Friday 12 April 2024

Easter 2024

As advertised, we spent Easter in mid-Wales, a habit we broke last year for only the second time in something like forty years. I can't even remember why, now. Perhaps someone else had booked our usual rental, and we couldn't be bothered to look for another? Perhaps we just felt like a change? Whatever, life in the Marches went on without us. While we were away several pubs, shops, and restaurants changed hands or went out of business, yet more farmers seemed to abandon the idea of raising sheep, and someone had taken the trouble to put up some 4G masts, with the result that, miraculously, we were able to ignore our phones because we wanted to, and not because they were unable to detect even a hint of a signal. I suppose that last, at least, counts as an improvement.

I decided to try something a little different with the photography this year. Apart from the fact that my partner's walking capacity has been curtailed by a mild but prolonged case of "long Covid", after a bit (whatever fraction of forty years constitutes "a bit") you do start to repeat yourself. We did manage to get out when the weather allowed, and I experimented with long-lens shots (mainly using the crazy zoom built into the Panasonic TZ70), as well as with a 60mm supplementary lens for the iPhone. Naturally, this led to a higher number of "misses" than usual – never has the old adage that "you can't beat physics" seemed more appropriate – but also some interesting "hits". I will probably have some things to say about this in a future post.

Despite the fact we've been using the same cottage for quite a few years now, I had never explored a nearby church which is, like a lot of ancient places of worship in "Celtic" Britain, situated on top of a mound with a churchyard full of very old yew trees. I've probably mentioned this before (and, let's be honest, after sixteen years of blogging there is very little that I haven't mentioned before, and probably more than once) but the prominent, treeless mass of upland known as the Radnor Forest is alleged to contain within it the last dragon in Wales, sleeping away the centuries. Surrounding the Forest in an apotropaic ring are four churches dedicated to that Satan-stomping archangel Michael: Llanfihangel Cefnllys, Llanfihangel Nant Melan, Llanfihangel Cascob, and the one near our cottage, Llanfihangel Rhydithon. [1]

The legend states that the dragon will awake if any of the four churches were to be destroyed. Now that's what I call an insurance policy (or is it extortion with menaces?). Like so many parish churches, though, the original structure at Llanfihangel Rhydithon seems to have been replaced or at least extensively remodelled in the 19th century; I wonder if the dragon might have stirred in its sleep for a moment then? As the door was locked when I visited I couldn't check out the interior, so I picked my way carefully around the jam-packed churchyard, which is still in use, and where there are some lovely 18th century tombstones with "vernacular" carving and lettering (all in English, none that I could see in Welsh).

Easter in Wales is all about the unpredictable weather, of course. In the past we've had snow, dramatic inversion fogs, and blazing sunshine – sometimes all in the same week – but this year we had the classic British springtime "sunshine and showers", although some of the showers were rather heavier and longer-lasting than any "shower" is supposed to be, and the sunshine rather fleeting. Oh, and there were strong, gusty winds, which (partly) accounts for the softness of some of these photographs.

Something our Bristol flat and this mid-Wales cottage have in common is elevation: the flat is on the fourth floor of a block perched on the edge of the Avon Gorge, and the "cottage" (actually a barn conversion) is tucked into the NW shoulder of the Radnor Forest. At both locations this means that you can see the next wave of weather coming in from a distance just by leaning out of a window: it's one of the reasons I have come to like using a long lens in this landscape. What? Oh, relax, you hair-shirted landscape puritans... I'm not aware of any law that says you can't do landscape photography in your pyjamas...

1. Llanfihangel in Welsh is the equivalent of "St. Michael" (but, no, Marks & Spencer did not label their own-brand apotropaic underwear "Llanfihangel" in Wales). Quite why an angel gets to be a saint, too, is an interesting question, but we of Baptist heritage do not trouble ourselves with such stuff. It is curious, though, that a high-street retailer could use that name as a brand on their very mundane (but very reliable and comfortable) lines of clothing without protest from the saint-importuning community. Maybe M & S socks and knickers were given a free pass in an encyclical? (De Subuculis Soccisque, perhaps?).

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