Following the Wild Road

Milk-white, pure-thin light:

I dreaded waking to this.

Snow has come; an unsullied yet unwelcome, chilly guest.  Dawn hasn’t even broken; yet a milky, moon-frost halflight tries cold & hard to penetrate the heavy curtains.

I rise with the rhythm of an uneasy day; heavy in burdensome workload yet conversely light with the ever-changing natural tableau of seasonal beauty, spread out in snowy silence to amaze & delight me.

Just when all appears tranquil, with warmer promise, the sky is temporarily darkened; the world again, briefly, white; as hailstones helter-skelter noisily down the chimney & bounce off barn rooves, almost queuing up in their anxiety to join the white waterfall of ice that bounds off the curvaceous crown of the haybarn, sending shimmering crystals slanting jaggedly downwards before gracefully melting; as abruptly a gentle, bluer sky hurries away the rude shower in an effort to restore springtime tranquility to this comfortable little microclimate of West Wales.  Seconds later, a benevolent sun apologetically warms the chilly air, & quietly melts the glittering white coating as if it had never been.  Strange days indeed….

The weather today reminds me of my days visiting the Falkland Islands, fourteen years ago; there, almost every day, all the four seasons wrapped into one.  I well remember waking to see wintry snow on Pleasant Peak one morning; then going fishing in a local creek, where the weather was positively spring-like.  By lunchtime it was so hot we were all stripped down to tee shirts & shorts.  In summertime mood, we barbequed our catch of grey mullet at the water’s edge as a school of porpoise swam smoothly by.

In the tranquility of the afternoon we visited a penguin colony before popping into Port Stanley to do some shopping; by which time the weather was rapidly closing in with increasingly strong winds & autumnal hailstorms.  We hurried back to Mount Pleasant before the Stanley road was closed due to the storms – a common occurrence.  And by the time we arrived back at base to wash down the mud-spattered vehicles, it’d started to snow again…..

We went everywhere by Land Rover, & never alone; a minimum of two vehicles would travel together just in case one got bogged down (you had to see to believe some of the terrifying terrain we had to tackle!).  Oddly enough about the only vehicle on the island which wasn’t a Land Rover, was a bright red Fiat Uno nicknamed the ‘Flying Tomato’.

I clearly recall the annual horse races, as well – the course was peppered with potholes & tussocks of rough grass; & the jockeys all downed bottles of strong beer for a bit of ‘Dutch Courage’ before responding to the abrupt crack of the starting pistol with whoops & much clapping of spurs into the woolly ponies’ startled sides.  Bizarre!

All in all, a fascinating, wild place which felt like freedom & where the wind never seemed to stop blowing.  On the Falkland Islands any form of farming is a serious challenge – I think it could be called ‘Extreme Crofting’!  So regardless of the UK’s weird weather at the moment, I’m thanking my lucky stars that we’re not doing over there, what we’re doing over here!

So all in all, a strange day: & inevitably the volume of extra work required came just before snowmelt.  I made my way through a light covering of snow onto the yard; milking was interspersed with snow showers where one minute the sky was beaming with bright sunshine & the next, ominously dark with the threat from pendulous clouds, looming overhead & abruptly obscuring the world with a curtain of whirling white flakes.  I spent much of the morning anxiously hurrying between the haybarn & the forward feed store, stocking up sheep & goats with mountains of extra straw: the sheep, because (much to their disgust) I’d decided to keep them in for the day as the last thing I needed was for them to go outside; get wet; come in again & catch pneumonia; & the goats, because a few of the pregnant ladies’ udders had definitely increased in size overnight & I was afraid kids might be born & I’d have insufficient extra bedding to hand to cover up the damp patches soaked in amniotic fluid – & struggling across an uneven, slate-&-snowy yard, wasn’t a pleasant prospect. 

Then, just before midday, the snow really came in earnest: a blizzard so fierce that for a while the other side of the valley was completely obscured.  It seemed unending; but I took the opportunity to wander outside & take some photos of this magical transformation; bright, colourful flowers delicately frosted with white flakes – & most bizarrely, a bumble bee buzzing busily among the fountain of magenta blossoms in the flowering currant, collecting nectar whilst shivering dustings of snow from the blooms as she worked.  It seemed very odd indeed to hear the summer sound of a bee’s buzzing, oddly muffled by falling snow….but that’s all part & parcel of the strangeness of the day. 

Within only an hour several inches of snow had fallen; I hadn’t seen such a heavy fall, since we moved here in 2005.  And yet by late afternoon there was only the slightest sign that the inclement weather had chilled us at all: a thin line of white beneath a shadowy hedgerow; a dusting of white on the peak of the Frenni Fawr mountain.  In fact in the afternoon sun it was positively warm, & I had to remove my jacket several times beneath the blue sky; only to hastily replace it when the bitter breeze brought with it more cloud & sharp, stinging showers of hail.

 An exciting part of every snowfall here though, is the mysterious, magically brief reappearance of the Wild Road…… 

Through the wood on the other side of the valley there runs an ancient, long-deserted trackway; part of the network of drovers’ roads which pepper the local landscape from days of yore when livestock of all persuasions weren’t taken to market en masse in lorries, but were driven, on foot, across country by stock herders.  On ancient maps of the area dating back as early as the 1750’s these roads are clearly depicted; & several crossed through the farm, many running (I suspect) past the local tavern which although now a farm itself, was once the hub of activity for thirsty drovers.

Nowadays, the majority of these byways are missing; lost in the mists of time & modernisation & obscured by a thick covering of impenetrable undergrowth.  But sometimes – just sometimes – we get a tantalising glimpse of the Wild Road: as the freezing blanket gradually melts it magically appears, the snowlight revealing a glittering path which winds from the deepest, darkest depths of the river valley before swinging steeply upwards, winding through the maze of venerable, bare-branched trees – oak, ash, beech & the slender Woman of the Woods, the birch. 

I contemplate the weary, blistered feet which have trudged that track, over centuries past; thirsting for a drink at the Inn on the Hill.  But yet more tantalising, is the rich seam of legend which runs throughout the area, as deep & earthy as the blue-grey slate & the shimmering quartz under the brown soil beneath our feet.  Weaving my own stories to this bejewelled tapestry I fancifully imagine a troupe of faery huntsmen, harnesses jingling, hounds baying & hawks at the wrist, in search of their quarry – the elusive white hart.  Or perhaps a Knight, the heavy hooves of his charger softly thudding in measured rhythm along the leaf-strewn woodland track, lost in thought after a meeting with Arthur’s mysterious magician, Myrddin; who is said to slumber not far from here, residing as he did in the ancient capital of Carmarthen (or in Welsh, Caerfyrddin; the meaning of which is Merlin’s Seat).  One day, when the World is in dire need, it is said he will awaken…. 

 …..& the Wild Road disappears as strangely & as swiftly as it became visible; literally melting before the eyes; but forever vivid, in the imagination of those who live the Otherworld legends.

As I pause before closing the farmhouse door, the moon hangs low in the depths of a dark sapphire sky, the ice-thin crescent providing ghostly illumination of the full orb, a tantalising circle of shadowed seas & valleys drifting in an ocean of night. 

A faint, soft jingling shivers across the still, sacred silence of the cold evening air… of the windchimes, caught on a momentary breeze across the orchard, perhaps; or does the Wild Hunt ride forth again tonight, after all……? 


About LittleFfarm Dairy

The LittleFfarm Dairy Team: Jo - Goat farmer & Gelatiere Artigianale, plus General Dogsbody; Tony - Airline Pilot & part-time Herd Manager, Product Taster, Accounts Secretary, Handyman etc!
This entry was posted in Animals, April 2008, Diary, Goats, Life, Locality, MindBodySpirit, Nature, Sheep, Smallholding. Bookmark the permalink.

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