IN THE HILLSIDE
One Welsh farmer is planning something special to mark the millennium.
Itll be novel, permanent – and uniquely Welsh. Tim Relf reports
YOU can see it as you drive along the A489 just outside Machynlleth.
Look over the railway line, across the river and, there, in a field on the other side of the valley is something that catches your eye. Its little more than a dark shape now – an unrecognisable dark shape. But its changing. Daily, its changing. And soon itll become precisely apparent what it is: A Welsh dragon, etched indelibly in the hillside with rock and stone.
"Ive been wanting to do it for years," says Hugh Jones, whos behind the scheme. "All the European flags are straight lines. The Welsh flag is the only one with a figure – a very distinct figure. We dont use it enough."
* Dream into reality
So, Hughs investing time and money turning his dream into a reality. Turning a 27m by 22m section of his farm – thats bigger than a tennis court – into a memorial to the millennium. To mark, also, the opening of the Welsh Assembly earlier this year and the Rugby World Cup, now under way in Cardiff.
Go to Tyneside, he says, and you see the Angel of the North; to Wiltshire and theres the chalk horse; to Dorset and theres the chalk man. And now, soon, in Powys the Welsh dragon. At Brynmelin Farm, routine jobs – like fencing and ditching – will have to wait.
"Its the ideal time to do it – and the ideal spot," says Hugh, standing in the site – part of his 140ha (350-acre) sheep farm – that is clearly visible from across the picturesque Dovey valley, a tourist hot-spot. It seems fitting that it was in nearby Machynlleth that the last Welsh parliament was held nearly 600 years ago.
The project is a labour of love for the 67-year-old, who has even sold his car to contribute to the cost. "As you get older, your priorities change," he says. He smiles at the thought that his children and grandchildren will see it in years to come. And itll last, thats for sure, made as it is from bought-in red stone and white quartz collected around the farm. "Itll be there for ever.
* Offers of help
"Everyones with me all the way. I dont get people objecting; I get people wanting to help."
And the popular appeal of the project gave Hugh an idea. Anyone, he says, who wants to contribute cash can have their name inscribed in a plaque at the site. "Its something Welsh exiles might want to do. Absence, after all, makes the heart grow fonder. Were a nationalistic race. I was in Australia and saw the Welsh flag flying in Sydney and it brought a lump to my throat."
Perhaps the only people less than fully optimistic have been the planning authorities – with the final size and colour combination a scaled-down version of Hughs original plan. "Im a born optimist – I tend to get ideas and only find the snags at a later date. We got planning permission with a bit of compromise on both sides – which is, I suppose, what lifes all about."
But, compromise or no compromise, itll be on this hillside that Hugh will be spending so much time between now and January 1.
* Beautiful spot
"Thatll be the ears," he says, pointing to a section of upturned topsoil. The sheep are grazing unknowingly around the excavation work. "Theyll get used to anything."
Its a clear day: you can see for miles. Stand on different parts of this farm and you can see Cader Idris, one of the highest points in Wales, plus Plynlimon, the source of the rivers Severn and Wye. On a clear day, you can even see the sea.
Its a beautiful spot, I tell Hugh. "Im glad you think so," he replies, moving among the pegs and lines of string markers, consulting his drawings. "Thatll be the tongue," he says, moving a step or two down the hillside.
Then he starts talking about the unveiling. Maybe a big party on New Years Eve. Floodlights, a marquee, a big bonfire to be lit on the stroke of midnight. About what itll be like, when its finished. Talking about its completion he inadvertently uses the word "if" – then catches himself. "Not if, when," he says.
* Are you planning to mark the millennium in a special way. If so, let us know on 0181-652 4928.