Sunday 12 April. Easter Sunday
This is certainly the warmest Easter I can remember, though it’s possible that may say more about my memory than about climate change.
It’s just after 8 when I set off on the familiar route past the pub, turn right towards Cynghordy, and past the few terraced houses to the bridge over the Gwenlais . On the left is the lovely garden created John Milner, a man we came to know quite well in the last decade of his life. He was an expert gardener and I would swap my labour for plants and advice. He appeared a genial, portly rather posh English gent, who was nevertheless the person who had lived longest in the village and was full of stories about its past. Surprisingly he was an enthusiast for lay-lines, ancient Yew-Trees and dowsing. His wife, who had died well before we met him, had been Swedish and he had clearly travelled a good deal in his youth. It was not until we read his funeral leaflet that we realised how unconventional his life had been – a one time jazz musician, Yugoslav railway builder, French Youth Hostel administrator, resident in Sweden, department store manager in Leeds and finally leather-wear maker in Cilycwm.
There are two overflow cemeteries on this road. The church one, just outside the village, is austere and monumental, especially as here in the winter: The Chapel one is much more recent: black marble gravestones with gold lettering in neat rows. It’s marooned in a field near the village’s second chapel with it’s cluster of cottages known as “Ty Newydd” and this outbuilding, which seems to me as much at home in this landscape as the much bigger chapel opposite.
Within minutes I am at the metal bridge over the Towy. Normally I would scramble down to a half-concealed vantage point and watch the resident Dippers, Mallards and Grey Wagtails and hope for a Goosander, a Kingfisher or an otter. Today I walk very slowly along the parapet. A pair of feral Muscovy ducks have taken up residence downstream from here, but what at first sight look like them turns out to be a pair of Goosanders, a fairly common resident of upland rivers, but nationally quite rare. I was admiring their spectacular plumage through the binoculars when the pair of Muscovies flew beneath me under the bridge and joined them. This is a family group of female Goosanders taken later in the year and further down the river. The male has a dark green head and white chest.
I cross the main road, turn left and begin the long trudge uphill towards Cynghordy – a small spread-out settlement near the road from Llandovery to Llandrindod Wells. Like many old lanes this one is in part below the field levels and the steep banks on either side are covered in green plants, some already in flower. At another time I might have taken a close-up of one of them, or just smiled and moved on but I am teaching myself to be a little more like the poet-tramp WH Davies who wrote “What is this life if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.” So I do, at least I crouch and stare, and the more I look the more species I see. I’m no botanist, and many I cannot name, but within the space of a couple of metres I see Wood Anemone, Campion, Bluebell, Celandine, Ivy, Wild Strawberries, Violets and one I later identify as Stitchwort.
As I near the high point the view opens out. It’s a familiar vista of fields, woods and mountains all given that extra edge by the sun and the season. I notice the bright acid green of the sheep pasture in contrast to areas of rough land with bright gorse, dead bracken and dull green rushes. The woodland too shows a sharp contrast between the hazy grey-brown of the deciduous and the fiercely dark green of the conifers. The strange shape of this tree shows it was once in a hedge which had been laid.
As I walk I pass field gates. Some are old and rusty steel, some new galvanised steel, but many are still the old traditional wooden five-bar gate. As they age they merge with and sink into the landscape. The hedges and the fences are boundaries, negatives, stop signs, but the gates are openings onto something different. Gates are the markers of gateways – invitations to do as travellers have done for centuries: to wonder lies beyond, to imagine the lives of the people and animals who live and have lived in those fields and woods and mountains.
Past the high point the road dips down and curves round a straggle of farm buildings and a small neat bungalow. From a purely aesthetic point of view some of the farms round here could be seen as a blot on the landscape – a mess of metal, plastic and concrete strewn haphazardly around rutted yards and a plain rendered house. Yet on a smaller scale, and in less conspicuous places I like these haphazard collections of old technology slowly being reclaimed by the natural world.At the point where the road begins its descent into the next valley I stop for a drink and a snack before returning along the same route. As I eat I look at my phone. It bleats at me and suddenly the screen is filled with live video images of my daughter, my first wife and my grand daughter. One is in Bristol, one in Brighton and one in rural Wiltshire, and we can talk to each other. It seems very familiar and utterly weird.
Nothing could better encapsulate this unique moment in time.