The Preseli Hills

7th October 2020

A lovely place, this hare’s scrape of a lay-by below Carn Enoch on the hills above Dinas Island. To the north and west is mainly sea, and to the south and east rural Wales. There are no large towns for many miles and the darkness runs clear and deep.

I arrive at twilight, and sit as the world-clamour is replaced by a sheep-punctuated silence: the detailed landscape reduced to a lumpy skyline of soft dark hills.   The sense of peace is transformational, inducing a feeling of calm and opening.

Then, as twilight deepens the lights around Newport appear, followed by the first stars. It is as if the town lights have lured the wild stars into visibility, as plastic decoys lure wild geese. But the timescale over which the stars appear is awkward; too long, unless you have an astronomer’s patience, to watch continuously, but short enough so that, having looked away, and maybe become momentarily distracted, you find on looking back, the sky quite changed.  It reminds me of what happens in spring, when, one moment there are a few leaves against bare branches and the next a cathedral of green. Both transformations are at once gradual and sudden.

But this place is not only beautiful by night. To the north lies the stretch of coast and seascape around Newport Bay, to the south the Preseli hills. The Preselis are not high, only 536m at their highest point, but they are heath and moor and possess an unexpected wildness. There are no lofty peaks, but the open landscape induces a sort of walking meditation in which, because of this very openness, attention becomes focused on nearby details rather than distant vistas; the quick mid-stride gurgle of a stream running invisibly in the channel it has cut in the peat; patterns of rock and lichen; changes in vegetation; a momentary flash of sky in water collected around the base of a boulder. In the summer there is the constant background of the skylark’s song; a stream of summer consciousness that mingles with the soft scents and changing airs of the moor.  Walking up here clears the mind and spirit leaving space to think and feel.

One of the more unique characteristics of this landscape is the large outcrops of rock that are dotted across it. The nearest to me here, Carn Enoch, lies just a few hundred yards up the hill from where I park.  It comprises large grey boulders, closely fitting in places, a looser tumble in others, and it rises so abruptly from the surrounding grass that you might think it had been placed by hand, inviting creation myths of giants and magic. These rocks are the haunt of wheatears and pipits and sometimes, when the evening sun is setting in a clear sky towards Ireland, of a beautiful warm golden light.   The first time I saw these rocks it was early spring and their soft grey colour, their creased and lined surface, and the way they rose out of the then brown grass, reminded me of a group of elephants kneeling or lying on an African savannah. It is a feeling that has never quiet left me; that these outcrops are warm, wholesome and somehow animate.

Carn Enoch on Mynydd Dinas

I could spend a lot of time up here, parked in this spot, in this tiny camper van, tea and coffee to hand, wine for the evenings and a gas ring for cooking.  I would alternate between walking, reading, thinking, and trying to write, and life would be simple and good. What thoughts might one have, slowly sinking into the peace of this place?

Mynydd Dinas
An early frost;
white and sharp under a blue sky.
The air full of larks and the scent of sheep. 
Grey rocks rise abruptly from winter-brown grass,
their skin lined and textured like elephant hide,
and with the same feeling of mass and warmth.
To have spent the night up here.
A clear dark sky, sliver moon,
pin sharp milky way and Orion dipping toward the sea.
A night to have felt part of the universe
and to have remembered.
Presili night

Nothing to hear,
but a few sheep tearing the grass.
Nothing to see,
but a thousand suns,
blazing above the hills.

Copyright (c) Jon James 2020

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