The Coastal Flowers Are Out…..

The Coastal Flowers Are Out and More On the Way.....

The coastal flowers are out, we got sea campion, we got oxeye daisy, we got thrift (or more poetically, sea pinks), it’s all go….

Photo: Mike Alexander

The Old Wooden House

I once had the great pleasure of wandering around an old wooden church in the state of Mississippi and was able to really feel and smell its history.  It was quite a humbling experience in many ways, and it certainly penetrated deep inside me, so that many years later, when I had developed the ability, I wrote a piece of music about it and included it on my fourth album Heading West.

I was particularly gratified that the esteemed music reviewer Kathy Parsons wrote of the track…..“Old Wooden House suggests a time-worn structure that has seen better days and holds generations of precious memories of days gone by.”  I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Here’s a little video that I put together featuring the beautiful photographs of Walker Evans and Bernard M Baruch, which I felt illustrated the kind of building that it is/was, I hope you like it.

Waterfalls Through the Seasons

Photo: Mike Alexander
Photo: Mike Alexander

I mentioned in my post “The Old Road to Nowhere” earlier this month that I would be doing more conservation management planning work at a magnificent place in North Wales this week, and so I have.  It’s a place called Dolmelynllyn (I can’t even begin to explain here how you should pronounce that, you need to hear it) and I wanted to share with you one of the best features of the estate – the magnificent Rhaeadr Ddu waterfalls (The Black Falls), and once again I am very lucky to have Mike Alexanders photographs for the purpose (the 2 Mikes work closely on a lot of these projects!).

Photo: Mike Alexander
Photo: Mike Alexander

The impressive falls have a drop of around 60 feet and take their name from the slab of black rock over which the water cascades.  They are surrounded by our version of a rain forest, the Atlantic Oakwoods.

Photo: Mike Alexander
Photo: Mike Alexander – Wilsons Filmy Fern

The relatively warm, wet microclimate has provided perfect conditions for some of the rarest ferns, mosses and lichens in the whole of the UK, making this an internationally important site for nature conservation.  The woods are also fabulous habitat for the relatively rare lesser horseshoe and brown long-eared bats.

Photo: Mike Alexander
Photo: Mike Alexander – Lichens growing on trees

The seasons bring changes to the waterfalls, from gentle, deeply relaxing summer flows to raging torrents in the heavy rains of autumn, to the occasional deep freeze of winter….

Photo: Mike Alexander
Photo: Mike Alexander
Photo: Mike Alexander
Photo: Mike Alexander
Photo: Mike Alexander
Photo: Mike Alexander

If you keep climbing up the winding path alongside the falls, and make your way up through the woodland, you eventually come up on top where you are rewarded with a wonderful view of the whole estate.

Photo: Mike Alexander
Photo: Mike Alexander

I hope that the work we are doing here will ensure that it remains intact and beautiful for thousands of people to enjoy into the future, and for the special wildlife to continue to thrive.

 

A Love Song….

Photo: Mike Alexander
Photo: Mike Alexander

This is a simple song about those times in your life when it feels like someone who is very dear to you is always close, inside you almost, no matter where you are…..

The Trip to Skomer Island That Never Was

Photo: Mike Alexander
Photo: Mike Alexander

Last week I was supposed to be visiting Skomer Island for the day with a number of colleagues and friends to discuss management issues.  Skomer (Welsh: Ynys Sgomer) is an island off the coast of Pembrokeshire in southwestern Wales and you get to it by boat at the end of the road that passes our house.

Photo: Mike Alexander
Photo: Mike Alexander

It is well known for its wildlife: a third of the world population of Manx Shearwaters nest on the island, and the Atlantic Puffin colony is the largest in southern Britain.  These birds spend the autumn and winter months at sea in the South Atlantic and return to Skomer each year to breed in dis-used rabbit burrows (rabbits were introduced to the island as a food source in the 14th century).  There are numerous archaeological remains on the island, from stone circles, standing stones and prehistoric houses.

Puffins on Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire       Photo: Mike Alexander
Puffins on Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire Photo: Mike Alexander

Unfortunately on the day of departure we were being battered by storm force south-westerly winds, and as a result the boat, the “Dale Princess”, was unable to make the crossing safely, so we couldn’t go.

Photo: Mike Alexander
Photo: Mike Alexander
Photo: Mike Alexander
Photo: Mike Alexander

Fortunately my friend Mike Alexander, who gives me all these wonderful photographs to show to you, was the warden on the island from 1976 to 1986, and so he has given me more photos of Skomer to share.  I think you’ll agree it is a pretty lovely looking place.  I’ll wait for better weather and sea conditions and get over there later in the year.

Photo: Mike Alexander
Photo: Mike Alexander

I Am Really Tired, But Don’t Tell Anyone, It’s a Secret

Mike at football

Because of a fixture pile up due to the extremely wet winter we’ve just had I’m about to play my seventh competitive football match in just under 3 weeks, and at the ripe old age of 46 my legs and back are telling me enough is enough.  The trouble is, I’m worried that if I admit it to anyone connected with the football club it could convince them that my time is finally up, which of course is ridiculous because nobody can play that many games in such a short space of time and remain fresh as a daisy.  But because I am so much older than everyone else still on the team (next oldest 32), I’m sure you’ll understand when I admit to feeling a little insecure.

So I must go and play (and of course I still love it, which is why I endure the pain) and try not to collapse in a heap in the middle of the pitch (I have to play centre midfield, which as everyone knows who follows the game, is the most physically demanding position in the team because you have to cover the whole length of the pitch for the whole of the game…..I’m exhausted just writing about it :))

If I survive with my dignity intact I’ll only have 2 more games to go before the end of another long season.  Then I’ll be able to lie down.

The Music of a Landscape Part III – Badlands

Sadly I only visited the badlands of North Dakota very briefly many years ago.  Even more sadly my camera wasn’t working at the time so I wasn’t able to record the hauntingly beautiful landscape, so I did the next best thing and wrote some music about it instead…..

Of course the music of any landscape is completely abstract, so for every person that can identify with it, there will be many more who cannot – we all have different senses and points of reference, which is a very good thing.

This music is also dedicated to Yellow Bird, Kent, Grover and Dan, “The Wolf at Twilight”

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The Old Road to Nowhere

Photo: Mike Alexander
Photo: Mike Alexander

High up on the slopes of the Rhinogau (Rin-og-i), an isolated, rugged range of mountains forming much of the Harlech Dome in North Wales, lies a 19th century gold mining complex.  All that remains of the hard toil of the men and women of the time are some deep,cavernous mine shafts which drip with the rain from the mountains, a few ruined buildings and the old track that was used to transport the rock for processing.

Photo:  Mike Alexander
Photo: Mike Alexander

Since all the industry left the hillside, nature has quietly taken over again, so that now the only sound you hear up there is the sighing of the wind and the throaty call of the raven in his craggy domain.  The noise and disruption of the past is long gone, along with all the stories of the people who worked this land in order to provide a living for their families.

The land is now cared for by the National Trust, and I have had the privilege to write the plan for its future conservation.  There’s plenty more to see at this place, and I’ll update you as I go.  I’ll be back there next week.

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Music and art about San Francisco

So in composing the music for my album “Heading West”, which is essentially a travelogue about my journey across America, I wrote a song called “San Francisco” which leaned heavily on my love of jazz and jazz fusion.  I wanted to paint a musical picture of a cityscape, something that talked of vibrancy, excitement and a little edginess, and contrasted with the more peaceful sounds I had written on the album to capture great landscapes.  San Francisco is such a beautiful, exciting city to visit, I felt compelled to write music about it.

I also wanted to put together a video essentially to showcase the music.  What I ended up with, however, was something different – a video showcasing the amazing art of Jeremy Mann, who has painted some of the most beautiful and evocative cityscapes that I have ever seen of his hometown, San Francisco.  See what you think here….

In his creative practice, Mann aims to imbue his city with drama, mood, and personality.  He paints his immediate surroundings with intimate, dynamic expression. A number of his compositions are inspired by wet pavement that reflects street lamps and neon signs and glitters in the rain.

Painting on medium-to-large scale wood panels, Mann utilizes a number of techniques: staining the surface, wiping away paint with solvents, and applying broad, gritty marks with an ink brayer.  He paints with confidence and flair, addressing complex compositions with colors both vivid and atmospheric.

I love his work.  And so, actually, my song is dedicated to him and I hope it does his work justice, even in a very small way.

The wonderful history, landscape and wildlife of the Dinefwr Estate

I have been exceptionally lucky recently to have been asked to prepare a conservation management plan for the estate at Dinefwr (Din-ev-or) near Llandeilo in West Wales, which is owned and cared for by the National Trust.

It is quite a difficult task to paint a verbal picture of Dinefwr and it isn’t possible to convey the importance of the place in strictly factual terms.  It’s only when you are lucky enough to visit Dinefwr that the sheer unusual beauty of the place strikes you in a way that the words that you have read cannot.  It is a very, very special place indeed.

Dinefwr is of exceptional significance for its archaeology, designed landscape and buildings.  The present day landscape was set out by George Rice and his wife Cecil with some assistance from Lancelot ’Capability’ Brown in the second half of the 18th century.  It has been widely admired ever since with impressions recorded by means of painting, sketching and the written word – it even appeared on a dinner plate, part of a service commissioned by Catherine the Great.

Today the park is widely acknowledged to be one of the finest designed landscapes in the UK.  At its centre is Newton House, originally constructed in the 17th century to a simple but elegant design, it was encased in limestone to a Venetian-gothic design in the 1850s.

Photo: Mike Alexander
Photo: Mike Alexander

Trees and open grassland are so important to the appearance and aesthetic qualities of Dinefwr’s landscape and they were deliberately set out as part of the landscape design, with most of the trees planted on the higher ground and the grassland occupying the valleys and the areas immediately adjacent to the house and the main drive.

Archaeological surveys have, inevitably, revealed evidence of earlier landscapes including the defensive structures of an Iron Age fort and most remarkable of all, two overlapping Roman forts.  Faint earthworks mark the outlines of tracks and field boundaries that predated the construction of the deer park in the middle of the 17th century.

One of the most significant archaeological monuments in the park is Dinefwr Castle.  The 12th century stone buildings and walls seen today apparently replaced an earlier timber structure dating to the 8th century.  This castle was the capital of most of west and south Wales in the 12th century so the surrounding woodland and park must conceal evidence of medieval tracks and paths.

Dinefwr Castle

The park is well known for its fallow deer and, in particular, its white park cattle – a rare breed restored to the park in 1992 after a long absence, but that can be traced back to Dinefwr from at least 1000 years ago.  Both the deer and the cattle are integral to the historic park in their own right, but also because they maintain a complex mosaic of ancient grassland habitats.

Ancient white park cattle Photo: Mike Alexander
Ancient white park cattle Photo: Mike Alexander
Fallow deer herd  Photo: Mike Alexander
Fallow deer herd Photo: Mike Alexander

One of the most striking features of the grassland in the deer park is the abundance of yellow meadow ant hills, which indicates how undisturbed this grassland has been for centuries.

Photo: Mike Alexander
Photo: Mike Alexander

In some parts of the park there are remnants of medieval woodland featuring many ancient trees that are at least 400 years old.  And at its core, this wood pasture is dominated by nearly 300 huge oak trees, including some of the oldest and largest trees in the UK – one, the Castle Oak, is thought to be over 700 years old.

Photo: Mike Alexander
700 year old oak tree Photo: Mike Alexander

Dinefwr’s ancient trees, important in their own right, are host to a remarkable assemblage of wood decay invertebrates including 400 “saproxylic” beetle species, 26 of which are classified as nationally scarce.  More than 160 species of lichen have been recorded in the park, several of which indicate a long history of ecological continuity.

The assemblage of breeding birds at Dinefwr is very impressive, and some of the most important are the lesser spotted woodpecker, an increasingly rare species in the UK, as are the green woodpeckers, which thrive on the impressive colonies of yellow meadow ants, conspicuous by the presence of hundreds of ant hills in the deer park grassland.  Other notable bird species breeding in the woodlands include tawny owl, tree creeper, sparrowhawk, tree sparrow, jay, long-tailed tit and pied flycatcher.

On the lakes, ponds and ditches of the Towy floodplain greylag geese, Canada geese, swan, widgeon, goldeneye, heron and snipe amongst many others can been found year round.

Flood plain at Dinefwr  Photo: Mike Alexander
Flood plain at Dinefwr Photo: Mike Alexander