Postcards from the hinterland

Strumble Head by John Knapp-Fisher

“Why have they got horrible bits of dead cow horns in a glass case?” demand a gingery mutt of a child damply resting against me in the St David’s Discovery Centre. “It’s not a cow it’s an auroch” I say, before I can check my Bad Granny tongue. “They lived a million years ago and they were very fast and they ate smallish people”. “Is that true?” she asks, looking at me speculatively. “Probably not. Go find out.” And so she does, seemingly delighted by this misinformation. I’m on a mission. Yesterday Annie, Catherine and I explored Garn Fawr, an iron age fort above Strumble Head. We sat on the trig point tangled up in white clouds. It’s so small, set in a landscape of majestic scale. Would you feel embattled living there? Would there be fierce Aurochs beyond the protection of the walls?

Iron Aged Annie

The Discovery Centre assistant says she thinks the iron age was about 5000 years ago “quite soon after the first stone age”. I am not convinced by this. The information she directs me to is comforting. There is a picture of handsome young men doing important things with bows and arrows. There’s only one woman. She looks a bit like Raquel Welch in One Million Years BC  except that she’s wearing a fetching dress made of skins rather than a furry bikini. Obviously women can’t do bows and arrows so she’s sitting on the ground scoffing some food from a big dish. Nice life. The information sheet says that the trees and plants, the sea level and the climate would be pretty much like today. All quite familiar then. But the population of the UK would have been around 6000. How could that be? There are so many hill forts here. There’s another tiny fort a quick Auroch ride from Garn Fawr at Dinas Mawr. A big proportion of the UK population must have been building forts in Pembrokeshire with not enough of us left over for the massive forts in Oswestry and Dorset. 

Dinas Mawr hill fort site

I began to lose faith in the Discovery Centre. I’ll carry on learning by walking. By the end of this day I have joined the gaps that I have walked with Eve, Catherine and Annie. I have walked from Strumble Head to the southern end of Ramsey Sound. The trouble is I’m falling in love with Pembrokeshire. It’s time to go home and I’m grumpy. I fantasise about living up in the woods in the Preseli Hills, in a tiny home of some kind, a Wild Bad Granny collecting fungi and blackberries and skinning the occasional bunny. I’m double grumpy because I want to be at the foot of those cliffs, in my kayak, nosing along those superb rocks, with friends. Every time I walk there the sky is a disgusting, gorgeous blue and the wind goes to nothing. Each time a kayak trip is planned and we’re “locked and loaded”, ready to go, this happens (see below). It’s not just the pink and orange indicating wind-speed-stupid, it’s the pale blue line showing waves mounting from 1.5 to 3 metres. Now I’ve come to feel ok with a surf landing, but not on 3 metre waves. But it will come together some time. It’s going to happen and it’s going to be great.

On the way home I visit John Knapp-Fischer’s studio at Croes Goch. The gallery he created in Croes Goch, near St Davids is personal and intimate. There is a display case with his pipe and lighter, his pocket sized paintbox and his sketchbooks, some of them tiny. “Do come in”, calls Gillian, from within. “It’s so chaotic! You won’t mind the dog will you? Do come and meet the builders…what colour shall I paint this wall…what do you think? How do you like your coffee? Would you like to look at his sketchbooks?” Would I just!

She opens a display case with his pencils and brushes, his pipe and lighter, his pocket sized paintbox and his sketchbooks, their covers paint flecked and dog eared. The privilege of leafing through his sketchbooks is extraordinary. I am in awe at the speed and fluency of his work. His paintings express the moody drama and splendour of Pembrokeshire in a way that I cannot find the words for.  The palette of his tiny paintbox is dominated by Payne’s Grey, Cadmium Red (perhaps), black and earthy brown. He was interested in exploring “the edge of colour, where earth colours and touches of primary colours emerge from the darks”.

Porthgain Harbour

This leads to thoughts of Gwen John, who had a similar preoccupation with refining colour. She grew up in Tenby, down the coast and that is where I’ll be starting from when the Wind Gods and other gods allow. It’s going to happen. It’s going to be great. Now Gwen Johns’ paintings, well some of them in Tenby Museum. 

Looking back towards Ramsey Sound

Eve and I had a lift from John K-F’s son Buzz. He was a breath of Pembroke’s naughty magic, that’s for sure.

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