My ‘Orrible Dad

In 1982 I bought a plot of land at Sandy Haven and started work on a house and gardens (now The Anchorage). Work had to start immediately as it was in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park and the site, with a pair of linked ruined stone cottages, had been abandoned for 14 years. Park rules state that if abandoned for 15 years that land must return to nature. So some fast decisions were necessary. Grants were available at the time to restore old cottages and also to build nuclear shelters. However the doors of the cottages were only five feet tall and I did want to live somewhere that I had to crouch every time I went through a door. So we levelled them. When I bought the site I was told the ground was solid rock and I could do nothing with it and that the old cottages were frequently surrounded by water as the site was wet (which I saw that first summer).

The problems of the rock and the flooding of the house site required some geological observation and thought. By digging around with a JCB I found the ground was fine but filled with large boulders of Devonian sandstone. Today these boulders are laid out around the sides of the terraced gardens of The Anchorage to hold them. The source of the boulders was a thick sandstone bed dipping down the valley and is today exposed in the bank behind the garage. This bed of sandstone acts as an underground dam and traps the groundwater on the upstream side, so that it came to the surface in seepages around the old cottages. So I cut terraces and used the resulting material to raise the ground level of the house site by two meters. I put in an observation well ( now the Shell Well) over the springs of water and piped the excess water into an underground drain for the valley stream that lies beneath the public road. To meet the park requirements, the foundations of the house up to floor level were constructed. This provided the dry site of today. Next a garage was built in which we kept our two dinghies and four canoes for the summer holidays. And so the site remained for many years.

There were some long hot summers about this time and we would camp at Sandy Haven and boat in the creek and along the nearby shores. When camping we found the well useful as a source of cold water. Bottles and cans of drinks could be left in a net at the bottom where the water was only one to two feet deep and kept cold on hot days. Buckets of water were also very useful for washing and showering (after standing in the sun). The well was lined with smooth concrete circular pipe sections left over from the building of the first oil refinery and I had put in metal rungs so one could pick up things dropped in by the children. Now here is where the problem arose. It requires some skill and practice to tie a modern slippery nylon line to a modern lightweight bucket and get a bucket of water from a well. The knots can slip and the bucket is left in the well. If the bucket is just lowered it will float on the water surface. The art is to drop the bucket so the lip touches the water first and then a pull on the rope spins the bucket around and scoops up a bucket of water. This is more difficult on a moving sailing yacht when buckets of seawater are often needed. Here one has to throw the bucket ahead of the person and scoop the water up when it is alongside the person. Any delay and the motion of the yacht is such that if the bucket of water gets astern of the person, then the line is wrenched from the hand as the yacht races on. Many a bucket and line have been lost at sea this way. Our children started off with all these problems and our one bucket was often abandoned at the bottom of the well for Dad to recover. After a while I solved the problem by saying that anyone who lost a bucket had to go down the well and recover it as I was not going to keep doing this. I remember both daughters were most reluctant to do this but I stood by and helped them. Soon there were no more lost buckets. So I forgot all about it.

Two decades later on two occasions (both in the past two years when I had finally returned to live in the UK) my family assembled for a birthday party. On both occasions the now grown up children were telling family stories of summer holidays in Wales. The first time I heard the story was when our oldest daughter was talking about her horrible dad who had made her climb down a well to recover a bucket she had lost there. I listened with great interest as she explained how horrible it was to climb into the well where there were lots of spiders and spider webs, then as she went further down the well it became dark and cold and when you looked up you could see this tiny circle of light at the top. She explained how frightened she was down there as any insects or things might be there and there was her horrible dad at the top and how she got the bucket. The next year at a similar gathering I was astonished to hear our youngest daughter telling the same story but even more embellished and after the spider zone came the bat zone and down on into the bowels of the earth with the tiny white circle of light above getting smaller and smaller (very like the television cartoons). It sounded like this well was hundreds of feet deep and it was a major expedition. I had not realised that the girls were afraid of the well and now regret sending them down to get the buckets. However I thought I should put up some defence. So the next time I was in Wales with our youngest daughter (now adult) we went to the well with a tape measure. From the rim of the well to the water surface, the depth was six feet exactly. This astonished our daughter as she had only her childhood memories and the depth had grown over the years with the telling. Today for the requirements of summer letting, I added another two feet of stonework to the top of the well and roofed it to be the present shell well. The depth of the well to the water is now eight feet and the water depth varies from a foot in summer to two feet in winter. Modern health and safety regulations and liability insurance require that a locked metal safety grill be in place so no one can get into the well nor pets fall down it and this has been done. However it is still somewhat disconcerting today to discover that I have two grown daughters who both entertain their friends with stories about “My horrible Dad”.

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