Falls

Which tempted our attempt, and wrought our fall

John Milton, Paradise Lost

The Falls of Cenarth where I was due to end today’s walk were to be a huge highlight of this walk. It was a much shorter distance than yesterday, and I was aiming to be able to spend a good amount of time there at the end of the day. But a spanner in the works was a terrible sick headache which had given me a dreadful nights’ sleep and stopped me eating more than a couple of mouthfuls of breakfast, and it was not until gone 10am that I felt well enough to set out. I must mention here Rhodri of the Porth Hotel and his mother Mrs James who gave me extra painkillers and made me up a packed lunch to get me through the day. I wouldn’t have managed it without them.

But by 10am I thought I would at least start walking and see what happened. The anticipated frost had not materialised overnight, and the milder morning seemed to encourage the birds into thinking about preparing for spring. Along the quiet back road, high above the river valley, I was walking through a corridor of riotous birdsong. But we are still away off spring, and the bare branches meant that I had permanent views through the stands of trees down to the Teifi snaking its way through its valley.

There was half a kilometre of up and down today, but split up into manageable chunks. A road contoured around the first of the several plunging river valleys, leaving me free to look with interest with my middle-aged eyes at a vegetable patch, steeply terraced with hazel hurdles above me on the hill, and of course the hedgerows, which everyone knows I am interested in.

Look how many species in even this tiny area. Fascinating! And beautiful.

There were lambs – including heart-melting no.4. It was impossible not to feel completely cured by lambs. And I was.

I confidently strode up a hillside being followed by the bleating lambs and their mothers, feeling smug that over the past four days I have got myself back to being match fit (or whatever sporty people call it). I heaved open a precariously propped-up gate, untying and retying the bailertwine and taking care that I’d rearranged the chicken wire to be lamb-secure. Then I realised that No.4 had not been telling me he wanted to come with me – he’d been telling me I was going the wrong way. I had to repeat the laborious gate labours in reverse and go back down the hill.

High up, I saw my first fall of the day — one in slow motion. On the other side of the river valley (not particularly visible in the photo in the shaded area top left) was textbook example of a phenomenon known as soil creep, where particles of soil are pushed downhill very slowly by water (possibly very slow viscous laminar flow, apparently) and the soil forms long ridges that look like sand bars or waves.

The first of today’s waterfalls was an audio experience, however, as the Teifi crashed far below me almost unseen at the bottom of a precipitous gorge, which the river had, I imagine, created itself over the millennia. The greater power of the river is very obvious now, in the way it has the strength to carve out chasms and gorges — a new feature of the larger river.

When my path turned away from the river it also turned away from its watery route of loops and curves — I now followed a disused railway line, walking straight for several kilometres. Walking fitness doesn’t seem to be just about muscle or cardiac strength, but also about a state of mind where one changes one’s relationship with time. How far one has come or how far there is still left to go doesn’t have the same claim on one’s attention. In view of the focus of this five day walk, instead of describing this shift as ‘living in the moment”, it seems more appropriate to talk about being ‘in a flow state’. Activity and consciousness seem to be working together in some synchronous way. And so my attention was drawn by various fallings — the clean slabs of rock at the sides of the old railway line, down which ropes of ivy

leaves

and water cascaded by turns.

In my flow state, however, I wasn’t paying enough attention to my route, and missed the point I should have turned downwards off the track. A lapse in concentration, another kind of fall. At the bottom of the slope an old cottage was falling into dereliction, a sad sight.

Enough! This seemed altogether too much oblique application of the motif of falls, especially when, thus far, the watery variety had been so signally lacking. The river was instead distinctly dreamy in quality, as I also had been.

Where the most beautiful part of yesterday’s walk had been right at the start, today’s was squarely in the centre, a little stretch of mature beach forest which meets the river at Henllan.

I picked my way over rocks and clumps of wood rush, trying to avoid treading on the mass of sprouting snowdrops to watch the water being forced at high-pressure through the rocks.

I didn’t see any kingfishers, but a dog walker told me that there are plenty around, and a resident heron. There may be kingfishers to see tomorrow at the bridge south of Cenarth, she told me. It would be a great injustice if I travelled the whole length of an entire river without seeing a single one!

Counterintuitively, at the bridge the road doubled back on itself. To avoid the 4 km trek into Newcastle Emlyn, the path takes a wide berth, and another high one, too. Off the road, up I climbed one more, scuffing through crunchy oak leaves, which here were mixed liberally with bits of moss which blackbirds and wrens have started to pull out of the banks with their beaks for their nests.

The track was another one of these long ones that tunnels their way for hours, being the old ways of linking up small towns on foot. Someone has done a basic clearing job of them, but it’s going to be much needed again come the summer. There was an endless procession of gates up the steep slope: a well-hung gate is a thing of joy forever, and it’s loveliness increases in comparison to those gates which need to be dragged out of the turf they are buried in, or with spring bolts which are rusted shut, or which are tied with bailertwine on both sides and hang precipitously above you as you approach from below on this bedratted slope, so you have to take their whole weight, as well as struggling with their opening and closing mechanisms.

The track opened out onto a very muddy road with high hedges, contouring (thankfully) around the very top of the hill that the track had relentlessly climbed up. There was nothing to see, so I put on my audiobook.

In the end the road dropped off the edge of a cliff (or so it seemed to me, walking some of it backwards for the relief of toes and knees) and there was Newcastle Emlyn — which looked to have some interesting features such as (old) castle ruins, but there was no time to appreciate it. I needed to hotfoot it to Cenarth, focal destination, home of glorious waterfalls and interesting coracles — but no accommodation — before catching a bus back to Newcastle Emlyn, where there was a very luxurious B&B.

More tracks, up and again down, but time was so tight now I just briefly noticed now bedrock underfoot, then stones laid as cobbles, gnarled old oak branches seeming to tie themselves in knots around the track,

deep tricksy channels carved into the leaf-litter-covered shale mud underfoot, and this very fine and unusual dry stone wall:

I stumbled down into Cenarth with four minutes to go until the bus arrived, but where exactly it was to arrive, I didn’t know. I pretty much had resigned myself to having to take a taxi, when I realised I was actually standing right by the bus stop. I was elated. In a matter of a few minutes the bus dropped me almost outside the B&B. My legs and feet were in good nick, and I was feeling pretty terrific all round.

So all is well that ends well, except for the fact that I had seen nothing of Cenarth apart from the bus stop. The feature of today’s journey was supposed to be the falls there. I had seen fallen trees,

fallen rocks,

creeping soil and falling-down houses and gates — but had fallen in my own enterprise, as it were, at the last hurdle.

I must make sure to spend some proper time in Cenarth tomorrow morning, before setting off on the last leg of the journey. Where there are seagulls, there must be sea!

The hugest flock of gulls I have ever seen

Post Script: Animal encounters

‘My kingdom for a horse!’
(Except today, unlike yesterday, I didn’t need one)

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