Wednesday, 20 January 2021


to set out early
     with no destination
with the gorse in flower
     with perhaps light rain
                                            (Thomas A Clark)

A few days ago I set out early and followed meandering lanes which led me to Bryn Hendre.  The peninsula has a web of narrow lanes and tracks, often with grass growing up the middle.  They were made wide enough for a horse and cart.  The steep banks (or cloddiau) are a refuge for wild plants and are crossed with secret paths worn by hares, foxes, badgers as they slip under livestock fencing.   

A mew-like call makes me look up to see a buzzard.  Herring gulls flying over give occasional squawks.  Rooks chat noisily to each other.  Every so often a robin comes near and tries out a few notes of song.  Pheasants hide in long grass until the last moment and then go off like alarm clocks (Christopher Isherwood's vivid phrase).

In spring the wild flowers on the field banks are a riot of carnival colour.   Not so in January, but I find a few ragged petals of red campion, cow parsley and ragwort hanging on from last year.  By a farm entrance snowdrops are beginning to open.

A flourishing patch of attractive white bell-like flowers catch my eye.  I touch the three-sided stem and rub a leaf between my finger and thumb - yes, garlic.  Not the ramsons I know so well from the Caldew Valley in Cumbria but triangular stemmed garlic.  This three cornered garlic is a garden escape that has been spreading into the wild for years, naturalising itself as it goes.  I've only seen it twice round here - once a very obvious escapee on the wrong side of a garden fence and now here.  I look round for any sign of a house.  Nothing obvious but it's possible.  Stones would get re-used in field banks.  A wall made of cob would in time re-cycle itself into the earth from which it came.

Bryn Hendre is high enough for me to see the other coast of Llyn and the blue line of the Irish Sea (at home I see the coast in the other direction - south west across Cardigan Bay).  Ahead of me the bulk of Garn Boduan rises up.  There's an extensive iron age hill fort on its summit with the remains of a stone rampart and about a hundred and seventy stone round houses (or hut circles as they are sometimes called on OS maps).  In  medieval times, in the Age of the Princes, there were demesne lands of the prince here.   It's likely that the rough grazing on Garn Boduan was used for the prince's livestock.

Across a field I notice the farm buildings of Hendre farm.  Hendre (or Hendref) means a winter dwelling, the counterpart to hafod, a summer dwelling.  These words hold the history of the practice of transhumance farming within them when people would take the livestock up to the hills for the summer grazing, stay up there with them, make cheese, perhaps cut peats for winter.  Meanwhile the valley fields would be reserved for the harvest.  I try to imagine a medieval landscape with Garn Boduan devoid of its commercial forestry.  Is it fanciful to think that perhaps an old round house was sometimes used as a summer shelter, a hafod?  Or would the ruins of the iron age fort be superstitiously avoided?

Hendre's buildings have the substantial look of an estate farm.  They were built by Lord Newborough on his Boduan estate in the nineteenth century.   I am reminded, albeit on a smaller scale, of the farmsteads Lord Newborough erected on Bardsey Island.  Solid, four-square, practical but also making a statement about the land owner's status and prosperity.

Gorse grows all along the banks at the side of the lane and on any uncultivated piece of land or hillside. Once it was cut and bruised for winter cattle feed or used to get up a good heat in a bread oven.  Today, it is showing an abundance of yellow buds, some of the flowers just starting to open. It's as if the gorse has put up the bunting in preparation for a future carnival.


A hill-side 
          gorse gold

          winter thorns.

© Mary Robinson 2015

to set out early ...
opening lines of 'paths & fruits' in The Threadbare Coat Thomas A Clark (Carcanet 2020)

For a detailed account of the history of this landscape go to the Gwynedd Archaeological Trust site

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