Friday, 26 December 2008

Christmas present

With young K away with the Other Parent for Christmas, it seemed like a good time to head for the mountains. So I did.

I was over the Severn Bridge and approaching Abergavenny when the dawn had begun properly; clouds cloaked the summits of the surrounding hills, including Ysgyryd Fawr, where I was heading. I had vague hopes that I would ascend through clouds and emerge into sunshine, though it looked a bit unpromising. The thing is, unless you get up there, you can never tell, can you? Last Christmas I'd gone up Pen y Fan through similarly murky gloom, and it had cleared just as I reached the summit. As you can see.

Corn Du from Pen y Fan, last year

It had been quite busy up there. For a mountain, anyway. I hoped for a slightly quieter time today.

I ascended from the south, through woods where blackbirds called, and past the great cleft in the hill which is supposed to have been broken when Christ was crucified. The way got steeper and mistier, and then I was on the ridge in cloud and buffeted by the wind all the way to the summit, where the ruins of St Michael's Chapel lie next to the trig point. After the Reformation, local Catholics would come up here and hold services, keeping the light of their faith alive in dangerous times.


There was another walker already up there, sheltering on the lee slope. We exchanged hellos, and I plonked myself down close by, but not too close. Mountain top etiquette. Shortly after, he wandered off and left me to my thoughts, which started off with "God, it's cold" and progressed thence to "I really fancy a cup of tea". Fortunately, I had my flask with me, and I wrapped my scarf around my head to keep the wind out of my ears. I listened to the wind blowing through the dried grass, and tried to think of a description of the sound, which was a bit like waves seething over very fine, sandy shingle. I wondered at the tenacity of the moles which had been industriously burrowing around the summit. Presumably they were unaware that the Skirrid is too holy to permit the presence of snails or worms.

As I descended, the mist began to clear. Ravens played in the air around the summit and the Monmouthshire lowlands emerged from the murk. By the time I was down again, the sun was shining brilliantly. It would have been a good time to be on the summit. But that's mountains for you.



Home again, I opened a present from my friend Catherine. It was a lovely edition of Richard Jefferies' Wildlife in a Southern County, with illustrations by Charles Tunnicliffe; and the first chapter had a description of the sound of hilltop wind blowing through dried grass on a summer's day:

A faint sound as of a sea heard in a dream - a sibilant "sish, sish" - passes along outside, dying away and coming again as a fresh wave of wind rushed through the bennets and the dry grass.