After a flurry of e-mails and phone calls, I picked up Richard and Neil Drabble, the photographer, from Bristol Parkway station, and headed for the Black Mountains just as fast as the Traveller would go; the weather forecast was ominous, and we hoped to get some daylight up on Hay Bluff.
We did, too; apparently, the days are already half an hour longer than the nights, so the sun didn't set until 6:25. Give or take a few minutes. This is probably to do with the precession of the equinoxes, or global warming or something.
Whatever, it was a spectacular sunset, and we did indeed see it from Hay Bluff, where it was Very Cold.
My spectacular photo of it didn't work out, unfortunately. That's why Neil's a professional photographer and I drive the car.
And so to Hay, and the Swan, Hay's best and indeed only hotel. Last time we were here we were lucky to find somewhere to pitch our tent in a field three miles away. But that was during the Festival.
How to move up in the world; go off-season.
Actually, now I think of it, the first time I stayed overnight in Hay was when I was walking Offa's Dyke in 1984, and I slept on the old castle mound by the cattle market. I was travelling light.
On that occasion, I also discovered the Three Tuns, one of Ian Marchant's thirteen unspoilt pubs. It was dark and slightly smelly and nice, and hoovers still hadn't been invented when it had last been cleaned. I looked forward to seeing if it was still the same.
It wasn't. It'd had a fire, and been restored. Sympathetically enough, perhaps, but it looked aridly nouveau oldy-moldy when we looked through the window and didn't go in.
So we ate in the Blue Boar and drank until ...long past my bed time.
We took an early walk around town. It was market day, and everyone was bustling and setting up stalls. And my bustling photos didn't work out. We walked the river bank, and were harangued by a scottie dog. Blackbirds were hauling tufts of moss to their new nests. A jogger jogged by. Richard had bags under his eyes. I mentioned the Estee Lauder light-reflecting concealer I had in my bag, designed for such times as this. Did he take me up on the offer? What do you think?
Breakfast was hugely cheering. English breakfasts are theoretically wonderful and set you up for the day, but you usually end up being fobbed off with watery bacon and pallid, tasteless bangers. None of that at the Swan, though; I complimented the girl who'd brought us breakfast (and who'd booked us in last night, and then served us at the bar a short while later, and was still looking cheerful after all that). She said the sausages came from the Welsh Venison Company, just up the road. So there you have it.
And so to the hills. I staggered to the foyer with a heap of rucsacs and outdoor gear, and collapsed it next to Neil, who was gasconading with the Girl Who Does Everything. Several people wished us luck on the expedition. I didn't have the heart to tell them that the stuff was only for props, and adopted a self-effacing expression suitable for an understated heroine of the Himalayas.
It was even colder up by Hay Bluff today. At least it solved the problem of what to wear. Anything warm, basically.
The mountain tops were in cloud, and the sheep were huddled in whatever cover the gorse afforded them from the screaming wind. Richard huddled in the car between shots and tried to be brave. I took some more shots that spectacularly failed to be spectacular. Neil enthused about the light, and continually wiped his streaming eyes to squint into the viewfinder.
So now we wait a few weeks to see the results.