The Wales Chronicles: Airy, Awesome, Abergwesyn

So getting there is half the fun. I say the fun starts when you stop along the way.

I found that out crossing the wilds of Powys (Pow-iss), the central, and damn near empty, region of Wales on the English border. With a landscape like a concertina’s bellows, Powys, although inhabited as long as Britain has been, wears its man-made baubles only very discreetly. It prefers a fresh-faced, natural beauty.


I was in Abergwesyn Comin, a primeval world rising amid the Cambrian Mountains between the Nont Irfon Valley and the village of Llanwrthwl. Vacant today, it must have been packed in the day; cairns, tombs, and other remains dot the ridges like Bronze Age studs. Yet as I drove through, my only company where sheep serenely grazing over the hidden footfalls of warriors fallen long ago.

I was on my way to the bibliophile paradise of Hay-on-Wye, famous the world over as a town-sized bookstore, from the western shores at Aberystwyth. I was threading lightly on a single-lane road when when it struck me how awe-inspiring the landscape was. And unlike almost all the other times that notion hit, I had the presence of mind to actually stop the car. What I saw was this:image3

You can’t tell, but I’m looking down the course of an ancient glacier. The white speckles on the cliffs to the right are sheep. I could have blipped back 1000 years and this landscape would have looked the same. And then the car behind me HONKED REALLY LOUDLY and reminded me I was blocking that single-lane road I mentioned in previous paragraph. Hee-hee. Hoo. Oopsy…

So I went on a little bit further until I got treated to this airy vastness:


Thing about Wales: OMG, does the weather turn on a dime. It can be blazing sunshine (like in the previous photo) and presto-chango! Here comes the torrential downpour! No wonder the all the houses are roofed in slate. Wood would rot through in a year.

A sheep farm on the horizon of Abergwesyn Comin.

So at the soonest opportunity. I just went off the road entirely and hoped the car didn’t tumble down the valley, all to get the last beams of sun. There I took in the orange.


Despite all the rain, the Welsh hinterland is often covered in bracken, a take-no-prisoners type of fern. Forget invading Anglo-Saxons, this is the real invader; it’s like the Welsh equivalent of kudzu. Even better, bracken seems to be the one thing the ubiquitous sheep don’t eat. Consequently, it proliferates wherever it gets a foothold. Farmers can’t stand the stuff, but it makes for some dramatic, radiant color in autumn and winter. It can even be red, from a distance.

A noxious weed, bracken still has a photogenic face.
Bracken crowds the stream banks so densely the stream bed looks artificially cut.

And as there were no more cars coming (that I could see), I got all photo-y. Abergwesyn Comin, and much of Powys, is know as the Green Desert of Wales. Not that it is lifeless, but that you can go for miles in any direction and not find another human soul. Oddly, they are all around; Powys just as a knack for hiding them all and making you think you have a moment of primordial solitude all to yourself.

The “Green Desert of Wales” does not get any better than this.

It is not often you find a place where humanity leave such a minimal trace. So I just sorta parked it on a boulder, put the camera down, and watched the rain come in. Call it communing. Hay-on-Wye, and all its books, could wait for a bit.

Right then, I had found my story.






2 thoughts on “The Wales Chronicles: Airy, Awesome, Abergwesyn

    1. Abergwesyn Comin is just west of Hay-on-Wye. Head on the road to Aberystwyth and you’ll find it. Or, ask somebody in either town the way to a chapel called Soar-y-Mynydd (“so-ahr-ee-mun-ith”), it’s in the same general vicinity.


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