The Beginning of the End


25th June 2015

As I climb back up the winding track to reach Plas Halt, the tiny request stop for the narrow gauge Ffestiniog railway in Plas Tan y Bwylch estate once more I reflect on the happenings between yesterday’s joyful walk to the more prosaic frame of mind I find myself in this morning. How fragile our precious communion time is.

Though my bed and breakfast with lovely treats of goats milk soap, and handmade truffles in the room to excellent Welsh books on language culture nature walking and history in the visitors lounge and the pilgrims church at the bottom of the garden where the stone of Twrog of Maentwrog stands phallic like and proud beside the church porch, and though supper in the convenient next door but one Inn is good fresh and tasty, the everyday stresses of life that Glynis and I had enjoyed escaping returned in the form of a phone call from my partner with a change of plan and last minute fuddles of which my tidy  organised brain finds difficult to compute. Though the plans means I shall see him a day earlier than planned I am not able to either take this in enough to appreciate it or to  let him know that It Is A Good Thing.

Coupled with a signal that dips in and out it leaves us disgruntled, frustrated and ringing off without our customary

‘Nos Da Cariad Bach’

Good night little loved one

And I sleep feeling saddened my afternoon’s sense of peace and palpable sense of the love always available to us was not something I was able to draw on in communicating with my partner.

Though I have enjoyed meeting fellow guest Sarah of the Botanical Society and sharing tales of plants, hedgerows, mindfulness and south facing gardens, when we all four of us trundle off to visit the church, Ross, Eveline carrying the big old church key, and we two guests, I find that I do not like sharing the church. The others chat about what they see and what there is to learn about its history and I find I want to simply feel its presence. Though it is a modern church reconstructed in the 1800s, with beautifully carved woodwork and excellent stained glass windows which can be appreciated best without any interior lighting, it was built on the site of an ancient 5-6th century chapel, and this is what I want to sense. Did King Arthur’s men pass this way on the way to Ynys Enlii with his body? For sure they would have needed to ford the river at some point and there are Iron Age Roman ruins above the village.

I take my leave of my new companions once we arrive back on the road, Sarah and I promising both to connect with Fiona, a storyteller in north Wales she knows and the very one who has put me and Eric Fadden, the storyteller of Cae Mabon, in touch.

On the steep track nearing the hill top request stop for the Blaenau Ffestignog mountain railway I will use to take me some 4 miles onwards, with its cosy stone platform shelter compete with wood burning stove all stoked up with paper twigs and coal for the next cold day user, I pick up an arrowhead shaped piece of flint and know I have found the tenth treasure:

Wisdom in adversity

The words come to me quickly, and with them an understanding of what they mean. If we can look at any adverse situation, be it as tiny as the little incidents that have replaced the feelings of pure peace and love of yesterday’s birth and ancient wildwoods experiences, as a pointer to show us what it is we are needing, then they are gifts indeed. I realise that far from needing to offer refuge to pilgrims, it is I who welcome refuge, the pure simplicity of absolute silence is balm to my soul. Of course it is always the way;  what we offer to others in service is that which we most need ourselves. It is this that gives it so much power, provided we recognise it is us that need it.

I think of the image of River, who I have followed so much this journey long. River is not in a rush to smooth obstacles in its path, it works by attrition over millennia. It does, however, get where it is going without any obstacles preventing its flow. It just flows round them, over them, trickling under them to emerge more powerful at the other side. It does not concern itself with them. It is on its own  journey and, if on its way it produces smooth pebbles from uneven rocks then this is merely a side effect. River’s only concern is to reach the sea, to join all the other water particles in the place where all rivers become part of something greater than themselves by giving their substance to it.

By the time the little red steam train comes chugging along I am in a better frame of mind, grateful for having spent an hour alone amongst the trees at the halt.

Once aboard the conductress is lively but the elderly couple who share my carriage ply me with questions. I have paid £4 for a five minute ride, a little treat to myself, to avoid the busy main road, and I want to look down at the view, steeply falling away to my right, whence I came just two days hence, to re-live my coming into this valley, I tell the man I’d like to look at the view but he continues to fire questions at me:

Where have you come from?

Where are you headed?

How will you get home afterwards?

I answer his questions quickly and ask once again that I may simply be allowed to enjoy the view and the ride. He stops speaking and when I alight five short minutes later his face is like thunder, arms folded, petulant child’s sulk on his features. I choose not to let his experience of my clear boundary spoil my experience.  I feel for his wife who is now sitting cross armed in protection. She smiles at me as I leave the carriage. I wonder at the state of things, that we are left to work through childhood rejections so late in life, and relieved that I have come to my own protection. I need not always to be talking.

I walk into Penryn. Ross has taught me the name Penryndrwdreath means ‘head of the ridge between two beaches’. I have only heard people call it Penryn and I learn at the post office that I have been stressing it wrongly. It isn’t PenRYN, but PENryn.


says the lady I buy stamps from as I hand over my coins, and I feel satisfied I have understood the first Welsh addressed naturally to me.

Dioch on var

I reply. Thank you.

I follow the new footway to Porthmadog over the mile long estuary of the river Glaslyn, blue green water, I say happily to myself, having checked some new vocabulary in the Maentwrog bed and breakfast lounge, and remember the ospreys just up the river and wonder how the day old chick is doing. I phone my partner and all is well again in my world.

I have a pleasant uneventful walk to Criccieth over Black Rock. I have visited Tourist Information before leaving Porthmadog to check for the presence of territorial dogs on the headland where I must pass through two farms and am told all is fine, though it is good to check. When the assistant was a child there were indeed fierce dogs there.

I arrived at the home of Joanna, my host, and we sit to dinner with her friend Ros. Over risotto, salad and fresh fruit and ice cream we fill each other with tales. It is a goodly evening of women together.

I am full of admiration for these two women who both work with those whose mental stability has become wobbled. Joanna, a classically trained musician, teaches piano to schizophrenics whom she describes as talented sensitives and wonders at a system that sends its most sensitive beings mad.

Both women were active in the campaign to ensure the senile dementia unit built on the site of a mediaeval market place behind Joanna’s home is good, allowing enough space for each occupant and constructed with people’s well- being in mind, not profit.

We talk of cats and their wisdom, companionship and quirky characters and later Joanna tells me of her PhD in Musicology and how mediaeval music was written according to numerology. I hear of divine numbers; 8 – for eternity and 153, a number  Augustine knew of and whose mystery I have yet to unravel but if you care to study the scores of mediaeval music sheets you will find that there are 153 bars to each.

We look at old maps indulging our shared passion and then Joanna plays the Moonlight Sonata at my request on her grand piano that occupies pride of place in the Victorian sitting room, along with portraits of family members; both Joanna and her sister Arabella, who I will stay with in Pwllheli (/Por hhe heli/ , are artists, and their mother before them.

In the morning there are more conversations as Joanna loads her state of the art hay box; a Mr DS thermal cooker with good things for her supper. I hear of Servas, a host and guest scheme Joanna has just joined, where people make new friends by putting each other up in their homes. I invite Joanna to come to Devon to stay with me.

 I enjoy that both Joanna and I wear damsel fly turquoise and remember what my cat sitter Vannessa has shared with me about the missing eighth cakra; between the heart and the throat, representing the thymus gland; turquoise like my dragon fly emblem and signifying communication from the heart.

Joanna’s mode of communication is clearly the music she loves so dearly. She tells me about Beethoven and her love for him as a young girl. She tells me of the heigenstaddt testament where Beethoven wrote of his despair over his deafness, and goes on to explain how his being deaf did not prevent him from composing because he could hear the music in his head, as she can, and as Brahms could. Coupled with her superior knowledge of music is her love of being of service to others and she talks of the work of the WEA (Workers Educational Association) and how they visit people in their homes.

As well as her astounding musical talents and her talent for teaching, or perhaps because of these things, Joanna has superb Welsh and I take the opportunity to ask about the “y” that has been thwarting every attempt I make at pronouncing Welsh words. It sounds different every time I hear it for it has at least 3 possible sounds and I learn


Hospice, and that it is pronounced


I leave Joanna’s home feeling the richer for what I have learnt during my stay and absolutely certain that St Augustine was quite right:

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”