Here I am driving in my car, covering many miles, crossing the Cambrian Mountains. And once parked, in a layby, as close to a footpath as I can, I then and only then, put on my winter walking gear. I am completely sealed in waterproof clothing.

With me, my map. Without my map I would be left to wander, as I did when I was 19 and first began to explore the Cambrian Mountains, without any definite destination except that which looked interesting on the horizon. I naturally would cross the rough grassland and head toward anything that looked like a dwelling, or a group of trees or a sheepfold or any evidence that I wasn’t the first to wander these hills (let along work them, season upon season, year after year). And it is these thoughts, as a young man of 19 that leads me today, somewhat humbled and embarrassed by my lack of knowledge of times not-so-long-ago when these barren hills were truly ‘off-the-beaten-track’ and survived by farmers and shepherds; their wives, sweethearts, children and farmstock.

So here I am driving, in winter waterproof gear, ready to walk which may last, at most, 10 hours. I will wander these old hills and along, around small stone ruins. I will enter boggy areas, backtrack, cut long shortcuts and realise the sheep know the natural albeit longer routes. I will be left to wonder why a well-made gully remains or indeed when a well-built dry-stone wall or shepherds dwelling remains in fantastic condition (even if it is hidden in a forestry Commissioned area).

If I’m honest with myself, I will believe I have experience a difficult day and once home I will feel a reward of hardship and that of strenuous exercise. But if I’m really honest with myself I will not have any idea what it was like to live in this place; 200, 100, 50 years ago, only a few miles from a layby on a forestry track and only a further twenty miles from the nearest village. I will go home that evening and write about my day and maybe, energy allowing, develop the negatives I’d taken. Once those negatives are printed I will ponder over the day spent, a single day spent in a whole lifetime, walking those boggy paths, in that constant drizzle, on that lonely hillside and seek some appreciative response to those who lived that way, day in, day out.

It could be said ‘I haven’t got a clue’ and I confess ‘I haven’t got a clue’. I am also English speaking. My language lacks the necessary linguistics’ to name the rocks, the pools, the hills that have been descriptively yet ambiguously named and then passed down from father to son, farmer to employee.

I can confess though to finding some kind of happiness in these old hills and seeking out the few ruins that remain, hopefully learning something about them and those whom worked and lived there.

For further information please read:
1. Good Men and True – E. Howells
2. History of Pontrhydyfendigaid: www.hanesybont.co.uk
3. http://www.cambrian-mountains.co.uk/