the fortress of the high powers

the last day of the course at Ty Newydd was a trip into Snowdonia, hill-walking with storytelling and heightened speech.

we drove up the Nantlle valley from the coast on the Anglesey side

through the pass to a high reservoir

where we stopped so that two of us could deliver their invocation/heightened speech in the spirit of place

the weather collaborated and while the utterances were in progress we were enveloped in a hail storm.

we stood close together like penguins keeping warm in a snowstorm. reading from an ipad covered in melting hail was quite a feat, having climbed up a very steep little hill.

although the weather was uncomfortable at times, it would not have been so atmospheric without the huge fast moving clouds and intermittent sunshine.

we drove on to Beddgelert, refreshed and warmed ourselves, and those able to march up hills and scramble over rocks continued to Dinas Emrys, to encounter dragons and fortresses.

it’s a National Trust site. I am not normally fond of carved wood things on walks, but this dragon bench is very fine. the scales on its back stood up five inches proud of the spine, its tail, with similar scales, made a a complete three hundred and sixty degree turn at the other end of the seat, and huge claws splayed out at each end. Here Eric (Maddern, one of the course leaders) began his tale of Merlin’s prophesies at Dinas Emrys, taken from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain. the story features the welsh red dragon defeating the saxon white dragon.

we walked on through woods on mossy paths and up and down stone steps

the hill we were walking to is probably a volcanic plug; it sits between the higher mountains – on the west side Moel Hebog, which blocks any view of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) itself, and on the east, Grib Ddu with Moel y Dyniewd higher behind,

in the valley of Afon (river) Glaslyn

we passed waterfalls – this the biggest, with its pool of blue stones

and a huge quartz block, a pulpit stone

then more stone steps as we climbed higher

through wood

and pasture


with views of wooded hills

and bare mountains

until we reached the narrow neck of land

and the steep path

connecting Dinas Emrys

a very defensible precipitous path, looking down to the Arfon Glaswyn valley

coming down, after the rain which began soon after we got to the top, I slid on my bum over the steepest rockiest part, it seemed safer.

here the view of the lake

looking down to Llyn Dinas

at the top at last, to sit in the square of what are probably the foundations of an eleventh century tower, and listen to the last part of Eric’s re-telling.

below the tower is a hollow place with a pool, a natural amphitheatre. it was choked with rush and the ground covered with bracken, but Eric has been clearing it, and now the eye is open. in one of my favourite children’s books, written in 1959, the Lantern Bearers by Rosemary Sutcliff, this place is reimagined as the mountain hideaway not of Vortigern, but of Ambrosius, the son of the leader Vortigern betrayed when he brought in the saxon warbands led by Hengist and Horsa. she uses the name Dinas Ffaraon and translates it as Fortress of the High Powers. Emrys is the Welsh version of Ambrosius, but it also means immortal one. her description of the approach, from the lake, although it’s not the way we came up, has the same feel of mystery and magic. “The path squeezed its way through, and plunged on upward. In the softer and more level places it was a slithering quagmire, at others it ran out onto bare, mist wet rock” and she places Ambrosius in the hollow place at the moment of meeting the main character, Aquila, “on the edge of a little hollow with the gleam of water at the bottom of it” Aquila hears the notes of a harp from buildings in this hollow, and finds Ambrosius within.

re-reading this book I get the feeling that Rosemary Sutcliff was quite an influence on my own writing; her strong sense of place, and detail of plants and animals make her fiction intense and vivid.

as we searched out fallen wood for our fire, and Eric dug away rush and turf from the stones, it began to hail. nevertheless the fire was lit and we ten uttered our heightened speech to our chosen entity; to the lost eagles of Snowdon, to the Green Man, to Pan, to Rhiannon (that was me), Artemis, Myrddin, Math, Sophia, Thor, and Taliesin.

although we couldn’t see Snowdon from the reservoir because of the cloud, when I left Wales the next morning I caught a glimpse of it, covered in a light dusting of snow, from the Porthmadog bypass. it’s on the very left edge of the photo and soon the cloud covered it again.


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