“The prejudice we exercise against such landscapes, imagining them to be primitive, stark and pagan, became sharply apparent. It is in a place like this that we would unthinkingly store poisons or test weapons …” – Barry Lopez
I’m reading ‘Arctic Dreams’ at the moment; it’s by the American writer Barry Lopez and was first published almost 25 years ago. It’s a hard read: not in terms of the writing, which is fluent and eloquent, but in the intricacy of its subject matter – a complex mix of the tangible and the conceptual. I’m frequently finding myself re-reading entire paragraphs; sometimes for the enjoyment of reprising the language, at others simply for better understanding of the content.
There are many recurring themes throughout the book, not least among them the value of landscape and our continuing responsibilities as the most exploitative of species. The passage at the head of this blog entry had a particular resonance for me; the abuse of wild land and the proliferation of man-made intrusions into wilderness being a frequent cause of both concern and exasperation. The siting of a wind-farm or hydro project might not seem to stand direct comparison with that of a plutonium dump or missile silo, but there are often elements of the same strands of dismissive thinking underpinning the decision making processes.
Politicians, planners, corporations, all seem to be informed by the notion that empty land is somehow wasted land; that our wild and sparsely populated areas are expendable and until a place has exploitable commercial value then it has no value at all. This is why we find our mountains disfigured by ironmomgery, our moorlands increasingly defaced with communications hardware, power-lines and clusters of turbines.
Barry Lopez again …
“What every culture must eventually decide is what, of all that surrounds it, tangible and intangible, it will dismantle and turn into material wealth. And what of its cultural wealth, from the tradition of finding peace in the vision of an undisturbed hillside to a knowledge of how to finance a corporate merger, it will fight to preserve”
Old haunts revisited (a day in The Berwyns)
Some might question the sense of returning time and again to familiar hills when there are others – plenty of them – still to be visited for the first time. The Berwyns exert a pull for me: whether it’s because they are the most accessible of big hill days from where I live, or is simply a desire to reprise some of the best days out, I’m unsure. Whatever the motivation, they are a place to which I regularly return.
When it comes to the Welsh hills I’m used to walking alone but on this occasion I had family in tow. Within a few hundred yards of leaving the car we’d had to cross a stream on slippery stones and climb a steep overgrown slope to gain the path we were looking for. Having assured both wife and son that this was to be an enjoyable walk and well within their capabilities, the question “Is it all going to be like this?” was probably inevitable, and the response “That’s probably the worst bit over already” met with twin looks of scepticism.
But the path is a good one – springy, close-cropped turf offering gradual but progressive ascent for a good part of the route. Things do get a little boggy for a while (and more about that later) and they also get a little* steeper for a while, but the ridge tops out at well over 2,700 feet so some exertion is a given.
The first refuelling stop was taken a little sooner than would usually be the case; an inevitable consequence of having a teenage boy in the group. This was to prove fortuitous: a short while after we’d settled a large bird of prey – which we all assumed to be a buzzard – rose from the ground, where it had been disturbed by a pair of ravens. But something about the wing shape and then the pattern of its flight was wrong for a buzzard and, keeping very still, we were treated to the sight of a female hen harrier quartering the adjacent moorland; probably looking for grouse, of which there were plenty around.
This set the pattern for the rest of the walk: short, regular stops for refreshments and the opportunity to scan 360º with the binoculars. Not a bad approach on what was quite a warm day. By the time we made the main ridge, at Moel Sych, a haze had gathered and the views north and west were less distinct than we had hoped for; but there was still a certain drama to be had from the shadowy, indistinct forms of the main Snowdonia ranges.
If there was to be one minor gripe it was that, for the first time in many months, I walked in boots; partly in anticipation of the boggy sections of the walk, but mostly because my Terrocs are now on the threshold of total disintegration and – as is typical for me – I have failed to organise a replacement pair. There were times, particularly during the descent, where I felt leaden-footed and clumsy and was glad of the assistance of a trekking pole.
We took the final refreshment break beneath the tree canopy adjacent to Pistyll Rhaeadr. It had been a golden day; I must go back sometime.
* May contain traces of understatement