We stayed in a re-built Long House – of the kind the Welsh used to build length-on into the hillside, with the living quarters at the top and the animals at the bottom – surrounded by sheep and birds. Bobby was quite beside himself.
The Elan Valley leads up to the Cambrian Mountains. We drove over them to Aberystwyth on a day trip back to Lampeter and Aberaeron. I have to say, I’m with George Monbiot when it comes to the Cambrian Mountains. There is little beauty here. It’s a monoculture. Of sheep. Stretching over bare hillsides for miles and miles. But I’ve just re-read his (brilliant) anti-sheep polemic “Feral” and notice it doesn’t mention the Elan Valley at all. Which strikes me as one-eyed accountancy. It probably didn’t fit into his story. Which is, of course, the problem with stories.
Because the Elan Valley strikes me as the opposite to everything he’s talking about. It’s affected by man-made solutions for problems a hundred miles away, but it is also a perfectly acceptable marriage of sheep and wildlife, in exactly the same place as he says there isn’t one.
The woodland is exactly what he mourns the passing of. Oaks and ferns and mosses and – um woodland. And I’ve never been anywhere with so many birds. Not least so many birds of prey; buzzards, red kites, ospreys, sparrowhawks, cuckoos all over the shop. Our Long House was basically alive. Swifts and swallows in the eaves, redstarts a-plenty, hundreds of birds I couldn’t begin to name. Luckily the cottage had a huge Book of World Birds, so I can say with some confidence that nesting under our bedroom window was an African Stella Blue Puffball Warbler. Probably. Plus, bats and mice. No, I can’t say we slept well.
But I can say it was a bit special, and highly recommended.