Cefncarnau-fawr – then and now

I’ve been trying to tie up the plan in the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments in Wales’ inventory with what’s on old maps on https://places.library.wales/ and https://maps.nls.uk/os/ (another amazing resource and although it’s the National Library of Scotland it covers the whole of Britain) with what is there now – without much success, but the nettles and brambles are really a bit high for serious surveying. I’ve made a rough sketch from the RCAHMW plan and reorientated it so north is at the top.

This is clearly the kitchen (2 on the plan)

with the big fireplace and bread oven

but this looks too small for their plan of the cowshed (3 on the plan)

and I couldn’t get anywhere near the older part of the house.

This is how the farm appears on the tithe plan in 1840, based on the tithe plan on https://places.library.wales/ .

The darker hatching seems to be accommodation, lighter hatching is presumably outbuildings. No barn, nothing across the lane – and what is that little building NW of the farm house?

The first edition OS is about 1875 and is on the NLS site.

This doesn’t differentiate between accommodation and outbuildings. The little building NW of the farmhouse has gone but there is something just across the lane N of the farmyard and the first of the buildings that are still there on the lane. The present farmer thinks this started as a cowshed – it has the central drainage channel and racks for the cows to be fed while they are milked – though the buildings may subsequently have been reworked for horses. There are some differences in the farmyard buildings but the really interesting thing is that the well is marked near the lane and just east of the farm, in the small enclosure which now lies between the farm house and the ruined barn.

The 2nd edition OS is surveyed 1898 and this is the map on the NLW site.

Quite a lot of changes. The cottage (or whatever it is) above the lane has gone and the cowshed/stable range above the lane is all there. A benchmark on one of the buildings – wonder if it’s still there. The buildings on the E of the farmyard have gone, to be replaced by the big barn whose ruins are still prominent.

The 3rd edition OS is on the NLS site and resurveyed 1915. No real change – one wonders if they really resurveyed it.

There are sale particulars in the Glamorgan Archive. We need a visit once the lockdown has eased sufficiently – and another site visit in the winter, when the brambles and nettles have died down.

 

Postscript: here’s the bench mark, below the door of the middle stable

 

Deserted cottages

I thought I had done all I could with the lost farming landscapes north of Cardiff, but more bits keep turning up. After I’d been to Deri-duon last week, I was trying to locate some sites on the track past Transh yr Hebog and I noticed two cottages alongside the Heol Hir. Both were there on the tithe plan; the lower one was on the early OS map. The one further up the lane wasn’t on the early OS map but there seemed to be something on the modern map.

I had another look at the sites along Transh yr Hebog. Is this just a retaining wall at about ST 17596 85066

 

just below the air shaft, or is it something more? There’s something marked on the early OS map (but no identification) and a coal tip just down slope.

The possible adit is a bit further down at about ST 17588 84977, and the second structure is at about ST 17655 84926. There’s something marked on the early OS map but nothing on the tithe plan and no identification.

Along to the two cottage sites. The lower one is at ST 17263 84542, where the path above the golf course meets the Heol Hir.

It’s virtually invisible – just a little bit of masonry under the brambles.

In the tithe apportionment it’s described as a cottage and garden, belonging to the Marquis of Bute and tenanted by a Thomas Thomas.

The upper one is at ST 17293 84673, on the footpath from Transh yr Hebog. A little bit more to see: just visible from the lane,

looks like a 2-up, 2-down house with some sort of animal shelter adjoining.

On the tithe apportionment it’s the homestead of quite a substantial farm: 40 a., though mostly pasture, belonging to the Hon. Robert Henry Clive and tenanted by a James Moses.  By the time of the OS map, the whole area was wooded.

The Heol Hir is a classic hollow way.

The hollowing must be old: there’s a section of retaining wall half way up.

I really need to revisit the cottage sites in winter when the brambles and nettles have died down.

More about Cefn Carnau

The mother and toddler group in our village was the heart of the community. I had just started going along with my little grandson when the lockdown hit. This was where you could order cake and bread from the cafe, arrange for your bike to be mended – and now I’ve had an email from one of the mothers who had found my blog about Cefncarnau-fawr. She was trying to find out a bit about the farm because in the 1930s it belonged to her great-grandfather, the Cardiff builder C. E. Hockridge. It was sold off after his death in 1935. At that time it was described as a farm of nearly 154 acres. 137 acres were held by a Mr Spencer Wride on a yearly tenancy at a rent of £100. There were also 15¾ a. woodland held by the landowner and two sites for huts and a poultry run held on short tenancies. The farmhouse had grown considerably from the hall-and-chamber house of the 17th century: 5 bedrooms, 2 living rooms and a dairy. The outbuildings were the barn whose ruins can still be seen clearly from the lane, cowshed with accommodation for 26 cows, a three-stall stable, carthouse and loft. This was a farm pretty much like the one my mother was brought up in, between Newport and Cardiff, and just a bit smaller than Llwyn-yr-Eos, which is now part of the National History Museum at St Fagans.

I went back to the tithe plan on https://places.library.wales/ for a bit more information. That gave the owner in 1840 as the Rev. William Price Lewis (a Lewis of the Van or of Pantgwynlais, possibly?) and the tenant as Thomas Davies. The farm was 140 acres – possibly including a bit of the woodland that was in hand in 1935.

For comparison, in 1840, Cefncarnau-fach was 48a., Blaen-nofydd was 45a. Bwlchygelli was split between the parishes of Eglwysilan and Rudry (this is where using the tithe map gets awkward) and seems to have been about 29 a. in total; Bwlch-y-llechfaen was 13 a. In 1840 Cwmnofyd was only 11a. of meadow, pasture and wood: the tenant Lewis Lewis must have been working elsewhere to make a living.

More deserted farmsteads …

Well, this is Bwlchygelli, at ST 16711 84736

just where John Owen said it would be, in the dip between Blaen-nofydd and the Heol Hir.

Can’t think why I hadn’t spotted it before. Perfectly obvious that heap of stones was once a building.

‘ Brains first, and then Hard Work’ said Eeyore.

John Owen suggests Bwlchygelli and Bwlchylechfaen  could originally have been squatter settlement on the older estates of Cefncarnau and Cefneinion. There was lead working in the area, and there are the remains of quarries and limekilns on the lane from Blaen-nofydd – this is the limekiln at ST 16595 84695.

Both farms were small, not much more than smallholdings: possibly early industry provided some casual work for wages, with the farm worked mainly by the women of the family for sustenance. That was quite a common pattern in early industrial areas.

I’m still not sure about Ty-Draw, though. There’s no evidence of a structure down the hill.

There are some possible features just below the track,

but the house marked on the tithe plan is further down. Part of the problem is that we are on the edge of 3 parishes so the lines on the plan don’t totally match up, but I’m wondering if it could be further down the slope again, below the track that goes towards Cefn Carnau Lane.

(Also it’s Ty Drav on the map but I’m sure it should be Ty Draw.)

Nell will be pleased to have another look.

All that’s left of Ty’n-y-parc now seems to be this ruined cowshed at ST 17830 85903,

though there are some tumbled stones under the trees.

John Owen remembered a forester living there in the late 1950s but the forest has now completely taken it over.

Another puzzle. The farm marked as Cefn-carnau-fach on the early and current OS maps is the one which is called Cefn-carnau-uchaf on the tithe plan. The farm called Cefn-carnau-uchaf on the OS is just Cefn Carnau on the tithe plan. Who is right – or did the names change?

Lost farmsteads: update

My old student Dave Standing (tweets as @AncientTorfaen ) suggested that the mortar in the farmhouse walls might give an idea of dating. We had an energetic discussion of this on Twitter and I’m not sure how well it works – but in general it’s suggested that the paler the mortar, the earlier the building, and when you get to the C19 it’s the dreaded black mortar.

Of course, all this is dependent on being able to see the mortar in the first place. Here are the walls of the unidentified farmhouse in Coed Wenallt: you’d have to take these apart to get mortar samples.

This was the only wall I could get to at Cwmnofydd:

rendered and heavily patched with cement, but is this a bit of creamy-beige mortar under the render?

 

And the farm at the top of the Heol Hir: quite a lot of coarse pale greyish-brown (while balancing precariously on a pile of logs, with the dog on the lead because there were sheep about …)

Looking again at the map, I realised I’d misidentified that farm. It’s not Bwlchygelli but Bwlchylechfaen. Bwlchygelli is back a bit along the path AND I HAVEN’T SPOTTED IT – time for another trip. The moral of this is that you need both field work and desk-top survey.

We went up the ridge towards Rudry Common then down the lane towards the Wern-Ddu clay pits. When we were nearly back down at the Heol Hir we spotted this at about ST 17270 85337 –

spoil from the old quarry, or is it suspiciously rectangular?

(You can just see Nell on top of the ‘wall’ here.)

There is a farm marked in the area, Ty-Draw, marked as a ruin on the 1840 tithe plan, but from the map it looks to be below the track, and down quite a steep slope.

Then there’s Ty’n-y-Parc, the other side of the railway tunnel and in the woods towards the Rudry road at ST 17827 85906. Not sure if that one is still there – there’s something on the modern map but it could be a ruin.

Watch this space …

Lost farms, lost settlements

To distract us during the lockdown, while we can’t do much in the way of fieldwork, we’ve been having a discussion on Twitter on the mapping and listing of deserted settlements. @DrFrancisYoung asked if anyone had ever done an atlas of all England’s deserted villages – so I said ‘and the Welsh ones’. It was suggested that Wales needed a separate volume – fair enough, there are differences, different settlement patterns, much more dispersed settlement, hamlets rather than villages. Also the perennial problems of funding and getting it noticed. Then @A_N_Coward rather proved my point by pointing out that our online resource Coflein ‘has site types for ‘deserted settlement’ and ‘deserted rural settlement’ with about 400 sites between them (although there’s probably some overlap) and a nice distribution across Wales. Many have pics (mostly aerial photos): https://coflein.gov.uk/en/site/search/result?PCLASSSUB=97280&SEARCH_MODE=COMPLEX_SEARCH&view=map https://coflein.gov.uk/en/site/search/result?PCLASSSUB=500312&SEARCH_MODE=COMPLEX_SEARCH&view=map

so actually we seem to have done it. Mind you, there’s some debate about what constitutes a settlement – how many cottages?

Meanwhile, my walks with my neighbour’s dog had taken me over towards the Wenallt, just north of Cardiff, and the little valley of the Nant Cwmnofydd: and at about grid ref ST 14702 83939 what should I find but what looked like the ruins of a row of cottages.

And in the Wenallt woods themselves, at about ST 14959 83860, another farm or group of cottages.

 

I wondered on Twitter how old they were, what the people who lived in them did for a living, and when the Record Office would be open again.

@DrIestynJones  pointed me in the direction of http://geoarch.co.uk/reports/1999-06%20Wenallt520slags.pdf which is a report on some early ironworking slag and other remains further down the Cwmnofydd. I don’t think the cottages were that old – but where there was medieval ironworking there may have been post-medieval working as well.

 

Several people pointed me to online maps, including @MusicNLW  who led me to the National Library of Wales’s amazing Places of Wales site https://places.library.wales/ . You need a place name to get in but once you are there you can scroll around, look at the 1840 (ish) tithe plans, an old OS map (2nd edition, I think, early C20) and the modern map (Google not OS, alas, so not brilliant for anything off road). Then you can pull up data from the tithe surveys – field names, crops, tenants and owners. It can be tricky tying up early C20 trackways with modern rights of way but it’s doable.

A bit of work on that suggested that my first batch of photos was not a row of cottages but a whole little farm, Cwmnofydd (about grid ref ST 14702 83939). It was there on the early C20 map and presumably occupied – one wonders when it was deserted and how it became so completely derelict. There are other lost farms in the area – Cefncarnau Fawr, up on the ridge to the north, around ST 15053 84409, was a big farm complex with a massive barn and other outbuildings

but that too is completely lost.

I still can’t identify the site on the other side of the stream at around ST 14959 83860. It doesn’t seem to be marked on the 1840 map so it may have been deserted and in ruins by then.

Walking a bit further with Nell the spaniel got me to the other side of the main road over Caerphilly Mountain and along the lane to the Heol Hir. Here the trees were cleared a couple of years ago and you could see the foundations of another little farm at ST 16943 84871 (easier to see just after the trees were cleared)

– here it is now

I found this one on the 1840 plan – I thought in the original posting that it was Bwlch-y-Gelli but it’s actually Bwlch-y-Llechfaen so I’ve corrected it (a bit difficult to identify as we were on the edge of 2 plans and they didn’t quite match up). That too was still there in the early C20 but it’s now just a little bit of tumbled stone under the brambles.

It’s often surprising how quickly a building can degenerate into a ruin. This is Penybryn Cottage, on the road between the Black Cock and Rhiwbina Hill at about ST 14293 84426.

.

My father-in-law remembered it in the 1930s or 1940s with a huge family living in it. Once the roof goes, the whole building goes.

Penybryn Cottage is on the map but I couldn’t find this one,

across the road and a bit further uphill. Quite a substantial building, with its own bread oven.

There are others that aren’t on the map. A traditional platform house near the top of Castell Coch woods, round about ST 14009 83746:

and some ‘structures’ around the iron-mining pits, a little further into the woods, round ST 13876 83545 (these grid references are a bit vague).

These might just be spoil heaps from the iron mines but this one looks rather rectangular. (It was actually easier to see before the trees were felled.) Probably not a house either, though – somethig to do with the iron mining? The whole area is pockmarked with diggings for haematite iron ore,

some of it probably 16th and 17th century.

When Natural Resources Wales were preparing to fell the conifers on this side of the forest because of the dreaded phytophthora ramorum, they said they had a detailed survey of things like the iron pits and possible charcoal burning platforms, something like a Lidar survey. I wonder if it’s ever going to be publicly available?

 

And I must remember that @AncientTorfaen  wanted to know what colour the mortars in the old houses were.

Swansea the Riverside Town

Gerald Gabb has sent me the following information about his magnum opus – the completion of his 3-volume history of Swansea.

The 1840 view above by Alexander Rolfe (Glynn Vivian Art Gallery) decorates the slipcase of my new book, “Swansea the Riverside Town”, which has been 12 years in the making.

It will be launched on Saturday 18th and Sunday 19th May between 10 and 4.00 at Swansea Museum – full details here.

book details

 

If that date does not suit, there are –

 

Further launches at Sketty, Newton, Bishopston, Reynoldston, Mumbles, the Central Library and in Swansea Market

 

As well as talks and events in the National Waterfront and Swansea Museum, and at Clydach, Fforestfach, Glynneath, Gowerton, Killay, Llansamlet, Loughor, Morriston, Neath, Penlan, Pontarddulais, St.Thomas and Trallwn, at which the book will be available.

Dates, times and venues are given below – just scroll right down.

 

It’s an expensive book, so anybody coming to have a look at it, or only to hear the talk and have a chat is sincerely welcomed. All talks are planned as being interesting in themselves – they are not just adverts.

 

You can also get in touch via g.gabb@ntlworld.com or 01792/613262. In that way you can arrange delivery of a copy, or call in to see one at 38 Woodland Avenue, West Cross SA3 5LY.

                                                                                                                       Keep going down !

Or try a shop:     Swansea Museum (open Tues-Sunday, 10-4.30)

Cover to Cover, Newton Rd., Mumbles

Waterstones, Oxford Street, Swansea

Norton Stores (opposite the Beaufort)

or further afield at College Street Books, Ammanford or Seaways Bookshop in Fishguard.

TALKS & EVENTS

Pre-publication talks

Saturday 13th April 2.30 RISW lecture, Swansea Museum

 

Wednesday 17th April 3.00 SKETTY LIBRARY

 

Thursday 25th April 2.00 TOWNHILL LIBRARY

 

Saturday 27th April 11.00 HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION, National Waterfront Museum

 

Talks & events at which the book MAY be available

Saturday 4th May PENNARD LIBRARY 10.30

 

Tuesday 7th May OXFAM BOOKSHOP, Castle Street 7 for 7.30

 

Wednesday 8th May 7.00 OYSTERMOUTH LIBRARY please ring, email or call in for a ticket: 368380  judy.knight@swansea.gov.uk 

 

Saturday 11th May Local & Family History Fair, NATIONAL WATERFRONT MUSEUM, 10-4.00

with talk at 11.30

 

Wednesday 15th May PENLAN LIBRARY 10.00

 

Formal Launch

Saturday/Sunday 18th/19th May  SWANSEA MUSEUM, 10-4.00 both days

On Saturday, Prys Morgan (11.30) & Peter Stead (2.30) have kindly agreed to speak.

The author will give presentations at 11.00
on Sunday. The book will be available throughout both days.

 

Follow-up launch sessions

Thursday 30th May 10.30-12.30 ST.PAUL’S PARISH CENTRE, Delabeche Rd, Sketty,

                                                                         talk at 11.00 (ample parking)

 

Saturday 1st June 9.30-4.00 SWANSEA MARKET table in the centre, chat but no lecture

 

Saturday 8th June 10-1.00 NEWTON VILLAGE HALL, by St.Peter’s Church, talk at 11.00

 

Thursday 13th June 7.00 Tabernacle Chapel Hall, Chapel Street, Mumbles – a COVER to COVER  BOOKSHOP event – please book: sales@cover-to-cover.co.uk, 01792/366363 or at the shop

 

Saturday 29th June  ST TEILO’S PARISH HALL, Bishopston 10.30-12.30 talk at 11.00

 

Saturday 20th July 2.00 SWANSEA CENTRAL LIBRARY Discovery Room, upper floor

 

Friday 26th July Reynoldston Village Hall 6.45-8.30 talk at 7.20

 

Saturday 27th July, 10.00: Swansea History walk led by Gerald Gabb, beginning and ending at Swansea Museum – roughly 2 hours, level throughout. Tea & coffee available at the museum on return. For further details contact John Steevens, john@steevens.co.uk or 01792/643791 ALL WELCOME (Royal Institution of South Wales event)

 

 

Other talks & events where the book will be available

Monday 3rd June FFORESTFACH LIBRARY 10.30

 

Wednesday 5th June 2.00 circular Swansea History walk led by Gerald Gabb, – about 2 hours, level, meet at Swansea Museum (a Gower Walking Festival event, places limited, book at info@gowerwalkingfestival.uk or on 07340/672963)

 

Friday 7th June U3A Family History group 10-12  members only

 

Tuesday 11th June 10-12.00  Swansea Eastside Historical Society,

Community Room, St.Thomas Community Primary School

 

Tuesday 11th June 7.00 GOWERTON LIBRARY

 

Friday 28th June 2.00  KILLAY LIBRARY

 

Wednesday 3rd July 2.30 LLANSAMLET LIBRARY

 

Saturday 6th July 2.00-3.00 PONTARDDULAIS LIBRARY

 

Friday 20th September 7.00 CLYDACH HISTORICAL SOCIETY, Clydach Community Centre

 

Saturday 28th September RISW/HA History Day in the museums 10-4.00

 

Friday 11th October 2.30 LLANSAMLET HISTORICAL SOCIETY Trallwn Community Centre

 

Thursday 17th October 8.00 OYSTERMOUTH HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION Ostreme Centre

 

Saturday October 26th RISW Local History Bookfair, Swansea Museum 10-4.00

 

Wednesday 6th November 7.00 GLYNNEATH HISTORICAL SOCIETY Glynneath Training Centre

 

Thursday 7th November 2.30 LLWCHWR HISTORICAL SOCIETY the Institute, Lime St., Gorseinon

 

Tuesday 12th November 7.30  KENFIG SOCIETY Pyle Parish Hall

 

Monday 18th November 7.00 NEATH ANTIQUARIAN SOCIETY the Old Town Hall

 

Tuesday 3rd December 2.00 MORRISTON LIBRARY

 

…….and probably a summer talk at the Glynn Vivian, details to follow

 

 

SHOPS  try Swansea Museum, open 10-4.30 Tuesday to Sunday

or Cover to Cover, Newton Road Mumbles, and Waterstones in Oxford Street all of whom have been very supportive. Norton Stores (formerly Ian Boyd’s) will have copies, as will College Street Books, Ammanford and Seaways Bookshop in Fishguard. Waterstones in Oxford Street and the National Waterfront Museum may also be stockists.

 

Payment

At the time of writing it is hoped that a card reader may be in use, but, to be safe, please bring cash, or, that old fashioned item, a cheque-book.

 

 

Pontypool – not quite what you expect of a Valleys town

posted in: Heritage (General) | 0

Excellent MA field trip to Pontypool, led by Steve.

For the full description, go to http://www.museumwales.ac.uk/en/welshstoneforum/newsletter/ and click on newsletter 7.

Meanwhile, here are some photos: at the Gorsedd stones

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heading intrepidly past the cows

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to the Folly tower (actually a rebuild – the original was such a key landmark that it had to be demolished during WWII)

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Back in the centre of town – how many listed buildings can you count?

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The famous pop factory is lithology heaven, a crazy quilt of scraps of stone left over from other buildings

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and the old Quaker meeting house and burial yard clearly ought to be listed (but isn’t)

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all in all a pretty good day.

If the past is a foreign country, should you get its geography right?

posted in: Heritage (General) | 0

Hilary Mantel says that if you want to write historical novels and you include facts you should make sure that those facts are right. Jim Crace, whose novel Harvest has made it to the Booker longlist, thinks otherwise:

‘I’m not interested in that at all. I don’t want facts, I want to make things up and to dig deep into traditional storytelling to produce a tale that illustrates the subject matter I care about.’ (from an interview in the Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2013/aug/16/jim-crace-interview )

Mantel also says we should not apply modern priorities to the people of the past – something some serious historians could usefully pay attention to. But here again Crace disagrees:

‘I’m not interested in anything else but foisting those sensibilities and writing books that concern the 21st-century. None of this is a critique of what Mantel does so perfectly. It is just to illustrate that for me it is a whole different ball game.’

I haven’t read Harvest (and let’s be honest I’m unlikely to). Apparently it’s set in an unnamed English village, an indeterminate number of centuries ago, at the moment when peasant farmers were forced off the land to make room for sheep. The narrative mentions post-horses and plague is a threat. A surveyor draws maps. We seem to be in the seventeenth century.

Crace was inspired by noticing for the first time some fields around Watford Gap:  ‘I noticed that the surrounding fields were full of ridge and furrow. As a Midlander and a big walker I’d always loved ridge and furrow fields, the plough-marked land as it was when it was enclosed. It is the landscape giving you a story of lives that ended with the arrival of sheep.’

The problem is that it probably wasn’t like that at all: the whole business of depopulation and enclosure is much more complex and very few villages were removed to make room for sheep. Crace’s ridge and furrow could have survived until the eighteenth or even the early nineteenth century, when enclosure of common land took place to facilitate commercial farming. You’d have to go to the County Record Office, look at estate papers and enclosure awards … and that might spoil the whole story.

So does it matter? It’s clearly a powerful and well-written book. Crace’s other concern was the parallels between his story and the eviction of indigenous people by soya barons in south America, and he uses his historical narrative for a powerful modern critique.

But should we call it a historical novel when he clearly isn’t at all concerned with history?

These issues are trending on Twitter with the broadcasting of the final episode of The White Queen. Of course, we didn’t expect them to get the Welsh contribution to Bosworth right. Too much to hope for. But apparently they didn’t get the Stanley contribution either – and my friend Philip Beddows (of Teulu Elystan Glodrydd – tweets as @Fferllys) spotted one of Henry Tudur’s men in Richard III’s colours and carrying the badge of the white boar. Now, this could have been a radical new insight into battlefield tactics – but it’s much more likely to have been a mix-up in the wardrobe pantechnicon. Badges and colours were specifically supposed to have prevented that sort of confusion!

Rise up Women who Weren’t Born Yesterday (again)

posted in: Heritage (General) | 0

Does my 30 seconds of fame on Countryfile qualify me to speak about the problems of academic women in the media?

Of course, if you are a female academic of a Certain Age, you aren’t cutting it in the media these days if you aren’t getting at least a dozen abusive tweets a day … what is it with these guys? Are they threatening to rape us because we are so gorgeous that they are helpless with lust – OK, that can’t be it – so they are threatening us with rape as a punishment for being uppity, mouthy women who have the nerve to get paid for being on the telly. So sex with them is going to be so nasty that the mere threat of it will have us slinking off to clean behind the fridge. Are they really saying their technique is so bad that their embraces are the stuff of our worst nightmares?

And that’s not the only problem we face – and some of them are worth a bit more thought. ‘Blimey’, a colleague said about my Countryfile appearance, ‘sneeze and you missed it … a 10 minute interview cut down to 30 seconds, if that, with a jokey anecdote about medieval monks getting p*ssed (snigger, snigger)’. It seems we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. If we try to be accessible we are accused of trivialising but if we go for the difficult stuff we are elitist. (I was called elitist once, by a  man at the Heritage Lottery Fund. It still rankles.)

I suppose I can claim to be able to speak about these issues. I’ve been doing bits and pieces in the media for about 20 years now, ever since the first flurry of coverage of our Penrhys pilgrimage project. News interviews, several appearances with Trevor Fishlock and a whole radio series with him. Three television programmes with Huw Edwards off of the news, though I have yet to meet him; a programme with Iolo Williams – didn’t actually meet him either; but I did met Robert Beckford, Eddie Butler and Mal Pope, and I’m at the end of this one with Terry Jones http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AhFEvbuBXMU .

And my hair is grey and I don’t wear makeup, never mind Botox. I haven’t yet made it to the dizzy heights of my own series, but you never know.

All these programmes have involved some sense of compromise. Academics tend to think in 1-hour lectures and 20-minute conference papers. We want to be able to say ‘On the one hand this … on the other hand that … what we really need is at least 5 more years’ research and a big conference’. Instead of which you have 2 minutes to make your point, you spend most of the afternoon walking up and down a hill while the camera crew faffs around with the big jib, and your brilliant insights get cut in favour of a few jokey references to medieval beer drinking.

So is it worth it? Well, of course, it does impress the management. You can write learned papers until your hand drops off, but when I was in Towns of Wales with Eddie Butler I had pro-vice chancellors queuing up to tell me how great it was. And it is actually fun. I have colleagues who pretend to be blasé and bored by it all, but there is something very satisfying in being treated as an expert. It’s a balancing act  – you get more time to make serious points in programmes like The Real Patron Saints, but you get more people  actually looking at you on Countryfile. And ultimately this is what we owe to the people who pay our wages. If we can’t communicate with the widest possible audience, we probably haven’t understood our subject properly ourselves.

Mind you, I still think this one http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AhFEvbuBXMU  goes too far. It’s not so much the fake costumes and the fact that the medieval pilgrims are singing a 17th century hymn to a tune collected in the early 20th century by Vaughan Williams. It’s the assumption that pilgrims are all about fake medieeval recreation. Apparently you can’t be a pilgrim in hi-tec boots and Goretex: you have to dress up in a robe and sing strange songs.

More about pilgrimage next week – time we finalised arrangements for this autumn’s trek to Penrhys … monastic robes optional!