Laying ghosts to rest – A tale of two photographs

Nothing lasts forever

The image above was taken on May 2nd 2013 in the Rhinogydd mountains of Snowdonia. Whilst descending Y Llethr I’d had a heart breaking telephone conversation with my fiancé that changed my life. As I sat alone in this wild and elemental place I was shell shocked and inconsolable, but it was there and then that I decided I was going to make some very big changes. It was time to move on and less than a week later I had packed my car with all it could carry and on a wing and a prayer moved to Snowdonia in a whirlwind turn of events.
The Rhinogydd are the most idiosyncratic mountains in Snowdonia and quite unlike anywhere else in Britain. The central and northern sections of the range are wild and remote, rough and rocky. To go alone in the Rhinogydd feels adventurous, especially on a weekday, as solitude is virtually guaranteed and the going difficult. The atmosphere is pre-historic, primitive and to be there on my own at dusk gives me overwhelming feelings of smallness and vulnerability in an alien landscape where man is an intruder. This is the main attraction of the Rhinogydd for me, and the inhospitable, desolate nature of the range helps me to forget my preconceptions and even who I am, which makes tapping into the spirit of the place a simple task, in fact, it might be more accurate to say that the spirit of the place taps into you!
Cymric Badlands - Rhinog Fach and Y Llethr fron Rhinog Fawr
Last week, I went back to see just how far I’d come in terms of healing and to evaluate and muse upon what my life has become since the dreaded ‘phone call’. I’d already visited the range twice this year but confined myself to Rhinog Fawr, barely being able to look at Y Llethr across the gulf of Bwlch Drws Ardudwy, where this chapter of my life had found its genesis. I was going to face my demons head on and look them straight in the eye.
The serpentine road into Cwm Nantcol ends at Fferm Maes y Garnedd which is set in verdant pastures, totally at odds with its backdrop of wild, heather clad mountains. I went over to the farm to pay the small parking fee and told the farmer not to expect me back before dark; he was the last person I would see all day.
Beyond the farm you are entering a landscape that, for a dry-stone wall and a few stone flags, shows very few signs of human interference. Grazing has been kept to a minimum and at this time of year, heather proliferates in vast purple carpets. The feeling of wilderness grows stronger with every step. With a hint of autumn in the air it was good to be back, though memories of that fateful day were to haunt me until I returned to the car ten hours later.
Recent rains had waterlogged large areas of the path, necessitating frequent diversions, while crossing the Afon Nantcol proved interesting to say the least, but I finally found a way and entered a different world. At tiny Llyn Cwm Hosan I suddenly felt very alone. Steep mountain sides and moraine shut out the affectations of civilisation, prompting a sense of total isolation, which is all at once unnerving and exhilarating. All was silent until a piercing cry broke the calm; I wasn’t alone after all…
A hundred metres away I spotted a large herd of goats and counted 50 before giving up. Mothers and young, they were watching me, an interloper into their mountain sanctuary. Some stood stock still while others shuffled around uneasily but all of them eyed me with suspicion. It’s not unusual to see wild goats in the Welsh mountains but never before had I come across them in such numbers and while they are rarely known to attack humans I became somewhat discombobulated at the prospect of having to walk past them.
With a trekking pole in one hand and a fist-sized rock in the other I slowly approached, watching their every move just as they were watching mine. It was an anxious ten minutes and I was glad to get them behind me. With much relief I went on my way and rounded a bend chuckling at my cowardice only to find 40 more of them not 10 metres away. This lot, however, were a very different kettle of fish; huge, malodourous bastards, hairy with flowing beards and sporting horns that could disembowel an elephant. These lads had a serious attitude problem; I had stumbled upon a full scale rut and was less than happy about it. What followed was an absorbing spectacle and I had a ring side seat.
Imagine a wild, godforsaken mountain landscape, in which you are the only human being, surrounded by large, aggressive animals; the air is pungent with their scent and other worldly grunts fill your ears. The sound of stone fall echoes off walls of rock which tower above you, as do dull, percussive thumps as one head clashes with another. All around is chaos; there are chases, battles and innocent bystanders hoping not to get drawn into the fracas. The scene is primeval, no, visceral and so far removed from human contrivances as to be strangely beautiful in its truth, purity and authenticity. My initial fear turned to fascination as I realised that these brutes were far too preoccupied with world domination to worry about me. I then quietly went on my way, ready for whatever lay ahead.
Safely beside Llyn Hywel I paused a while. The goats were well behind me but in that secluded cwm there was absolute quietude. Once again I felt like I was being watched, stalked even, but this time it was by the ghosts of my old life, a life for which, on occasion, I feel an acute yearning.
The next few hours went by with the solemnity of an age old ritual as I retraced my steps from that fateful day. First I made my way up onto Rhinog Fach where I stayed for an hour and then back down and onto Y Llethr, walking the gentle rise to its broad summit dome, quite unnecessarily but totally in keeping with my intention of travelling back through time to confront the past.
I was totally in the zone. The light was exactly how I remembered it, the sky just the same and once more I was alone; I may even have been wearing exactly the same clothes. The absurdity of my re-enactment was lost on me. I approached the spot where a beautiful dream was finally laid to rest and settled down to reminisce. Sixteen months had elapsed since last I sat there. I recalled the conversation, almost word for word. Sixteen months felt like sixteen seconds but now, the raw, insufferable sadness I felt that evening was replaced by passive acceptance tinged with a lingering regret. In that place I had lost something so precious to me that I can hardly put it into words, but in doing so had found a path that has led me to fulfilling one of my wildest dreams, a life in the mountains I love.
It was time to complete the journey and head down the where I took the photograph at the top of this page. All those months ago I left a part of myself there for safe keeping, until I felt strong enough to go and collect it. I arrived, and there it was; waiting for me. I set up my camera and gave myself completely to every fleeting moment and the emotions that they brought with them.
I often talk –sometimes vaguely- about the spiritual or personal nature of my relationship with the mountains and how that ties in with my photography. If you, dear reader, have ever wondered what that means, then consider the words of this tale and look at the photograph below. It’s not every picture that tells a story, but for me, this one certainly does…

Stay Gold - The Rhinogydd

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~ by nicklivesey on September 11, 2014.

One Response to “Laying ghosts to rest – A tale of two photographs”

  1. I read this with fascination. It is remarkable how powerfully journeys hold our inner life, and places help us map healing. I wish I was as nimble on these remote terrains as I used to be but I do understand and have revisited the sites of former painful memories with the intent of facing them and being a brave warrior. The picture from Now is very welcoming in tone.

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