Ebrill, Dwygyfylchi

Turning forty feels in some ways like a moment with more… moment than many of the earlier moments. As it’s been approaching with mounting inevitability I’ve noticed a few of those changes that everyone talks about quite openly but to which I’m sure we mainly assume we will somehow be immune. I’ve become aware of my knees when standing up from a crouch; the time it takes to refocus when looking up to the horizon from something nearby has become perceptible. I suspect that they will in good time magically disappear like the mistake or false alarm they presumably are.

At the first milestone in the second half of one’s biblically allotted span, one gets a heightened sense of which things are just an unconscionable waste of time. There are lots of them and I’ll leave you to draw up your own list. But to go some way towards countering that, the time between repeated events falls away when the events roll round again. That has its good and its bad points, of course: it’s nice to meet friends and feel they were there only yesterday, but it would also be nice to keep a stronger sense of the tracts of time that intervene between dentist appointments.

With a bit of luck you’ll all have experienced the feeling that you saw your friends only yesterday even though it’s been eight months, but I wouldn’t wish to hasten you youngsters towards the point when, in the moment that it’s happening, it feels like you’ve been in this logic seminar forever. (Insert your own employment rigours here.)

On balance, though, I’ll take it. Coupled with a bit of patience, and a bit of confidence that things will roll round again, one can develop not only the feeling, at Christmas, that it’s always been Christmas, but also the feeling, when it’s not Christmas, that it won’t be too long until it will always have been Christmas again.

And so I find myself in Dwygyfylchi. This constitutes, as those of you that have been will appreciate, a somewhat low-key high. But those of you that know me will also appreciate that this is just the sort of high I’m after: a reading-a-book high, rather than a base-jumping high. A coastal stroll not a rollercoaster.

I’ve been here or hereabouts on and off pretty much since being born and, if you count gestation, even before that. I was here on my first birthday and now on my fortieth. Given this familiarity many of my actual experiences here these days, never mind my memories, are quite impressionistic, and what’s more they tend to merge. The piercing comfort of herring gull calls, the views over the sea and out to Puffin Island, the smell of cut grass on the caravan field during maybe fifty holidays; Afon Gyrach rattling over stones in the Fairy Glen. The latch of the gate at the caravan as it swung shut; the smell on opening the door if you were lucky enough to be first in. Over there my Grandad is cleaning the lawnmower as Teddy next door practices putting, on his tiny tamed fragment of field.

I can see my Auntie Florence, in her 50s I suppose, but seeming old to me, vaulting a gate. From 40, vaulting gates in your 50s seems much more reasonable than it did from 15. But the memories are timeless in other ways and can never really be dislodged or tainted by the knowledge that the Jones boys, as my Nana would call them, are now men in their 70s and probably beyond, their mother, and now even their mother’s farmhouse, its dark kitchen and its glowing fireside, gone. The caravan, and the caravan after that, have gone, along with the shed, and the shed after that, and the chance to mow a path into the field to cross after the rain keeping dry socks. The uninterrupted view, Mr Jones’ (no relation) shop: now a couple of rented cottages, Mrs Williams’ shop, and the entire caravan park it served, and most of the people who fixed this place as my favourite few square miles on Earth.

What remains is occasionally camping, periodically deciding the four hours of travel is worth it for a few hours walking the hills, and now and then staying in a cottage in the village. Then, that is to say, and, more particularly, now.

Turn right out of the house and it’s a short walk to the Fairy Glen pub, the road lined with slate walls, currently in their natural state: bathed in rain. To the left, on the outside of the bend in the road, is a steep incline leading to Capelulo Village Hall, the source of the river, and the uplands joining Pensychnant nature reserve before tracking the pass and the Coastal Path to Conwy. The boundary of Snowdonia lies just beyond a bench, before a small row of cottages and fields where there are or were donkeys.

But bearing right and downhill the Glyn Path passes a playground and winds through woodland before rejoining the road which has coiled back on itself feeling its way to the coast. I stop in one of my top three churchyards, with its universal memorials, sit for half an hour in the sun and read a chapter of Borrow’s Wild Wales. I recommend every aspect of this experience. On again, and past the caravan – close your eyes: cut grass, gate latch, hide-and-seek, badminton – and the tent field, site of an unwise and one-off experiment with a home-made absinthe-substitute, the road reaches the A55. Cross it, and – Danger! Duck! – under the railway to the beach. The tide’s in and the breakers churn up silt from the quarry, the browned water surpassing even its usual high standards of menace. Here be monsters, for sure.

Much of that didn’t actually just happen, of course. Many of the people and some of the locations are long gone. But if I’ve been here forever that hardly matters.

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