We agreed that we wouldn’t need much. We would only be away three nights, after all, but then the weather could go either way and walking these days is not simply a case of wearing a coat and a pair of boots.
We seemed to be kitting up for the arctic, and we’re nothing like as labelled as we could be. In addition to our regular clothes, there were four sets of walking poles, fleeces and over-trousers, as well as the binoculars, camera, compass, map. So by the time we added in the laptop (there would be WiFi, after all) and the groceries that would perish before we got back, the boot was crammed.
It is an ambition of mine to travel light, to be the kind of person who carries one small back-pack for their holiday. The trouble is, I can never be certain what the essentials are until the holiday is over.
It’s the same with writing. Sometimes I know exactly what I’m going to say and can keep myself to the point easily. More usually, I don’t keep to the idea I started out with, and it’s not until I find an ending that I can go back through my writing and see which segments I don’t need.
I’m not a planner, you see. Even with holidays I tend to have only a rough idea of what I would like to do while we’re away. We probably don’t get the most out of our time, but we often find unexpected gems that way.
Take Llandovery, for instance.
We’d already had lunch out, so we were only looking to pick up a few things for a snack tea. Which should have been simple, but by the time we’d meandered across The Black Mountain, frequently stopping to admire the view, most of the shops we passed were closed. What we needed, we realised, was a town, and Llandovery was near our route home.
It was busier than we expected, and smaller. The main route through was a twisting street, lined with painted houses, cafes and little shops that passed by too quickly to take in. It was the wrong time of day for indecisive tourists. Working people were trying to get home.
We turned a corner for the car park and the view changed from dumpy houses to castle ruins. The pay-and-display, black tarmac and white lines, butts up to two sides of the steep grassy mound that was the base of Llandovery castle.
I hadn’t done my research, I was not expecting the broken boulder wall, let alone the shining white Knight standing guard over the car-park. It was a simple outline of a figure, without face or body. In fact, to compile the components is to list helmet, cloak, sword, spear and shield.
What it was, of course is art. Something far harder to pin down. A story, we are told is a beginning, a middle and an end. The art is in finding the right place to begin it, building it with just enough words to settle an image, and then stopping it in the place that creates the greatest resonance in the reader.
Sometimes it’s fascinating to see the minutely accurate features of our history. Realistic representations of life have their own artistic merit. But, it’s worth thinking about what happens when we leave some things out.
Could that monument have had such a powerful effect on me if the artist had created form and feature for Llewelyn ap Gruffyd Fychan?