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The Dragon’s Land

We’re off to Wales again this weekend. Last time it was for a surprise 70th birthday party of a relative, who was surprised because, like all of us, inside her head she’s still seventeen. This time the party is a 50th and this weekend, because it is allegedly not winter, we will be camping.

I surprised myself by how much I like camping. I thought I might miss the plumbing or the kettle but there is much to be said for wild peeing and the kettle I have for the tent whistles. I think that nights under canvas, well not strictly speaking canvas but you get the idea, connect me to my Viking daydreams. You can be just a little closer to being a shield maiden when you are rolled up in your sleeping bag.

Wales. That mythical land. There are National Parks I know, several in Wales in fact, but Wales also qualifies as a National Theme Park because you have to pay to get in. If you travel from my part of the country that is.  In fact the access to Wales from my neck of the woods lends to its mythic qualities, from the South West you have to cross a bridge and pay a toll, you don’t get more fairytale than that.

It’s a Principality, therefore full of Princes, or at least at one point in history it was (a quite bloody spearpoint in history to be accurate.) There are castles pretty much everywhere you look and not the namby pamby sort that someone did a Grand Designs on in the 1700s we are talking proper full on stone built fortresses. There is, of course, no shortage of dragons.

I married a Welshman and so over the years have been shown the secrets of Wales. I have yomped and hiked and trekked all over the place from cave to cove to rushing waterfall. Wales has a lot to offer the passing tourist who is of a Pagan, romantic or mythical persuasion. It is the land of the Mabinogion; we are talking flowers and owls, badgers and beetles, the red kite. The place is elemental.

Only recently prehistoric antlers were dug out of the sands at Ynys-Las, the fossil remains having been revealed by a particularly low tide and a bad storm. It is fitting that those two natural events combined to reveal the hidden historical treasure. There is magic in the fact that it took a specific time and tide and a storm to reveal this beast.  He was, perhaps, hunted down in this primeval forest, the remains of which form nubs and stumps, resinous and squidgy beneath bare feet. You can walk through these forest remains, but only at certain low tides, a portal to other times, hidden in the sand.

Waterfalls are more whitewater rushing in Wales courtesy of the tempestuous weather. Hey, some people complain about this elemental aspect of Wales, I think it is one of its greatest assets, freshening and refreshing, moody and atmospheric. Rivers run through valleys, washing down through the rocks and crevasses, tumbling and raging. The Four Waterfalls of Ystradfellte offer, amongst other natural wonders, Sgwd Yr Eira, the Snow Falls.  The wildhearted can walk the narrow ledge path to walk behind this curtain of water. Diamonds, I know, are just stones made from pressurised carbon, I prefer my diamonds to be cut from water, ever changing and lightcatching.

Once you’ve sacrificed your dry clothes to the element of water you can try out some earth. If you want you can head to the organised adventure of the Dan-yr-Ogof caves but the more feral might favour the secret splendour of Culver Hole, erstwhile dovecot and smugglers cave. The last time I was there you could climb in with the help of a tattered sea rope. Once again you’re entering a portal, a hidey hole, somewhere the giants could not reach the hero, where only his lost love could be found.

Air next. Stackpole anyone? Wrestle the wind, let it take your breath away, let it take the weight off your feet, the wind will whet your edges, make you salt-hearted and breathes life into the last element.

Fire. Where do we find fire in Wales? In the hearthstone heart of St Fagan’s museum? In the urban heart of Cardiff? Go along the coast away, along, along and along at last to where, at the turn of the Worm’s Head, the sunset ignites the skies.

 
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‘a highly original talent’ – Beryl Bainbridge

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