4.00pm on 30thDecember and dusk is settling. I ran to the mountain gate and up to the cairn at the top of Twyn Y Gaer, an iron age hill fort. On the way I nodded hello to the last straggling walkers heading back home before dark. Perfect – no more people. That’s how I like it. That’s why I go then. To make sure I have the mountains to myself.
I ran down off the hill fort and on to the Stone of Revenge, known locally as the Blood Stone. A nobleman and his escort were murdered here, hundreds of years ago. I take a breather and consider the mountains in front of me for the umpteenth time. Nothing has changed. Their reassurance and strength is always present. The Grwyne Fawr Valley to my left, the Llanthony Valley to my right. Bal Mawr straight ahead along the ridge and, out of site, Graig Ddu tucked away in the forest on the far side of the bluff half a mile ahead of me.
I can picture the sites of the two piles of stones on the near side of the bluff above Graig Ddu, but they are indistinguishable in the deepening gloom. People who know much better than I say they are centuries old burial sites.
I am never untouched by the ancientness that insinuates its way into my psyche whenever I come here. Before turning back, I press my hand against the Blood Stone and wonder about others who have passed here.
It’ll be too dark soon to run all the way back to the mountain gate. I have a friend who runs at 5.30 in the morning before leaving for work in Cardiff. She uses a head torch to guide her, but I would rather use night vision. It maintains my connection to my surroundings. I don’t want to run now anyway. I want to walk and absorb the very last moments of the day.
The sun sets. It slowly releases a cerise wash, leaking across the sky to my right. I turn to face it and begin thinking about being out in the mountains again as the sun goes down.
It occurs to me that it isn’t the sun going down at all. I am the one who is moving, on the Earth as it continues its rotation from day into night. But if we perceive the sun as going down, then surely, I must be going up. Heels over head, backwards, imperceptibly turning turtle day after day. We went to see Mary Poppins Returns over Christmas and thinking of the sun going down, or not, reminds me of the words from the Turning Turtle song: ‘When you change the world from where you stood, then the things you view will change for good.’ It made me realise how tied up we are in our own paradigms.
As I stood, I looked around. In spite of the deepening darkness, there was colour in everything around me. There shouldn’t have been, but inexplicably there was a distinct glow. I felt like I was standing in a water colour. The fox red of the brittle bracken, now fallen and flattened by sheep and wild ponies. The sharp silhouettes of the hills – The Sugar Loaf, Skirrid and Hatterall Ridge. One winking light from a remote farmhouse across the valley above Partrishow, and the ghostly outlines of the sheep a few feet away, unperturbed by my presence.
It was dark now, and the moon was still hiding. Replete from feasting on the magic of the mountains and their endless inspiration and strength, I picked up the grassy track and turned for home.
Closing the door on 2018, I suppose that the mountains might be oblivious to another miniscule notch scratched on their infinite time line.