Big House Landshipping

Personal Reflections on the Big House Landshipping Pembrokeshire Restoration Project

Big House progress as of Feb 2012

Moving On: Wow! It's been nearly a year since I relocated my little family to a house that we can finally close the gate on voluntarily and  call 'home'. I still really enjoy visiting Landshipping, though much of my time is taken up with new challenges. The novelty of having a safe and fully-functioning house has yet to wear off. 

Our move has given me a new creative space to think and develop some of my ideas. When I first reached out online, on a clapped-out old PC with an intermittent dial-up connection and unreliable phone line from my dark and cold caravan base, it was mainly out of a sense of isolation. 

People often complain that people spend so much time online that they are losing the ability, time and opportunity to interact in reality. For people who find themselves isolated, it is entirely the reverse. My experiences of interacting on sharing sites such as, personal blogging and writing my own website helped me come to terms with what was happening to me and helped me find my way through it. I now find people seeking help from me to develop their own authentic voice online, something I've become comfortable with even though this has meant being open to sharing some uncomfortable personal experiences along the way. 

As my skills have developed along with my life experiences, a revolution has been taking place online with the emergence of social networking that has not only empowered many people like me - but also sparked revolutions in oppressed countries. Now we find that a social networking site is set to become the largest publicly traded company in the world. Exciting times indeed!

And so I have moved on to new projects and ideas. I'm helping others find their own authentic voice online as I also continuing to experiment and find my own. 

My attempts can be found at 

For consultancy/PR and professional contact please drop by my business website:

I wanted to reflect momentarily on my Big House adventure. I'd seen the programmes, such as 'Grand Designs', and even made a few too, then dedicated myself for several years to contributing to saving a ruined old house in rural Wales and 'walked the walk'. It's been a very interesting period during which I gained a huge amount of experience and knowledge and came out of it stronger and more patient, even if the project itself has yet to come to fruition as a commercial venture. 

While I am happy to post further if there are any physical developments worth documenting - for people interested in the project and the village - I am now concentrating my time on raising my family and helping my clients develop new businesses in Pembrokeshire using the skills I've learned and making better use of my previous skills in journalism and PR. 

I was at a Social Networking seminar in Cardiff's Atrium recently where I heard a speaker (with a busy work and family life) refer to a wonderful analogy - that 'people are like candles', with their skills and ideas being the flame; while the long candle itself - the wax - represents the stuff we have to do to function that we don't want to. 'The trick' she said 'is to spend as much of your energy in your flame - and get others to deal with your wax; because your wax is someone else's flame and vice versa'. 

I like this model. I am currently exploring how I can spend as much of my time and energy as possible in my 'flame' sorting out other people's 'wax'. Getting bogged down in one's own wax can have the effect of putting out the flame. That is a lesson I've learned the hard way. Thankfully I'm feeling all lit up and excited again, because the world is changing fast and is out there ready to be discovered whenever we want to shine our light on it!

'Hwyl Fawr' x x 

tv prog feedback 2011

I saw the Big House programme which raised a series of fascinating but sadly totally unanswered questions. The house was built with the profits from the appalling employment conditions of the men women and children who worked and died in the mine. If those profits had been put back into the mine to improve those working conditions instead of being wasted on that folie de grandeur maybe those pit workers need not have died. This is a microcosm of the why British industry failed and continues to fail: it's called asset stripping. If, as an historian, you had looked at this issue the programme would have been considerably more interesting.

Latest TV prog -2011


Big House Landshipping joke
Interesting how the owner kept pleading poverty throughout. He spent £275,000 buying the place, spent £25,000 on windows, £1800 on a door, owns several boats, including a working river cruiser....Mmmm. I would love to be that poor.
Cerys 40 6:23pm Fri 12 Aug


Jan 2011: A great deal has changed for me personally since I started this website - most for the better! I am in the process of writing this year's 'Landshipping Letters' and I will be making a more comprehensive record of the developments shortly. May I take this opportunity to say a big 'Thank You' for all the love help and support that has seen us through and inspired me to move onwards and upwards towards creating a secure, warm and safe home for the little ones that they need and deserve - something I have been striving to provide from day one. 

It's January 8th 2010, we've been snowed in for days...the weather is the coldest it's been in 30 years or more - up in the neighbouring county it's been minus 14 degrees! We are spending the week eating, keeping warm, playing with the kids and going out to have fun in the snow. The rescheduled LFBOA AGM has ben cancelled and will need to be rescheduled again, all is quiet in Landshipping apart from the occasional vehicle gingerly making its way up the lane on the ice. A delivery van changed his mind half way down the hill and reversed all the way back again. Paula is still with us, having arrived to stay for new year's eve. We are all well, happy and having a lovely time. Elaina has made things fun for us too by helping with the kiddies and joining in the fun. What an amazing start to a new decade.

snowed in!

After abandoning work to retrieve the children and get everyone home safe, today we are totally snowed in and I am working from home. Kids are warming to the idea of getting dressed up to go and play in the snow again, but for now we are all warm and dry. Paula is still here, having been convinced not to attempt the drive back to Ebbw Vale, especially as she is under the weather with a cold as aell as not really up to driving in such conditions - why risk it?

Spring has sprung

Feb 18 2009: The sun is shining through my window, making me feel quite hot and uncomfortable. This is not a complaint, but a blessed relief from the  horrendous weather we have experienced this winter. Now all is forgotten - and forgiven - as daffodils start to shoot up and the ground water that spills over every path is regressing back to where it belongs. New life takes many forms - the air is full of the sound of birdsong, while our pup Lili has become a mother - to five delightful pups- - much to her astonishment. 

The ferrets are coming out of their nest and being all cuddly and friendly as I scoop out their mess and stroke them (all at the same time), and the other two spaniels, Nelly and Poppy, appear determined to escape from their new lodgings upstairs in the derelict cottage.

The children and I continue to be the only permenant residents, often climbing through the mud and obstacles at the back of the property to get home if the gates are found to be unexpectedly locked. Sometimes we are locked out; if we make it in with the car we then find ourselves effectively locked in and can't leave or use the car. Not pleasant when you are 6 miles or so to the nearest shop.

The gushing mine water we have to pass over when leaving on foot is still pouring out, burnt yellow and bubbling, but the torrent it was has mercifully died away. Once we manage to leave, and the children are safely in school, I am to be found, in sensible grown-up job at the local college, where my energies have been put to good use providing a much-needed income for my little brood. The work is stimulating; the building is warm and dry and there's good company there. Can't grumble, really....

March 15 2008

A magnificent day for Wales - a superb win against France to secure the Six Nations Grand Slam and triple Crown in front of a packed millennium stadium of 75,000 spectators. Having attended the college Open Day (while the kids played at Puddleducks day nursery in Tenby) we all settled down at Wat's to watch the match. It was a nail-biting hour and a half, but all the kids were so happy when the final whistle was blown.

March 11 2008

A disturbed night with Geraint wandering and on manoeuvres throughout the night. Freya joined in after a couple of hours, so I cat-napped when I could. It was therefore hard to get going when we had to. But we were all out by 8am, had to be organised to beat the tide this morning. A quiet day in work sorting paperwork and doing some research in preparation for a busy day tomorrow. Weather-wise it is very wet and wild, this storm has not blown itself out yet. Another big tide expected tonight.

March 10, 2008

We survived the night...didn't get much sleep with the wind howling, rain lashing against the window and roof and the sudden gusts of wind. 

I stepped out an hour before high tide at about 7am to a wild, wet and freezinfg morning, with the tide right over the driveway and heading towards vehicles and buildings. 

At high water Watkin and Elaina came clambering in via the Big House, climbing over construction materials and in and out of ditches. 

The kids and I were staying put, and rather cold due to the fire blowing itself out overnight. But we soon had things going again. 

Clothes came out of the tumble dryer,(a muddy scramble across the yard and a panicky dash to my makeshift kitchen/laundry room in the old cottage; leaving Elaina with the two little ones in the caravan while I fetched their clothes) the fire was soon roaring and we all had tea and toast. 

The kids were well-chuffed at having the day off. With severe weather warnings all over the west, it seemed the safest option.

Boat Club AGM

Dec 2007: Landshipping Ferry Boat Owners' Association AGM was held in Lawrenny village hall tonight. An election was held for the secretary's job, I was chuffed to be voted in. I can remember the first AGM I attended some 6 years ago: I felt quite intimidated. Now I find myself newsletter editor and new club secretary.

Just in case I was becoming too uppity, I was brought down to earth with a rat-invasion that has caused many sleepless nights and one particular incident involving me sitting on the WC in the middle of the night with my nocturnal rodent visitor walking past me into my bedroom, chasing two mice. Not a good memory.

Wat is attempting to solve the problem by installing a humane rat trap under the bath. We have spent some hilarious hours searching the corners of the caravan for holes. Found one enormous opening behind the cooker (and lots of mess, not pleasant) which I bleached sterile and Wat covered with aluminium.

Nov 3 2007

I spent a most enjoyable day yesterday in the impressive and new Maenclochog village hall, venue for a special party to celebrate the 20th anniversary of local enterprise organisation PLANED, source of much help and support for local ventures including the Narberth Food Festival. I was asked to represent the Food Festival and asked to make a small speech as part of a presentation to Wales' First Minister, Rhodri Morgan, it was also a lovely oppportunity to catch up with friends, including Steve from the Prince's Trust.

I was really chuffed that Rhodri had remembered me from many years ago when as editor of the local newspaper the Cardiff Gem I assisted his campaign against the construction of the Cardiff Bay Barrage due to environmental and flooding concerns, and gave a voice to anti-barrage campaigners, when more prestigious newspapers appeared to be bowing to commercial pressures not to give coverage for the story. Water under the bridge now (or perhaps I should say Barrage).

power outages

Electrical problems again...trip switch going off several times a day. Armed with new knowledge of consumer units (thank you, colleague on PGCE) I think I narrow fault down to derelict cottages - along with realisation that freezers were being cut off. Wat steps in to 'sort it out' and I use the opportunity to liberate about seven kilos of blackberries, lovingly picked and frozen last Autumn. Jam. Along with a stored cooking apple and several kilos of sugar, we are now in posession of 20 bottles of wild fruit jam. Kids help with labelling and thanks to the fantastic heat of Wat's oil-fired cooking range, job done.

We are celebrating with hot buttered crumpets and melting, purple, sticky, sweet-smelling jam, when Alun arrives unexpectedly with a live lobster in his bag. While the kids play with their dad on a quick visit from his full-time work on the boat at LNG, I despatch the beastie, pop in boiling salted water for 20 mins and soon we are munching on the freshest Pembrokeshire lobster, served simply on bread and butter.

Sept 30th 2007

The 9th annual Narberth Food Festival took place last weekend (Sept 22/23). It's a lovely opportunity to catch up with old friends and enjoy a convivial weekend. Friday's Education Day was a great success with over 100 kids having expert cooking opportunities with a world-famous Italian chef - Mino Maggi (recently appeared on Rick Stein and just so happens to have strong family connections with Pembrokeshire). Mino taught the children some basic 'peasant' dishes including a simple home-made pasta, and went down really well with the kids). Also present was Pembrokeshire College's catering lecturers and students, providing much-needed support and professionalism, as well as an array of food producers from ice cream makers, bakers, butchers and fish-smokers! Amazing opportunity for the youngsters.

The main festival weekend was a bit rainy, but extra marquees were brought in to keep everyone dry and cheerful and it then dried up and brought in the crowds. Former Mayor of Ludlow and great friend of Narberth, Graham Perks, commented on how friendly and chilled-out the event is and warned me - 'don't let this event become too successful - it's a unique atmosphere, keep it like this!' wise words in this growth-obsessed economy.

Took the family for Sunday and we all enjoyed ourselves - something for everyone. Kids enjoyed the entertainments, workshops and chocolate fountain. Grown-ups tried Welsh cider, listened to the Blues, tasted some seriously good tucker and enjoyed freshly-made coffee. Freya particularly enjoyed the close-up magic tricks she had the great fortune to be showed, one-to-one with one of the entertainers who admired her attitude so much he bought her a pack of cards and gave away one of his secret tricks!

rock-bottom moment

Last night we found ourselves locked out again and unable to drive the car in. Got in via the back lane on foot. In the morning, I get kids and me sorted for school and work, but Geraint's taxi can't come in to pick him up. On way out to meet the car (through our hole in the hedge entry point) Geraint, all done up and ready for school, stumbles over the rocks and debris - misses his footing and suddenly his little school shoe clad foot is in the dirty red mine water that gushes down our lane. I have no choice but to plough on ahead regardless. It's too wet and too far. Swallow tears; head down; clasp the kids closer; keep going.

Nellie the prop-dog

No 29th 2007: Nellie the Propellor Dog - which survived (only just) being chewed up in the propellor of a fast-moving dory about a year ago and was nursed back to health by Wat and I following major reconstructive orthorpaedic surgery by Narberth's brilliant vet Phil,  nearly went blind with a horrible eye infection recently. A week of antibiotics, good home cooked food, virtamin pills, baths, flea treatment and lots of home-rest later and she looks like a young pup. Her recovery has been a great relief. Geraint has adopted her as his dog and is waking up in the night to play with her and taking her for walks before school;. Freya is looking after Nellie's daughter, Lilly, so we are all out of the house by 7.30 walking up the lane before the rush to school and work.

New floors

Nov 2 2007: The last big job - replacing the floor in the front room of our 'eco-home' - is underway, thank gawd. All four corners of the old floor are shot through and have been for several years. Under the carpet are sections of, well, nothing. The holes let in the rain and cold - followed by mice - and very large rats! I could write a long essay about rat-encounters in this house. 

Wat and fellow-boat club member Chris are utilising their boat-building skills to put an insulated floor down for me, and today got things started with the plastic membrane and out-door grade ply sheets.

Weather-wise, it's surprisingly warm if a little wet, with no need for a fire, which was handy since it had gone out after I slept through my usual 4am coal-shovelling.

First Frost

27 sept 2007: First frost of the season, a spectacularly beautiful morning following a moonit night. The moon shone so brightly through my bedroom window it kept waking me through the night. The cold air brought the children into my bed in the early hours, as I struggled to keep the fire going. The sun soon burnt off an early morning mist, leaving the river dazzling at high water. A smattering of frost gleamed on my car windscreen. One hardy yachty had made it down in time to share the sunrise with the early morning risers and together we witnessed the beauty of Landshipping, almost deserted on a Autumn morning.

Back to school

19 sept 2007: We are all back in education - Freya in the second year at her Welsh-language school, Geraint has finally gone up a year too, Elaina, having enjoyed a leisurely gap-year is now studying her Batchelor's Degree at Swansea University - commuting to Swansea and Carmarthen from home, and I am beginning my second year of post-graduate studies at Pembrokeshire College, on the University of Wales PGCE.

Landshipping has enjoyed a fairly quiet summer, with mixed weather keeping most away. We had one or two busy days but most of the time it was me and a few wildfowl enjoying the landscape undisturbed. I viewed the most spectacular Harvest Moon a couple of weeks ago, standing in the cold on the foreshore, with the barn owls whispering past me.

The maintenance work that we have been undeetaking all summer has paid off, with a greatly reduced nuisance from rodents, flies and insects. Barrow-loads of rubbish, scrap, manure and debris have been cleared and organised into sensible piles, and a safe, fenced play area (complete with pirate boat) has been established for the children. Nellie, the 'propellor dog' is almost entirely rehabilitated. The leaky roof no longer leaks and the night-time temperature in our home is noticably milder.A remarkable turnaround since this time last year. Thank you to all who helped - you know who you are!

party weather?

Sorry to annoy everyone, but we have not had any flooding here in west Wales. Living with a tidal river at the bottom of the garden does tend to suggest a risk of flooding, but so far, so good. In fact, we have been amazed, watching the news, at the extent of the flooding up-country, but despite the heavy rainfall, the conditions here in Pembrokeshire are not unusually wet.

Today the kids and I are on our friends' farm. Julie and Tim of West Atheston. Geraint is watching Fungus the Bogeyman on DVD, Freya is out on the farm with Tim and son Jonathan pulling carrots, cauliflowers and beans for tea for us all, Julie is preparing some local sausages for the feast, while I'm puttin together a poster for the farm to display at the Royal Welsh. Having received a fabulous (hessian) bag of freshly-picked veggies yesterday from Tim and Julie to share with the family, it seems a fair barter.

Some crops are being damaged by the excessive rain, but the wet weather has helped in some respects, because being mild but not hot, we've all been minded to get a lot of work done, which has seen the snag list at homeshorten considerably; secondly, it has highlighted the need to get the roof fixed and the possibility that it might happen before winter beats us back into submission; and thirdly the place looks so incredibly alive and hydrated!

The kids and I listened to the awesome, deafening rain storm beating against the roof and across the open window at 5am this morning. When we went out, during a brief lull, the metallic sheen of the sky contrasted almost painfully with the deep and luscious greenness of the surrounding countryside. The river was plate glass and the boats stood, motionless and gleaming in all their newly-washed whiteness. The geese looked better than they have all year, and the dogs and remaining chickens have found a sense of belonging in their shared long waits sitting in their (clean and organised) shed waiting for the weather to break.

So for the moment, at least, I am happy for it to rain and rain. It may just dry up by August 18th, too!

Horse riders for breakfast

29 July 2007: Big day today for me today - my first breakfast event at the Big House site. Up at 5 am, having been cooking until midnight in preparation for a hectic day. On a clear day at dawn I feel very priviledged to be here. The view up-river was spectacular. While the kids slept, I popped across to check the field and met a lone fisherman trying for bass on the slipway.

As predicted, it had stopped raining and was beginning to dry up. Put all the tables, chairs and equipment outside. Wat's field still had the raft race stuff set up in there. We got everything in place and Wat and Paula were a huge help with the keeping an eye on the kids while I set up the meal.

By 9am 10 riders sitting round my large dining table in the sunshine, tucking into bacon, egg, sausage, bubble and squeak, mushrooms, beans, tomatoes, croissants and home made jam. The horses seemed happy and secure in the field. The kids loved having a 'breakfast party' and showed off their ferrets to our guests. Mission successful.

Sunday lunch and a quiet afternoon at Wat's followed the clean-up. We watched the video of Freya's carnival day.

Weather: slight chill in the air, very hot in the sunshine. Dry and improving all day.

Activity on the slipway: Lots of boats, some boat-club, many visitors, including groups coming over the river to go to the pub. All the neighbours were out in force, clearing up from the Raft Race.

Carnival Day!

28.7.07: Carnival Day! Designed some adverts, including the Stanley Arms,  for the sponsors who have kindly supported the float. Paula arrived at breakfast. Dressed Freya in all her finery before taking her to Narberth. Soaked up the atmosphere of the wild and enthusiastic crowds milling around Narberth and managed to distribute some Food Festilval leaflets in addition to filming the event and keeping an eye on Geraint. Met lots of friends along the way. With the main street left open to vehicles throughout the somewhat riotous parade, many innocently-passing cars found themselves the victim of the now infamous string in a can attacks. Princess Freya and the girls loked serene and were mercifully spared too much of an onslaught. They all looked absolutely beautiful in their lilac evening gowns and tiaras. We then adjourned to the moor for the after-parade party. Home to see the raft race. Up til midnight cleaning and preparing for tomorrow's event.

Weather: Gloriously sunny, and as we packed up to leave Narberth, the heavens opened. Torrential rain all night.

Slipway activity: busiest day of the year. Lots of cars, boats and visitors attending the landshipping annual raft race.

Sponsor sought

27.6.07: Busy day preparing for a busy weekend. Looking for a major financial sponsor for the Narberth Food Festival to secure the services of a bright young Welsh chef making waves in London, showcasing Welsh produce, and with a growing media reputation. Watch this space.

Weather: Bright and breezy

Activity on the slipway: Quiet


26/7/07: Rest of the UK bracing itself for yet more flooding - the worst we've seen in a century. Here, showery and warm. Worked on the site all day. Activity: local raft race committee inspecting the field in anticipation of Saturday's Fun Day.


Scouts arrive

27/7/07: Raining again, after a gloriously fine night. Scouts survived the night and were drying out between showers when I headed for Haverfordwest with the kids.


24/7/07: Weather: gloriously warm and sunny.  Productive day in Cardiff. Arrived back in Landshipping to a quiet and tranquil scene - a group of scouts from Cardiff, of all places, camping on the lawn. Sat around camp fire telling ghost stories, watching the barn owls (and listening to their eerie screeches) before enjoying a quick glass of wine on the verandah with Wat. A good day was had by all:)


Bright and breezy morn

23/7/07: Morning: Bright and breezy, raining. Elaina has agreed to cook lunches at the Stanley Arms for the next two weeks. Kids are confined to barracks while I attend to stuff.

Afternoon: Sunny, dry and fresh. Off to buy essentials in Narberth, then to Wat's house for tea.

Sea-state: rough, blowy.

Activity on the slipway: None.

19 Aug 2006:

It's Saturday. I have been up since the early hours, having made the 13 packed lunches for Alun's fishing party on a foldaway table in the front room late last night. So I am very tired now. Kids are playing in the mess of their toys. I was able to sort out the lunches by moving slowly, methodically, and managing the tiny space available to me.

It's been raining for days and the caravan is sodden. Wet towels line the floor made wet and slippery by the leaking roof and it  feels like anything but home, more like an obstacle course. I spend an hour in the village up at Rose Cottage, to break up the day for the kids, who had enjoyed their early morning trip to Milford to meet the divers and get their lunches on board. Alun was in the thick of it, with all the divers waiting to go off for the day.

10 Aug 2006

Spent all day helping Elaina fill in a job application form for a post at the local college. I took the little ones into town first. After dropping off Freya at nursery, I took Geraint to Tesco's to buy a thank you present for the girls running the special needs playgroup he's been attending (today is the last last day). 

Classic Geraint moment: I have secured him into a 'disabled child' trolley seat, and feeling very smug, since shopping with Geraint is usually utter chaos, somewhere between a rugby match, comedy routine and tug-of-war. 

Well, this is great, he's fastened in a large seat (he'd way too big for the normal trolley seats now) and I am paying...then I turn back round to find the trolley moving at high speed towards another shopper (an elderly lady) with the now liberated Geraint pushing it away from me. Lap seat belts don't stop cheeky six year olds, Tesco trolley designers please note.

So I thrash back to Landshipping to wrestle with the computer all day. And then I go back on the 90 minute trip to collect the little ones again (delivering Elaina's application on the way). I even sort out childcare on the phone and confirm my BBC spot for Tuesday (then they ring me back to change it to Monday....thankfully Elaina agrees to have the kids for the two hours I will need).

Home, sweet home. Geraint is playing outside, Freya is coming in and out. I am checking my emails and wondering what to cook for tea. Elaina is over at Stu's. Alun is in the channel of the river on the boat, about to take 24 partying women out for an evening cruise to a pub...poor boy...

In the middle of my thoughts, Freya breaks the spell. She is carrying something brown as she runs towards me and thrusts something in my face... 'look mummy, I have found a mouse!' she gushes and as I refocus from my screen to her enthusiastic face to what she has in her hands a few inches from my nose, I jump, startled, but I am trapped between the caravan wall, my desk and this large brown....dead....rat.

1 Aug 2006

With home-baked muffins on a plate in the fridge, pasta ready in the kitchen, and children playing happily, I felt today Iíd finally cracked it. How apt.

While in the Ďcottageí dodging Alunís endless collection of tools, gas cylinders and discarded stuff, as I switched our dodgy (only does half a programme at a time) washing machine to spin, I heard a rhythmic, crashing thud. Geraint.

I ran out shouting ístop stopí as loud as I could, but it was too late. Geraint had hold of a discarded car arial, made of rubber with a metal tip, and was, with great gusto, smashing in the front window of the caravan, oblivious to the tiny shards of glass spraying around him.

OK. Glass all over the verandah, and the front room, littered with toys, now has gleaming jewels of glass chips liberally scattered around it. The toys, dull and plastic, have taken on a new and shiny finish.

I know I have to clean up the broken glass as a matter of emergency. OK, I need to put the kids somewhere safe, away from the glass, and somewhere I can leave them while I attend to the glass. But where? I couldnít put them outside, because the gates hold no barrier for them, and with the blink of an eye Geraint would have disappeared to the riverís edge or the road.

So I did what I always do in an emergency here on my own - and phoned Watkin. While I was on the phone, Geraint ran into Freyaís bedroom and climbed up onto the top bunk, leaving black-rubber finger marks everywhere. The arial was black tyre rubber, and he was covered in it.

So there I was, scrubbing walls and children, trying to ring a glazier (not something that is particularly available in Pembrokeshire) and both phones are ringing, when Watkin arrived.

Within minutes. Aun's cousin Gwylim and Alunís parents have arrived unexpectedly. With sweat pouring down my face, I suggest through the broken window that they take the kids down to the trampoline for 10 mins while I carry on cleaning up. I go as fast as I can. 

Picking up three boxfulís of toys, passing Watkin rugs to shake while I hoover (sorry, Dyson) the carpet and carefully pick up all the glass off the window sill. Watkin clears up outside and within half an hour normal service is resumed. Pass me another muffin, please.

July 24 2006

I really must document today, because  this day July 24 2006 is our 6th anniversary of setting up home together. Alun doesnít really 'do' anniversaries, so I am commemorated it in my own way. Firstly, I got out early enough to watch the sun rise at 5.30am this morning, as I let out the chickens, ducks and geese, including greeting a motely crew of one Canada goose, one white chicken and 2 ducks that had stayed out all night. 

Then I woke up Alun, who was dead to the world,  in a romantic manner, while the children (for once) slept soundly. Then I delivered hot tea to his bedside and organised the now awake children with breakfast and Cbeebies tv.

Soon we were outside, replanting pot plants into the garden. Watering and feeding poultry and chasing children around. I helped Alun with the Big House clean-up (scooping up mounds of debris from the hall floor area which had been brought down off the roof area). I made us all lunch to eat outside, then set about redesigning the boat poster for the entrance gate, while keeping an eye on the little ones.

As I write this, the printer has a paper jam (again), I am starving and rather smelly, Freya is swimming (fully-dressed and in a lifejacket) in the river with Alun, Geraint, covered in snot, is lolling about and it is more than 80 degrees indoors in the shade with the fan on. Yikes. 

Spring Tide Traps us at Home

Just rediscovered my blog, by chance, googling Landshipping. I can remember a time when it yielded nothing! Well, maybe a council tax rate, but that was it!

Reading those first couple of blogs, I had mixed feelings - I am still living my Landshipping life, with the kids, but I am head of the family now, after Alun left, so things have not quite worked out as I expected...

My enthusiasm and love for Landshipping is unabated, but having found this site I feel I should update! 

Well, it's 12.30am, and I am riding out (yet another) storm. This one was the lead news item on Radio 4 this morning! 

We had out day, as usual - riding, a yomp and ice cream down the beach, the last of the Pembrokeshire turkey for Sunday lunch (which came out of the freezer as succulent as it went in), followed by a glass of wine in front of the telly. 

I got the little kids home and into bed before high tide, to make sure we could get to the front door of our magnificent eco-home, just yards from the water. 

I have been updating my FaceBook page and keeping an ear and eye on what is going on outside. What a brilliant way to keep in touch with the world beyond the gates. It's very noisy and slightly shaky from the confines of my caravan I can tell you!

I have the washing on, so hard to tell what's spin drier and what is gale force wind, buffeting me slightly. 

The biggest tide is first thing in the morning, so we will have to wait and see what daybreak brings.

10 June 2006:

Happy Sunny Days

 The sun is shining - and has been for about a week! Alun is away on the boat, leaving me 'minding the shop', which is fine, with the kids being such a delight.

Last night, having put them to bed, I was able to watch Jonathan Ross before cracking on the housework. When I felt tired, I simply went to bed. Luckily, Geraint didn't wake up too early (he's been up before 5 most mornings, so with Alun getting up at 3 or 4 o'clock to go on the boat, a proper night's sleep has seemed like a long-forgotten achievement).

Having some sleep - even just one undisturbed night, makes a huge difference. As our new neighbours were saying, Geraint is 'full on' and so he is, so one really needs to be on the ball the whole time.

The children are playing with their toys; the dogs are sleeping on the veranda. Washing is piled up all around me, but we've got some on the line, some in the machine, and the rest ready to go in, so it is progress! The dishwasher is on the whole time - and both kids have been helping me unload (with nothing broken - first time we've managed that).

Freya and I have just baked some delicious apple muffins, which were hot, sticky and yummy to eat after we'd had our lunch of pasta and sardines. Flies are buzzing around me, the place is fairly chaotic, but I am gradually making progress and feeling less oppressed by it all.

Alun is going to be away all weekend with a diving party. Lucky boy! I just get to set up the deal, make the sandwiches and send the emails. I look forward to the day I can join him in the fun bit.

The ducks, geese and chickens are all hiding from the sun and splashing in the fish boxes I have filled with water to keep them cool.  

Watkin popped in for two minutes, and Tim, the doctor was at the gate this morning trying to talk to me until Freya's ear-splitting scream of 'where's my mummy' broke up the conversation. But for the first time since we came here, at least I can walk away from the caravan for a few minutes, to put in washing or grab something from the freezer, and generally the kids are OK about it now.

Freya wants me back in with her now, so I will sign off.

10 July 2005

Le Weekend

Another sunny weekend with the little ones


Friday night I had the school run perfected Ė left the office at 3.30 precisely, arrived bang on time to collect Geraint from his taxi, at 3.50, then onwards to Haverfordwest to collect Freya Ė early Ė from nursery at 4.15. It was lovely coming home to the garden and ducks. 

Managed to cook tea and organise the sprogs prior to Alunís return at about 7pm. Instead of finding the children already in bed, I had let them stay up for a Friday night treat. Off we went to Cresswell Quay for the Narberth Rotary fund-raising pig roast. Lots of pals were there. 

It was lovely to be able to wander around with the kids and say Ďhelloí instead of feeling the outsider. Heck, itís only taken 5 years! 

On Saturday, Alun was away at dawn and not home until gone 11pm, but we kept in touch via phone. I took three daysí boat-bookings for next week. It was very hot and Iíd inadvertently got dangerously close to running out of fuel in the minibus, so after dropping Elaina at work I decided to play safe and stay at home. This was a timely reminder of the isolation of this place, which creeps up all too easily. By the end of the day we were out of fresh milk and bread, but I always have something in store, so at least I was able to cater for the little ones without the usual daily run to the shops.

I didnít sleep much on Saturday.

On Sunday, I was feeling quite rough, but decided it was no excuse. The kids Ďhelpedí with the housework, which was quickly done (not perfectly, but at least vaguely tidy and clean) then I tackled the laundry, dishes and cooking. 

Had such pleasure pulling carrots, spinach and onions out of my garden, and picking fresh herbs for the lamb dinner Iíd promised Alun and Elaina for later on. With the dinner on, laundry in and clothes hanging to dry, all I have to do was enjoy the rest of the day with the kids.

Magic Harbours

BBC's Jamie Owen called in to film with us - Alun took him fishing while I prepared lunch for the whole crew out on the front lawn in front of the house. No mean feat with two toddlers on the loose teetering on the quay wall!

Magic Harbours


ę Previous | Next Ľ

Season 1 Episode 3

The Mascotte reaches Milford Haven, Wales' biggest harbour. Jamie attends a fish auction, helps guide an oil tanker into port, and meets German tourists disembarking from a cruise ship. The crew then head for the more serene surroundings of the River Cleddau, where Jamie attempts to catch his own dinner.

Royal Welsh gig 2005

Royal Welsh

I have been away for four days, working for the WDA at the Royal Welsh Show. What a busy time! The show was packed and very busy, the weather was glorious and I had the chance (for the very first time) to cook and talk at the same time in front of a pubic audience.

We did some telly, too, (HTV and S4C) but best of all was catching up with so many friends. The Welsh contingent of the SIAL show in Paris was there, Angelaís fan club were in full force, we met up with lots of pals from the media and even the girls from my new part-time job as Project Manager at Pembrokeshire Tourism. Chefs Colin Pressdee and Dai Davies came for a chat and the lovely Paula arrived on the last day too. Great fun.

We worked very long days, up at 6am and arriving in by 7.30. We cancelled our restaurant bookings and just bought fantastic Welsh meat and bread from the food hall and made our own meals back at Patís bungalow-caravan up the road. We did have a lovely meal out on the first night, but I made an early night of it and was in bed before 10.30. I managed to go to bed early every night, despite being the Ďnominated driverí when the girls got together for a drink on Wednesday night. We were still off to bed by 10.30, aware we had another long day to follow.

On the last day, we were all on a high Ė tired, looking forward to going home, but pleased the show had gone so well. I didnít leave the show until 7pm having managed to organise a lift as far as Crymmych with a colleague who was working promoting Welsh cheeses. It was a fabulous drive back west, chasing the sun across the hills in the evening sunshine.

Home to my lovely little sproggies! I took a huge bag of goodies home for everyone. I also bought chocolates home to send to mum, who had stepped in to cover for me and care for my family in my absence. This was also a good opportunity for mum to see how we live, spend time with her grandchildren and get to know Alun better.

24 May 2005

We've been visited by the local press (again!) and a lovely write-up has been published in the Western Telegraph:

A vision of home

Take the crumbling ruin of a country manor, a determined pair of visionaries intent on restoring this once grand Pembrokeshire property and a planning authority standing in their way and you have all the elements of a gripping saga.

This real-life drama is set among the ruins of 15th century Landshipping House and the central characters are chartered boat operator Alun Harries (sic) and his partner, ex-BBC producer Sarah Hoss, who gave up her glamorous city life for love. Their adversary in this complex tale is the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority.

The story began when Alun and Sarah bought the crumbling ruin of Landshipping House with the intention of converting derelict outbuildings into holiday accommodation. Central to this plan was the restoration of Landshipping House where they planned to live and bring up their four children.

Three years and a series of planning hurdles later and the family is still camped out in a mobile home next to the ruin.

National Park planners have objected to the rebuilding of an old granary on the site because they insist it is new build. This has held up the entire project and a less resilient couple would, no doubt, have crumbled along with the ruins.

Sarah admits the project has been considerably more challenging than could ever have been anticipated but she has no regrets about taking it on.

"Even if we could have foreseen what was ahead of us we would still have gone ahead because we had a vision we both strongly believed in and that has never left us,'' she says.

"There has never been a single word of objection to our plans from the local community; everyone has voiced their support, everyone except the National Park Authority.'' Landshipping House is set in one of the most striking locations in Pembrokeshire. Visitors are more likely to spot an otter, a Golden Plover or a rare bat than other human life.

The history of the property, originally called Landshipping Mansion or Ty Mawr (Big House) by locals, is a bit sketchy. Part of the house is known to date back to the 1600s but what is interesting is that it now stands in a different spot to its original location.

"It was initially up the road, but as the Owens of Orielton accumulated their wealth as colliery owners they wanted a grander home. They decided it would be cheaper to rebuild the house at another location rather than extend and repair it,'' explains Alun, who has lived in Pembrokeshire all his life.

Stone from the house was transported down the road to the waterside site and formed part of their new home. Tantalised by the sight of Picton Castle and Slebech Park across the water and keen to mark their elevated status in society, the Owen family included castellation in the design.

The house was eventually abandoned and fell into disrepair before it was bought by a property developer. Family reasons meant he was unable to pursue his intended renovation project and the property was offered for sale.

Prospective buyers were queuing up for what Alun and Sarah saw as a once in a lifetime opportunity. Fortunately for them, the seller was keen to relinquish the property to a local family.

By now, the couple had hoped to be generating an income from the holiday cottages to fund the restoration of the main house.

Dismayed but not defeated, they are determined to realise their dream. "We want to create a sustainable business and a home for us and our children. It might take ten years to get there but the house will eventually be restored to its original design,'' says Sarah.

From The Western Telegraph 2005


Ludlow Food Festival Gig

Saturday, September 11, 2004

It's a blustery, billowy day in Landshipping. I know that autumn is peeking its head around the corner, but the place is still so green and alive, I want to keep believing its summer a little while longer. Today is wild, warm and not very welcoming. Neighbours' boats are rocking on their mooring chains in the metal-grey water. The tide is rushing in over the lovely, muddy riverbanks and into the pond. It's too rough to be out on the water, but that hasn't stopped an intrepid party of divers who set off on board the 'Cleddau King' with Alun at the helm early today.


As I look out to my gentle trees, their muscular branches tipping in the wind and still laden with leaves, I feel a little sad because soon they will be bare and forlorn and the wind will whip past them silently when their summer lushness has passed.


Wet windy days are tough when all the children are at home. The older ones want to watch MTV and sort out their school work and wardrobes, the little ones want to go out and spend their time plaguing the rest of us with demands for stories, toast and drinks that are promptly discarded and spilled on the floor when something else catches their attention. One minute I'm reading aloud about 'Allie with an alligator in her attic', and my favourite - Unwin with an Umbrella bird in his Underwear, the next I'm discussing the properties of water and how nature has benefited from them. Yesterday I had a 'day off'. For the first time, probably since our son Geraint was born (over four years ago), Alun and I headed out of Pembrokeshire, just the two of us, for a pleasant day away.


We were headed for Ludlow, for their famous Food Festival where we had been invited to give a talk and cookery demonstration.


At 8am Alun drove our eldest up to her school life to Haverfordwest, at 8.50 our lovely little Geraint was collected for his 20 minute ride to Templeton to his school, and we then left with darling Freya, aged 2, and took her to her nursery in Tenby. With Granddad all set to gather our little brood back in the afternoon, Alun and I were let off parenting duties for the rest of the day. Ludlow is one of my favourite market towns.


I had never visited until I was sent up to the town by the BBC to interview a then not well known chef called Shaun Hill. My brief was to take a culinary tour of Ludlow, with the intention of highlighting to a then somewhat cynical audience, that real, local food, purchased from quality producers and cooked with flair and imagination, might just be an alternative to ready-made meals and supermarket fare. I was taken with the atmosphere of Ludlow, with its beautiful Tudor and Georgian houses, small, real butchers and food shops, with game and cheese and locally grown fruit and vegetables proudly on display. It was quite a revelation and made a change from the then belief that the only decent restaurants were in London and the rest of us were making do with substandard food prepared by poorly-trained chefs. It was therefore very satisfying to be going back to Ludlow, this time at the behest of the Food Festival committee, to talk about my love of real, slow, wild food and to give Alun a platform to publicize his activities, from the ancient and sadly nearly extinct art of compass net fishing, to running fishing and pleasure trips on the 'Cleddau King' to foraging for and hunting food from the wild. But more about that later.


For now, I want to say that Alun and I have spent the last year running our little family, driving the children from one end of the county to make sure they all did exactly what they wanted to do, running our boat and welcoming many visitors and friends to Landshipping for parties, boat trips and bbq's, and coping with the daily challenges of living in a temporary home while we find a way through the planning regulations which protect this enchanting place and drive mere mortals mad. Since moving to this incredible waterside location, I have learned that only the very wealthy, the very childless or those willing to live in rented accommodation, can have access to an area which for generations supported ordinary folk doing ordinary jobs and raising their families. In living here with our family, Alun and I are determined to pursue a lifestyle not requiring a huge income or hours locked away in airless offices, but to find a way of living a low-maintenance life while enjoying, every day, the wonders that are on our doorstep.


We were delighted with the response to our talk in Ludlow, and spent the rest of the day being accosted by members of our audience, as we wandered, child-free through the marquees and tasted some fabulous produce along the way. Wild, smoked salmon, Indian lamb kebabs, real Somerset cheddar, Perry, cider, goat's cheese, artichoke hearts - after all that we had no need for a meal, and instead adjourned to the Church Inn with fellow Pembrokeshire friends who were also flying the Welsh flag in the marches and our good friends and colleagues from Ludlow.

When we finally headed west at dusk, and had some time together, some speciial time just us, minus kids. And then it was great to be coming home. It's good to see home from a different perspective to remember what makes it so special. As we drove over the river Teme a heron swooped down in front of us, showing his undercarriage in all its glory and it reminded me of my river and why I needed to go home.
// posted by Sarah Hoss @ 4:16 PM

Thursday, June 05, 2003

Thursday, June 05, 2003

My life on the Cleddau estuary is enchanting, challenging, annoying, beautiful and hard work. I wanted to set up a diary to record and share some of my thoughts and the everyday occurrences that I experience here in the heart of Britain's only coastal National Park in the beautiful, rural Welsh county of Pembrokeshire, because our life here is anything but conventional. The next few years are going to see my partner Alun and I developing two businesses and trying to sustain ourselves and our children on the riverbank, by trying out something a bit different - and a lot more fun. This is my record of our very personal quest to go back to a gentler, sweeter, less materialist world, where we will endeavour to live in harmony with the amazing environment in which we have immersed ourselves.
// posted by Sarah Hoss @ 12:15 PM

photo by Sarah Hoss

Dec 7 2001

Well, weíve been in the Big House site for about 3 weeks so far. 

Itís been quite an experience, tougher than I expected and it has hit me quite hard. 

Everything seems to take such a lot of time or is too expensive (or the weatherís wrong). 

Iíve been elated on some days and tearful and frustrated on others. 

We have really taken on a huge undertaking and living conditions are very poor.

Thereís a lot of pressure on me to have the place organised, everyone looks to me for the 

slightest detail of their lives. 

Iím trying to keep the place organised, which on one hand is easy (such a small place to tidy), 

but on the other hand itís all so cramped it turns to chaos very quickly. 

Iím struggling with the sheer smallness of the floor space, the dingy walls 

(despite my best efforts) and the never ending battle with the outdoors which soon 

covers the carpets!


For the first week we slept on mattresses on the floor. We had to eat on the floor too.

It was cold, damp and smelly. 

I had a bad cold and then spent several days 

scrubbing the caravans from head to toe with chlorine, which has really knackered my lungs.

 Iím having asthma for the first time in years. 

The inside of every cupboard was black with mould and the carpets were full, I mean full, of 

God knows what.

In the mess Alun and I have been trying to provide stable family life. 

Not happy with the conditions, and I afraid someone from the authorities would turn up to inspect 

so my first job was to provide a clean kitchen, bathroom and bedroom for the baby.

 (Iím writing this in the dark next to the babyís cot).  

Alun then managed to get our lovely bed from our old house into the bedroom so at 

least we had that to sleep on! 

I am sure the old lady who lived in this caravan died in it too. 

And I don't want to sleep in her bed! 


Moving around such a small place with a baby on one hip is a struggle. 

Iím constantly bashing myself and burning myself while I learn to slow down. 

Iím desperate to get the place decorated, but have made do with scrubbing 

everything and hanging soft furnishings around to make it look more homey.

 It looks OK, but it is a million miles away from our beautiful home at the Hawthorns.

You can even  feel everyoneís footsteps as they move around. 

The place wobbles!


Gethin and Elaina seem happy enough with their caravan. 

Itís lovely in there, but a muddy juggle to get in there until we fit some

 sort of link between the two vans. 

Alunís tracked down some suitable recycled walkway material for free to do the job.


There are some funny and enjoyable aspects that have surprised me. 

The best entertainment around here is watching the garden birds eating from the 

peanut feeders and coconut shells we have hung up. 

The birds really do make fascinating viewing except today when they 

all suddenly buggered off as a peregrine falcon arrived on the scene. 

They are also competing with a squirrel or too. 

Having a bath is nice too, because I keep the window open to try to 

keep the damp down and so I feel as if I have my head 

in the trees and I can hear the birds as I bathe. Very nice.  

And watching my beloved dog Sauda take her daily swim is a real pleasure, 

sheís very happy when sheís in the water.

Nov 7 2001

 Landshipping is beginning to take shape. 

The big caravan is in place and we will soon have electricity and a phone line with a bit of luck. Iím at box no21.

 The packing and clearing is a huge job.

So Hawthorns is looking decidedly shabby as I dismantle all our bits and bobs. 


I took Geraint to hospital yesterday to have his hearing tested. Heís doing fine.  He's a baby first and foremost, and i am focusing on that.

We went to the maternity ward to visit Elspeth and Linda. 

They were so brilliant to me when the baby was born. True friends.


We were at the hospital on Sunday too after Gethin took a knock in rugby. 

He was quite poorly for a while having been Ďboshedí by two bigger players, but came out of it unscathed.


We were all together again last night for the year 6 open evening at Taskerís. 

Elaina did the honours and took us all around.


Alun and I have so much to do, but thatís not stopping us from having our share of fun.. 

We had a lovely evening at the Stanley Arms for bonfire night. 

It was very quiet so we were able to sit together, like being on a date, eating chips, 

while Elaina and Aled took Geraint for a walk and watched the fireworks.

 Geraint can now get out with Alun to see the animals. He loves it and has such an air of anticipation about him in the mornings.


Elaina had a thrilling audition in Cardiff recently when she got through to the final 30 in an open audition of more than 1,000 kids 

to appear with S Club 7. She worked with Nicky,'Nasty Nigel' Lithgoeís wife Bonnie and a gaggle of tv presenters from CBBC Ė 

and she appeared on network  tv dancing a week later. It was just a snippet Ė but you could make her out instantly.  

We also took piles of Allenís bakery bread and cakes home from Cardiff and also a Chinese takeaway for us all. 

And we had time to call in to see Molly and Ned on the way out of the city.


The boys then had a successful day fishing at Penarth while Elaina, Geraint and I hit the shops all day before calling into 

Paulaís and dinner at Aliceís.


So, the big caravan is in and the next one arrives tomorrow.


Nov 1 2001


I canít believe the weather. Perfect and sunny again all day today. 

Geraint and I went over to Landshipping for most of the day and had a fabulous walk along the river, meeting all the neighbours. 

Thereís Harry and Cynthia at the Anchorage with their nutty, territorial terrier. 

They know all about us from the midwife Elspeth who delivered Geraint, Iím told.

Well, no secrets there then! Am accosted in the lane by a holiday-maker resident whoís just thrilled to be down at the river for a few days. 

ĎHow long are you down?í he enquires, quite innocently, before adding ĎCanít believe Iím in England with this weather!í

 I cough politely and move on. 

Must remember, heís the old bloke in the Dolphin Cottage. 

Next Iím barked at by Bobís (the ex-landlord of the local) dogs, which kindly escort me down the lane and are determined to do the walk with me.

Then another sprightly pensioner who squeezes my shoulder and exclaims:

 Ďoh to be young, hey, my, best spot on the river, wonderful job, my God, you are BRAVEí.


Back to the house in time to watch Alun rowing Dave over the river in small dinghy. 

Taking the short-cut, I see. Beats chasing down the A40 any day. 

I am struck by the number of robins and the quality of their song. 

Apart from someone cutting the grass on the other side of the river itís just the usual cacophony of birdsong.


Boys are fixing new electricity supply when lovely old Pembrokeshire geezer, resplendent in flat cap and holding 

twisted willow walking stick, arrives to inspect his new neighbours.

Turns out heís been pals with Alunís dad for over 40 years and heís delighted we are moving in. 

Ďtrouble is, thereís no locals left here these daysí he explains, 

Ďmy wifeís local, but Iím from Templeton,í (4 miles away) Been here 20 years now, I remember when an old chap lived here Ė 

his brother still lives in the village in what used to be the old post Office.

In twenty years Iíve never been to the Big House or had a look around.í 

ĎHelp yourselfí we enthuse, and then I decide itís time to make tracks.


Alunís been cutting some branches back to have space to bring the caravans in. 

Heís been preparing the ground work for the vans which will be home for some time to come and I have sent a letter into the National parks about it. 

Weíve also had a good meeting with the MCA re upgrading our registration to register the Cleddau King as a passenger boat.

Much work to be done by us both.


Oct 21 2001 7.22am

Iím watching a perfect sunrise over the field. 

The mist from the river is cloaking the valley like spilt milk 

oozing across the landscape. 

The sun, not yet visible, is advertising itself with a fanfare of pink 

and purple colour strikes across a petrol sky: ĎSoon to be showingí. 

The grass is silver grey with chilly dew.


Geraint is on good form. Heís beginning to understand the concept of 

independent perambulation and its advantages thereof.

 Iím sowing the seed with lots of sessions on his 'motorbike' and 'wheelie dragon'. 

Oh look, if I push my feet I can get out of here and in there! Fantastic. 

OK Iíve had enough, letí s have a cuddle with my sleepy sister instead.


Chance for mum to ring Al. Heís asleep (was) in truck, waiting to deliver a load of fresh Welsh milk 

to Oxford.  Iím tackling the laundry. 

We sympathise with each other. Hey it is Sunday after all.



Yesterday was another day in paradise. After Elaina had been out shopping and lunching 

with her dad, we purchased a picnic from the Welsh Bakery 

in town and headed off to Landshipping. 

Ridiculous really, the weather forecasters keep telling everyone Wales is on flood alert. 

No-oneís bothered to tell Pembrokeshire so itís gloriously hot and sweaty.


Alís been doing groundwork with the JCB all day and now we have a small avenue of clear ground 

between the rows of trees and a huge pile of junk has gone from the front of the house. 

Alun explains his plans for making the area drier and clean. 

Sounds great. The sweatís running off him. 


Time for tea. 

Dr Rob has set himself up for a spot of painting outside the wall but I drag him in for a cuppa and a chat. 

Elainaís coming down from her hyper day and wants to sit in the car but is coaxed onto the boat 

where she can sulk and make tea, all at the same time. 

Rob says heís been painting in Tenby all day and that half-term holidaymakers were sunbathing 

and swimming in the sea. 


Four white swans fly overhead, making an incredible noise. 

They look close enough to touch as I stare up at their undercarriage. 

Richard arrives, showing us his undercarriage too, and we all wave as he takes a few turns 

over us in his little plane. 

This guy drives a van full of bread all week, but hey, days like today must make up for it. 

He disappears of to buzz Bev up-river at Big House, Hook.


Alun and I unload the van and talk while Elaina cuddles bruv. 

Iím feeling quite at home and loving it. 

Later I sit on the wall with the dog and watch that crescent appear to light the sky again.

My swans are heading back, this time even lower and the sound of their wings beating is incredible.

 I think of that story about the wild swans, my favourite story of childhood. 

They do look like they have other-worldy knowledge. 

Not human, far too graceful for that. Thatís why swans represent the most perfect ballet, perhaps.


Iím reminded of the point of this magical place when I walk down the muddy slipway to pull the dinghy in. 

A car pulls up, and stressed out London type spills out onto the hardcore.

ĎExcuse me whereís Brickyard cottage, weíve been travelling for hours because the M4ís been closed all day.í


Yikes what a nightmare. 

I can feel the anger coming off her despite her polite approach and I feel sorry for her. 

Grace arrives and gives out instructions and off they go to desperately live the life they want to live for a few days 

before heading up the concrete superhighway to hell. 

As they disappear up the lane, Grace says 

ĎWell I hope they know theyíve got to pick up the keys from the mill or 

they wonít get into the cottageí. Oops.


Grace is a great one for acting up to her Ďcountry bumpkiní credentials. 

Despite being a well-travelled and remarkably experienced lady of youthful appearance 

(I guess sheís mid-60ís but sheís very fit).


Grace has no problem fulfilling othersí expectations of her. 

E.g.: they had a London camera club visiting a couple of weeks ago, and one of the ladies was 

overcome with emotion when she arrived at the Big House. 

ĎIs here a secret garden?í she asked Grace. 

Oh yes, here it isí says Grace and off they go through a gate to one of the walled gardens.

 ĎIs there a ghost?í

ĎOh yes, the ghost of our horse can be seen in the ruins of the Big House.í 

Wow. So, I enquire, secret garden, eh, and whatís all this about a ghost?


ĎNot really, I just made it all up to scare her off!í comes the reply, with a very naughty laugh, 'the place is cursed though, but enough about that'.


Alunís staying over to wait for Cleddau King to float, so he can moor her in the channel. 

He may be out with the divers next weekend and wonít have enough tide to get the boat out 

if he leaves it until then. 

So I take the kids and spaniel home for tea mark II and finish off archiving pictures taken in yr2000 while 

Geraint stands up on his motorbike watching tv until way past bedtime.


Iím doing the laundry when an exhausted Alun appears. 

He jumps into the shower and onto the settee for a kip before heading off at 2am to do some 

freelance truck driving.

Itís hard but he wants to get some regular money in to allow me to concentrate on him and the kids and our new life.

 My hero. 

I pack him some food before clocking off at the end of another busy day.



Oct 20 2001


I really want to document our move to Landshipping and any excuse to get out of housework for 10 minutes, so here we go! 

Today is a perfect Pembrokeshire day Ė warm, sunny, not a cloud in the sky. 

Warm enough for Elaina to wander out (under protest) in shorty pyjamas and wellies, to take her little brother into the sunshine to see his animals. 

This is a major expectation for Geraint at the moment and if he could speak English heíd be saying ĎOi- take me out, take me out NOWí.


Alun is dozing in bed (at gone 9am, wow) having had a cup of tea and breakfast delivered (double wow). 

I have just spoken to step-dad Rod to check up on Katie, whoís had surgery to remove dodgy appendix this week. All is well. Must send a card.


Yesterday Alun took the JCB over to the Big House and moved the large container up behind the leyolandi avenue. 

We spoke to one of our neighbours, Dr R, who we have met before. He explained he came to live in Landshipping after his wife died. 

At that point he decided to retire and enjoy his life. He bought a modern house at the back of us for £95k Ė offering the owner the asking price, which had created a 

bit of a flutter in the village. He was determined to have the house and had the funds.


He offered Alun a piece of thick mooring rope and we all had a good chat. We then went to the local pub for a meal. 

Mr Wa-wah was very fussy until he had obtained the attention of the landladyís daughter. Little bugger.


By the time we arrived back at the Big House it was dark, with the view lit by a perfect crescent moon. 

The peace and quiet of the countryside was hard to hear over the racket of the large population of birds enjoying the river.

 Hope they donít mind sharing it with us.



Dec 22 2000

I went to one of Alun's mum - Shirley's friends houses for mulled wine and mince pies. We had a real giggle. And then I came home and attempted to write a series proposal for BBC tv for my old boss Mark John at indy co Vision Thing, while Geraint demanded the rest of my attention. I managed to get something on paper and e-mailed it to Laura, our production assistant, whose putting the proposals together for the next commissioning round at the BBC, before picking up Alun and doing some last-minute shopping. Alunís mum and dad called in for drinkies and present giving and receiving, then his sister and kids turned up. Geraint micro-wave slept throughout the day but after extensive breastfeeding I finally managed to get him off to sleep at 10.30pm.

On Monday I was in Swansea seeing my physiotherapy colleagues for lunch. Alun joined us for mince pies and they all made a huge fuss of Geraint. Geraint was seriously on form, chatting away and smiling. Ann said that he was talking in sentences. I think she may have a point there. 

Oona, my dear friend and former physio tech had such a big smile that she said it was the first time she'd felt happy since her house burned down several weeks ago. I felt very proud of both my men! On Thursday we went up to Cardiff where I had lunch with some of my tv pals. It was lovely seeing Angela, Laura, Myra, Mark and Terry again. We had a lovely day and were home for tea with Elaina. Easy!

Dec 17 2000

Elaina's Dad came down yesterday and took her out for some food and fun. So Alun and I took our boys out for the day. Had a look at Landshipping (which looked very beautiful in the winter sunshine) before adjourning to the pub for lunch. Called in to see Wyn, who was telling me about his multi-million pound deal to sell some of his land overlooking Pembroke Castle. The house is an old priory, seriously listed and very beautiful, overlooking the castle (if you ignore Wynís dilapidated sheds stage right).

We also explored Wynís prehistoric limestone caves where remains of hyenas were found, and Gethin was particularly impressed.

Back home Alunís other sister Marina and family came over for a pre-Christmas drinkie amid much talk of the Hunt Ball. We missed it last year because I was being so sick (pregnant).

Alun and the boys have been having fun salvaging some hardwood from a cargo ship which has lost its load, so we now have a small pile for bits of wood for Landshipping. Weíll need a lot more! So Alun was out on the boats all day until late at night on Friday. Itís quite scary waiting for him to turn up safe. Thatís something Iíll never get used to. Meanwhile, I took Geraint to meet the genetics nurse for a chat (and was told his Down's Syndrome was purely a random case, not an inherited condition, meaning there's nothing to stop us having another child) and then I took the children to the village Christmas party, where Elaina and Gethin presented Geraint to Father Christmas.

Weíve had Elainaís pal over for a few days while her mum went to Brighton for a funeral. Alun and I have been to a wedding party at Hook club.

Later I went out rabbit-hunting with Alun! We went in the middle of a stormy night and I have to admit I felt a bit upset when I heard the rabbit squeak when caught in Lucy the lurcherís jaws. But not too upset that I couldnít cook it the next day into a fantastic rabbit stew. I just dont like watching a living creature die. The weather has been excellent for hunting, but bad for anyone living on a flood-plain. Large swathes of Britain have suffered severe flooding.

Alun and I also spent a day in Cardiff.

Iíve sent most of the Christmas cards I want to, and included some scan piccies in many. I sent Mum and dad a huge pile of pix to show them some of our life here.

Dec 16 2000

Christmas is come! Four of the five Christmas trees I've put up are in place and thereís a large visual hole in the sitting room awaiting occupation of a real tree. I decided to go to town on the decorations this year and to hell with it! Alun hasn't ever seen the house looking this festive! The kids, needless to say, think itís fabbo. Thereís a pile of pressies under each tree - and even the kids have a tree in their bedrooms. And this morning we had our first frost.

Nov 23 2000

Took Geraint to the clinic today Ė heís gained 12.5 ozs in 2 weeks. Not bad. I discussd my concerns with my GP, just looking at some milestones info - and notice that 3 month old babies are supposed to be able to lift up their head when lying on their backs!!!! yikes!!!!!

Alun and I have been out for lunch. Very nice to have him all to myself. Had a lovely drive around the Landshipping area. we saw it from the other side of the water at Picton Point and it looks amazing. We just need to breathe some life into the place.

Spent a couple of weekends in Cardiff and had a real blast. Went down to Penarth for breakfast after picking up Paula on the way through. We went off to Mothercare leaving the boys in town to go to the rugby. Elaina spent the day with her dad. 

In the evening Elaina went off with Tiga to see chart-topping boy band A1at the CIA. I took the bab over to Paulaís to see Judith and of course we discussed Geraintís condition. Girls very supportive (as ever!) Later I took the boys out to dinner at Aliceís which was packed out as usual (but she still ushered us almost immediately to a table) and then refused to let us pay. I was too tired to argue. Geraint really enjoyed it all.

Following weekend we were in Cardiff again, so that Alun and Gethin could attend the Network Q rally. I motored down with Elaina and stopped off in Swansea to see my colleagues before heading for Cardiff. We went to the Elaina's prep Cathedral School to show off the baby and to pick up some of Elainaís schoolwork. Headmaster Mr Gray asked us to come back again and even gave me an application form for Geraint. I left Elaina there to come home on the bus after spending the afternoon with her old pals and I did loads of work on the house. I continued the next day and ferried the boys off the train and to the rally. Elaina saw her dad. Weíd had a night just Elaina, Geraint and I all cuddled up together and the next day Alun drove us all home. Itís nice going back to the house in Cardiff but I feel my life is in Pembrokeshire now.

Nov 7 2000

Well time is moving on and we are rapidly approaching Christmas. Iíve made some tentative moves towards Christmas shopping, but when I see all the plastic junk in the shops I feel somewhat half-hearted about handing over the readdies!! I have bought some bits and bobs and I have some ideas and itís already adding up. Then I think that nappies and junk from Tescos add up too, so what the hell. Iíve bought Elaina something I hope she likes. Teenagers are very sensitive! And Iíve found some stuff for Geraint. Alun already has ideas for Gethin. I just feel myself getting sucked into the consumer world. Resist!

Half term went well. We were delighted to have Gethin for the beginning of the hols, which wasnít scheduled, and we took the chance to visit the Centre for Alternative Technology at Machynlleth. It was beautiful Autumn day, so warm we ate our picnic lunch outside in the sunshine. Gethin and Elaina went off together for an explore and to attend a childrenís theatre at the centre. Alun and I bought some books and got some ideas for the Big House. It was lovely to be at a place committed to alternative and environmentally-friendly lifestyle and gave us lots of inspiration for our future project at Landshipping. I'm keen to do some courses and get some advise.

Mum and Katie came down for a few days. The girls spent some time together, generally being teenagerish (ie not speaking to their elders, refusing to go to bed before the early hours and consuming vast quantities of junk food). Mum and I had some good chats.  She also looked after the baby so Alun and I could go into town together to run some errands.

Rachel came down too. I told her about Geraintís diagnosis. She spent lots of time playing with Geraint and seemed utterly charmed by him. We both went for a star-lit walk down Little Milford and generally caught up with our news.

Bonfire night landed on Gethinís weekend with us, so we had an excellent family weekend. On Friday night we took the kids to the Stanley Arms Landshipping for their fireworks and had an enjoyable evening in the pub. It was supposed to be fancy dress so we entered Geraint as a Dalmation in his lovely little coat - and he won a little toy radio as a prize. The cute factor definitely biased the judges me-think! The next night was Hook village extravaganza, and the fireworks were most impressive. They went on for about an hour and really big ones. The kids then went off to the disco.

Alun and I (and bab) walked in to party with the great folk of Hook out in force and keen to see our new addition. We stayed as long as it took to down a pint and then left the kids to it. I collected Elaina and Gethin an hour later and managed to navigate my way through the hordes of partying parents and their somewhat exhausted offspring. Not sure what the attraction is.  Iíd rather a cuddle with Alun in front of our open fire any day. 

Iíve stopped the health visitor coming to the house in favour of going to the clinic myself. Itís time to do some things outside the house and get confident about taking Geraint out on my own. When we went to the doctorís I had a good chat with the health visitor there. Geraintís gaining weight really well - 8oz this week - and Iíve continued to lose weight.

Iíve started wrestling with the pc again, and just about managed to work out how to e-mail pix. Iíve sent a pic of me and the bab to some friends. It felt good to share my happiness and receive such positive vibes.

Oct 17 2000

Geraint had his vaccinations last week. Alun stepped in and held him during the procedure. It broke my heart to see Geraint in pain. We went very gently for a couple of days and he perked up fairly quickly. He passed his 8 week check with flying colours - in fact he was definitely showing off in front of the doctor and enjoying the attention. Today he had a check up with the paediatrician who was most impressed with his physical development. His head circumference, length and body weight are all coming along swimmingly. Alun and I are very proud of him! Alun never doubted his progress and keeps saying 'I told you so'. Itís lovely being able to do the job well!

Iíve been trying to get Geraint used to the idea of going to bed awake and falling asleep in bed - and then quite coincidentally I read an article in the Sunday paper about a nursery nurse whoís written a book to help mums get their babies into a sensible feeding/sleeping routine (Gina Ford). Made a lot of sense. Basically said that allowing the baby to be in charge and to be demand fed on an indefinite basis doesnít mean babies will automatically know whatís right for them - and can end up leaving both parties exhausted. Then I happened to see the book on sale in Tescos and having read it Iím now trying out the programme.

Today is our first day at it and it helps by providing a sensible structure to the day and night. Amazingly, Geraint seems happy enough going along with it. The crucial point is making sure he gets the fatty bit of milk which takes about 20 mins sucking to reach, and then giving him a long enough break between feeds to digest and feel hungry again. It provides a timetable of naps, which means Iím not so panicky about when Iím going to have some time with an asleep baby! Ultimately, it should provide us with more sleep at night, a habit Iím keen to cultivate if Iím going to manage to return to work.

Iím feeling so much better. I drove for the first time in ages, and took Geraint shopping and we both managed pretty well. My strength is beginning to return. We bought some grub and I cooked Alun his favourite - a proper lamb nosh-up to come home to after a hard dayís work. We all had fun rounding up the cows to take them over for a date with a bull. It was a bit scary but we soon got the hang of it.

Alunís fast asleep on the settee and Iím going to have to wake him up soon because itís a perfect night for hunting (ie blowing a gale and no moon). But I donít have the heart to disturb him. Half an hour more........

Iíve been out in the weather a little too. Nearly scared myself to death walking down towards Little Milford late at night under the windy moonlight stimulated all my senses. Iím taking the walk in order to boost my exercise levels. I have a little route over here and another one in Landshipping. What I'd like to be able to do is jog, but when I try it everything hurts and I end up with a minor asthma attack! But I am determined I'll do it eventually.

We have a potential buyer for the our house, one of Shirleyís neighbours, has said he wants it - and heís put his house on the market, so fingerís crossed. Alun is particularly keen to get things moving. Iím hoping it will happen soon, but hopefully once the worst of the winter weather is over.

Iíd love to spend one more Christmas here at the Hawthorns before moving, but if the chance comes we must take it. Either way, weíll al have a lovely time no doubt. When we are over there it feels very exciting. The last time we were there the tide came right up near the gates and it had a real overseas holiday feel. I went a little further with my walk and noticed that all the homes and gardens are really pretty and well-maintained, being in the National Park, so it has quite a special atmosphere to it.

Oct 12 2000

Itís 5am - some quiet time to write a little of my diary. Geraint woke up at 3am and heís been fed and heís now back in bed. Last night he was wide -awake when I put him in bed in his cot next to us. But after an hour of playing and cooing quite happily he fell asleep with no prompting.

Well, after a week and a half of trying to exercise and eat sensibly, Iím now trying to follow an exercise video as well as my own ideas and as of yesterday Iím following a written eating plan I got off the web. Basically itís 3 sensible meals a day, between 1000 and 1500 calories and designed to cut back on fat intake - less that 40g a day being ideal. Going through a food reference book is a sobering experience.  Itís hard to be disciplined, but I want to get back to my pre-baby shape. The diet programme says itís not what you do in the next 10 hours - or even 10 days thatís important - you have to keep it going for 10 weeks. I keep reminding myself of that. Alun is no help at all! He says Iím lovely as I am, heís eating all the sort of stuff I am banned from - and heís taking the mickey out of my feeble exercise attempts. Iím glad he loves me as I am but Iím doing this for me. And I want to be trimmer and fitter for my family. It would be so easy not to bother, but I am not willing to quit.

Geraint is coming on really well. He feels firm and heís quite feisty. When he gets hold of something he simply wonít let go. Heís now developing much better head control. Heís developed a wonderful cooing vocabulary and he will lie on his own as long as heís happy and make lovely noises. I was very worried about the state of his bowels because we went for 3 days and no poos. Iím beginning to think it was down to my diet Ė Iím eating lots more fruit and veg now. So maybe this health kick will help both of us.

Weíve been busy getting the house in order and putting it on the market and had two prospective buyers so far. There's so much stuff to sort out to make the place marketable. 

We keep driving over the other side of the river to wander around our prospective new home and talking about what we would do with it. Meanwhile we are continuing our lovely life here. We are getting up to 5 eggs a day now from our little flock. Last night we had superb steak - from one of Lortís beasts. I really enjoyed cooking it grilled with a little balsamic vinegar. Delicious.  

Oct 1 2000

Iíve started my post-baby diet and exercise regime. As of three days! Iím sticking to three sensible meals a day (no more nibbling on cakes) and Iím getting in a power walk each day and an exercise programme every other day. Itís scary doing exercises after surgery - lots of aches and pains, but I feel NOT doing them would be more damaging. Hope I donít give myself a hernia in the process!

Yesterday we went over to the house at Landshipping and watched the sun go down from the quayside. Very nice it was too. The bird-life was enchanting - we saw (and heard) the curlews swooping in, the gulls and geese too, and then a lone heron flew down for his tea. Elaina and I went for a power walk up the lane parallel to the river and it was really lovely. Not a man-made sound to be heard, just bird song as the sun went down on the moored boats and the tide rushed in. The sky was reflected perfectly and the whole scene looked worthy of an oil painting.

We adjourned to the pub for some breast feeding and a pint. Met a loud family from Cardiff who, it transpired, travel down every weekend to enjoy the area. They were a lovely bunch, and no doubt weíll be bumping into them again. Then we drove home via Narberth, just to have a look. Elaina seems quite happy about our plans. We even talked about little jobs she could get in the area.

Last night little Geraint slept on top the quilt between us. Heís so lovely. I was semi-awake Ė canít help keeping one eye on him - and by 3am he was awake and kicking until about 6. Alun then got up to make use of the dry conditions to cut the lawn. After I cooked breakfast we were busy for most of the morning. Elaina and I prepared lunch and then we all spent the afternoon in front of a huge log fire, talking about future plans Big House here we come.

Sept 28 2000

An unusual moment when baby Waah is asleep and I am at the computer! Little Geraint is now six weeks old and that delicious mix of absolute gorgeousness and total pain-in-the-arse-dom that babies are. He's EXTREMELY cute and loveable and lovely-looking and his little ways are endearing and utterly exhausting. He has the knack of keeping me awake 24-7 and demanding to be fed every ten minutes for hours at a time. I am totally anxious about him, looking for signs of problems (as I did with Elaina).

Weíve been having a lovely time. Just staying in bed, cuddling, feeding and caring for our little one.  Having found each other rather late we intend to make up for it. And weíve also put the house on the market and buy a property on the river as a place for us to raise our family and keep little Geraint safe.

Angela and Mike came for the weekend. I told them both about Geraint's condition and they were really supportive. Angela couldnít put him down!

Elaina is doing very well at her new school and seems to be settling well. Gethin continues to stay and dotes on his little brother. Mum has been down a couple of times and even Grandma Lucas made the journey from Cardiff to see the baby and she's nearly 90. My only sadness is that my father hasn't yet come and I need to see him face to face. It's too far for me to travel. 

Alun is now over at Landshipping looking at the old place we are considering. Elaina will be home soon and Iím spending a little me time, having had a really rough night with the little one last night.

Sept 20 2000

 I went into labour on August 15th - more than a month early. I had spent almost the entire pregnancy having contractions, being sick and experiencing pain, so initially dismissed these as Braxton Hicks and Alun went off fishing. I had been having contractions for several hours but they became intolerable and regular by about 11pm. At 3am Alun was finally home and I had to get to hospital - quick. We dropped Elaina off to Alun's mum and dad and went in. I was examined and found to be in established labour. (I knew that!) The doctor came to see if I wanted to try a breech delivery (ha ha) and I suggested, firmly, that we go for a section please. 

I was prepped for theatre and then a spinal block was inserted which made me numb - and knocked off most of my respiratory muscles. I had to trust these people around me to keep me alive and I had to talk to myself to keep a grip and not panic. Alun was brought into the theatre and there followed an agonising period during which the baby was delivered. I wasn't in any pain, but I was so scared. As soon as this little bundle was put into my arms and was alive I felt utter euphoria and looked at Alun who was in tears and the only thing I could think was that I would do it all again for him.

Our little baby boy looked quite cute and elfin-like. I was aware that the paediatrician had kept him for a while and I picked up a bit of a dodgy vibe from the medical team who seemed a little over-enthusiastic about telling me everything was OK. Then Alun went off with the baby and they spent an hour stitching me up. I asked Alun to phone my parents to tell them the baby was born and he phoned my dad first.

Finally I went to the ward and was back with Alun and the baby. I allowed myself to feel the enormity of what Iíd done and to tell myself that I HAD done it. All that worry could finally be lifted, couldn't it? But I was still not completely sure.

Then Alun passed the baby to me and in an instant my fears were realised when I looked into baby Geraintís eyes and one thought flashed into my mind. Down's Syndrome. But I then told myself not to be so daft.

The doctor returned. I could feel that vibe again. He fiddled about with Geraint and then said "Thereís something Iím not happy about Ė Iím wondering if this baby has Down's".

"I am too doctor", I replied. Alun physically jumped. At that moment I felt my whole world come crashing down on me. I couldn't be instinctive and just enjoy the emotion of having this new baby. My intellectual side had to kick in and I had to think. Hard. I'd had literally minutes enjoying the moment and now I had to deal with this. I looked at Alun and just said ĎSorry.í

There were no tears, they would come later. Instead I had to endure dealing with the medical team trying to deal with the situation. Nurses were saying that the baby's eyes were the same shape as mine and the doctor was probably wrong and that we should wait for the results of the blood test. I just said to Alun that he could not hold onto the hope that it wasnít true. The nurses wanted us to move to a side ward and were watching us, waiting for the emotional eruption, which never came. Alun spoke for both of us when he said "he's here, he's ours and he's stuck with us and thatís all the is about it."

We spent the next few days dealing with the realities of having a new baby and my surgery. I was determined to be upright and out of bed within 12 hours of the op. Alun had to go and phone everyone and let them know the baby had arrived. People came to visit - including Angela. My first visitor was Elaina. She was so happy to see the baby. It made me realise that things could have been a lot worse. Shit, the baby could have died or have received a brain injury at birth. But my joy was tinged with sadness - I would have to tell her and soon. And would there be disappointment or even embarrassment - or shame - for her? So many mixed emotions.

Geraint had low blood sugar and on his first day was subjected to blood tests and I had to feed him some formula milk. Then he developed jaundice (more blood tests) and we gave him photo-therapy in an incubator. He began feeding and my milk came in on day 4, which was very painful. I was warned he may never take to breast feeding, but that made me more determined for us to succeed. 

People kept arriving with huge bouquets of flowers. I felt so protective of my baby. I would look at him and think - what now? I tried to remember all the medical complications I'd learned about Down's Syndrome at a special seminar Iíd attended as a physio while pregnant.. Knowing that Alun was going to back me up - and Geraint, come hell or high water, allowed me to believe we could handle this situation. And I told myself that how other people felt about the situation was NOT my problem and that I shouldn't try to take that on board.

Finally I'd had enough of hospital by Sunday and we came home. I walked around the garden sobbing. I felt joy and elation mixed with deep sadness. I felt fearful for what the future held for Geraint. But when I stopped and really thought about it, I realised that we can't predict for any of us what the future will become - so why worry? I had also developed an alarming lump in my breast (which turned out to be completely fine) but that actually helped me. 'I can cope with Down's Syndrome' I said, half in prayer 'but please God, I won't cope with breast cancer as well.'

July 15 2000

On Saturday, July 15 2000 Alun, Elaina and I said goodbye to a gathering of friends and family from Cardiff, Windsor and Birmigham, at Elaina's Cathedral School, Llandaff and set off for our new life in Pembrokeshire. It had been a glorious few weeks weather-wise, but really miserable for me to be stuck in a hot little house in Cardiff waiting for Elaina to finish her school year. I was determined to sit it out, although Alun was waiting for us 102 miles west, and we made sure she went to all her parties and events - including her last evensong which had proved a lovely opportunity to have a small gathering. Elaina's classmates turned up amid tears of farewell. We all gathered outside the cathedral for photos, and the headmaster Lindsay Gray repeated his promise that Elaina could come back to the school if she wanted to. 'Just turn up, Sarah'. 

We drove off into the sunset and I could feel the stress of the last few weeks falling away as the landscape gradually evolved into rolling west Welsh countryside and deep green views. When we arrived at the house I was in for a lovely surprise Ė  a car pulled up into the drive and Alunís mum and dad handed me a beautiful bouquet as a welcome. Elaina looked out of the window and screeched with delight - there were two little black Dexter cows in the field.

Elaina and I spent most of our first week lazing around. It was too hot to do anything else. So much for the rain Iíd been promised! We did manage to visit her new school and had a conducted tour. A week after weíd officially left, Elaina was back in Cardiff to attend a pop concert. She went wearing a fabulously expensive outfit courtesy of me and she looked really trendy. With me heavily pregnant and too ill to travel, Alun did the trip for me to make sure she got there and back in one piece. We both attended Gethin's end of year school concert. 

Then Gethin joined us for the first two weeks of his holiday and we were soon operating as a family unit once more. And then the hoards (or should I say Fords) arrived! I spent a couple of days getting on top of the laundry and making sure everything was ready for the onslaught. We had six children and Tony staying with us and Stu and Tracy staying at Alunís folkís house.

Rachel also joined us at the beginning and end of the weekend and by the time other pals had come along too there were 17 people sitting down for a fine Sunday lunch of the best salmon - all 18lbs of it. Alun built a huge fire in the paddock to cook the beastie and I made some large bowls of accompaniments. 

On the first day of the Ford kidsí reunion I cooked a huge Mexican-style nosh-up with about 20 dishes. Then Jimmy arrived and the boys went off fishing, only to return at 1am to a house full of wide-awake, midnight-feasting children.

The next day we had a glorious day on the beach playing cricket and going in the sea and we all sat on the damp sand having a picnic. Stu and Tracey who live in southern France couldnít believe the quality of the beach - or the absence of masses! We came home sun-burnt and elated. On our return I made a selection of dishes again, so it was a real catering experience for me. By the end of the weekend I had big fat swollen feet and I felt pretty rough. Heavily pregnant, hot sunshine and the wrong side of 35...but it was worth it to have everyone here. It was so wonderful having the right venue for a reunion with my broís and my family all having a laugh with our collection of kids. We all operated as a unit. Gethin and Elaina were real stars, taking the kids out to have fun with our many animals, and helping with the chores.

Stu and Alun hit it off big-time and Stu commented heíd have a hard time entertaining us when we visit in France because we were such excellent hosts. The house withstood the numbers with ease and Elaina worked her pants off keeping on top of clearing the kitchen and loading and unloading the dishwasher. Gethin impressed his guests with his physical prowess and excellence in handling an assortment of vehicles!

We had an extra day with Stu and family. Alun took them fishing and came back with a goose, which he'd caught on a fishing line. Stu was pretty gob-smacked. And I nearly had the baby himself when they pulled this huge bird out of the back of the car. Tom had caught a little bass, which Alun cooked for him for his tea. We went over to Blackpool Mill and stopped for a pint of Pembroke dock real ale (served by the jug) at Cresswell Quay before coming home for yet another nosh-up I rustled up for the gang.

An hour after waving them off, Elainaís old pal from Cardiff arrived with her grandad. We had a lovely salmon lunch before the kids disappeared off to play with the animals. We had a couple of quiet days - one day on the beach, and another at the Cardigan Show, but the girls seemed happy watching Nickelodeon on the telly. For such a slight child she seemed rather anxious about her food intake. I told here that a very famous chef - Franco Taruschio, said a pudding was really important for the digestion. She was convinced!

Finally we had a couple of days as just the four of us. One day I took the kids to the beach and we had a picnic. Both went in the sea. Gethin was so concerned about me in my pregnant state and insisted on hauling me around (no mean feat!) We were so lucky with the weather Ė Itís been fantastic since we arrived and weíve all had the perfect summer holiday. We were all upset when Gethin had to go home. Elaina was promoted to honorary adult and spent some time with Alun caring for the animals. Her dad came for the day and we all had lunch together. My mum came over too.  Alun went back to work in the yard despite being fairly weak himself and wobbly with back pain. Sympathy pains, I feel!

On the baby front, I continued to get fatter and fatter - and more and more alarmed when the doctors confirmed the baby was breech and would be impossible to deliver in that position.

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