Friday, October 31, 2008

Times of refreshment

Home again and making ready to rejoin the relentless round of activities after two weeks of rural peace and quiet, a tranquil retreat in a well appointed comfortable farm holiday cottage on the edge of a wood of tall trees, just a couple of miles walk from Tresaith and Aberporth beaches.

We've eaten well, slept well, got plenty of fresh air and exercise. The sound of morning traffic tomorrow will not equal the sound of wind in the trees, although we are fortunate to do equally well for birdsong in Queen Anne Square as in deep countryside, because of the neighbouring convent garden is a real wildlife haven in the heart of the city.

The Cardiganshire coast is wonderful, well cared for, well managed. There are even prize winning beach toilets to be found, many excellent places to eat, and wildlife to enjoy. Most days we saw buzzards or red kites. Along the coast and the estuaries we saw notably oystercatchers, dunlins, Manx shearwaters, curlews, egrets, as well as the commoner species of birds. The morning we visited New Quay, as we arrived on the quaside we caught sight of a school of dolphins racing up and down the bay about five hundred metres off-shore.

My sister June had talked about war-time holidays before I was born, spent in New Quay, with backout evenings spent listening to the only radio set in the village in the bar of the Blue Bell Inn. We found the pub in the process of being done up and sold on. It was one of those mentioned on the Dylan Thomas Trail, as a place where he and Richard Burton drank together ten years later. I was so delighted, I rang my sister on the spot to tell her about both the dolphins and the pub.

We visited Llanerchaeron, a National Trust property built by Nash (of Bath terracing fame). The home farm had a large walled garden specialising in apples. One of the out-houses had a display of fifty different kinds of apples grown in Wales - thirty of them were being cultivated on the estate. The gardens had fallen into neglect, but rescued, thanks to the enthusiastic dedication of a legion of volunteers. One of them, in charge of the apple display, a retired woman in her seventies spoke with great affection and knowledge about the many kinds of apple on display, what they were good for and at which time of year.

Much lamenting is done these days about the widespread loss of many native fruit trees, and narrowness of choice available at the big supermarkets. Here in a very down to earth way an important piece of conservation work is being done by Trust workers and volunteers. The fruit trees are as important as the buildings and the landscape. They are emore than Heritage - they are food, in all its divine diversity.

One of Cardiganshire's most beautiful and numinous places is Y Mwnt, where a cliff lined bay has a large green conical hill inserted into the shore line. The area around Y Mwnt is under the protection of the National Trust. At the base of the hill is Eglwys y Grog, Holy Cross Church. A simple rural mediaeval building, whitewashed, enclosed by a stone wall, standing alone in a field, about half a mile from the nearest farm. It is open daily - regular services, a rarity. Leaving it available for people to pray in is a risk of faith by the Parish, a blessing to visitors over and above the scenery.

For the Vicar of St Mary's Cardigan, this is his fourth church, and he works on his own nowadays. Last Sunday we attended a modern Welsh language Eucharist there. I struggled with its unfamiliarity - I know the 1984 rite in Welsh off by heart. That's how I learned to get by in Welsh services. French still comes easier to me. It wasn't easy to follow the new rite, not least because some people apart from the Vicar were striving among themselves to lead recitation of the common texts. This confused and dismayed me. It made me wonder about all our public services.

How easy are they to join in? Do people always want to join in, or do they sometimes want just to be present, or just observing? How do we make it possible for them not to feel awkward? I need to keep these thoughts in focus as I get back to work in the coming week.

I got by with periodic visits to the library to check emails, five in a fortnight was enough to reduce the job facing me on return. I didn't miss surfing, and Radio Four news coverage was quite sufficient. Hardly a moment of boredom, and the simple quiet pleasure of uninterrupted companionship. That's quality time for you.

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