Tumbledown Cottage – New Developments!

Planning applications for the restoration/conversion of the Old Crow were submitted to Herefordshire Council in May 2015. The applications are in the last few days of the consultation phase, which ends on Tuesday (7th July).

All the planning details are accessible for viewing on the Herefordshire Council website. I have added a full report as an update on the Tumbledown Cottage page on my website (scroll down to the updates section near the bottom of the webpage)..

Tumbledown Cottage – Update

In the months since my last update in October 2014, two newly discovered members of the Penn(e)y family have supplied me with more information about their ancestry, and in one case with a wonderful old photograph. I have incorporated these details into my online account of the Penney family on the Tumbledown Cottage page.on my website.

Also, I have added two new photos of the old cottage, taken when I visited it on 30 December 2014 to assess progress with its restoration.

You can see the results of these updates on my website at www.jlb2011.co.uk/specials/index.htm.

Tumbledown Cottage – Further update

Yesterday (22 October) was the first anniversary of the tragic death of David Penney, last occupant of The Old Crow cottage at Willersley. It is also over five weeks since the building was sold by auction. I therefore decided to visit the cottage to see what progress has been made.

I have added a report on my findings as an update to the “Tumbledown Cottage” feature on my website at http://www.jlb2011.co.uk/specials/index.htm

The update, which includes two new photographs, is near the bottom of the webpage, under the heading “The Fate of the Old Crow”.

Tumbledown Cottage – update

Those of you who enjoyed my Blogs of 3rd October and 12th October 2013 about a Tumbledown Cottage at Willersley in Herefordshire may be interested to know that I have just updated my Tumbledown Cottage webpage to include several recent discoveries about the cottage, its impending sale by auction, and its former occupants and their ancestors. The updated section also features three wonderful old photographs of members of the Penny family, taken circa 1900.

The Tumbledown Cottage feature on my website is at http://www.jlb2011.co.uk/specials/index.htm.

Our Town – Brecon

Helen and I have lived in the market town of Brecon in Mid-Wales for the past six years, but we were familiar with the town for some years before. When we were house-hunting in 2007 Brecon was high on our list of desirable places and were overjoyed to learn of an ideal property in the town. We bought it, moved in, and began to enjoy life here early in 2008. Since then the old town has more than lived up to our expectations!
Now, through a series of photographs revealing typical scenes in the town, we’d like to share our impressions of Brecon with you.

Approaching Brecon from the west along the A40.

Approaching Brecon from the west along the A40.

Brecon is dominated by two churches: the Priory Church of St John the Evangelist (now Brecon Cathedral) built in the 11th century on the castle mound above the northwest side of the town, and the 12th century St Mary’s Parish Church, a major landmark in the town centre. The town is sheltered to the south and southwest by the high peaks of the Brecon Beacons (below).

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The Buckingham Tower of St Mary’s Church rises above the centre of Brecon, while the peaks of Pen-y-fan and Corn Du provide a dramatic backdrop.

Street Scenes in Brecon
The images that follow are some picturesque and some curious scenes in Brecon’s streets.

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St Mary’s Street

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The Puzzle Tree on the corner of Danygaer, photographed in 2007.

The monkey puzzle tree (above) is a well-known landmark in Brecon. The building alongside was originally a bank but for some years has been a public house initially named The Puzzle Tree but now [2014] called The Bank.

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Lion Street

The lane known as Lion Street, parallel to Brecon’s main thoroughfares of High Street and the Bulwark, was once home to an old coaching inn, the Golden Lion (long demolished). At its eastern end is the historic Plough Chapel where Welsh Independents once worshipped. Plough Chapel now belongs to the United Reformed Church.

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Ornate iron gates and railings protect the entrance to No 4 Lion Street, an attractive mid-eighteenth century town house.

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Wheat Street

On the left side of Wheat Street is the portico of Ruperra House; in the distance is Buckingham Place, dating from the 16th century, and on the right is St Michael’s Roman Catholic Church, built in 1851.

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King Charles Steps (also known as King Street)

King Charles Steps are a cobbled footway associated with the visit of King Charles I to Brecon in August 1645. The King stayed at the nearby Priory House before marching to the relief of Hereford, then besieged by a Scots army. But whether the King actually ascended the steps is another historic matter entirely!

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French onion seller pedalling his wares.

Like many Welsh towns, Brecon is visited several times a year by a traditional onion seller from Brittany, together with his bicycle, weighed down with strings of onions. Breton, the language of Brittany is very similar to the Welsh language, to the point where Bretons and Welsh speakers are said to be mutually intelligible.

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The onion seller’s bicycle appears to have a flat front tyre!

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Brecon’s Town Crier

A popular figure in the streets of Brecon on market days is the colourfully dressed town crier. Regular markets are held on Tuesdays and Fridays, but farmers’ markets, craft markets, antique markets, and other specialised markets are held on Saturdays. The raised stage of Brecon’s market hall is also used for musical events (see below).

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A Welsh Male Voice Choir entertains the crowd in Brecon’s indoor market hall.

Brecon’s rivers and canal
Brecon is located in the Usk Valley, where the river Honddu flows into the Usk. Both the Usk and its tributary the Honddu respond quickly to rainfall at their sources. Heavy rain in the Brecon Beacons causes the Usk to rise rapidly, while heavy rainfall on Mynydd Epynt causes the Honddu to respond. The images below show the rivers at different times of the year.

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The River Usk on a frosty morning in January 2010.

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The Usk in the summer of 2009.
The bridge over the Usk was built in the 16th century.

Overlooking the Usk Bridge in the picture above are the remains of the early 12th century Brecon Castle, built by Bernard Neufmarché, one of William the Conqueror’s barons. The white-painted building alongside the castle is the Castle of Brecon Hotel.

The photograph below shows the Usk at its most awesome, after heavy rains in September 2008. On the right, the waters of the Honddu are flowing into the Usk creating a dramatic turbulence of waters, stained red by the local old red sandstone. Sadly, it is not unusual for a life to be lost in the Usk when it is in such a mood.

The Usk (left) is joined by the waters of the Honddu (right). Both rivers have overflowed their banks.

The Usk (left) is joined by the waters of the Honddu (right).
Both rivers have overflowed their banks.

In addition to the rivers Usk and Honddu, Brecon is also served by a canal. The canal, built just over 200 years ago, originally connected Brecon with Abergavenny and with the docks at Newport. Most of the canal is still navigable and provides a wonderful leisure facility.

The Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal.

The Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal.

This view of the canal was taken looking east from bridge number 166 (known as Gasworks Bridge) in Brecon. The canal towpath offers idyllic walks through beautiful countryside. The total length of the path is 35 miles.

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Unusual scenes in Brecon
It is always worth keeping one’s eyes peeled and one’s camera at the ready when exploring Brecon. These four shots are just a sample of the subjects one may encounter.
The fellow on the right stands outside the Say Cheeze photographic shop in Lion’s Yard, Brecon. A year or two ago, he was stolen but the owner gave chase and recovered the figure shortly afterwards, in pieces and beyond repair according to a local newspaper report. Thankfully, the rumour proved incorrect, and he was soon returned to his rightful place, good as new, outside the photographer’s shop!

The figures below are two of a collection of gargoyles pulling faces at passers by descending Priory Hill. They are mounted high on a wall encircling Brecon Cathedral close.

Gargoyles - Brecon Cathedral

Gargoyles – Brecon Cathedral

Hang-glider over Brecon (July 2014).

Hang-glider over Brecon (July 2014).

A few days ago, on 11th July, an intrepid hang-glider (right) circled over Brecon, presumably seeking a convenient thermal. He remained in the skies over Brecon for a good half hour, gradually drifting southwards, before gaining height and eventually disappearing from view.

Brecon’s military connections
Brecon’s military associations go back a long way.  The original Watton barracks, constructed of red brick, were built in 1805 and then extended in 1813. It was from here that troops were despatched to the Battle of Rorke’s Drift during the Anglo-Zulu War in 1879. A keep, for the storage of arms and ammunition, was added to the barracks in 1879. The barracks became the home of the South Wales Borderers from 1881 and the South Wales Borderers Museum opened at the barracks in 1935. The barracks were designated as a Regional Seat of Government during the Cold War. They are now the home of 160th (Wales) Brigade.

Military parade down Priory Hill (February 2009).

Military parade down Priory Hill (February 2009).

The townsfolk of Brecon appreciate the regular military parades that take place through the streets. In many instances the soldiers wear colourful ceremonial dress (above), while on other occasions regular uniform is worn (below).

Soldiers march through the streets of Brecon on their return from duty in Afghanistan (May 2010).

Welsh soldiers march through the streets of Brecon on their safe return from duty in Afghanistan (May 2010). The troops proudly wear white hackles attached to their berets.

Since 1939, Brecon has been the home of an Infantry Battle School. In 1961 the Parachute Regiment formed a battle camp there, which was absorbed by the Tactical Training Wing of the School of Infantry in 1976. The School was further redeveloped in 1995. Training is provided for officers, warrant officers and non-commissioned officers by instructors who are rated in the top third by the British Army.
A company of Nepalese Gurkhas has been based in Brecon since 1980. Originally known as the Gurkha Demonstration Company, they were awarded freedom of the town and held their first Freedom Parade in 1986. Many of these brave soldiers and their families have made their home in Brecon and contribute greatly to life of the local community. The company of Gurkhas in Brecon currently comprises sixty soldiers and is known as the Gurkha Wing (Mandalay). Everyone looks forward to the annual Freedom Parade held in the town centre in July (below).

The Band of the Ghurka (Mandalay) Company (July 2014).

The Band of the Brigade of Gurkhas at the 28th annual Freedom Parade (July 2014).

Brecon County Show
Each year, early in August, the Brecknockshire Agricultural Society (established 1755) holds the Brecon County Show on the eastern outskirts of Brecon. The show includes competitions for livestock and horses, displays of local produce and crafts, and the latest agricultural equipment.

Participant in the parade of ponies and traps (August 2008).

Participants in the parade of pony and traps (August 2008).

Brecon Jazz
In 1984, the jazz and blues singer, critic, writer and lecturer, George Melly, was asked to help start a jazz festival in the town and cheerfully exclaimed that they could easily turn Brecon into New Orleans for a few days. George Melly loved the area in and around Brecon, whether he was fly fishing in the whirlpools and eddies of the River Usk or pootering around the country lanes in his moped, especially if he was singing at the jazz festival. Melly took his moped test in Brecon three times (on the second occasion running over the test inspector’s foot and taking him to the pub afterwards) and was amused one year to be invited to judge the ‘Miss Moped Wales’ contest.

Impromptu performance out side the HSBC bank in High Street.

Impromptu performance outside the HSBC bank in High Street (August 2009).

George Melly died in 2007, but the Brecon Jazz Festival lives on, with performances in the main venues such as Theatre Brycheiniog and the Market Hall, and less formal performances in local pubs as part of the Brecon Fringe and in the streets of the town. A jazz parade through the streets of Brecon is held on the Sunday morning of the festival.

Trumpeter on one of the floats in the Jazz Parade (August 2010).

Trumpeter on one of the floats in the Jazz Parade (August 2010).

We have shown you just a taste of ‘our town’ of Brecon. But there is much more to Brecon than this. Why not come and see for yourselves!

Early Bloomer!

We were surprised and pleased yesterday morning to see one of the groups of cyclamen in our garden bursting into bloom. The snowdrops having been showing for a couple of weeks: fair enough. But we don’t recall ever seeing cyclamen’s colourful blossom here in Brecon so early in the year – on the 28th January.

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Cyclamen in bloom – 28th January 2014

 

2013 – Wet, Windy and Wonderful!

We Brits are renowned for our obsession with the weather; it is one of the most common topics of conversation. And I am no exception.

Almost every morning for the best part of the past 13 years I have kept a record of the weather at my home and posted it daily on my website. At first I recorded only the temperature maxima and minima, but I soon began recording daily rainfall too. As time passed and technology improved I was able to record other weather parameters: humidity, wind speed and direction, wind chill, and barometric pressure. All of these records are accessible on my website at http://www.jlb2011.co.uk/wales/tempcharts/

As 2014 begins, it’s time to look back over the past year, review its weather month by month, and offer some of my photographs revealing the seasonal changes in our wonderful garden here in Brecon.

Let’s start with —

January 2013

The early part was unusually dry and mild: I recorded a temperature of 14°C on 4th January. By the middle of the month winter had set in. Night-time temperatures fell to below zero for 14 consecutive days and we had our first snowfalls on the high ground.

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The Brecon Beacons on the morning of 15th January 2013

The heaviest snow here in Brecon fell on the 18th, when I took the photo below in our garden.

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Heavy snowfall in our garden in Brecon: 18th January 2013

Even the daytime temperature remained below zero for a few days, and temperature fell to minus 5°C early on the morning of the 25th January. However, the last few days in the month were quite mild and very wet. Ten centimetres of rain fell in January, mostly between the 26th and 31st.

February 2013

The month began in typical fashion, quite breezy but with tolerable temperatures, and little rain. The rainfall increased as the month progressed until the 15th, then we enjoyed nineteen successive days without measurable rainfall — drought conditions! So much for the proverbial “February fill-dyke”! Furthermore, several days in mid-February were unseasonably mild: the temperature rose to 13°C on the 19th of the month. The crocuses and heather were in full bloom by the 17th.

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Crocus and heather make a colourful mix: 17 Feb 2013

130227 PheasantOn the 27th a friendly pheasant decided to explore our garden. Apparently he also paid visits to the neighbours’ gardens. He returned several times over the next few days.

Nights were particularly cold as February drew to a close, and as my photograph shows, the peaks of the Brecon Beacons still retained a sprinkling of snow.

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Snow-capped Cribyn, Pen-y-fan and Corn-ddu: 28 Feb 2013

The snowdrops were in bloom, and despite the cold, the hellebores were in full flower and the first daffodils of the year had opened, just in time for St David’s Day.

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Left to right: Snowdrops, Helleborus, Daffodils: 28 Feb 2013

All six centimetres of February’s rainfall had occurred before the 15th.

March 2013

Early March was quite mild and dry, with daytime temperatures peaking at 16°C on the 5th of the month. But a week later, night-time temperatures plunged (minus 4°C on the 13th), and the snow covered Brecon Beacons were a fine sight.

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The magnificent Brecon Beacons, photographed on the morning of 12th February 2013

130313 GeilgudOn the 13th Helen and I spent the day in London, where we had lunch at Fortnum & Mason’s followed by a visit to the Geilgud Theatre where we enjoyed Helen Mirren’s performance in the title role of The Queen.

Although the days were sunny and we had no rain, the nights became increasingly cold towards the end on the month, and the temperature dipped to well below zero for fifteen consecutive nights from 24th March to 7th April. The total rainfall in March amounted to just nine centimetres, mostly between the 14th and 24th.

April 2013

The March cold and dry spell continued well into April, and my weather picture taken on the evening of the 5th shows the mountains still bearing a thin layer of snow.

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Colourful clouds over the Brecon Beacons on the evening of 5th April 2013

The middle of April proved wet, windy and mild, with night-time temperatures well above zero and daytime temperature reaching a peak of 17°C on the 15th of the month. I was unable to collect data after the 23rd because we made our biannual visit to Ottawa, Canada (below), not returning until the beginning of May. I recorded four centimetres total rainfall for Brecon in April, but this excluded any rainfall while we were away.

Downtown Ottawa, viewed from our condo: 28th April 2013

May 2013

The first seven days of May were pleasantly warm, with the daytime temperature peaking at 24°C on the 7th. By then the viburnum arch in our garden was in full blossom.

Viburnum flowering in our garden: 5th May 2013

Viburnum flowering in our garden: 5th May 2013

We then experienced a much cooler, wetter and windier spell. But the weather had warmed up again by the time we left Wales for a short holiday in Berlin to explore the city and to visit my son Dave, Andrea and their wonderful seven-month old daughter Emma.

The Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, Germany: 24th May 2013

The Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, Germany: 24th May 2013

By the end of the month, despite some heavy showers, the daytime temperature in Brecon had reached 24°C. The total rainfall for May was eleven centimetres, the wettest month of the year so far.

June 2013

June continued as May had ended with warm, dry weather, but by the 19th of the month daytime temperatures had fallen to 14°C.

Our wisteria blossom reached its peak on the 1st June 2013

Our wisteria blossom reached its peak on the 1st June 2013

We then had two weeks of largely unseasonable cloudy, wet and windy weather. The 19th of June was a singular exception, when the temperature soared to a maximum of 25°C. In the final few days of June the weather gradually warmed up again and we looked forward to an improvement in July. The total rainfall in June was six centimetres, most of which fell between the 13th and 24th.

Spectacular colours of our weigela 'Bristol Ruby'

Spectacular colours of our weigela ‘Bristol Ruby’: 29th June 2013

July 2013

After a cool start, July provided us with wonderfully warm, dry and settled summer weather. We had no measurable rainfall between the 3rd and the 24th of the month. The peak daytime temperatures remained above 25°C for fifteen successive days, reaching a maximum of 32°C on the 13th July. Every morning we awoke to see the Brecon Beacons shimmering in a heat haze.

Brecon Beacons viewed though our bedroom window: 8:00am on 10th July 2013

The Brecon Beacons viewed from our bedroom at 9:00am on 10th July 2013

As the soil became more and more parched, we found ourselves having to water the rose-bed every evening. We spent a great deal of time in the garden, sheltering from the afternoon sun under a newly purchased gazebo, or enjoying the late evening sunshine.

Our gazebo and rose-bed (containing 'Superstar' roses) at 7:40pm on 11th July 2013

Our gazebo and rose-bed (‘Superstar’ roses) at 7:40pm on 11th July 2013
In the background, the dogwood tree is in full bloom.

The heatwave eventually began to break in the final week of July. It rained overnight on the 24th and again on the 28th, 29th and 30th, bringing the total rainfall for July up to a meagre three centimetres. The daytime temperatures fell to a more tolerable level, peaking between 20 and 24 degrees. But what a month it had been! The best prolonged spell of hot dry, settled weather for several years.

August 2013

The first week or so of August was marked by heavy rainfall combined with generally mild or warm temperatures. Nearly six centimetres of rain fell between the 4th and 7th of August, twice that in the whole of the previous month. This did not bode well for the annual Breconshire County Show, held on the 8th of the month. Luckily when the day arrived, it was dry and mainly sunny, although a stiff breeze kept the temperatures down.

Breconshire County Agricultural Show: 8th August 2013

Breconshire County Agricultural Show: 8th August 2013

The early August heavy rainfall had a beneficial effect on the garden. The lawns greened up again after the July drought, and the neatly clipped bushes at the bottom of the garden were at their very best.

A view in our garden: 11th August 2013. The clipped bushes, left to right, are: Photina, Berberis, Holly, Berberis, and what we call our Volkswagon bush!

The bottom of our garden: 11th August 2013.
The neatly clipped bushes are (left to right): Photina, Berberis, Holly, Berberis, and what we call our ‘Volkswagon’ bush!

The 18th August marked the beginning of another dry spell, which lasted to the end of the month. It was broken only by a short shower on the 23rd. The daytime temperatures during this period peaked between 20 and 25 degrees. On the 20th we visited the parish of Clifford, just over the border in Herefordshire. I took some shots of the local church, observed by a group of curious cattle.

Group of curious cattle at Clifford, Herefordshire: 20th August 2013

Group of curious cattle at Clifford, Herefordshire: 20th August 2013

There was plenty to see in our garden at this time. The buddleia davidii was demonstrating why it is known as the ‘butterfly bush’ (bees also welcome), while the white spirea was putting on a fireworks display.

Buddleia davidii and white spirea: 20th August 2013

Buddleia davidii and white spirea: 20th and 22nd August 2013

Here in Brecon, the total rainfall in August amounted to nine centimetres.

September 2013

The first few days in September were quite warm, but then from a daytime peak of 26°C on the 4th of the month the temperature fell steadily to a peak of only 13°C on the 18th. This retreat from summer weather was accompanied by strong winds and frequent rain. During this period my daughter arranged a family gathering on the 9th September at the Pembrokeshire coastal village of Amroth. Luckily, although breezy and cool on that day, we saw some sunny intervals and only a few short rain showers – not enough to dampen our spirits.

My son Dave and daughter Liz on the beach at Amroth: 9th September 2013

My daughter Liz and son Dave on the beach at Amroth: 9th September 2013

From the 19th of the month onwards the rain stopped and days warmed up again, with the temperature peaking at 23.5°C on the 23rd. Surprisingly, only five centimetres of rain fell in the whole of September, mostly on the 9th, 14th and 18th of the month.

The sunlit Brecon Beacons on the morning of the 20th September 2013

The sunlit Brecon Beacons, captured on the morning of the 20th September 2013

October 2013

Daytime temperatures gradually climbed in the first week of October, peaking at 22°C on the 8th. Over four centimetres of rain were recorded in this period, and the nights were quite mild with the exception of the 5th and 6th, when the nocturnal temperature fell to 6°C. This mild and wet spell was followed by a dry period accompanied by a sudden dip in daytime temperatures, which remained below 15°C until the middle of the month.

Ominous clouds lurking over the Brecon Beacons on the morning of the 10th October 2013

Ominous clouds lurking over the Brecon Beacons on the morning of the 10th October 2013

The weather became increasingly wet as the second half of the month progressed, and 3.5 centimetres of rain fell in the 24 hour period commencing on the morning of the 21st October. On the 23rd we embarked on the second of our regular biannual trips to Ottawa, so no weather data was collected during the final week of October.

Sunset over Ottawa: 25th October 2013

Sunset over Ottawa: 25th October 2013

I recorded a total of 19 centimetres rainfall in October, excluding any rain falling between the 23rd and 27th of the month.

November 2013

The month began with mild daytime temperatures, peaking between 11°C and 13°C, accompanied by blustery winds and considerable rainfall. However we enjoyed some sunny spells, too, enhancing the autumn colours in the garden.

Our Japanese maple was particularly colourful this year: 2nd November 2013

Our Japanese maple was particularly colourful this year: 2nd November 2013

Colourful scene at 9:00 am on the 10th November 2013

Colourful scene at 9:00 am on the 10th November 2013

The middle of the month, too, was generally mild and wet, though we experienced our first frost on the morning of the 13th. As the month progressed, although the daytime temperatures held up well, the nights regularly fell below zero.

Clouds over the Brecon Beacons tinged with red from the setting sun: 23rd November 2013

Frost-covered peaks of the Brecon Beacons contrast with clouds tinged with red from the setting sun: 23rd November 2013

We had a hard frost on the night of the 22nd, when the temperature dropped to minus 4°C. We had no rainfall in the final week of November, and the monthly total was only ten centimetres.

December 2013

The first half of December was memorable for its lack of rain (barely a trace until the 15th) and its high winds. We suffered gale force winds on the 5th December and again on the 14th. Luckily Brecon town is sheltered from the worst of the winds by the surrounding mountains; exposed areas suffered meanly. During this period, our winter-flowering viburnum was at its best and we enjoyed some spectacularly colourful morning and evening skies.

Our winter-flowering viburnum. Unfortunately, the photo cannot reproduce its overpowering perfume 5th December 2013

Our winter-flowering viburnum. Unfortunately, the photo cannot reproduce its overpowering perfume: 5th December 2013

Just before sunrise on the 11th December 2013

Just before sunrise on the 11th December 2013

The middle of December was quite mild with daytime temperatures regularly peaking above 10°C, an absence of frosts, but increasingly heavy rainfall and strong winds. On cold nights such as the 19th of the month, a light covering of snow was seen on the peaks of the Brecon Beacons.

Thin covering of snow on the peaks following a frosty night: 20th December 2013

Thin covering of snow on the peaks following a frosty night: 20th December 2013

The wild and wet weather continued over the Christmas period. On Monday 23rd December Brecon (and the rest of Wales) experienced exceptionally heavy rainfall (5 cm in 24 hours) causing the great old river Usk to flood the surrounding fields. Even main roads such as the A40 and A465 had to be closed and traffic diverted due to flooding. Our normally routine 80 minute return trip to Abergavenny to collect my cousin from the railway station turned into a 2½ hour hair-raising adventure! The gales and heavy rain continued into the New Year, and although the high peaks of the Beacons retained their covering of snow, down here at ground level we had nothing but rain. I recorded 23 centimetres of rainfall in December! The highest for some years.

A trace of snow still covers the highest peaks in the Beacons on the morning of 29th December 2013

A trace of snow still covers the highest peaks in the Beacons on the morning of 29th December 2013

As I write the last few words of this blog on 6th January 2014, the gales, floods and heavy rains continue, at least for a while. But I’ll close with an example of one of the most memorable features of life here in the Brecon Beacons National Park: our magnificent sunsets.

View from our home in Brecon, at 4:15 pm on the 13th December 2013

View from our home in Brecon, at 4:15 pm on the 13th December 2013