23rd June 2015
There are not many days as glorious as yesterday was. It began by a walk up a steep lane from my hosts beautiful home to the pilgrims chapel at Llandecwyn. I am now clearly on the southern route for Bardsey island. The chapel exudes presence like a living being. There are not many places of Christian worship that I have visited that have managed to retain that through the years of ritualised dogma, but here the faith is still clearly a truly a living one and its vicar, who sadly died two years ago, a truly enlightened being.
Glynis, my host was a friend of Jim Cotter and I am sad to have missed him by two years. In the chapel are dusky pink copies of a service. It is full of poetry that is truly moving and heartfelt prayers to honour all diversity. His own poem Llandecwyn Praise moves along with a magic equalled only by Stephenson’s memorable ode to the mail train
Wells and lakes and waterfalling
Moliant I dduw
Mists and rainfall softly sweeping
Moliant I dduw
Sands that glisten tides that flow
Coiling river blust’ring wind blow
Waves that thunder, crashing surf glow
Moliant I dduw
Praise to the divine, translates the Welsh Moliant I dduw.
Truly I feel my journey, having travelled through so many shades and flavours, has now reached the part of a true pilgrimage. My heart responds to the life felt in the little stone chapel where the road stops, perched a top a mountain. The track continues across the mountains but Glynis and I return, back past the exquisite natural lake just five minutes from her house.
As we walk back down she talks about the space and peace she receives from walking, and the group of ladies, Over the Hill, who meet to walk together for week or more every year. We recognise that it is only when we walk way from our daily lives, and I mean that literally, not metaphorically, that we are able to see the everyday stresses for what they are. There is something pure, simple and uncumbersome about walking, with so few possessions and so few decisions to be made. This is only the third time I have had a walking companion and I feel touched it should have Glynis. Llandecwyn has enchanted me , but now it is time to see the beings she has invited me here for.
We go by car for the bridge over the river is closed for repairs and must drive a dozen miles or so around to the next crossing. We are headed for the visitor centre where the ospreys may be viewed. When we arrive at the little camouflouge green portocabins with their wooden verandah and viewing platform the two young men on duty today are full of excitement to see Glynis.
There’s a crack in one of the eggs
They say. A chick is hatching.
Glynis and turn to look at one another, tears in our eyes, and Glynis rushes off to phone David, to tell him of the news.
Together we stand in front of the screen where we can watch live the happenings in the nest, which Glynis has pointed out on a demonstration model, is large and flat with twig sides and round and as big as would fit nicely in the centre of a double bed, atop a tree, like a plate on a spinning stick.
Little by little we watch a downy wing struggle desperately to free itself from a thick shell. People trickle in and as each are told the wonderful news they too sit or stand in front of one of the two flat screens to wait for the birth of a new Osprey, a species that almost became completely extinct in Britain due to human action.
It is clear that nothing movesa human more than watching a birth of a delicate vulnerable creature struggling into life. Men and women alike watch in awe, often in reverential silence eyes glued to the screen where for most of the time we can see only a wing as the female sits on herceggs again, keeping them warm.
We watch for more than an hour before Glynis has to leave. We have seen the baby bird’s head and beak emerging several times but it still hasn’t escaped the shell.
We speak of our thrill, Glynis is delighted about the end I will have for my tale of the ospreys and I am deeply moved by the synchronicity of the chick being born on midsummer’s day, St Johns eve, a day when I knew I would do something special, though I could never have imagined this.
The birth continues, the female is obviously completely engaged in her task, careful to keep her big talons away from the fragile happening but now and again inserting a claw or a beak close to the shell to see if she can help loosen it. Her efforts don’t seem to make much difference though and the chick struggles on. By now there are plenty of people at the tiny visitors centre, up to twenty of us at times, as some come and go. One local lady, clearly very involved with the ospreys talks and talks in her excitement and anxiety.
The male, the new father to be, sits on the edge of the nest or perches on one of its perching branches that extrude from the nest that was built some ten years before and kept in good repair by the original male, a few twigs each year to tidy it up. He seems to be keeping guard.
The hatching continues. For a time the little downy chick seems barely to move and I worry that he might die and there are others too who murmur in concern, but every now and again a little movement reassures us that s/he lives still. It is obviously really difficult work, being born from an egg.
The female begins to look about her keenly. Then we realise that the male has left. He has gone for fish the talkative lady explains. As soon as the chick can raise its beak in the air it will be fed. Ospreys live exclusively on freshly caught fish.
He seems to be fine for ages. The female keeps looking about here and I can almost feel her anticipation. She’s hungry and there is a chick that will need to take its first meal very soon.
We all wait anxiously for the male to come back. What a pressure. If he is unsuccessful the chick might died and his mate starve. The roles of each parent are well defined. During incubation both parents will take it in turns to sit on their eggs. Ospreys mate for life but I am pleased to see they take a new mate if one is lost to them.
I go outside to the viewing platform. Here high spec telescopes are trained on the nest, across the river towards the mountains, too far away to see with naked eye but through the lens we can see the nest and any bird that perches on its edge. There are three cameras trained on the nest so that activity can be observed. Though we watch on a screen from across the river it is clear we are as involved in the birth as any anxious relatives would be, perhaps more because we are able to watch every moment.
The men amongst stand in silence, reverently watching. Some of the women chatter anxiously like so many birds at roosting time. It is beautiful to witness just how much the human cares for living things when s/he is given the opportunity to be so close.
The male finally flies back, a fresh trout in his beak. He perches on the edge of the nest and eats the head. Then, it seems to take forever, he offers some to the female. When she has eaten a few pieces she begins to drop bits down towards the chick whose head is now out of the shell and lying down. Most bits miss him, Osprey beaks do not seem precise enough for feeding tiny mouths.
Eventually it is clear the small downy creature is out of the shell. It is half past two. We have been watching for four hours. It has received its first bit of fish and the female sits back on top if her clutch to keep the remaining egg and the newly born chick warm.
Never has time moved so smoothly, so in the right rhythm. Never have I seen a group of humans so quiet and attentive, all their living presence directed on one tiny scrap of life.
I leave the centre for an idyllic walk back to Maentwrog, Twrogs stone, where I will spend the night. I walk with views if Snowdonia. For a few miles I am walking east. I can see Snowden clearly in a way Cadair Idris simply didn’t permit.
It is an easy road walk, not much traffic, and plenty of Welsh woodland. In the village of Rhyd (/Reeed/) the children are coming out of school. It is a gentle, timeless scene, and I feel how much Wales still lives the life that in so many ways we English long for. How many of our little villages still have their school?
When I am almost back I stop at a little parking spot. It gives access into a section of Welsh rainfirest. The humidity here, I read, maintains mosses and kitchens not seen anywhere else ..traditional Welsh wildwoods. I find a velvetly moss covered oak to sit against and sit by a burbling brook and read the poetry I brought from Llandecwyn.
Here my church, I think, and stay for forty five minutes, just sitting.
I complete my walk to Maentwrog walking around the natural lake in Plas Tan y Bwylch, an estate that has miles of woodland walks open to the public. Courses are run at the big house and earlier in the day Glynis had taken me there to get a map and the friendly Welsh receptionist had shown me the ways into Maentwrog.
Two ducks not afraid to move from their sleepy grassy place by the Lake enthrall me. One has its head tucked under its wing whilst the other maintains a watchful eye. They let me come quite close and I feel huge peace and a sense of privilege and leave them to their prime position and find the track I need.
As I walk between old native woodland the smell of honeyed woodbine fills the air and as the beauty of this natural living place becomes almost too much to take in as I recall that my lifelong yearning for native woodland in England to return is here in Wales fulfilled, here they have not covered brooks in tarmac, or chopped down trees for cars or oblong homes, I find the ninth treasure in the stillness of the water; the patience that comes from knowing that still calm peace wells up from the inside, from the heart. I pick up a piece of slate, made smooth by the water, remembering the exquisite things that can be shaped from slate that I saw in Momo the Welsh art gallery in Mach, to represent this quality.
As I near the waters edge a shimmering turquoise damsel fly, identical to the dragonfly emblem I wear about my neck, symbol of this pilgrimage, flies through the bright yellow honey blossoms that grace the blue shimmering lake and green fern background, colours of my walk; personal power, love and communication, all brought together in service of the whole, I understand that that there is an endless expanse of love to receive, in the form of living beauty, and that my heart is not as yet open enough to receive it all.
It is bigger than I can comprehend. I feel my lack, my cup is not big enough to hold all of its essence. I understand that the grail, the chalice is this, each of our capacity to receive love from the very wellspring of the living presence of all beings and then radiate it out. I feel an orgasmic wave of energy running up through my legs but it does not reach my heart. My heart pounds with joy in as far as it is able, I feel the places where I am still blocked, where my life experiences have closed me to receive the full beauty and majesty of all that is. Yet I am thrilled still, I have sensed all that there is, just waiting for me to open further.
I reach the road and follow it round to Maentwrog where in my little old eco bed and breakfast house there is a view of the next ancient chapel on the southern pilgrims route to Ynys Enlii, just behind the bed and breakfast garden. I couldn’t have chosen better places to stay, yet I did not know of these chapels when I booked my stay in Maentwrog and was invited to Llandecwyn.
I leave this joyful midsummer post, St Johns Eve celebration, with this verse from the small places of pilgrimage leaflet;
A journey both outer and inner
A need to pause for breath
An introduction, a guide, a trail
A space to ponder and wonder
An offer of refreshment
A setting out again
And know it is exactly this, the message of my walk, and the sanctuary I wish to offer others as together we walk this path called life.