So, it’s been a snowy start for much of the UK.
Whilst we woke to clear skies & green grass, the Epicentre of the Universe – i.e. London – was blanketed in the ‘white stuff’ & had predictably ground to a halt with the majority of city schools & businesses being closed. Curiously, with the Credit Crunch holding us in its thrall the focus was on small businesses & the potential damage to them: the likelihood that telephones not being answered, post not being opened, people not purchasing in shops or consuming in pubs & restaurants, makes a worrying reality that rather than the depressingly anticipated 10,000 businesses failing in the next financial quarter the number could soar by an additional 3-4,000; all because of a prolonged period of inclement weather. It seems incredible – & horrendous that so many businesses are anticipated to fail in such a short time, regardless. And the moral of the story…? Buy local, folks.
Although initially it was clear & dry, there had been a very sharp frost so the ground was solid underfoot. Brynn & I took advantage of this to make our way down the bulbous hill in Parc Dyffryn (the Valley Field) to collect some logs Tony had cut from a fallen birch tree which had come down across one of the field boundaries during one of the autumnal storms.
I hadn’t had the opportunity to walk in the lower woods, for months; & decided to ‘grasp the nettle’ & note which trees had recently fallen & which might require felling in the near future, to render our few acres of ancient deciduous woodland, safe. (Actually it was the brambles which invariably ended up snagging me!).
Brynn bounced by my side as I clambered over the lofty stile & picked my way cautiously across the carpet of crisp, dead leaves beneath the bare trees. A fragile blue sky shimmered overhead as I made my way down to the softly-murmuring little river. This is the time of year for adventurous exploration; the undergrowth is at its least dense & with the harshness of the frost, the typically boggy ground is solid enough to traverse with due caution.
The vast bulk of a fallen tree blocked my path. This venerable example had a heavily-mossed trunk, soft & almost silken to the touch: emerald green & ochre in colour. The massive root ball, dark earth studded with silvered slate & snowy quartz, reared above me; ivy entwining the branches which splayed across the tumbling stream. I traced my fingers carefully along the gnarled whorls in the bark before scrambling apologetically over the prone trunk.
My goal was to reach the confluence of the two rivers which mark the boundary of our land; & where, once upon a time, a drovers’ road forded the shallow water onwards & upwards through what then was not a wild, wild wood but a busy highway to the bustling markets of local Welsh villages & towns.
The dessicated husks of tall, hollow-stemmed reeds rattled in vegetative annoyance as I brushed through their swampy forest. My journey seemed to be not just through the silent, deserted trees but through time itself; it could have been today; yesterday; tomorrow; or thousands of years past. Only the murmur of the stream & the whisper of the wind in the trees, remained constant.
At last we came to the spit of sand & shale which marked the meeting of the two rivers. The Bowi swept majestically in a deep curve where the sewin still spawn in the silent waters; whilst the Barddu giggled its way down tens of tumbling cataracts from the hills above & married its sweet waters with those of its wider companion; merging & flowing, ever onwards, to the sea.
For generations this has been a near-deserted spot; I doubt any other human has trod here, in at least a decade. Strange to think that at one time it would have been a busy crossing & bustling meeting-place; but that was years if not centuries ago, now.
Fuelled by the dogs’ enthusiasm & my own spirit of adventure I cautiously examined the river banks. Was there still a point at which it would be shallow & safe enough to cross…? Whilst excitedly anxious to discover more I still have an innate sense of self-preservation; not so much for myself but owing to my responsibility to feed all those hungry mouths-on-legs up the hill, who rely entirely upon my care.
It was Brynn who bravely forged ahead. No longer a pup but now an eager young dog he splashed through the shallows in pursuit of a stratled woodcock, with ease; on reaching the far bank he cocked his head quizically to one side, ears comically pricked & tongue lolling in playful enjoyment. “Dare you…!” he seemed to be begging.
And so, I did….
This was not the time to discover that you have a major leak in one welly. Nor was it the time to discover that the water was far deeper & much more fast-flowing than expected….I gasped at the strength of the undertow which almost swept me off my feet as much as the stream of icy water rapidly infiltrating the rip in the heel of my right boot. I hastily splashed my way safely to the far side, not relishing the prospect of the return journey even though the stream was unusually benign for the time of year.
But it had certainly been worth the soaking. Forcing my way through a thick screen of young holly bushes I was amazed to find myself standing just below one of the courses of the Wild Road. I was stunned. For those who may remember, there is a magical time in our valley for a brief moment every year. At snowmelt the dense woodland is transformed; & a map of ancient trackways mysteriously appears, shimmering soft silver in its wintry cloak. I have oft longed to follow its broad path; & imagine it to be a place of the Otherworld, populated by the wraiths of ancient knights on their heavy chargers; or farm carts laden with produce winding their way up the hill, pausing to take a draught of cider from the flagon & looking across at our cosy little homestead.
I scrambled my way upwards to explore further. Heaving myself along the truk of a fallen tree I edged my way forward & for the very first time, onto the Road itself. The broad track was edged with two thick walls of ancient stone, mossed & tumbled but still substantial despite the decay of many, many untrodden years. I ventured cautiouly forward & felt the tingle of adventure so tangibly that the air seemed to pop & crackle with electricity. This was not, however, what would have been the main thoroughfare; that was higher up the valley, I knew. This more modest road rose up from the river where I’d just been, where once – I knew – there had been an old bridge; although my brief “archaeologists’ eye” exploration had not on this occasion revealed its’ foundations.
At that moment the first soft flake of snow drifted lazily down from an azure sky. It was getting late. I anxiously glanced upwards as more flurries fell; however my view of the horizon was severely limited & I could not see the volume of clouds approaching. It was time to leave, & quickly. I cast one more, longing glance back at the Road, which seemed to be beckoning me forward. “Another day,” I sighed regretfully; & whilstling to Brynn turned back down the slope & traversed the shallow ford again. A shiver ran up my spine as I left the Road. It felt as if the eyes of the Otherworld were upon me, curious & impelling….
Making my way back up through the wood I came across a vivid splash of colour amongst the carpet of copper leaves. The red was so bright it was almost as if scarlet paint had been dripped into the bowl of this little fungus. On closer inspection of the moss-encrusted stick I found two further examples of this pretty little elfs’ cap mushroom, so called because it looks just like the sort of cheery garment one of the Fair Folk would wear. And being so close to the Frenni Fawr, famous for its tales of faery, who am I to say….?
Pushing the heavy barrow back up the hill (which was incredibly hard work) I managed to reach the safe shelter of the buildings just as the snow began to fall in earnest, turning the sun into a wan coral globe which hunched low in the winter sky. I hurried my way through the chores, & was glad to get indoors & seek solace in the warm glow of the hearth at long last. By 10pm the Arrivals Yard looked like this:
….which doesn’t bode well for tomorrow (nor probably, for several days to come) – so wish me luck!