For five nights I slept beside the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. On the first, I woke before the night was up and walked with the stars over frosted grass and frozen puddles, and on the second I slept with the pounding drum of the rain upon my shelter. And so it went, from one peninsula to the next, weather on my face, beyond the whirling lighthouse of Strumble Head, the moorland ponies of Mynydd Morfa and the slatestone incisors of the Aberdinas Islands, not a another walker in sight for three days and three nights.
Last night I walked the Craig Cerrig-gleisiad ridgeline, following its glacial scars west and onto the summit of Fan Frynych 300 metres above the valley floor. Without moonlight and without torch the night enveloped me, until all that remained was clarity.
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.’
‘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…