When Lizzie was very young every minor illness (thank God there were no major ones) was accompanied by a little…drama, shall we say. I won’t embarrass her here by regaling you with some of the more hilarious moments but one habit of hers has lasted through to adulthood and we experienced it again this Christmas – so it’s fair game.
Whenever she had a cold, Lizzie would insist that the higher up she was, the more her nose was likely to clear. For that reason, she explained, it was a good thing that her bedroom was in the loft conversion. She was as high as possible in the house and piled pillows and cushions on her bed to help with her breathing. During the daytime she would stand on chairs or sit on a table, saying that it really did help and that we were somehow lacking in brain cells if we couldn’t appreciate this – and we had the cheek to call ourselves scientists!
So it was a shame for us all – but particularly for Lizzie – that when she arrived home for the festive season she was suffering from a heavy cold. To be fair to her, it was quite miserable; we call it the common cold but that label doesn’t convey the stuffed-up nose, running eyes, sore throat and headache that last for far longer than the three days the experts predict. I suggested copious amounts of hot water, fresh lemon and honey and it’s a sign of how bad she was feeling that she actually listened and drank down pints of the stuff. I’d have added whiskey but as she was also dosing herself with paracetamol, that was verboten.
When you’ve not lived with someone for a while you tend to forget many of their habits and quirks so it was a surprise when, having languished on the sofa for a couple of hours, Lizzie suddenly leapt to her feet and thrust her nose into the air; sad to say, this weirdness was no more effective than it had been twenty-five years earlier.
She wasn’t the only one to suffer, because the wretched lurgy has knocked many people off their perches – the most notable victim being the Queen, who missed the Sunday church services at Sandringham on Christmas morning and on New Year’s Day. But at least she was just suffering a ‘heavy cold’ – 2016 has seen the Grim Reaper play fast and loose with some seriously famous people. January alone saw the loss of David Bowie, Alan Rickman and Terry Wogan, and the growing casualty list of well-known personalities continued relentlessly through to the end of the twelfth month, when we received news of the demise of George Michael, Richard Adams, Carrie Fisher and – the very next day – her mother, Debbie Reynolds.
So it’s not surprising that so many people have announced that they’re glad to see the end of the old year and the beginning of the new…tragically it made no difference to the victims of terrorism in Turkey or Syria. If I wish anything for 2017 it’s that we see far less violence and misery…oh, for a magic wand!
We began our own New Year celebrations by spending 1st January indoors, watching films and widlife programmes while outside the entire valley was shrouded by fog.
A foggy end to the old year
By now I’d picked up the blessed cold as well, so deciding to stay curled up on the sofa wasn’t too much of a trial. But the following day there was a really heavy frost and the sun actually came out. It was too lovely to resist and so I loaded my pockets with throat sweets and we walked along the lanes around the village.
A beautifully frosty day on 2nd January
On the shaded side of the valley the sun didn’t come out at all…
But at least the sky was clear
A few days later we went for a longer walk, this time from Tretower Court. Although Tretower is just under three miles from us and easily done on foot, we drove over because we planned a walk up into the hills; adding a six-mile traipse from home to Tretower and back again was too much for our enfeebled bodies. We left the car in the Cadw car park across from the Court, figuring that as we’re members of Cadw this would be ok – and I’ve never seen more than three cars in there.
On our way through the village we passed a jolly group who were managing to remain jolly even though one of their party was lying on the grass verge, covered with a foil hypothermia blanket. The fact that he was awake, the rest of the group was laughing and joking, and that they were well equipped enough to be carrying a space-blanket suggested that they had everything under control but we felt that we couldn’t just ignore the situation; it would have been too Monty-Pythonesque if we’d merely walked by and said ‘Good Morning’ as though there was nothing amiss…but they cheerfully assured us that they were fine and were waiting for an ambulance to arrive.
So we carried on, crossed the main road and started on our way up the lane there, which after a climb of a hundred yards or so becomes a bridleway. This continues doggedly upwards until it meets another lane, which then turns east and runs parallel to the main road, several hundred yards lower down. The weather was glorious and we had fantastic views over the Rhiangoll valley, with Penyfan in the distance. I know, because I’d seen plenty of pictures on Facebook, that Penyfan had been a complete white-out at the beginning of the week but there was certainly no sign of snow now – not on its northern aspect, anyhow.
We weren’t following a route from one of our books but had decided to follow the OS map and walk up to the Beacons Way; this is a 95 mile trail across the Brecon Beacons, from the eastern point of Holy Mountain (otherwise known as Ysgyryd Fawr or the Skirrid) outside Abergavenny, right across to Llangadog in Carmarthenshire on the western edge of the national park. The Brecon Beacons Park society website (which of course I hadn’t looked at) says GOOD ROUTE NAVIGATIONAL SKILLS AND THE ABILITY TO READ A MAP AND USE A COMPASS ARE ESSENTIAL (their capitals!). The site gives other, dire warnings relating to the possibility or even likelihood of mountain-top catastrophe ready to assail the unwary. Us, in other words.
Essential map-reading skills being put into practice
Fortunately we’re not completely daft and had no intention of walking more than a few miles of this death-trap. After one false turn which led us up what turned out to be the driveway of a remote farmhouse, we successfully negotiated the terrain and got ourselves to the Beacons Way.
On the way to the farm…
It is beautiful but lonely countryside; our only company was the scattered flock of sheep and a horde of shrieking, flapping pheasants, whilst above us were at least half a dozen buzzards and a pair of red kites. This high up the puddles (this is Wales – there are always puddles) were still ice but we were warm in the sunshine. Too warm in fact, because we’d made sure that we were adequately dressed for the hills and ended up peeling off jackets and sweaters!
Once we reached the waymarked path we headed west again, intending to walk in that direction until we were slightly further on than Tretower (which would again be visible at that point, down in the valley – what could possibly go wrong?) and then double back in a loop along the footpath to the bridleway we’d originally taken. But by now we’d been walking for two hours or so and it occurred to us that our planned route would need at least another two and that by the time we made it back to Tretower our car may well be locked into the car park.
Gorgeous views whichever way we looked
And so we turned around and retraced our footsteps – and it’s just as well that we did because the custodian at Tretower confirmed that the car park was due to be locked at 4pm, when the site closed for the day. I couldn’t resist a quick walk around the garden there, barren at this time of year but still with a serene feel about it that I’ve encountered in only a few other places.
So we’ve come to the end of the first week of 2017. Lizzie recovered from her cold well enough to enjoy the New Year celebrations with friends in Montpellier. I’ve just about recovered from mine…but I haven’t heard how Elizabeth Windsor is…
I hope you all manage to resist the dreaded virus, or have managed to successfully fight it off! And I wish you all clear skies and happy hearts for 2017.
Blwyddyn Newydd Dda
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.