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Symbolic Forest

A homage to loading screens.

Blog : Posts from March 2021

Original footage

In which we consider moving to the mountains

The other day I was rather pleased to discover, on YouTube, a documentary from the 1970s that I’ve known about for a while but had never before seen. The Campbells Came By Rail is a documentary about the everyday life of Col. Andrew Campbell.

Colonel Campbell had a long and successful career in the Black Watch, largely overseas, policing the crumbling corners of the British Empire. Coming out of the Army in the early 1960s, he became county solicitor for Merionethshire (as was). At auction, he bought an equally-crumbling manor house in the northern fringes of the county, which he had fallen in love with at first sight. Its name was Dduallt.

Map of Dduallt

If you’re a regular reader—or paid attention to the title of the documentary—you may well be ahead of me here. Dduallt,* when Campbell bought it, had no vehicular access, but it was alongside the Ffestiniog Railway. At the time, the Ffestiniog were not operating services over that stretch of track; so the Colonel bought a small Simplex locomotive and had a small siding built alongside his new house. The railway let him park his car at the nearest station, Tan y Bwlch, and run himself up and down by train.

The Colonel at Tan y Bwlch

The documentary shows him picking up his loco and a brakevan from Tan y Bwlch and heading off up the line to show the filmcrew round his home, describing it as part of his normal daily commute from the county council offices. Off he heads, past the cottage at Coed y Bleiddiau, up to his own Campbell’s Platform, where he puts the train away.

Shunting at Campbell's

Unlike a modern documentary, you get to see all the detail of the Colonel putting the train staff into a drawer lock, working his groundframe, and then a demonstration of how to use an intermediate staff instrument,** including a spin of the Remote Operator dynamo handle to make sure the section is clear and the instruments free.***

Intermediate METS instrument

As I said above, when Campbell moved into Dduallt, the railway wasn’t operating over the stretch of line past his house. By the time the film was made, that part of the railway had reopened to traffic, and it must have been difficult on a busy summer day to find a space in the timetable for the Colonel to run down to Tan y Bwlch in the daytime. Further north, the railway was rebuilding a couple of miles or so of line that had been drowned by a reservoir, and Colonel Campbell had provided invaluable help. For one thing, he allowed the railway’s civil engineering volunteers to use one of his buildings as a hostel provided they helped restore it, which they did complete with a large London Underground roundel sign on one wall. For another, he was a licenced user of explosives, so was called out each weekend to blow up rocks along the path of the new line. If you look in the background of the documentary you can see a couple of wagons carrying concrete drainpipes are sat in Campbell’s siding, no doubt waiting to be used on the new line.

Eventually, Campbell did get a roadway built to the house, zigzagging steeply up the side of the vale, but only in the last few months of his life. He died in 1982, the same year that the Ffestiniog Railway completed its 27-year reopening process. The Ffestiniog went through a number of significant changes in the early 1980s, and the loss of Colonel Campbell was one of them. He is still an iconic figure to the railway, though, so watching the documentary was a fascinating opportunity to have some insight into who he was, what he looked like, what his mannerisms were. In particular, the upper-class Englishness of his accent startled me somewhat, given he was on paper a Scot. That, I suppose, is what being an interwar colonial Army officer turned you into. There is a whole thesis that could be written on colonialism and the Ffestiniog, given that it was funded in the 1830s by Irish investors and re-funded in the 1950s by English enthusiasts—and considering the long, bitter and quixotic arguments the railway had with Cymdeithas Yr Iaith Gymraeg in the 1960s and 1970s, arguments characterised by a tone of disingenuous legalistic pedantry on the railway’s side. It’s certainly far too complex a topic to be summarised within this single blog post. In the documentary, Campbell was very clear that after ten years of living at Dduallt he still felt himself to be an outsider; indeed, he gives you the feeling that he didn’t think he would ever truly belong to the land and to the house in the way that his farming neighbours did.

The Ffestiniog Railway is a very different place now, with a very different attitude to the local community. Dduallt has changed hands a few times since Campbell’s death, most recently just in 2020 after sitting on the market for some years. Its final price was a bit over £700,000, less than the sellers wanted but somewhat more, I think, than when Colonel Campbell picked it up at auction. It’s in rather better condition now, of course, not to mention rather more photogenic when shot on a modern camera. Apparently, if you go there (and the Ffestiniog will start running trains past it again next month) you can still see parts of the aerial ropeway that linked the house and its station back in the 1970s.

The documentary is certainly a moment in time, and that time has now moved on. Nevertheless, if you know what the railway is like now, it’s a fascinating watch. If you don’t, maybe it will entice you to visit. It’s certainly worth it.

* The famous-but-controversial railway manager Gerry Fiennes once said that the best way to pronounce Dduallt was by sneezing, which is cruel but more accurate than pronouncing it as if the letters were English.

** Technically speaking it’s a “miniature electric train staff”.

*** The Remote Operator handle and indicator is a Ffestiniog peculiarity, developed to enable the railway to operate with unstaffed token stations and traincrew-operated signalling equipment. There is more information about it in this video about one of the Ffestiniog’s signalboxes.

Yet another crafting project (part five)

Or should this be a new series of posts?

As I haven’t been posting very often here recently, it feels as if I can’t publish too many posts showing small, gradual amounts of progress on the latest cross-stitch project, the start of which I showed a couple of weeks ago when the previous cross-stitch project was finished. If I post every day, it seems reasonable enough to post the same craft project once per week. If I post twice a week, it seems a bit much for fifty percent of those posts to be about small quanta of progress on the same thing.

Nevertheless, after two weeks, I feel I’ve done enough for it to be worth showing off. For one thing, you can actually recognise what it is now.

It's a bee!

The kit comes with patterns to write the name of the species (Bombus terrestris, or the buff-tailed bumblebee) in Latin, and also in Dutch, English, German, French, Spanish or Italian, I think. I’m tempted to do it in Latin and Dutch, and if there’s enough thread left and enough letters to piece it together, in Welsh (“bili bomen”, and if I’ve got this right, a full literal translation of “buff-tailed bumblebee” would be “bili bomen colyn llebliw”).

The previous part in this series was here. The later parts are part six, part seven and part eight.

Onwards and upwards

Or, a trip up a mountain

As I said last week, things are slowly opening up here once more. Last week we could travel locally; from today, in Wales we can travel for leisure anywhere in the country so long as we don’t enter or leave it. I was somewhat tempted to spend the whole day driving to Porthmadog and then back again, just because I could, even though it would be an entirely pointless and childish thing to do.

It dawned bright and sunny, and The Child Who Likes Fairies immediately said: “can we go to the beach?” Naturally, I expected the beach would be packed, as would all of the standard inland tourist honeypots: Cwmcarn Forest, the Sugar Loaf, Pen y Fan, the Blorenge. “The Welsh Government are asking people to avoid flooding beauty spots,” said the news on the radio. I looked at a map, and picked a mountain overlooking Cwmbrân instead.

Mynydd Twyn-Glas is the mountain between Cwmbrân in the Eastern Valley and Crumlin in the Western Valley. It’s really just a slight rise in a broad-shouldered plateau, named Mynydd Maen on its south and Mynydd Llwyd on its north; and the whole, being common land, is also known as Mynydd Maen Common. The southern flank drops off sharply into steep-sided ravines thickly and densely covered with plantation conifers, the southernmost being the aforementioned Cwmcarn Forest. Being traditionally common land it’s now open access land. Despite this, I was surprised just how quiet it was: birds, bees, a handful of off-road bikers and another handful of dog walkers. We wandered across the open moorland, just above the edge of the forest, occasionally shouting into the trees and hearing the echo back from the other side of the ravine.

The ravines dropping away from Mynydd Twyn-Glas

A line of pylons strides across the moor, linking the upper valleys with the power stations of Newport. The wind whistled through them with an eerie note, singing the minor-key chord of a distant angelic choir.

Pylons

We saw a distant, intriguing stone slab, looking for all the world like a gravestone in the middle of the moor. Naturally, we headed straight for it.

Not a gravestone

B H
Boundary of Minerals
Settled by Act of Parliament
1839

Apparently there a few of these stones scattered at intervals through the area: the Act in question is 2 & 3 Vict. c. 38, “Sir Benjamin Hall’s, Capel Leigh’s and others’ estates: exchange of mines and land”. Sir Benjamin Hall MP is the “B H” of the stone: MP for Marylebone for over 20 years, he played a significant role in improving British public infrastructure, and is also possibly the man who Big Ben was named after. However, despite his important role in the history of London, his background was always in South Wales, his maternal grandfather (and source of his wealth) being the Merthyr ironmaster Richard Crawshay. The other side of the stone, incidentally, has “C H L” for Capel H Leigh.

Closer to the summit of the mountain, we found another stone. This, however, is much simpler.

LUP

On top is a simple cross, and on the other side, other letters.

PP

This is a boundary between parishes, rather than mineral owners, hence I suspect rather less money was spent on it. Llanfrechfa Upper Parish, on the one side; Pontypool Parish, on the other.

Finally, we reached the summit. Being a plateau, there wasn’t a dramatic view, just gently shelving moorland. In the distance, the Severn shined silver, down by the wetlands and the mouth of the Usk. England faded away into mist. The big difference—the sign we had reached the summit—was the strength of the unobstructed wind blowing across the mountain.

The Children

“I’m freezing!” said The Child Who Likes Fairies.

“Maybe next time we go up a mountain,” I said, “you’ll wear more layers of clothes like I said you should.”

“I’m never going up a mountain ever again,” she replied. “Ever.”

“What if next time we want to go in the mountains,” I offered, “we find a train that goes near some mountains and look at them out of the window?”

“As long as it takes us back down the mountain again once we’re at the top,” she said. And that, I think, is probably a fair bargain.

Liminal territory

Or, a trip to the wetlands

With pandemic restrictions slowly starting to ease, people in Wales can now start to travel about a little bit more, so long as they stay within five miles of home. We took the opportunity to head to one of the local nature reserves, Newport Wetlands, by the mouth of the Usk.

Newport Wetlands

The coast from Cardiff to Chepstow is the stretch of anciently-reclaimed marshland known as the Gwent Levels. They are very important ecologically and archaeologically, having been reclaimed from the sea several hundred years ago. Ah, so you might think, the Newport Wetlands are a surviving non-reclaimed portion of the Caldicot Level, that has somehow lasted a couple of thousand years without being taken as farmland? Not so. The Newport Wetlands are reclaimed, reclaimed from industry.

The corner where the River Usk meets the Caldicot Level has, since the 1950s, been the site of the Uskmouth Power Stations. Over the years a whole family of power stations has been built here, generating electricity in various different ways, but for the first few decades the major power source was coal, brought in by rail. The burning of coal powder creates a lot of very fine ash which can be somewhat difficult to find a use for, and is fairly hard to move without accidentally creating a sandstorm. To get it away from the power stations it was mixed with water and pumped as a slurry into “ash lagoons”, giant industrial waste lakes where the ash could be left to slowly turn into clay.

Newport Wetlands

In this century, the power stations stopped burning coal, and the ash lagoons were returned to nature. Rather than abandon them to nature in-the-raw, though, or return them to farming, they were seeded with reeds and turned into a carefully managed and curated wetland nature reserve. They are liminal spaces, therefore, across multiple boundaries. Not just land-versus-sea, but also industry-versus-nature, human-versus-wild. Notably, because the ash lagoons were built by surrounding a patch of land with embankments and then filling the enclosed space with slurry, the wetlands are now several metres above the sea on the one side and the reclaimed marshland on the other. Some careful and cunning hydrological management must be going on to ensure that the wetland reedbeds stay wet and at the sametime the fields below them stay dry. And, of course, the pylons still stride proudly across from the power station’s fields of high-voltage switchgear.

Newport Wetlands

Newport Wetlands

At the moment, with all facilities other than the car park closed, the wetlands are a quiet, almost ghostly place. Peaceful, with not even many birds in sight yesterday. The wind blows through the reeds and the tide gently splashes in across the mudflats; one of those cunning, powerful tides that mocks you with the gentleness of its splashing as it outruns you across the mudflat. We stuck to the paths, peered through the slats to see what birds we could see, and enjoyed being more-than-walking-distance from home for the first time in a few months. The overhead cables hummed with power, a cormorant flew over the top of us, and a bumblebee carefully surveyed the land around.

Newport Wetlands

Newport Wetlands

Newport Wetlands

The railways of your dreams

Or possibly those of my subconscious

A few months ago now, I wrote something about the sheer number of different railways that interest me enough to want to build models of them. It’s a fairly long list, to be frank, of ideas and concepts that I’ve considered over and over to, for one reason and another, very little concrete result.

My subconscious evidently thinks that that long list isn’t enough, because last night I awoke from a dream that a magazine article had inspired me to build an American-set model railway (or model railroad, I suppose). It was based on the concept of a “double terminus”: two lines meeting from opposite directions, built by different companies, without through trains per se but with traffic interchanged.

To be honest, it’s quite an interesting concept. There are a few examples in Britain I can think of. Halesowen, in the West Midlands, was a rather strange station where the GWR and LMS met from opposite directions. Brecon was a slightly more complex example: the Neath and Brecon Railway met the Brecon and Merthyr Railway end-on, with through trains from the Cambrian Railways, and with the Midland Railway using the whole thing as a route to reach Swansea. After 1922 this all became a lot quieter. The ultimate example is probably Wells, which once was served by three separate railways approaching from three different directions, all of them rather meandering and quiet branchlines.

In a way my subconscious was right: America is somewhat more fertile ground for this sort of concept. Britain suffers from its relative lack of railway companies, particularly from 1923 onwards; there would be many more cases of this sort of thing if it weren’t for earlier amalgamations. I said Brecon became a lot quieter: the companies sharing the station both became part of the Great Western Railway, and the Midland’s successor, the LMS, had its own route into Swansea and didn’t need to pay tolls to its competitor to get there. Brecon’s station became a dozy, sleepy place as a result, losing its railways completely in 1962.* Similar things happened elsewhere, or had happened already. Nevertheless, there were always going to be places where different railways or just different ways of working met. Another Welsh example is Nine Mile Point, an entirely arbitrary place whose existence I’ve briefly touched upon before. In 1805 the Tredegar ironworks wanted to build a railway to Newport, but the Monmouthshire Canal didn’t want to lose their income; they agreed to compromise by building half of the railway each, with the dividing line being at the ninth milepost from Newport. For one reason and another the canal company ended up asking the Great Western Railway to buy it out (and the results can still be seen); and the ironworks-founded Sirhowy Railway ended up owned by the London and North Western Railway. Nine Mile Point became a “frontier”, and lasted as such into the 1960s. It’s interesting to speculate how much the Sirhowy Valley suffered by comparison with the valleys either side, through having its railway divided in that way, but of course it can only ever be speculation.

I’m not going to add “random dream-inspired American railroad” to my list of models I might one day build, but it has at least sparked off a bit of thought and imagination in my mind, and led to this blog post at the very least. I’m going to finish it off with a photo of somewhere I might more plausibly build a model of one day.

Rhiwderin

This is the former Rhiwderin station, at the far end of the Brecon & Merthyr Railway from Brecon. It has a properly-scenic model railway feel to it, with the station building, the level crossing (replacing an earlier bridge), a Victorian village school next to the station, and a row of worker’s cottages behind the school. The terraces and the school were built for the workers at a tinplate factory which was built alongside the railway here but had already gone bankrupt by the 1870s. As a model it looks very attractive, with all of the parts in place just so; but it would also be fairly boring to operate as a railway, with trains heading back and forth but not much else going on. That’s the problem with real places for model railways: they rarely combine both an attractive appearence with interesting things going on. Maybe the railways of your dreams have their advantages after all.

* Nothing to do with the infamous Richard Beeching, before you ask; he didn’t publish his report until the following year.

Yet another crafting project (part four)

Or, something is finally completed

Regular readers will know that for the past couple of months I’ve slowly been working on some cross-stitch. Today, it was complete; it feels like much longer than a couple of months.

Cross-stitch complete!

Shocking news, I know, the idea that I’ve actually completed a crafting project for once—at least if you ignore that it still needs washing, blocking and framing.

I’ve already moved on and started my next cross-stitch project. However, it’s something of a step-change in difficulty.

The next chapter

Instead of cream 14-count fabric, this is black 18-count fabric, with lots of dark brown stitching to do on it. The squinting is already giving me a headache.

The previous posts in this series are part one, part two, and part three.

The other posts in the new series are part five, part six, part seven and part eight.

The last storms of winter

Or, on not trusting the weather forecast

The wind truly howled last night. The storm came in and the rain battered hard against the windows, keeping me awake half the night and making me almost believe we had been magically transported up into the mountains. Every so often I would hear a scrape outside as someone’s bins went past, or a For Sale sign from further down the street, and I wondered idly if, by morning, we would have accumulated a harvest of poorly-secured neighbourhood trampolines in the garden.

When morning dawned, the recycling boxes were scattered around the garden but nothing seemed to have blown in and nothing blown out. By the time I sat down at my desk with my second cup of tea, the wind had abated, the rain stopped, and the sky was clear and blue. It looked as if it was going to be a fine bright sunny day, and the weather forecast concurred that no more rain would be coming.

Even though there were reports from the Bristol colleagues of hailstorms so violent they were setting off car alarms, the weather here still seemed positively bright and friendly by midday, and the forecast still promised peaceful sunny calms. I set out for my daily walk without a coat, wary that with one I would overheat. Nevertheless, when I was at my furthest from home, the sky began to darken. The further hilltops faded from view. First fat, heavy fast-blown drops of rain fell on me, as I trudged down a muddy lane; then sharp-stinging hailstones a few millimetres across. I stopped by the wall of one of the village chapels, noting how the village on the other side of the valley had faded into murk and disappeared.

Bad weather in the graveyard

By the time I reached home again, the sky was clear and the sun was out, but I was chilly and damp. I probably shouldn’t trust the weather forecast quite so much next time.

Legitimacy

Or, who made you king?

There’s been in the lot in the news over the past few days about the British royal family: whether or not they are consciously, deliberately racist or whether they are just racist in passing like some ancient uncle who comes to visit at Christmas. Why this is the case probably isn’t worth going into here; I don’t see the point of me just reciting the latest news headlines. What it’s got me thinking is: why do we have a monarchy at all any more? Why are people still happy to regurgitate the old lies about what they do for us?

You don’t have to go far in discussions about the monarchy before you hear claims like “they bring a lot of money in for us, like tourists.” That doesn’t sound very likely to me. Empirically, it can’t be the case that tourists choose to come specifically to the UK because we have a monarch. If it was, Paris, Dublin, and Berlin would be struggling to attract tourists, who would all flood to London, Amsterdam and Copenhagen instead. There’s no real evidence that tourists come because we have a monarch at all; and as the campaign group Republic has worked out even if some do it has a negligible effect on British tourism as a whole. So why, then, do they exist? Moreover, why is it taken essentially for granted that the right of who should be king or queen is set in stone, frozen and immutable?

This idea, the idea that at any one time there is one person who has the right to be king or queen, and that they will be followed by their closest blood relative as surely as night follows day, is an old idea but it’s not that old. Royal legitimacy is, by any practical measure, an utterly terrible idea. If the monarch has to be the closest blood relative of the previous one, then to have good, successful monarchs, you need to have an excellent run of luck. How many times can you look at a group of brothers and sisters and be sure that, automatically, the oldest one is the best leader or the best manager? Eventually, purely by the mechanical operation of statistics, you’re going to see the job going to somebody who is always going to be a bit of a failure in that sort of role; and that’s without thinking of the sort of health problems that frequently tend to crop up in royal lineages stuffed densely with cousin-to-cousin marriages.

“They don’t really have any power,” though, the monarchist will tell you. “They’re just figureheads.” So, if that is the case, why keep them? Why not replace them with a nicely-carved statue as a figurehead instead? It’s fair to say that in modern British law the Queen has very little freedom to act, in the sense of being able to make meaningful decisions. Sovereignty is in Parliament, and the Queen must always follow whatever convention is appropriate in any given situation: appointing the person who can guarantee the Commons will vote for them as her Prime Minister and suchlike. This doesn’t make her powerless, though; it means her power is all in the soft sphere. The power that comes from having that weekly confessional chat with the person actually in charge of things, for example. The relationship benefits both the monarch and the Prime Minister. Any sort of uncodified situation always tends to reinforce the side with the greatest power to begin with: the biggest winners in the British unwritten constitution are the monarch and the government, and the losers are the opposition and the greater mass of the populace.

Legitimacy wasn’t always the way these things were done. It would probably surprise a lot of people to learn that the rules on succession changed relatively recently. In part, we have forgotten that royal succession isn’t set in stone because very few British people have encountered it or can remember the Queen’s accession. A thousand years ago—when England was only a few hundred years old—the English monarchy was a semi-elective institution. After we experimented with a dictatorial republic for a few years in the seventeenth century, Parliament made clear that the monarch ruled only at Parliament’s pleasure. Within thirty years of the Restoration, politicians had invited a Dutchman to invade and take over as king; a few decades further on, Parliament skipped over a number of potential legitimate members of the royal family to appoint a German head of state as king here. Over time the monarch’s control over government, slippery enough in any case after 1688, faded away further and further. By the 19th century it was all but gone.

An aside at this point: legitimist ideas rarely take into account the fact that different countries have someone different ideas on legitimacy. When William IV, King of Great Britain and Hannover died, his niece Victoria became Queen in Britain but his younger brother and Tory poltician the Duke of Cumberland and Teviotdale became King of Hannover, because Hanoverian law did not permit queens regnant. His son, King George V, had his kingdom flattened and squished away in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. If Victoria had still been ruler of a German state during the slow German unification process that concluded in 1871, later history would in some ways have been very different.

So why do we still have a monarchy, and why do we still sometimes behave as if it is implicit and inevitable that we always have one? Partly, I think, because it is what we are all used to; but largely because it brings huge benefits to all who are involved with it, to everyone touched by it.

One thing is certain, though. Within the next few years, within this decade, there will be big changes. The current reign is going to come to an end; that’s just the way things are. When it does, what will happen? Nothing, no doubt, initially. King Charles will be proclaimed, although I wouldn’t be surprised if he chooses a different name to rule by. It was at one time a standard royal tradition—the Queen’s father wasn’t actually called George—but it’s one that will be shocking and alien to most people if it were to be reintroduced. The shock of the change will, I suspect, startle people into finally considering that the monarchy don’t actually have to be a fixture in our world. It will be an interesting process to watch.

Photo post of the week

Signs that spring is on the way

Work has stolen and sapped all of my energy this week. I’ve still found time, though, to go out walking; and although the weather has been bitterly cold there are signs that spring is coming. The trees are full of songbirds, too.

Pylon

I’m entranced by this fallen electricity pylon, lying on its side battered and derelict, its structs bent and broken like some ancient reptilian fossil. My own local beached plesiosaur. I keep watching it from different angles; I really should come by with the Proper Camera.

Mynydd Machen

Similarly, I keep watching Mynydd Machen from different angles. I can see it from my window; sometimes invisible, sometimes flat and two-dimensional in mist, sometimes so bright and bold I could reach out and pick it up. On the wide-angle phone camera, though, it always looks small and disappointing.

Railway line

There will naturally be a proper railway history post at some point; I just need to put it together and decide exactly what I want to say, other than “this railway is much older than all those fancy modern upstarts like that one from Manchester to Liverpool”.

Grey cat

And finally, all cats are grey, as The Cure once upon a time said.

The colour of water

Or, the mountains and the lowlands

When I was younger, when most of the books I had were ones The Mother had bought from the local library’s “Withdrawn Stock” pile, one book she bought me was a 1960s beginners guide to going camping. I probably still have it, somewhere, although I’m not sure exactly where. It didn’t assume you would be going purely for the sort of camping we did, where you stayed on nice regular smooth green pitches, oh no. It covered the whole gamut from that sort of camping to wild camping, cycle touring, canoe camping, mountaineering, any sort of camping you might imagine. From it, I learned tips I’ve never come near to trying in real life, such as how to light a petrol stove,* or how to cook meat by strapping it to your car’s engine. I learned that in Scotland, you may have to sign the Poisons Register at your local chemists in order to buy meths, and that if you’re worried about camping near wild animals you can buy a tent to pitch on top of your car’s roof. One factoid from this book has stuck in my mind ever since, because of its gnomic inscrutability.

Do not drink Alpine river water—it contains powdered granite.

What effect does powdered granite have on the body? Why is it so dangerous? As there was no explanation at all, I have been left wondering ever since. As a child, I even wondered if maybe it would somehow turn you into stone, your skin going grey and hardening as the powdered granite flooded your arteries. I’ve still never been to the Alps—although I have camped along parts of the Rhine, which I suppose is still Alpine river water in a certain sense even when you’re a long long way downstream—but if I do, I’m sure subconsciously I’ll be treating the river water as if the slightest amount ingested could be fatal.

I’ve been thinking about that when going out for walks around the local area. When I lived in Bristol the local river was generally quite murky, full of silt and algae. The slightest rain and it would be a turbid brown colour. The river here is crystal-clear, and if you can’t see the bottom it’s a deep sea-green.

River

It always flows dangerously fast. If it rains, it rises, and going by the rubbish in the trees it can easily rise ten feet above its regular level. As soon as the rain stops, it only takes a day or two to start falling and for the water to clear again. Within a week there are gravelly banks and shallows, although with the strong currents always there a few feet away.

River

Is this water clear because it’s falling off the South Wales mountains, down from the fringes of the Brecon Beacons southwards, rather than soaking through the Gloucestershire soil? Or it it irredeemably toxic? I wouldn’t have thought so, and I’m sure the water is a lot cleaner than it was one or two hundred years ago. Moreover, is this what Alpine river water looks like? As I walk along the riverbank can I fantasise that I am walking along some Swiss mountain stream packed to the gills with powdered granite that will strike me down at the slightest sip? It’s rather unlikely (and the geology here is probably very different), but it’s a nice thought. It is, at least, another reminder that I’ve moved from the lowlands and I’m now in the mountains, if only in their foothills.

Over the weir