After leaving the coast and the wide green valleys of mid Wales, I reached a slate town overshadowed by glowering slate mountains and shale slopes, a clear river swirling alongside terraces of miners cottages, and a narrow gauge railway that ran through mountains and woods to the sea.
I was a stranger, speaking English in a Welsh speaking area, navigating my way past the chapel and tiny school, up a narrow lane that came to an end at the railway track, and back again to find my destination on the intersection of two roads – the front entrance of the house on the high road, the back, one storey lower, on the road below. I was met as soon as I opened the door, by a talking cat with a tail curled over her back like a pug. Her name was Freya.
There was something illusory and fantastic about my time there, now I reflect on it. As if in a fairytale, I went from door to door, uncertain where I should sleep, the corridors and stairs organised in such a way that I kept getting lost, all the time trailed by the most vocal cat I’ve ever met – my Familiar for the week.
The house was full of contradictions – raw as a student flat, but hung with original paintings and prints, books lining every wall, and a brilliantly organised and well-stocked, but dimly lit kitchen. In the centre of the house, was a room like a tiny museum or library, blinds down, a perfect white wooden floor, a narrow bed, and in the centre an old typewriter, and phrenology head, placed on a table made of an upturned wooden box. It felt like the heart of the house, secret, fascinating and beautiful. To spend too long looking seemed an intrusion.
I fell into a routine of walking for half an hour, before sitting on the floor of the living room, warding off the cat as I attempted to give form to my scattered fragments and chapters. Several times a day the steam train chugged past the house on the level of the top storey, faces pressed to the windows like a child’s picture book. At five every afternoon, I set out again to explore.
The road quickly disappeared into wilderness, past a few dwellings, and round great heaps of slate. There’s a unique sound made by footfall on loose slate, as clear as broken glass, more slippery. I walked into the mountains, round a lake, past ruined barns, and through pastures of bog. I picked blackberries the size of acorns.
In the evening, after the House Martens had flown to roost, it was so quiet. Only the dogs in the distant farmsteads, disturbed, set up a barking that reverberated across the valley.And every time I returned to the house, the cat mewed, until I finally shut the bedroom door at night and fell into silence.
It was only a few weeks ago, but it seems a long time ago now. I returned with some semblance of a novel and much more work to do. The house, the strange wild landscape and the perplexing cat stay with me.