Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Telling it on the Mountain

Although not my first experience of what is inaccurately described as the “supernatural” a meeting, extraordinary in retrospect, on a snow-blown mountainside in Wales is as clear in my mind today as it was then, nearly forty years ago.

Several of us from the Upper Remove of the King’s School, Worcester were taken for a long weekend camp at the Old Chapel in a long and lonely valley in south Wales. The valley was the Grwyne Fechan. Yes, I know that placename creates problems for non-Celtic readers, but please enjoy it, as that name was in place well before most cultures drew maps. With the exception of the Italians, Aztecs and the Greeks, of course, but as none of those groups have an historic foothold in the Welsh mountains, and do not speak Welsh, at least to our knowledge, they are both welcomed and then excused.

The two teachers responsible for our party were Mr. Cunningham and Dr. Cattermole. The Old Chapel, once a place of worship for rural Methodists, was and is an outdoor activity base for the school, owned by them since the 1960s, and is now a well equipped building that probably offers better facilities than some of the farmhouse B&Bs in the area. Not so in 1972.

You see there was no running water, and so the first task of any group arriving was to collect water from a fresh spring some five hundred metres up the hillside to the west of the chapel. I, together with Rick Mayall and Simon Curle, was dispatched - three water bearers, each of us carrying a plastic ten gallon container.

The conditions were near “white-out” but we were able to follow a rocky trail up the slope. I was in the lead, but as minutes went by I realized that the visibility was getting worse and I was unsure where the spring, and its sticking-out pipe was.

Then the man told me, “You’ve just passed it. It’s over there.” And he pointed to a rocky outcrop about twenty feet away. “Thanks,” I said. And stumbled over to the pipe. Rick was the next to arrive. “Who the f___ were you talking to, Tim?” “Just this guy who helped us out,” I said. And he looked at me in a weird way. “Yeah, really?” We carried the thirty gallons of water back to the camp.

About a year later, on a similar trip, I told this story to a mountain guide, a local ranger, who quizzed me about this man that I had met. All I could say was that he was not dressed for walking on the mountain, snow or no snow. The ranger then told me that I was one of dozens who, over many, many years, had possible seen a man who had died looking for a lost sheep in the hot summer of 1927.

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