A week into her role as Writer in Residence at the Elan Valley, Ruth Raymer reflects on the “simpler, slower” life she has found in mid-Wales.
I’m sitting in a cottage on the side of a mountain in mid-Wales as I write this. Behind me, the log burner is crackling away whilst outside the rain is beating down on the corrugated iron sheets of the porch, playing its own tune. There is something primal and comforting about sitting in front of a log fire on a rainy day. I’ve been here in the Elan Valley for seven days now and this is the first serious rain there’s been. There has been thick fog – it hangs midway between the water of the reservoir below me and the top of the mountain behind me. There has also been unrelenting sun and heat.
I’ve walked to the top of the mountain in the early morning, watching the fog coming down, then panicked about getting back down the mountain before the fog reached me. (I made it.) I’ve walked beside three of the five reservoirs so far, recording plant and animal life as I walk:
Blue damsel fly
Colour at every turn.
From the largest to the tiniest.
Man has been controlling the flow of water through this valley via dams and reservoirs for well over a century, yet at every turn I also see the power and strength of the natural world, in a valley first created by glaciers. Massive boulders worn away by the power of the water rushing over and around them sit beside man-made dams. In a sawn-off oak stump, a rowan sapling is growing from a seed either blown by the wind from one of the other rowans twenty feet away, or more likely deposited by a bird.
There is a delicate balance here between man and nature. The custodians of the 73 square miles of the Elan Estate, Dwr Cymru Welsh Water, are working hard to make sure that nature is given every chance. They are curating the ancient woodlands that were not destroyed in the construction of the dams and these are flourishing under their care. There are several species of mosses and lichens in the area that are unique and protected; birds of prey have a safe haven to nest and bring on their young. The River Elan originally fed into the River Wye and this flow is now carefully monitored and regulated to maintain the balance there.
All this has to be done whilst allowing the public to roam, ride and drive to enjoy some of the most spectacular feats of Victorian engineering in the UK and the flora and fauna which co-exist here. In a world of engineered landscapes, this one allows us to see the very best of both sides of that coin.
I am spending another three weeks here, in the stillness and silence that is punctuated only by passing motorcycles from time to time and the constant chatter of the abundant bird life. Life is not interrupted by the internet or mobile phones – they don’t work here. I have no TV, no mains electricity and no close neighbours. Cooking is done on a coal fired range that also heats the water and the radiators in the bedrooms. Life here is simpler, slower. It’s also harder when the weather is bad, or your generator breaks down or if, like me, you don’t drive. Somehow the landscape and the life it supports make those no more than tolerable nuisances. After all – who could fail to be inspired in such a place?
Ruth Raymer is an MA Creative Writing student at the University of Essex who has taken MA Wild Writing modules as part of the course. She is currently Writer in Residence at the Elan Valley as part of the APTElan (Artists, Place, Time, Elan) Artists Residencies, supported by the Arts Council for Wales and Dwr Cymru Welsh Water. She tweets @WalesWriting.