The rhubarb and willow never go thirsty, slaked as they are with bath-water. Under the elm tree we soak in a cast-iron tub, in a Belfast sink on the veranda we brush our teeth, and at the end of the garden a fine compost toilet looks after itself.

But with washing-up water, the thing is to fling; fling it across the track in a wild shining arc, accompanied by a hearty yell of ‘gardyloo!’

‘Gardyloo!’ they once cried on the filthy streets of Scotland as they hurled slops from the upstairs windows; a corruption of the French Garde a l’eau – Beware of the water indeed.  There is no danger to anyone passing the yellow caravan of being showered in slops, because there is no danger of anyone passing the yellow caravan. For days at a time, the track is gloriously untrod.

GardylooRob thinks that he does not shout Gardyloo when I am not at home. But when he’s not there, I feel uneasy not to – the silence is reproachful. So I shout it with meek apology – because it does feel a little strange – as if you’ve taken a comical tumble and no-one is there to see you, laughing and embarrassed, on the ground.

The blackbirds enjoy the little grains of rice. Track puddles gleam a little longer here, reflecting the bluebells. Nevertheless we have one very flat run-over-by-a-visitor fork, and are missing several teaspoons.


Halfway up the waterfall the stone is hard and it is soft, sculpted and smoothed by water into grooves like human contours and hips. There was no rain for a long time and it was dry enough on Monday, to climb up and sit in a pelvis of rock above the pool.


The pool is just left of the cascade; a stone bowl filled by a trickle of water that leaves it quietly, but today the water level is lower than the trickle-gap and the pool is completely still. Its surface swallows light from the sky and reflects it back through a calligraphy of twigs.

The pool protrudes out above where the water lands. It has a low wall of rock which separates it from the splashy noisy stream-scene, from the moss and spray and leaves and ferns and trembling wood sorrel, from the white bubbles and white noise – the water sounds like applause in which individual hearty claps and gurgles can be heard. Pebbles have collected in finger-joins of rock and made little beaches in the bank.

There is a freshness of ozone and a waterfall kiss on the skin.

Yesterday, I looked after a duckling. It cheeped when I typed, its little bill poking out from a cardigan armpit wool-hole.

The duckling is an incubator chick and belongs to Chris down the track. Chris was away for the day so I looked in on the duckling, cheeping in a box on the kitchen floor. It paddled straight up my sleeve to my armpit, so I brought it back with me to the caravan.

View Duckling.jpg in slide show

I know nothing about ducklings. This one has strong legs, stubby wings, and fuzz. I took it to a puddle where it dabbled a bit and didn’t like mud. It ate from a pie dish, and impressively squirted green guano on the hearth whilst reversing out of my hat.

It had a sunny time waddling up and down the windowsill, looking out at the robins and wrens and batting his little bill on the glass. It paddled over the keyboard and nibbled at the pages of Welsh history, but seemed happiest of all in my armpit.

I wasn’t sure at the time, how much of a bond we were developing and I didn’t get much work done, but today I kind of miss him.


It’s a country for old women too; we meet a chuckly one on the road in a jaunty cap, driving an agricultural kind of lawn-mower. The women wear blue overalls, bring home the cows, and are busy among the brassicas. They hang out in bars too, playing board games that look something like ludo.

The old men stand at the side of the road with their hands folded behind their backs, contemplating life and the trees. They wear felt hats and smoke cigars, or chew sticks. In the bars they thump each other on the shoulder, slowly. Hombre! they shout. They shuffle cards and drink red wine, or coffee from very small cups. They have handkerchiefs protruding from their pockets.

One of them calls out to us as we walk the dusty camino, he has seen us from behind his shutters on a hot afternoon. Come and see! he says, and take20140322_084228s us into his shed, he is wearing slippers. It is a big shed in a swept yard with old oil cans hanging on the door. Inside it is an emporium full of little trinkets he has carved by hand from wood – no machines! he says, only one euro! There are curious wooden flowers in pots, toys, and jewelry-stands made from apple-wood displayed in their hundreds on the shelves. For children! he says, pulling at the string of a wheeled cart. Very strong! he says, hurling a spinning-top to the ground. He is having fun but he wheezes between breaths, and struggles to pick up the top. I buy a pilgrim walking stick – he has stripped the bark from it and shaved it into intervals like candyfloss lichen. He has even peeled a whippy offshoot and wound it around the whole thing so it resembles a kind of fairy helter-skelter. It will take you to Santiago he says, I will watch you. I believe him; it is a good stick – slender, strong, flexible, and beautiful. I look back as we crest the hill, and he is watching, he is watching, holding onto the corner of his barn.

It is not a country for young people, this Galician hinterland – or if it is, we haven’t seen them yet.

I am watching snowdrops. There is something insistent about them; they invite you to dwell in their quiet space for a while. At snowdrop level you appreciate the luminosity of moss and the scent of wet earth. They have a mint white flower. Their petals make a pendulum; you have to look inside to see the yellow and green. They are clean as toothpaste.

DSC_0382The air is full of the sound of chattering great tits and blue tits and long tailed tits that come marauding through the hazel. Suddenly the birdsong is replaced by a harsh roar of wind. Some ice falls onto the snowdrops.

            I go back into the caravan, but I can still see the lone snowdrop by the gatepost. I look up at it now and again, between pages. There is another storm and white hailstones are hurled from the sky with such ferocity that the down-force of air shakes the snowdrop violently on its stem. The hail stops and the snowdrop is still again. At night we see it glowing in the moonlight.

‘The peat is at least a metre deep and consists of more than one horizon, some of it woody and fibrous, other much finer. The peat beds can be seen to run back under the shingle bank and may continue under the Penllyn marshes to the east.’

Tywyn Coastal Protection Scheme Archaeological Assessment, Gwynedd Archaeological Trust, 2004


We reached the beach at first light, just before the dog walkers. The storms that ripped up the coast have exposed the Tywyn peat beds of which usually only a corner lie above sand. Now they are stretched down the beach like Roman ruins, bath house after bath house, haphazardly angled oblong pools of wind-rippled water.



There are deep wolf claw gouges in the peat – no, the marks are made by modern dogs, and yet – there’s something of a cave painting about them. At the waves edge a petrified tree stump digs its roots deep like a rotten molar. Another tree; toppled, tops a pool wall. There are peat cutters spade marks in the walls and twiggy bits and corky lumps mixed in 5000 years of clotted marly-black was-bog. Level with the derelict pillbox and just by where ‘MARK 1990’ was writ deep at the last exposure, are the prints in the peat like parallel drawings of birds in flight, of a WWII tank. 


Arranged quietly in the distance and looking very Celtic, the Aberdyfi dunes, hills, and a lone maritime pine lie lined up like whales blowing mist. We left the beach when the sky to the south was yellow and wet.

Rain beats a rhythm on the roof. The windows are fogged up with kettle-steam, and daylight is vanishing but there’s just enough light to see the stream and the green banks. StarHit by raindrops, one leaf and then another, dips, bounces, and recovers. The ivy-twined mossy bough of an ash reaches across from the far bank, its profile enhanced by the white water, and trembling epiphytes march along it. Water-mist hangs between the trees like ghosts and curls like a breath over the hills. Rain slides into the sodden, leaking ground, where pools and runnels of cold water collect in the old leaves damming the culverts and ditches. It has been raining for days.

The rain stops. The sky becomes smoke blue, with snowy-rose clouds rushing east. It gets dark, and the hurrying clouds look whimsical, beyond the woodsmoke. Stars are brittle-bright and a sailing half moon (looked at through the clear and corrugated veranda roof) is at the centre of a bright white moon-bow.


In the Far East, water gleams in the ditches. It is soft and quiet and clouds move fast to the west.


Down by the Humber we eat mince pies and squint at a far off bird, hoping it’s an owl. A large flock of barnacle geese on the banks walk a little this way and then that way. Yellow rushes blow about in the wind and an egret flies over them. It’s not an owl we decide, its tail is too long.

 Far East

The fields are bare and brown. Skeletal trees and finger posts define the horizon, there are gulls on the ground and ditch dykes divide them.


Sometimes the sky is translucent blue like porcelain and the winter sun is stark enough to spot-light the ploughed soil and hedges. A billowing plastic bag bowls onto stage, fast and graceful across the field touching down just enough to kiss the earth then lifting again, escaping, airborne and racing, a beautiful thing though bound to become a ghost-bag snarled and grumbled at in a tree.


Water gleams in the ditches. It’s soft and quiet. Clouds move fast to the west. Huddled dark figures walk dogs over the trods, they look like people in Van Goghs early charcoal drawings.

The forks and the coffee pot dance. Each has a thin handle of light, and cheese grater shapes loom large and strange on the ceiling. 

 DSC_2401               Circles of orange light wobble the walls and candle flame flicks inside the red glass lamp making the shadow cups dance too. Each fairy light is bright – an aquarium of tiny reflections and circles bounce off mirror and jars, and a rainbow of stripes lick the kettle. Fire-light plays over hearth-wood like a hand on a harp. Metal things are duller than usual but the poker and tongs have halos and the chocolate bar gold-wall-paper lustres.

 The stream bubbles over the stones, the fire crackles and the stove pipe moans but sound is hushed and drunk up by the dark. It’s a magic December dark, warm and soft and secret, it’s a carol dark, a music box dark, a velvet and chocolate inside-of-a-theatre dark.

 Outside, the line of the valley is just visible, the trees in silhouette, the sky starless. From outside, the caravan is a glow-worm.

In the dark forest on the lower slopes of Tarren-y-Gesail a goldcrest sang like iced water and old-mans-beard lichen graced mossy stumps, but we climbed on to the bare slopes. The higher we got the more mysterious the silence, like silence before snow, the silence of altitude; the silence of anticipation. Sometimes we heard wind in the pines, traversing a valley somewhere far below.  


We sat among bilberry plants and heather at the slate quarry ruins of Tarren-y-Gesail ridge. We seemed to be in a blue sky-bowl, high enough to look down at the clouds creeping in from the coast. High enough for other mountains to look like a flat table of blue shade and folds and glacial scoop. Suffused in light I wondered if I’d gone deaf, there was no sound and yet there was; a great rumbling rhythmic din. Rob moved, his waterproofs rustled with a normal noise and I realised what I’d heard was the great white roar of silence.