Leap the Wild Water

Set in nineteenth century Wales, Leap The Wild Water is a vivid portrayal not only of the struggles of women in those times, but of my home landscape too. I often come across derelict homesteads, farmhouses and animal enclosures of overgrown tumbledown stone, and one can’t help wondering about those past times. Jenny Lloyd brings all of this alive with her series, The Megan Jones Trilogy. The storyline is simple and yet the narrative is all the more powerful for this. A child out of wedlock was of course a heinous sin for women and the injustice of Megan’s predicament weaves a fascinating picture of those times. The fear and power of the church was the divine ruler, and as a result the cruelty imposed upon women was quite extraordinary. A beautifully written book with accurate detailing and stunning observations of the countryside.
The story continues in Where the Wind Blows and The Calling of the Raven. Sequels can be a mistake but there is plenty of meat on the bones of this one; and the story picks up from book one with a seamless continuity. And a serious message develops through these books; that of the oppression of women in the nineteenth century, and it is vividly portrayed through the eyes of Megan, now happily married to Eli. This was a time when the choices for women were limited to tending the needs of men and the land, so marriage to a rich farmer seemed a good idea at the time… But then news of Megan’s child, Fortune, whom she had out of wedlock and is in the care of her brother, slowly bubbles to the surface and the God-fearing community are up in arms, despite a brave effort by Morgan, to keep the situation under control. Eli turns nasty and straight into the arms of the dairy-maid, leaving Megan trapped in an unhappy household as little more than a domestic slave. And then in the third and final part, poor Megan is under scrutiny again for the murder of Eli.
From the cruel, narrow-minded control of the church to the truth of love, friendship and honour, the author weaves a skilful story of life in nineteenth century Wales. The restrained descriptions of the countryside, the healing hedgerow flowers and the strong influence of the seasons makes a wonderful background to this carefully plotted, often shocking tale. I could hear the larks and the rush of water. I could smell the markets, the honeysuckle, and the wet soil, and I could smell the fear as Megan’s fate drew to a chilling conclusion.

Interview with a Character

Patricia Redman features throughout the Wild Water Series. A tough cookie and an astute businesswoman, she plays the victim card to her advantage and is always looking to better her lot, often valuing material things above relationships. But she is also vulnerable and desperate for genuine love. Sadly, she is often unable to recognise  it.

1. You seemed to have everything when you were married to Jack; a beautiful house, a hard-working husband, delightful children.  So why were you unfaithful to him?
“Oh, rubbish! Everyone only ever sees Jack side. He was a workaholic when I was married to him, just like his father, and look what happened there… I was unhappy, neglected, and bored. I didn’t plan to be unfaithful – it just happened. I know everyone says that and I admit I was stupid to fall for Philipe’s promises and his plans: yes, he had an amazing business plan for combining my beauty salon and his hairdressing chain but, well… things change and it progressed in a different direction from there. I suppose it was inevitable it all got in a mess since Jack was never around and Philipe just kind of ‘got me.’ Above all, he understood fashion and style in a way Jack never did. And anyway, Jack’s behaviour was no better. He couldn’t wait to get Anna Williams into bed the minute my back was turned.”
2. Your daughter Lottie seems such a lovely girl, but are you finding her behaviour rather challenging as she grows older?
“Lottie and I have never seen eye to eye, she was always a daddy’s girl. Still is, always will be. Which is why I made the decision to move away. It wasn’t easy, but I did it for her and Jack, in the end. You don’t believe me, do you? It’s true. Lottie has never needed me in the way that Oliver and James have. Even Chelsey was far more independent, but she’s another story altogether, isn’t she? Actually, I don’t want to talk about Chelsey because my words will be twisted and everything will come out about Banks and that awful, awful time when he… well, as I said, I’m not going to be drawn into that other than to say that Jack and Anna had a lot to do with it, surprise surprise! As for Lottie, she’s happy enough. She’s going to stage school, that’s the last I heard.”
3. What do you think about Anna?  In other circumstances could you have been friends?
“Haha! Anna? There are no circumstances where she and I would ever be friends. What on earth do we have in common? She’s a mess! She lived in a falling-down farmhouse surrounded by swamps of mud before Jack sunk a load of cash into it. So far as I know she still looks and behaves like a hippy from the seventies; long straggly hair, big boots, dirty skirts. Does she still waft incense sticks around and make her own polish out of beeswax? She used to be boring when we flat-shared in our student days but these days she takes it to a whole new level. Lottie told me the other day they baked liver biscuits for the dogs and dug up mealworms on the beach, so that says it all. Anna Williams has always been, and still is, fat and uninteresting, and she stole my husband.”
4. Why do you spend so much time and money on shopping?  Are you depressed?
“I did go through a stage of depression after losing everything, but I met another man, and you know how it is, some things just fall into place and I gradually got my mojo back. I love shopping, so why not? There’s nothing more satisfying than filling the boot of my car with lots of shiny bags. I don’t think it had anything to do with my depression… I see shopping more as a hobby, so in the end I think it helped me. It has to be better than taking pills, surely?”
5. Some people call you manipulative, but do you really deserve our sympathy?
“Do you know, I’ve never asked for sympathy but yes, I do think I deserve at least a little. I’ve had a really hard time with my family. My parents, for example, have been no support at all. I know I had to move back in to their place and I was grateful for that but emotionally, you know? I’ve never felt good enough for them, nothing I could do to impress them. And it’s the same now. Another reason I moved away. I can’t see where I’ve manipulated anyone… I don’t know what you mean. Oh, do you mean all those complicated paternity issues with Jack? Look, I did what I thought was for the best, for the children, at the time. I honestly think I deserve some credit for that, it wasn’t easy, holding it all together. I’ve no hard feelings towards Jack. I’m in a better place now. Although, I do miss him sometimes, after all we never forget our first love. I wonder if he thinks about me?”

Idea and Original post by Lizanne Lloyd, plus her book review: https://lizannelloyd.wordpress.com/2018/02/12/an-interview-with-patsy-from-the-wild-water-series-by-jan-ruth/ 

Rowen

Situated on the western slopes of the Conwy valley in the parish of Caerhun, Rowen takes its name from the River Roe, and has won several tidiest village awards. Given many previous – and still ongoing lockdown situations – its local walking only, but we’re fortunate to be able to enjoy this pretty village from our doorstep, despite the pub garden being closed! A collection of cottages, barns, and other points of village interest as opposed to my usual landscapes.

Only Time Will Tell

11764854A compelling story of a boy winning against all the odds through an educational system beyond his social level, but never beyond his abilities. And his hard-working, widowed mother, Maisie, is determined to give Harry the best of opportunities. But past encounters with an ex are never far away, and when Harry befriends Giles Barrington, his meddlesome, fraudulent father, Hugo, does his best to deny what happened between Harry’s mother and himself all those years ago.

A slow start, but then the story began to really draw me in and the big question about Harry’s parentage ebbed and flowed beneath the surface until the build to the denouement – where everything falls apart beneath an avalanche of revelations. I wasn’t quite convinced that both Hugo Barrington and Maisie Clifton would have allowed matters between Emma and Harry to get quite as far as they did, not without some sort of intervention. Hugo perhaps, because he was such a cowardly toad but Maisie had a good handle on moral responsibility and lived for her son, so I’m not sure she would have simply stood by. Not only are there some unresolved threads in this book, but the story ends on the most terrific cliffhanger of a plot twist, so if you prefer everything to be tied-up with a ribbon by the last page, you might feel cheated.
The writing itself is concise and to the point and without too much of a descriptive slant, but it’s a clever structure and the likeable characters combined with steadily building tension, kept me turning the pages. There are slightly overlapping timelines shared between the characters but I liked this structure as it allowed for a greater understanding, not only of the character viewpoints and motivations but in the way it brought to light more and more subtle information. This is a heart-warming story, an easy-read of a historical family-saga with a slightly soapy feel. The sort of fiction which doesn’t pretend to be anything else, and I really enjoyed it.

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The Secrets Between Us

Sarah takes a holiday in Sicily in the wake of bereavement and a failed relationship. She meets troubled, brooding Alex and they immediately form a bond. When Alex suggests Sarah might like to become his housekeeper-cum-childminder in England, she accepts without hesitation – anything other than return to her previous life, a life destroyed by her partner and her best friend. On the face of it this sounds like the recipe for an impulsive holiday romance. However, once installed in the chaotic farmhouse in rural Somerset where Alex and his son live, Sarah soon becomes drawn in to the mysterious disappearance of his wife, and questions are raised.
A beautiful equestrian star, Genevieve has gone missing following the impending break down of her marriage to Alex. Can Sarah trust Alex’s speculations as to what has happened, or should she believe the more uncomfortable rumours in the village?
An unusual mix of genre; an interesting murder-mystery with a hint of paranormal. I didn’t care much for the ghostly element – it felt displaced somehow in a novel rich in reality but other than that, this was a compelling read especially in the second half when the pace picked-up, and various characters began to show their hand. There’s also a wonderful sense of place throughout; the author being especially skilled at creating atmosphere and imagery.

Celtic Sun

Dec 2020. Riding has certainly been my mainstay since March, and there’s no denying that there’s a unique sense of freedom found on the back of a horse in open countryside. We see out the tail-end of this strange year by cantering into a low, winter sun on a seriously cold December afternoon. I’m riding Lady and we’re heading over Cefn Llechen, or the track we call the roller-coaster. As is usual in this area, a herd of Carneddau mares are spaced across the undulating ground, the heather and gorse either side ravaged by previous fires and adding to the sense of wild isolation. The resident stallion stands watchful of our progress, his long pale mane backlit by the sinking sun as it flares behind Tal Y Fan. Lady is hesitant to canter between the stallion and his mares, but Storm moves upfront and soon, my eyes are watering from the wind-chill as we pick up the pace. But the desolate beauty of this place overrides everything. Even when the colours are reduced to browns and greys and the sky is split by such cold light, there’s a spiritual energy on the wind. Maybe it’s something to do with all those Stone Circles and ancient settlements, and any historical Pagan activity is stirred once again by our pounding hooves…

The Green Years


Robert Shannon is orphaned and sent from Ireland to live with his mother’s estranged family in Scotland, where a frugal existence in a dour town looks set to be his world. His maternal great-grandpa becomes an important character in his life despite grandpa’s disdain of Catholicism, and Robert’s paternal great-grandma’s active encouragement of it. Through his childhood amidst the prejudice and fear of religion, and the forming of fierce friendships and future hopes, Grandpa is not only there to advise, but often to rescue. As the years advance this relationship is often turned on its head – much to the exasperation of Robert. But Grandpa has the last say, in a moving and deeply satisfying denouement.
This was an incredibly absorbing, insightful read. A tender coming-of-age novel which highlights the strong oppositions between Catholics and Presbyterians, and how – often with gentle humour – this impacts on young Robert trying to find his way in life and make sense of historical, often puzzling beliefs. But Robert discovers he has a scientific mind, and as he matures his ambition to be a doctor leads him along a difficult and often disappointing path, fraught with obstacles. The depth and variety of character and rural scene-setting, brings this period of Edwardian history to life and makes perfect sense of the title.

Llangollen Canal

The Llangollen Canal is a navigable canal crossing the border between England and Wales. The waterway links Llangollen in Denbighshire, north Wales, with Hurleston in south Cheshire, via the town of Ellesmere, Shropshire. The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct carries the Llangollen Canal across the River Dee in the Vale of Llangollen in northeast Wales. The 18-arched stone and cast iron structure is for use by narrowboats and was completed in 1805 having taken ten years to design and build, by Telford. The canal network forms part of many good walking routes around Llangollen, although I confess to not having the right head-for-heights in order to walk across the viaduct.

Llangollen: 2

A circular walk of 9.5 miles including 2,100 feet of elevation overall (excluding Dinas Bran) Start Point: Panorama Walk, Llangollen LL20 8ED. Map References: SJ 2340243187 or Lat: 52.980530 Lon: -3.142302 
adult-blur-boots-1452784Llangollen is a small town in Denbighshire on the River Dee known for its network of canals featuring horse-drawn barges, and various sites of historical interest. This is a route of varied terrain including dramatic limestone escarpments, open pasture and woodland and a short section along the Shropshire Union Canal. There is an opportunity to visit Valle Crucis Abbey, founded in 1201 on the site of a wooden church. Valle Crucis was the last Cistercian monastery to be built in Wales – check opening and entrance fees online. Or if you prefer more of a challenge, take the additional climb to the ruins of Castell Dinas Bran, adding around an extra 1,000 feet of elevation. Castell Dinas Bran translates to English as: The Castle of the City of Crows. Perched on a conical hill above the town it enjoys fantastic aerial views and despite its dilapidated state, commands not only a strong historical presence, but also one of love, legend and fairytale.

More on the castle: https://janruth.com/2015/07/21/castle-of-the-crows/

The route

  1. Park on Panorama Walk; a narrow elevated road with plenty of parking space and fantastic far-reaching views across the vale of Llangollen including the River Dee, the castle ruins, and the canal. With this panorama to your right, walk away from Castell Dinas Bran perched on its distinctive conical hill, and take a left on the hairpin bend by the finger-post onto a steep grassy bank. (Ref: 52.981276 -3140336) Continue the ascent, ignoring the metal gate a little further on and keeping to the left of the fence-line. Aerial views of Castell Dinas Bran, the limestone escarpments, and far-reaching views of the valley materialise to the left.
  2. At the next finger-post go straight on, continuing to follow the undulating track through heather and bracken, especially colourful in August. At approx one-and-a-half miles from the start point, pass through the metal gate by a signpost for the Llangollen Round. Follow the track as it begins to wind downhill and bears to the right. At end of this track, cross the stream and turn left at the signpost, continuing downhill. At the next signpost keep LEFT, ignoring the sign indicating the route continues uphill. Continue downhill alongside the stream. Some easy scrambling then between a deep cleft in the rocks.
  3. Head towards a single-track driveway ahead but bear slightly right over a broken wall, and then turn right at the Offas Dyke signpost by a white property, and follow the obvious track. Walk along this ridge for a short distance and then descend towards trees, keeping the fence-line to your left. Cross the stream and keep LEFT to descend slightly. Ignore all gates, and continue through the trees on a rough track to locate a stile on the left.
  4. Enter the pasture and cross diagonally, bearing left to locate another stile by the farmhouse. Turn left onto the road, then after a short distance look for an orange post-box set into a tree on the right. Turn right here to locate a stile and a signpost indicating the Clwydian Way. Follow this track through the trees, a stream to the left. Continue over the next stile and descend to another stile by the stream. After a short distance, cross a wooden bridge into open pasture.
  5. Walk through the fields on an obvious track to the farmhouse. Turn left at the road, then take the first sharp right into a driveway with a cattle-grid, by a finger-post signed for Valle Crucis Abbey. Follow this gradually ascending single-track road, passing two or three individual dwellings, until the road dissolves into a track through a wooded area. Continue through the trees to the fork, then take the lower righthand track, signposted for Valle Crucis. Look for a stile on the right, then take the next stile immediately to the left by a white property, and enter the open pasture.

  6. Keep to the fence-line on the right, and look for an old iron ladder stile set into the trees on the right, by a signpost for Velvet Hill. Follow the path as it descends through woods to a wooden bridge over the Eglwyseg River, and into a field. A caravan park and Valle Crucis Abbey is situated to the left. Climb the stile by the house and continue along the driveway to the A452. Take a detour here to visit the Abbey, or continue the walk by crossing the road to go over a stile opposite, giving access to Velvet Hill.
  7. Once over the stile head up to the right and follow the steep track as it begins to bear right along a wide, steep grass path to the summit. Good views of Valle Crucis Abbey from here. At the top, turn left and follow this undulating route until all tracks begin to descend. It’s difficult to be precise about this section but generally head south/south-west without climbing any higher, to leave the hill via a stile by the road into trees.
  8. Follow the short woodland track to the road junction. Turn left towards the main road, then turn right to walk along the main road a short way before turning first left towards Corwen on the B5103. After a short distance, take the steps on the left signposted for the canal. Cross the bridge, and descend the iron steps on the other side, then turn left and walk along the canal towards Llangollen Wharf, with the River Dee to your right. After a mile or so, look for a blue sign: Please give way to working horses on the tow path. Exit the canal at this point, opposite Tower Road.
  9. Cross Abbey Road (A542) and enter Tower Road. After a short distance you’ll arrive at the crossroads; go straight on. At the top of this section turn left and follow the signs for Castell Dinas Bran. Go through the kissing-gate and take the lower track to the left by the fence-line. (Or take a short detour here and tackle the ascent to the castle ruins by walking up and over the hill.) Follow the fence-line path as it gradually ascends to a lane, signed Llangollen History Trail and Panorama Walk. Pass through the kissing gate (If you’ve walked down from the castle, pick up the route here) onto the lane and turn left, then right onto Panorama Walk and return to the start point.

The described route is a guide only, it’s always advisable to use a map or a GPS device.

The Stars Look Down

md879247812A novel based around a North East coal-mining town in the early 1900’s. This was the age of capitalism and the rapid growth of industry, interrupted only by the first world war. For a while, fighting on the front for King and country seemed a better alternative, until the reality hit and few hero’s returned home in one piece. But for most working men in this northern town, this era meant the continuous daily grind of working below ground in pitiful conditions, often facing the possibility of death – or starvation if they came out on strike. Socialism was beginning to raise its head but more often than not it was considered a dangerous and dirty word. Joe Gowlan escapes the mine by running away to the big city, living on his wits and looking for every opportunity to better his life. Unscrupulous, full of swagger, and prepared to take risks, Joe climbs the gilded ladder mostly by exploitation and cunning. He avoids conscription, continuing to work his way into a number of lucrative business deals presented by the war.
David Fenwick, also born into the life of a miner along with his father and brothers breaks away from a life below ground by educating himself. He looks set to achieve a B.A. until his head is turned by pretty inveterate social-climber, Jenny. Determined to do right by everyone and full of integrity, David is the voice of the working man and after playing his part in the war eventually breaks into politics; only to go head-to-head with Joe Gowlan.
Arthur, sensitive son of the mine owner becomes estranged from his father after a terrible flooding disaster in the pit kills hundreds of men, including David’s father and brother. Like David, Arthur suspects his father failed to invest enough in planning and safety. He refuses to fight in the war as he only sees more death and destruction, and Arthur is thrown into prison. When he eventually takes control of the pit, Arthur spends too much money on improving working conditions and when the big industrial slump comes along and the workers riot, he’s forced to sell out to Joe Gowlan.
The strength of this novel lies in the richness of the story and the strong social messages throughout, skilfully expressed through real, multi-layered characters. The hopeless, fearful trudge of life in the mining community is well contrasted with those lives of the rich fat cats in charge; the steak and oyster feasts, the gleaming cars and the ignorance of working life. And yet despite the hardships of the mining towns there is a relentless pride and a strong sense of comradeship. Arthur serves as a wonderful bridge between the classes, and yet his lack of hard-nosed business acumen results in the complete collapse of the mine, and this subtlety adds a clever dimension to the black and white politics of the day.
The understandable greed of Joe Gowlan after such humble beginnings. The strength, pride, and stoic nature of David’s mother, Martha, faced with a strike in the dead of winter, no food, no money, and giving birth to a stillborn child. And those powerful scenes when the mine is flooded and husbands, brothers, and sons, are trapped below ground; scenes which will stay in my mind for a very long time. This is just great storytelling, a huge saga involving many intertwined threads, the triumphs and struggles of life through many different eyes, and the harsh reality that the good guy does not necessarily win.

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