Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

surfers at wisemans bridgeIt’s probably  best to try to count your blessings after such a year – the cleaner air, the extra time in the garden, the jolt to all the habits that needed a shake up are no bad thing. And such a good year to discover all the local bike routes that otherwise I’d probably have left aside. I don’t think I’ve done quite as many miles cycling as usual, certainly not as many as 2019 but self-sufficiency in pumpkins was new to me. A good deal more time in the sea, encouraged by the closure of the nearest swimming pool, and more surfing – even today, 28th Dec, too, cold with small to moderate smooth waves at Amroth. A beautiful sea, smooth glossy grey with dark lines coming in, curtains of sleety rain in the showers. The photo is of some local surfers at the Wiseman’s main break in rather mellow waves. It’s also been a great year for cooking, and if you are in need of a comforting soup in the cold and grey weather of recently, I’d suggest trying parsnips (say 500g) peeled, sliced and sweated over a low heat with peeled, sliced pears (just 2), yes – not apples - with a little cumin and coriander, then cooked in veg stock, before liquidizing then served with cheddar cheese grated on top. Subtle. Well, I’ve got a bit obsessed by this for my lunch….

It was, sadly, the year that Roger Scruton died – a divisive character to be sure, but one that I always enjoyed reading, even where I thought he was wrong, sometimes amusingly and utterly wrong. On the whole, he improved as the years went by – his more recent publications were increasingly personal, even autobiographical, and I found them both touching and thought provoking. His Modern Philosophy: an Introduction and Survey is an older book but is a great way into philosophy, clear, not infrequently funny, always readable, a good personal view. Another highpoint was News From Somewhere, with a dig at William Morris (News From Nowhere) in the title…. Recently, I was reading Roger Scruton’s Our Church at the same time as reading Derek Jarman’s Modern Nature – as part of a policy of reading what look on the surface like diametrically opposed authors. Curiously enough, they had so much more in common than I expected. They were of a similar age – born in the 40s. Both of them were inclined to a elegiac tone of writing in their latter years – and in both cases an elegy to something in the past of England (though frankly I suspect it would largely fit with Wales and Scotland too with only minor changes, perhaps it’s an ‘anglican’ elegy), and the identification of that ‘something’ would not be so very different. A less regulated, more eccentric, kinder (in some ways), less commercial, less procedural, less built over and more humanly warm society. For all our talk of ‘diversity’, vague and painfully procedural as it is, we have surely less of the reality of it than we used to, especially when one thinks beyond humans. Perhaps that’s one thing that COVID might be making us long for….

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Stacks, Bridges and Barrows

There have been a couple of longer bike rides since the last time I posted – one to the Green Bridge of Wales which is a superb sea arch near St Govan’s Head, and the other was to Foel Eryr, the second highest hill of the Preselis. The sea arch requires going through a military range so you have to check that the Castlemartin range is free from firing. Nearby, the Elegug Stacks are also pretty impressive. The stacks are probably a more impressive feature than the sea arch. Evidently marvellous for seabirds. As in the photo, they are one of the most dramatic features of the Pembrokeshire coastline.

elegug stacksThere are also a few collapsed sea caves where you can see down through the cliff to the sea. It’s a generally fascinating bit of coast, and you can cycle from the Green Bridge of Wales along the coast path (it’s fairly flat just here and suitable for army style vehicles…) to St Govan’s – just a few miles – visiting all these coastal wonders. There were quite a few seals in the sea too. It’s about 40 – 50 miles from the Saundersfoot area, there and back. A lovely day’s cycling and well worth remembering as winter hurtles towards us.

As for Foel Eryr, although it’s a fairly hilly ride to the Preselis from South Pembs, Foel Eryr is an easy ascent, and looks out over the western side of Pembrokeshire. It was hazy on the day we visited. There’s a Bronze Age burial mound at the summit. There’s a panorama board and you can see, just about, the Gower on a good day (yes, we could just see a grey shape out over the sea to the SE), even Lundy too apparently though I’ll have to take that on trust since the haze did not permit that. People say you can see Ireland on a really clear day, though this isn’t mentioned on the panorama. Hmmm, perhaps with binoculars. Since Foel Eryr is inland, the lanes leading to it are mostly very quiet and it’s a great route for reminding the weary cyclist fed up of seemingly endless beach traffic that there are still some wonderfully quiet lanes in the remoter parts of Wales. I did spot the Caffle Brewery near Llawhaden, who brew the excellent bitter called Quay Ale amongst others, my favourite bitter just at the moment, along with Butty Bach from Wye Valley.

Having not done a proper bike tour this year, we felt we had to try to do something in September between one lockdown and another that we’ve just got at the moment. So in the last weekend of the month, we cycled via Broadhaven Youth Hostel to St David’s. The first day took in some adventurous off road tracks around Llawhaden. At one point I was wading through a side tributary of the River Cleddau in light rain. Not so much a byeway as a public waterway. The rain really hit a couple of times, with hail too . It is rare that hail can sting even through a cycle jacket! It was great arriving at Broadhaven YH – after sheltering from the rain at Tesco in Haverfordwest waiting for conditions to improve…. The ride to St David’s was much better, sunny and breezy with windsurfers out in fairly biggish conditions at Newgale (but Newgale almost always seems to have biggish conditions). The coast road north from Broadhaven is great for cycling, and we headed off on route 4 inland to avoid the busier coast road after Newgale. Great to see the St David’s Cathedral – open and popular with visitors. Then back to Broadhaven, but with a loop around the windblown lanes near Whitesands. The next day, the route home included the gorgeous Marloes beach. Sad that the Youth Hostel at Marloes is now closed – could hardly have a better location. In the absence of the YHA being up to running it, it would be nice if the National Trust added running youth hostels or some such to their holiday cottages which are great but don’t have the communal and inclusive value of YHs. Some surfers out in small but useable waves. Surfing at Marloes, which I have done a fair few times over the years, has some of the best views you could want while surfing, it’s a joy to be in the water just for the views of the ampitheatre of cliffs. The cliffs are a multicoloured delight. Then home round the back of Milford Haven and across the Cleddau bridge to Pembroke Dock and along via Redberth and East Williamston to home. As I was reminded last September, when doing Cornwall in rather tough weather, cycling in Autumn (even early Autumn) does require you to be careful not to end up cycling in the dark! The habit of exploring curious byeways, visiting remote and unusual churches, etc, enjoying the comforts of hedgerow blackberries and a haphazard lunch on some back lane can take a bit more time than you’ve actually got….

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The Southernmost Point of Pembrokeshire

View West from St Govan's HeadAfter reaching the highest point  in Pembrokeshire, I wondered about reaching other extremeties – the most southerly point, St Govan’s Head, being the obvious one since it’s an exciting jutting headland, with crashing waves, and St Govan’s Chapel tucked into the cliffs where St Govan landed on the run from pirates according to the legend. It’s about a 40 mile round trip from Saundersfoot area – taking the shortest route that winds through lots of pleasant lanes, though busy with holidaymakers on the day we did the trip. There’s a military firing range right by St Govan’s, but usually it seems to be open. On the day we did the ride it was viable to visit the headland but the coast path to the west was shut. That’s a particularly good bit of the coast path and well worth doing when viable – sea stacks, arches, tremendous views over the swell – this is likely to be good just here because it’s open to the full westerly swell. The area has a long military history as you can see when walking to the point – there are big storage bunkers and some old tracks left from the days when targets were put on tracks on the headland as part of the firing ranges. There’s a good view of Lundy too – visible, in reasonable weather, due south. It was a hilly route since we went down to sea level a few times, and not so many other cyclists. It’s a pity diesel engines haven’t been banned or phased out – it surely must be coming soon since they pump out such a stunning amount of dirty fumes on a hill. Rather spoils the pleasure of a steady climb on a bike. The picture is the view from St Govan’s.
Greenhouse in JulyThis picture is of my greenhouse. It’s over full due to having rather a lot of tomato plants but there’s something lovely about a greenhouse surrounded by flowers and veg. I’m growing squash and rhubarb, and there’s an apple tree (Ashmead’s Kernel, two years old but with three apples currently). I’ve got four apple trees – Bountiful being the only cooker (though it gets sweeter if you leave it on the tree for a while and can be an ‘eater’), but a great tree and highly productive once it gets going.

Amroth beach with a windsurferI managed, at long last, to go windsurfing at Amroth – a very good beach for windsurfing since there’s plenty of space and it’s sandy, rather than rocky. Force 4 SW with about 4 other windsurfers out at one point, and a few kite surfers too. Gentle sea too, as can be seen, small to moderate swell – great for the sort of mellow windsurfing that I think is where I am, so to speak.

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The Highest Col in Pembrokeshire

Last Sunday was so sunny that we decided to reach the highest road (tarmac) in Pembrokeshire and to reach the highest point in Pembs too! It’s a very pleasant ride to the Preseli Hills via Lampeter Velfrey, Llandissilio and Maenchlochog from Saundersfoot area. It’s not a huge bike ride – somewhere between 40 and 50 miles long, but hilly since Google Maps says that it includes 3500′ of climbing, mostly on the way to the highest point, of course.

At one point we crossed the ford that gets the cyclist across the Eastern Cleddau river – the Cleddau being the big river that defines much of Pembrokeshire’s geography – it divides in two at approximately the point we reached in the last post (Landshipping Quay), so there’s the eastern and western branches of the river. Since the ford was about two feet deep and slippy we opted for the bridge. I’ll wait for a time when there’s a drought. It’s a beautiful spot, just at the back of Llandissilio. The highest point of the Pembs road system is 1325′ at Bwlch Gwynt, which means (even to someone with very limited knowledge of Welsh) the windy gap. It was windy too and surprisingly cool. We parked the bikes and then did the mile or two to the top of the Preselis – Foel Cwmcerwyn, which is Pembs version of Everest, at the staggering height of 1759′. The view is great, you can see distant bits of coast, and pretty much the entirety of Pembrokeshire. The route to the highest point had been so quiet and gorgeous that we took the same route back. Now that’s pretty rare since I’m a devotee of cycling in (ever decreasing) circles. But it is indeed an excellent route – and while the Pembrokeshire coast was heaving with tourists, driving around, paddle boarding, sand castling, and even swimming in the sea (did that yesterday), etc, we enjoyed very quiet roads in the middle of the county.

It’s not easy, at the moment, to plan a ‘proper’ bike tour – hostels are mostly still effectively shut (exclusive hire only), though camping is more viable perhaps. We’d been thinking about circumnavigating London by bike (at a decent distance though – perhaps about 50 miles from the centre, so South Downs and Chilterns). Given the difficulties of doing this at the moment, I’m wondering about whether I should do a trans Pembs? It would be from somewhere near Carmarthen to St David’s Head. Or perhaps do a north to south? Somewhere near St Dogmaels to somewhere near St Govan’s Head. Not entirely on road perhaps. These could be done in a day, though perhaps a wandering, roundabout, randonneur sort of route would be fun. In an age of getting to places fast, find a way of getting somewhere remarkably slowly…

The photos are, of course, the view from the top of the Preseli Hills – looking West, the ford across the eastern Cleddau, the very bit of tarmac that is the highest col in Pembs, and a view from near Lampeter Velfrey of the Preselis.

The Preselis were a pleasant echo of cycling over Ilkley Moor, a favourite ride from Bradford. Moorland, where land becomes trackless (apparently) wilderness, is a precious thing.

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Rural Bike Routes in Pembrokeshire

woods near YerbestonPembrokeshire has so much great coastal scenery, with great views and impressive climbs, that it’s easy enough to forget that there’s some wonderfully quiet and scenic lanes inland. Of course, there’s the Preseli area – with some decent moorland. Indeed, it reminds me of Ilkley Moor which has always been a favourite route. It’s a few hundred feet higher at the top of the Preselis than Ilkley Moor, though the road nearby is about the same as the road over Ilkley Moor. But nearer home, a route around the backwaters around Yerbeston and Martletwy, true deeply rural Pembs, seemed like a good idea. The area is quite wooded, ah yes some great bits of woodland as the photo shows – from near Yerbeston (where there are evidently some good off-road routes too). It’s also relatively undulating compared with the coast so if you are not a fan of hills it’s mostly not too bad, though the Preseli’s (Elvis’ little known welsh origins!) are certainly hilly. The traffic is a bit lighter though lots of tractors are to be expected, and farm shops too. Haven’t yet found the ultimate tea room stop though.

landshipping memorial to the 1844 mine disasterAlthough it looks rural, like so many rural backwaters it has a history of industry and in 1844, on St Valentine’s Day, Pembrokeshire had its worst mining disaster at a now very quiet spot – Landshipping. The memorial is especially touching because the mine evidently employed quite a few children. What was a four year old doing in a mine? Basically the mine went out under the river (the Cleddau, the main river in Pembrokeshire) and the roof collapsed at high tide, killing 40 miners, many of whom were school age. There isn’t a wikipedia article at the moment but there’s a good BBC item about it. It seems incongruous since it is now a quiet place on a sunny day to look out over the water towards Picton Castle (which you can see from the road down to the disaster memorial).

The Preseli hills are just to the north of this area – well, 15 miles away or so. They provide Pembrokeshire’s highest col – Bwlch Gwynt at 1325′. You can do the top of the Preseli’s from there easily, on a dry day… That’s quite a decent col so it’s about time I did it…

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The Sea, The Sea

wild flowers in my gardenMy wildflower area is doing well, just as last year (though I’ve extended it). As you can see there are marigolds, sweet rocket, ox eye daisies and a few too many campion.

There will soon be very few lanes within 10 miles that I haven’t done by bike. On the way back from one ride around Lampeter Velfrey, a great area for quiet back lanes, I could see Lundy, 40 miles away. The photo lowest down on this post is of Lundy – look at the horizon and you’ll see how it goes up. That’s Lundy from near Ludchurch. The land in front, that the island of Lundy sort of echoes, is Caldey. For a phone camera, that isn’t bad really – 40 miles distant and most of the way to Devon.

Today was ideal for swimming in the sea – the water clarity seems to be improving to two or three feet. I swam ‘lengths’ in my wetsuit for 40 mins then had a cool swim in the shallows in swimshorts. Watersports are getting going even in lockdown – I’ve seen paddleboarding (from Wiseman’s Bridge to Saundersfoot, neat because you can leave the car at one end and easily walk back from t’other so you don’t have to do a circular route), windsurfing (lightish winds at Amroth, but great to see two windsurfers, with some planing in the occasional gust, possibly better earlier), saw lots of surfing at Wiseman’s in a brief spell of big waves, with a swell that was 20 feet of the end of Wales, I think the wave faces were about that at times. Not a place for my ‘minimal’ board… I’ve reduced my sea swimming due to a shoal of large barrel jellyfish. They don’t sting – and through my wetsuit it’s unlikely I’d notice if they did, but they are a bit of a size to bump into in the poor visibility of the local beach. It was clearer when I was in the sea last summer / autumn. Watersports do seem to be fine for social distancing, so long as you are well within your limits, and if you’ve a beach within a handful of miles it surely does offer a way to keep fit and even find a bit of sheer adrenalin and happiness.

lundy from ludchurch

As a former bus / train / bike commuter for about 15 years in Leeds / Bradford my sympathy goes out to the poor long suffering public transport user just at the moment. Commuting by bus or train is going to be difficult, so I’m glad I’ve stopped doing it. On the other hand, it’s unlikely there’ll be a mass transfer to cycling – two main reasons – firstly, the infrastructure isn’t there, councils have under invested for decades in cycling infrastructure, goodness knows how many meetings I’ve been to and how many petitions signed! Secondly the people I remember on my bus journey were travelling, mostly, about 9 or 10 miles from Bradford to Leeds (the X6 ‘express’ service, slower than my bike door to door). Very few would have been able to cycle that, and those that could have done mostly wouldn’t due to, top of their list, their perception of risk. The cycle ‘super’ highway didn’t persuade them so a few coronavirus tweaks to the roads isn’t going to do it. Lovely idea, that the virus could provide cheap salvation for our long term sin of failing to invest in bike infrastructure, but decades of underinvestment, poor road design and car focussed planning decisions are not overturned in a couple of months. The petrolheads are still running the show, make no mistake, things aren’t about to change. Real change would require taking road space from cars and handing it over to cyclists so they were segregated from cars, enforcing speed limits effectively, plus an expensive list of road junction alterations that made cycling safe and prioritised. Indeed, most people are desperate for a holiday, and in the absence of easy flying abroad they will get the car out and drive somewhere in the UK, so we’ll have bigger summer jams than usual. Cheap salvation from ecological meltdown is not available.

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Was That Peak Traffic?

orchid by the road in pembrokeshireAnd are roads never going to be as crowded again? Because up until coronavirus the roads were generally achieving  a new record level of traffic per year or pretty close to it (see the Dept for Transport stats). Although it’s easy to understand the hope that this might be so and traffic, and carbon emissions, return to 1970s levels, the UK mostly will, of course, get back in their cars as usual and drive like crazy again and I’m confident that although car miles will be a bit down in 2020, they’ll soon be back at record levels and the CO2 hurtling upwards.

At the moment the sea continues to be more audible – the whisper of breaking waves – than cars, barking dogs, car radios, planes overhead. It’s amazing, delightful, and along with the warm weather has got me, in my wetsuit, into the sea for quite a few 30 minute or so swims. Sadly I don’t suppose it’ll ever be this quiet and bike friendly for many a decade, if ever. Though globalised diseases remain an inevitable part of the future – as the asian hornet attempts to establish a foothold, and various plant diseases, xylella fastidiosa and many more, become familiar to gardeners. More than one eco pressure group has asked via email if coronavirus might just push us to realise what we are doing to ourselves and the planet, clinging to a hope, ah it’s the hope that gets you, that we may be brought to a lively consciousness of the consequences of our actions and so change. Frugality anyone? However, it seems so utterly evident that our temporary and enforced lockdown implies  nothing about a will to change the way we live. As a cyclist said to me while overtaking me on a hill, ‘enjoy it while it lasts’. And I am, it’s great! A silver lining to the viral cloud.

I cycled on the main A road out of Tenby, normally a tedious way of getting out of Tenby. Early purple orchids! It’s possible, Pembs being so hilly, to do 1000s of feet of climbing in a fairly short time. A thousand feet in one hour of cycling is one excellent way of staying fit, entirely on quiet, just now, lanes. There are far more other cyclists too, quite a few are evidently people who wouldn’t risk the usual traffic and most will surely stop as soon as ‘normality’ recurs. One reason why rural France remains such an icon of cycling heaven is that the traffic levels are so low compared to the UK even in normal times. But the bike in no way occupies the place in culture here that it does in France – as much as a daily transport as a racing dream. The UK’s success in the Tour de France has done pretty much nothing for utility cycling, and not much for general participation in cycling. It’s something you watch on TV. And with the government commitments to spend pretty much nothing on cycling infrastructure, no change can be expected. In case you feel sceptical that there been little real change in overall cycling levels, have a look at the Cycling UK stats, in particular the graph that shows cycling miles per year since 1949. It shows, rather sadly, that the cycling boom in the 70s and 80s (1984 seems to be the peak) was a lot greater than the current lacklustre slow and slight increases since the low of the mid 90s. It shows, also, a slight bump in 2014 when the Tour came to the UK, but it is not sustained and subsides into the very slight yearly increase that’s been the trend in recent years. Once you factor in population growth, the trend looks even more anaemic and we’re way down on the 80s even now…. I love the Tour de France but our success has not had a significant effect on mass participation in cycling. Sport cycling is, if anything, a disincentive to use your bike for utility tasks – a beautiful carbon bike used for groceries? The pathetically anaemic rise in cycling numbers in recent years is probably mostly due to the big difference that there is now compared with the 1980s – the heavy, fast and relentless traffic on so many roads. It’s more than a bit off putting.

I wonder if car tax should be related to just how many miles you do per year – assuming every mile stresses out some ecosystem, cyclist, pedestrian or local inhabitant whether petrol or electrically powered? Just like the very sensible suggestion that frequent flyers should be taxed on flights more heavily than someone that just flies once or twice a decade (perhaps to the USA or NZ to do a long bike tour….). It would be easy to band vehicle tax by annual mileage.

Have you seen (free to watch on youtube ) Michael Moore and Jeff Gibb’s fascinating documentary on the takeover of the green movement by the corporates? Great viewing. It’s not, of course, completely convincing or entirely accurate – solar and wind remain hugely better than coal or natural gas in terms of carbon footprint even when you take into account the large carbon footprint of manufacturing / installing these technologies. And, of course, corporates should be interested in surviving in a low carbon world so surely they should want to get involved in the solutions more than being part of the problem. But the valuable points are in particular, the excellent presentation of the absurdities of biomass and biofuels – such as pelleted wood as used by Drax, and subsidised by the taxpayer as ‘green’ energy – after shipping the wood chips across the Atlantic, and carting them around by truck on both sides the Atlantic, hmmm? Biofuels in a hungry world? Growing biofuels on land in the amazon taken by force from local communities? They further disturb the politically correct greens by the raising of the unmentionable topic of human population size. It is, of course, true that the huge growth in the world’s population is a contributor to climate change, unfortunately there’s no easy way to address it without raising all sorts of questions about liberty. The film doesn’t propose any way of addressing this, fair enough. And they then propose frugality – which is an excellent basis for ethics. Frugality because it’s not just climate change but a raft of crises that face us – the extinction of species, the plastics (they’re everywhere, etc) crisis, never mind just global warming. So frugality might answer all of them. It is, however, not a vote winner, and not good for the economy or wealth. In fact, saving the planet is evidently bad for our wealth. In fact we can’t afford not to wreck the planet, it’s far too expensive! Perhaps we can’t afford not to go extinct?

George Monbiot has a review of the film in The Guardian – his main criticism seems to be that this sort of critique of the green movement plays into the hands of the climate change deniers. On the contrary, the ability of the green movement to be self-critical seems more valuable than this ‘letting the side down’ approach.

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Viral Times

sea at Pendine on March 11th 2020Although coronavirus is evidently a serious threat to heath and wealth, there are some positives. Given the closure of the nearest swimming pool, I’ve taken to swimming in the sea instead. Yes, with a wetsuit. And the beach is so wonderfully quiet. Usually you don’t initially notice the sound of the waves because of the number of dogs barking and yapping and the sounds of cars on the coast road, the roar of planes high up. But now the first thing you notice is the whisper of the sea. I didn’t fully grasp how many car journeys are undertaken with the purpose of walking the dog, but it is evidently huge. The beach is surely convenient for the owner and a convenience, so to speak, for the dog. To reach a quiet beach you need to walk quite a way along the coast. But not at the moment. The water is cold, 8.2°C according to a surf forecast website, and I’m only swimming about a half a mile per swim. Whether I’ll be quite so keen when the sun stops shining deliciously, as it was today, remains to be seen. And the jellyfish only visit in the warmer weather so at the moment I’ve not yet seen one. This will no doubt change by June. There’s no prospect of surf at the moment. The photo is from a very low tide a couple of weeks ago. Sand all the way along the Marros to Pendine. Cafés were getting ready for the Easter hols. It was a great walk but about an hour after this photo I got mostly soaked by heavy rain, in spite of a good waterproof jacket.

The virus is not unexpected, in spite of people saying how unexpected this was. No, there have been a fair few human viruses in the last few decades, but they didn’t make it quite this far, SARS and MERS being the obvious human ones, or else they affected (e.g. AIDS) specific groups which the public mostly didn’t identify with, however illogical or unkind that was. But any gardener or beekeeper is very aware of the number of non-human diseases that have globalised in the last fifty years – varroa, sudden oak death, xylella fastidiosa and so on. Most people didn’t notice because they killed non-humans, for example, bees. Evidently we should expect more if we can find no other pattern of life.

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Stormy Weather

surfing at wiseman's bridgeThe recent storms have produced some remarkably big waves. The photo shows surfing at Wiseman’s Bridge – it was impressive, and continued for a couple of days in big waves. The waves trip over the rocks on the west side of the beach and so are relatively regular. It does need a fair sized swell but this swell was rather bigger than the usual. There were quite a few surfers out there on small boards. It’s not a wave that occurs particularly regularly and rarely in the nice months. It’s a mid to high tide wave and the tide was reaching the sea wall when this picture was taken so getting out isn’t absolutely simple – people were paddling on their boards along the beach to where the sand still is at high tide.

I’m finishing Roger Scruton’s Modern Philosophy: an Introduction. Very good as an introduction to philosophy – and surprisingly sympathetic to a wide cross section of opinion. There’s an excellent wittiness too which helps engage the reader with some of the more difficult areas of philosophy. Even the sections that were focussed on the more abstract areas of philosophy (e.g. logic, mathematical logic and analytical studies of sense and reference) were pleasantly light-hearted. Although gifted with an ability to be controversial and say things in a way sometimes guaranteed to annoy, mostly a matter of overstating his case, Scruton’s death leaves a sad gap in intelligent writing about philosophy, politics and the like. I’m also enjoying English Voices by Ferdinand Mount, even though it is just a collection of rather witty book reviews that have appeared in the TLS, etc. A bit of literary gossip can be, of course, very enjoyable. They are, of course, no substitute for reading the authors mentioned for yourself and making up your own mind. The author he has been nicest about has been Wilfred Owen so far – didn’t live long enough to offend perhaps.

My cycling is at a bit of a low ebb – especially given the weather – just a regular bike trip to go swimming in Tenby and Sunday rides when it’s not pouring, A recent Cycle Magazine article described a triple chainset as unfashionable, odd since that’s what touring bikes still mostly have. And since when did anyone with half a brain care about whether it was fashionable or not? It goes along with the phrase ‘walk of shame’ that’s used to describe walking up a hill. Why not get off and walk if you feel like it, even if you’ve got a wonderful triple chainset. As the rain pours down the hill I’m cycling up, I am indeed inclined to get off and walk, so there’s been a fair bit of walking recently. Some beautiful wild weather….

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Merry Christmas & A Happy New Year!

2019 has been the year of bamboo. No, not for the Chinese, just for myself, since I’ve just finished digging out the last clump of highly invasive bamboo in the garden. It’s a pleasure to see it go, and, of course, there are still some bits hidden under the soil, the lawn, the flowerbeds. But I’ve got most of the ‘runners’ and there are few remaining. Since I’m gardening organically, I couldn’t use any of the weedkillers that might have done the trick, and in any case they don’t really do the difficult bit which is to reclaim the soil from the bamboo – you’d still have to dig it out even when it’s dead and the clumps go down two feet. I had five clumps, of which three medium and two large (several metres long – three or four I guess). Altogether I think it’s taken about two weeks of full time work per clump – including disposing of the roots at the dump (aptly enough, via a Fiat Panda!), buying new forks (I got through about six – the last one has lost a prong but it carried on to the end), and, mostly, the hard labour of digging. It means I’ve now got a lot of areas where planting can occur, though not before Spring since I’m sure I’ll get a few surprise bamboo shoots here and there. Why was it planted? Bamboo was at one time thought to be a great screening plant – and like Leylandii – we are now older and wiser. I’m sure with the right variety and the right setting it might well work, but not invasive bamboo in the damp and mild climate of Pembrokeshire.

2019 has been a pretty good year for getting through books – I’ve just finished Roger Scruton’s News from Somewhere – which I read after reading the diametrically opposite, more or less, News from Nowhere, William Morris’s utopia. Roger Scruton’s book is an enjoyable read, a philosophically engaging account of settling in Wiltshire. The argument against Morris, that good human communities (indeed, a good human life in community) emerges out of settled human community, and that revolutions as envisaged by Morris, have failed time and again, since lacking a well trodden tradition of ‘the good’, only abstract notions of liberty, what good could possibly be realised in a revolution? Well, such arguments go back to Burke and no doubt beyond. Scruton might be described as a conservative with a small ‘c’ rather than as a political identity, though he slides to Conservatism rather quickly. And it’s easy to think of types of Conservative identity that are anything but conservative – climate denying radical free marketeers. It’s quite interesting to consider what would conservative Labour identity be? Something like old methodist socialism perhaps? There could surely be an anti-revolutionary labour identity that valued place and history? That seems to be the sort of socialist Scruton’s dad was….

Some other books read include various Gutenberg free books – Thoreau on Walking (a short and enjoyable book, though he wanders a bit off topic), John Henry Newman On the Idea of a University – just as he was canonised and very relevant to the contemporary commodification of education – Richard Jeffries The Story of My Heart, a curious blend of nature mysticism and weird speculation, and from the local library Scruton’s Green Philosophy - mostly reasonable, but unable to see that though the local community is certainly crucial to solving our ecological nightmare, and that’s the book’s excellent core, it doesn’t mean that Greenpeace and Surfers Against Sewage and the like haven’t been crucial, in a world of globalised polluters, in holding the polluters to account. I read various less known articles by and about Jacques Ellul – there is a decent level of publishing about Ellul now, after rather a neglect. And I read a fair bit of Jean Giono – Les Grands Chemins is a wonderful tale, more for the atmosphere of rural Provence a hundred years ago. A story taken from a tramp’s life, saying a lot, by the wayside, about good and evil and the enticing winding road, well known to touring cyclists, that leads between the fields, through the wood, over the horizon.

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