Tuesday, 27 April 2021


 Chiff chaff, chiff chaff - the first sound I hear when I open the car door.  Then the garrulous gossipping  of the jackdaws in the old trees.  

Looking down from the car park at the wide sweep of Porth Neigwl I notice it is a very low tide, the sea far out, the beach a mixture of sand, gravel, pebbles, clumps of muddy earth from the crumbly cliffs.  The old shop looks more precarious.  Only a week ago a sudden landslide at Nefyn left  houses in Rodfar Mor  dangerously near the cliff edge.  In the past two landslides have occurred in front of Sarn Cottage (where R S Thomas lived in retirement) necessitating a new road behind the cottage. 

Behind the bright bird song is another sound.  The sound of the waves gently (on this calm day) gathering up their white lace skirts and breaking on the shore.  The sound is like a rythmic breathing.  If this was Baroque music it would be the ground bass beneath the melody.  This sound will accompany me all afternoon.  

I walk past Bryn Foulk then up through the woods.   The unmistakeable sound of a great spotted woodpecker drumming.  Primroses, herb robert, daisies on top of a moss covered wall, honesty - all in flower, taking advantge of the light under the as yet open canopy.  The silver birches are still bare, hawthorn is starting to shoot its little 'bread and cheese' bunches of green.  Sycamore leaves are beginning to open

The garden at  Plas yn Rhiw is beautiful at any time of year but my first visit in the spring is special.  I particularly appreciate it today because the garden was closed to the public all last year.   Last week I successfully negotiated the hoops of the National Trust's central covid booking system to book my slot for today.  

I can smell the rosemary bush by the side gate - glossy green leaves and a mass of purple flowers.  Then through the gate and into the dense profusion of flowering shrubs which perfume the air.  Honora Keating, who planned the garden in the 1940s, was an accomplished painter (she had trained at the Slade).  Not so much planting as painting with plants.  I remember how eaagerly she would show us the plants in flower and point out how spectacular the blossoms looked against the blue backdrop of the bay.  Today I notice a big blowsy pink rhododendron next to scarlet, cream and pink camelias; a vivid red azaelea.  The art of gardening is to leave something for the future.

I love the feel of the sea pebbles under my feet in the cobbled courtyard and the sound of the stream splashing over the rocks.  The elegant mauve flowers of the wisteria are starting to open. The old stone wall is festooned with 'mother of thousands' with its hluish flowers.  There are several native wild flowers which Horora loved.  'Leave the primroses' was a frequent instruction to us when weeding.  Herb Bennet pops up between the wall and the cobbles.  Yellow barriers keep visitors away from a place where the stones of part of the retaining wall have collapsed.   This retaining wall is probably centuries old.

The house is not open to the public at the moment but the semi-circular lawn in front of the verandah is like a small stage with its view over the sea.  The garden is divided up by box hedges into 'rooms'.   There is a magnificently tall Magnolia Mollicomata tree.  I've never seen magnolias growing so tall nor having such showy flowers.  It flowers in March and the petals have dropped - those pale pink ballet shoes on the grass.  Sadly the trees are past their glory days (it was planted in 1946) - now it looks scraggy and bristles with lichen.  There is so much detail at my feet - triangular stemmed garlic, blue periwinkles going feral at the first opportunity, forget-me-nots.  I find a bashful white hellebore in flower.  A great tit sings its swinging-rusty-sign song.

Beyond the garden the woodland daffodils are almost finished but a wild cherry tree is at its best.  A robin pokes in the grass which has been cut short round the picnic tables.  A rowan is showing new leaves and tiny buds of flower heads.  Red campion flowers grow next to a patch of violets on an old stone wall.  There are two footbridges over the stream and I notice now the water makes a plopping sound when forced between stones and a rippling sound above and below them.  Harts' tongue fern is uncurling.  

The orchard, perllan, is starting to look quite well-established.  It was planted ten years ago by children from Botwnnog Primary School and consists of 140 Welsh fruit trees of 30 different varieties, including the Bardsey apple (rediscovered on the island in 1999). The trees are at different stages - some are still bare twigs with tight buds, others are showing leaves, a few are in blossom.  I notice the moles have been  busy (though not as busy as in my garden).  In the grass there are hundreds of narrow leaved plantain flowers and the geodesic gossamers of dandelion 'clocks' . This is the highest point of the land behind the house.  From here the bay is the colour of royal blue ink.  A thick black line at the base of Cilan headland marks the tidal variation.   

Walking back along the woodland track the ground is a mass of bluebells.  At this time of year the peninsula's field banks, roadside verges and steep hillsides are a haze of blue - remnant plants which denote previous woodland and forest.


pulse of blue light, electronic glow,
ground burning with blue flame, steel blue, the shock of it -

Hopkins drew them, ink blue-black scratching on paper
the precision of their distinctiveness

their inscape, a bell's unlettered beauty with steel nib
faint honey smell and in the mouth the sweet gum when you bite

pick them and they loop, loll, lank over a glass jar, pine for the
                                                                                  forest floor

how long ago were the woods felled, burnt?

they will not let us forget, forging their white bulbs underground for

flowers bleaching to brittle stems, rattling the lead shot of their
                                                                                  black seeds

astringent, concentrated, each year re-fined, distilled in the earth's

            © Mary Robinson 2020 from Trace (Oversteps 2020)

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