25/3/91-26/4/91 I spent these four weeks working as a lambing shepherd at Tuck’s Farm, near Charlcutt in Wiltshire. My diary entries for this period are sporadic, consisting mainly of song lyrics and wistful little poems that I composed while sitting amongst the hay bales in my lambing pens.
Footnote: One of my abiding memories from this time is lying in a sunny meadow on a fine, warm spring afternoon reading The Darling Buds of May by H.E. Bates.
I knocked off at 3 pm and went home to get ready to head off down to Plymouth for the weekend. We got on the road at 4:15 and drove over the hill to the A303.
It took us just over three hours to drive down to Plymouth and on arrival we picked out a B&B called the Caledonia Guest House and booked in. Once we had taken our gear inside and settled in we went down to the centre of town and found the picture theatre. We saw Mel Gibson in the disappointing movie Air America. After the movie we found a pub and had a couple of quiet drinks then went back to the hotel.
The Caledonia Guest House is still there today. These quaint Georgian houses were the sort of places that age-of-sail naval officers would stay in when they were ashore during the Napoleonic Wars.
I spent both days up at Tucks Farm¹ building a new lambing enclosure. I picked up £70 for my trouble including petrol costs. As I travelled up and down on both days I listened to Johnny Clegg and Savuka’s² brilliant album called Third World Child.
¹Tucks Farm, at Calne, near Swindon, was where I was to work as a lambing shepherd later in the year. The farm owners had employed me to build a sheep yard for use during the lambing.
²Having travelled in Africa, and intending to return later in 1991, we loved music about that continent. Johnny Clegg and Savuka were a Belgium-based band from South Africa whose songs were redolent of life in Africa. This is Scatterlings of Africa from the album Third World Child.
I went into Warminster and bought some bits and pieces for the car including an oil filter oil and a new thermostat. I went round to the Witts farm to borrow a strap wrench and Richard Witt ended up changing the oil and filter for me. Back at the Manor I pulled the old thermostat out and put in the new one then as it was a nasty stormy day I parked up in front of the TV.
It was a brilliantly fine day and we left Linton and drove along the narrow winding roads leading south along the incredibly rugged coast. We had lunch on a promontory overlooking the hazy blue sea then turned inland and headed for Exeter. When we got there we spent a couple of hours looking around and Linda got her hair cut. Helen and Brian had got themselves into a hotel so Linda and I drove out to the Youth Hostel and checked in there.
In the evening, Brian shouted us tea at a place called Mad Megs weather meals were huge!
Linda and I were up early and cooked a small meal of toast and boiled eggs for breakfast then checked out of the hostel and walked down to the village. It was a beautiful morning, cool and fine, and the haze amongst the hills gave promise a hot day to come.
Our first stop after meeting Helen and Brian was the local slate mining museum. We spent about an hour there looking at the fascinating exhibits of the equipment and techniques used in slate mining, along with the methods and equipment needed to keep the mine going. Along with the working demonstration of slate dressing there was a huge smithy, a foundry, a mould-making factory and a huge water wheel, 50 ft 5 inches in diameter and capable of delivering a massive 80 horsepower when it was operating. Along with the Imperial War Museum in London it was the best museum I’ve seen in England so far.
When we left the village, we drove up to the top of the llanberis Pass where hordes of dickheads were sitting out on the epic climb of the towering 3,240 foot giant Snowdonia. We had a cup of tea halfway down the other side of the pass with a thick haze spoiling the otherwise spectacular views of Snowdon and the surrounding mountains.
A while later we stopped for lunch on a small back road and at about 12:45 we arrived in Blaenau Ffestiniog, a slate-mining town. All around us, the hills had been torn apart by the quest for slate and there were huge piles of waste rock shimmering in the hot afternoon sun.
Linda, Bryan and I descended 400 ft underground for a tour of the huge cabins left by the slate miners last century. It was deathly cold and damp in the labyrinth of passages and caverns but they were a truly amazing sight: a monument which will stand forever to the tenacity of the humans who toiled their lives away in the cold darkness. When we left Blaenau Ffestiniog we drove and drove and drove, making it as far as Abergavenny by 8 PM. We all stayed in a B&B for the night.
SNOWDONIA As we drove further into Wales the hills became higher and more rugged and soon we were following a long u-shaped valley up to a low pass. On the other side of the pass we came to the town of Bethesda, Gareth’s¹ home town, nestled on the side of the valley across from the huge scar left by a slate mine which had destroyed a large part of the valley.
From Bethesda we went to LLANFAIRPWLLGWYLLGOGERYCHWRYNDROBWLLLLANTSILIOGOGOGOCH, the town which, supposedly, has the longest name in the world.
When we reached Bangor, we went to an information centre then drove up the little alpine village of llanberis [pronounced clan-berris] at the foot of Mount Snowdon. We spent a couple of hours riding on a rather boring little railway which ran up one side of the lake and back again. Above the town, the huge scars of the slate quarries are now used as a storage lake for a hydroelectric scheme.
Linda and I stayed the night at the youth hostel.
¹Avid followers of this blog will remember Gareth from our time picking cherries in the Australian town of Young back in October 1988.
On our way out of the Lake District we visited the Stott Park Bobbin Mill, where, for 167 years, people toiled at the laborious job of making cotton reels and bobbins. Then, we hit the road and drove down through Liverpool and into North Wales where we spent the night in a farmhouse B&B.