a road trip around north Wales, June 2023
Day 1Wake up at Pistyll Rhaeadr waterfalls. New greens are settling in. Foxgloves sculpt the edges of pathways and roads; pink and purple in their standings.
Water throws itself off the vertical rock face like mad continuously, over and over in a racket of smashings. The very last of its throwings hitting the small shallow pool at the bottom in a clatter. A slippery green moss grips the scarp, holds onto the curves, softens sharp edges, slurping up the water.
Moss lovely moss, soft thick voluptuous, smooth and skin-tight wrapped around boulders. It is possible, it seems, to disappear into moss sometimes. There is a wall at the top of the waterfall so thick with it, that it seems the wall is made of it. A moss wall. I push my finger into it and it is swallowed up in a soft mossiness. Moss sucking in my hand and swallowing my wrist until half of my arm is deep in as I am eaten by it.
moss fist enter
I don’t know what happens then, but suddenly it is the end of the day and we find ourselves on the top of the world at Dinorwig slate quarry, north Eryri (Snowdonia) with an incredible view over the hills, flats and vallies. Where function and industry and the hard toil and labour of many men once were. Just purple spooking Ghosts now. Slate walls falling slipping sliding around. Slate buildings still intact and not so much. Old quarry buildings half fallen. Lime green Rock brake fern stands out growing between the slate on the hillside. Twisting roads lead down to platforms and a big blue lake. A Steep rail track like a fairground ride that once moved slate down the valley and men around for fun at the weekend. The Llanberis mountain range just over there being climbed probably. 3 Billy goats gruff appear. We size each other up for some moments. I am in their territory, so retreat. Their hooves tripping over slate. Bone on mineral. Slate falling down the side of the mountain like imminent death. Sounding like bells that have lost their dingers, or zylophone blocks being thrown into a barrel from height. A woman’s laugh bounces around the quarry from across the valley where old buildings just about stand. A solitary night bird on repeat. Someone or some two are fucking somewhere. The wind is joining in licking. The Grey slate turns deeper purple as the June sun crashes.
There is lichen on the party wall. It is luminous mountainous.
Rave mountain maker
Bass bin sinner
Out all dayer
Lime n soda
Chartreuse over ice-age
Ultra violet diffuser
Photobiontic love spreader
Whistle blowing organism
Dance floor gyrator
Last one at the party
Bucket hatted beauty queen
Day 2 Cross over the water to Anglesey. Swimming and sunning our bright white flesh bodies at Porth Swtan beach. The sea is a blue luscious dip and front crawl.
End of the day at Cemlyn nature reserve….. Edgeland industrial Flatlands. Power station rising. Look out for selkies on the rocks. Chipper Yellow Bastard cabbage flowers paint the hedgerows, and I spot my first wild carrot of the year unfurling itself.
A triangle stone, spiralled in the palm of my hand. A white stone attached to seaweed attached to a white stone.
Dinner and an air dance show with the birdies. An endless screech of sandwich terns nesting on small islands. Zipping back and forth to the sea, fish in beaks for their hungry chicks. Beautiful, sculpted creatures with a slash of black painted on top of their heads. Wings like waves, tails like tuning forks. Fine crafted like a pair of old scissors. Birders with big telescopes and notepads tracing their movements.
It’s white here; puffs of sea kale flowers bounce the beach like balls; what looks strangely like snow in the rock-pools at mid summer is a feathered white seaweed woven together; vast white empty skies and a white wind; white feathers on the backs of birds.
On the edge of the land stands a tumbledown house wrapped in green. One day I want to live in a green house so wild I can no longer get out of the door. Consumed by green. What a way to go.
Wake up at dawn to a frenzied cacophony of birds. Spot an oyster catcher with a fluffy wee chicklet on the ledge of an abandoned building, and wonder about the all or nothingness of its first flight.
Onto Newborough pine forest and Traeth Llanddwyn. We take the red route for a moderate 3 hour walk taking in the forest that edges the beach that funnels off into an ‘Ynys’ meaning Island.
The forest: Towering skinny pines. Tranquil magical. Soft underfoot. Divine fresh smell thrilling noses. Sister says it’s like loo cleaner from the 80’s. The pathways are dotted with “Toothpaste pillows” - blobby rocky outcrops formed from lava eruptions aeons ago.
The tide is peak high when we emerge from the forest. The beach vast and lingering, the sea crystalline blue, lightly lapping. There is a spaciousness and lack of people here. The jagged Eyri mountain range curves all around the horizon; it’s variegated outlines loom in the heat haze of the day. They seem unreal like clouds that aren’t really there.
Though it is known as a tidal island, it is still accessible by means of light wading we discover. Upon it, we walk around the perimeter and at each turn is a stunning new secluded cove, low lying, and accessible with dreamy still blue eyed water.
Each bend reveals another insanely breathtaking view; a cove, a nook, an outcrop, a tiny island, a ruin, a lighthouse, a swathe of soft sand - all appearing like a mirage. Yellow horned poppies grow out of cracks. Disembodied crustaceans laid out on a rock, gnarled shell-toes, rock samphire picked for dinner. Totems and talismans.
And the sea, the sea, the sea!
The Island is considered one of the most sacred, being of Saint Dwynwen - the Welsh patron saint of lovers. Her story is one of love, heartbreak, devotion and magic. Charms are hidden around the island to be discovered. A Celtic cross high up on a mound is inscribed with these words: “They lie around did living tread this sacred ground now silent dead”.
A shrine in a recess of the tumbling church wall, holds a Polaroid photo of a couple kissing beneath an archway and an etching on slate that reads I love you Gwyn I always will, Wyn xx
**when I returned to my notes to write this, autocorrect had changed Gwyn to Green**
We choose a cove at the tip of the peninsula, and clamber up black rock and sit and watch the sea glinting, mesmerised for hours. Gnarled black rocks shaded in a green-blue. Acid green seaweed mounds form alien life form worlds upon the edges of the water.
A seal! a seal! a seal!
There are three together at one point, yet it is one that remains for hours. And I am thrilled anew each time its little sealy head emerges, bobs around, looks about and arches up out of the water before submerging again. It’s so quiet that once, I think I hear the sound of its watery exhale as it emerges, and the flomping swishing sounds of its sleeky slick body as it arcs back beneath the water line.
And the birds, the birds, the birds!
More species of birds than I have ever seen in one place. Dive bombing from height into the water emerging with fish. A scurry of sanderlings pick over a dead crab. A white guano-tipped island scattered with black winged cormorants screeching and flying low over the water to fish for their young.
Blissed out after floating in the sea, and not consciously thinking about anything, I stop suddenly, casually, and reach my arm down, fingers pick up a tiny little two holed hag stone out from the melee of small pebbles. This all happens in a flash and can only be the magick of Saint Dwynwen.
I think how this is possibly the most beautiful, and breathtaking place I have ever been. I am awed. I think it may even be sublime. And yet there is a kind of strangeness about the whole scene too. A vast pine forest, and then a vast expanse of beach, and then a vast expanse of mountains; and then the Marilyn good looks of the Ynys - that is almost too much.
This is a place where the footpaths are laid with billions of white shells that crunch underfoot as pilgrims and day trippers walk upon it, releasing magic up into the air with each step.
Day 4Traipse through a stubble field to Bryn Gwyn - a pair of standing stones to the south of Anglesey. One stands over 4m tall in a slither, the other dumpier, adjacent to it. Together they provide a place of entry between fields, between zones, between time. There were believed to have once been many more stones in the formation. The tall one has a hole in it deep enough to thrust a finger into it, the stone energy pinging up through my finger into my arm like a lightening shock. We leave an offering of pink campion picked from the edges wedged into the hole for the stone sprites.
Onto Nearby Bryn Celli Ddu Burial Chamber. We walk along the lane in the wake of a hippy with an orange t-shirt and long swinging dreadlocks. He has a big camera around his neck and says he is on a tour around the UK making a book about stones. Wafts of incense swing on the air of the warm day before we even arrive at the chamber. We are a couple of weeks early for midsummer solstice to witness its auspicious positioning, whereby the sun rising at first light beams into the inner chamber.
We do a turn around the perimeter of the grassy mound, and Crouching through its throat, enter the small chamber. Offerings of candles, shells, handwritten notes, are wedged into the stone-stacked walls. A Columbian couple are communing, cross legged, burning sage. I lean into the central tilted standing stone with my forehead fitting into the head-shaped recess, and close my eyes. The woman sounds a singing bowl and it resounds intimately, cosmically around the space. When I move my head away from the stone I feel a kind of schoooooom of energy occur in the air inbetween. Eventually retreating back out of the throat of the chamber and back into the new day anew.
Dorothea quarry next. Described as a Welsh Angkor Wat. A vast, sprawling wild site overtaken by nature, with many fascinating overgrown ruins all green with spillings. Ferns and moss and Ivy dominate the slipping slate landscape, the distant mountains ever present. It’s a marvel, and as quiet as anything. The quarry lakes are the deepest aquamarine blue, and a terrifying and ominous 100m depth in parts. I take the plunge off the jetty into soft chilled waters. A gaggle of young lads speaking a hybrid Welsh-glish plummet themselves into the water from the higher edges of the quarry rock face getting braver each time. It’s impossible not to feel a touch freaked out at the expansiveness of this huge blue hole, and the 30 or so people who have died in these waters, so I stick to fluttering around the edges.
Later, we head further south to the coast, and barbecue sausages overlooking the Irish Sea and devour them like gluttonous gorgers, while the horizon does the same to the sun.
Morning: wake at Porth Lago on the Llŷn Peninsula jutting out into the Irish Sea. Van up high on the headland overlooking the humble bay, bluest green waters licking, lapping at light sand. A day made up of small movements…. coffee on, cut melon and make the sun from it, or is it the moon? and then eat it.
Blanket down, books out, words in, legs out, sun cream smother, dog watch, goggles on, swim sea, arms stroke water, lay down, wet of hair, stroke of sand between fingers and toes. Up there; orange and blue take the day.
Read Dylan Thomas’s greens: Fern Hill - where I was young and easy under the Apple boughs and…. The force that through the green fuse drives the flower.
Late afternoon: drive to barmy or balmy Barmouth for our last night and fall down sand dunes to eat fish and chips. Watch a woman in loose-legged pants exercise for her life on the distant shoreline for far longer than it takes to sink chips. Star jumps, big twists, slow squats, long lunges. All the dance moves ready for the discotheque. Take a Walk over the estuary bridge made for the train and perambulation. Encounter a troll, or the threat of one. Pay the troll through a hole. A troll hole. Pay it in a hole in its mouth to avoid a troll curse.
Sing a song remembered from childhood about a troll under a bridge that would eat us for its supper that used to make us shriek. We don’t see a troll, but do find a lonesome small crocodile shoe on the wall soaking up the sunset.
Seek out an ice cream chaser to close the day and the week on a sweet note, but everything is shut up for the night and so to sleep.
Wake up on the seafront, have a last swim through the early waters. First in line for a nutritious, delicious breakfast ice cream on the beach. Mocha. Then head back east through the summering green, majestic mountains. Green and brim-full of it.