I miss it. It was, to use an over-used word but perfectly apt in this case, awesome
Before they built the causeway at Porthmadoc the sea used to come in and lap at the feet of the Snowdonia range. One day it probably will again
My new album “Lichens” is now out in all your favourite online stores. Thank you to everyone who has bought it so far. Preview songs and reviews on the links below. The physical CD and download is available at these very artist friendly stores (where a larger percentage of the sale goes to the artist)
Also available at
At the end of my last post I mentioned that I had read that Esmé had been buried at Dyffryn and Peter’s ashes scattered next to her and that, had I known, I would have liked to have visited their grave.
In her biography of Esmé Teleri Bevan wrote…”On Sunday, 17 October 1999, Esmé decided to plant daffodil bulbs in the grounds around Dyffryn, ready for the spring. It was a mellow day and when the sack of bulbs had almost emptied, she was tired and content, ‘They’ll be really colourful’. She retired early to bed but in the early hours of Monday, Esmé died peacefully in her sleep, aged 89, with Peter at her side”.
“Peter fulfilled Esmé’s last wish, her burial place. She had chosen to be buried on a small plot at Dyffryn, and Peter had to persuade the relevant authorities for permission. The plot she chose many years earlier overlooked the valley, and it was near the sheep pens on Glyder Fach”.
I returned to Dyffryn earlier this week to carry on my research for the conservation land management plan that I’m writing for the National Trust, the new owners. The first place I wanted to visit was Esmé and Peters grave, but other than the description above I didn’t know where to find it, and it’s a very big farm on a very big mountain. I reasoned though that it must be fairly near to the house, or maybe close to one of the tracks leading from the road, so I made my way up to the nearest group of old stone sheep pens and looked around.
The wind was ferocious and squalls of sleet, hail and snow were falling from the heavy clouds scudding over the mountain peaks and ridges. I carefully examined the land around the pens, but I couldn’t see anything that looked like a grave site. I had been told that there was a simple stone marking the spot, but at Dyffryn countless stones and boulders litter the landscape.
I needed to change my angle of enquiry by looking at my surroundings and asking myself, ‘where would I have chosen to be buried had I lived here all these years?’. My attention turned to a huge rock outcrop and a kind of wide ledge rising up behind me. As I surveyed it something caught my eye. It was the bright yellow heads of hundreds of daffodils nodding in the blustery wind. Strange to see daffodils there I thought, and then I knew what I was looking at and where the grave was. My recollection of the story of Esmé planting daffodils the day before she died had led me to the spot.
I climbed up the steep hillside and there on the ledge, overlooking the valley, was the grave of Peter and Esmé Kirby of Dyffryn.
As I studied the grave I was curious about it’s orientation and why it was slightly inclined downhill, but as I turned and looked in the direction it was pointing all became clear. This was the view that they wanted forever.
I stayed for quite a while and then felt the need, despite the howling wind and showers, to climb up onto the plateau below Glyder Fach. I’m glad I did, the views were wonderful and the sense of elemental life almost overwhelming.
I felt glad that I’d paid my respects. There is something dangerous about the work that I do. The land has been like this for thousands of years (there are the remains of iron age hillforts on the farm and a Roman camp just down the road), and countless generations of people have lived here and eeked out a living often under great hardship, only for someone like me to come along one day and prescribe a management plan. It doesn’t feel right unless you do it well, and therein lies the challenge. Do right by the land and the memory of those who came before you, and don’t be an arrogant prat. In finding and visiting the grave I felt like I’d opened a path, along which I might tread lightly and get on with the job that I’ve been given to do.
In the next part of my little story I’ll tell you about how I wanted to visit the great Dyffryn mountain wall that was built around 1750 and, in studying it up close, found extraordinary craftsmenship in such a challenging landscape.
I’m very proud to share the first review of my new album by award winning music critic Kathy Parsons. Luckily it’s quite favourable ;)
2015 / Mike Howe Music
Lichens is the fifth release from Welsh guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Mike Howe and his first release as an independent artist. Also an ecologist working in the National Parks of Wales, Howe finds the inspiration for his beautiful music in nature, landscapes and people. For anyone unfamiliar with the meaning of the album title, Webster gives this definition: “any of a large group of small plants composed of a particular fungus and a particular alga growing in an intimate symbiotic association and forming a dual plant, commonly adhering in colored patches or spongelike branches to rock, wood, soil, etc.” Appearing in a wide range of shapes, colors, and textures, and often found in surprising places, it is no wonder that Howe finds lichens fascinating.
In addition to composing, producing and arranging the twelve tracks on this album, Howe plays all of the instruments: acoustic and electric guitars, synths, acoustic and electric bass, keyboards and drums. As an indie artist, he is free to branch out a bit, and some of the tracks are more upbeat and lively than on previous albums. That doesn’t mean that there are screaming electric guitars or car-shaking bass lines, but there is more of a variety of playing styles that indicate the range of Howe’s versatility as an artist.
Lichens begins with “Into the Night,” a beautiful, rhythmic piece and a great opener! The dreamy “Remember” features acoustic and electric guitar with an ethereal keyboard backdrop. More ambient than melodic, it creates a quiet mood for reflection. “Joni” has a very pleasant smooth jazz/light rock flavor. “Plains” expresses a warm and gentle peacefulness. Howe’s solo acoustic guitar music often makes me think of walking in the woods or on a hillside and encountering a guitarist sitting under a tree, peacefully lost in his music. The lovely “You Know Me” takes me there – love it! The title track is a slow, graceful beauty with a very haunting quality – tranquility set to music! “Run” picks up the energy level a bit (but not too much) – also a favorite. “Swim” feels like a slow dance at the end of a romantic evening. Keyboard, guitar, and drums played with brushes give it a gentle sway and feelings of warm contentment. “Look Up” is a lovely reminder to be aware of everything around you – a gorgeous guitar piece! “Summer Road” picks up the tempo with an upbeat closing that will have you hitting the “replay” button. Happy vacation days, here we come!
I think Lichens is Mike Howe’s best album to date. He has garnered a lot of awards and nominations for his first four albums, so be sure to check this one out! The official release date is April 7, 2015, but the album is available for pre-order on Bandcamp and Amazon. Very highly recommended!
I mentioned in an earlier post that I am beginning work on writing the conservation management plan for Dyffryn Mymbyr, an iconic Welsh hill farm made famous by Thomas Firbanks book “I Bought a Mountain” which was published in 1940. Yesterday we climbed high up above the valley where the farmhouse sits and onto the imposing, rocky Glyder range which drops precipitously down into Cwm Idwal and the Nant Ffrancon Valley, a perfect u-shaped valley which was carved out by the glaciers that eventually receded around 10,000 years ago and which adorns the cover of many a geography text book.
Firbank beautifully described how, when the sheep needed to be gathered for lambing and shearing, the men and dogs from all of the farms in both valleys assembled high up along the ridge so that they could drive the sheep down to the pens for sorting. The flock had not been seen as a whole for months and, when the men reached their stations, the dogs were sent out to right and left and the line moved forward. The place is high, free and, when the sun beats down from clear blue skies as it did yesterday, glorious.
It was here, high up on the mountain, that a few years after the Great War a shepherd stumbled over the skeleton of a man. He had been lying there for about a year, and the crows had not left any flesh on the bones. No one ever discovered who he was or what he had been doing, and the few shreds of cloth that flapped in the wind gave no clue.
Sometimes the wild goats would appear on a ledge and the dogs became wildly excited. These goats were introduced thousands of years ago and have become feral in large herds throughout Snowdonia. And sure enough we came across a few shy individuals yesterday who made off as soon as we appeared on the skyline.
On the occasions when Firbank climbed to the ridge for the gathering he often mentioned the imposing, sheer rock buttresses of Tryfan, another peak which towers over the Ogwen Valley and which, yesterday, we glimpsed as we neared the summit of Glyder Fach.
The massive rocks on the summits of Glyder Fach and Glyder Fawr are a tumbling, sprawling mass of interesting shapes, sculpted by countless winters of wind, rain and freeze thaw, the most famous of which is the cantilever stone.
The route down for the shepherds gathering 3000 sheep must have been arduous and precipitous, but when they had brought the flock down below the mountain wall into the “ffridd” they returned to the farmhouse for copious amounts of jam and bread, cakes and cauldrons of hot sweet tea.
The house has been renovated by the National Trust and today is let as a holiday home. This is what Esme wanted and arranged before she died. She didn’t want the farm to be sold to the highest bidder and broken up and sold off in parcels, she wanted it to remain a working farm. And so it is. The tenant farmer still keeps a flock of sheep (although much reduced in numbers), and a herd of Welsh black cattle graze the lower slopes and valley fields. They keep the mosaic of rare and precious habitats in good condition as the peat begins to grow back, locking up carbon, restricting the flow of water and reducing soil erosion, and supporting rare and delicate upland plants.
Today, whilst doing more research, I learned that when Esme died, after living at Dyffryn for nearly 70 years, she wished to be buried in a small plot near the sheep pens on Glyder Fach. Had I known I would have liked to have visited her grave had I been able to find it. I can think of no more beautiful place to be buried, in the very earth that she loved so much.
Special pre-release CDs are now being shipped only when ordered from Bandcamp (click on link) It’s a lovely, friendly company and ordering is quick and easy and secure.
In the meantime here is the title track from the album, hope you like it