If you grew up here you will know every stone in the well worn track; how each one feels under foot. You will know your way in darkness, at five in the morning and even blindfold. In a pair of soft soled shoes the stones will create a satisfying roll under the ball of your foot. They will have patinated too, over the years, and shine a little, even in the dry dust summer time. You will see the rusty grey-green colours of the rock intensified under constantly running water. Many years later you still recall the heat of the sun baked rockface and how it warmed you when you leaned against it, closed your eyes and felt its age against your cheek. You will know it so well you are even a little enured to the way the light can dull or sharpen its tone in the space of a minute. This valley, will be your patch, your milltir sgwar. It will be your first place and you will know it in ways you will never come to know any other place on earth. Coming to it for the first time, the valley is yet to be discovered.
Walking the Waterside Felindre, formerly the Blaenant Ddu Resevoir on Swansea’s northern uplands, we encounter a trail of sorts. Here and there the routes are punctuated by prompts, guides to where one may find different perspectives, or experiment with sound and words. Opening their home and place of work, Sue and Steve Heatherington are sharing their valley with visitors over a weekend of creativity celebrating the BBC Get Creative festival of nationwide events and experiences. The prompts draw attention and encourage playfulness, yet for us they are a distraction, albeit a thoughtful one, from the richness of the valley itself. If they serve a purpose it is simply to remind us that in the beauty of the Waterside, listening, looking and savouring is really all that is required.
The sound of rushing water draws us straight to the low woodland and the dramatic steps over which the remnants of the watercourse that fed the reservoir tumble. Wild flowers underfoot hold their own, blooming just ahead of the unfettered brambles. Water cascading from the hilltop combines to great effect with the play of sunlight and is a dramatic constrast to the quiet just a few feet away. The large rusticated stone arch above announces the remnants of Victorian engineering ambition and the boldness that created a dam for one hundred and twenty million gallons of freshwater to meet the needs of the growing nineteenth century city population. The temptation to scrape back the moss covering the carved inscription is great, but the tunnel calls and curiosity wins.
Higher up the slopes, an as yet unfurled bracken frond in the scrub takes me back to my early fascination with plants and the photography of Karl Blossfeldt (1865-1932) whose monotone images revealed botanical architecture to me for the first time. In that moment I’m a gauche teenage student again, soaking up the possibilities of creativity. As an equally gauche adult, I know I’ll never capture such a moment on a smart phone but I delight in the effort anyway. It crosses my mind that each delicate looking fern will need to dodge the threat of boots and cloven hooves, to fully unfurl. Impossible though this may seem, the hillside gorse will in a few short weeks, be overcome with the dense, invasive bracken that rises from these innocent looking fronds.
Birdsong overhead distracts me again but immediately the song is muffled by the rush of wind in my ears. Just occasionally at a particular angle high up here, this wind rush can mask almost all other sound and life in the valley falls silent. All that is to be heard is my own regular breathing pattern and the wind. The moment shifts again and I’m brought back to now by the attentions of an Alpaca from the herd, curious as to what I’m doing high on his slopes. I didn’t mention that I’d spotted a sleeping elephant pretending to be a twisted tree stump. If I had then I’d have needed to admit to talking to Alpacas and seeing creatures or faces in every forest and upland tree, just as I did as a child.
En route back down and into the trees with the robins and wrens, clumps of comfrey thrive in the damp ground and dappled light, a delicacy for wild rabbits and hare no doubt, just as they, in turn, will likely be for the foxes that follow. At these lower edges the sound of water is everywhere and the damp marshland provides a lushious home for deep roots. In low winter sun these parts of the valley once frozen, never thaw. Today the welcome yet unseasonal April warmth is no doubt a fine reward for a long dark winter.
Have I been creative? More creative than usual in a lifetime of commitment to the concept and its myriad manifestations? I’m not sure. I don’t need to be sure. That’s the point. There is arguably too much sureness in our world. We are perhaps too quick to sprint to sureness, to decision, to action, insufficiently sighted as to consequences. In the last of the afternoon sun we chat and touch upon the need to stay a little longer in the unsureness, the need to hold a moment here and there and let it emerge in its own way, guided, prompted and framed perhaps, rather than wholly directed and shaped.
This weekend at the Waterside was one with a particular focus, but of greater importance is what is happening here every day. Here is in act of stewardship in this moment in the life of the valley and the family it currently hosts. An important part of that stewardship is the welcome extended to others, to come, sit, see, hear, walk, talk, leave and come again in an echo of the rituals and patterns of life and landscape. Go and visit the valley if you wish to connect with others; if you wish to walk and find sleeping elephants in tree stumps or stroke moss growing on twin trunks. Better still, if you don’t know why you should visit, then go anyway.