The Welsh phrase “dod yn ôl at fy nghoed” meaning “to return to a balanced state of mind”, literally means “to return to my trees”. Or more fully “Dwi wedi dod yn ôl at fy nghoed.” translate as “I have returned to my senses/regained my mental equilibrium.” Literally: “I have come back to my tree/s.”
In the autumn the Red Dragon of Wales sleeps in the Wye Valley and every morning it slakes its thirst drinking the cool, clear waters of the Afon Wye. Its hot breath turns the water to steam which turns to smog, or Smaug as we call it around here.
In the Mabinogion story Lludd and Llefelys, the Red Dragon fights with an invading White Dragon. His pained shrieks cause women to miscarry, animals to perish and plants to become barren. Lludd, king of Britain, goes to his wise brother Llefelys in France.
Llefelys tells him to dig a pit in the centre of Britain, fill it with mead, and cover it with cloth. Lludd does this, and the dragons drink the mead and fall asleep. Lludd imprisons them, still wrapped in their cloth, in Dinas Emrys in Snowdonia.
The tale is taken up in the Historia Brittonum. The dragons remain at Dinas Emrys for centuries until King Vortigern tries to build a castle there. Every night the castle walls and foundations are demolished by unseen forces. Vortigern consults his advisers, who tell him to find a boy with no natural father, and sacrifice him. Vortigern finds such a boy (who is later, in some tellings, to become Merlin) who is supposed to be the wisest wizard ever to live.
On hearing that he is to be put to death to end the demolition of the walls, the boy is dismissive of the advice, and tells the king about the two dragons. Vortigern excavates the hill, freeing the dragons. They continue their fight and the Red Dragon finally defeats the White Dragon. The boy tells Vortigern that the White Dragon symbolises the Saxons and that the Red Dragon symbolises the people of Vortigern. If Vortigern is accepted to have lived in the 5th century, then these people are the British whom the Saxons failed to subdue and who became the Welsh.
Most of the time a muddy frozen puddle looks exactly just that, but very occasionally it can look as if someone has painted it. What struck me about this shallow frozen pond, high up on the Begwns, was the contrast between the dark frozen water and wind blown powdered snow.
Static weather conditions can produce transitions that appear to be quite regular with each layer of ice forming neatly beneath the last. But when weather and temperature vary night to night the effects can become extraordinarily beautiful.
Successive daytime thaws followed by night-time freezes have trapped gas bubbles and wind blown snow particles that combine with the calligraphic forms of dead bracken and grasses to make a composition that reminds me of Turner’s elemental paintings.
What for most of the year is a shallow grassy pond: a summertime nursery for thousands of tadpoles, transforms with the onset of winter and through the interaction of ice and organic decay, into an intensely complex time capsule. Over successive nights the water freezes from the surface down. At each freezing stage bubbles of gas rising from the decaying plant material below are trapped under the last ice layer as the water in the new layer freezes around them.
This is the headwater of Craig Goch the highest upstream of the series of dams that contain the waters of the Elan and Claerwen rivers in what is known as the Elan Valley: a ‘y’ shaped from the valleys of the Elan and Claerwen rivers. The hills in the distance are part of the remote Mid Wales uplands, known in Welsh as the Elenydd; an area that extends virtually from the Brecon Beacons in the south to Snowdonia in the north. Both the River Severn and the River Wye have their sources within the Elenydd.
A gentle wind tickles the water surface, the only sound comes from the chittering of a family of Long Tailed Tits in a tree behind me, and the winter sun is slowly setting over the hills to the West. I’m standing on the edge of a human formed lake with the dam behind me – part of an enormous piece of Victorian engineering that has lost none of its functionality or spectacle today. The engineering was breath taking in its ambition and design. And yet. And yet: all I can feel is the enormity of the Elenydd spreading out around me and beyond my imagination. Nature has taken command of these vast reservoirs and made them its own.
I spent a few minutes today collecting fallen leaves beneath our Forest Pansy (Cercis Canadensis) to record the astonishing range of colours and colour combinations that the leaves of this elegant tree produce as the chlorophylls gradually dwindles through Autumn. I have been meaning to do this for the last four years but my timing was always out by a few days and the colours had mostly faded before I could get around to making a photograph. This year I managed to get my timing right.
To see the full range of colours click on the preview image and the full size image will load in a new tab.