It is strange to think that for several days now I have been walking in England, but the Wye valley has long been borderlands and often what is now England was once Wales and sometimes vice versa. As Ben said at Applewood, the fertile edges, where the magic happens. Once I arrived in Hay though I had definitively reentered Wales for the rest of the journey. Hay, although it feels Welsh, also feels English too, and manages to be the both.
Waking up there, having breakfast in a Welsh B&B, then perambulating the town for its market day, I realise that my long held romantic view of the ancient market town has dissolved.
Maybe it became romantic when first being taken there while still a child, and a book worm, after all, Hay is the town of books , with more than 20 independent book shops mostly selling second hand and or rare out of print volumes including children’s books, according to the leaflet I pick up, or maybe its because I came here with a long lost lover, sat in the streets outside the lovely vegetarian cafe on a sleepy Sunday and watched the world go by, or maybe its because when I last walked a storywalk this was the furthest west I walked and like Tolkien I came from the Midlands to it, escaping the people filled industry to drink in its clean air and tranquility, remnant of how life the island over would have felt before the industrial revolution. Whatever the roots if that romantic longing, certainly the air felt alive around it as I walked in and out of the town in 2010.
Today though, it has all gone. I can still appreciate the windy narrow medieval streets and look longingly into a few book shops, though i can’t spend time browsing today, let alone carry a book, I can still enjoy the excellent deli, and peruse the fresh local produce brought in on the market stalls, but the magic has gone. It could be the characters that serve in the shops and stalls, the almost Dickensian caricatures, the larger than life figures, some with noses pushed with arrogance high into their air, the impatient give me your money and move on attitudes, or the full of self importance puffed up egoic conversations that issue loudly through the thronging market days streets, but I feel as if I am walking through the characters of Canterbury tales. Its as if by the act if becoming famed throughout the land for books the inhabitants have begun to resemble characters from within the books pages, caricatures of themselves. I search in vain for an authentically present person and fail. My overtures of friendly enquiry, smiles and interest are not taken up;they do not care that I am here, they just want my money and get out.
I feel sad that the renowned book festival that takes over the town at the end of May has obviously had such an effect on the townsfolk. My desire to become a famous author dissipates in an instant. If this is the effect of having famous writers, the BBC, and prestigious journals here, then it is cannot be a good thing. I renew my resolve to give away all of my books and trust I will be shown a way to pay off my book debt.
My desire to come here and speak at the festival one day has gone. My desire to engage with the rich and famous literary world vanishes. I am cured of my ego’s penchant for fame. An hour or two walking the streets of a town this infused with that energy makes me want to run. These are not my people, not my tribe. These are about as far away as you can get from the type of world I wish to inhabit.
I resolve to give away all of my books and trust a way will come to pay off my book debts. Of this world I want nothing. From the bridge as i leave i gaze back at Y Gelli , the grove, in Welsh, and can see that it once must have been exactly that before invaders came and turned it into a parody of itself. An ancestral part of my psyche writhes in hatred for the Normans who came and held our people in thrall and imprinted their values upon the society that then grew up. I am surprised to find it there, hidden, yet it should really come as no surprise, is not that what we see in Palestine?
Deep down in our psyches, I begin to suspect, lie all the unprocessed feelings around times when our people’s way of life was destroyed or at least changed by an incoming people. For me it is grief for the land, for the vibrant aliveness that places untouched by this invasion still have. I can hear it singing in the hills around Y Gelli yet in the town values that are not founded in love for the land can be viscerally felt and I feel for those there that still follow the old ways.
I carry with me Hereford strawberries brought to market by one of the few friendly faces I have met and a salad in a granary gap made for me by the other friendly face, in the little local Londis store I remember buying my lunch from last time I was here. I have rejected freshly made pastries on the market for the woman I spoke was not open and friendly.
Down by the vegetarian cafe where the market has sprawled to sweet music streams from the CD stall and for a moment I stop, caught on the wings of a song.
Then I leave town. Over the bridge I see the entrance to the hayfield commu city garden and feel happy it is full of veg and thriving. I think of Phoebe my host last time I was here whose dream it was who stepped away between my visits, and am struck by a sense of pathos that it isn’t always the visionary that stays to reap the rewards of their dreams. I wander closer but the people there take no notice of me. I soy their new domed polytunnel and am happy the garden thrives though the place where I told stories no longer is my welcomer.
I take the Wye valley walk through fields noticing my anger and frustration that the town where once I received such a welcome by bards and poets has now shown me its other face. I shed a few of those tears when I reach the footbridge after a few minutes of stern private keep out signs and the way on is not immediately clear. I realise that a part of the story that often has me in its grip is that of angry landowners chasing me off their land with guns and dogs and as this has never actually happened to me I wonder if this too is an ancestral memory that has left its traces on my psyche.
Eventually I get out of the limiting belief system long enough to go back over the footbridge and read the little way markers a little more closely. Now I can see, a diversion has been made, I turn and follow the obviously private track till it gives at the river and a path begins that faithfully follows the course of tgexwater. It is the best bit if the river walk yet. It is flat, dry, grassy and looks directly onto the water. I need not be afraid of thge farm I am walking through having dogs or cows; they grow potatoes. I am aware though that their crop is a mono crop planted in regimented rows with not a weed in sight on the dried up furrows. I feel sorry for the potatoes to be growing in such an environment and feel thankful that a mile back the hayfield garden is lush in its diversity and the size and strength of its veggie plants cannot be compared. They are vibrant in their closeness to other species and not an amazing inch of dry ground is visible between the different plants. How could we ever have thought that expedience produced more and better food than the native Indian system of planting closely all higgedly piggedly so as to deter pests and prevent soil erosion.
I follow the river to the main road, aware that I am still cross at landowners, who I realise more often than not if they have been there any length of time, will be ancestors of the Normans. I am cross because they occupy prime land meaning others, even those simply walking on by, cannot enjoy it too.
I think as I trundle along the verge of a fast main road of how in a fair and just society that got the best out if everyone the needs of the young, old, poor and disenfranchised would be met first and then and only then would the wealthy be able to make their homes. It wouldn’t take long for things to stabalise into balance then. It is at that moment that it becomes clear to me that we have poor and disenfranchised exactly because we are the subjugated race, the ones who lost their land to the invaders. No wonder there is such mistrust between the two.
Soon I am in Llowes. I head straight for the church. I am drawn to them like a magnet. Once I stopped associating “god” with a jealous elder in the sky and started to allow my reverence for the land to feed my spirit churches lost their patriarchal edge and nowadays I see them as sanctuaries of peace and holders of ancient wisdom. This one is on the site of a very ancient pagan place of worship. It is dedicated to St Meilig and his ancient cross now standing inside the church was once a standing stone in the commons above.
From Llowes I take the high road, coming away from the wye valley path and choosing my back lanes westwards towards Trericket mills my home to be for the night. It is quite possibly the best walk yet. The land takes me through community n land covered in ferns and untouched oak trees. The land our folk memories wax lyrical about exists still here. I see no one and three cars are all that pass me all the way to Boughrood where I feel tearful at the tale of the locals having their spire rebuilt just a few years before when we arc and tear had left with only a stump.
I light a candle for my father. Mum has texted to remind me he died three years today.
Then I walk on, the gushing Wye at my side and cross the one lane suspension bridge to Trericket mills. My father would have appreciated this walk and I feel sad that doctors fed him with drugs from pharmaceutical companies lists rather than listened to his story and let him free to rest, recuperate, and to refine his direction after a lifetime if slavery to a system that in the end was to kill him, victim of kidney failure, side effect of the drugs he’d been pumped with.
I strengthen my resolve to found a place of respite sanctuary for all those tired souls who could live their purpose fully if only they could rest from their fruitless labours long enough to rekindle their passion.
A place like Trericket mills. I walk into the garden to be greeted by Nicky, gardening. I am taken into the mill and my jaw drops. This is the most exquisitely reclaimed piece of history that I have ever seen . as I sit here now over a breakfast of homemade bread, home made jam, eggs from very free range poultry that live in a castle folly in the garden, homemade vegetarian sausage , perfcetlyvfried potatoes, grilles cherry tomatoes and fresh fruit salad whilst BobDylan gently serenades me I look around at the room I sit in. The workings of the old mill are all here still but so are the wooden tables are n which guests perfectly prepared food is laid, polished quarry tile floors and old wooden counter from a mans outfitters, memorabilia from a bygone age on the walls, including the old rules from the mill, who would fine workers for breaking tools or…wearing the sacking as clothing… I feel like I have been given a gift.
I am sad Nicky n Alistair want to sell up. They’ve been here 26 years so I can understand its time for a a change but it is heartbreaking to think that this place might not continue.
I live for the night in the little bunk room with its tiny ensuite and look out on my bit of the garden with its view of the gushing stream that once powered the mill.
Nicky tells me the tales of their free range ducks are including the one who imprinted on them and lived in the mill till it finally decided to move into the castle folly that had been built for the ducks by Nicky n Alistair from stone they’d quarried on the land to restore the mill that had stood derelict until some craftworkers took it in as workshops until Nicky n Alistair came and turned it would not the best eco accommodation I have ever visited.
Everything here is founded on good principles of sustainability and care for the environment. The food is superb, the best I have tasted, expertly prepared and served with those extra loving touches that make a place not just excellent but first class.
The music is eclectic, quietly background and yet loud enough to let the poets’ words sink in, the conversations are interesting and welcoming and I doubt this recipe for success could be bettered.
Dinner is served at a table in the window, with a clean jar of freshly picked buttercups and cowslips and a rose candle. The tea in the pot is fresh peppermint leaves and the simple supper I select is fresh wild garlic mashed potatoes spring greens and a Clive’s pie, perfect walkers fare. I could have chosen a three course home made meal but the supper is plenty for me.
I recommend you come here soon,whilst it is still here to be enjoyed. Or come and buy it and keep it going. Trericket mill is the jewel in the warriors way, the wye valkey way, the place that makes you realise there is nothing to stop life being all that we dream of. Nothing but our own lpself imposed limitations, and when we stop to thin k about those, and how our not following our purpose deprives all of humanity of our gifts , then we can begin to see that our believing self limiting stories is an act of supreme selfishness.
Trericket Mills is the anecdote for the puffed up egos that have taken over Y Gelli. Humility, good taste and love for doing the right thing, even in the face of disapproval, like the farmer who wouldn’t stay because the food is vegetarian, reign supreme here. It is a tonic for bruised souls, an inspiration for the spirit, and an example to be followed.
Now, I am going out to visit the very free range ducks and chickens including the broody duck about to lay 12 ducklings.