Locked Down in Snowdonia

November, 1793.

This is proudly carved on the doorway of a drystone barn in the Nanmor Valley, in the heart of Snowdonia. One of History's seriously bad years was coming to an end with the official de-Christianisation of France. The Godess of Reason was celebrated in Notre Dame and Europe was in flames for the next twenty years.

Damned good news for sheep farmers though, because uniforms for our redcoats and tars had to be made from locally sourced wool. The price rocketed and it paid to improve the mountain pastures with enclosures, barns and so on, all made with the bounty of easily quarried stone.

Every winter I come here from storm lashed Shetland to repair the 11 miles of walls on my half sister & brother's beautiful farm. Here is a typical before ...

... and after patch:

Now I seem to remember being told 2020 was going to be a "Fantastic Year for Us, for Britain!" Fantasy, indeed.

This year's visit to Carneddi (Welsh for "Stony Place"), for me, was meant to be a few weeks of gentle walling & climbing to build up my strength. I had heart valve surgery last September, and the G. Bain physios had certified me fit to do extra "Borgs". I have Katie to thank for this borg translation:

Between the tremendous rainstorms and odd hurricane I did a few little patches, bearing in mind 'Aunty Brenda's' advice: "Now, Neil, don't undo all the good work they did on you". (Brenda is a family friend who used to run a hospital ward.)

I had also the occasional fencing problem to work out, thus:

I had five weeks or so of this and was starting to think of onward travel when headlines started to intrude. I could see we were just 2 or 3 weeks behind Italy, where they were zoning & putting up barriers. Normally I would have gone on to visit other folk before heading "back op da rod", and realised this was off.

First news about the famous party bus was a message from Pete. I got more detail from friends in Nesting, then the usual very detailed report from workmate Tom. Tom is like the blind guy on the street corner the NYPD cop goes to in order to know what's the latest underworld news. It was interesting to hear how the schools were closed. I also read Osla Fraser's letter. All Shetland should remember her, & be grateful. I knew the viral storm was coming.

I could have rushed back. But discussing it with Ann it made more sense to stay put, I already had a real health issue & here I would get more of the cardiovascular exercise I was told to get. Here I could be more use, helping on the farm. Tom helpfully got me a couple of months meds from Levenwick to make this possible. Here is the box he sent me from covid hotspot Shetland, doing 3 days quarantine by the window.

14 year old Ffion was set up to do schoolwork from home. Where she occasionally plays tricks as her long suffering mother toils at the Aga ...

Ann works full time for the HMRC, & was soon remotely working from home. Fortunately her man, Brad, has a whole raft of technical skills. He once made a model Hawk jet plane. With working jet turbine. It crashed, but that was radio interference, not the jet. Anyway, despite the remote location he's got all the computer mystery stuff working o.k. to enable all this.

Then the sun came out ... and the primroses ...

So here I was locked down. Snowdonia got into the headlines. First with unprecedented numbers of hillwalkers parking bumper to bumper. Then with all the "Scousers and people from Cheshire" (= vermin, to the Northwalian mind) invading to stay at their caravans on the coast & in their second homes, much to the despair of local GP's. That didn't last long though, and I saw none of this.

No, I was up the sunny mountain doing free repairs for Brian from over in Croesor who runs the next holding along. He's 75 & getting over a knee op. Ann had two weeks hols booked anyway, to do her lambing, and checked Brian's ewes as well. There's the same co-operation here like you get in Shetland. Brian returns the favours by coming with his big tractor & terrain skills to cut the bracken.

Mr. Fox got 2 or 3 lambs, and the Eyri Hunt hasn't been around to frighten him up the mountain, but the lovely weather meant lambing went well.

Weeks & weeks of sun, but where's the April showers? The poor grass isn't coming on like it should & they have to give more hand feeding than normal.

But, Spring. I've not seen a Southern Spring since my twenties. In Shetland the daffs come, then there's a storm, daffs flattened, then daffs again, (especially in Cunningsburgh thanks to that famous crofter who had to do community service), then a few more flowers & the hill starts to look less grey & then the tirricks and stuff come & it's slowly greener, but sometimes freezing.

I'd forgotten how instant spring is here. I was amazed. Magnolias & other things in gardens I don't know the names of suddenly blooming. Birch, ash, oak, out within a week, all different shades of green. Butterflies chasing each other about in the wood. Funny colourful looking birds that Brad knows all the names of. Bluebells coming on in ones & twos, (I can spot them), which are about to form huge carpets judging by the leaves.

And now the canopy is closing down in the woodland. Yesterday I had to go down there to see if the ponies had running water to drink. I took Sam, who went on ahead, obediently stopping every time he lost sight of me, trying to guess which was I was going, acting all the time like a "ready to work, let's go" border collie every time a sheep appeared & looking back at me with pleading eyes. It was hot, over 20 degrees C. Then, down under the canopy, into the dappled shade, just right, so nice.

Where three weeks ago there was still bog the moss now crackled as we followed the hoof prints. We found the stream still trickling out from under the forest wall, upstream from the little dam built by the Yanks who camped here in 1944, and he lapped some up.

It's been doing this a lot the last few years Brad says. Lovely spring, then endless, endless rain, terrible summers.

The Simmer Dim beckons ...

Neil Work, 25 April 2020.

25 Apr 2020

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