A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Molehills And Peacocks

...You cannot live in the present,
At least not in Wales.
There is the language for instance,
The soft consonants
Strange to the ear.
There are cries in the dark at night
As owls answer the moon,
And thick ambush of shadows,
Hushed at the fields' corners.
There is no present in Wales,
And no future;
There is only the past,
Brittle with relics,
Wind-bitten towers and castles
With sham ghosts;
Mouldering quarries and mines...

From Welsh Landscape by R. S. Thomas.

I've been camping on my own in Wales for just over a week.

I wanted a break from the flat, ploughed fields of the grey-skied English Midlands, and its congested roads, shopping plazas, retail parks, industrial estates. I needed to de-stress and chill out. I craved a simple life for a while, far away from computers and hypermarkets and the niggling, ever-present problems of work and society and family life. I had an overwhelming urge to take myself off to some wild countryside and blend into nature. An ancient landscape called me, a landscape of many different margins: sea and shore, mudflat and sand dune, river and estuary, cliff and heath, rock and heather, valley and hill, sheep pasture and moorland. This was the landscape of West Wales - its coastline, and its mountains rearing up just inland from the coastal rim. From the cliff path high above Llanbedrog on the Lleyn Peninsula I was soon to see these splendid mountains in a line before me, stretching in shapely profile from Snowdon and Moel Hebog in the north, through Cnicht, the Moelwyns and the Rhinogs, to the great bulk of Cadair Idris in the south.

But that comes later. First I had to drive there. On the morning of Friday 11 April I set off with maps and rucksack, warm walking clothes and camping gear. I stopped off near Llangollen for an hour and explored the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct which carries the Llangollen Canal over the River Dee and was built by Thomas Telford (see photos). The view westwards from the aqueduct was very fine.

It was late afternoon when I pitched my tent on the no-frills campsite at Dinas Farm which is situated in the stunningly beautiful valley of Cwm Bychan east of Llanbedr. A red kite soared above me. A buzzard perched watchfully in a tree. The campsite was green grass dotted with the little black mounds of molehills. Every now and again a herd of strikingly marked feral goats (black head, white body, long brown tapering horns) would stealthily appear to crop the grass. Then they would vanish just as suddenly. I pitched in the lee of an old stone wall and some windswept birch trees. There were no other campers. Apart from the bellowing of distant cattle the only sounds were some unearthly wailing cries I couldn't quite place. It was like a band of souls being tortured in hell. Einir, the campsite owner, enlightened me. " They're peacocks," she explained, rather disdainfully. "But they're not natural. Like buzzards and kites are natural." Whereupon she zoomed off on her quad bike to flatten the molehills.

It rained all night. An owl hooted, competing unsuccessfully with the peacocks. I listened to the rain pattering down on my tent and lulling me to sleep. I love sleeping outdoors and hearing all the different sounds, registering all the changing moods of the weather. I was very happy.

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