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De-veg: Protecting Welsh monuments from the encroachment of time

Will Oates putting some finishing touches on Caerphilly Castle

One of the best things about living in Wales is the sense of history that seems to flow from every corner of the landscape. From gaping slate quarries to castles in every town, its hard to forget the mythology which is rooted in this place. Ancient texts such as the Mabinogion describe in poetic beauty a magical substrate which seems to support the Welsh spirit, and you only need to go for a short walk in the hills to see that the names of places still describe this deep connection between man, myth, and place. This really is the land of dragons and the relics are still there to prove it.

The consequence of aging tends to wreck havoc on these relics, and many of them are showing their age, but fortunately the Welsh government have Cadw working hard to protect Wales' vibrant history. Cadw are amongst our favourite clients here at Highlife, not only because they share our passion for conservation and history, but simply because the work we tend to wind up doing for them winds up being in some of Wales' most beautiful places.

Alex Haslehurst at Lamphey Bishop's Palace

This work is varied, but one of the main jobs we wind up doing is de-vegetation. Often de-veg is tied up with some remedial pointing work afterwards, but quite often it is the case that we go to a site and clear a load of vegetation in preparation for a larger project. Two such cases in 2020 were Lamphey Bishop's Palace, and Caerphilly Castle, both located in South Wales.

Lamphey Bishop's palace is a beautiful, quiet spot amidst lush Welsh pasture, an ideal spot for the Bishop to holiday when he grew tired of his main residence in St David's - or so we were led to believe. The site is fantastically preserved, with incredible vaulted chambers, and some of the oldest surviving original medieval paintwork still evidenced in some of its window arches. Our job was to prepare the site for larger conservation work happening this year, and whilst we would have loved to stay in that beautiful spot to clear every square inch of vegetation, this mostly meant removing rolls of turf, small trees, and ivy from the wall tops. Straightforward access, and often working on our feet, this amounted to a splendid week working in an ideal location, with the satisfaction of knowing that the palace was in better condition than when we arrived.

Lamphey Bishop's Palace

Caerphilly Castle was a little different in terms of environment. The second largest castle in the British isles (only bettered by Windsor) and situated in the town centre, it provided a slightly less relaxing environment than the Bishop's Palace, but nonetheless it is a site steeped in history and as always we were honoured to work there. The castle itself was almost ruined, and then largely rebuilt in the early 1900s in an effort to provide work for local tradesmen. And ground subsidy has led to some incredible features, such as the leaning tower of Caerphilly, which has a greater tilt than the leaning tower of Pisa!

The access was a little different from Lamphey too, given the moat surrounding its walls. We were there to remove ivy, but given that we were working above water, all of this vegetation had to be hauled out a bucket at a time - tricky when the ivy rolls off in massive sheets! But we set our minds to it and buckled down, and by the end of our time there the Northern aspect looked as good as new - almost!

Will Oates removing ivy from Caerphilly Castle

All in all, both of these jobs were very well suited to rope access. A quick blast of hard work and both sites were left in far better condition, without the need for large scale intervention or interuption - and of course at a much lower price than could have been acheived with scaffolding. And more than anything, we were pleased to have taken part in preserving Wales' rich history.

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