Ice

Grass is frozen under a pane of ice, still looking as if it’s caught in the flow of water.

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.

A widening pool in a mountain stream has grown milky as the ice forms.

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.

Days of freezing has left contour lines in the ice around an unfrozen central core.

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.

A central line of unfrozen water has contour lines of ice along its sides, where the stream has flowed across the path.

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.

Bubbles of air move under a clear pane of ice, with rushes and snow either side.
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Wild Horses

Image description: six wild ponies of grey, white, and dark brown stand on a grassy hillside, looking at the photographer.

I sang to the Carneddau ponies today.

I wanted to do a longer walk, up Foel Fras and on to Llwytmor, but it became obvious this wasn’t the day. I didn’t have the time, the daylight, the weather. I started off under blue skies with puffy white clouds, but my body felt sluggish and slow. I was too tired, too sore. We walked up past Pen y Gadair along the track which goes towards Dulyn then veers up the side of the hill towards Foel Fras. I wanted to get to Llwytmor to see where a German plane had crashed in WWII, but it was already almost one as I was slogging up the side of Foel Fras, and it was hard going all the way. I sat down for a little of my lunch, then pushed on. I probably should have eaten it all but it seemed wrong not to eat on the summit. One problem with autism – it can be hard to make yourself stop and properly rest.

Image description: an expanse of tufty mountain grass in the foreground with the rising peaks of the Carneddau mountains further away, and a blue sky with clouds gathering over the hills.

I found out there was another WWII crash on the side of Foel Fras, an Anson Mk.I, in which one man died and four escaped. I thought I’d make for that instead, then up to the top of Foel Fras. If I carried on to Llwytmor I would be exhausted and unsafe, and would probably have to come down in Abergwyngregyn, and call for my husband to pick me up. He’d have to break the county quarantine, go over the border, to get me. I’m not sure exactly where the border runs in the hills, but we know where it lies on the coast, and he’d have to cross it.

So, I slogged on up Foel Fras, tired and hungry and getting cold.

Image description: seven wild ponies of grey, white, and dark brown stand on a grassy hillside, looking at the photographer, with a rickety fence cutting across the left side of the picture.

Then I saw the horses. A whole family group; seven, I think. Greys and whites and a couple of dark brown. One was a teenaged dark brown foal with a white blaze. They were on the other side of the fence from us. They were obviously curious about me and the dogs. They kept coming closer then shying away. Horses have such a lovely curiosity. Cows’ curiosity seems stolid. The horses seem more alive.

I thought they’d feel less threatened if I sat down. I felt reasonably safe because of the fence, even though I knew they could flatten the fence if they wanted to. It was all flimsy old fence posts covered in lichen, and rusty wire. But a barrier is a mental thing as much as anything else. I sat down and the dogs sat down and the horses kept sidling closer, then getting nervous and moving away.

Image description: four wild ponies of grey, white, and dark brown stand on a grassy hillside. A grey-white pony is closest, looking at the photographer intently.

I thought I should sing to them. I’m not sure what the thought process was. I think it was a dual thing. I thought song might calm them, and I thought it might intrigue them. So I started singing the first song that came to mind. ‘In Dublin’s fair city, where the streets are so pretty…’ I sat on the mountainside singing Molly Malone. It’s one of the few songs, along with Christmas carols and other folk songs, that I could pick out without music on my recorder as a child.

They were intrigued. They kept stepping closer. One would come closer, then hesitate, then another would nose through and take its place. The foal stayed safely in the middle, but it took its turn coming forward. There was a grey-white one, in particular, built like a barrel, which was the most curious. It was on the outside of the group, not safe in the middle. It came closest of all.

Image description: seven wild ponies of grey, white, and dark brown running from the photographer over a grassy hillside, on the other side of a rickety fence.

I went through a couple of verses and they just stood and listened, trying to work out what this strange human was doing. Then I stopped singing and they became a little less curious. I stood up, and they lurched away. They move like something organic at these times – like a piece of nature, not beings with individual minds. They skip back like the undertow on a wave, come forward again, skip back again. It’s like watching the tide going out. I stood and I walked on, and they ran back across the hill, a tide running back into the sea, back into their amazing and isolated world.