Here's the farm where I cut through a field to the road, here's the house where the road runs out, here's the horseshoe mark cut deep into the boulder, here's the double locked gate, here's where that dog barked at me, here's where the beautiful flowers are, here's where I cut through the woodland; on again, for the third time, all the way to Pennal and that's where the Dyfi Valley Way took a left, heading up the valley away from the coast and through the forest, down to Pantperthog.
I gave Polly a ring and stayed with her family for one last night; I'd had three nights in a bell tent as she ferried me between my treking points, gave me the rest I needed and generally mixed me into the chaos of a house containing young, adorable children.
Pantperthog to Dinas Mawddwy. I'd been picked up by Matt, on his way to a decorating job in Corris, he dropped my bag at the hospital and dropped me by the side of the road. I'd walk to Dinas Mawddwy and my bag would join me the next morning, coming home with Jackie from her night shift. It was a peaceful day heading up into the Dyfi forest, padding along through closely planted pine trees, along dry dusty packed rock roads, finding a path between the isolated farms and houses which had survived the compulsory land purchases that led to create these huge areas of forest. I passed Capel Soar, slate slabs slowly being pushed from the roofless walls by the trees now growing there in place of congregation. Once this valley would have held farms, workers huts, a school, now just silent, peaceful ranks of pine, bird calls echoing through the trees.
I can't remember the time I reached Dinas, just a few more miles along the side of a valley, the main road winding below me, I got frustrated, the unwalked path running out in a sea of brambles, impossible to push through, I had to retrace my steps and cut along the side of the pine forest, stopping every so often to watch the fighter jets flit alongside me, their shadows racing to catch them up the steep hillsides.
I didn't last long in the company of kindly Kim and his two friendly dogs. Despite the dogs insistently pushing their noses into the crook of my elbow, I fell asleep on the sofa by 8, sun blasted, mile weakened.
The next day I set out to walk across a mountain; the route took me to Llanwchllyn and back again, first up and over Aran Fawddwy and then around the base of it from the opposite side of the river, coming around Creiglyn Dyfi lake where it curled into the craterside of the mountain. Thirty miles in two days, a tough journey, my feet normally don't let me walk so far.
Oh, the bed was so comfortable, some kind of mattress covering I could just sink into and spend the day with but no, not yet. I got up, met Jackie as she came home, bleary eyed from the night shift, saw her off to bed and set out, my rucksack carrying the bare minimum for an overnight camp.
I met Clara at first, she came to accompany me for the first few miles towards the base of the hillclimb. We walked in the sunshine, promising a hot day ahead up the back roads, passing small farms, sheep roaming, lambs calling for their mothers. Clara turned back eventually, going to pick her daughter up from nursery and I climbed on, coming to the steep beginning of the mountain, up a few hundred metres, stopping at a water trickle to wash off my sweat and suncream, applying again, how grown up I am these days. I climbed and climbed, frequent pauses, excuses to admire the view, tracing back how far I'd come. Eventually I was at the cairn marking the top, there was a white heat haze covering the far distance but I could make out the distinctive lumps of the Rhinog range, tracing in my mind my couple of days climbing up and down them with Stu; closer to Aran Fawddwy there was Dduallt, the mountain I'd walked to in search of the source of the river Wye and away down to Chester; there were the Arenigs, I'd chosen to walk around them, dropped off near Llyn Conwy by Alun, the friendly farmer; then coming down to Bala there was the blue puddle of Llyn Tegid, I'd walked around this lake twice; below me was the valley I'd walked alongside last week, tracing the path of Mary Jones. So many paths I've taken across this landscape, tracing my footsteps back in time, back across the 2500 miles I've walked through Wales, criss crossing, tiny steps.
I walked slowly down the ridges towards Llanuwchllyn, my knees aching on the downhills, getting overtaken by a friendly set of blokes on their regular walking holiday, discussing the benefits of retirement. I tried to estimate the time I would arrive there; 7pm I wanted. Enough time to rest a bit and then try for another few miles before sunset, the next day would be an eighteen miler unless I knocked another couple off tonight. It was 7.10pm when I staggered towards the carpark by the bridge, too tired to walk the extra quarter mile towards the pub, no time anyway. Enough time to take off my shoes, sit on a rock, make my evening meal and wiggle my toes. Then, it was time. Shoulder my bag once again and walk slowly, aching feet towards the valley at the base of the Aran ridge, looking for a place to sleep.
I found it after a couple of miles, a perfect piece of old, ungrazed land, crumbled stone wall near a stream, oak tree canopy and a flat piece of ground. I kicked the small branches to the side and settled to rest, watching the stars come out between the tree branches.
Early start the next morning, a good idea anyway when wild camping but essential when there are sixteen miles to walk that day. I paused for breakfast once my stomach started rumbling and looked up at the ridgeline of the Arans above me. The outline was familiar and I realised that I was heading towards Nant-Y-Barcut, the farm I'd been taken to when I was offered a bed in Llanuwchllyn by Heledd, the sister of Non, married to Gareth who farmed the land around the house I used to live in (and that glorious set of connections is Wales all over). She called the outline of Aran Benllyn above the farm the old man, saying he had his hat on when the clouds covered the peak. Should I say hello? My path would take me right past her front door. I thought it over as I walked up the lane towards the farm. Perhaps she wouldn't remember me, it had been almost a year, perhaps she'd think I was crazy, some smelly hobo with an equally odorous rucksack turning up again like a bad penny. Maybe she'd think I was ridiculous for still walking, plodding on like Don Quixote, endlessly in search of this 3000 miles. I came closer and decided to put these foolish thoughts to one side. I had to knock, just to say hello at least. Of course Heledd recognised me, she was following me on Facebook! It all worked out, nice cup of tea and a chat and I was on my way - without rucksack! Heledd offered to take it to the other side of the hill, a steep climb for me, a detour around the mountain pass for her. She kept asking me if I wanted a sandwich; I kept saying no, being proud, being independent but at the last minute I relented, said yes. It would be nice, I only had sugary treats to last me until i reached Dinas and a solid meal that night.
It took three hours to reach the church porch where Heledd agreed to drop my bag. I passed Cwm-fynnon at the head of Cwm Croes, a small, low farmworkers cottage, the shabby door held closed with orange twine. Three butterflies battered desperately at the cobwebbed window, their wings worn thin in their torment. I tried to open the window and help them but it was no good, I unwound the door handle and went inside. Broken red rose china on a table, ancient ashes in an open grate, a wooden pew against the wall, the fluttering of the butterflies against the window was loud in the sleeping cottage. I closed my hands around each butterfly in turn, raising them to the open window and freedom, then left the cottage, rewinding the twine around the doorknob, looking around furtively as I walked away.
I walked crabwise up the steep valley head and down the other side, joining the small Dyfi stream where it wound and tumbled down from the Creiglyn Dyfi lake. Eventually, after a steep descent and a road walk in burning sunshine I reached the shade of the church porch, my rucksack and the packed lunch Heledd had left for me. Deep delight as I lowered myself onto the cool stone seat to enjoy this unexpected feast. Such a small thing for her, such a joy for me.
Just another six miles, up, over and around a few hills. An old barn caught my eye, open to the side of the road it was full to the brim with discarded plastic, car tyres and at the bottom of the pile sat a wooden wheel. I moved closer. The wheel was attached to a cart, metal rims on large wooden spokes, paint flecked and faded, a metal plate with the name and village still screwed to the side. All directly there as put away when.....40, 50, 60 years ago? When was the last time this man harnessed his pony to take this sturdy cart to market?
I walked on, just a few miles more. I could see the valley split where I'd walked with Clara the previous day, I could see the head of Aran Fawddwy receding behind me, I could see the conjoining of valleys ahead of me where Dinas Mawddwy would nestle into the dip, the settlement at the crossing of routes.
Made it. 7pm, just in time to see Jackie before she disappeared for the night shift, inhale a big plate of spaghetti and salad, stroke the dogs for a while, chat to Kim, shower, bed.