19th June – 20th June
I have a day to rest here, the day I should have had at Cwmbiga. It as things always are works out perfectly. Rosie has told me I just visit the bookshop in the morning, the one by the art gallery we pass on the way to her house, near the train station.
I go in and meet Diane, the owner, along with Geoff. Two hours later I depart, having learnt of tales from transition Nottingham where she ran a community arts collective in the deprived area of St Anne’s, where a community rammed earth building was built that stands to this day, though folk said in that place it was bound to be razed to the ground. Diane videoed the whole process and you can now watch this historic time on you tube.
More than stories though, Diane is an inspired guide to her high quality new and used books and searches for volumes that might help me in my search for Merlin’s tale. She turns up Watkins The Old Straight Track, the seminal work on ley lines, written in 1925, but sadly nothing on Merlin. I leaf through books on Bardsey by a Christine Evans, the famous poet who lives part of the year there, and a photographer and wildlife expert, but no one be mentions Merlin. Diane checks the internet and finds that the black books of Carmarthen contain most of the oldest poetry about him. This will mean a visit to the national library of Wales at some point.
I have given up when I decide to browse the bottom shelf where the folktale books are kept, where Diane has already looked. There I find a familiar name. Shivam has told me of a man called Laurence Main. He made maps for OS until he’d walked this land so much he became a pilgrim, drinking from holy wells, a spiritual man. He knew all there was to know of the old stories.
There, in the bookcase, is a book by Laurence Main entitled King Arthur’s Camlan. Camlan is the place where King Arthur’s last battle was fought. No one knows where it was though plenty hazard guesses, trying to make their geography fit.
When I show the book to Diane she says the book is free. He brings them in now and again. On the back if the book the blurb says:
Who was the Merlin who went to Bardsey?
It is clear that since leaving OS Main has lost his credibility but this has never been anything that would deter me from a search for the truth. I search the book avidly. I hold the right map. Camlan is indeed marked. It’s in a valley of the Dyfi surrounded by steep mountains where Powys becomes Gwynedd. I know that I must go there.
I buy a book of north Welsh vocabulary to supplement the lesson in the sounds of the alphabet Rosie has given me, The Old Straight Track and some poetry by Gerald Manley Hopkins, for the poems stir me with passion. Diane has told me that this Victorian poet, like the Welsh, rhyme their lines with consonants, not vowels to me most poets. Since I hate the mediocrity of practically all poets I have ever read, I am delighted by this find. Not many people succeed in inspiring my passion with their writing.
I am well satisfied with my mornings work, but especially with the precious Main’s book. I am on the trail once more. Having found the warriors way, now let the journey to the heart commence.
Of lessons life has plenty in this department, not least that of Jacob, Machynlleth’s newest madman. Rosie talks of the challenges of keeping an open house, for he comes all the time and outstays his welcome. Her housemate Gareth brought him first, he teaches Buddhist meditation and this week has been running a course up at CAT. I am delighted to hear that CAT have made moves since my visit last year, to embracing inner transition. Jacob is a Buddhist and goes about the house lighting incense and candles and every now and again prophesizing unintelligibly. He feels like a character of great power trapped in an aspect of himself who still behaves like a boundaryless child. Rosie and I talk about the challenge of being one who knows to listen is part of our gift, to set boundaries to keep our own sense of well being safe. Shivam’s story of madmen has felt pertinent to us both.
I leave the bookshop and enter the gallery next door. Diane has bade me go and see the mural on the tale of Taliesin. I see the mosaics of hound and hare, otter and salmon, hawk and swallow that Ceridwyn and Taliesin shift shape into, aware that I will visit ospreys soon on my storytelling way.
I lunch at the Quarry cafe and meet my old neighbours Chris n Sheila who moved here last week from my village in Devon. We marvel at the synchronicity and invite me to stay whilst I house hunt. Then we meet Kirsten from DANCE, the community of Buddhist meditation teachers in Totnes, here to teach at CAT. I last saw her when we saw my fellow pilgrim, Eve, if the Buzz Tour of n her walk around England last year. I am indeed amongst kindred spirits. I only wish I were the cook, for though all else is good about this community cafe set up by CAT many year s ago, I know I can cook better.
(CAT – centre for alternative technology)
In the land of the Welsh finally the tales begin to lift out of the the flatlands and live. I sense my quest has shifted into another dimension as it inevitably had to.
I have few days left to explore the river of the Dove and the Borderlands of true Wales, but I am now within the right side of that border. I am in Gwynedd; Welsh vocab book in my pocket.
In the morning I open the book by Rosie’s bedside; Soil, Soul and Society by Satish Kumar. The page I open it on says:
Waste is violence
I think if the roles for everyone for spirit horse and couldn’t agree more. I go on to read more of Gandhi’s wisdom;
The Seven Blunders:
Wealth without work
Pleasure without conscience
Knowledge without character
Commerce without morality
Science without humananity
Worship without sacrifice
Politics without principles.
It feels good to take this with me on my travels.
I am up first thing on this solar solstice morning to catch the only morning bus to Dinas Mawddwy to see the battlefield where King Arthur fought his last battle and was taken mortally wounded, according to some sources, to Bardsey island, Ynys Enlii.
Only seven from each side survived that battle in the strategically placed valley bottom of the river Dyfi (Dove), under the shadow of Cefn Coch, and the other mountains that surround this place where the river could be forded.
I arrive in the village and quickly find the back lane where Maes Camlan can be found. It was here, according to Laurence Main, that the final battle was fought. I look at the shoulder of land, the foothill of the mountain facing Cefn Coch, and then the flat land sitting neatly in a loop of the Dyfi and am immediately aware of the perfection of this place for a battle. I can almost hear the battle cries as the mighty warriors launch at one another, each believing right to be on their side. The valley is steeped in a living silence. The mountains breathe here and man and his spawn are small. Their majesty frightens me as much as their splendour awes me. Powerful place this, the border between Powys and Gwynedd. Small wonder the English got no further. Here then, the beginnings of the lands where the true Britons can be found. My resolve to learn the language of north Wales strengthens.
Of the seven who left Camlan unhurt, the Merlin, Y Myrddin, was one. Laurence Main identifies him as St Derfel, of whom some can be learnt from histories of Welsh saints. Main traces his exploits through ancient texts, he was more than warrior, more than sage or saint, he was wizard too, and women loved him and he them. Small wonder than, that he finally fell for a woman who was more than his match.
St. Derfel went to Bardsey island and became its third abbot. Arthur was taken there too, to receive healing. They took him via Arthog, where I shall be tomorrow night.
I feel content that I have picked up Merlin’s trail again, and a sense of which way he might have travelled.From the Wye to the Dyfi and over the mountains, past Cadair Idris, the ways of the legends live still, in the old lanes that cross this ancient land.