Thursday, April 30, 2009

Collections 1 - Stamps


I'm not a great one for keeping things; I don't like clutter and I'm regularly accused of being over-zealous when it comes to the tip run. One of the last ways I'd have thought to describe myself is a 'collector'. 

But in fact, I've quite a number of odd collections. I say odd because most of them are not collections in the normal sense - the sort you'd build from visiting antique fairs and the like - and frankly, because some of them are verging on the weird. But they are important to me, and I suppose I look on them the way a true collector would: they form a set, I take pride in owning them, and they have a value that is intrinsically linked to when and how I acquired them.  

Last night I phoned my friend Ian to arrange a walking trip to the Lakes. We're booked to stay at Black Sail Youth Hostel, high above Ennerdale. You have to walk over Great Gable to get there and we plan to visit on the longest day in June.  It should be fantastic, so long as it doesn't rain. But it won't matter if it does, for the real reason we're going, is to get the stamp!   

I started collecting hostel stamps in the Eighties. It was a bit sporadic when the kids came along, but gradually the 'list' has grown.  (Not as impressive as Ian's mind; he's managed more than seventy, though I think mine scores heavily on quality.) Last year, I was particularly delighted to get the stamps from two hostels in Mid Wales that I'd assumed were closed. I keep my collection in a little wallet in my desk, occasionally rearranging them and deciding which I like best; I even have a list on the computer. 

You can always tell the collectors at hostels; they insist on doing the stamping themselves - and will spend hours comparing their favourites and swapping stamp stories with anyone daft enough to enquire. Small is beautiful seems to be the general agreement, and it's good form to put the date of your visit by each stamp. And did you know you can still get the special collector books if you ask... 

Not many will have a stamp from Copt Oak; it's the pride of my collection. A tiny hostel in Leicestershire (sadly closed) it had old bus seats for chairs in the common room.  When we stayed a cyclist turned up with a dead crow in his panniers - which he proceeded to pluck for cooking.  We left for the pub.

Another good stamp is Bryn Poeth Uchaf - the hostel was a mile up a track, water limited in the summer drought, lit by gas lamps and when we visited, a hairy bloke who locked himself in the back room all night (plucking crows, for all we knew).  It was the only time I've ever known Ian actually suggest we went somewhere else.

Of course its the memories I really collect. Of cycling over Mid Wales with Jane (Blaencarron), of Foxy's rubber overtrousers (Hawes), of New Year with the Tandem Club (Kendal), of running up Snowdon (Snowdon Ranger), of the time trails and hill climbs on the tandem (Cambridge,Llangollen), of climbing in the hot summer of 91(Eyam) of Ian explaining why men had nipples (Malham) of the Man vs Horse race (Bryn Poeth), of Stuart's 'oh it's only a bit lumpy' (Corris), of Beaver Woman and the Christian Missionaries (Tyn Y Cornel), of the rainbow over High Cup Nick (Dufton)...

The stamps have no value in themselves, but when you think about it, what does?  If I hadn't got these, I wouldn't have some of my best friends; I wouldn't be who I am; my life would have been poorer. In that sense, they are some of my most valuable possessions.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Hairdressing and chairs

Leicester University philosophy prospectus 1983 - that's me on the left!

When Michael was small, we asked him (as you do) what he'd like to be when he grew up? 'A hairdresser and a chair,' he replied. We used to tease him about this, and it wasn't long before he'd changed chair to 'Chairman', realising this better fitted our middle class expectations; no further mention was made of hairdressing.

All this seems so recent that it came as a shock when he returned home from school with a list of subject choices for next year's timetable. The literature and advice from the school was interesting.

What struck me most was the emphasis on career planning. There was extensive detail on how certain subjects would open up opportunities in the job market. There was data too - indeed there's always been data from the school (most of it incomprehensible, but impressive to some no doubt) - detailing how many A-stars were achieved last year, what were the percentage pass rates, etc., etc.

There's fierce competition for the best pupils. At the open evening, one teacher went so far as to say that their subject was 'gold standard' so far as universities were concerned. True perhaps, but how about telling Michael why it is interesting to learn about history, or geography, or drama...?

I'm not generally critical of developments in education, rather the reverse. My boys' school is a shining example of how standards have improved. It's just disappointing that the school doesn't seem to have the confidence to promote learning for its own sake. Even for thirteen year-olds, the school seems to believe that what matters most to their parents (for I'm sure it's largely targeted at them) is the extent to which their children's subject choices fit into a wider career path.

Universities are just as bad; a recent prospectus that passed my desk was full of the jargon and pseudo babble of business. It gave more prominence to the KPIs on post graduate employment than it did to the subjects it had to offer. The implication was crass; studying here is a means to an end; after all, what else would you want? Well, what about the difference that knowledge can make to your life; what about learning because it enriches you in more ways than money?

Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised. I recall one of the mums at the boys' junior school priming her son with past papers in preparation for the year-six SATs. Only a few years older than this unfortunate child, one of the graduate trainees at work told me he'd chosen his degree course (business studies with accounting or something equally dull) because, from an early age he'd known he was going to be passionate about logistics. Oh, get a life!

I can't think it's coincidental that so many people drop any semblance of interest in academic study once their qualifications are in the bag. Amongst my work colleagues there's a host of degrees and professional qualifications but the main topic of conversation on Mondays is last weekend's football. I'm branded an 'intellectual' because I read a few books and write a bit. The irony is that the business community then spends a fortune trying to convincing their staff of the benefits of 'lifetime learning'.

I hope I'm not snobby. We all need down time, there's nothing wrong with football and it would be an odd world if we sat around discussing Schopenhauer on a Monday morning (fascinating though he is). Underneath the banter I find that people have all sorts of interests: my PA loves Shakespeare; a close colleague collects Moorcroft pottery, another became animated today as he told me of the year he spent studying locusts, my boss speaks excellent French, my previous boss painted watercolours. But I do think it is sad that these interests are often hidden, and at worst repressed - something to dreamed about, but not acted on; like my own secret wish, to have been a baker.

There's hope though. Yesterday I walked with Michael along the cycle path at Calne. It was evening and the bats were coming out, moths too. The dog scampered after a squirrel and I almost thought we'd lost her. Michael talked of his interest in drama, and painting; how he liked history and the way it explained the present; the new subjects he'd like to try; sports too. Never once did he say this or that would be good for getting a job; we didn't discuss pass rates; it didn't matter what other people thought was cool. And we neither of us mentioned hairdressers or chairs.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Playing with words


My friend Andy writes on his blog of the delights of playing in the Brechfa Forest.  Always alert to the use of language, I sense he is echoing a trend amongst outdoor thrill seekers who refer to their exploits as 'play'.  I have used the phrase myself: 'playing in the rapids' is commonplace jargon of kayakers.

But their use of the word is more deliberate.  By describing mountain biking, or surfing, climbing, snowboarding et al, as 'playing',  they want to emphasise a carefree, non competitive side to their nature. Perhaps giving a subliminal two fingers to the rules and regulations and health and safety junk that so stifles much of the outdoor experience.   

They are saying something about themselves too:  Hey, I'm cool enough to use a word like 'play', I'm in touch with my sensitive side...  And in many cases they position play in contrast to work; not rejecting work but saying it isn't the be all of life.  Some go further and disingenuously hint that play is all that really matters.

And it strokes the ego too.  For we know that activities like riding a black run or kayaking white water are fraught with danger.  Being on the edge, that fine line between control and wipeout,  isn't play in the normal sense of the word.  Only those with the requisite skill and courage can take part - by calling this play, they are making a statement as surely as a peacock displaying its feathers.

We should forgive all this, for I think the intentions are honourable - and I have much sympathy for their message too. We do need a better balance in our lives; we need to find meaning too, and the outdoors is one way to that end.  At times, we just need some fun.

But herein lies a slight danger. It is hubris to see the landscape as our playground. The Brechfa forest is more than the Raven black run - and though I know my friend Andy would feel this way too, not everyone does. Visit the French Alps in the summer, see the ski runs and high rise apartments, and think again if playing is without a dark side.

There is a need for balance here. The landscape should be enjoyed; there's nothing wrong with playing (if you're inclined to use the phrase) but we should not seek to reduce it to our level. For in the end, it is bigger than us, beyond our control and out of our bounds; ultimately, unknowable. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bleaklow


Bleaklow is not a good place to walk alone.  It's one of the darkest sections of the Pennine Way, a huge seething bog, a misty featureless plateau, a place for lost souls. Or so the reputation goes.

Saturday it was cold, the sun struggling to break through. I parked on the Snake Road and set off into the wind - alone, save for trusty Peepo who was eyeing the sheep and pulling at the lead. Best to get it over with I thought, pushing on up the hill. The path was mostly slabs - so much for a seething bog - in less than an hour I reached the Wainstones and Bleaklow Head.  

On first impressions there's little here, even the peat has been eroded - a sad wooden pole leaning out of the summit cairn. It feels lonely, not a place to linger, though by the numbers of walkers I had passed it must be popular enough. I took off my hat and coat and set off towards Torside Resevoir; if I kept my head down I might get there in another hour.

Just over the rise I noticed a white stone in the peat hags; it seemed out of place amongst the gritstones. I looked again; perhaps it was a bag left by the slab layers?  Some urge made me walk over to investigate, plodging through the sticky peat towards the heather.  When I was a few feet from the stone, it moved - bounding up the hag and stopping to look at me before curling up again. A mountain hare! 

I stood and waited.  Another appeared - this one had lost its winter coat - then another behind it, and another, a white one this time.  I had never seen hares on the moors before. They seemed untroubled by my presence, scampering about the hags, rising on their hind legs for a better view. A group of walkers I had overtaken well below the summit passed me, perhaps wondering what I was doing, standing ankle deep in the mire. 'There ain't nowt much up 'ere,' one of them joked. 

A little further on the path follows a stream, the water dribbling over slabs into a series of pools, fresh with weed and moss.  Sitting here I saw many things: a dipper, a golden plover, two grouse, some wagtails, a kestrel hovering in the valley below. Peepo sat with me, drinking the water from the pool and sniffing at my hot cross buns but not partaking.

From Clough Edge I mentally traced the line over Black Hill, the next section of the Way. The wind was whipping up horses on the reservoir; I noticed the other walkers making their way on the lower path. Coming down the ridge I met the Park Ranger. He asked about my walk and we talked about the slabs that had improved access, encouraging many more people to visit.  'It's a funny thing,' he said, 'folk tend to do this walk in groups, but it's always the lone walkers who see the most.'

He confirmed it was a dipper and a golden plover I had seen. I told him about the hares. Did they still have their winter coats, he asked? Magnificent, we both agreed, and he left me to see for himself.

An hour behind my schedule, I walked past the reservoir to meet my lift at Crowden.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Stanage Edge


I'm back again, scrabbling to find my kit, sheltering under the tailgate as I change into Ron Hills and pull on a thermal vest. My map flaps in the wind - it's the wrong one anyway so I shove it back in the rucksack. I'd given Jane directions to get here; take the road by Ladybower resevoir, go up the hill and there should be a pull in by a sandy track heading up to the moors.  It hadn't changed since I last came here; nor had the wind, bitterly cold as it always seemed to be. I pull on a hat, stuff my cagoule in the bum bag and set off.  

It's twenty years since I ran on Stanage Edge and yet it is all so familiar: the dry smell of the grit, the rough friction of the stones, the squelch of the rich chocolate peat when I miss my footing.  As I run up the hill, the sun begins to break through the mist; by the time I am at the summit of Stanage End, the sky is a pale blue. The edge stretches ahead of me, I take off my hat and pause a moment to get my bearings.  A grouse takes flight from the heather, it's red wattles flapping as it crash-lands a few yards away. 

Stanage is the longest of the gritstone edges, a five mile escarpment running from Bamford to the moors above Hathersage.  It is famous for its rock climbs, but despite being a climber for many years I never much liked it as a crag. To me, it was always best as a place to run.  As I start to move again, I remember the reason why I loved it so much.   

It is not so much the landscape, though I like the feel of these open moors looking down on the greener valleys of the Peak District. It is something about the process of running here that is its special joy. You have to place your feet carefully, plan your route between the boulders and the peat - skip up rocks, jump down others, dash through the bogs - and you have to do this at speed, for traversing the ground at pace is what gives running its meaning.  As I run past miles of boulders and soft peat I am conscious of every step and how it feels; I am conscious too of the irony that running in such a beautiful place it is the terrain underfoot that matters most. 

I'm also aware that the faster I run, the more attuned I become to the choices, the decisions seeming to flow, each step leading effortlessly to the next. I find myself thinking of the path as if it were a river: I'm scouting its rapids, adjusting my line, going wrong then putting it right - becoming one with the water. As I reach the main climbing area I have found a natural rhythm, a balance of speed and awareness that for the time being, is all that matters. 

I notice the walkers don't seem to say anything to me; I am something to be avoided, stood aside from as I pass. It is the climbers who greet me, nods, waves, the odd shout of encouragement. Perhaps they too know something of how, though intense effort, we can transcend the particularity of our situation - those who have climbed for long enough would, I think, recognise what I am talking about. The last miles pass without any sense of effort.   

As I start the descent towards Burbage rocks I can see Jane waiting with the car. The last time I ran this route she was here too, on that occasion I would go on, past Burgabe, Froggat, Curbar, Gardoms and Birchins, to finish after fifteen miles at the Robin Hood Inn. But that was twenty years ago, and though returning is one of my chief delights, I know that some things can never come again. 

Monday, April 13, 2009

Books I'm reading


Are you interested?  Well some of you might be, so here's a selection of what I've been reading recently.

The Ascent of Money (Niall Fergusson) - starts well enough; couldn't wait for it to zzzz.... Way too much unexplained jargon especially in the last two chapters, which felt like they were rushed out and his editor was frightened to amend them. And aren't you, like me,  just so bored with the credit crunch?

Feet in the Clouds (Richard Asquith) - I loved this book 'about fell running and obsession'. Part diary, part memoir, part history of fell running, part journey of discovery. Whether you like fell running is irrelevant - my favoutite book so far this year

Voices of the Children (George Ewart Evans) A story of a childhood in the South Wales Valleys between the wars.  Beautifully written and observed.  One of the few books I've read with a genuine attempt at a child's voice.  One of the excellent Library of Wales series.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (Haruki Murakami)  Not a lot it seems!

The Alone to the Alone (Gwyn Thomas) A satire on the depression as experienced in South Wales - very funny in parts, if a bit repetitive.  'One of the most important things about love, said my best friend Walter, is that it keeps people warm... that's more important than love as a means to breeding for a man who hasn't got the means to go filling his outhouse with coal.
Another Library of Wales book.

Smile Please (Jean Rhys) I love the books of Jean Rhys so was keen to read her unfinished autobiography.  It turns out to be a bit thin - especially as it finishes when she is in her teens. The most interesting bit is the 'first draft' notes about her life in Paris which are included as an appendix , though I suspect there is much left unsaid...

Travels with the Flea (Jim Perrin) A collection of high quality travel writing from one of the best outdoor writers and essayists.   I especially liked Travels with a Harley. 

White Tiger (Aravind Adiga)  Great page turner, but the Booker Prize Winner?  

Wide Trails to Far Horizons (Mike Cudahey) I seldom re-read books, but after finishing Feet in the Clouds I dug out a copy that had sat on my bookshelves for twenty years (who said keeping old books is pointless) Mike Cudahey was the first person to run the Pennine Way in under three days - I still find it astonishing.

The Sacred Mountain (Pete Boardman) An ABE Books special; out of print for years - finally tracked down a copy.  Good old fashioned expedition writing - actually its better than that, but a bit faded now.  

Bread Matters (Andrew Whitley) If I could have any job just for the fun of it, I think I'd be a baker. Andrew Whitley is the founder of the fabulous Village Bakery in Melmerby, so he has demi-god status in my eyes.  A book for bread lovers, like me.

The Logic of Life  (Tim Harford)  Not as good as his previous book, The Undercover Economist, but some interesting perspectives on rational behaviour.  I liked the sections on is divorce overrated? and why your boss is overpaid?  

Essays (George Orwell) I'm always reading this book, again and again...   Anyone who can write an essay titled, 'Some thoughts on the common toad' has to be brilliant - but then Orwell was just that.  I read his diaries that are blogged each day too at the Orwell Prize

What have you been reading - apart form this blog of course?  I'd like to know.

It's not easy being green...


I could do a whole spoof here about the effects of rising water temperatures on the bio-sphere... the need for a sustainable aquatic environment... the imminent and very real threat to population levels (in one week our global population has dropped by 33%)... the impact of over consumption of rich food stuffs... the age of the stupid; oh why didn't we do something when we could? 

But I won't, because Jane is upset and I bought her the darn thing for Christmas, so it's partly my fault.  And tomorrow we have to change half the water, buy an algae filter and quietly replace 'Dylan Fish' before his namesake notices he's gone.  And I thought goldfish were simple.

How did that song by Van Morrison go?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Tywi


There was time when I thought Carmarthen was the worst bottleneck in Wales. The hours I've spent behind tractors, devising rat-runs to avoid the queues on bank holidays. It's a pointless exercise; to get east or west you have to cross the Tywi and there's only one decent bridge. Once I headed into the lanes, regaining the main road three miles later, crossed the bridge - hooray - only to find the entire A40 had been closed! That was the first time I went to Llansteffan, to wait for things to clear.

This week we returned. It was raining and the car park at Tesco was so full you had the indignity of queueing to get out. 'Everyone's stocking up for the weekend, 'said Jane, 'Perhaps town will be better?' Forty minutes later we were still waiting in a line. 'There's no point getting angry, Mark...' I turned the car around.

Llansteffan is as good a place to wind down as any I know. It feels like a smaller, more lived in, version of Laugharne. But whereas Laugharne is a disappointing place - were not for the association with Dylan Thomas it would not merit its visitors - Llansteffan is surprising and about as unspoiled as they come. It also has a better castle, a proper beach, and an eccentric grocers-cum-bistro-cum-lodging house that would not be out of place in Under Milk Wood.

This is not to say that Llansteffan is pretty - its foremost charm is a sort of relaxed shabbiness, that comes from ageing gracefully rather than primping up to fit the tourist pastiche. Its other charm is that it sits at the head of the Tywi.

The Tywi (or Towy) is the longest river to run its course entirely in Wales. It is an unhurried journey; begining in the Cambrian mountains, meandering its way through quiet valley to Llandovery and Llandeilo, past castles and stately farms, before eventually reaching the sea below Carmarthen.

I say 'reaches the sea' as if this were a definite point, but in practice it isn't like that. At low tide the estuary stretches to the horizon, the water and land gradually dissolving into each other. On Thursday we watched from the ramparts of the castle as the tide begin to flow - the pinkish sands turning to indigo, the indigo water turning to pink - the distant hills of the Gower the only discernable feature.

Llansteffan castle stands above the village, at the end of a single track road on the last spit of land; there are no signs and no parking is allowed. The rain eased as we explored its keep and gatehouse, standing on the ramparts as the water slowly covered the beach below. The tide began to race, widening the channel that separated us from Ferryside on the opposite bank.

Dylan huddled close. I picked him up and he pushed his tiny fingers into my mouth for warmth and comfort. We watched a fishing boat which had slipped its mooring, drifting in the eddies - eventually it swung into the current and was carried upstream. The sky was brightening but the wind was still bitter; could we go home now, he asked.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Teifi


The Teifi estuary is an inauspicious start to the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. Poppit Sands is little more than a scruffy jumble of car parks, a concrete lifeboat station and a wooden cafe that seems never to be open. The ‘sands’ themselves are grey, darkened by shale and tidal mud, chief collection point for the flotsam of Cardigan Bay.

And beyond, up the steep lane that leads to the Youth Hostel (like a three-bed-semi with picture windows) it is little better. The farmyards here are littered with tyres and plastic bags, the hill cottages largely colonised by putative eco settlers, their ubiquitous wind-catchers flapping on every gatepost. Looking to the north, the view of Cardigan Island is sullied by the hotels and caravan sites that pepper the shoreline.

I have never liked it much here. There is not enough space for the river to end and the sea to begin; it is more of a harbour's mouth than an estuary proper. The Teifi has carved a deep channel between silted banks, allowing boats to sail up river at virtually all tides. This explains why Cardigan, despite giving its name to the great sweep of Mid-Wales coastline, is actually four miles inland.

In fact the river is more impressive by the town, above which it flattens into an expanse of wetland, home to otters, warblers, herons and just recently, a bittern. Upstream is the beautiful Cilgerran gorge, then Cenarth with its water mill (I once saw a seal here); further up again, the fairy glen of Henllan falls, then the seemingly innocuous weir that has taken the lives of far too many canoeists. Some years ago I helped raise the money to build the canoe centre at Llandysul; soon afterwards, the 'safe' slalom course I had paddeld dozens of times would take another life.

As we walked down the Teifi estuary this week I urged Daniel on. I wanted to put it behind us, to reach Cemaes Head and watch the Kestrels on Pen yr Afr before the light began to fade. We had half planned to camp out, but it is difficult here. The cliffs are high and sloping, the path traverses at half height and there are few places to sit never mind pitch a tent. It began to rain.

We pressed on towards Ceibwr, climbing the highest section of the entire Coast Path and passing the ravens nests at Foel Hendre as the wind licked up a downpour. When we reached the car at Trewyddel it was almost dark. We headed for home, the last of the sunlight hidden by the thickening clouds.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Losing the plot

A lighthouse... no fancy nonsense, just a plain old lighthouse.

What is they say about never discussing religion or politics?   Oh, well...

There are few things that get me going more than the over-intellectualising of religious beliefs by philosophers and religious commentators.  It's not so much that I am a non believer; it is the huge disparity between the ideas they spend their time discussing and the practical realities of most people's faith.

Intelligent design theory (the idea that life is so complex that it must have required an intelligent creator rather than happen by chance) is a case in point. Does anyone seriously think that this is what the vast majority of religious believers think and care about?  Suppose it were provable-what then? It goes nowhere towards showing the validity or otherwise of any particular creed.  Some of the ID variants that seek to use quantum theory to 'prove' God's existence are even worse.

This week in the Guardian, Madeleine Bunting cooks up another recipe in defence of lost causes -this time it is 'belief through practice' and the 'borders of belief and non-belief' that are put forward as the antidote to good old fashioned reasoned argument. 

Mark Vernon in his usually excellent blog, gives the article an enthusiastic mention. As an ex-priest and a full-time philosopher he no doubt has more sympathy than me.  The computer gremlins wouldn't allow me to post a comment on the Guardian website, so I left it on his blog instead.  For those of you who might be  interested, it is copied below. 

But before you read on, let me make one point in case it is not entirely obvious.  My ire is not directed at the followers of any religion; that is their business and whatever I say shouldn't carry much weight anyway.  What I so dislike, and the real target of my comments, is the weasel words and twists and turns and grasping at straws and up-in-the-clouds, superiority-complex driven intellectual tosh that these quasi philosophers pedal...     

There, I feel better now! 

There is little that gives philosophy and philosophers more of a bad name than the over-intellectualising of the religious apologists. If Madeleine Bunting seriously believes that the millions of practising Christians, Muslims, Jews, etc. base their belief on 'faith through practice' then she really is too far removed from reality.

Why is it that the philosophers and commentators who defend religion use straight forward 'plain speaking' reason in virtually every other part of their life, except when it comes to the argument they are losing? This 'faith through practice' hypothesis, much like the intelligent design theories, is little more than intellectual succour for an argument they have lost. I don't believe for a moment that if they could use common sense, rational, evidential arguments in support of their beliefs that they wouldn't advance them before this sort of weasel worded nonsense.

Of course, almost all believers would accept that God as an 'old man with a white beard' is bit of a ridiculous notion, but surely that doesn't mean the vast majority of religious adherents don't still worship God as (broadly) an all powerful, all seeing, caring, vengeful being. The faith of these people has next to nothing to do with 'belief through practice', still less to do with intelligent design, or the borders between belief and non-belief. They don't use these notions, neither do their priests, nor is it the basis of any part of their faith.

I'm sure that someone will say I'm missing their point. But my counter would be that it is the likes of Bunting and Swinburne who are missing the real point. If Madeleine Bunting wants to spend her time thinking about such intellectual intricacies I guess that's her choice, but frankly, who cares - the general church going public certainly don't. To use my most basic of tests; if anyone thinks my Mum (and millions like her round the world) is motivated to go to church each Sunday because of this sort of shifty intellectualising, then they have seriously lost the plot.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Always different, always the same


Running on my usual route these last two days I noticed the hedgerows are full of yellow and and white flowers; gorse, broom; saxifrage, daisies, dandelions, primroses, blackthorn, daffodils,narcissus. It's obvious really but I'm not sure I'd quite noticed it before. Even the Brimstone butterfly that I passed was yellow. There must be reason why April is a month of yellow and white; by June the lanes will be full of pinks and blues.

Other things I noticed on my run: a large buzzard with moulting feathers on the post by the school house, the rooks nesting at Llochmeyler; fresh earth dug from the badger sets at Treffynon, a calf still covered in after-birth being licked by its mother.

This evening we went to Porthgain and walked to the white tower above the harbour entrance. The sea near the harbour walls was calm, a gelid turquoise turning to pinkish grey towards the open sea. To the west of the tower is a cave where the waves batter the cliffs and the water seems never calm - gulls hover on the updrafts and the messy wind spills over towards where we stand.

Daniel was looking with me into the cauldron below. Why are the rocks are so black, he asked? I pointed out the orange bands that indicate where the spray is soft enough for the lichen to grow; above it moss, then grass. I told him that on Ramsey, which takes the force of the Atlantic gales, the lichen only grows at over 30 metres above the sea.

I noticed too the curving horizon that my friend John would have pointed out; the white lines of foam that mark the surface of the water; the sun dipping beneath the horizon towards Carn Lliddi; the lighthouse at Strumble flashing. I was thinking that I must have stood here hundreds of times; always different, always the same.

As we were leaving Daniel said,' Can you remember how you used to bring us here and say feel the wind, feel the wind.' And I pictured how he used to stand with his coat above his head like a kite, leaning into the draft and shouting at the sea.'