Friday, August 31, 2012
Soar-y-mynydd and Llyne Brianne
The Soar-y-Mynydd chapel is often cited as the most remote in Wales. I'm not sure how that calculation is made, but it is certainly one of the most beautiful and makes for a fine pilgrimage when walking or cycling in the Green Desert of Wales - a Victorian description of the Cambrian Mountains which, in many ways, remains appropriate.
In describing Soar-y-Mynydd as beautiful, I'm defying convention: austere, would be equally apt; forbidding, not out of place. But then beauty comes in different forms. My neighbour is a stonemason who's indifferent to ornate carving but delights in the millimetre accuracy of cathedral pillars. He would like Soar-y-Mynydd, not for its stonework, but its simplicity: the symmetrical arrangement of the boxed pews, the lack of adornment, the sparse use of colour.
I like the windows too, tall with Gothic points inside a rounded arch, no stained glass. They remind me of my junior school, which is perhaps not surprising because the chapel was conjoined to one until it closed in the 1940s. To picture the community then is to imagine a lost world. Last weekend, three cars were parked on the drive; the information board says that in its heyday, sixty horses were regularly tethered on Sundays!
The landscape is transformed too. Down the hill is the Llyn Brianne reservoir, built in the Seventies to provide water for South Wales, it consumed the upper Tywi to near its meeting with the Doethie. Interestingly, I can't find a reference to the name of the valley before it was flooded (the river above it is the Camddwr, but perhaps it was just known as Tywi). An excellent local website says the reservoir is actually a misspelling of a minor tributary, the Nant y Bryniau (literally, the stream in the hills).
Above the waterline are the ubiquitous conifer forests that cover too much of the Cambrian Mountains. To be fair, the planting began long before the dam was constructed, and, of all the mid wales reservoirs, Llyn Brianne seems to blend more sensitively, even delightfully, into the hills. We walked a five-mile section last Sunday and saw redstarts, dragonflies, a tortoiseshell butterfly and a soaring buzzard - no kites at the dam, but they were there at the RSPB reserve below.
I first came to Llyn Brianne a month after moving to Wales, mistaking the mountain road as a potential easy option on a cycle tour. In the twenty years since I must have returned at least once each year, often more. Reflecting last weekend, I realised its become central to my image and understanding of this part of Wales. And it's full of good memories too - of nights in the Dolgoch hostel, of backpacking with my boys, cycling the Tregaron road - of my friends kayaking the overspill on the dam (an activity now banned).
And of Soar-y-Mynydd too. I have no religious faith, but if I did, I think I'd be 'chapel' not 'church'. So it's good to know the pews are still used - and sometimes even filled. For Soar-y-Mynydd has become an oasis in the desert - parishioners travel miles to attend its services, and evidently, preachers consider it a great honour to be invited. A friend told me they are all firebrands, bible-bashers of the old school. I like the thought of them ranting as the rain hammers the windows and the Avon Camwddwr runs brackish and inextricably towards the dam.