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From Pont yr Afon Gam on the bleak and lonely road across the Migneint, a big four-wheel drive with a grille like bared teeth was close on my tail through the bends. Light was fading. In that wild place the situation felt edgy. The vehicle followed me into the scenic layby that overlooks the upper gorge of the Afon Cynfal.

Its driver watched as I walked over to the fence and peered into the dark ravine, within which thundered the rain-swollen waterfall of Rhaeadr y Cwm. A young man dressed in light-coloured clothes, he came over to talk. “Impressive!” I commented. “Oh yes!” he responded, “I work at the outdoor centre in Rhos y Gwaliau. We take our kids down it sometimes. We’ve put bolts in for abseiling. It’s very atmospheric in there!” I tell him about working 50 years ago at an outdoor centre in Glasbury-on-Wye, leading groups of students through spectacular gorges of the Ystwyth and Rheidol around Devil’s Bridge.

We talk of the committing situations encountered in these locations: of the sculpting of the rock; of green diffused light reflected off moving water and mossed walls; of the surprising depth both of clefts and the swirling cauldron-pools within them; of the dangerous thrill of moving through these arcane and rarely visited environments.

A drawing of Rhaeadr y Cwm near Ffestiniog, circa 1830.

A drawing of Rhaeadr y Cwm, near Ffestiniog, circa 1830. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

After a few minutes he lifted the tailgate of his truck, took out a fly rod and said he was heading for Llyn y Morwynion. I related the Mabinogion story of how the handmaidens of Blodeuedd drowned there and how their mistress was turned into an owl, thereafter called Blodeuwedd (“flower-face”). In another folktale, women of Dyffryn Clwyd, abducted by men from Ardudwy in search of wives, drowned themselves here in despair after their male relatives caught up with and slaughtered the captors to whom they had become attached.

The young man’s pale form flickered moth-like, mysterious, across the hillside in crepuscular light, “Climbing up to a place / Where stone is dark under froth” (Yeats). An owl hooted down-valley. I glanced across to where Rhaeadr y Cwm roared in the shadow, lamented my bodily decrepitude, thought of silver bolt-heads like Blodeuwedd’s eyes piercing shadowed gloom.

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The Gaurdian

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