Illuminations: An Anthology of Welsh Short Prose

By Meic Stephens | Go to book overview

To the Mountain

Ifor Williams

I don't know whether you have ever noticed the way a shepherd walks. I mean a mountain shepherd, not a farmer from the valley floor, nor his labourers either, but an old shepherd from the hills as he walks along the road behind a flock of sheep. He always walks with short, quick steps, in a sort of trot which is typical of his occupation, and he can keep at it all day long. The reason, of course, is that all his life he's had to walk for miles on the steep slopes, and no man rushes up them. Small steps are best for climbing. On the side of a mountain the long-legged man has no advantage over the short-legged.

I too was brought up in a district where there were more inclines than flat places, and for various reasons that I needn't go into now, my stride is short. I never had the privilege of raising sheep, but I know quite a bit about walking the mountains of my native patch. Not that I'm a climber of rocks, mind you. For that kind of work your arms and legs have to be long, in order to reach each gripping- place, and to climb step by step, and I wasn't cut out to be stretched like that. But in days gone by I was capable of spending the whole day on the high mountains, revelling in the light cool breeze on the upper slopes and, on reaching the summit, enjoying the splendour of the view on every side, by land and sea, and particularly the terrific wildness of Snowdonia; that was the main thing as far as I was concerned the wildness. There's an incomparable beauty to be seen sometimes on a clear day, apart from jagged rocks and bare valleys. You can see fertile vales, green woods and fields in the distance, streams, rivers, and lakes shining glassily in the hollows. Here and there you catch a glimpse of the Menai Straits, and Anglesey, 'the imperious isle', surrounded by its deep blue waters. Nevertheless, what most remains in my memory are the vast lonely places that stretch in every direction, the mountain terrain itself, the waste wilderness, the wild wasteland. That's what strikes a man most. And for that impression, it's best to climb on your own. Climbing to the top of Snowdon with a crowd of other people holds no appeal for me. A jolly crowd is somehow out of place on the summit of a

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