Saturday, 18 April 2015

Home From The Hills

As you will have realised, the last few posts were automatically scheduled to be published while I was away -- if not actually off-grid then barely hanging on to it -- with the assistance of my loyal in-house robot.  It will take a while to catch up with your comments and emails, but thanks in advance, especially to those of you who have responded to my slightly grandiose request for "signature" images!

It is a curious thing, but the availability of mobile phone and internet access declines dramatically as you head west in our country.  It wouldn't surprise me to hear that something similar happens as you head north.  Or east.  It reminds me of those illustrations of relativistic space-time involving a rubber sheet and a heavy ball, London and the south-east being the heavy ball. Even in a lively, happening place like Bristol (Bristol is Brighton's crustie cousin) signals are poor.  In my partner's sister's house, the best place to use a phone is an upstairs bedroom; the front half of a front bedroom, to be precise.  As for mid-Wales... Well, the signal is not only confined to certain ley-line convergences, but profoundly affected by the weather.  We had three bars one day, nothing at all for the next two.  Then -- ping! -- the phone in my pocket suddenly revived with a five bar signal, announcing the arrival of a mini-flood of emails.  There is clearly scope for a new profession in such regions:  the phone dowser.

We visit mid-Wales every year around this time, and have done so for the last 35 years.  Here is our home for the last week:

We tend to find a rentable property we like, and book it every year until it goes off the market, generally because it's been sold, or because some lucky person has taken up permanent residence there.  It's strange, how quickly an annual weekly visit can give you an illusion of ownership.  This particular house is one we've been using for the past five years, and the aristocratic sense of familiarity as you enter and dump your bags into a recently-swept hall is all part of the pleasure.* It's a well-appointed barn conversion in a beautiful, isolated hilltop setting, making use of an eco-friendly heat-exchange system for hot water and underfloor heating, which involves mysterious convoluted pipes buried in the hillside.

Landscape photography is all about repeatedly showing up somewhere until something interesting happens, usually involving the light, the weather, and the time of day.  This can involve unpleasant experiences like getting up very early, camping out, or getting cold and wet; often all of the above.  This may explain why habitual landscapists like to push all the Photoshop sliders up to 11: it's a sort of compensatory hyperbole.  No, really, it looked exactly like that -- you just had to be there!

But when you have a west-facing bedroom balcony looking out over a patchwork Radnorshire valley shading into hill-country, you can simply open a curtain to check out the progress of the dawn and, if the mist and sunlight are doing good things, lean out of an open window and snap away. Then get back into bed.  No need to exaggerate.  Later on, just around the time you might be opening a bottle of red, you generally also get a royal-box view of an unspeakably lurid sunset, nature's own way of pushing the sliders up to 11.

Wednesday Morning 3 A.M.  6 A.M.

*  Think of the sun and moon in Coleridge's Ancient Mariner: "... and every where the blue sky belongs to them, and is their appointed rest, and their native country and their own natural home, which they enter unannounced, as lords that are certainly expected and yet there is a silent joy at their arrival."

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