Sunday, 5 April 2015

Homecoming

7pm. We're driving through a murky, rather peculiar sea mist in the coastal town of Conwy. Darkness descended in less than a minute. One second we were driving through the hills, watching the orange sun as it sank behind a Welsh mountain, the next, we were entering a band of smokey fog... And that was that for the day. Now I know how brilliant the eclipse ought to have been!

We've had a genuinely lovely day which none of us really wanted to end. This part of the world is truly magical. I've always been incredibly proud of my North Walian heritage, and, perhaps as a result, whenever I enter the mountains of this part of the world, something within me comes alive. It's not just me, of course: I'm pretty sure there's no one on the planet, Gog or not, who wouldn't be stirred or inspired by this countryside.

Conwy is a particularly impressive little place, which is surrounded entirely by rambling medieval walls. With the possible exception of York, and Lucca in Italy, I doubt it would be possible to find such an impressive example of a walled town anywhere else on the planet. The views Conwy's walls offer are quite remarkable. Conwy Castle looms over the town like something from a Robin Hood legend. The castle is near perfect. I'm not even sure you could class it as a ruin. People would probably live in it if it weren't a Cadw-run.

From the walls you can see up into the hills above the town, which today have almost permanently been shrouded in some degree of mist. In fact, round here, when the sea mists ascend, they often don't go as high as the tops of the hills, so it's possible to stand on the summit of a hill in brilliant sunshine and peer into a valley filled with fog like a giant steaming cauldron. It reminded me very much of the San Franciscan phenomenon. I suspect something rather similar was happening... (*flicks through the pages of his A-level physical geography course notes searching for references to sea mists and haas.*)

The Conwy town walls undulate down to the harbour and end with a section which stretches a little way into the bay itself, like a sort of medieval pier. My Dad tells me this particular part of the wall was there to protect boats in the harbour heading off to Ireland in the bad old days when the town was an English outpost. The walls were there to keep the pesky Welsh out.

We sat on the seafront drinking tea, whilst around us scores of children dangled bait on the end of pieces of string to entice crabs. A man in a little hut was doing a roaring trade in crab-catching kits... And they seemed to work: many of the little buckets sitting next to the kids had rather perplexed-looking crabs inside!

From Conwy, we went into the mountains of Snowdonia. Initially I'd hoped to get all the way to Snowdon itself, but Brother Tim had tipped us off about a rather magical little church - one of the oldest in Wales - which sits in gorse-covered moorland on the top of one of the hills.

We snaked our way up there through single-track lanes, many of which were delineated by the most extraordinarily beautiful streams.

The church itself was magical. There's something deeply pagan about some of the rural churches in Wales. I'm told it has just two services a month, but for the rest of the time is open for visitors and hardy hikers. The back wall is covered in the Ten Commandments written in Welsh, with a crude painting of the skull and crossbones underneath. A bier hangs on one of the walls, used, we're told, to carry the remains of the dead to their final resting place.

The highlight of the church is definitely it's little Packard harmonium, which begs visitors to play it. Musical instruments deserve to be played, so, to celebrate the ancient pagan festival of Eostre, I did the honours, and busked some folk songs, very much enjoying the process of pumping the little bellows with my feet. I will return to that spot to record something. I feel a very strong sense that the place is blessed somehow.

In the corner of the windswept and highly atmospheric churchyard sits a well, the water from which was renowned for its healing properties, particularly, we're told, for children.

We spent another hour on a rocky hillside above the church, proudly flying a Welsh flag from a bracken tree whilst basking in the unseasonably hot sunshine. The valley below us was shrouded in mist. I felt incredibly happy to be there. I felt a sense of belonging somehow.

We went from the chapel to a winter garden complex where they specialise in Dutch pancakes (you can't make this stuff up!) where we met Tim and John again and ate, unsurprisingly, Dutch pancakes. Mine was sickly, rubbery and horrible, but don't tell anyone!

We went back to our little cottage for a plate of halloumi and a cup of tea. It was here that I learned that my mother's two favourite words are "toxic" and "soggy." I love the concept of a favourite word. I'm not sure I have one. Someone once told me that their favourite word was elbow. If you've got this far reading this blog every without getting bored, perhaps you'd tell me what your favourite word is... I might start a lexicon...

10pm. Our journey home started at about 7pm, and found us coming in and out of great banks of mist, the most impressive of which arrived as we drove along the coastal road near Abergale, where the sea was covered in a rolling, low-lying, almost endless mist which resembled dry ice in a Kate Bush video.

We popped in on Celia and Ron in Shropshire on our way home for tea and chat. They've been seeing green moving lights in the sky of late. They've convinced themselves that they're some sort of lazar display in a distant town, but I think they may actually have been witnessing the Northern Lights, which I'm told have been visible in the Midlands lately. There are definitely some curious sights to be had in the night sky at the moment. The moon as I write is bright orange and enormous!

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