A journey from the south of Scotland, through England, to Wales
A valley near the English border -
the hills are steep and treeless here
and the valley – knife-edge narrow.
It's clear it is a trap, and you walk on
into the history that waits for you,
as it idly tinkers with its chains.
Having come through the knife-edge thin valley unscathed, the train hurtles through the more rounded slopes of the Lake District. Embankments topped with birch trees, birch icing, pale green birch vermicelli. There's something almost subversive about this speed, having got off the bus and launched myself into the train station at Carlisle just as the train pulled in. Did it pull in? No, it slid in like a trimmed red feather, light so light on its tracks, a hissing, faintly quivering feather, propelled by a mixture of total attachment to rails and laughter of that inconsequential kind, when someone will evade deep seriousness as if you wanted something from them, call it his attention or the coins jingling in his pocket, or a pound of flesh, and he sees no reason why he should give you copper coins or the time of day, so he laughs, and slips out of your hands.
With this kind of laughter, and its love of rails, the train speeds on. The sky is fat wads of stained lint, the grubby marks of soot and grime, teastains and sweat marks dabbed under cloud arms, foodstains on aprons over their rotund, protruding bellies. Warnings and wagging fingers from their wriggling feathery extremities.
Then it's all gone, all brooding egg, coffee and winestains all gone, in the quick-as-a-flash laundromat, aka god's testing sites for new stars, in the wipe-it-clean galaxy. Those quick as the speed of light, he places lovingly in a new galaxy – those who require more training, he sends out as celestial chimney sweeps. Cloud-cleaning, star-dusting, planet-polishers.
Gnawing history is left behind in a rugged, rural place, as we glide into the plains of the industrialized area of the Midlands. Forget nightingales, as we approach Lancaster mills; forget the hauntings of history – the bleak atmosphere of these near-bald cut-out valleys, where an ambush waits around the corner, each time you pass through. But on this smooth passageway, with its minor gossiping, clunking and rattling of rails, we are all glad to leave the brooding valleys, go out into the open plain, where everything is green in this assault of leaves and blossoms – white, pale pink and deep pink against brick-red sienna buildings.
The sky disperses into an almost-even grey, with a seam of light at the horizon as if seen through an open window. The small, pale leaves are motionless but you almost feel them quiver in anticipation of the storm.
The Fortified Town
From Llandudno Junction
the path is signposted to Conwy -
its castle and enclosing walls
forming an enceinte in the French style -
Edward I of England, also Duke of Burgundy,
copied the French hilltop fortresses,
dominion dripping from each turret,
reinforced against the pesky Welsh
who, everybody knew,
had scales beneath their ragged clothes,
not skin, like all descendants
of the Norman kings
who seized the throne in both hands,
carrying it with them, to make sure
it stayed within their grasp.
Welsh dragons, mutters Edward,
fitting his arrow to a vent in the thick wall,
aiming – missing his target -