The hills are alive

A frosty as­cent of the high­est of the Bre­con Bea­cons

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Fiona Reynolds Fol­low @fionacreynolds on Twit­ter

A frosty Jan­uary as­cent of the Bre­con Bea­cons brings Wordsworth to mind for Dame Fiona Reynolds

ILOVE hills. Per­haps it’s be­cause I was born among them (in Al­ston, Cum­bria, the high­est mar­ket town in Eng­land) or be­cause, as a child, our hol­i­days were al­ways in Snow­do­nia and the Lake Dis­trict. Or it may be be­cause there’s some­thing truly in­spir­ing about the majesty of hills that touches emo­tions other places can’t reach.

‘We were joined by a huge red kite hunt­ing be­low us’

I’m not alone. John Ruskin ex­pe­ri­enced his epiphany as a young man, watch­ing a storm break over Cha­monix in France: ‘Spire of ice—dome of snow—wedge of rock… a ce­les­tial city with walls of amethyst and gates of gold—filled with the light and clothed with the Peace of God. And then I learned… the real mean­ing of the word “Beau­ti­ful”.’

In the sum­mer of 1793, Wil­liam Wordsworth and his friend, Robert Jones of Ruthin, made a night as­cent of Snow­don and the poet’s view from the top, with ad­ja­cent sum­mits emerg­ing through pools of mist, cap­tures a mo­ment all Snow­don afi­ciona­dos recog­nise: ‘A hun­dred hills their dusky backs up­heaved/all over this still ocean; and be­yond,/far, far be­yond, the solid vapours stretched,/in head­lands, tongues and promon­tory shapes,/into the sea, the real sea, that seemed/to dwin­dle, and give up its majesty, /Usurped upon as far as sight could reach.’

Dur­ing Christ­mas, I watched again the film On the Black Hill, adapted from Bruce Chatwin’s won­der­ful novel. It’s set in the Golden Val­ley on the edge of the Bre­con Bea­cons and beau­ti­fully cap­tures the spirit of the Welsh border­lands and their peo­ple, the mar­ket towns of Hay-on-wye and Bre­con and the sweep­ing, high moun­tains. Ir­re­sistible.

On a freez­ing morn­ing in Jan­uary, frost thick on the ground and the land­scape shrouded in a heavy mist, I set off with friends to climb Pen y Fan, the high­est of the Bre­con Bea­cons range. It was a spooky, eerie day and we had no idea whether the fog would clear, but, after leav­ing our car just south of Bre­con, in the Na­tional Trust car park, we caught our first glimpses of blue sky and whipped clouds mov­ing fast above us.

Still in heavy mist, our boots slip­ping on the frozen ground, we climbed—west of the mini sum­mit of Allt Ddu rather than up the main track be­cause we were keen to gain height quickly. We were soon re­warded. Sur­mount­ing our first lit­tle hill, Twy Cil-rhew, and travers­ing around to re­join the main path, we broke through the mist into bril­liant sun­shine and the most stu­pen­dous view. Above us, still a mile or so dis­tant, the sum­mit, atop a pre­cip­i­tous edge; be­low us, caul­drons of mist, mov­ing and break­ing as if caught by ed­dies of wind and, to our right, pour­ing over the ridge into the val­ley be­low.

The walk to the sum­mit was one of the most glo­ri­ous ex­pe­ri­ences imag­in­able: crys­tal-clear light, swirling clouds, deep val­leys and sweep­ing ridges, bro­ken here and there by the bright colours of a dis­tant walker’s jacket or the sparkle of sun­light on a frosted stream— Wordsworth’s ex­pe­ri­ence re­lived.

At the top, we met dozens of oth­ers, most of whom had climbed from Storey Arms (a shorter and, it must be said, less ex­cit­ing route). The vast plateau was freez­ing and windswept so, after a quick, cer­e­mo­nial visit to the sum­mit cairn, we didn’t dally. Our route down was equally splen­did: from Corn Du, we took the western path, past the obelisk, de­scend­ing to the waters of tiny Llyn Cwm Ll­wych. Stop­ping there for lunch, now alone, we were joined by a huge red kite hunt­ing silently be­low us, its rus­set-and-black back up­turned.

I’m now well into the Cam­bridge term— no hills, no moun­tains. How­ever, swirling mist, frost, spec­tac­u­lar blue skies and ar­chi­tec­tural beauty have not been in short sup­ply this year so far. My moun­tain fix has been sat­is­fied— for now. Fiona Reynolds is Mas­ter of Em­manuel Col­lege, Cam­bridge, and the au­thor of ‘The Fight for Beauty’ (Oneworld). She will be writ­ing about her favourite walks ev­ery month

Green re­mem­bered hills: Bre­con Bea­cons from Pen­lan (1984) by Roy Pow­ell

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