‘Are you ok there?’
‘Yes, we’re just doing a treasure hunt.’
— Meeting wanderers on a twilight path, somewhere near Newport, Pembrokeshire.
I awake inside the headmaster’s office of an old school building in Aberystwyth, a small but pretty university town by the sea. The students are still away for their summer break, giving the town a tranquil but not too desolate feel. I look out its jaunty multi-coloured Victorian terraces, so self-contained and sure of itself. Yet there’s little around Aber, and nothing in the landscape I passed earlier would suggest its existence. It’s not sucking the life out of its surrounding areas, unlike most of the major cities, nor is it desperately trying to prove a point, often badly, like many of the smaller cathedral cities. I hear the cry of the gulls in the air, and as Nia and I wander into the town for some breakfast, I can’t help noticing passers-by with a swing in their step.
* Readers: I apologise for the now fortnight backlog in updates. I’m still alive and travelling, but have had little time, electricity, and internet connection. Fortunately there’s been some extraordinary adventures and encounters – some really magical people and experiences. In the meantime, please bear with me.
‘People have stopped going to the blockbusters…’ – Nia, Aber.
I awake in Machnylleth, a sleepy town on the mid-Wales coast with dormant dreams of a green revolution. I’ve slept the night in a lovely house in the town, eating and talking with a group of housemates who I’d like to count as another collection of friends made on this journey. Travelling by the day, one meets so many inspiring and curious characters, and it’s been a delightful treat to gorge each day on anecdotes, ideas and opinions. I believe that every person possesses inside them a small universe, their own unique imaginative internalisation of the world around them. Connecting with people can, at its rare best, feel like an electric connection, charged and powerful, transforming both interlocutors in the flow of ideas. Or, on a less mystical note, just damn interesting. There’s a lot of damn interesting people on these islands. Keep faith in one’s fellow companion. That stranger is a friend not yet made. I’ve held close to that dictum, and so immensely profited from every encounter.
‘We’ve got the knowledge here, we’ve got the potential.’ – Joel, Machynlleth.
The desire for solitude…
I’m starting to feel like the lone ranger, my singleness weighing on me. But it’s not a feeling of isolation, or loneliness… Stranger, a hardening of my boundaries, a reluctance and disinterest in intruding on others, a new feeling of difficulty in looking someone in the eye, or asking about them, whilst my mind and its imagination inflates into a pop up universe of its own. It’s like the mind can incorporate external stimuli like sights, stories, experiences before a certain threshold is exceeded. Or maybe it’s fatigue, of a mental kind, or the changing of the seasons I am experiencing and immersed into a daily, hourly degree, more intensive than ever before. The dark is drawing in, and weeks of cold, grey and wet weather has us turning inwards, towards the hearth and the familiar figures and sensations that surround it. Maybe I’m tiring out, as other travellers have done who I’ve read, their last days a grainy and gloomy blur. I hope not. I’m finding such rich secrets already in north Wales, and more is promised.
‘Is it always as wet as this?’
‘More often than not’.
– Meteorology at the Stag Inn, Dolgellau.
I’ve stayed the night in Bangor, a town in north-west Wales, unremarkable to a large degree except for its expanding university. It has no obvious centre, no heart or locus where its people can mill around and meet. I leave Simon’s place, a gentle man who has kindly hosted me for the night through the Couchsurfing website, and I cycle through the town’s small and modest high street. There’s nothing flash or pretentious about the place, and few things have aspirations here higher than two storeys. Expect no concession to civic ambition, just more discount shops and supermarkets.
‘That’s how all the cities are changing now. … But there’s nothing you can do. Things change.’ – Mike, Llangefni.
Snowdonia is a wonderful place. Visit it if you can, explore by foot or pedal its gentle heights, mapping with your eyes how undulating fields become forests that give way to an explosion of jagged rocks strewn up and down peaks, clustering in valleys with the heather and bracken. There’s a few sheep ensuring that the grasses are kept short, but in certain moments it’s absent of life and just lovely.
‘What do people do for work around here?’
‘… Jobs.’ – Without irony, outside the Eagles Hotel, Corwen.
I awake in Chirk Bank, a small hamlet just on the inside of the English border. It’s a cosy place that my parnter’s aunt and uncle have here, and I’ve been made to feel welcome. Sandra’s given me a crash course in the Welsh language.
Bore da, a chroeso i Gymru! Mae’n debyg y dylwn ddysgu ychydig o ymadroddion, ond yn eu ynganu un anodd iawn.
I cheated a bit here and used an online translator, but just consider those words. If you have no Welsh, take a moment to attempt to pronounce them. So different does the language and appear, and flowing and unusual its sound, yet it’s the tongue of England’s neighbour.