I realise that the above title could get a few raised eyebrows but when I mentioned to a couple of colleagues at work what I would be doing one weekend in July, raised eyebrows was the least of the reactions.
One of the members of Brython, Francis, invited folk to gather on his land in Wales for a weekend camp. Only a few of us could make it and as I planned to go down I realised that it was possible I would be the only woman there. I was going to an unknown place and staying with people I had never met except online. There would be one person I had met before there for a bit during Saturday evening and it was possible Francis’s wife might join us for a bit but as they have two young children I was aware that she might not be able to join us at all. I was also going to be dependant on those present for food and shelter as I couldn’t carry much with me on the train.
Francis picked me up at a near by train station on arrival and in spite of not having exchanged mobile numbers or descriptions we had no problem at all recognising each other.
The field we camped in is part of a flood plain area with a range of wild grasses, flowers and reeds. Along one side of it is the raised river bank and the other side has trees and bushes growing along it. The view across the river is of hills and mountains. The area is very peaceful and extremely beautiful.
Francis had set up a large tipi tent for sitting in the event of rain (which I also slept in) and had prepared wood for a fire. He had also brought some food down.
The sun was very warm that Saturday afternoon although the ground was still damp from the rain during the previous week. The few of us that arrived earlier in the day sat around and chatted about general things getting to know each other a little better.
Towards the evening a few others arrived. The fire was started in a fire bowl and the wooden hand turned Brython bowl was filled with mead and passed round, each person passing to their right.
After the mead had all been drunk (it went round 3 times before it was all gone) I sang a couple of songs for the gathered tribe. This was something I felt I needed to do while we were all gathered. Francis then took us all on a short walk along the river bank pointing out some aspects of the landscape as we went and telling us of the folklore linked to those areas. Coming back into the field at the other end meant jumping (in my case practically falling into) a ditch. Assistance was provided in the form of strong helping arms to those of us that had problems jumping. We then went back to the fire and started some more formal and in depth discussions about Brython. I won’t go into that here but if you are interested you will find a bit more on the Caer Feddwyd forum.
As it happened one of the others who could only come for a bit in the evening brought his partner with him so I wasn’t the only woman there for the whole time – just most of it.
Later in the evening those who were unable to camp left, the rest of us sat round the camp fire until the rain started at around midnight and we went to our tents to sleep.
The rain continued on and off all night and it was still raining lightly the next morning. We gathered in the large Tipi and sat round chatting as the weather was so poor and a couple of us had to leave by midday. Conversations varied from chainsaws to wind turbines to what sort of thing happens at Druid Network camps (I’ve never been to one and this was a chance to hear a bit more about them from folk that had gone to a few).
Later in the day Francis guided us to the nearby village of Betws-y-Coed where we had hot chocolates and gained further appreciation of plumbing and running hot water.
As we sat drinking and chatting the rain finally cleared up and we went to see a bit more of Francis’s home territory.
Francis first guided us to the area he and others use for summer grazing for their sheep. It is high up and wild with stunning views across the valley and further. On clearer days Snowdon is visible between two nearer peaks but it was obscured by the low clouds on that afternoon. Francis told us how in the past, not that long ago, the whole village would turn out for a celebrations and the trek taking the sheep and cattle up to summer grazing at the beginning of May. They would usually be brought back down at the end of October. The journey up to the summer grazing used to take a couple of days but now it is a matter of hours with livestock in trailers. Also livestock tend to be brought down earlier than they used to be to graze on silage fields where in the past such fields were often used for growing oats.
Our next stop was the beautiful Grey Mare’s Tail waterfall and while walking to the waterfall from the nearby car park Francis told us about the Giant chasing his daughter and her suitor that gave rise to that name. In summary Welsh giants don’t like their daughters marrying because that usually means they die. In this case the giant’s daughter and her suitor fled on a grey mare with a razor, a comb and a mirror. The first time the giant got too close the daughter threw the razor behind them and it became a chasm, the second time she threw the comb down and it became a forest and the third time she threw down the mirror which turned into a lake. The giant was close enough to reach out and make a grab at them and he caught the mare’s tail which came off in his hand. He threw it aside and it transformed into the waterfall Francis took us to see.
The last place we had time to visit was the woods Francis owns and in particular a little clearing with a fire pit and a fantastic view over the valley.
Then it was back to the field for a final goodbye and Francis then took me to the train station for my journey home.
What about the horses? Well the field we camped in had three Welsh mountain ponies in it for summer grazing much to my absolute delight. The stallion was incredibly friendly – so much so that Francis did say he is likely to end up as a riding pony for someone before long. The two mares were much more wary. For me the friendliness of that stallion was a magical experience and if he does end up as a riding pony then I hope it will be for someone who can appreciate the warmth of personality he showed to us over the weekend.
Some may think I am a bit reckless to go off into an unknown territory and meet up with strangers only known from forums but I knew I would be safe. I’ll admit I was nervous but then I often am a bit nervous when meeting people I want to like me for the first time.
I am incredibly grateful to Francis for his hospitality and generosity in both hosting us and sharing something of his bond with the land he lives and works on. It was for me a very magical weekend and it’s wonderful to be able to put some faces to names at last.