A note to the reader (whether that reader is you or I): on occasions these blog posts may seem esoteric, irrelevant and disjointed when viewed in traditional frames of reference. However, be assured, each post (and even sections of posts) should be seen as half-concealed adits to underground systems from where rich veins may be mined. A curious form of mining though, where there is no robbing of the Earth’s resources, instead, if anything, there is an augmentation. The underground systems slowly, unsteadily, come to be revealed by this process. A celebration.
It was one of those late winter days which comes half way to meet you. There is a suspension in the air, neither furious storm nor blazing, clear and still. A lot of greys are present—the overnight freezing temperatures have made the muddy roadside puddles icy grey; the tarmac itself seems a more drab grey; a grey sun melts a neat hole in the grey cloud; a kite, dark grey against bright grey; the geology is grey; the sheep pens are steel grey; green-grey; grey-green; and grey-grey.
It is an illusion of course. The greys are balanced by muted greens, browns and yellows. But look here; a primrose punctuates a roadside ditch, daffodils laid-low by the temperatures sparkle in the verge and the birch tips offer a red/purple haze. But the uplands will seem to forgot this at times as the snow will blow in during a pause from walking at Carneddau.
Despite Saturday’s race my legs seem good and strong as I head out of Caersws through the lanes to the north-east of the village. The lanes narrow as I proceed, angles tipping me further up to Mynydd Llwytgoed [hill of the pale/grey wood ?] and expansive views south. And a keen south-westerly wind that is surprisingly fresh. I am soon chilled from my climbing exertions. Onwards, past Ffrwd-wen’s white stream in its concrete culvert to the edge of Bryn y Fawnog [hill of the peat bog ?]. On open upland now but the going underfoot is good and not too boggy, those reed clumps hold my weight as I climb gently upwards leaping the infant Bechan Brook.
It seems that at every other step I pass the pellet of an owl or bird of prey. A cocooned summation of a recent diet, bristling with bones and insect shells and bound by fur. And very grey. Suddenly grey blade tips break the skyline. Mynydd Clogau wind farm and one of its seventeen wind turbines. Infinis are keen that you appreciate their labours but here at the grey track head signs permit and forbid visitors. Access land is entwined through the 14.5MW site though so closer inspection is perfectly possible and legal—just avoid visiting during electrical storms or freezing conditions. Follow the track down from the skyline cairn. The turbines’ blades whirr, swoosh, thrum and pulse. Standing near to them you could be forgiven for invoking the new sublime. Visually they are cumbersome and thuggish (and slightly comical) but almost at home on this grey day. I’ll let you tell the curlews though. Maybe they have benefited from the modest trust fund though?
Down to Bwlch-y-gors [pass of the swamp ?] and its new sheep pens and abandoned farm building, grey green amongst winter-bare trees. Slightly out of the wind, add layers and take some lunch. Not a bad spot. From the track I follow a long-lost right of way steeply down through last year’s bracken to Lluestycerrig [temporary dwelling of the rock ?] then follow the track up to the eastern end of Esgair Cwmowen [ridge of Owen’s valley ?]. The sky has closed in a little now. A kite flies up from the grass and circles above me, slightly intimidated I move on up the ridge and it flies off south. I have walked this ridge before but had forgotten how hard going it is in places—a stumble through tussocky, boggy grass punctuated by unaided gate and fence crossings.
I am above Carneddau now but the scene is more active today. The hillside beyond the old farm is a hive of activity: reversing warnings bleat; orange safety lights flicker and the yellow dots of excavators, bulldozers and dumpers buzz up and down the hillside and along the skyline. Surely the construction of a new windfarm. I drop from the ridge and make my own line across the wet grassland—dull to the distant eye but rich with colour at close quarters. At the infant Afon Rhiw [hill river ?] I collect a bottle of water for a future lithographic project. The construction site is out of sight but the warning bleats still play contrapuntal to the crazy cacklings of the crows and/or ravens.
Carneddau is much as I left it. I sit amongst the ruins to shelter from the wind and collect sound. I eat some more too. As I sit snow begins to fall. And fall. It is too warm (it would seem) for the snow to make any impression on the ground but the view has closed in with the blurring of billions of flakes. Getting cold I gather my belongings and head off west through the old meadow and up to the modern sheep shed at the entrance to the forest. Usually I turn south (and back to Caersws) here but today I’m out a little longer and I will take a turn round Bryn yr Ysbyty [hill of the hospital]. I must re-visit the enigma of the hospital that I started to uncover a while back. For now I question my decision to walk away from the train as the snow begins to fall again but the shelter of the forestry commission planting encourages me on.
Snatched views along firebreaks show the ongoing construction work on Mynydd Pistyll-du [hill of the black waterfall ?]. The track rounds the hill but I am keen to leave it and find the track parallel but lower down. There is a break in the sky and the weather I thought had set in for the day eases away to leave a very diluted brightness. I plunge steeply down from the track into the trees, the dead lower branches and twigs claw at my face and clothes and the brashings assault my ankles. Not the best idea but I’m not going back up and this can only last a hundred metres at most. The canopy slightly lifts and the going gets a little easier. I cross the remains of a lost footpath and am then spat out onto the track I hoped to find.
The steep forested hillside is coloured with winter larch and birch and the hushing dark of sitka spruce. Round past Cwm-yr-annel [valley of the trap ?] and then onto another lost footpath up the side of Ffridd y Plasau [hill pasture of the mansions ?]. A steep climb here and my legs are feeling the exertions of the weekend race. But this is the last serious hill, so I put my head down and plod on. I’m up onto the back of Yr Allt [quite simply the hillside] now and pick up more familiar ground at the derelict wind turbine above Blaen-y-cwm. Rounding the top of the valley I head for the back of Y Glonc and the path up onto Garreg-hir [long stone ?]. The distant views have gone now and all has taken on a coarse grain. It is time to head for Caersws. And so I rattle back down the familiar roads and paths to the most welcome fish and chips and an almost on time train. The rain sets in as I wait under the platform shelter. The light has gone.
Subsequent investigation shows Mynydd Pistyll-du to be the site of a new wind farm courtesy of West Coast Energy. The site has been christened Tirgwynt [which we can translate as wind land…hmmm, sounds like a theme park and another blog post: “Welcome to Windland: fun for the renewable generation®”] and will be home to 12 wind turbines with a 30MW capacity.
Monday 20th April, 2015. Across the valley floor. Spring green fields, spring bleating of lambs to mothers, spring bird song fills the air, two buzzards circling, quartering. Whoompf! Jets, trainer jets (from RAF Valley?). I’d forgotten the jets and their sudden punctuations. Through Llanwnog with its locked church and closed down pub and post office but its new gates and roofs. The hem of Alltwnnog’s woodland is getting greener too with a studding of primrose yellow, violet violet and bluebell blue. Uphill now. Strong sun, cool air, warm work.
Following tracks through the clear-felled forest. Rooks or crows. Dead. Hung out to deter. One particularly unfortunate example is tied by its leg to a large stone. Is this to prevent flight in death or was this its death? I hope the pheasants are grateful. Footpath terminated by barbed wire (a common feature of my walks in Montgomeryshire). Green fields again and dry-stone walls and warm after 200m of ascent. Rounded rolling hills then a lane. Coconut gorse. Spring fire. Redstarts keeping ahead of my binoculars. A lamb the wrong side of a fence can’t see the way it came. Bwlch y Garreg. Filming my shadow walking up the tarmac lane.
Opening out now. Going brown. An unfamiliar bird teases ahead of me. A contrary wood warbler of the open ground perhaps. Around the farm and striking across open fields towards Lluestuchaf now occupied and growing behind its shelter belt of conifers and sycamores. Up again to brown. Upland brown. A rest and contemplation. A pair of buzzards circle above me considering my worth as lunch. They move on with the thermals. I eat my sandwiches. It’s that sort of time. Moor time. A yellow excavator makes its clumsy way towards Y Glonc. A shepherd gathers sheep in a distant field.
On and up over the shoulder of the hill passing the modest stone row and across rough ground to the built track to Y Glonc (the farmstead). Lark song. LARK SONG. Wondering about the solar-powered grey bin on the hill beside me I wander east along the track a little way and then double back to seek out Carneddau. High and open here near Y Glonc’s (the hill) summit. The mapped path is invisible but I locate a way over a barbed wire fence. Leap across a stream and shoulder another hill. Carneddau’s ruin nestles in the bowl of the valley head. I cross the boundaries of small fields and stride over the tiny Rhiw half-hidden by it overhanging banks.
“Joseph Thomas, are you home today?” No reply. I spend a lazy hour wandering amongst the ruins of Carneddau (Eng. cairns), recording the ruins and guessing at the uses of the allotted spaces. The main body of the house (guess) has an enormous willow tree occupying it, exploding from it. The tree’s girth suggesting that this place hasn’t been occupied for the greater part of a century. Tumbledown walls, once solid now dry lime mortar crumbles and the stones fall. A Ravillious-friendly trailer carcass decomposes in what was once the barn (guess). Last summer’s bracken carpets one of the spaces. A good time to visit as this year’s growth will choke the ruins for a few months. It’s quiet here. Larks sing intermittently. A red kite circles. Buzzards circle. Spring is held in abeyance for now. The sun is warm though but the wind gusts a cooling air every so often. We’re in Carno parish here but the farmstead addresses itself more properly to LLanllugan. I would like to spend more time here but move on for now as I have a train to catch.
Across more former field boundaries and up a little way to the modern barn that sits above Carneddau. I look back and the farmstead is hidden, hunkering down behind a fold in the hill and its stone outcrop backdrop. I choose to extend my day and plunge into the Forestry Commission forest to the west of Carneddau. I skirt round the base of Bryn yr Ysbytty. Learning later that this translates into English as something like ‘hill of the hospital’. Strange. A hospital on the edge of this slab of upland Montgomeryshire high above the Carno valley. Truly an isolation hospital! But no, this goes back long before the NHS or any of its forerunners, to the 1100s and the Knights Hospitallers. A quick search reveals that Carno manor may have been a dependency of the preceptory of Halston (Shropshire) which had been founded by Roger de Powys in the second half of the twelfth century. I don’t yet know where the Hospitallers were based in Carno but maybe it was at the foot of this hill.
I follow the forest track round. More clear-felling. Then out to the green of upland sheep pasture. Below Yr Allt to the edge of the forest that clothes Cryniarth. A doubling back, passing the remains of a small wind turbine. Dead air. Greener fields. A white heap. The farmer’s new colour theory where brown + white = green. The acidic brown upland grass is ‘balanced’ by the white lime to provide ‘good’ green grass for the grazing sheep. Speeding up now anxious about the train. Making a beeline for Garreg-hir and its expansive views. High point of the day. 485m. Rattling down the hill. Filming ground and legs. Over a stile. Soft grass. Good running. Passing Llyn Mawr and its wildfowl and terns. Retracing my line approach with occasional corrections. Hot and dry. Thirsty. Running down through Alltwnnog and out onto the green valley floor. Trot. Time to buy a drink from the petrol station. Train.