Entranced by the light – Glaslyn Estuary, Porthmadog

The every changing light from Rose Cottage The every changing light from Rose Cottage

The right kind of light wakes me. I was deep in a weird dream and the light must have prodded and poked at my closed lids until I opened my eyes and looked out of the low window and saw the sunrise on the long ridges of ripples in the sand. “Finally, golden light!”
          I wriggle to the end of the bed, accidently kicking Nick who grunts and mutters “What?”
          “Sunlight,” I say, “Dawn sunlight.”
          I grab my small GoPro camera from the cluttered dressing table and kneeling on the carpet, my elbows on the cold smooth slate, I press the lens of the camera to the window and take a couple of shots in case a rogue cloud ruins it all before I can get outside.
          I throw on a hoodie and wriggle sockless into boots before I creep down the stairs. At the bottom Dilly pushes her face against the baby gate that keeps her in the kitchen. “Nick will let you out in a minute” I tell her, because he will, he won’t stay in bed now he has been disturbed and he is bound to let her out even though she isn’t his dog, he’s like that, all dogs will be made into friends.
          Outside on the slate terrace the thin rain of yesterday has mottled the glass top of the dining table with fat glittering globules that run together and gleam in the glass. The dew lies heavy on the wooden benches, the air is thick with the slow hand light of dawn and below me, on the sands of the estuary, the edges of the ripples in the sand catch the sunrise and for a few moments are thrown into sharp gilded relief. Welsh gold chains across the sand.
          Across the wide acres of sand the other side of the estuary is a symphony of low hills in soft blues and umbers whilst the hard edged mountains of Snowdonia rise black behind them. Above it all a sky of summer blue is made dramatic by high mackerel stripes and low nimbus clouds flare at the edges in the shallow sunrise and stay dark at their heart.
          I start shooting. The GoPro has no viewfinder and no screen but use and habit and experience lets you feel the span of its wide angle lens, your memory draws invisible lines out from its black eye. I will cut and crop later but now I want the light on the sands and the clouds and the widest vista I can get in the crystal clear light that only comes at dawn and dusk, and paints the world in rich tones and acid etched detail.
          “Good shots?” Nick asks from behind me. I turn round; Dilly sits at his feet looking up, her pale pink nose twitches, her liquid Labrador eyes trusting and hopeful. He is feeding her crisps. He just can’t help it; all dogs must be given treats and bound to him.
          “Brilliant!” I say, “Just the light I’ve been waiting for.” Apart from a good day at Llangollen when the light on the falls and on the canal was rich and burnished this trip has been mainly low skies and dim light, no good for the rich coloured shots I prefer.
          “Coming down onto the beach?” Nick asks.

rising-tide-at-porthmadog The rising tide at Glaslyn Estuary Porthmadog

          Dilly follows us down the steep embankment to the narrow slice of hidden cove beneath the house. She looks away in embarrassment when a roguish rabbit sneers at her from the edge of the garden; apparently she doesn’t like rabbits, which must be a problem as the headland here is inundated with them. We don’t have many rabbits where we live; I tell Nick the panthers ate them all!
          Down on the beach the sand is soft and our feet sink in leaving deep tracks. The wide ribbon of the river that carves through the estuary is flat calm, the tide hasn’t turned yet and the river’s road to the far off sea is untroubled and easy.
          We sit on the smooth rocks. Below us an elliptical pool at the foot of the rocks, fringed with weed, teeming with glass shrimp, reflects the sky. I bore Nick rigid with tales from the Mabinogion and the Black Book of Carmarthen. He is very good about it. He puts up with my mystical drivel with good grace.
          “Out there,” I say, pointing to the wide sands, “Legend says that Pryderi was killed by Gwydion, the trickster magician and hero of the forth branch of the Mabinogi. They fought in single combat after Gwydion stole Pryderi’s magic pigs.” Nick looks dubious, he likes bacon as much as the next man but hell!
          “It’s called Traeth Mawr, ‘big sands’,” I add, “and the whole thing was originally the tidal estuary of the River Glaslyn. It’s shorter now since they cut a chunk off it when they built The Cob that the narrow gauge railway at Porthmadog runs on.”
          We sit for a while, watching the light change on the water and the hills. I have always preferred the coast of North Wales, the mountains are pure drama; waterfalls of stone and great glassy slides of grass but their height and deep shadows oppress me and I prefer the wide seascapes where if I look carefully I can see the palaces of the Lost Lands through the blues where sea meets sky.
          Cantref y Gwaelod, the lost lands of Welsh legend that allegedly stretched from Ramsey Island in the south to Bardsey Island in the north. A flat, fertile, wondrous kingdom of shining cities, fields and orchards, lost beneath the waters of Cardigan Bay. I like to think they are still out there below the restless waves. The dykes that held back the sea have tumbled beneath the iron hard storm waters but the old kings in their halls still sit listening to their bards as the sea rushes in. I imagine them, caught in the silent stretched instant between the time it takes the bells in their towers to toll, forever waiting under the frozen break of the wave.
          “Look,” I say to Nick. I point at the slow growing cast where a razor clam burrows beside the rock pool. The looping noodle cast it is pushing up is darker than the sand on the surface, dark as the rich soil below, dark as the fertile silt of the lost lands buried just beneath the shifting sands.
          We watch the clam cast until it stops growing and the tide turns and the river through the sands becomes boisterous with current as it fights and loses the battle it wages twice a day with the relentless sea.
          We make our way back up to Rose Cottage, the single room B&B that we have been lucky enough to find and book. We eat breakfast (aga cooked, local eggs) at a huge wooden table that looks out at the wide angle, Technicolor view.
          Our stay here had been too short, just two nights, but it has been long enough to fall in love with the location and the easy going charm of the owners who encourage us to stay and relax and just enjoy the quiet and the rabbits and the view and the low impact company of Dilly the Labrador.
          We leave with promises to return. When I have a horrible deadline or my brain is even more fried than usual or I just need to again touch the places of myth that remind me how Welsh I am then we’ll be back, to watch the light and the tide and the patchwork shadows of clouds on the distant mountains.

summer-light-port-madog-estuary Summer dawn light on the Glaslyn Estuary at Portmadog

If you want to stay at Rose Cottage Bed and Breakfast near Porthmadog then you can book direct here – Rose Cottage B&B – but book soon because they fill up quickly. I can’t wait to go back in winter and see that view in snow, it will be amazing.

Having Heart – A trip around Wales

blue-rose-bloom Blue Rose – A Heartfelt Welcome Home
I was talking with my agent the other day (bear with me, I’m not being snotty for the sake of it) and we talked about all the different authors she has edited and represented over the years, a bookish diversity of genre and theme that runs the gamut of the Dewey Decimal system, and when I asked what drew her to each author, she said simply, “They all have heart.”

They may not have written a bestseller yet, they may have penned a hundred, they may just be word filled pages of potential like me, but they all have heart and one day that heart will produce something wonderful.

Since she said that I have spent time thinking about heart; my agent is someone who edited David Gemmel (remembers the last twenty pages of Legend and shivers), someone who represents literary fiction, romance, thrillers and memoirs and who thinks I too have heart. I realise that there can be no bigger compliment and no more important thing in life. We have to bring heart to what we do. I have heart. I have always had heart, in everything I ever did I had heart and this is the way it should be.

Tretower Kitchen Tretower Kitchen
I have travelled all round Wales this week; a road trip that took us east to Brecon and Monmouth before turning North and following the marches up to Shrewsbury where we veered back west and trailed the river into the iron heart of Wales at Llangollen and then on into Snowdonia through the slate slab mountains and the realm of the Grey King to the wide estuaries of the north coast where the lost lands lie under the cloaking sands. And wherever we went the things that called to us, made us remember, made us care, were the places with heart.

We found heart in the staff who looked after the medieval house of Tretower for CADW, a mismatched pair of custodians with ready smiles, boundless enthusiasm and pride and love in the property. Their heart shone through.

There was a mighty heart behind Pontcysyllte’s cast iron aqueduct at Llangollen where Thomas Telford threw a narrow ribbon of stone and steel and water across a gorge. It took 43 years to do it; you need a helluva heart to even think that is something you can do.

Pontcysyllte-aqueduct Telford’s cast iron aqueduct Pontcysyllte
We found heart in the volunteers on the steam railway at Porthmadog who tickled and tweaked and nursed their elderly charges with a gentle hand and a deep admiration up the narrow gauge rails into the mountains.

There was heart in the lady who welcomed us to her idyllic little B&B overlooking its own cove on the Glynlyn estuary at the start of the Llyn Peninsula. There was heart in her welcome, her aga cooked breakfasts, her urging us to sit and look and watch the light change on the hills and the sea, to relax and drink it in.

Heart can’t be faked; it’s that deep down in the bone generosity of spirit that makes you do what you do because you genuinely care. You don’t do what you do for fame or glory or money, you don’t have to be perfect in what you do to have it, you just have to care and let it show.

Wales has heart, we found it this week, and it was good to see again.

chain-bridge-llangollen View from chain bridge at Llangollen

The Confetti Days of May

hawthorn-in-may Hawthorn in May
Pembrokeshire in May is like standing at the kissing gate of a country church celebrating an old fashioned wedding. The air is full of flying blossom like confetti and the shades of pink and white from the hawthorn, the cherry and the apple whirl joyously across the garden as if thrown by playful angels.

We have a bumper blossom season this year; the winter was mild, March came in like a lamb and only managed a half hearted roar on the way out, April was blessed with quick showers and surprising sunshine and now May is wind tossed and bright breezy and the blossom is everywhere.

Whilst the undulating fields of flowering rape and the hedgerows of glowing gorse turn the wider Pembrokeshire countryside brilliant acid yellow here in my sheltered garden, against a delicate green backdrop of rapidly unfurling leaves, everything is blooming white.

white-hyacinth-spring-pembrokeshire The last white hyacinth
The hopeful saplings of pear, plum and apple, in what we laughingly refer to as the orchard, are heading into their first season smothered in blossom and flanked by the more robust trunks of the old white cherry and gnarly apple that have survived my intermittent enthusiasm for gardening this last decade or so.

The last of the hyacinths are being hidden by the spreading swathes of wild garlic that have migrated from the bridle path to the garden hedgerows and have even established a foothold in the centre of the front garden, giving the massive old sycamore that dominates the garden an incongruous froth of lacey white at the base of it’s elephant skin trunk.

Soloman's seal blooming in the garden hedge rows Soloman’s seal blooming in the garden hedge rows

What makes me happiest though, amongst all the jollity of blowing blossom and extravagant flowering, is that my Solomon’s Seal has survived another winter and it’s magic of rapid growth, elegant curving stem and delicate bell like flowers is again to be found amongst the excesses of the hedgerows. I do love this plant, it’s my favourite until the aquilegia season comes again and their little fairy faces replace the bells of May.