Rural Wales: a remote and wild place. Hills surround me, green, bulbous mounds: sometimes it feels like I’m living in a giant cabbage. Many of the hilltops are crowned with old hill forts, and some of the earthworks remain. Iron age people lived on these bare summits, in simple enclosures. They probably kept cattle, and were endlessly vigilant. The Romans were coming, and the Anglo-Saxons were on the next bus.
I go in a straight line up a hill. I get to the top, I look around. I find north, west, south, east. I see more hills on the far horizon, grey hills. I cannot see the ocean. I look for the hill forts and imagine those people, not so long ago, living their squalid lives.
They must have been cold, damp and dirty. They must have been hungry, deprived of a nearby Tesco. The nearest Pizza Express was in Rome! (Although, even then, they had plans for expansion).
Guess what? Nothing’s changed! I can’t order a take-away, I can’t pop to the supermarket. The hill forts disappeared two thousand years ago and no one moved in! They are still available. Not a good buy to let property, I grant you, but you won’t be inconvenienced by floods.
I’m up on the top of the hill, two thousand feet up, and the only house I can see is mine. There’s nothing else here.
What is notably missing is history. Two thousand years of invasion, empire building and exploration, Tudors, Stuarts, industrial revolution and space flight.
No evidence of it here. Except the occasional satellite drifting over.
And without obvious history it’s so easy just to make it all up. I imagine the Romans nosing into the valley, looking around, then screwing up their faces in disdain and going back the way they came. The Anglo-Saxons come rushing in, stop, listen to the wind howling across the mountain-tops, and run off, spooked. The Normans didn’t even bother. They built their stone castles to keep the Welsh in check. They weren’t going to live on a diet of turnips and mountain goat, they wanted the pastures of England, or whatever it was called back then.
So my history of Wales, certainly of rural Wales, is one of absences, of evasions, rather than invasions, although I’m sure many would disagree. Approach Wales from the east and the mountains loom up like a grim black tidal wave. Who’d want it?
Wales is the perfect vacuum for the imagination. It’s why I came here, from London, fifteen or so years ago. There is nothing here, plenty of it.
And look, climbing up the hill towards me, here come the Tregaron twins, with their large, hideous heads and jutting lower jaws. They are the last carriers of the Neanderthal gene. One of them stares up into the night sky. The other clicks on a torch to illuminate his watch.
There it is, brighter than Venus, sailing over in a silent, night-arc.
“Nine thirty,” says one of the twins. “It must be the International Space Station.”