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Tirluniau Hanesyddol

Historic  Landscapes 
Ymgyrch Diogelu Cymru Wledig

Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales

by Martin Wright  

In central Wales there is a vast area of upland still known to some by the ancient name of Elenydd.

 For many years the only mountain stronghold of the Red Kite, it forms one of the most profound geographical and cultural watersheds of this small country. To the north lies the slumbering sodden land mass of Pumlumon, to the south the militarised wasteland of Epynt. The east of this little-known mountain range dips into the splendour of the Wye valley and the English speaking Borders, while the west dissolves into the Welsh speaking heartland of Ceredigion. Within this quadrangle undulates (what some people call) the green desert of Wales, a landscape of fine curves and timeless presence.

This is not a landscape of the grand pattern like Snowdonia, but a canvas of dramatic understatement and emptiness.

Ardal Nant y Moch, rhan o Elennydd.
Crown Copyright: RCAHMW

Stand upon the empty tops of the Elenydd and you will feel as close to being at sea as it is possible to feel in the middle of a range of hills. Walk amongst the Teifi Pools and take in the crumbling columns of Cambrian shale separating the glistening slithers of water. All around is open hill country, beckoning you onwards along its subtle curves, intense in its loneliness, priceless in its elemental beauty and of enormous consolation in this troubled world, and on the high ground 

Between lrfon and Camddwr you are as far away 
As you will ever be from the world's madness

The emptiness of these hills belies the human activity that has always gone on here. Fragments of sessile oak woodland nestling in some of the remote valleys hint at a much larger vanished woodland regime which once dominated the area, and remind us of just how man-made the green desert really is. Much of the tree cover had probably gone by the time that ancient people built the cairns and standing stones which still occasionally break the uplan product, its underlying form always tangible through the tussocks and blades of grass in which it is clothed. Within its folds resonate the echoes of busier times: deserted mine buildings reclaimed by nature, ancient tracks, shepherds' folds, empty chapels and scattered farmhouses,d plateau. What exists now is a landscape closely cropped by the sheep that have become its staple

The loneliest it is said, even in this land
 Of lonely places

The last century or so has seen dramatic changes in this otherwise timeless landscape. In the 1890s the reservoir builders of Birmingham Corporation dammed and flooded the Elan Valley in the heart of the region. Further valleys followed: Claerwen, Nant y Moch and the upper Tywi by the 1970s. With the reservoirs came roads, and the deluged lands were strangely reborn as tourist attractions, not without their own beauty.

It is a sharply contrasting experience to follow the medieval Monk's Trod from Ystrad Fflur over to the Elan Valley on a summer day. After hours of solitude you will most likely descend to Pont Elan to find encampments of car- bound picnickers from Birmingham marvelling at the source of their drinking water. Follow them downstream and you will arrive at the Elan dams, magnificent examples of Victorian gothic architecture and now, despite their outrageous presumption, almost as much a part of the place as the cairns on Drygarn or Pumlumon Fawr.

The foresters too left their mark in the twentieth century. Uniform expanses of conifer have spread across the southern and northern Elenydd since the last war, their sharp lines and brash all-season colours invading the elliptical subtlety of the empty hillsides. Further roads have been driven up hitherto inaccessible valleys, and quick growing conifers have rapidly obscured other traces of the land and the past here. Yet even within the conifer plantations it is common to fall upon some wonder of nature, a hidden waterfall or a majestic bird of prey, and to feel the sense profound connection which we seek here. But walk through the heart of the Elenydd, and look east,

 Flying from madness, maybe we bring it with us

A legion of steel towers and whirling blades gives grim warning of things to come. The wind turbines of Llandinam and Bryn Title dominate the formerly open Montgomeryshire hills. Stand on top of Pumlumon Fawr and you will see over 250 of these machines, encroaching ever more upon the "conveniently empty scenery". The northern Elenydd itself is now directly threatened by the construction of Europe's largest wind power station yet proposed on the heather clad humps of Cefn Croes and Pen y Garn, home to the rare Black Grouse. Should it be built, along with its associated paraphernalia of power lines, roads and sub stations, Wales will have lost an essential part of itself.

Lines of poetry from "Above Tregaron" by Harri Webb.

Martin Wright lives and works in mid Wales. He works at the University of Wales Centre for Continuing Education in Aberystwyth and spends much of his spare time wandering the Welsh hills. He is an Executive Committee member of CPRW's Ceredigion Branch.

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