The venerable Old Red Sandstone of the Welsh borders, it became clear, might account for the characteristic table-topped escarpments of the Beacons, but for durability it ranked somewhere between a wedding cake left out in the rain and a Cadbury’s Flake.

And yet, that was the whole point. Rotten it may be, but it’s what the hills were made of. So open sheds were supported on stone columns, water troughs were hewn out of great lumps of the stuff, and everywhere there was stone underfoot and stone overhead. The stone roof slates, in particular, were bigger and thicker than their counterparts 

elsewhere—some as much as four feet wide and three inches thick—presumably because if any smaller they’d disintegrate too fast. That was why the roofs, however strong their timbers, sagged over time. It was why roof pitches were often less than forty-five degrees, because oak pegs or copper nails couldn’t hold the weight at steeper angles.

The size of those stones explained the simplicity of the roofs, less cut about with gables and valleys than roofs elsewhere, and why dormer windows were of the simple ‘cat’s slide’ type. As for its flakiness, it made the roofs the perfect habitat for every kind of moss and liverwort, lichen and house leek, stone crop and fern. That denigrated stone was the soul of the area.  

Chapter 18, The house



All photographs and text except where otherwise stated © Antony Woodward and Verity Woodward.