Spring out of winter

by Hannah Vallin

Remember the days of dry springs leading to warm sunny summers? Certainly feels like a long time ago. As they say in Game of Thrones “Winter is coming”, I am starting to wonder if it will ever leave now. The first snow fall of the year is always exciting, that powdery white stuff that makes everything look somewhat magical, and might allow for a day or two off work and school, great!  It was back in the middle of November when we saw the first sign of snowflakes at Pwllpeiran, and it has been a rather erratic and harsh winter since.  Over the last few months there have been several snow days, and recently thanks to the “Beast from the East”, Pwllpeiran really has been turned into the Welsh Alps.

snow1(The Alps of Wales)

With several inches of snow blocking the roads and temperatures falling well below freezing, the snowfall really has dictated how things happen for quite some time now.  For myself, commuting the 20 minute drive to work has been near impossible at times, it was off to work down at the Aberystwyth Uni Campus with a laptop instead.  But what about the livestock at Pwllpeiran I hear you ask, how will they get fed?! Well, our trusted man Gareth doesn’t let any amount of snow stop him from carrying out his duties.  With what I can only describe as an all-weather onesie and a sack of food on his back the sheep were well looked after throughout the freezing cold winter!  Our resident flock of Herdwicks did not seem phased by this winter wonderland, they actually seemed to quite enjoy playing around in the snow! These lovely little sheep are particularly hardy, a thick wiry coat that sheds water means they can cope well in extreme cold weather, perfect for up in these hills. Gareth has done an excellent job at keeping them safe with good shelter spots, and well-nourished with plenty of food.  But I reckon even the Herdwicks are longing for spring to be sprung , surly we are due some golden sunshine to defrost the hills soon.


snow2(Gareth working hard out in the snow)

What a difference a year makes, it’s hard to believe that this time last year at the beginning of March we had started to harvest our daffodil plots.  The everlasting cold spell has delayed the growing season this year, I don’t blame the daffodils for not wanting to raise their heads and flower in this weather.  However, the impact that the cold weather and snow is having on the daffodils might not be such a bad thing after all.   As you’ll recall, Pwllpeiran is testing a novel approach for sustainable daffodil-derived galanthamine production in the uplands, as an approved pharmaceutical product for Alzheimer’s treatment (more here).   The theory is, by growing the plants in a more stressful environment, aka the uplands, as a stress response they should produce more galanthamine.  As we are fast approaching the harvest season it will be interesting to see if the galanthamine concentrations have increased this year in response to the recent bad weather.

snow 3(There are daffodils under that snow….honest)

As my second winter at Pwllpeiran draws to an end I think I am going to invest in some skis, if I can’t drive to work I’ll have to take up cross country skiing! Or maybe I’ll get away with just playing on a snowboard. When you live out in the sticks of Cwmystwyth, you can’t assume that the roads will be gritted, let alone cleared once the snow drifts come in. If you’re lucky a very generous farmer will come along and literally dig you out with his tractor, which would be a lot more effective than me with a shovel!.  So, next time you are stuck driving behind a tractor wishing them to pull over, just remember all the help they give during every snow blizzard, flood or any other crazy weather event!

Let’s hope all this snow business is finally melting away until next winter, time for some sunshine, warmth and longer spring days please, we have harvesting to be getting on with!

(This blog was written for you, whilst snowed out of Pwllperian and stuck on campus yet again.)

snow4(A very helpful local farmer clearing the road)