The shock-tang smell of freshly cut grass brings anticipation and expectation for the season ahead. Swallows with tired wings, hunting sluggish flies, flit on thermals above the bright red cliffs of Rhoscolyn. Seagulls lay claim to ledge and chuckle. The rough surface of rock is warm. Un-gloved fingertips touch; Pocket. Crozzle. Crimp … There is connection. Satisfaction bites deep into soft winter skin. The sea laps.
Later, running past melting snow patches high in the hills, memories of damp and frost and dark are stored.
The new season gives reflection…
An Arctic blast hits North Wales. The Llanberis Pass, the heart of Snowdonia, looks like a Norwegian valley. Drips of ice hang from cliff and ledge and cover crozzle and crimp. A Buzzard floats, fat flakes flick from wide spread finger feathers. The bird lands on a branch in the skeletal tree and shakes. The branch wobbles, sheds white.
Life slows. The snow blankets the boulders. Gerry’s has a drift beneath it. Listen, you can hear ice growing. Water trapped beneath a thick skin gurgles. Boulders rise, volcanoes from the frozen stream. In the morning, a mist clings to the bottom of the valley. And at night, a full moon reflects through icicles hanging from the hut gutter.
Llech Ddu, on the shortest day of the year, gives, but only with reluctance. Finishing the climb in the dark, constant heavy snow has fallen throughout the day; we stand thigh-deep in fresh snow and coil rope. In my mind’s eye, I see the sheep from the walk-in. A torch beam illuminates big dark eyes beneath the large Rhyolite boulders. Black faces frozen white. Snow clotted wool. They move with difficulty leaving a greasy furrow.
The journey north on the last week of my winter was long. “Well we are going.” Was all the incentive I needed to drive five hundred miles. And, as the white lines, blue road signs, green road signs, brown road signs passed, the sun turned to rain, to sun, to rain, to snow, and memories flood. This is as much a reason for the drive.
Loch Carron and Eilean Donan Castle and the Bealach na Bà remind me of childhood and a two week camping trip to Applecross with my mum and dad and sister …
… Rain for thirteen days. Toscaig Peer, wild and barren and windy. Sea otters and seals. Rusting fishing boats. Twisted nets and orange floats. Hand-lining for crab with mussel bait. Swinging the heavy lead-weight in a faster and faster circle before letting it arc to sea. The Golden Lab attempts to snaffle muscles skewered by the savage hook. It’s too much a temptation, that stinking slippery fish goo swinging past her nose. We land more than expected when she snaps a muscle. But, patiently, and without grumbling, she allows us to remove the barb from her mouth. The rain pours at Toscaig and the smell of kelp is strong. Mum stays in the Maxi listening to the radio. She doesn’t do fishing.
Dad loved driving the Bealach na Bà, a steep twisting single lane with passing places, although being English we call it The Pass a Cattle. Dad thought he was Graham Hill. He didn’t think much of James Hunt. And my mum preferred Alain Prost …
… Thirty years later, parked in the layby at the start of the Bealach na Bà, the memories from long ago are vivid. Time stops for no-one. The journey is short.