pilgrim devotions before the ancient shrine was re-instated. The repository is a handsome piece of modern craftsmanship in wrought iron and wood in a prominent location, but it is now surplus to requirement and no longer labelled for the interest of visitors and pilgrims. It's merely an unexplained curiosity, in a way, rather sad.

Before leaving Tyddewi, we walked down to St Non's retreat house overlooking the sea and visited both the house chapel, the mediaeval ruins of St Non's chapel, and the holy well adjacent to it. 
 The well is watched over by a statue of Mary Immaculate, a reminder that the retreat house and domain belongs to the Roman Catholic diocese of Menevia, although it is widely frequented by people of all faiths and none. Fields in this vicinity have for many years hosted circle dance summer camps, and many of Non's pilgrims are new-agers, connecting with a sense of sacred space in this region which predates Dewi Sant himself.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Coast path walk

This morning we walked a circular route, first up to the village of Moylegrove, then following the track down the wooded valley alongside the stream that flows out into Ceibwr Bay. From there we climbed up to the coast path and followed it for a mile to Devil's Cauldron, a spectacular feature in the coastal landscape. A gigantic sea cave has collapsed at some time in the distant past leaving a crater in the steep hillside. The rock above the former cave entrance remains however, providing a bridge across which coast path walkers must tread. The sea flows underneath it and into the crater, which contains its own pebble beach. A mountain stream descends steeply in a narrow valley adjacent to the crater, cutting a narrow ravine in its final approach to the sea, undercutting the path and making a small wooden bridge necessary. The path rises steeply back up to the cliff top, and a few hundred yards further on, it branches, with a path inland returning to the back road linking Moyelgrove with Newport.
Altogether it's an energetic walk of two hours, delightful for the variety of its terrain, the wildflowers and remarkable numbers of butterflies and months. I was pleased with the photographs I took using my Sony Alpha DSLR for the first time this holiday - pretty effective snapping insects in closeup. We were both suprised by how tired we were, took a siesta after lunch. Late afternoon I became aware of a helicopter in the vicinity. There'd been one howevering over Ceibwr beach in the morning, one of the kind that's based in Anglesey. Was it on a training or coast observation mission I wondered? The second helicopter had a different, heavier engine noise, so I walked down the lane to look, and soon spotted a big yellow RAF Sea King from Yeovilton circling over the sea and cliffs south of Ceibwr Bay this time.
I watched it for about half an hour, and towards the end, it disappeared from sight below cliff top level, and stayed there for about five minutes before rising into the sky and flying off.
A cliff or shore rescue? Or another training mission I wondered. Maybe tomorrow's news will give the answer.

We cooked supper together - Spanish omlette, plus kidney beans cooked with bacon and green kidney beans and roasted vegetables - a right feast, and finished the day listening to choirs performing at the National Eisteddfod up in Denbigh.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Transfiguration celebration

Our 47th wedding anniversary. We drove into St Dogmaels to the mid-morning Eucharist of the Transfiguration - our feast. On Sunday, we'd told the locum priest Fr Geoffrey that we'd be there. I was annoyed that the journey took longer than expected, so we arrived as the collect for the day was being read. Embarrassing. After the service we were taken aback by Fr Geoffrey's announcement to the gathering over coffee of our anniversary. We were given a around of applause, and a small gift and card. What kind lovely people!
 Tuesday is farmers' market day in St Dogmael's, outside the gates of the Abbey ruins - less than a dozen stalls - fruit 'n veg, meat, fish, and a couple selling cheese, and a couple selling plants. In the courtyard of the Abbey visitor centre, there was live traditional music from a harpist accompanied by recorder and flute players. A refreshing change from ubiquitous canned music. One of the vendors, from whom we bought a some goat cheese for lunch, is a regular at Cardiff Riverside Market. Meeting him in a different location was an added extra to an enjoyable local shopping experience.

With the weather vastly improved from yesterday, we decided to drive to Trefdraeth / Newport to revisit a beach first discovered over forty years ago when Kath was a toddler. We holidayed together here with University friends Frank and Barbara and their baby of the same age as Kath, Sasha. But, could we remember where we stayed, close to the shore? Could remember the place at all as it was then?
  Things change in forty years, although not that much really, given modern planning and conservation legislation. What has changed noticeably however is the number of boats visible, on the sand at low tide alongside the river Nevern. Many more leisure craft, though thankfully not organised into the straight rows of another dreary municipal marina - just stranded, waiting for the tide to turn.
We enjoyed a picnic lunch on a bench overlooking the beach - goat cheese and locally baked apple pie. Then we followed the coast path up the Nevern estuary as far as the road bridge, crossed over and walked down the other side for a while, to where we could see a small flock of oystercatchers feeding. On the way back over the bridge, we caught sight of a curlew on the river's edge.
We couldn't go home without Clare having a swim, so we drove over to the north side of the estuary to the main beach, just as the tide was turning, for her to have a brief dip before heading home for a paella made with smoked fish. That's certainly a dish I didn't know how to cook the day we plighted our troth.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Digital divide

Today was a washout. Low cloud and rain which didn't stop until after lunch. We drove into Aberteifi in search of connectivity, so that I could upload previous days' blog postings and photos. The streets were busy with traffic and damp people looking for something to do, as the weather ruled out that hoped for day on the beach.

The town library offered wi-fi, but the service was so congested and slow that it wouldn't recognise the password given. When we queried this with the librarian, she gave us another password, explaining that it was changed twice a day, but she wasn't quite sure when the switch took place. So, for a while longer I tried each in turn, without success. Too big a demand for the capacity of the network. Evidence, if it was needed of what rural communities, even market towns, have to put up with. With hundreds of thousands of holidaymakers visiting Wales' coast and countryside, the need for reliable connectivity is just as urgent here as it is in the cities, but WAG prioritises urban areas for fast broadband roll-out and dares to crow about it. This merely increases the digital divide, and is an own goal for one of Wales' key economic drivers - tourism.

I tried raising BT Openzone on my Blackberry in the library but the signal was weak and erratic - it's a thick walled building - outside in the street it kept nagging me to log on. We went into a nice Italian deli / cafe for lunch. Here, while we were waiting to be served, I took out my laptop, found a BT Openzone wi-fi signal and logged on. Within minutes I'd uploaded two blog postings and seven pictures prepared to accompany them. Compared to our home internet connection, the upload speed was jaw dropping, and by the time I'd finished, lunch was on the table. Despite the moans I've had about BT services in the past, the recent rollout of fast wi-fi broadband is very much to their credit. It costs, of course and is worth paying for if you need it. Imagine what it could do for the economy of a town or a region to make that available free to subscribers!

By mid afternoon, the rain stopped and the sun appeared, so we walked over the Teifi bridge and followed the riverside path upstream to the Cilgerran wetlands nature reserve just beyond the town. We walked the full circuit, stopping for tea at the excellent wildlife centre half way. Several times we had an encounter with one of the local herons, but only on the last occasion was I ready with my camera.

After supper we walked down to road towards Ceibwr beach. Too tired to go all the way after our early walk, we dallied near the place where the coast path branches from the road to follow the cliffs, and watched the sun set through an interestingly cloudy sky. Compensation for the misery of the morning.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Sunday in St Dogmael's

Last night I went up road, found a phone signal and got on to the internet with the Blackberry to look up local church service times. Annoyingly, the Church in Wales web server was down. The one place where information of this kind is on offer, was out of action on the day in the week most likely to receive enquiries of this kind. So, this morning after breakfast we headed out in search of a place to worship, early enough for a ten o'clock, should one exist. Forty years ago, the village of Moylegrove had its own Vicar. Now its church is closed. 

The next village on from here is St Dogmael's to the north and Nevern to the south. Both were parishes with their own incumbent when I visited here working for USPG twenty five years ago. St Dogmael's and Nevern and several other churches are now served by one incumbent, or would be if one could be found. The Parish has been in an interregnum for more than a year. St David's diocese is short of clergy. Re-grouping rural churches is a work in progress hindered by this shortage. Communities in the area we've chosen for our holiday are caught up in this situation. Without the help of retired clergy, the ordinary worship life of the church would grind to a halt.

We arrived in St Dogmael's just before ten and discovered that there'd be a Eucharist at eleven fifteen, so parked outside the Abbey ruins and went for a stroll around the village. Yesterday evening that had been an open air production of 'Midsummer Night's Dream' in the Abbey grounds, hardly bothered by the rain. This morning however, the stage set was being struck in light rain. Some of those taking part in the performance had camped out in the Abbey grounds overnight and were packing wet tents before their departure.
On our stroll we found cucumbers and blackcurrants for sale with an honesty box, outside someone's house and courgettes outside another. We bought two pounds of blackcurrants, and since the Mill shop had just opened, bought a kilo of organic stoneground wheat flour on our way to church. Clare brought the yeast but had forgotten to bring flour. How good it will be to bake bread with such locally sourced ingredients, when we finish the load we brought with us.
St Dogmael's Parish church was a-buzz with activity when we arrived. People come early for coffee and catch-up before the service begins rather than staying on afterwards. I daresay the Vicar usually comes from an earlier service somewhere else, so his arrival is the cue to stop socialising and take places to get started. The locum priest who celebrated, Fr Geoffrey Asson, was a Llandaff ordinand ten years before I was, and still going strong. Having spent most of his ministry in England, he and his wife retired locally, and clearly enjoy being part of the community here.
The last time I worshipped in this church was about twenty five years ago, when I preached on behalf of USPG. The Vicar at the time had introduced social refreshments after the service, but wouldn't serve inferior instant coffee. He insisted on the fresh percolated kind, and the aroma filled the church like incense during the latter half of the service. In those days it was prepared on a folding table at the back of the nave. Nowadays there are purpose built kitchen and toilets at the back of church, and an area cleared of pews to contain several round tables with chairs, cafe style. It seems well used and is much appreciated.

We had a snack lunch in the Abbey visitor centre restaurant, then despite the rain we drove down to Poppit Sands and walked along the sea shore for an hour. The rain stopped and the sun struggled to peek through the clouds, so we drove back into Cardigan/Aberteifi to stroll the streets and visit the (locked) Parish Church of St Mary, close to the banks of the Teifi before heading back to Pengwern to cook a lassagne together for supper. I was happy to let Clare take half of the blackcurrants and crown them with a perfect crumble using the flour we'd bought from the Abbey mill. Who could ask for more?

Well, we had a laugh before bed. Staring at the packet of stoneground flour sitting on the kitchen workshop I noticed the legend at the top of the packet read "St Dogmael's" but at the bottom was printed "St Dogmeal's"  

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Pembrokeshire bound

After a leisurely morning of packing and loading the car, we headed west on the A48, and joined the M4 at Pyle. This turned out not to be a good idea. We drove up the slip road straight into a traffic queue which added an hour to the journey past Port Talbot, Swansea, turning inland at Carmarthen to go north west and then follow the Teifi Valley all the way to Cardigan/Aberteifi, and thence to the small village of Moylegrove or Trewyddan (lit Irish-town in  Welsh), a mile up a wooded valley inland from the Irish sea. With no difficulty we found our destination holiday cottage at Pengwern Farm, half a mile to the south of the village.
What used to be the farmhouse diary has been converted into self catering accommodation for two, with a sea view from the attic bedroom window. Just right for a very quiet time together. There's no phone or internet, the mobile signal is weak and erratic, so you have to walk three hundred yards up the hill to be able to send a message.
We brought our own supplies with us and feasted on sea bass for supper. Then, we walked to Ceibwr beach down the winding narrow road, flanked by grassy banks and hedges, three hundred feet below. Few trees of any size are able to thrive here, with cold and salty winds blowing inland off the sea. The cliffs here are 150-200 feet high strikingly patterned with folded Cambrian rock strata in dramatic dark grey, stained rust red. These are capped by a rolling landscape, a patchwork of young grass pasture and ripened wheat ready for harvest - colours which reminded me of the great rice plain of the Ebro delta where I spent last summer, yet so dramatically different.
We sat on the beach and enjoyed the evening sunshine for half an hour, but no sooner had we set out for home than it started raining, and we both got soaked. 
Fortunately it wasn't cold, but we went up the hill as fast as we'd descended despite the road's steepness. The rain had stopped by the time we got back and the farm's friendly sheepdog was there to greet us, tennis ball in mouth, hoping to persuade  one of us to play a game of 'Fetch', but we just wanted to get inside, change clothes, relax and enjoy this haven of peace.