Tag Archives: Wales

Lift up your eyes to the hills …


There are hills and hills of course. Saint Thomas’s Hill is on the rim of the dish that cradles the city. Most cyclists seem to dismount to climb up it, but coming down is another matter; I think that qualifies as a hill. For the last fifty years it has housed the University of Kent, not visible in this winter’s picture.

Indeed I’ve deliberately shown this ‘temporary’ car park in all its glory to stress the point brought home to me as I turned this corner the other day – without my phone of course, so I could not recapture that careless rapture. Here the panel of parking regulations, the hastily spread asphalt  and the scrubby edges of the car park impel the walker to pass by on the other side as quickly as possible.



I walk this way nearly every day,  eyes averted.

Between where we stand and those whitewashed cottages a footpath takes a short tunnel under the railway; then to the left of the cottages and to the playing field behind the tall trees; a not unpleasant walk. From there the hilltop is covered in university buildings; from here neither they nor the post-war houses across the field make much impact.

There’s no way you could imagine yourself in the Kentish countryside, but look up! There is a hill, there are trees, there is hope. Even if the developers would happily sacrifice the trees on the altar of Mammon. This car park has never been built upon. It used to be an allotment garden, gone wild before we came, but good for raspberries, brambles, lizards and slow-worms. A sustained effort was made to rescue the reptiles, now safely rehoused on reclaimed land elsewhere. But this land will be built on. People need homes too.

look up hills

But what struck me the other day as I walked home?

A hint of sun on the hill, made the grass, and the young stems of the trees – there are plenty of willow in yellow and red – shine against the black of their trunks and branches. It was a Psalm 121 moment – I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.

A spring in my step, though nothing material had changed. The car park, graffiti and the intrusive buildings were still there, but look beyond!

The window looks out onto real hills, the Black Mountains of South Wales.



27 October: Dylan Thomas’s Birthday.


Mrs Turnstone and I find ourselves at the water’s edge in Wales. We should mark Dylan’s Birthday! These are the last three stanza’s of his birthday ‘Poem in October.’

And down the other air and the blue altered sky
        Streamed again a wonder of summer
                With apples
             Pears and red currants
     And I saw in the turning so clearly a child's
     Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother
             Through the parables
                Of sunlight
        And the legends of the green chapels

        And the twice told fields of infancy
     That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.
        These were the woods the river and the sea
                Where a boy
             In the listening
     Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy
     To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.
             And the mystery
                Sang alive
        Still in the water and singing birds.

        And there could I marvel my birthday
     Away but the weather turned around. And the true
        Joy of the long dead child sang burning
                In the sun.
             It was my thirtieth
        Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
        Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.
             O may my heart's truth
                Still be sung
        On this high hill in a year's turning.


May each one of us find the child’s key to heaven that opened the gate for Dylan that day when he whispered the truth of his joy.

Views of Laugharne, where Dylan walked.

I hope you can listen to Dylan reading the poem here:

A tale of two birds – or rather three.


The scattering of white feathers showed where a black-headed gull had been killed; the corpse lay a couple of feet away, the breast picked almost clean by the second bird, the sparrowhawk who has become quite familiar in this part of town. Satisfied with its meal, it had flown away already.

The third bird was totally unconcerned by this drama, and a real surprise on Abbot’s Hill. Sitting on a stump nearby: a smart, robin-like creature which was indeed a stonechat. I don’t recall seeing one locally before but he was singing as if he owned the place and had no intention of going west to the old brown hills. I feel sure he will though.

It’s a warm wind, the west wind, full of birds’ cries;
I never hear the west wind but tears are in my eyes.
For it comes from the west lands, the old brown hills.
And April’s in the west wind, and daffodils.

The West Wind, John Masefield.



World Dylan Day

Today is Dylan Day. Despite a swell of opinion that Dylan was not a religious writer, I find the evidence points to a deep spiritual awareness and yearning. Here is a taste of why I see many parallels between him and Augustine.

At the end of the fourth century Augustine of Hippo opens his masterpiece, the Confessions, with these words:

To praise you is the desire of man, a little piece of your creation. You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.’

1550 years later,  Dylan Thomas, would tell John Davenport that his poetry was written for the love of man and in praise of God; indeed the prologue of his Collected Poems tells how he sought to obey his calling and overcome his fears to:

‘… build my bellowing ark

To the best of my love

As the flood begins,

Out of the fountainhead

Of fear, rage, red, manalive.’

The poet Kathleen Raine affirms that however chaotic his lifestyle, Dylan’s poetry is ‘holy’, laid out ‘with as much love and care as the lock of hair of a first love’, and confessional, in the double meaning that Augustine intended: a recounting of experience entwined with praise of God: Dylan’s awareness of his work as prayer grew as he matured. His masterpiece, the radio play Under Milk Wood, also opens by invoking Creation, familiar from Genesis and John’s Gospel:

‘To begin at the Beginning:

It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black.’

Here are two books written by men in mid-life, although Under Milk Wood would be Dylan’s last work. This is the story of a community of people like him, saints who are sinners, a Welsh City of God, funnier and warmer than Augustine’s version. Sadly we mortals may not yet linger there.

Dylan had seen Llareggub builded here, in Wales, the Chosen Land. It is no mean city, although it is little, like Wales, and like Wales, or the Churches of John’s Revelation, it is on earth as it is in heaven. Dylan was nurtured at the same source as Augustiine; if philosophy opened the wells for the bishop, poetry released for the ‘spinning man’ a flood to float his cockleshell ark, and, we may hope that ‘the flood flowers now’ for him, beyond the ‘breakneck of rocks’ of his life.



Talking as we were of ravens, we saw a full set of crows in Anglesey and Caernarfon: Raven, rook, carrion crow, jay, jackdaw, and the inescapable magpie, as well as the choughs around South Stack. Carrion crows, as in Kent, fancy themselves as waders, and ravens seem to like the beach as well; choughs and jackdaws enjoy the wind, as if having fun in the air is what they were created for. There won’t be so much time to play in a week or two, when breeding really gets going!


Friendly foraging

Lunch with the cuckoo was special enough, but I had arrived at the Goods Shed just as Enzo was taking the bread from the oven. My loaf was wrapped in a flash and straight in my bag. Back home, I spread it with wild garlic pesto, tomato paste, cheese and olives. Satisfying!

Read NAIB’s account of foraging Welsh wild garlic, below.


Mrs Turnstone is trying to grow some in a shady part of our garden, thanks to a gift from a friend. We’ve allowed ourselves no more than a couple of leaves for salad this year, hoping the patch will spread.


Over the Menai Bridges to Anglesey


We crossed the Britannia Bridge to stay near the Menai Straits, with views across to Snowdonia: well named on our arrival as the tops were white. We enjoyed four seasons in a week. The first weather to impose itself was the wind, sweeping across the island from East to West, blowing NAIB into my arms as we climbed the steps to Our Lady Star of the Sea in Amlwch. Later in the week rain did not prevent her joining the old folks across the Menai Bridge in Caernarfon while G studied. IMGP5106Telford’s Menai Suspension Bridge is older, built in 1826 for the Irish Mail Coaches to Holyhead, and strengthened since to take modern traffic. Stephenson’s Britannia Bridge was built in 1850 for the Railway, but vandals destroyed the track and the iron tubes carrying it. The piers remain, with a new road and rail bridge built between them in 1970. We were pleased to cross them both!

The evening sun shone when these pictures were taken, full on the Menai Bridge but, seen from the East, shining through to emphasise the grace of the 1970 structure between the Britannia’s piers.