Sunday, 13 December 2009

Christmas Scout Post



I have memories of walking around the streets of Swindon in miserable rain, foggy mornings and freezing afternoons delivering Scout Post. It's a cheaper alternative to using the Royal Mail and probably a little bit more reliable! Usually towns and cities are divided into different areas and different Scout Troops deliver Christmas Post to the area nearest to them. It began in the 1980's and there is certainly no sign of it stopping just yet. It provides a unique service to communities and brings together the scout movement.

It's been a fair few years since I was a Scout so I decided to find out about the Scout Post where I live now, in in Cardiff.

Scoutpostfeature by bribriwilliams




The Scout Post seems to be more recognized today than when I was scout so it's no surprise that the service is becoming increasingly popular. As I learnt from my Cardiff Scouting renaissance, it's not just scouts that get involved in this annual postal service but other volunteers from the Girl Guides, Church Groups and parents that have a few hours to spare are keen to lend a hand and help out. I hope everything runs smoothly for all scouts involved in the Christmas Post across the country. Happy Posting!

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Capturing Cardiff's Campanology-Briohny does Bellringing


It's coming up to Christmas and up and down the UK the sound of church bells will be ringing through the air. Church Bells were rung to call people to morning prayer, reminding everyone that it was time to go church. The art of Bell Ringing has transformed over the years but at Christmas church bells are still used as an integral part of nativity celebrations.

A South East Wales Ringing Centre is being launched in Usk just outside Newport on December 19th. It aims to entice new people into the sport and to provide ongoing to training . This centre hopes to make sure that bell ringing will be enjoyed by many more generations.

I was taught to ring by my Mum but I'm a bit out of practice so I thought I'd find out a bit more about bell ringing and what Campanology in Cardiff has to offer.

Bell ringing has been a team sport for hundreds of years. Towers can have a range of different bell numbers ranging from 6 to 12 or indeed more! Not only is bell ringing an archaic skill it's a actually a bit of a brain work out. There are lots of different ringing methods. The order of when each bell is rung changes and it can be very difficult to remember which bell you are meant to be following. I can just about manage rounds and call changes which is where the bells are rung in sequence (1,2,3,4,5,6,) and a then someone changes the ringing order by calling out different bell numbers. There are very complex ringing methods such as Stedman Triples, London Surprise Major and Little Bob Minor. Below is the ringing order for Plain Bob Doubles.


The lightest bell is usually called the treble and leads a bell ringing sequence. The person ringing the treble calls out "look to, treble's going, she's gone" when they start to ring. Making sure that all the other ringers are ready to start. At the end of a ringing sequence the term "stand" is used so that everyone knows when to stop. There is a bell ringing language and to see the full glossary of ringing terms click here. Certain Bell Towers enter competitions against other towers. It can become very competitive!




I went to ring at a few towers around Cardiff to see whether I could improve my Bell Ringing skills. Have a listen to my journey of when I met some of Cardiff's Bellringers.
First stop was St Augustine in Rumney. They usually practice on a Monday night and when I visited the bells were tied so we could practice without making a any noise! I went up into the bell tower to see how the bells were untied...




There are six bells at St Augustine and they are quite light so that took a bit of getting used. I practiced standing the bell at the back stroke which is slightly scary. Backstroke is when you are ringing the bell and have your arms fully extended in the air (the right hand picture on the diagram).
I rung on the second, third and fourth bell and improved my basic ringing technique. Catching the sally (the coloured furry part of the bell rope) with all of my hand rather than just my fingers.

Next stop was LLandaff Cathedral. It was completely different to ringing at St Augustine. The bells were much heavier and the roof of the bell tower was much higher so it meant controlling the bell rope was a bit more difficult. As I was ringing with some very talented bell ringers the pace of the rounds was very quick so I had to concentrate hard to keep up! They usually practice on a Tuesday evening. They also ring for the Sunday services at Llandaff Cathedral and sometimes a group ring a quarter peal on Sunday afternoons if there are enough people. A Peal is a ringing method that consists of lots of changes and can often last up to four hours-hard core ringing!


I also rung at St John's which is the church in the centre of Cardiff. This tower is used by Cardiff University students as their practice night on a Thursday evening. I usually ring bell number four here as it is a nice weight for me. I love the fact that the church sits right in the centre of Cardiff so when the bells are rung the sound echoes out through the streets lined with shoppers. The church is surrounded by pubs, coffee shops and department stores. The bell sounds are like a spell being cast over the modern city, reminding it of its history, enchanting it with memories of old.
At St John's the bell were up so they had to be rung down. Have a look at how it's done!





You can also look at more pictures on my Flickr Site and check out the map too!



View Cardiff's Campanology in a larger map

There are many more towers around Cardiff that have bell ringing groups and if they are anything like the three I've sampled then they have a lot to offer. All the churches welcome new ringings and would like to see more people take up the sport. Campanology is something that a lot of people know goes on but don't know very much about. In an evolving city like Cardiff, the bell sounds provide a much needed grounding and homage to its heritage. So next time you hear the chimes across the city be sure to find out where they're coming from.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Winter Fair

I went to the Winter Fair and had a great time. I ate so much cheese that I felt a little bit sick afterwards! It was truly a brilliant day. Lots of show animals parading around the centre arena and lots of food and drink stalls to try all the goods. I particularly enjoyed my venison burger and mulled cider which put a smile on my face.I also learnt what cow is in Welsh so I've added that to my vocabulary list! You can watch a little snap shot of the event on Youtube.




There were lots of stands advertising their businesses. Helping farmers diversify, become more environmentally friendly, robot milking and of course lots of places to buy wellies! I also stumbled into the Young Farmers bar which was an experience. On the whole the Winter Fair was a small taster of what the Farming Industry brings to Wales. A showcase of all the good work farming does and how it can get better.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Farming and the Media



I don't come from a farming background. I wasn't brought up brushing ponies or feeding sheep but I do have some farm work experience. I was a milkmaid for a few months and I worked on a sheep farm in Australia for a bit. As I'm trying to report on issues in agriculture and rural affairs I've been looking at how they are already represented in the media. Listen to my radio feature to find out more.
That's me with Dai Davies the President of NFU Cymru and then with Glenda Thomas from FWAG.

The Farmers Guardian and Farmer's Weekly both do a good job reporting farming issues but they are only read by people in the farming community. Here in Cardiff there is a weekly supplement in the Western Mail on a Tuesday. How can this be representative? I'm sure the story is the same for other parts of the country. Local media treating countryside matters as something they have to add, just to tick a box. Other supplements cover job listings, celebrity gossip and housing rentals. I can't believe that Rural Affairs reporting gets put into the same category! I guess it's not all bad news. The BBC has made Countryfile their flagship Sunday night show by moving it into a prime time position. But maybe more could be done? I've recently encountered The Country Channel and of course there is Horse and Country TV which shows that there is a market and an audience for Agricultural News. I'll just keep plugging away and carry on letting people know my findings.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Carbon Farmprints


Last night I went to Lakeside Farm Park to attend the WFU Open Meeting "Carbon Footprints in Farming". The event was led by FWAG Director Dr Glenda Thomas.
Glenda informed us about what actually goes into creating carbon footprints. Also what percentage farming contributes to the carbon footprint of the whole food cycle.
There were also other panelists at the event to discuss the issue. They included NFU Cymru President Dai Davies and AM Andrew RT Davies.


The talk identified 'carbon sources' and 'carbon sinks' in farming. Basically what creates Green House Gases (GHG) and what soaks them up. For example tractors are a carbon source and soil biomass is a carbon sink.
Glenda noted that Farming accounts for 9% of the UK's Green House Gas emissions and the food production process accounts for 18%.

Then Glenda broke down the whole process of the food chain from farming to retailing, cooking and catering and what areas produce the most carbon omissions. Glenda took the potato as an example and surprisingly the point of the potato life cycle that produced the most GHG was when the potato was being cooked in the home. This suggests that actually maybe it's not farmers carbon footprints that need to be under attack, but the general public.
Quite often farms do a lot of recycling and re-using. Some of the people at the conference commented that people that have grown up in rural communities are taught from a young age to be environmentally aware and not waste energy or food. There was a strong sense that it is not farmers that need to be re-educated about carbon footprints but the consumer.
Farmer's already have a lot of processes in place to reduce carbon emissions and they are working hard to do more.It seems that farming is in the spotlight more than other businesses that could be cutting down on their carbon footprint. We can all do more to reduce Green Houses Gases not just business and industry.

To lower farming carbon emissions it would be best to invest in long term projects. This is becoming increasingly difficult with falling product prices. Supermarkets are continuously squeezing producers in a world where consumers just look for the cheapest price. A survey carried out by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) shows that 55% of people think of the price and value for money when buying food compared to 26% who care whether it is locally grown and just 21% who think about the welfare of the animal. It seems that as consumers we are quite happy to point the finger when we disagree with a certain farming method but we will carry on buying the cheapest products rather than the ethically sound produce that we asked for. The word hypocrisy springs to mind.

In the discussion afterwards Dai Davies mentioned that if he had one wish it would be "for Tesco to produce food on the same amount of land with the same regulations as farmers and try and produce a profit". These words sum up the amount of pressure farmers are under from supermarkets and consumers to produce organic, eco-friendly, free range products yet not getting a fair price for their efforts. A farm can't just turn organic over night, it takes time and money to put the stamps of approval in place. Dai also said "Agriculture is the answer to climate change and not the problem" When there have been reports in the media that, to save the world we must become vegetarian, it suggests that eating meat could become as socially unacceptable as taking drugs or petty theft. Has it really come to this?

Dai called for a inquest into farming planning regulations to make it easier for farmers to build small energy farms or wind turbines to help create eco friendly power. There are schemes that look into renewable energy on farms but at the moment there is limited funding available for it. The balancing act that farmers face seems to get tougher all the time.

There was also a debate about intensive and extensive farming. Reports have shown that intensive farming produces less of a carbon footprint than extensive farming. But in a market that is driven by the consumer I don't think they would be happy with the thought of cows huddled up in a shed all the time being pumped with grain. The idea of cows running free in the fields is much more appealing to the mass market. Then there is the argument that a lot of the grain that is produced in the UK is used for cattle fodder when it could be used to feed people. But one farmer I spoke to at the event said there just isn't the demand on cereals and grain for human consumption in the UK and that most of his crop is used for fodder on other local farms as that's where the market is.

At the end of the meeting we looked how farmers can reduce their carbon footprints.

  • managing nitrogen input and ensuring it has a benefit
  • don't convert forest to agriculture
  • identify and breed stock that are genetically suited to production efficiency
  • maximize the final product per unit of input.
Most of the above farmers do already. It was an interesting discussion. But what works for one farm may not work for all. The difficulty I believe in cutting carbon emissions on farms, is that each farm will have to be looked at individually as there wont be one global solution. Farmers can do more but then so can everybody else. Climate change is a big worry at the moment and we all need to work towards being more environmentally friendly.

Monday, 23 November 2009

The Ramblings of Briohny

I've been finding out more information about the Marine and Coastal Access Act which is set to see a path created around the coast of Great Britain. Access to the English coastline will be much improved but here in Wales work has already begun on creating a continual path around Wales.














The Wales Coastal Access Improvement Programme was launched in 2007 to ensure that we can all enjoy the natural beauty of the Welsh coastline. Over 70% of the Welsh coast already has good coastal access. The Welsh Assembly Government are leading the way for British walkers.


I've been a keen walker every since, yes I hold my hands up and admit it, I was a Cub. Then on to Scouts and completing my Silver Duke of Edinburgh Award. So joining a walking club like the Ramblers was the next logical step.

I tagged along with the Cardiff Ramblers and braved the elements and set off on a 8 mile hike along the Gower. We parked at Port Eynon and then descended onto a coastal path which took us 4 miles up the coast before heading inland in a circle route back to Port Eynon. It was absolutely breath taking.
It had rained heavily in the morning, the sky was grey and grumpy. But this provided the perfect moody backdrop for the glistening rocks and the jets of sunlight that were trying to penetrate the darkening sky. The wind was fierce and for most of the walk all of the group found it difficult to walk without getting swept along. At one point I could actually lean into the wind! The great winds meant the waves were big and strong, crashing fearlessly onto the rocks. It was as if Neptune himself was showing us the absolute power of the sea. Tremendous.
It wasn't just the sea that seemed to be showing its might, the horizontal rain was attacking my face, it really hurt! Luckily the rain came in small blasts so I managed to dry off before getting completely soaked again. We were lucky and found some shelter in a valley so we good stop for lunch. I got out my trusty 'sit-mat' out and then tucked into some well deserved sandwiches. After a short stop we set off again on the slippery paths. The ground was sodden and squelched under every foot, streams running off the grass down into the sea. We took a path inland to begin the loop back to Port Eynon. It was only a mile or so after coming off the coastal path that we came across a right of way over farmland.
What made me chuckle was the sign that was on one of the stiles that we had to use "Beware of the Bull". I chuckle because you do hear of people putting up such signs to deter ramblers from using the footpaths. But indeed there was a bull in the field, a big black one at that...so we cautiously set off over the field hoping not to be caught out by a big black bull. The next thing I heard was shouting and yelling and at first I thought someone may have been being chased by the bull. But I turned around and it was a farming yelling at us to stop. Immediately I thought he was shouting at us to get off the land and that he had put the "Beware of the Bull" sign up because he didn't like walkers. So I went over to the gentleman to try and figure out what he was saying. And a gentleman he was. The farmer informed us that he had some fresh calves in the next field that were days old and he didn't want us to frighten the mother and calves. So he kindly led us over the field along a route that wouldn't disturb his cattle. I've worked on a farm before and I know how protective cows can be over their calves. They often become more aggressive; much scarier than a bull I can assure you! I was extremely impressed by the farmers attitude and it just goes to show you never know what's around the corner when you go out for a ramble!
We eventually stumbled back into the car park at Port Eynon, all exhausted but elated at what a great walk it had been. I felt privileged that I'm able to enjoy the coastline of Wales. It sounds cheesy but I felt proud of our country and it's beauty and if the Marine and Coastal Access Act can preserve it, then that can only be a good thing. Diane Davies who is the secretary of the Cardiff Ramblers spoke to me about Welsh Coastal Access.
Briohnylivewalk by bribriwilliams

You can also see a very blustery snippet of the walk on YouTube.


The Birds and The Briohny


The Marine and Coastal Access bill was passed on November 12th ensuring coastal areas of Great Britain will be protected.
Environmental groups such as the RSPB Cymru have welcomed the act and are encouraging the Welsh Assembly to act swiftly to create marine conservation zones.

With this in mind I joined Stella Wells from the RSPB on one of the nature walks at Forest Farm along the Taff Trail in Cardiff.


It was a cold and damp morning and I didn't know what to expect from a nature walk, especially as it involved bird watching. I'm going to be honest when I think of bird watchers I think of people with too much time on their hands wearing silly hats. I used to class bird watchers in the same category as train spotters and stamp collectors. Not any more.
For one, as it was raining I found myself wearing a silly hat and even though it was a miserable morning I had rather a good time!
We met at the Warden's office on Forest Farm road and from there took a short walk around Forest Farm to see what birds we could spot.
Whenever someone spotted a bird we would all stop and get our binoculars out to see what was flying about. I have to say, on this particular, there was not much. Because of the recent heavy rain the river was high so there were no birds perching on stones to hunt for food. I think all of the birds were hiding in the undergrowth to get out of the rain and wind. They must have had a good laugh at us all walking around trying to be as quiet as possible trying to catch a glimpse of our feathered friends. As a complete novice when it comes to spotting birds I was extremely impressed with the amount of bird knowledge that was circulating the group.
Stella managed to identify different species by their colourings, shape and of course bird song. I was amazed and slightly envious of her skills. But we did manage to see a few birds including long tailed tits, jays and of course the friendly robin.
We did get some rather odd looks from other walkers as we all stopped and gazed through the undergrowth to spy on a lonely heron that stood perfectly still staring back at us. By this point I was genuinely excited as I have never been so close to a bird with such posture and character. It wasn't the use of binoculars that opened my eyes on this journey but the enthusiasm of the group that surrounded me. If it weren't for these people it would be harder to know different species of bird that live in hear in Cardiff.
Walking around Forest Farm it was not easy to ignore the litter and rubbish that was clogging up the habitats of these beautiful creatures. It's not just the birds that are affected but whole ecosystems that are swung out of balance. The walk finished after a couple of hours and I felt humbled by the experience.
I'm glad there are bird watchers in this country that will fight to keep Britain's sky full with birds.

I spoke to Stella about the Marine and Coastal Act to get her thoughts on the matter.
Stellainterview by bribriwilliams

You can also watch a little bit of the walk on You Tube

Friday, 20 November 2009

True Taste

Have a listen to find out more about the True Taste awards!

Last night the Welsh True Taste awards took place in Abergavenny. It was a dazzling affair bringing together true foodies of Wales. A list of all the winners can be found on the True Taste website.

At the reception I met an array of people, from producers to promoters. There was a speech by the Minister for Rural Affairs Elin Jones which she commented that the awards recognize businesses that have reached a certain quality of product and just by being nominated they have done "exceptionally well". And after talking to various people at the ceremony I'd have to agree with Elin.
Everyone that I spoke to had a real passion for the Welsh food industry. The award ceremony seems to spurs companies on to be extremely successful and the best at what they do. I sipped on local Monnow Valley Brut and nibbled on fish pie canopies produced by Cardiff Caterers EJ Caterng. I felt privileged to amongst the people the people that produce the food and drink I love.
I spoke to Jeff Reader and Alexandra Tebby from Puffin Produce who supply Welsh Asda stores with their award winning potatoes. Jeff told me he "always looks for the Welsh label" when buying food and he often chooses Welsh over other leading brands. Alexandra informed that their contract with Asda has improved over the years. They can carry on supplying local stores and not just to Asda. Puffin Produce won the Gold Award in the Large Fresh Produce category, so I'll have to try and grab a pack of their potatoes and put them to the Sunday Roast test!

I also met some bodies from the Welsh Assembly who told me of the enormous preparation that goes into organizing such a huge event. They surprised me by telling me that anyone in the EU can enter the Welsh True Taste awards because it is EU funded! So maybe next year we'll see a winner from Germany or Italy...I wonder how that would go down?! Certainly not as well as the lovely food I had last night. The True Taste awards was a great event. It brings together so many people from rural communities in a celebration of Welsh food and drink. I can hardly wait until next year!


Saturday, 7 November 2009

When Briohny Met Barry (aka Shaun Williamson)












I've got to admit, it's not the best picture of Shaun Williamson and it's not the best picture of me, but hey ho, you can't have it all!

The stage production of the long running TV sitcom PORRIDGE came to Cardiff this week at The New Theatre . Shaun Williamson plays the iconic Fletch and puts his own stamp on this classic character. The original writers of the TV series Ian La Frenais and Dick Clement wrote the stage play and Shaun even mentioned that they still email script alterations from LA where they are based...wow!

Fletch is a big role to take on but Shaun does it with style. Shaun brings his own cockney charm to the character and manages to portray the dark clouds of prison life and the silver linings. The comedy is of the same style as the TV series but has modern twists to capture the mixed audience of young and old. The play is a great homage to the TV series.



deer oh deer oh deer



I visited a deer farm near Cardiff on Wednesday. I can't reveal the address because of deer poaching problems in South Wales. Even the shop that I stopped in to ask for directions warned me of visiting the farm. The shopkeeper immediately said "you can't go there" to which I had to reassure him that I had an appointment.

Deer Poaching has become a major problem in South Wales. The police and other organizations such has the forestry commission have joined forces to create Operation Antler. It's a scheme that encourages people to report deer poaching or if they suspect someone is obtaining venison on the black market. Operation Antler also reassures the rural community that something is being done about this poaching problem.

The farm I visited has been the victim of deer poaching. I was described a horrific scene by the farmer. One day they had been walking amongst the grounds only to find a dead stag that had it's head sawn off. Its body just left like an empty crisp packet lying on the floor. Sickening.

Deer stalkers are trained to shoot deer in the most humane way. One bullet to the head, instant death. The farm we visited said that their marksman had been there for five years and had never had to use more than one bullet to kill a deer, an excellent record. Deer stalking is a highly technical skill that must be perfected.
When deers are poached they are usually not killed in the right way causing immense distress and pain to the animal. If you think you've seen any deer poaching please call crime stoppers on 0800 555 111.

The deer farm I visited has been a deer farm since 1640 and has 80 acres of land that the deer happily roam around. The venison produced is organic and is sold personally by the people that rear the animals. When asked what was the best way to cook venison, I got a truthful yet slightly odd reply!
"the best way to cook venison is to undercook it"

They you have it! There are lots of quality assured venison farms out there, so please make sure you use a reputable supplier when you buy venison.


YFC

If only i'd been a young farmer...in fact, I think I can join, maybe I will...

I, along with my partner in rural crime Becky Whitefoot met Kate Miles who is the chair for Glamorgan YFC. In the space of a couple of hours and a quiet cocktail I learnt more about the organization and it's role amongst society and not just in the farming world.

One of the first statistics that Kate gave us was that less than 50% of YFC members site agriculture as their first business. It highlights the growing strains on the farming industry. Even Kate who has been a member of the YFC since she was a teenager is now a solicitor. Kate pointed out that it's not that the farming life isn't appealing it's just that it's unsustainable. Many young adults can see that you can earn a lot more money by doing a lot less work if you stay out of farming. Subsidies in Wales have helped farmers but it still isn't enough to entice young ambitious workers into the industry.

I used to work as a Dairy Maid and spoke to a Gentleman Milker who spends half the year in Spain and works for 6 months as a Relief Milker in the UK. He assured me he could "get work all year round" if he wanted to, due to the high demand of workers. The farming industry needs to do more to regenerate itself which the YFC works towards.

Not only does the YFC work as a social tool for young farmers, it also provides a much needed learning ground for core life skills and responsible farming. Events such as calf rearing competitions, hedge laying, tractor skills and public speaking are common on the YFC calendar. Then the more exotic features such as international farm meetings, variety shows and drama competitions are also on offer. The Young Farmer's Club is so much more than cider and silage. The diverse and unique opportunities that are available help personal development and provide a sense of community which is lost amongst so many of Britain's teenagers today.

Let's hope that the Young Entrants Scheme set up by the Welsh Assembly Government can help to bring more people back to farming. But even that scheme has its flaws and set backs. The budget for the scheme has been cut and usually the entrants have to raise 50% of the revenue before the grant scheme can come into play. The hill is getting longer and steeper.

So for now most farmers will just have to rely on the groups like the Young Farmers for support and training.



If you are a young entrant thinking of applying or you have applied and not found the project useful why don't you get in touch? We'd love to hear from you

bexandbridofarming@hotmail.com


Countryside Alliance

Ho hum Ho hum. Here's a link to the countryside alliance newletter I was featured in...enjoy!

http://www.countryside-alliance.org.uk/regions/wales-and-cheshire/dragon's-tale,-news-for-wales,-october-2009/


Thursday, 5 November 2009

Ray

What? A Journey With Ray Mears

Where? St David’s Hall Cardiff

When? Monday 2nd November

It was my first visit to St David’s Hall and I didn’t really know what to expect, especially as I was going to watch A journey with Ray Mears. Was it theatre in the round where Ray would build a bonfire and the audience would have to move around to see him cook various animals? Or would the auditorium be turned into some jungle like world in which Ray would lead us through and point out all the edible plants?Well, I can tell you, it was neither of those.

Essentially the evening was based around a power point presentation. Ray talked us through a series of interesting photos of his favourite Northern explorers. It may sound like a night round your aunties looking at holiday snaps but I assure you it wasn’t. Having said that, the first half of the show did plod along quite slowly, mainly due to the fact that Ray was going over the background story of what he was going to tell us. A story of exploration, determination and courage.

The Northern Explorer’s that were discussed were Samuel Hearne and David Thompson. Two British explorers’ from the 18th Century that opened up Canada. The Hudson's Bay Company and the fur trade turned Canada into an important trading post. With the increasing demand for fur there was an increasing demand for knowledge of the land. What tribes were out in the wilderness that the white man could trade with? Hearne and Thompson found out.

Ray told us how they managed to navigate through some of the most treacherous conditions on the planet and manage to stay alive amongst native tribes. Ray highlighted the difficulty of their expeditions as they were doing it at a time when there was no high tech equipment, no maps and no guidance. It was only their survival skills that kept them going. Well and the women. Ray mentioned that the women taken on expeditions carried all the packs, did all the cooking and basically did all the work. So nothing has changed then. The explorer’s sometimes didn’t even feed the women, as ‘they would get fat licking their fingers as they cooked’. Again, nothing has changed!

Even so, Samuel Hearne and David Thompson truly are two of Britain’s unsung heroes. It is their journey that Ray Mears tries to emulate in his current television series Ray Mears’ Northern Wilderness. Ray takes us on a journey over the mountains, through the lakes and on a beech canoe until we finally reach the far north. Here Native Inuit’s teach him how to go ice fishing, build a snow house and join in with traditional rituals. The Native people still teach their ancient survival skills to younger generations so they do not fear the country that surrounds them. Along with this Ray also pointed out his best survival tip-determination.

A fascinating story. Ray warned us at the start of the talk that it was serious and not in the slightest bit light hearted. I guess when you are talking about surviving in temperatures as low as -70 C there is no room for jokes.

The evening was like one of his television episodes. Great if you are a die-hard Mears follower. He even did a question and answer session followed by a book signing to ensure his fans got true value for money. I don’t think enjoy is really the right word to describe the evening. I feel more knowledgeable and lucky that I can reach into my cupboard for a can of soup when I’m hungry or get a hot water bottle when I’m cold. I’m glad I saw the show. Ray Mears’ is an amazing guy and exactly like he is on television. Simply Ray Mears.

If you want to know more about Ray Mears check out www.raymears.com or what’s on at St David’s Hall www.stdavidshallcardiff.co.uk

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Oakland Organics





Chick chick chick chick chicken, lay a little egg for me. Or don't lay an egg, just get fat so I can kill you an eat you!

I visited a farm in Bonvilston near Cardiff to see what really happens to a chicken before it gets to supermarket shelves. Oakland Organics is a meat and poultry farm that has won a host of awards, especially for its ethically produced chicken. Becca and John run the farm and let their chickens roam free range to seal the ethical stamp.

So I went along to see the start of the chicken journey.
The chickens are reared for about

12weeks before they are killed. This ensures they have enough meat on them and not that much fat for a great taste. Watching the chickens being killed shocked me at first. I didn't really know what to expect. The chickens are stunned in the head and then their throats are cut to make sure they are definitely dead. The chicken has to be bleeding profusely to comply with the vet regulations.

After they are dead they are, well, almost blanched in a revolving cage to soften the body so the feathers can be plucked easily. The majority of the feathers are removed by a machine that whizzes around as you hold the chicken over it. The rest is done by hand.


On the right is the plucking machine and of course the end result-plucked chicken.
I actually killed 3 chickens with the guidance of Farmer John. At first it was slightly odd but I just kind of forgot about the fact they were animals and just got on with it. It was like I was on a extremely important mission and if I didn't do it terrible things would happen. It was a strange experience. I have spoken to people that have said that they couldn't do it but to be honest, if you are going to eat meat, you have to know where it comes from and how it ends up on your plate. The plucking was slightly therapeutic. Having to pull out every last one before they could be butchered was quite a difficult task. The amount of work that goes into preparing each chicken was surprised be but I'm not sure why! Its just reminded me of the importance of buying meat from reputable sources. Giving the producers a decent price for their ware as they are giving you top quality produce. It's all about care. Oakland Organics put the time and care into producing the meat so consumers should put the time and care into purchasing it and preparing it.

Pheasant Fun and F1





It seems like a recurrent theme combining rural affairs and racing, but it just happens that way!
Saturday took me to Somerset on an adventure. Over the summer I helped to set up and look after pheasant and partridge pens that would house hundreds of game ready for the start of shooting season. I joined a shoot as a beater. Which basically meant scaring the birds into the air so that people could shoot them. That is putting it simply

It took a team of about 12 beaters, assisted by a half dozen gundogs to make sure the game birds flew in the direction of the guns. Birds are like any other living thing, unpredictable! So it was quite tricky making sure that no pheasants flew off into the sunset. Obviously there were a few that got away. We did five drives altogether and on the whole it was a successful day.

One incident that has stuck in my memory happened on the last drive of the day. A walker passed through the land where the shoot was taking place. The walker and his dog stopped in the field that we were directing the birds into, ready to be shot. The under keeper informed the gentleman walker that there was a shoot on and he should probably find another spot where he could rest. The walker ignored the comment and continued on his journey. So then the under keeper went and had a word with the walker and lets just say the conversation was not pleasant.


The game keeper was trying to explain that it may not be safe to be where he was to which the walker started cursing about shooting and informing us that he wanted to 'f*%k up the shoot'. And os we just carried on with the shoot as planned. It was an odd situation to witness. On one hand all the beaters, keepers and shooters had put in so much time, effort and money to make the day a good one. So to have it turn upside down due to one man and his dog seemed a shame. On the other hand, there was nothing we could do about the walker. He was on a public right of way and as he did point out, there were no signs up saying there was a shoot on so how was he supposed to know to avoid the area on this particular day?? Tricky.


It's the second time I have seen different country pursuits conflict with each other. The notion seems to be that everything that goes on in the countryside seems to run along side by side, but it often isn't the case. For example ramblers and farmers definitely don't go hand in hand. It's something that I seem to get stuck in the middle of as I like it all!

The great thing about joining a pheasant hunt is the glorious food and drink that accompanies the day out. Sloe gin and soup at midday, followed by a pheasant feast after the hunt. Cream mashed potato wit horse radish with lashings of red wine. Job done. I've even took home a brace which now have to pluck and gut, wish me luck!


Now to the second half of the weekend. Sunday was the last race in the Formula One calendar. Abu Dhabi was the venue and Yas Marina was the circuit. This was the first race held at this desert track, but what a premier it had. It was a tremendous sight. Two years in the making and it has been worth all the time and money. The hotel with its amazing light display and the fabulous bridge that overlooked the circuit.

To add to this already special occasion, I was lucky enough to watch the race at the Williams factory near Wantage. It was a class act. I was greeted by the sight of formula one cars from Williams' extensive racing history. Nigel Mansel, Aryton Senna and David Coulthard are just of the drivers that have raced for Williams and I was proud to be amongst their racing heritage.

After be dazzled by all the polished metal of the motor vehicles it was then time to relax and watch the F1 on a giant screen with regular updates from the Williams team and even a live link up with a member of the Williams team. Whilst the race was on you enjoy a superb three course meal which compensated for Lewis Hamilton retiring from the race. Let's hope it's not a sign of things to come for next season.

The race itself was brilliant. No one knew what kind of race the new circuit would offer, especially the 'underground' pit lane. I have to say, Abu Dhabi should be proud. The race track was varied, exciting and as it's situated in the middle of the desert there was a risk of sand on the circuit which added another element of uncertainty into the mix.

The highlight of the race had to be the last few laps. The newly crowned F1 champion Jensen Button had managed to more up into third and was closing the gap with Mark Webber in front. By the last laps Jensen tried to over take Webber and catch him out on a few corners but the feisty brit just couldn't manouvere around the Red Bull. Jensen had to settle for third place but I'm sure he wasn't too disappointed, being world champion was good enough. Sebastian Vettel won the race confirming his second place spot in the championship.

At the Williams conference centre I had a go on an F1 simulator which was brilliant. It wasn't exactly like driving an F1 car but it gave you a pretty good idea of how hard it is. For one, you are pretty much laying down in the car like you would do in the bath tub. It's very strange!! I kept tilting the steering wheel too much and just forgetting which way I had to turn! I didn't score a great lap time but it was so much fun. It was a really good day. It's nice just being slightly more involved with the race and it's a good alternative to actually watching the race at the circuit. It was certainly a lot cheaper than a ticket to Dubai would have cost!

I can't actually believe it's the end of the F1 season already, what am I going to do on Sundays??

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Fast Cars and Fast Cows

A varied weekend to say the least. A combination of two passions.

Castle Combe is a race circuit near Bath and I've been to a few of the Formula Ford races this season. I was lucky enough to attend the end of season award ceremony which saw some of the great drivers of the year being acknowledged.

I spoke to a racing driver called Steven Jensen who came second in his class and fifth in championship overall. Steve was telling me of the random connection he has with this years F1 Champion, Jenson Button. Steve had some coaching from Jensen Button when he was younger and it seems that Jenson Button was actually named after the Jensen family. Steve's father Erling Jensen used to know John Button. John liked the name 'Jensen' so much that when his own little boy was born he decided to call him Jenson...now that's something you don't hear everyday!

So whilst Jenson Button is up in the Formula One series, Steven Jensen is still supporting his local circuit-bravo to the both of you.


Swiftly moving on to other goings on in the land of Briohny-more farmer's markets! This time the Food and Drink festival at Cowbridge. Big white tents full of yummy pies, soft cheese, scrumpy cider and sweet treats. Something for everyone. There was even a company that sells Welsh Cookery DVD's. On their table was Welsh fruit cake and cheese on the same cocktail stick! Now this bizarre combination I have never tried before but I was actually quite surprised how well it worked together. Each bite reminded me of James Bond, a little cheesy but you're left wanting more.

A great day out. Cowbridge as a market town has a lot to offer, it even has its own Physic Garden. Lovely pubs and a good range of charity shops, all good. A successful weekend.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Farms and Farms

What a day. As I'm sat here typing this, it seems like a world away from where I was at 9am this morning. I visited Penrhiw Farm near Cardiff and where I was overwhelmed by the beauty and the serenity of the farm. John and Celia Thomas and their three dogs run the farm which produces organic beef and lamb. If you are looking for 'happy meat' then I would recommend getting down to the Riverside and Roath Farmers' market in Cardiff where you can pick up some of John and Celia's meat.

Celia was more than happy to show me and my friend around the farm and then invite us in for a warming cup of tea. A picturesque farm kitchen, with the kettle slowly boiling on the aga-bliss! I spoke to Celia about the problems that frequently effect farmers and also some of the more recent government initiatives like sheep tagging and badger culling...

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Rambling


I've recently been on a nice hike around the Rhondda Valley, South Wales. I went with my local walking group the Cardiff Ramblers which was brilliant. Me being the ripe old age of 24, I considerably lowered the average age of the group! To be honest it was very refreshing to be surrounded by a wealth of age and knowledge. If find that people that have been on this planet have a lot more interesting things to say than I have so I was quite happy lapping up all the general knowledge they were throwing at me.

As we walked through woodland, fields, housing estates and cemeteries, in true welsh style the rain didn't stop! And to add to the excitement we had to walk through farmland in undercover fashion, hoping we wouldn't be spotted by the angry farmer! Our walk leader for the day had mapped out the route a few days before and was harassed by the landowner in true 'get off my land' fashion! However, we managed to pass through without ay trouble.

Just thought when I thought the walk couldn't get any better an elderly lady,Diane, revealed that she had left her glasses at the first toilet stop. As were about 8 miles into the walk, this meant she pretty much had to circle back around to the very beginning to see if she could find her specs. As she wandered off back to the beginning we all wondered how she would cope searching for her specs without being able to see properly....watch this space to find out how she did.

One of the most groundbreaking things I discovered on the walk was the notion of 'Gentleman forward'. I had no idea what was going on when someone bellowed this phrase and all the men marched off whilst I was told to stay put with the other women. This I learnt was the way in which that everyone could discreetly 'spend a penny'-genius! It was not only this that was memorable of the whole day but of course the amazing views of the valleys and the site of Avonmouth distantly in the background.

It was a grand day out. Luckily the weather cleared up towards the latter part of the day. After finishing the walk and heading back to the start point, joy of joys as we found out that Di had found her glasses. A happy ending. I cannot wait until I have another rambling adventure and I have to say, I think 54 is the new 24.


Fox and Hound

What a fab weekend I've hand. I was lucky enough to follow the Llangeinor Hunt on one of their taster days. Which was just brilliant. We met on a crisp morning at Ogmore Junction in Blackmill, Bridgend. Horse box after horse box, hound after hound. I helped hand out mugs of soup and tumblers of whiskey before the hunt set off over the hills. As I don't own a horse, a kind gentleman, who went by the name of Derek, bustled me into his landrover and we followed the hunt trail in the car. Accompanied by my partner in rural crime, Becky Whitefoot, we had an adventure over the Ogmore mountains.

The sound of the horns, the sight of tweed and the rustle of a packet of polos in the glove compartment...what more could you want? Well maybe my thoughts on fox hunting? Now there's a tricky one...

Prior to this glorious morning of Welsh Hunting I actually to went to a social evening set up by the Llangeinor Hunt. The venue for the evening, a working mens club, the preferred drink, diet coke in a can and the most popular choice of food to accompany the event, a packet of crisps. A far cry from the stereotypical hunt gathering shown in the media. You were more likely to see a piece of toffee stuck to the table than a toff.

The purpose of the evening was to inform and educate and it certainly delivered on both accounts. The Chairman William Pugh and Hunt Master Brian Hughes led the evening explaining that we may see a fox on the hunt but in no way were we hunting it...
"if we see a fox we will stop and restart the trail"

Since the ban on fox hunting came into effect in 2005, after the Hunting Act 2004, hunting communities have had to adapt to the new laws. Even with the ban in place the core themes of hunting are still in tact. There is a great sense of community and purpose within the group, an overwhelming force of tradition and an eagerness for young and old to be involved. I even learned how to tie a hunting tie, otherwise known as a stock!

To be honest after my social interaction with everyone on the Llangeinor Hunt, I feel so much more informed about the whole fox hunting debate. An active member of the Llangeinor Hunt Mair Hughes was ready to answer any questions I had and was keen for people to understand more about what actually goes on on a hunt. And when asked why she thought people were against hunting the answer seemed clear "it's a class issue". That seems to be Britian all over doesn't it? A class misunderstanding.

I'm not going to pitch one way or the other on this debate but I do agree with Mair when she told me that the Fox Hunting issues are a like a drop in the ocean. So much surrounds the Fox Hunting debate that you really do dig up more than you bargained for.

What I have taken from this was a brilliant day out with a lot of lovely people. I came away from the hunt with my belly full of stew, my head full of horses and my boots covered in mud. But the most important thing, I had a smile on my face.




Wednesday, 23 September 2009

video

Hello, I'm Briohny Williams. I come from a small village near Swindon and yes Swindon is the home of the magic roundabout and Billie Piper. Need I say more.
You can check out my web page for my Bristol based radio show at www.bcfm.org.uk

I've done a few bits on you tube like everyone else under the sun.