Caught by the River

Reasoning Wye

21st August 2008

by Richard King

Some people – actually almost everyone – I know, treat their birthday as an opportunity to find out what would happen if you crossed a wedding with a wake, usually in the space of about three and a half hours.

As an only child born at the height of Summer my birthdays have happily always been pretty lugubrious almost non-existent affairs. As well as falling in the middle of the holidays a great friend of mine and I share the same date. She’s one of these let’s have a party that will never live up to expectations types. My adult life has either been spent avoiding, diffusing or ignoring her plans. So imagine my disquiet last month when I noticed some atypical behaviour on my wife’s part as she started fielding calls from some friends and mentioning the date in question.

In anticipation of a get together I put a shoulder of Wynn the mole catcher’s Old Spot in the crock and administered it with a cure composed largely of his own farmhouse cider. Twm’s Tipple as Wynn calls it is named after Twm Tobacco a local 17th century ne’er do well. Tinker, itinerant, drunkard, packman, sheep rustler, gadabout, tobacco salesman; Twm, perhaps unsurprisingly, died in mysterious circumstances on Llanbedr Hill. But spend an evening in the Erwood Inn and you’ll begin to wonder just how large and extended Twm’s family must have been.

Twm’s deviant spirit certainly lives on in his namesake cider. This laudanum in apple form has its own distinct slow motion kick. Pretty much a cross between the filters off, its-all-possible-don’t argue-just-keep-going purposefulness of pink speed, with the rootsy self-awareness that follows the ‘chew as you walk’ principal when gathering in the mushrooms – you know where you’re headed after just one sip. But there, the cider’s similarities with watching Hawkwind at the solstice thankfully end. Twm’s Tipple reveals an insistent ‘best had sitting down quietly’ quality, piquantly echoed in its authentic sweet and sour farmyard aftertaste (not to say aroma). As brine for a ham it’s unsurpassable.

Come what is never usually called the big day, the ham was roasted for six adults and four children on the only truly hot afternoon of the summer. After lunch driving down along the A470 for about ten minutes we met the Royal Welsh Show traffic. It was cobs and ponies day, so a fleet of mud caked land rovers were being driven home by ruddy-faced breeders on their own special kind of high. Truly, this was a day for the grinners. We parked by Trericket Mill and hopped over the fence. And there was the Wye in full noisy flow. Walking the path along the fields we met an exuberant and inquisitive herd of Friesians who generously provided an escort down to the bank. Now for a swim.

It’s hopeless trying to dive into the Wye expecting to thrash around and warm up. You’d end up pretty cold with your head stoved in. Equally useless is the gingerly wading in approach. You’ll slip on the boulders underfoot with bruised knee. Getting fully immersed involves balance and a fair bit of time. As you’re up to your waist you get a feel for the current and depth. A pool midstream will reveal itself and, as you finally submerge ready to swim, you realise you’re being carried along effortlessly. Feeling anointed and bathing in the river’s glow, in a moment your stomach and feet gently graze another lumbering group of stones. Unexpectedly you emerge standing, ankle deep once more. Swimming in the Wye becomes a sort of underwater geology but soon you’ve worked out a course for yourself. Diagonally moving downstream from stone to stone you’re kept company by the dragonflies, fish and occasional heron. Gaze far into each horizon, no one else in sight. Turn around and try to swim upstream though and you get nowhere. All your effort is spent just trying to stay still, looking the river in the eye. Whatever stroke and however hard you try is useless you’ll never beat it.

So happy birthday, here we go again and thanks for coming. Stuck in the middle. Facing the wrong way. Going in the wrong direction. Getting nowhere….. Just stopping to wonder. Delirious.