I am the river – Norfolk, England


First frost over the breckland of north Norfolk, England

Through tussocks, reeds and the occasional yew,

I am the river and you the view;

Through pasture forgotten and by trees of oak,

I will walk the land like liquid smoke;


Hornbeam amidst the moor


Hornbeam amidst the moor, acrylic on card (Daniel Graham)

Amidst the great open moorland there stood a hornbeam, its limbs reaching out for winter. The air was cold, and with this chill I felt my cheeks tighten. I walked towards the tree for some minutes, first entering its breathing ground, and then, a minute beyond that, its lichen-stippled trunk. I sat beneath the hornbeam’s brittle wood and listened on as three crows came to rest above my head, their movements knocking small twigs to the ground around me.

Tawny owls – the epitome of love

Tawny owls - the epitome of love

Tawny owls – the epitome of love

Several weeks ago I moved to the Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales, washing dishes and plating up food for hungry hikers and tired cyclists at the Danywenallt youth hostel. I am, irrefutably, in the sticks: a forest of hazel, rowan and oak overhangs the rear of the staff cottage, whilst a band of hills and low-lying mountains – the park’s central peaks – dominates the front. Sheep graze the nearby slopes, brought down from higher ground by shepherds onto the lush lowlands of the Caerfanell river valley, and, just metres to the south sits Taylbont Reservoir – a placid sheet of freshwater, topped-up by its bordering topography.

Within the first few days of my arrival into the park, I had climbed most of the peaks within view of my bedroom window. Though far from outlandish ascents, the vistas – each standing between four-hundred and six-hundred metres – allowed me to gather my bearings. Over the days that followed, my focus fell upon the valley floor: the sunken tramroads, cobbled and worn; the boulder-filled rivers; the thickets of walnut saplings, blackberry bushes and wild raspberries. Gradually, I began to understand where I was.

‘Tawny owls’, Stephen, a bush craft guide and local to the area, informed.

‘I thought so, but I couldn’t be sure,’ I returned. Singing through dusk, I had gone to bed each night with the call of the bird close to my ears.

‘It’s two, you know.’

‘What is?’

‘The sound you hear, ke-VICK…  hu WHOOooooo! The first call – ke VICK – is the female, and the second – hu WHOOooooo – is the male. They sing as one.’

Later that night, a little before retiring to bed, I opened the front door of the cottage and looked out at the night. There was no moon and, in spite of the faint starlight, darkness filled the valley before me. Fulfilling their nocturnal courtship, the owls began to call, first the female, then the male. Two spirits perceived as one. Now, if that isn’t love…

Hiking through cotton grass – Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales

Cotton grass in the Brecon Beacons, Wales

Cotton grass in the Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales (Jake Graham Photography)

We climbed away from the haggard forest and the deep-set country lanes, between grazing sheep and bounding rabbits, and on. Cotton grass began to appear; at first one or two shoots, but by the time we reached the lower crags of Fan y Big the ridgeline was awash with white. As pure as the foam of an Arctic wave, the cotton heads lit up the Beacons, monotone yet magnificent.

We sat – with our toes overhanging – on a diving board of sandstone. We were at the apex.

Fan y Big summit, Brecon Beacons, Wales (Jake Graham Photography)

Fan y Big summit, Brecon Beacons, Wales (Jake Graham Photography)

From the Craig Cwmoergwm spine we moved south, beyond tottering cairns and peat bogs the colour of the night. The Neuadd Reservoir deep in the valley had run dry.

Stopping to rest on our descent into the Caerfanell basin, Jake fell asleep amidst a bed of grassy tussocks. I tried, but was kept from my slumber by the chirrups of the skylarks overhead.

Cwm Cynwyn valley, Brecon Beacons, Wales (Jake Graham Photography)

Cwm Cynwyn valley, Brecon Beacons, Wales (Jake Graham Photography)