The headline, by the way, isn’t mine. I once heard an American writer describing her childhood during which her father – who was a travelling salesman – would take her on interminable road trips which always ended in a more or less seedy motel.
Far be it from me to describe our campervan, which we call Polly – the hero of the Potwell Inn – as seedy. We’d prefer to call Polly “lived in” . Who cares about the odd battle scar or missing wheel trim? It is completely true that when we roll onto a campsite loaded with field guides, binoculars, drawing equipment and wine, we are at home already, surrounded by our familiar objects. After a flurry of hammering to put up the windbreak and then experimenting with the aerial to see if we can get a comms signal, we’re done. The new Netgear router and Ponting omnidirectional aerial have managed to turn a weak or invisible phone signal into a very tolerable 4g+ signal between 10 and 50 Mb/sec.
This time we’re in the Cambrian Mountains in mid Wales – not very far into them because the roads are at best tiny and more likely nonexistent. However we’re parked up next to the River Towy which surrounds us with a comfortable babbling sound overlaid by sheep on the hills- could anything be more restful? It’s one of the least visited wild places in Wales which means it’s really quiet. Typically, as we drove in, I remembered that we’re in yet another quarry/mine. The last campsite which was only ten miles away by road had seen 500,000 tons of shale rock extracted to get at the “dirty” quartz” which, when each 10 tons was pounded, milled and treated with mercury (which necessitated it being taken to Germany for processing), yielded 1g of gold. The mines were first opened in Roman times but then became disused pretty much until a succession of Victorian and early 20th century entrepreneurs lost their shirts on them. The problem seems to be that they needed to pay their miners whereas the Romans used slaves. As you see – nothing much changes. A perfectly viable industry closed down by militants who expected to be paid for risking their lives!
Anyway the trip round the mine was fascinating, especially as we had a professional geologist as a guide. What was equally interesting for us was that we emerged into a path that took us through a lovely wildflower meadow where we clocked several plants I’d never seen before including one relative rarity which necessitated a very friendly exchange of emails with the County Recorder who corrected one and verified another, (whorled Caraway). Yesterday we went back again for a closer look and confirmed that the whole field was full of marsh plants – a highly distinctive habitat known in Wales as Rhos and in Devon as Culm. Who’d have thought of marsh plants on a boiling hot day 600 feet up a hill. Happy days! So, with a couple or three records accepted we wandered back down and found Valerian, Bilberries and these stunning Fox and Cubs – at least three times as tall as I’ve ever seen them before. An ideal photo to accompany a piece about gold mines I think.
The mine workings have mostly been removed, but some authentic pithead gear was brought from another gold mine in North Wales and there were enough industrial artifacts around to give a real sense of what went on there.
So today we drove around to Rhandirmwyn where we found many interesting fungi three autumns ago. The immediate quarry (deliberate pun I’m afraid) is to find Spring Sandwort which I’ve probably missed on Velvet Bottom but may well still be in flower here – if it even grows here. On the map there’s one record somewhere near here but nothing else for many miles. That’s one I’d love to get a record for! – it’s one of those lead loving plants that thrives on polluted slag and there’s an enormous abandoned lead mine within easy walking distance – as long as Madame doesn’t put her foot down; or rather refuses to put it down in search of yet another little white job!
What about the allotment? you may well ask – in the tone of a concerned social worker. Well, allotments are communities and we look out for one another so our neighbours are watering the polytunnel and the rest can look after itself. Meanwhile we’re having a ball in spite of the fact that rain is forecast for the whole of our stay here.