Country diary: a fantasy escape for when lockdown ends

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What will I do when (not before) lockdown’s over? I’ll pack a small tent, a sleeping bag, a stove, and – depending on how much rain there’s been recently – will make my way to the north side of Pumlumon, the highest point in the Cambrian mountains.

“The grand Plynlimon” is how writer and traveller George Borrow’s guide described it to his eccentric client in 1854. From the north, the epithet is fitting. Windfarms that mar the southerly summit views are hidden from here. I’ll pitch camp on a small grassy shelf above the confluence pool of the Hengwm and Hyddgen streams – my favourite wild site in Wales.

Covenant stone of Glyndwr.

Two wide valleys converge here, and are as desolately expansive as any in the Welsh hills. Perhaps I’ll arrive by way of the moorland lakes of Glaslyn and Bugeilyn to the east, along the track from the old gibbet above Dylife. It fades out after the shepherd’s lake with its ruined tyddyn (homestead), into expanses of bare peat where blanched trunks of rowan trees that once grew here punctuate the dark terrain.

Or maybe I’ll come at it by the rock-spined belvedere of Fainc Ddu, its lapidary sky-reflecting pools braided with bogbean, looking north into what Borrow’s guide in 1854 called “an anialwch [wilderness] to a vast distance. Pumlumon is not a sociable country, sir. Nothing to be found in it, but here and there a few sheep.”

It’s not changed much since Borrow’s day – it’s become lonelier if anything, for the old farmhouses and mine workings are ruinous now, shelter only for kestrels or barn owls. If I choose a full-moon night for my visit, peering out across rushy flats of the valley to the hillside beyond, at this time of year I’ll see the glimmer of Cerrig Cyfamod Owain Glyndwr – two blocks of white quartz, the covenant stones of the warrior-chieftain Glyndwr. The first victory in his great uprising was gained here in 1401, against massive odds.

Hyddgen is as significant in Welsh history as Hastings is to its English counter-narrative. Early 15th-century court rolls testify how many covenanted themselves to Glyndwr and his cause, the wild free spirit of which lives on in this place.

o Country Diary is on Twitter at @gdncountrydiary

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