(Final) Welsh Odyssey #5

We were in the car and everything was subdued: it was late afternoon and the kids were both asleep in the back, exhausted from their play on the beach, my wife sandwiched between them both. Gathering clouds were threatening to bring some welcome rain.

My friend, Derek, was driving, weaving along the country lanes, passing the time trying to identify the various victims of roadkill splayed along our route.

Then my eyes lit up at a sudden sign: Ancient Burial Site.

Derek started following the directions in a tacit understanding: some of you older Jackdaw followers may recall that the Neolithic is my thing. (Not because you hail from the Neolithic yourselves, of course, but because I posted about it a few times in my early blogging days.) It is the period when we began to become us, ceasing to wander and instead put down roots. Transforming the landscape and, though so much is unknown, leaving just enough tantalising clues to feed the imagination.

The structures of this period have always drawn me, wherever I find myself, and so we arrived at the site that is known as Pentre Ifan.


“Do you want to come and see it? We could take it in turns?” I asked the Mrs who still had the heads and the spread limbs of the children across her.

“No, I’ll stay here in the car.”

“It’s stood for five thousand years, and you don’t want to take a two minute walk to see it?!”

“You see it for me.”

Derek interjected: “I’ll take some photos for you and the kids to see.”

“And I’ll give you the feel of the place,” I added.

And so we abandoned them in that country lane, passed through a wooden gate, and came upon they type of ancient structure that is known as a dolmen.

Though the landscape may be different to what it was back then, the fact that there wasn’t another soul or building in sight, added to an absence of sound, (aside from a crow calling), added to the sense of timelessness about the place.

The caw of a crow is not sweet birdsong, but is dark and ominous and deathly, (carrion crow after all), but that may just be the perspective and penchant of the poet.

There was an information board that gave a diagram of how it would have looked back then. It was built around 3,500 BC.  Who would have been buried here? Who (and there would have been several) was important enough to warrant such a memorial?

Whenever I look across the fields and ruins that dot the British landscape, I often wonder about the great stories that have become lost to us. Stories that tell of the exploits of people from all periods of our history, undertaken before records began. Legendary figures; famous battles; Gods; Celtic warriors – the Arthurs of the time.

But this monument was built long before the Celtic era.

Approaching it it looked an obvious health and safety risk, but the stones had been secured. And besides, these things had obviously been made to last.


The top stone was shaped like a flint knife. That seemed more appropriate than a hovering spacecraft, which also crossed my mind.

Derek left me to spend a few minutes there, alone, to soak up the atmosphere. I’m like that-a human sponge of the vibe of a place. And then I left, the crow still calling its lyrical lament.

The ancestors: unknown and unfathomable, littering this island of mine with some extraordinary wonders.

I have since read that local lore says that fairies are sometimes sighted there, described as ‘little children in clothes like soldiers’ clothes and with red caps.’ I wished I had known that then, I would have regaled the kids with such tales. That’s the kind of thing to engage them.

But I didn’t know, and when I got back to the car they slept on, that damn Justin Bierber playing on the radio.

Give me the crow any day.

Welsh Odyssey #4

(Rough Draft)
Sandmartins burrow through shifting towers.
Pilgrim paths, still visible and walked, 
wind around and around the conical mount.

One day, the acoustics of
a battle-scream reverberated
around this three-sided bay,

the Irish Sea rolling red 
the virgin sand,
- a new DNA to mix with the old.

The screams now belong to children,
cast away from appropriating hands.
Some, in a feat of engineering,
have dug culverts and dams to divert
the course of a stream,
flowing over granite onto 
the expansive beach.

Who can count the grains of sand? 
Or the dreams and neuroses of children?

©Andrew James Murray

Welsh Odyssey #3

Descending once again the conical hill of Mwnt, I was pleasantly surprised to see a small church below me. Bone-White, sun-bleached, it contrasted sharply with the green field it was situated in. I made a bee line for it.


Unable to resist old churches, and also old cemeteries, the Holy Cross Church ticked all the boxes: the building dated back to the 13th-14th Century, and traditionally a church had stood on this site since the age of the Celtic Saints in the 5th-7th Century. And it was an open, cool oasis in the heat of the day.

I had the church to myself, the only sound was the buzzing of a bluebottle trying to find its way back out into the light. Dust motes span in cobwebbed windows.

The dedication of the church to the Holy Cross is a sign of its antiquity, and just inside was a font from the 14th Century, verdigris-tinged, in need of a scrub. How many babies had been baptised here? From those first, blessed ripples, where did the tide of life take them? Did any of them lie in the cemetery outside these walls?


Also of interest to history buffs like myself was a the remains of a 15th Century timber Rood-screen. The carved heads of what are probably the twelve apostles can still be made out, though the one that I studied looked more like a boxer with a flattened nose and cauliflower ear.

St.Rocky, perhaps?


I sat for a little while, soaking up the atmosphere, thinking of time and wishing for whispers, when the wooden door behind me suddenly opened and my friend entered.

“I just knew that this is where you would be!”

My wife and kids were in the car, and it was time to head back to our caravan. And so I did, but pushed things by having a quick walk around the small, enclosed churchyard first. Luckily, (for my overheating family in the car), there were many graves but few headstones, and of course the old ones were written in Welsh. It seems the graves of the newly dead had conceded their epitaphs to the English tongue.

History; Natural history; this place was a wonder.



Welsh Odyssey #2

On a beautiful summer’s day I climbed the conical hill at Mwnt, finding myself a spot to sit and stare out over Cardigan Bay, which is an inlet of the Irish Sea. Living in Manchester, over thirty miles from the nearest coast, it’s only when I come to places like this that I get a sense of living on an island.

In a land-locked city of concrete and glass it is easy to forget.


Taking in the blue horizon, some lines from a poem of mine came to mind which underlined this ‘remembering’ of my island roots.

Here it is in its entirety:

Sea View

There is a mutual exchange,

the boats on the horizon 

pass each other miles apart

but appear much closer 


A white-thimble lighthouse

provides scale and contrast

to the pelagic braid,

while salty notes,

redolent of summers past,

climb to this terracotta tiled balcony,

where we are reminded

that we live on an island,

perched precariously on the rim

of our outer edge,

looking out to sea.

©Andrew James Murray


Welsh Odyssey #1

We’ve just got back from a few days spent in South Wales. We got the weather, and so travelled to a local beach for the kids to wile away some hours and, yes, tire themselves out for the evening wind-down.

After a while, and of course with my better half’s blessing, I went off for my customary, solitary walk. I headed up a sandy path, taking me high past a meadow and along some cliffs, where some of my old jackdaw friends were nesting. Around twenty of them were flying overhead as I rose higher along the trail which was part of the famed Pembrokeshire Coast Path National Trail. I had immediately identified their call, they being these days like my own totemic bird.

A single linnet moved with me, too, darting from fence post to fence post alongside me on my right. To my left there was no fence, in fact there was a sheer drop onto rocks below, a sign warning me Beware Cliffs Kill – Stick To Paths. It made me more amused than anxious, thinking about this serial killer named Cliff and what his body count was. There wasn’t a cloud in sight. My eye was foundering in a vista of blue sky and sea.

Jackdaws, linnets, there were other birds too, some of which I didn’t recognise. It is man’s nature to name everything he sees, in order to claim some kind of ownership. I have heard it said that there is a certain power in a name.

I used to walk in my local woods wondering about the trees I couldn’t name, picking out unfamiliar shapes among the many oak and beech, until I came to the realisation that I didn’t need to know what they were in order to appreciate them. In fact, the mental discourse often obstructed the experience.

The same with birds. I don’t need to be able to name them in order to take delight in their sudden appearance and song. Unless I’m writing about them, for readers such as yourself, for then it serves to create a more precise mental image for you.

Pembrokeshire Coast

After a while I picked a descending route that led me down to a secluded bay, not a soul in sight. There was just I, and the cacophony of waves, and birds, and insects. The sun beat down on me, sheltered from the sea breeze.

I sat upon a rock, now viewing the the incoming tide at eye-level. The expanse of ocean swells something inside you. It’s as though your perspective suddenly heightens, but at the same time your sense of self diminishes. You realise how tiny you are in this great, wild, uninhibited context.

Below the towering cliff I found a large cave, water dripping onto gleaming pebbles within its dark maw, almost like a linear breadcrumb trail, beckoning me in. But I only ventured in for a few metres. Caves make me nervous – I was acutely aware of all that weight that was above my head.

I reckon Cave hadn’t killed as many as Cliff, but still. I wanted to stay in control.

Coming back out of the cave and skirting the edge of the beach, I spotted a small fish lying motionless on the sand. Again, I couldn’t tell you the species, but suffice to say it was small and silver, about the size of my little finger. I bent to pick it up and was startled to find it was still alive – its sudden wriggle prompted me to snatch my hand away. Then, in full rescue mode, I scooped it up with a handful of sand and lowered into a nearby shallow pool. It flitted away, burying itself away on the sandy bottom.

Immediately I found another such fish, prone upon the sand. And yes, this was alive too. Perhaps they had some kind of survival strategy that I wasn’t aware of. Maybe  I had fortuitously stumbled upon their last gasps. Either way, I deposited this second fish in a similar pool, giving it another chance until the sea moved in and liberated it.

I made my way to a sharp but navigational incline and headed high again, leaving the private beach behind me. Once more I was at the highest point of the landscape again, looking out to a hazy horizon.

“Hello. Taking it in?”

I turned to discover a woman who must have been in her seventies, her attire and vigorous face giving all the impression of a professional walker.

“Yes,” I said, “but I’m thinking it is about time I got back to my wife and kids!”

She smiled, conspiratorially. “Worth it though, wasn’t it?”

“Absolutely. It’s beautiful.” 

She nodded, like we were sharing a private, intimate understanding, then I bid her farewell. We left each other, she heading in one direction, agile, fleet of foot, and I in the other direction, now weary-legged and beginning to puff.

I returned to the familiar beach, finding my wife and friend sat on a spread blanket, chatting away while keeping careful eyes on the kids who were jumping incoming waves in the distance. I fell heavily upon the ground beside them, and promptly relived my journey with them both, taking them along the route I had taken and recounting all that I had seen. I spoke of birds and fish, of sea and sky, of caves and cliffs, and then, somewhat grandiosely I waved my hand in the air and informed my well-travelled friend:

“This is my Ibiza. This is my Tenerife.”

Away Wales

I have been missing for a while as my family and I spent some days in South Wales. Just thought I should explain my absence. We got the weather, but not the neighbours. Still, can’t have everything. We had a great time, my children gamely attempting to read the place names written in Welsh on the road signs.

Speaking of signs, there are some that should never be placed near each other:



Will share my Wales odyssey soon.

The Nag Factor

This is the debut post of a great Welsh lass who used to live in Manchester and now finds herself living in Denmark. Incidentally, I also used to go to school with her 🙂
Check her out and give her a nice WordPress welcome people. Maybe even a follow 😉

From the Valleys to the Flatland

So, here it is, the long awaited, much nagged for blog. I cannot promise to blog regularly, nor can I promise that each entry will be light hearted and fun, but, I can promise that they will be honest, truthful and will give a glimpse of the life of an ex pat in Denmark… welcome onboard 🙂

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