‘The prophet takes over where the mystic stops. The mystic is ascent; the prophet descent.’
– William Everson
The bibliomantic reading could not have been more appropriate. From the mines, we were heading for the heights to meet a Druid on the top of a mountain.
“I’m not sure I’m really up to climbing mountains….” Between the mountain that loomed above us, the sun and the heat, the word ‘convalescence’ seemed to be at a bit of a loss for something to connect with. I had heard the tale of the day-long wander around the mountain on a spiral path that had led to my companion’s original ‘discovery’ of the site.
“That must have been the wrong way. The book…” Ah, the book… the same one that had led us on so many wild goose chases with its maps drawn to some variable scale? “… the book says it is only a half hour and fair walking.” I was reassured. But not for long. “It’ll be fine…”
At least we got to drive part of the way, up increasing tortuous lanes where the hedgerows brushed the sides of the car, pausing in our ascent to allow a confused baby rabbit to seek shelter.The book said to park at the pillars.
“Do you think they constitute pillars?” My companion nodded towards the twin shafts of stone either side of a particularly narrow stretch.
“I thought you’d been here before?”
“‘I have no memory of this place…'”
I kept driving.
We eventually found the pillars and parked the car. After our visit to the ancient mines, the morning was already arcing towards noon and, by the time we had fuelled ourselves for the ascent with sandwiches, the sun was at its zenith. The heatwave had officially begun. But still, a gentle, half-hour walk should be no problem. I looked out along the invitation of the soft, green path with anticipation.
“It’s up there.” My companion pointed the other way to where a broken track climbed steeply up the face of the mountain. Oh well. The sun was shining, the clouds were low and intimate… and there was already a first flush of heather tinting the hillside. A ‘fair’ walk. How hard could it be?
The path climbed steeply. I was wheezing before we’d gone ten yards. I stopped every ten yards or so to get my breath, feeling as old as Methuselah and as unfit as he would be after a century on a diet of Big Macs. My companion was better…but not much. We agreed it would be silly to attempt this kind of thing without knowing it was not very far. The path kept on climbing. I kept on stopping… until we crested the first slope. The views were stunning. There was heather and stone and horizons and sea and mountains… and while my companion paused to consult the book to see which of the three paths we should take, I skipped off ahead, as ecstatic a spring lamb.
But the path continued, curling around the corner of the hill. No sign of our Druid. The silence was absolute. No sound at all other than the distant bleat of a lamb or the call of a bird. No sign of ‘civilisation’, no other person in sight for miles… Just a high green plateau surrounded by hills and dotted with pure white sheep and the small birds that once again led us onwards.
We must have been walking for half an hour before we spotted a huge boulder in a distant field and what appeared to be the remnants of a stone circle off to our left.
“I remember seeing four stones from the site…” But there was still no sign of our destination. We left the main track to explore the four stones and continued past them to where we would get a clearer view, both of the area and the sea below. The car, by now, was an impossibly tiny speck in the distance, far beneath us and far away. There was no trace our our destination and we realised we had lost the trail. It was at this moment that a Landrover came across the field and the farmer stopped to speak to us.
Expecting to be told that we were trespassing, we were a tad apprehensive, but the gentleman merely passed the time of day and, asking where we were heading, offered directions.
“Back to the main path and follow it up. It isn’t far. You’re nearly there.” His tanned face broke into a grin. “You can’t miss it…”
That’s never a good sign…
When he had driven off, we followed his direction, passing beneath an outcrop of rock that looked like a dragon’s spine. Beneath our feet there were bones, lots of bones, as if the harsh winter of the high places had demanded sacrifice. My companion, who had wandered off, held up his find.
“Dragon’s teeth!” He held out a set of winter-white vertebrae.
“The dragon’s spine!”
“Well, they are too big for sheep…”
“Horse?” The long-bones at out feet suggested as much, and a herd of the semi-wild Welsh ponies grazed on a nearby hill, their foals as curious as the lambs.
We regained the original path and walked on, and up…and on…and up. Not only was there no sign of our destination, but there was no sign of any exit from the field when the path ran out. Just a dry stone wall topped with barbed wire.
If it is not at the top of this rise, we’ll have to make a decision…”
The clock said we were running seriously low on time. We were to meet the others for the start of the weekend workshop at half past five and we still had a fifty mile drive ahead of us. We walked on.
“It it is not at the top of this rise, we are going to have to turn back.”
We reached the top of the field.
“We may as well just check over the wall. It would be awful to come all this way and miss it by a few yards…”
We made our escape from the field; my longer-legged companion over the wall, me, with little grace and less dignity, through the nettles and over the rusted gate behind an ancient sheep fold.
“We’ll just go to the top of that rise…” The land seemed to open out there. If there was nothing in view, we would have to call it a day.
A huge monolith lay flat in the grass, surrounded by smaller boulders, looking for all the world like the one carried by Obelix in the Asterix books.
“It looks as if it should be standing…”
“And there is a stone row pointing that way…”
With no idea whether the stones had been placed there in antiquity or not, we accepted their guidance and followed where they led.
As the vista opened before us, showing us the sea below, the green of the hills stood in stark and unpleasant contrast to the slate mining operation on the mountain overlooking the bay. After the wonder of the ancient mines that morning, the dark scar on the hillside, amid so much beauty, was painful and somehow abrupt. Although it provides much-needed employment and revenue for the area, up here such considerations seemed remote, as if the land itself was telling us its sorrow.
“I can see it!”
We paused to gather ourselves for the final ascent, picking out the infinitesimal spot of green that was the car, seemingly miles away, beneath the heather-dark slopes of a distant hill far below. Although we enjoy walking, that is not the idea behind these weekends nor was the long, uphill trek something we would have attempted had we known what was entailed, at least not on suc a hot day and with limited time. But the book had been right. It was a ‘fair’ walk… if you take fair to mean beautiful. Bathing in that sunlit beauty, I felt better than I had in months and younger than I had in years. The body knows what it needs, even when the mind thinks it mad.
We headed for the horizon and the tantalising glimpse of stone crowing the rise. It had been far more than half an hour’s walk… We squelched through the marshy grass and reeds, crossed the stream on a convenient log and climbed the final slope to Meini Hirion, the ‘long stones’, known in English as The Druid’s Circle…