Up until a few minutes ago,when I arrived at Cwmbiga Eco bed and breakfast, my day today has been just perfect.
I was awake bright and early at 5.30 to catch up with my blog and breakfasted and out of the very friendly and excellent value for money Bluebell inn by 9.
In the village store and post office Mary the post mistress makes me a sandwich and helps me finally make a decision about the best way to go up to Cwmbiga, through Hafren forest or past the Clywedog reservoir.It’s 14 miles which ever way I choose. I have been puzzling about it for days; I have decided not to attempt the path to the source of the Wye as I am alone and have no compass but rather to follow back lanes to the bed n breakfast which is as close as you can get to the source by lane and very near to the source of the Severn. I have been told the forest way is better for walkers as it is not so hilly but I am a little apprehensive about more than three miles of walking through dense pine forest in a steep ravine. Mary tells me the views over the reservoir are well worth the extra climb. She, like me, feels that evergreen forests exude a sense of the land being dead. Today is also the first day that the sun is fully out and there is no wind; it promises to be a beautiful day, a shame to spend it in shade.
I am easily persuaded to brave the ups and downs of the reservoir way. Mary asks me to phone her when I reach Cwmbiga to tell her what I thought of her suggestion. She always recommends it and wants some feedback.
I set out from Llangurig at 10 and make swift progress. I am at the turn off for the lane to the reservoir, 5 miles from Llangurig, just outside Llandielos by 11.20. It’s the fastest I have walked in a long time. I have barely noticed the gradually steepening lane just the warm sun on my skin. I have yet another choice after a mile or two. I can already have views of the reservoir or I can walk west a couple more miles and come out close to the waters edge. I am nervous about open countryside on maps as cattle are not marked and I still haven’t got over my fear of being chased after several scary episodes on my walk around England when I was still not afraid to use public footpath. Still in the end I go for the western path and am rewarded by a totally empty lane just for me with well fenced in sheep at both sides of me, apart from the odd terrified escapee who run from me as though I were a killer though I speak softly to them.Its rather disconcerting. I walk for 11 miles without a single car passing me and not a dog or cow in sight. I fully appreciate how good life is in the absence of cars, cows and dogs. I spend a completely happy stress free 3 hours.
I get a little lost and head too far west too early when I come to a junction of lane track bridle path and footpaths. I am a mile along a bridle path I have mistaken for the lane due the the presence of a clump of pine that are not marked on the map and do not realise till I look to my right and identify the lane headed north that I should be on.
Even this doesn’t fase me this sunny afternoon. I muse as I return to the crossroads on how this might be a metaphor for life’s decisions, how we must sometimes head off in the wrong direction to become really sure, given the perspective from that angle, of the way we actually want to go. Sometimes we need that perspective to enable us to see clearly.
Once back on track I haven’t gone very far when some cattle in a field below me, separated by a fence and a stream from me gaze up at me in horror, dispelling the myth I have been believing that cows only see you if you are wearing red, before haring off at full speed as fast they can away from me! It is fascinating to be in the other position. Now it is cows who are afraid of me.
I remember that I need to check in with a host for a later night and take out my mobile but there is no signal. An email has come in though at some point since I last looked and I see to my delight that Ling, my lovely Chinese friend has published her book, she says, on my reccommendation. It is a special moment to be halfway up a Welsh mountainside and discover that the things we say to people really do have an impact.
Soon I join the reservoir lane. I have been climbing steeply and descending rapidly for the last couple of miles and now I meet a handful of cars on their way to or from the reservoir. The glimpses I get of the llyn are pretty spec ta cular but it isn’t until I reach the shore that I breathe in its full beauty. I am at first slightly disgruntled that two cars are parked on the headland. Soon however I can see why they picked this spot and find a patch of grass a little down from them where they are out of my line of vision and gaze out in delight at the panorama. Mary was right. This was a view not to be missed.
I eat my lunch. It is 2:30. I am almost there already. I spend a pleasant hour simply sitting in the warm sun as memories of my dad come in, he would have loved to have fished here, then of my partner, Ben, who would love to fish here too, and then of the other men I have loved, not with any sense of wanting any of them to be here, just a recognition that I am slowly integrating the best of each of them into my psyche, growing to understand the masculine aspects of myself, the parts I admire and like, no longer trying to find this quality on the outside but knowing that I have all I need within. The sense of deep peace I feel as I sit looking out at the few anglers in boats and one man fishing from the shore is just as I imagine men feel when they go off to a quiet place in nature to fish and be at one with the great outdoors. I stop even thinking and enjoy where I am for maybe the first time in this way since this journey began. There is something reassuring about being in the middle of nowhere by a large expanse of water yet not totally alone, with a handful of others equally content to be alone.
When I eventually walk on I find an information board that tells me that the reservoir is six miles long and 216 feet deep in places. It is the drowned river Cewydog mixed in with the river Severn, or Sabrina as she is known in legend. The information board suggests her gentle friendly presence can be felt here and I would have to agree.
I last met Sabrina on my 2010 storywalk as I walked south through Bridgnorth and Worcester and learnt of her myth from my host in Bewdley. I enjoy the weaving together of my two walks by the feminine river goddess. I have set out to walk the Wye and finished up closer to the source of the Severn.
I feel happy to have renewed my acquaintance with Sabrina and take my time to walk the last stretch of llyn before it dwindles into the ribbon like Avon Biga. I spot bilberries growing in the verge and for a moment wish it were later in the season so I could pick my favourite fruit.
I walk on and quickly gain what used to be the beginning of Hafren forest. Hafren is the Welsh for Sabrina’s river. I am both relieved and dismayed in equal measure by the bare topped hills. The forestry commission took on these poorly fertile hilltops midway through the last century. The climate in Wales in the bronze age had been such that the growing season lasted six weeks longer than it does now, but little by little over use over grazing and climate change had reduced this land to the sort that folk didn’t want anymore and the commission got it cheap. Now though the Welsh government, as the End!ish, are starting to see that huge plantations of pine are not much better for the land, and to cut them down and not replant.
The bare headed hills look worse than the areas that are still planted. I am reminded of what Eddie told me about the Romans throwing salt down over lands where they had routed the native tribes. It scorched the earth so that nothing would grow so that the people would not go back. I felt the pain of this viscerally when I heard it.
I find it hard to bear when I hear tales of how one people could so disregard the needs of another. All day I have wondered at the huge expanse of land where only sheep graze and images of the refugee children who have been drowning out of over crowded boats trying to come to Europe to beg for sanctuary. A part of me screams in horror at the injustices that the human race inflict on one another.
When I reach Cwmbiga, my home for Two nights, the sanctuary I have been looking forward to, the only two night stop in the journey till I reach Bardsey island I am shocked at the cold reception I receive. I can’t think what I have done to deserve it. I am asked to sit in the lounge and given a drink and some bara brith, Welsh cake,but the way in which my host doesn’t meet my gaze or welcome me is shocking to my system.
Eventually he returns and says he has to see to the other guests who have just arrived and then he’ll make up my room. When he finally does show me up to my room, that I have paid for in advance and ask for WiFi he says its not for guests use and when I say I had planned to stay in and write he says he is going to be out tomorrow.
When I come down for dinner he says I had better move on as this is clearly not the right place for me and that he’ll reimburse me the second night.
The other guests are lively and chummy with their host and he warms to them whilst continuing to treat me like I shouldn’t be there. It is the strangest feeling. I havent felt so rejected for who I am since I was at school. I continue to be polite and friendly to him and the other guests, who are interesting. They come from Macclesfield and talk of the community groups efforts there to make a difference. Our host serves up an excellent meal and allows me to use his laptop for 15minutes to try and contact my next host and the pub some six miles away where I might wait till my next host can pick me up. After a perfect day I feel like I have been slapped in the face and I still don’t know why my reception has been so cold. In the bed and breakfast folder I read that Peter is an ex police officer, and his wife, who I do not see, an ex tax inspector.
Cwmbiga is full of solar panels, the largest private array in Wales, I read, and wonder why that should be a good thing. It only suggests to me that here is someone with en ough land and money to have them. Clearly the ex farm has been retrofitted to the highest of specs but in terms of the real warm hospitality one expects from someone in this trade I have to say that unless you come from a certain class and income bracket; don’t bother.
The irony of the situation hits home when I notice that my bedroom has a name: Sabrina.