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Letter from Llanrwst

07 Jan 2024 6 minute read
Photo: Seren Medi Ashton

Seren Medi Ashton

Eight thirty, eight thirty, 8:30…every morning my heart speeds up and my breath gets shallow as we career towards this deadline. We shout out checklists and locations in our heads or at one another.



“Under the chair!”

And then the final, pleading command:

“We have to leave….NOW!”.

I turn the key in the lock and breathe out. Not a big sigh, but a slow release of air through pursed lips and let my head drop. Left the house. Tick.

I scuttle along the pavement, bag slipping off my shoulder, hood blowing off, dodging dog poo and evidence that someone, somewhere is lying in bed dehydrated with a headache. Words ricochet around my head: Keys. Phone. Milk.

As we pass the sorting office the posties manoeuvre their fleet of roll cadges, vans and lorry like some life sized game of Rush Hour.

We get to the Square and say our ‘goodbye’s and ‘love you’s’ outside Spar. I pop in to pick up the newspapers for work. Stepping out I press the button at the pedestrian crossing.

Then, as I always do, I look up at the clock tower with its Eagle high up in the wind keeping sentinel over the town. What time is it? Can I go left? Or do I have to go right?

Today is a left day. I love a left day.

Photo: Seren Medi Ashton

I teeter along that narrow bit between the road and Caffi Contessa and wave to the person prepping the coffee machine for the day. Soon, the windows will be condensed by cooking and hot drinks and laughter. Later, children will wipe little rainbows in the steam to peep out.

I stride now, my head lifts and looks to the forest beyond. A wall of coniferous trees forcing my eyes all the way up to the sky. A deeper breath. I pass the traffic jammed to let a school coach navigate the sharp corner and a delivery van to swing out and take the turn onto the bridge. Pont Fawr. Where you’re as likely to reverse as to move forward.

I turn away from the bridge and skip down the steps to the flagstones of the riverside walk. A few steps past the bench, blackbirds eyeball me from the ivy covering the wall rising up to The Eagles and St Grwst, I get to my favourite flagstone and stop.

A different check list. First the little sliver of hills visible beyond Gwydir Forest. Yes they are still there. And therefore, beyond that, my cynefin. The cradle that lies between the Glyderau and the Carneddau. Out of sight. But not out of reach. An expulsion of breath and then my lungs fill up so much that my collarbones click as they shift to make room.

My eyes drift down and rest on the forest. Deciduous colours are splattered across the dark canvas and a hanging mist glints in the sun like a giant cobweb covered in dew pierced in places by conifers so green they’re blue. The sight uplifts me so much that I soar inside.

At my feet, the river. Afon Conwy. From where I’m paused it’s framed in triptych by the arches of Bont Fawr and its full stop in Tu Hwnt i’r Bont.

I always see memories in this picture first; my children as toddlers paddling in the shallows with ice cream melting down their fists or, older, skimming stones from the pebble beach or, older still, swimming in the deeper pools up river beyond the bridge:

“Mam, Mam look at me”

An underwater handstand, or a jump from an inflatable or a perfect sprint of front crawl.

Mallard spotting. Photo: Seren Medi Ashton

Then my eyes clear to what is actually there. A mallard family swarming across in the hope I have bread to scatter. Then the swans. Then the seagulls arrive above.

I take some photos on my phone and send them to my friends. Mindfulness Commute I always title them. I don’t know if they’re met with a smile or an eye roll.

Mountain. Forest. River. Tick.

Little egret by Bfüden on Pixabay

I tread aside for a dog walker. I always find myself in places where everyone else has a dog. So much so I’ve almost invented an imaginary one. But then I remind myself that I can take myself here, I don’t need a dog to lead me.

The flagstones reach Afon Bach, a little bridge, and then a wider concrete path that winds the rest of the way. I glance across and down river to where the heron stands waiting for its breakfast.

It reminds me of the egret and the first time we saw it with its exotic head plume. My children asked me what it was and I realised I didn’t know. Nature still stunning me even after forty or so years of living in roughly the same, seemingly small, place.

I glance at my watch and speed up a little. I march past the information board at the end of the path which informs me that, like the egret and heron, cormorants, river eels, voles and kingfishers have long since made here their home, as I have.

We just have different routines.

I bound up the steps to arrive at Glasdir car park and push the envy at the sight of campervans and walkers away. They’ll have their day today, I must be patient for mine. And head across the car park to work.

Behind work I glimpse my house. I’ve come full circle. I could have one of the shortest commutes in the world: not even a minute door to door.

But where’s the fun in that.

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