We walked out from the house up around the end of Tal y Fan on the edge of the Carneddau, on a frozen day. Ice stood in sheets on the fields, built up layer by layer like a shell over the softer ground. It was a delicate, beautiful day.
Carneddau ponies grazed on thin grass, coats the blazing colour of winter bracken under strong sun. Their hair is thick and soft this time of year, their sides swollen with growing foals inside, while last year’s foals tag along, old enough, but still too young to stray far from their mothers’ sides.
By the time we were at 500 metres the air was cold enough to make our skin scream. Time for balaclavas and steamed up spectacles. We passed the prehistoric hill fort of Caer Bach, and ancient cairns. We crossed the end of Tal y Fan where it starts to slump down and break up into little hills, harsh upthrusts of rock with their own names. We cut left of the mediaeval Llangelynin Old Church and passed other signs of humanity instead. Stone peat stores falling into ruin, the old abandoned quarry, roofless huts with their walls half gone. The standing stone of Maen Penddu, thrust up near the crossing of hikers’ paths. Someone has scrawled a crucifix on its side, but the stone is far older than Christianity and will probably outlast its churches. This place is a jumble of marks made by humans on a landscape which is indifferent to the tiny blink of our existence.
More Carneddau ponies, a whole herd this time, curious and wary and apparently unconscious of the cold. Streams of water turned to ice. The paths frozen underfoot. We walked along the side of Cefn Maen Amor to the little ruin of Tyddyn Grasod, a crog loft cottage which used to house farmers, quarrymen, setts makers, and paupers. The wind was too strong and the air too cold to stop for lunch, but people still live here, up on the fringes where farmland becomes mountain.
We tracked along the back of Tal y Fan, seeing the delicate hoof prints of the unshod ponies in the frost, and the great marks of domesticated horses alongside. This is a favourite place for riding. We picked our way along the sides of a path slick with ice, and finally stopped to eat at about 550 metres, huddled in the shelter of a rock.
My phone warned me that it was too cold to charge properly. My body was too cold to work properly, and I wanted to be home, with the fire and hot tea. We struggled through a little bog, suddenly off the path, stepping lightly on weather flattened, frosted rushes before suddenly breaking through to peaty water. We reached the pass at the west end of Tal y Fan and stood, looking over to Ynys Môn in the north west, and Dyffryn Conwy in the south east, on the spine between our land and elsewhere. Then we turned for home.