There are places that remain in our memories, the details may become slightly blurred, nostalgia may colour our thoughts, but they don’t fade. And how those places made us feel at the time is the one thing that remains.
Today I am thrilled to welcome Juliet Greenwood, a friend for many years, and a brilliant writer. Juliet is sharing her special memories Llyn Idwal, a lake near Snowdon in Wales.
I have so many places in my memory that remain vivid over time. The one I have chosen has been familiar since childhood, and is one I hope to visit again very soon. Oddly enough, it’s less than six miles from my cottage in Snowdonia, but because it was just outside our five-mile range from home during the pandemic lockdowns, and since these have eased I’ve had a puppy whose joints need protecting, I haven’t been there since 2019. It’s a place that’s both private and very public, both accessible and isolated, and one that is filled with atmosphere, images and stories.
The place is Llyn Idwal, a small, beautifully clear, lake that lies a short walk up from the main A5 road between the university city of Bangor, on the coast, and Snowdon itself. During the day, and particularly in summer, it is popular with tourists from all over the world. But if, like me, you live only a few minutes away by car, it’s still possible to arrive at first light, when it’s almost completely isolated, with just the occasional serious climber heading out for a day on the surrounding peaks of Tryfan, the Glyders and Y Garn.
Being surrounded by high mountains, the light and the colours caught in the lake’s waters are constantly shifting, caught within a huge silent bowl, sometimes utterly still, with a sense of vast space and silence, at other times savage with wind and rain. At the far end is a cleft in the rock called the Devil’s Kitchen. I can remember my imagination being fired as a child by the stories that, when cloud rises up like smoke above the kitchen, you know the devil is cooking up his tea. It’s always a reminder of the uncontrolled and (if you are not careful and treat the landscape with respect) perilous wildness of the mountains, where, from the tops, you can see the train chugging away, taking visitors up Snowdon, or look down on the sea and mountains stretching out into the distance, and feel your own smallness and insignificance.
My favourite memories are of those occasional calm and cloudless mornings, when the lake itself is utterly still, with occasional ripples from the breeze. Especially in the silent clarity of first light, it has a mournful air that perfectly reflects the legend of Prince Idwal being drowned in the lake by his enemies, and the saying that no bird has since flown over its waters. There’s a feeling of being in a true wilderness there, a place to breath in clean air, clear the mind and put troubles into perspective. As a writer, it’s also the perfect place to work out particularly knotty plot lines. Not that you can concentrate on anything but watching your feet and drinking in the atmosphere, but I usually find that the mind has been quietly working underneath while the body has been doing its thing, and the solution is there once I arrive home, tired but exhilarated and desperate for toast and a strong pot of coffee.
It’s one of those place I’ve always taken for granted. The last time I went up, on a crystal clear late autumn morning in 2019, I – like everyone else I met on the way down, cheerful and friendly, and enjoying this accessible piece of wild beauty – had no idea how life was about to change. Where I walk my dog each morning nearly my house, I can see the mountains surrounding Llyn Idwal. It was a weird feeling during the pandemic to have them so close, and yet forbidden. Similarly, there was an even stranger conflict of the idyllic quiet of a landscape devoid of tourists, which now belonged only to those of us who live here, and the frightening events of the world outside.
In this vast landscape of the mountains, there was a glimpse of a world without human beings, the birds louder, the seasons quietly turning without us. When my car battery went flat (the only thing he was called out to, during lockdown, the recovery man told me wryly), I drove up the valley to recharge it, turning round as I reached the entrance to Llyn Idwal and the edges of my permitted range. I couldn’t resist stopping briefly and winding down the windows. Despite not daring to turn the engine off in case I couldn’t start it again (the mortification!), the silence and the stillness was overwhelming. Unnerving, even, like a post-apocalyptic world. For all my longing to be there after so many months, and the frustration of being so close to the lake, I hastily dashed back to the busy throng of my characters, with all their noisy troubles and conflicts.
I have so many memories of Llyn Idwal, going up as a small child, and in all weathers as an adult. It will be strange going back after the intensity of the time since I was last there. Like most of us, I’m still processing the emotions of the pandemic, and I shall have sad, as well as joyful, memories of the beloved four-legged walking companion who adored it up there, and whose time came to an end before we could go again. But I shall also have my new little walking companion, who will be deliriously discovering a new world (we’ve already had the conversation about sheep). And I’ll be remembering that, in the meantime, I’ve had another two books published, with a third completed, and now on its way to being published this May, and just how amazing that is – something you forget when you are in the middle of it all!
I know that when I so go back to Llyn Idwal, I’ll wait for one of those brilliantly magical early mornings, when I can get up there at dawn, and savour the stillness and the sense of isolation, before returning down amongst the walkers making their way up, exchanging greetings, as people (and dogs) in the mountains do, and sharing the beauty of the day and the privilege of sharing this very special place. And then I shall return to my desk and corral my Shakespeare sisters into doing what I tell them, rather than heading off on a tangent. I shall fail, of course (characters always do their own thing), which may well require another dawn adventure to the calming waters of Llyn Idwal….
Bio and Links
Juliet Greenwood is a historical novelist, whose latest novel, The Shakespeare Sisters, set near Stratford-upon-Avon during WW2, will be published in May 2023 with Storm Publishing. She has previously been published by Orion and Honno Press, with her first novel being a finalist for The People’s Book Prize and two of her books reaching the top 5 in the UK Kindle store. She has always been a bookworm and a storyteller, writing her first novel (a sweeping historical epic) at the age of ten. Juliet is fascinated both by her Celtic heritage and the history of the women in her family. She now lives in a traditional cottage in Snowdonia, North Wales, set between the mountains and the sea, with an overgrown garden (good for insects!) and a surprisingly successful grapevine.
Amazon page: https://amzn.to/3GH74Mw