First day: a day on the road from Cardiff to Lake Bala. Sunshine and promise ahead, beautiful green hills turning into lushly pastured mountains as the route enters North Wales. Arrival late afternoon. The farm is on steep sloping ground at the end of a stony track, winding between walls of trimmed brambles and branches. The “tent”: a brown canvas-walled cabin with a polished wood floor. The entrance flaps are open wide, giving view across the lake to farmland that rises to hills and rises further to a flat-topped massif.
The farmer Ll is there to meet you with her daughter M. They introduce you to these: the wood-stove that squats at the centre of the tent with a chimney pipe passing through the white ceiling drapes; the wheelbarrow you use to ferry fuel from the woodshed; the basin and metal tap spurting sweet cold water straight from a spring. The flushing toilet bowl in a closet behind a wooden door; the candles and lanterns; the hefty wooden cool box, painted black inside; the dining table, a great sturdy rectangle of varnished beams; the white-sheet duvet-covered double bed.
There are hours of daylight ahead. Wood is chopped for the stove, eggs pinched from the hen house, a dinner of sausages and potatoes.
One other family in residence, their children the same ages as yours. A band of happy sprites quickly forms. They romp in the field, harry and pet the lambs grazing in front of the tents.
Turning in for sleep at around 11pm. A bar of blue still radiating daylight from beyond the distant peaks.
of cloven hooves: the lamb’s
Second day: the farmer leads a tour of the territory. Tells the legend of Llyn Tegid’s creation: a cruel king, a harp-playing minstrel from over the hills, a feast, the robin that leads the minstrel to high ground and lulls him to sleep, the deluge that floods the valley and castle.
All the kids are dragooned into duty as mini sheepdogs, herding an errant mob of ewes and lambs from one pasture into another. They play on rope-and-tyre swings hanging from a bough, and feed quarters of apple to two shaggy donkeys. In the afternoon you fill an inflatable paddling pool with cold spring water. They splash in and out deliriously.
Crossing the stream
in wellies that are just
Third day: “We’re going on a bear hunt, we’re going to catch a big one. What a beautiful day, we’re not scared…” In fact the farm’s enormous wandering pig was designated prey. The pig eluded you but the trek went on, amid stunning sunshiny views of the lake and surrounding hills. There was one hushed traverse of a sloping field inhabited by a black bull. The trail came out by the B-road and finally you cut through a steep sweeping meadow of swishy-swashy grass to the dapper little railway station at the edge of the village.
After lunch in the pub, a 30-minute chug by narrow-gauge steam train to the other end of the lake. N and I gaping out the open windows, choc-ices dripping.
A midnight glow
north and west this
Fourth day: At Bala you rent a four-seater canoe of moulded green polyurethane. Paddle out against the wavelets until you find a tiny secluded beach among the tree-branch overhangs. Drag the canoe ashore. Picnic there on bread with cheese and peanut butter. Skim stones and paddle.
Later, a spell on the wide pebble beach at the foot of the hill beneath the farm. The children in water-wings and pint-sized wetsuits.
Late afternoon back at the tents, the kids are up to their necks in tall feathery grass. A cerise haze with bright buttercups in the second tier and a mixture of white and raspberry colour flowers at ground level. A dreamy image, the kind poets and painters have attuned you to.
With a scrape
you’re ashore, a beach
of pebbled slate
Fifth day: Rain. Drive to Harlech Castle, a fine ruin on a crag overlooking the sea. Its walls and towers still imposing. A pause in the rain long enough for a promenade through Portmeirion. Said N gleefully: this is a weird village!
Returned to the farm exhausted. Fried sausages on the wood stove.
unscrolls on wet
Sixth day: Windy start to the day, rain in harmless gusts. You fly a kite with the kids then patrol alone to the top of the hill against which the farm rests. Way up beyond where the sheep graze, to a zone of boggy moorland with views across the full length of the lake. Stepping back over the prow, the fields are arrayed in crazy patchwork far below. You have the illusion you are a giant striding across the hilltops.
In the afternoon, a wood-chopping mission with the kids turns into an impromptu stream-tracing expedition. On the way back you stop in the pouring rain to watch the old farmer, Ll’s father, shear lamb tails. His son-in-law is on hand with an old fur-matted sheepdog named Toggle. At an unheard signal the dog flies across a metal gate into the main enclosure and drives 30-odd sheep through another gate into a tight corral. He works in silence and at speed, and finishes in moments. Then he flies back across the gate and resumes the prone position on the other side of the fence, lolling wolfishly at the sheep.
You are bantering with the children, hand-in-hand and heading down the track towards the tents. Their ma comes up the hill to meet you all with an extra umbrella. To be alive on such a rainy day. Bliss.
Hamburgers and thick soup for dinner. The sky clears up during the long evening and the sun appears in time to set.
Edge of the field
and low to the ground
a streak of black fur
Seventh day: heavy rain in the night, a dramatic thrumming in phases. Several times you woke, glad to be in a robust and largely leak-proof structure.
A visit to the tunnelled-out slate mountain packaged for tourists as King Arthur’s Labyrinth was foiled by flooding. You carried on down the valley to the Centre for Alternative Technology with your neighbours from the farm. The kids ran wild, other than Didi who was dopey and feeling unwell.
Back to the farm by a narrow road over the hills, crossing the ridgeline at a 545m pass called Bwlch y Groes. A stark landscape, rolling terrain of peaty moorland devoid even of sheep.
A bonfire in the evening with the neighbours, under slanting rays of sunlight. The kids rode off with Ll on the back of her quad bike to scavenge firewood from the perimeters of the farm.
always. Could you
Eighth day: packing belongings and sweeping out the tent. Another quad bike ride. Another go on the tyre swing. Farewells to the neighbours. Farewells from Ll and her father.
The journey home to Cardiff drawn out with a compensatory visit to the Labyrinth tunnels and a mid-afternoon stop at a café with rabbit village attached. In mid-Wales, lightning then a rainstorm of biblical proportions. Wipers battling hopelessly against the torrent. Muddy streams wheel-arch deep across many stretches of the road.
“Just down there…
on the farm where I