It’s extremely grey here, in North Wales, the skies look like November yet the air is warm and humid.There are glimpses of blue on the horizon but they never seem to come close enough, and the heat and thunder of a fortnight ago seem very far away. The wind took out my washing line, yesterday but it’s not a problem because nothing will dry; it’s grey, green, dark and muggy, leaden with low cloud.
So it was good, the other day to visit Porth Nobla in pursuit of research with four retired friends, who are ‘citizen scientists’ and err (sorry guys) mostly, senior citizens. Co-coasting was like learning a new language of grids and coordinates while searching in rock pools for mussels, limpets, barnacles and periwinkles. Each had to be counted and noted, and we had to signify what percentage of the metre grid covered the rock pool. Each of us had an assigned task. Mine as the spare arm was to write a poem, which I’m working on.
We were not allowed to measure where the bladderwrack grew but had to look for saw wrack instead. It grows lower down the shore and is black. High tide and low tide suddenly assumed more significance than a simple paddle. The breeze was sharp, salty and filled with the tang of seaweed so that by the end of the afternoon we were cold but filled with the heady seaside mix of senses that leave the muscles limpid and full of well being, so it was hard not to stop eyelids closing.
A lone Oyster catcher tweeted warnings that we were clambering in his territory, while others bobbed on the tide which was quite high even though it had been on the turn. The rockpools were surprisingly warm around our crock-clad feet. Ruby sea anemones stretched their tentacles langurously in the deeper pools while the bladderwrack had a life of its own – almost sinister in the way it floated and curved greenly yet protective of the sealife beneath. We crouched, clambered, measured, counted in the sea breeze, alternately sure footed then slippy, held periwinkles and counted them like childhood treasure. I was told that limpets surround their food source, so that it gradually dissolves and absorbs its food source. Shells a source of delight and decoration have an inner life of their own! And I now know why a limpet on a rock is a metaphor for stubborness!
Optimistically, I took my swimwear but my neighbour’s gleeful prediction of rain at 3pm was almost accurate — it rained by 2pm.The opening to Barclodiad y Gawres was visible from where we sat with a picnic afternoon tea in the rain and sipping freshly brewed tea wearing anoraks and coats.
The Giantess’s Apron is one of those places where the air is thin between the past and present and while much damage was done when its was used as a quarry the giantess still has a presence and retains her sense of significance. Perhaps it’s the wide,now concreted, mouth of the passageway that you know leads to the ritual chamber and the burial places, or the fact that limpet shells were used to extinguish fires; perhaps it is because the rock art is unique: facts easily found in a google search, or learned on various school trips. But it could be none of these things, and it was easy to wonder who people were and wonder what their thoughts were as they gazed seawards, gathering limpet shells.
I’ve turned this into a prose poem because of the difficulty getting single line breaks
After Barclodiad y Gawres by Mary Lloyd Jones
The puzzle of the dead that the living figure. Swimming in the earth ocean,the ancient dead are washed by tides of stone. They were wrapped in brethyn – homespun.Now they are stitched on canvas like cotton runes – a pure hued palate scored on the bryniau, where once,the dead looked down. Each gam stitch knits fragments of ash and bone in a remnant of cloth. Stretched on the rack, ancestors are resurrected in acruciform womb; the fabric a labour of love. Reverenced, their parts stand for the whole reassembled beneath the capstone cremation chamber.
Copyright Anne Phillips 2016