The only historical event I can remember with any accuracy is good old 1066 and The Battle of Hastings. At school I was hopeless at dates, in fact anything to do with numbers, but I used to love history because sooner or later it usually involved writing a lot of essays. Now though, I suspect there may be more to it. The longer I live and the more places I visit in the world, the more connected I feel to my roots, or more specifically my spiritual home, Snowdonia.
Seventeen years ago we moved from Cheshire to North Wales. Although Cheshire has its history and pretty rural surroundings aplenty, Wales is far more extreme in both aspects. The castles and the rugged hillsides scattered with stone settlements, druid’s circles and Roman roads bring out the historical muse in me. To think that I am treading the same path as someone who lived in the Iron Age, is both fascinating and humbling. Snowdonia kick-started my stalled obsession with writing in a very positive way.
All this whimsical talk of the past makes me sound as if I write historical based fiction. Far from it. Much as I admire many other genres I tend to be very much rooted in current times and my work reflects a lot of my own life experiences. But this is where I find the two ideas merge a little because I am most certainly inspired by this Ice Age landscape and the idea that what has gone before, shapes what we see today, but does it shape what we feel, too?
I am certainly in my creative comfort zone tramping up the hills on a moody day. There’s no better way of plot busting. The tiny church of St. Celynin (sometimes known as Llangelynin) is a great find for historians, spiritualists, all kinds of artists, and a certain weary walking writer! It’s quite a climb, some 900 feet above the village of Henryd, but sheltered from the Irish Sea by the comfortable bulk of Tal-Y-Fan. It proclaims to be the most remote church in Wales and due to its location, it is actually better accessed on foot or on horseback, but that’s just me wearing my whimsical hat again. I guess you could ride a quad bike or get a 4x4 along the green lanes and tracks up from the village, but that would spoil the experience considerably. Someone said that ‘The centuries of men’s hands on the same stones put the feeling into a place’. I can relate to this and there’s no better way of making that connection than scrambling over those very same walls and finding a way across the hills. Even the names of the mountains are laced with enough magic to fuel the effort.
The church is named after a 6th Century prince, Celynin, and it is a widely held belief that the remains of the settlement close by was also his home. Inside, there are inscriptions on the white-washed walls of The Ten Commandments and The Lord’s Prayer, and strangely enough a skull and crossbones. The Welsh language, being the oldest (still spoken) language in the world, lends so much more romance and intrigue to any story, even though I don’t understand all the words. One of the well-preserved benches is dated from 1629 and dedicated to Reverend Owen Bulkeley, former rector. Oh, I’d love to go back to those times just for a few hours, to maybe listen to the man reading his sermon and sit with the congregation. Instead, we have to be content with mere historical recordings and the remnants of those times, in whatever form they present.
So, I fling myself down on the rough grass, or if the mountain weather is inclement, sit awhile in the porch to drink coffee and just… fall into the dreamscape. I love the way ancient history here is often blurred by myths and legends, shape-shifters and superstitions. Rich then, in history and romance and easy enough to blend both, with a touch of fantasy and suspense. Especially so when the winter sun is low in the sky, sending out early shadows to creep across the crooked stones of derelict homesteads and graves. And late sunsets in summer, when the scudding clouds floating in a fiery sky take on the shape of dragons and rearing horses. Or maybe, when the druid’s circle is shrouded in mist and… can you hear something? Like the clink of marching armour and the clash of swords… there’s something moving out there, or is it just my imagination?
Anna’s wedding day, the height of midsummer. Swallows and larks darted over the rolling heather on the wild moorland above Gwern Farm.
She climbed the long rocky track from Rowan up to Llangelynin Church, this was on the site of an old Roman road, and in places so remote as to be almost inaccessible. The dogs scrambled on ahead, tails high and noses close to the ground, exploring this unfrequented walk with unbridled enthusiasm, running back and forth with impatience. The climb was steep and Anna needed to keep stopping for water.
Presently, she came to the little stone built church and lay on the rough grass amongst the bilberry bushes and the slowly browning heather. There was no need to go inside. This was an ancient, consecrated place and Anna felt its spirit embraced not only herself, but everything she could see for miles and everything she could feel, both inside and out.
Old Farmer Jones called it Hiraeth. There was no word quite like it in the English language, some Welsh just didn’t translate well, but Anna understood it fully, as she lay on that remote hilltop with the wind tearing at her clothes, and a curlew crying over the marshes.
WILD WATER is the WINNER of the Cornerstones Literary Consultancy 'Most Popular book' Competition 2011. Also listed in the 2013 eFestival of Words Award Nominations!
♥‘I could smell the mountains, hear the rain.Truly evocative.’♥
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