Country diary: the loneliest house in Wales?

Cefn Garw, Migneint, Snowdonia: Decades ago old Mr Roberts, who shepherded on horseback, departed his remote tyddyn, leaving the moor to fox, raven, pipit-hunting merlin

There are places among the Welsh hills where you may “grow rich/ With looking”. In my copy of RS Thomas’s Collected Poems, the verse from which that’s taken is marked with a curlew’s feather, picked up by Cefn Garw, perhaps the loneliest house in Wales. I’ve often followed the four-mile, climbing track to it alongside the Serw river. Rough ridge, place of quagmires, silken stream – such perfect simplicity in the way Welsh toponymy describes landscape’s essence.

The gable of Cefn Garw against the light
The gable of Cefn Garw against the light. Photograph: Jim Perrin

Decades ago old Mr Roberts, who shepherded on horseback, departed his remote tyddyn, leaving it to be used by shearers who gather the moorland flock each year, or by occasional hill-wanderers, or fishermen who cast a fly to lure the small brown trout. The shepherd gone, the moor was left to fox, raven, pipit-hunting merlin, mewing buzzard. Nature set to reclaiming his house. Frost jagged cracks into the gables. Wind rattled slates free from rusting nails. At some stravaigers’ bacchanal the beam supporting the chimney-breast charred through. For years barn owls nested here. They too are gone.

I walked back on a glorious early summer day. Breezes riffled the tawny grasses; curlew and cuckoo called distantly, merlin and kestrel dropped silently among tussocks to rise again with vole or shrew. It is so lovely, so expansive, this moor with its “clean colours/ That brought a moistening of the eye”. Sphagnum; bog-cotton; heather’s umber soon to bloom purple. Inside the tyddyn the mural of a ram is faded, though still distinct. The roof has been repaired, the burnt beam replaced. Graffiti is scrawled on flaking plaster: “Jac Fedw, Dewi Garmon, yn hela llwynog 10/2/80”. Do Jac and Dewi still hunt the fox hereabouts? Is what brings them here the “depth of silence, its being outside time and the chiming of a clock, the awesome quality of such a vast landscape with nobody in it”? That’s Ian Niall, the Galloway writer, who came here often, and first told me about it.

Footbridge over the infant River Conwy
The footbridge over the infant River Conwy. Photograph: Jim Perrin

I left with regret. A gibbous moon illuminated me down-valley. By the footbridge over the River Conwy a white owl hushed down, as I crossed the gorge to quit his pristine territory.



Contributor

Jim Perrin

The GuardianTramp

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