When we first returned to Maentwrog in March it felt like a place of refuge. Not just from Covid 19, but as a quiet and beautiful haven from sadness after the recent death of my mum.
Since then Wales has been in lockdown and restrictions remain tight, in comparison to its more flighty neighbour. Nearly everything is closed. Yet life has gone on here in the mountain villages and the seaside towns. People have resolutely stayed apart, but still take regular walks and long distance runs while stopping for outdoor distanced chats. Turning back English tourists, sneaking across the border for a day out in the mountains, has brought the Police extra work and noting down number plates from stray cars has kept some local people busy.
From this week, it’s legally permitted for groups from two households to meet outdoors, providing they live within a five mile radius. Families are reunited and local friends can get together in their own gardens and even use each others toilets. Unfortunately the weather has just changed from being warm and sunny for days on end to cool and damp but hopefully that won’t spoil too many reunions.
It’s sad that the sun has gone, but it looks set to return next week. In the meantime, midsummer is approaching. Every morning I wake up at 5am when the light comes in. Even if the sky is grey, it’s uplifting to have the possibility of going outside. Or of staying outdoors so late at night, as it doesn’t go dark until 10am. I vow to make the most of these days, as I know that on 21st June the daylight will diminish by a few minutes each day.
The garden is growing fast. The seeds I planted in April are now plants. I have even eaten a few radishes. There is masses of mint, new shoots of rhubarb and clusters of red currants, not yet ripe. Apples are beginning to emerge and the thorny blackberry bushes are already taking over in some flower beds.
If I had to choose one place in the world where I love the scenery, it would be here, in North West Wales. I have travelled a lot. I have seen eery Namibian deserts, gigantic California Redwood trees, the amazing Amazon and its rain forest in Ecuador, jaw-dropping scenery in America’s national parks, dreamy Tuscan hills and perfect tropical beaches with white sand and drooping palm trees on Caribbean islands. But there is something about this landscape that I connect with and I am not sure why.
I wasn’t born here and I don’t really feel that I belong or fit in. But I have come to Wales all my life and it’s layered with many memories, poignant, happy, warm.
It’s been idyllic spending day after day watching the flowers grow and the trees turn different shades of green. I love hearing the sheep baaing at dusk and like to imagine they’re saying goodnight to one another. I also like to say a personal goodnight to Moelwyn Bach, the mountain which we see as soon as we open the back door. And the first thing I do each morning is stand on the verandah and stretch my arms skyward, which gives me life and energy.
As always I walk a lot. I have a few key routes around the village – along the river embankment in either direction, up through the woods and along the back road which used to be the only route to Blaenau Festiniog. I walk alone, using the time to clear my head and rearrange my thoughts. I have wandered this way all my life, along the canals of my native Staffordshire or through the squares of London.
Never has this daily walking been more valuable than now. It’s my only chance to feel a sense of freedom and to calm my restless nature.
Maentwrog has been a wonderful refuge for me in the last three months and I am grateful for its sanctuary. Being able to meander around this beautiful place has kept me on the right side of sanity.