TO the south-west of Bethesda an open moor rises towards the clouded heights of Elider Fawr and Mynedd Perfedd. It’s a wild place dotted with occasional ruins and sheepfolds and crossed by indistinct trackways . . .
The sheepfolds are intriguing because they resemble prehistoric burial sites. The walls – or fences – are fashioned from slender slate laths intertwined with wire. At the entrance to one is an old concrete structure that could be mistaken for a cist by people not unlike myself, though I suspect its true function is for dipping sheep.
JOHN 5: 1-3 After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water.
This is John’s tale of the sick man who has lain by the pool of Bethesda for 38 years and is told by Jesus to take up his bed and walk, which he dutifully does. Next to my pool on the moor there’s an old tin bath rusting away in the rushes. John doesn’t allude to this.
By the way, I have just discovered lamb oggies. Never heard of them? Lamb oggies are the Welsh equivalent of Cornish pasties and Scotch pies – short-crust pastry encasing minced lamb, leeks, potato, carrot, mint sauce and daffodils (just kidding on that last one). They are absolutely divine but probably very bad for your health. But so is work.
The Glyders are standing in heavy rolling clouds and a terrific wind cuts through my four layers of clothing. I’ve a swollen left knee which appeared to develop after yesterday’s incredibly steep descent off Pen yr Ole Wen – but it didn’t start swelling until after I’d eaten my first lamb oggie. Two lamb oggies later, my knee feels red hot and has increased in size. So because of the weather, and the swelling, and the fact I’ve got a long drive home tonight, I decide to give the summits a miss and save them for a better day.
I hobble across this empty moor and climb to a reservoir called Marchlyn Mawr. I discover, somewhat annoyingly, there is a road all the way up to it from the southern side – but the road doesn’t appear on my map because it’s twenty years out of date and the reservoir was enlarged and modernised about four years ago.
I gaze through the locked gates of two waterworks tunnels that disappear alluringly into the depths of the mountains. Strange and angry noises echo from within – probably caused by the distorted sounds of falling water echoing along concrete tunnels. But they might be caused by goblins. Either way, I want to push the gates open and go inside. If this makes me sound brave it’s because goblins aren’t real.
My mother told me tales about Penrhyn. Most mothers are content to entertain their children with stuff like Hansel and Gretal or Little Red Riding Hood, but I was raised on the intricacies of the European slate industry because my mother worked in the business. It was a real treat to visit her office and marvel at the tape spilling out of the Telex machine. We appreciated proper entertainment in those days.
What you see in the photographs is just the modern operation at Penrhyn – there is as much again beyond the hill. It’s an impressive place. If your house has purple slates on its roof, then this area is almost certainly where they came from. What do you mean, you don’t know what colour your roof is? For Christ’s sake, go and take a look. And if it’s slate, and if they’re purple, let me know.
I was going to tell you about the Penrhyn Lock-Out of 1900 to 1903, when 2,800 men walked out on strike and embarked on what was to become the longest industrial dispute in British history. But I’m not in the mood today. My knee’s still hurting.
I hobble back across the moor and pass the sheepfold. In a flash of inspiration, I dip my knee in the Bethesda sheep bath in search of a miracle cure. The swelling subsides immediately and the pain eases. I don’t expect you to believe this.
JOHN 5: 8-9 Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked.
So there you go. Miracle cure. Have you had a look at that roof yet?
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