Oh all right, I confess. My take on the WP photo challenge is a little tangential. Also I have combined it with Ailsa’s travel theme ‘illuminated’ and Frizztext’s ‘B’ challenge (links below). But for me, photographs are windows in their own right, focusing the eye, mind and sensibility. The ones in this post seem to reveal a glimpse of something that require my special attention. And while some shots do in fact include actual windows, most are about those tiny ah-ha moments: the event, image, artefact that opened a window in my mind, whether a crack, or a full-blown throw-back-the-shutters moment.
And so it was stormy September, and the holiday-season well and truly over when Nosy Writer and the Team Leader headed to Wales for a few days. G. had a brand new camera to learn. I, as ever, was happy to snap whatever caught my eye.
We stayed in an odd, but well-meant B & B in Llanbedrog, and set off each day to explore North Wales’ Llŷn Peninsula. The weather was deeply discouraging. Wales has much wet weather, and, with it, an oppositely equal lack of indoor places to visit, especially out of season. The first day it rained so hard there was no choice but to head for the nearest large town in hopes of finding something to do under cover. We drove up the coast to Caernarfon,and once there sat in a car park for an hour while the rain teemed down on the windscreen. Finally, it eased off enough to venture out. By then, the ludicrousness of coming on holiday to sit in a Welsh car park watching supermarket deliveries was beginning to grate.
Swathed in raingear we trailed around an impressive but dreary Caernarfon Castle, the remnant expression of Edward I of England’s systematic oppression of the Welsh people. In 1283 he extended a small Norman motte and bailey castle into a massive fortress – all the better to assert English rule over the Welsh and their princes. In design it is said to recall the walls of Constantinople, seat of Roman imperial power, thus invoking memories of more ancient times when the Romans also subdued the Welsh. These earlier invaders built the nearby fort of Segontium and, like the castle, it commanded the Menai Straits and the island of Ynys Môn (Anglesey) beyond.
Segontium was built in AD77 by the Roman governor of Britain, Gnaeus Julius Agricola, in preparation for the capture Anglesey (see Island of Old Ghosts). Over a thousand years later the castle was built as one in a circle of mighty fortresses to control the people of North Wales. In 1284 Edward’s heir, later Edward II, was born there, and thus proclaimed the first English Prince of Wales. Though English born and bred, I find this hard to swallow.
And so I think I would have found Caernarfon Castle depressing even in broad sunshine – too much death and domination. The best part of the day was definitely lunch in one of the town’s meandering back-streets. At the bistro Blas they welcomed us in from another downpour, and kindly allowed us to drip on their carpet while feeding us delicious food. Not only that, it was so soothingly lavender, both inside and out.
It was the next day, with the rain abating and the sea roiling over the Cricieth breakwater (beneath another Edward I castle) that we spotted the bright field in the first photo. G. thought it was a good opportunity to start getting to grips with his Fujicamera. I snapped the sea.
But seeing that bright field, so astonishingly luminous against the grey sky, reminded me of the poem of the same name, written by the great Welsh poet-priest R.S.Thomas. This craggy, slab of a man was as redoubtable as one of Edward Longshanks’ castles.
In fact he might have been hewn from the bed-rock of his native Wales. And like all such formations he had his fissures, faults and flaws. Many thought him morose, cantankerous, and rife with ambiguity and contradiction. For one thing, he abhorred the Anglicisation of Wales, yet he wrote in English despite being a Welsh speaker. In 1996 he was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature, but lost out to Seamus Heaney.
As a priest he was kindly and sympathetic to the hardships of his parishioners, although this would not stop him from hectoring them from the pulpit, urging them to foreswear any yearning for consumer durables such as refrigerators and washing machines. He could also be judgemental and, as a fierce Welsh Nationalist and political activist, withering about the failure of the Welsh to resist being swamped by Englishness.
Thomas’s poetry, then, can be both trenchant and transcendent. While I do not subscribe to his religion, I honour the spirit of his words. His poems are among those I love most. Here it is then:
The Bright Field
I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
the treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but it is the eternity that awaits you.
On our final day it was with R.S. Thomas in mind, and with a little sun at last, we drove down the narrow lanes of the Llŷn Peninsula to Aberdaron where the poet served as a parish priest between 1967-78.
The ancient church of St. Hywyn’s stands right beside the sea. Since the Middle Ages, pilgrims have come there on their way to Bardsey Island, Ynis Enlli, Island of 20,000 Saints. Inside the church are two ancient grave stones belonging to Christian priests of the late 5th/early 6th century. There is also a welcome there: a bookshop full of R.S. Thomas’s poetry books; even a poem to take away. There are also piles of sea pebbles, shells for contemplating your journey, a kneeler that has been stitched with the single word cariad, beloved.
And beside the knave the clear glass window that needs no further embellishment looks out on the sea and islands of Gwylan Fawr and Gwylan Fach. And outside in the sea wind is the graveyard whose stones seem to cluster like a meeting of villagers in their own bright field. And so it is, as we ponder on all these things that our creedless souls, one atheist, one agnostic, know that we too are on a pilgrimage – to seek out the things that truly matter.
R.S. Thomas 1913-2000 Photo: BBC Cymru Wales Walesart
See this brief biography of the poet, made in 1996 when it was thought he would win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Related: Warrior Wind-Singer of Llŷn
© 2014 Tish Farrell