Monday, 21 April 2014

A Trip to Cambriol

Just before I set off for Newfoundland I was contacted by Newfoundlander Cabot Martin who had seen the article about the ride in the Telegram.  It transpired he was deeply interested in Sir William Vaughan of Gelli Aur (Golden Grove) near Llandeilo who had owned a large tract of land (which he called Cambriol) on the Avalon Peninsula, Newfoundland in the seventeenth century.  Cabot had in fact only just come back from a research trip to Carmarthenshire!  It did not take much arm twisting to accept his offer to take me on a tour of the relevant historical sites. So at 8am this morning Cabot picked me up to drive through the snowy landscape and along the west coast of Avalon to the south of St John's.  According to the little I had read about Sir William, his attempts to start a Welsh colony at Trepassey had failed miserably after he had extolled the supposed virtues of Newfoundland without ever having been there.  Cabot was able to put a different spin on the story, as research carried out by the Sir William Vaughan Project  suggest an altogether more positive picture.  In fact it seems that the role of the Welsh in the development of Newfoundland in the early modern period has been considerably underrated.
First stop was Bay Bulls, were there is a community of Williamses reputedly descended from the Welsh settlers brought over by Sir William.  And here I am with one of them - Armand Williams - in front of a boat he built himself! 
Next stop was Ferryland, where Lord Baltimore established a colony on land purchased from Sir William.  The adverse climate proved too much for him, but the colony survived.  The site of his mansion has recently been rediscovered and is being excavated - the mansion was apparently built by Welshmen, as was the outbuilding wall behind me in the photo, and also the dark trench which was a privy flushed out by the tide - it seems the first flush loo was built by the Welsh.
And here is Cabot himself at Sir William Vaughan's settlement of Trepassey.  He is standing in front of the site of a ruin which he likes to fancy could be the site of Sir William Vaughan's house, on a sheltered west facing slope overlooking the entrance to the harbour.

No trip to a Newfoundland outport could be complete without a meal of cod's tongues and chips which Cabot treated me to.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Rocking Up To The Rock

Well I have arrived safely on 'The Rock' as Newfoundland is sometimes not unsurprisingly called, and am staying with fellow Brits - Welshman Ian Harvey, wife Alison who contacted me on Facebook and kindly offered me a room, and their two lively boys Owen and Iwan.  They have a lovely house set in the wooded residential hills of Portugal Cove to the north of St John's.
I had booked a hire car for two days, but unfortunately discovered that I was unable to drive it away without presenting a credit card which I do not have.  But Alison came to my rescue and has heroically given up her time to chauffeur me around the four corners of St John's sorting out arrangements.   So I now have a Canadian cell phone, have arranged prohibitively expensive vehicle insurance, and have bought fifty metres of climbing rope, carabiners and an elderly green pickup truck/estate.  The latter still has to pass its MVI to be licensed, an MVI being the equivalent of our MOT.  But unlike the UK, the MVI here is carried out on transfer of vehicle ownership.  It is booked in for Monday so cross fingers it passes with no problems.
The climbing rope is not to enable the ponies to scale the Newfoundland sea cliffs but for tethering and securing the pack saddle bags.
And to prove I really have arrived, here I am in front of the Cabot Tower at the top of Signal Hill which overlooks St John's and the narrow entrance to the sheltered dog leg harbour on which the town is situated.
  As evinced by the array of flag poles on top, the tower was mainly used for flag signalling, different flags giving notice of different approaching ships.
It was built between1898-1900 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Cabot's 'discovery' of Newfoundland. Of course Newfoundland had already been discovered by various native American tribes including the indigenous Beothuks, besides the Vikings and almost certainly fishermen from Europe who chose not to publicise the rich fishing grounds of the off-shore Grand Banks.

Signal Hill is also notable as the site of a famous historical event.  In 1901 Guiseppi Marconi received the first trans-atlantic wireless message from Cornwall to a point near the tower.  Rather tersely it was the letter S in morse code.  And here is Alison marking the very spot.....
You can see the weather is glorious in the photos, but it has not been long before more characteristic Newfoundland weather has set in, and today snow flurries have been followed by rain.  But hopefully the latter will melt any snow banks blocking the beginning of the T'Railway, the section of the Trans Canada Trail following the course of the old railway line which crosses Newfoundland, and the route I intend to pursue from St John's to Port aux Basques in the far west.  
I also called in to see Mace at his stables owned by Stephanie Coates in Conception Bay South. He was looking in fine fettle but more interested in his hay than welcoming his new owner.
And before I forget, my friend Hannah Engelkamp has taken pity on an old pensioner and created a brand new Facebook page for me at   .Please like and share.
While you are at it, have a look at her page  and do the same for her.  She is the intrepid traveller who walked round Wales with donkey Chico and gave an immensely amusing talk at the Night of Adventure a fortnight ago. 

Friday, 11 April 2014

Food and Flies

When I started pack horsing across Kazakhstan, space and weight were important considerations.  Ortlieb waterproof folding bowls have proven themselves for human use as seen below. I would like to think that this cool and pristine looking model is representative of the image I project while on the road but I sadly fear the truth is considerably more ancient, grubby and dishevelled  .........

And the bowls were also a perfect solution as buckets for both feeding and watering the horses, even when I subsequently had to abandon horse packing.  Below is Zorbee having his evening feed out of an Ortlieb bucket by the Alatau mountains in Kazakhstan.

 Lightweight and robust, they fold up to a very compact size for packing.  Unfortunately during the 8000 mile journey, my bowls disappeared for one reason or another.  So I am delighted that Lyon Outdoor the UK distributors for Ortlieb, have generously provided me with three 10 litre waterproof buckets for the North America expedition.

Another essential item we used on the Eurasia crossing were fly masks.  Insects such as flies and midges can be extremely troublesome if not torture for horses, and fly masks are pieces of kit which although not necessary all the time are absolutely vital when insects descend in force. 
The main fly mask I used was from Shires Equestrian, and I found it to be far superior to the others I tried, fitting snugly and comfortably, and covering the horse's ears. In the photo you can see the clusters of flies being kept off Suncar's face on the Kazakhstan steppe.

I recently realised that I would be riding through the Maritime provinces of Canada at the height of the blackfly season but with only one decent fly mask between the two ponies.  Malcolm Ainge of Shires Equestrian has come to the rescue yet again by kindly agreeing to provide a second Shires mask, this time with a nose flap. Hopefully Albert and Mace don't fight over it.

And finally a link to an article in the St John's newspaper The Telegram

Thursday, 3 April 2014

A Trip to the Somme battlefields

At the beginning of the year I happened to read about the dreadful loss of life of Newfoundlanders at Beaumont Hamel in France during the Battle of the Somme.  The Newfoundland regiment was all but wiped out in an unsuccessful 30 minute assault on July 1st 1916, the first day of the 'Big Push' offensive.  After the war the Newfoundland government bought the site to preserve it as a memorial to those who fell there, and in view of my forthcoming Newfoundland adventure I was immediately stirred to make a pilgrimage.

Looking on the map, I realised it was not far from another couple of battlefield sites I had long wanted to visit, and this spurred me on to arrange a few days sightseeing in France.   So at the end of February I found myself at Beau Hamel, below the dramatic bronze statue of a caribou, emblem of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.  Standing on a rugged rock cairn, it appears to give a mournful last call over the bloody battlefield where so many Newfoundlanders tragically lost their lives. 

The Canadian government fund Canadian students to act as free guides for the memorial site, and we were lucky enough to have a young Newfoundlander to show us around. And she was able to show us the name on the monument of a great uncle who had lost his life here, which really drove the reality home.

The site has since been bought back by the French government, but continues to be leased and administered by the Canadians.
The site is remarkable in that it has preserved the remains of the trenches that existed a hundred years ago.  The view below is looking from the base of the monument across the trenches to the former German line beyond - roughly where the far line of trees is.  Terrible to think that almost a hundred years ago this peaceful green pasture would have been a bloody sea of mud, barbed wire and bodies.
The Allies had bombarded the Germans for a week before the offensive, but although this had caused damage, the German dugouts were largely untouched and machine gunners who had retreated from their posts were able to return quickly once the bombardments lessened.  Two assaults by British troops on the first day of the offensive failed with heavy casualties.  Then unhappily a white flare sent up by the Germans was mistaken for a British signal that the second assault had succeeded.  The Newfoundlanders were ordered into battle. 
When they attacked, the connecting trenches were already choked and impassable with dead and dying from the previous assaults, and in running over the brow of the hill the Newfoundlanders were sitting ducks for the German machine guns; machine guns that were supposed to have been put out of action by the bombardments of the previous week.
Out of 801 men participating in the assault that day, only 68 turned up for roll call the next morning, 720 having been killed or wounded.  A relatively insignificant number compared with the huge casualties suffered by other members of the allied forces, but a 90% casualty rate and utterly devastating for the tiny population of Newfoundland. 

Only 2500 miles to Newfoundland!
An arrow on the Caribou Memorial.

We also took the opportunity to visit a similar site on the Somme where 400 out of 676 Welsh soldiers of the 14th (Swansea) battalion were killed or wounded in the Big Push on 10th July 1916 trying to gain control of Mametz Wood.  In this case the memorial was a rather cartoonish Welsh dragon, not quite as impressive as the caribou, though the site was just as emotive.

Mametz Wood is in the background of the photo, with the dragon overlooking the valley where so many Welshmen died.
It was here that poet Seigfried Sassoon  (Royal Welsh Fusiliers) made a single handed attack on the 4th July 1916

The final pilgrimage was to the grave of Oswyn St Leger Davies, youngest son of the Davies family who lived at our house Ffrwdfal (formerly Froodvale Mansion) for many years.  It was Oswyn's father John Morgan Davies who built an imposing south facing frontage onto the existing building in 1867-8 when he moved here with his young wife Jane, to transform it into a larger country house.  See  Ffrwdfal Country House for the bed and breakfast business I run sporadically between jaunts abroad.
Oswyn St Leger was tragically killed on the western front shortly before the end of the First World War and is buried at Bienvilliers, near the Somme.

And we were able to stay nearby at the lovely Chateau de Saulty , much recommended if you do not need an evening meal on site.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Dashing through the snow...... a one horse open sleigh..........and that is exactly what Albert has been up to in the last week.  Charlene Walsh-Brown of the Brown family who owned and trained Albert, took these lovely photos of Albert in action.

It is quite tempting to forget about the riding lark and sleigh my way across Newfoundland.  Judging by the snowbound photos I am receiving I may well have to if the weather doesn't improve.

Pecha Kucha

Well I survived my initiation into the delights of Pecha Kucha talks at the Night of Aventure last Wednesday.  Spurred on by the terror of lagging behind the 20 second slide rollover, I burbled my way through the allotted 6 minutes 40seconds.  Above is the line-up of most impressive, inspiring and funny women taking part (they put me to shame) and experiences ranged from a record breaking Trans Antarctic cyclist to a walk round Wales with a donkey, both the latter speakers hailing from Wales.  Ages ranged from 65 (me) to 8 years old!

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Night of Adventure

I have been giving quite a few talks over the winter, mainly to small local groups, but also last week to Wilderness Lectures in Bristol.  Tomorrow night Wednesday 26th March I am one of a line-up of ten women giving short 'Pecha Kucha' slide talks as part of the annual 'Night of Adventure'  held at the Institute of Education, Russell Square.  Rather late notice but for anyone who is interested, booking available via the link above.
 A return to my old stamping ground as I took my Post Graduate Certificate of Education at the Institute, as well as an MA and research at the School of Oriental and African Studies next door!
For those of you who do not know what a Pecha Kucha talk is (I didn't!) it is a six minute 40 second presentation consisting of twenty slides, and only twenty seconds allowed for each slide. It really focuses the mind to prepare a talk!