The Clown's gig on Saturday was in Porthmadog; we were done there by mid-afternoon and took a winding route to Bangor through a corner of Snowdonia national park. It seems understated to use even the word stunning to describe the landscape in that part of Wales. I spent a formative part of my childhood in New Zealand, and I think I have spent all subsequent years dreaming of a place where the mountains meet the sea: Wales may be it. The road through Snowdonia was all painfully twisting corners, with lush valleys as an unexpected reward after the bends.
That evening we parked beside the Menai Strait to cook our dinner in the van, the lights of Anglesey (Môn) twinkling across the water. We were in the car park of a sailing club, and the wind rattling the rigging of the boats was the background music for our meal (pumpkin soup, lamb steaks and chips; a swig of scotch to wash it down, though not for the driver..). It might also have been the clink of weapons carried by the ghosts of Roman soldiers passing by in the darkness outside. Jan Morris, in her book on Wales, describes this place where the Druids of Celticism made their last stand:
The Romans entered Wales in about the year AD 50 and fought their way with difficulty towards this Celtic Berchtesgaden: not until AD 59 did they stand at last upon the Menai Strait...we do not know exactly where they made their crossing of the strait, which is nowhere more than a mile wide, but we do know just how they felt when, arriving upon its flat green shore and looking apprehensively over the water to the island beyond, they saw the Druids, their captains and their followers lined up on the oppostite bank. 'At this sight', says the historian Tacitus frankly, 'our soldiers were gripped by fear.'We live in more prosaic times: food in a muddy car park and then off to a travel lodge in highway services, rather than camping out in the van; probably a good idea judging by the howling gale that raged all that night.
Over the water it really was a fearful spectacle. The warriors were ranged along the water's edge 'like a forest of weapons'; the Druids stood with their heads raised to the sky, howling curses; and all around ran shrieking women, 'like furies', all in black, with hair wildly dishevelled and lighted torches in their hands. Even the Roman commanders, Tacitus tells us, hesitated before crossing the strait into such an apparent madhouse: but they were not the masters of Europe for nothing, and paddling across on rafts, swimming their horses, wading where it was shallow enough, the legionaries fell upon the Celts of Môn, slaughtering or capturing every one. All the holy altars of the Druids, all the magic groves of their culture were destroyed.
The Clown's gig on Sunday was in Bangor. We got a chance to wander down to the beach, which was littered with slabs and shards of slate. It wasn't raining, for a change, and the light was beautiful. I tried to take some photos. I'm working only with a poor quality camera on my mobile phone, though I quite like what it does to the colour and texture of the images. I left with pockets full of slate pieces and other beach-combing finds.
I've decided all my Christmas presents this year will be either scavenged or home-made.