St. Melangell’s Pie

For The Cycles of Truth – the presentation of The Cave Hunters And The Truth Machine at Revolution Bike Park, Llangynog – I worked with farmer Rhian Williams of Pantri Peniarth, Penybontfawr (just down the road) to create ‘St. Melangell’s Pie’ as an offering to everyone who came to participate in the experience.

I wanted the pie to be be based on the shortest possible ‘supply chains’, thereby (a) reducing its carbon footprint and (b) supporting local producers. As it turned out, the end product – a lamb and honey pie – was (a) incredibly delicious and (b) founded on the ‘hyper-local’; both in terms of its ingredients and its associated cultural narrative.

The honey in the pies was sourced from my neighbour in the village Rob Broome who has several hives populated by indigenous black bees – which gather nectar from the wildflower patch in our garden. Black bees are fascinating in that they’ve evolved in a colder northern European climate and as a consequence are slightly hairy (which makes them retain heat better) and have shorter tongues than others bees – a consequence of co-evolution with the smaller flowers that are typical of our native flora.

Black bees were almost wiped out by Isle of Wight disease in the early twentieth century and remain threatened, not least as a consequence of growing numbers of apiarists keeping bees of more southern European origin – which are adapted to a Mediterranean climate. These Italian bees will in all likelihood do fine until our climate cools; a predicted consequence of anthropogenic warming that will alter the course of the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic (the principal agency in maintaining our mild climate). So it’s absolutely essential that we preserve all these different adaptations (which is what biodiversity is) to have the best chance of keeping it all going in a universe of constant flux.

Anyway, for now, the black bees are here and the unfiltered honey they make is absolute, well; nectar. As Rob says “you can taste the flowers”. It’s as sophisticated and nuanced as a fine wine. 

The lamb in the pies was reared in Cwm Pennant which runs to the south west of Llangynog – and so the two principal ingredients were the fruit of the landscape visible from the quarry at Revolution where the installation was sited. Thus, everyone who came to the event was physically imbued with the land around them – via the labour of the bees and the grazing of the sheep.

And this immersion didn’t stop with the physical, for Pennant was also the home of St. Melangell, patron saint of small mammals, for whom the exquisite pilgrim church there is named. Melangell’s hagiography tells of how she saved a hare from the huntsmen of Brochwel, Prince of Powys who, struck by her radiant sanctity, gave her the valley as a sanctuary for nature. (It’s often written that hares are referred to here as ‘oen Melangell’ – Melangell’s lambs – though I’ve never heard the phrase used).

Nevertheless, it seemed apt to be thinking about the hare and sanctuary at a time when so many people (and creatures) in the world are being displaced by the actions of the greedy, the profligate, the plain evil and also – if we are being truthful – the reality of universal flux.

The hare I used in making the artwork for the pie label is featured in The Cave Hunters And The Truth Machine and is a mountain hare (Lepus timidus) – our indigenous hare, itself now displaced from Wales. The species is now rapidly disappearing from England (where it was reintroduced into the Peak District) as a consequence of climatic warming. And from Scotland, where it is being exterminated by gamekeepers because it nibbles on the same heather shoots as young grouse – who are themselves blasted out of the sky by wealthy ‘sportsmen’ participating in a strangely ritualised and illogical evolution of the subsistence hunt.

It strikes me that the angry, fearful types who feel threatened by migrants and migration should note that all those who regard themselves as ‘indigenous’ are in fact descended from refugees and migrants; many from communities once living where the North Sea is now who were flooded out by rising sea levels at the end of the last Ice Age – and those who, at the other end of the last cold phase, were forced to retreat to refugia in the Pyrenees in order to survive.

And given the catastrophic and sudden impact of a tsunami on the peoples of the north-eastern British Isles 8,000 years ago we might bear in mind that the unwanted status of ‘refugee’ can be thrust upon us all in a split second – just through bad luck. In the twenty-first century, given the combined impacts of the fearful power of nature (which we can’t control) and the toxic consequences of our own actions (which we can) Melangell’s compassion is more needed than ever.

Perhaps because of all these resonances there seemed something incredibly nourishing – both physically and spiritually – about Rhian’s works of art; something deeply positive and filled with hope.

Here she is at Revs with one her wonderful ‘soul food’ creations…

Stirring Up The Ghosts

The Power of Water; watermill ‘camera obscura’ at Loggerheads Country Park, November 2021

We, in our hubristic fashion, adjudge ourselves a successful species. But consider this; we are doing a good job of destroying ourselves (and much else) after just 300,000 years of existence and only 50-65,000 years since we evolved what is termed ‘behavioural modernity’. The hyaena was present in the landscape of the Clwydians for over 600,000 years (and it’s still with us today, albeit elsewhere). The cave lion was here for well over 550,000 years. If continuity, pure and simple, is the primary success criteria for a species – as it must be – then the hyaena and cave lion are, as things stand, twice as successful as Homo sapiens. So, we need to get over ourselves a bit.

Being confronted by the physical remains of these and other indigenous species – and, importantly, being given the space to process what they mean to us – can help with with this. They’re a good head shrinker and bring necessary perspective through fostering senses of wonder and resonance rather than didactic finger-wagging.

The activity we undertook in the first phase of Cri’r Gylfinir in the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley AONB over the last three months of 2021 was all about such context setting; for an enquiry concerning the shape of our future relationship with the ‘more than human’ world (that is to say – anthropocentrically speaking – with the diminishing biodiversity on which we are utterly dependent). It was about blowing minds, recalibrating and hopefully instilling a little humility. And it was an exercise in the art of the possible; in challenging preconceived notions, demonstrating that;

• You can encounter artworks outside the art gallery – indeed they often find powerful resonances in being thus liberated and joined to diverse contexts.
• Artistic and scientific ‘silo’ thinking is so twentieth century.
• You can present animation in the landscape, under the stars (it always feels a wee bit naughty…)
• You can animate 12,000 year old reindeer bones (and even older hyaena teeth…)
• You can turn a listed watermill into a 3D cinema.
• You can make a pastry hyaena as a pie topping.
• Rangers are fantastically capable, insightful and willing art technicians (adios white gloves…)

The exhibition in the Oriel, the Udfil app in the landscape of Loggerheads Country Park and the ‘beacon’ projections in and around the watermill co-existed in symbiosis. Each brought meaning and processing space to the other.

The sci-art collaboration with Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales and Royal Holloway University London functioned in such a way as to shatter boundaries and hierarchies.

And quite possibly the most exciting part of it all was the collaboration with local producers; “you’ve made artworks of the food!” observed animated animator Seán Vicary…

We were really delighted with the response and the connections the events fostered – particularly the Ysgol Bryn Coch staff posse who have since come to Loggerheads for INSET training with the Udfil app – and the ideas and possibilities that emerged through so many lively conversations.

As well as functioning as a forum, the arts reach the parts of our humanity which lie beyond logic, the linear and the empirically measured; speaking to the greater part of what we are at our core. Accordingly the film The Power of Water (at the top of this page), which is part document but also an attempt to capture the essence of the event, gives the best sense of what took place. But for those of you who are too busy doing IMPORTANT THINGS, who are anxious to check their Facebook accounts, or have unquenchable scrolling habits (and associated focus issues) here are some pictures…

The Ark; a shrine and a reliquary…
… containing the bones and teeth of Ice Age animals from the Clwydians including lynx and hyaena…
…which are brought to life through the magic of animation within the watermill (in the background)
…and further considered in ‘Y Lab’ (in the background on the right) where are to be found cave palaeontologist Professor Danielle Schreve (Royal Holloway, University of London) and archaeologist Dr Elizabeth Walker (Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales).
The watermill cinema comes to life…
Cave explorer and naturalist John Blore contemplates the animated 12,500 year old reindeer bones he excavated on Bryn Alyn…
…and the Mesolithic lynx bones from the same location which gave Lynx Cave its name.

Inside the watermill cinema the mortal remains of mountain hare, mammoth, reindeer and cave lion – all present in the Clwydians for far longer than humans – are reanimated…

…whilst in Y Lab (along with the ark ‘shrine’, specially constructed for the project so as to be portable) Professor Schreve and Dr. Walker represent the continuum of scientific exploration. Research relating to the bones of animals and the information the fossils yield is shedding light on the impacts of abrupt climate change on mammalian species. Note bottle of Cwrw Billy (Hafod Brewery collaboration – see below) as aid to research contemplation.

…and in a second device, Professor Schreve is able to view a projection of her own mind as part of The Cave Hunters And The Truth Machine. The bones of small mammals from species such as the mountain hare are as important to research as those of the ‘glamour’ species…

The second ‘re-animation machine’ presenting The Cave Hunters And The Truth Machine

The Cave Hunters And The Truth Machine charts the role of cave palaeontology in the evolution of our understanding of climate and environmental change from the mythology of the Old Testament to contemporary research.

Who needs a bucket of popcorn when you can have hyaena-powered pies from Swan’s Farm Shop

…or a gallon of cola when you can meditate on a hyaena-powered winter warmer from the Hafod Brewery which also functions as a zoetrope.

Ghosts in the machine; the watermill mechanism as zoetrope. Stills from The Power Of Water (movie at the top of the page). The water of the hills that powers the mill runs through the bones of the cave beasts – and our own bones and blood…

And last – but absolutely not least – if you want to get it done ask a ranger. Ed and Saul facilitate adjustments to the hull of the ark (necessitated by lockdown storage-related oak shrinkage). Just one of myriad contributions from the Clwydian Range AONB team which made it all tick along sweetly…

The Cycles of Truth: Extreme Animation at Revolution Bike Park

The Cave Hunters And The Truth Machine

Revolution Bike Park, Llangynog, 8th & 9th December 2021, 6-8pm.

Extra date!

21st December, 6 – 8pm

For events details scroll down

In 1578, as he translated the Old Testament into Welsh in Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant, William Morgan’s universe was by and large defined by what we would consider mythology. The Church was custodian of the scriptures; the keeper of Truth.

Just two hundred years ago this, for the majority, was still the case. It was held that the bones of exotic creatures unearthed in the caves of Wales and England had been washed in by The Deluge – Noah’s flood. The mechanism of extinction had not yet been recognised, for how could God abandon any part of his Creation?

The Cave Hunters And The Truth Machine is an immersive experience, using dreamlike animation and sound to chart the dawning of the age of science in the nineteenth century. This new Truth proved (somewhat heretically) that the world was much older than had been thought – and that changes in climate had caused our landscape to be populated at different times by beasts of both cold and warm climates. 

The principal agent within this narrative was the adaptable hyaena, now absent but an integral part of this landscape for well over half a million years and therefore, perhaps, an indigenous species.

Prominent amongst the ‘Cave Hunters’ (Victorian gentleman explorers – often, somewhat ironically, men of the Church – who excavated long empty hyaena dens and argued vociferously over the detail of this paradigm shift) was Sir William Boyd Dawkins, born in the vicarage at Buttington Trewern near Welshpool in 1837.

Now, once again, society has an increasingly uncomfortable relationship with science, condemning or dismissing it when it fails to yield clear cut answers or raises inconvenient truths. And we are perhaps more anxious and discontented than ever…

Is it possible that in turning our backs on mythology we kicked away a vital crutch, evolved over many generations to help us come to terms with an unfathomably vast and ever-changing universe?

The event is FREE.

It takes place in the open air. Wrap up warm!!! Bring a torch.

The piece is 25 minutes long.

There are two shelters each with space for 4 people. These can be reserved on a ‘bubble’ basis for half hour slots.

Please visit to book a slot.

On the 9th December each booked slot comes with a specially commissioned pie (one per person) made in collaboration with Pantri Peniarth, Penybontfawr. Soup will also be available. Please bring a mug.

Yr Oriel @ Loggerheads

The first activity of the project has been to establish an exhibition in the lovely gallery at Loggerheads Country Park – which, in many ways, functions as a gateway to the landscape.

The works here aims first and foremost to establish a context for forthcoming activity founded on an expanded timeframe telling of constant flux and the need to embrace change (rather than fear it, as we increasingly seem to).

And also to highlight the cross-disciplinary nature of the project, an ethos which for all the ‘blah’ out there remains difficult to establish and maintain. Why do our institutions have such silo mentalities? Of course there is a great deal to balance, but there is such value in conversations that remain agonisingly difficult to make happen, which often rely on the goodwill of passionate people – and are claimed by these leviathans only once they have flowered…

The text panel in the case in the centre of the Oriel space says:

Remembering Forwards: Time, Change, Loss And Return

Humans have always used animal bone to travel through time; to divine the future.

Ice Age animal bones found in limestone caves, both here in the hills of Clwyd and elsewhere in Wales and England, are yielding important insights into the impacts of abrupt climate change. By exploring the past we gain understanding which can help us shape a better future.

Equally, beyond modern science, people the world over and throughout time have used animals as a lens through which to make sense, express and remember their experience of the universe. Indeed, within the story of our species, Western science is a very recent development.

Rod Mason, an elder of the Ngarigo people in Australia says;

Our ancestors didn’t have books, but we had good memory. We wrote our journey on the landscape and in the landscape, and even to this day we can read our story backwards from here.

We’ve got stories of the ice age, the animals that came, and the animals went – animals you never see no more. So we’re part of the extinction world.

As, perhaps, are we all now.

Cave palaeontologist Professor Danielle Schreve, naturalist and antiquarian John Blore and artist/animator Sean Harris are explorers and time travellers of this extinction world, each using their own devices and mechanisms to reach understanding and find meaning. Here, they are brought together, summoned by the calls of fabulous beasts which once inhabited these hills and now linger both in the dark spaces of our imagination and – as contemporary science shows – within a geology whose traces are present in our own bones and teeth.

You can see the video on display – a projection onto stone and a taste of things to come – here:

You can find out more about the images on the walls here:

Raising the Ghost Menagerie

On the 12th, 13th, 14th & 18th November we will transform the watermill at Loggerheads into a camera obscura. Through the magic of animation, the waters of the Alyn will stir up the ghosts of the lost beasts of Gilbert Pidcock’s Ghost Menagerie, bringing them to life once more.

On the 19th & 20th November we will present The Cave Hunters And The Truth Machine on the river bank behind the Oriel. This unique and mesmerising animated work explores the ways in which the bones of Ice Age creatures have shaped our understanding of vast natural forces including catastrophic flooding and climate change. In charting this narrative – of the transition from a universe defined by mythology to one of science – it asks questions of the ways in which we form truth

Both events are free but may be subject to COVID-19 restrictions so please check for details before travelling.

For information relating to accessibility, COVID and weather related updates please call Loggerheads Country Park:

01824 712757