Now that the days are getting colder and the world is turning browner, I close my eyes and see the green, green hills of Wales, dotted with sheep and divided by low stone fences decorating the landscape like stitching on a quilt. The sheep keep the hills cropped close and clover keeps them brightly emerald.
Although the air is clear, it hints of mist, adding mystery to the ancient landscape.
It is breathtakingly beautiful; abandoned castles and fortresses are common, venerable trees are magnets for the eye, and the gardens are stunning: plants placed against stone walls and low divisions; arbours and changing levels; water features and green lawns dotted with statuary are exotic to Canadian viewers.
Hydrangeas of every colour grow like weeds, taken for granted and used as backdrop shrubs surrounding parking lots and farmyards. The giant flowers vary from bright blue to violet to magenta and wine, some fading to green or standing out in white or burgundy.
Espaliered fruit trees, thick with apples and pears and apricots cover brick garden walls. There are medlar trees, those beige-fruited trees that predate the apple as the eaten fruit. Everywhere is the evidence of the tree pruner’s art. Cedars and boxwood are trimmed to perfection. Yews are large and luxurious. In one garden, there was a variegated pagoda dogwood that stood out beacon-like in the morning mist.
Ancient stone and slate, quarried at the expense of many lungs, provide the hard features that are such an important part of the landscape in any garden. There were even slate fences in one part of the country.
Still, it is a different picture that springs to mind as I look back, not seeing a particular garden, although there are achingly lovely gardens etched in my mind forever. It is not the house and garden that Queen Victoria once owned, nor is it the garden that inspired Beatrix Potter.
This picture is of a sea wall at Aberaeron, where I took a foot-weary walk by myself after a long day of touring. It was early evening; the shops were closing and overhead you could hear the seagulls call. A few couples were taking desultory strolls, some hand-in-hand, along the wall, but it was a quiet time. The little inland harbour was filled with resting boats, only the sound of their anchor ropes creaking and squawking broke the stillness as they drifted gently on the out going tide.
Then I saw two children with an elderly couple clamber over the wall, and pick their way down the rocks to the beach; looking for something? Or just for the sheer adventure of it all. The children, a boy and a girl of about five or six years old, maneuvered the rocks with great confidence; granddad and granny, with a little more hesitance, but they followed the kids quite gamely, granny, in her white trench coat, quite a ways behind.
There was quiet happiness in their careful movements and perhaps it was infectious because a feeling of well being overcame me, something that I always seem to encounter on the Atlantic (although not on the Pacific), even in Canada.
Across the bay, the tower of an old church pierced the air. It drew me on and I discovered a humpbacked bridge over the river leading to the harbour and taking me back to the main shopping street, now closed and quiet as the sun sank lower in the sky. I ambled happily home to the Feathers Royal Hotel, past the rows of coloured houses and their genteel door knockers and lace curtains. I felt a curious oneness with the town and its unseen people.
Moments like these moments are etched against the backdrop of loveliness that is the country. They will keep me warm through the long cold nights of the coming winter.
Wales has character along with gardens and it is too often overlooked as a destination in favour of Ireland or Scotland. Too bad. Keep it in mind for a beautiful tour if you have and appreciation for lovely landscapes steeped in history.