When we first moved to Snowdonia, I’d only really experienced it in summer. And we’d always been really lucky; the odd gloomy day but more often than not roaring sunshine, the sea sparkling turquoise and the white beaches giving the Bahamas a run for their money. But I’m not really a summer person. I love wrapping up against a bracing wind, the sound of rain on the window and wearing all the knitwear. So I had been looking forward to our first winter in the mountains.
Where in the summer the town is packed with tourists and walkers in neon raincoats, in the winter it became more homely as locals recognised us as one of them. The cafes and pubs filled with the Welsh language and you started to recognise the same faces; there were more ‘hello’s and nods as we walked the dog and everything felt like it had popped back in time a few decades.
Being Wales I had expected wet, but not how wet, and in so many different ways. I have seen more hailstorms in the last month than I have the rest of my life; they are a near weekly occurrence as pea-sized hailstones pummel and zing against the cars, empty down the chimney and turn the roads white for the minutes they last. We had snow, of course, but so did everyone else. But the rain. Seriously.
You know how they say that the Inuit language has something like 27 words for snow? Well I get that because we have experienced at least 27 different kinds of rain. There are the downpours that rattle the windows and form immediate puddles, there’s the side ways rain that no amount of pulling down your hood can protect you from, there’s the fine rain that hangs in the air and you can barely see but somehow that gets you the wettest. There is the rain that I watch from my window that hangs in sheets and folds and moves across the mountainside like a net curtain being pulled by an invisible hand.
Often with the rain and the hail there has been wind. Wind from the sea or tumbling down the hillside from the moutains. The wind is aggressive and boisterous, roaring down the chimney and kicking and howling the outside of the house. Our little cottage has walls nearly a metre thick in places, but you can feel it brace and tighten as the wind howls around it, rattling at the windows and sticking it’s fingers through the gaps in the stones.
But while there have been storms, there have been unexpected periods of absolute stillness. Days where the smoke rises from chimneys in a perfectly straight line, with no hint of a breeze to knock it from its upward rise. Sounds from around the town and amplified and carry through the streets with no ambient weather music to drown them out. Rays of wintery sunlight have made the mountain top look like the gates of heaven itself, and glinted off the slate roofs so the town glows with a blinding light.
There is so much colour here. Where I grew up, and really the only place I’ve ever lived, in Oxfordshire, the land is all given over to arable farming, so in winter the landscape is just bare earth, fields upon fields of barren grey soil. I was expecting similar bleakness here, with the buildings being grey slate roofs on top of grey granite walls. But in fact, there is a riot of colour. No crops can be grown on the steep fields so all are still green for grazing; but they’re not just grass green. Moss is everywhere and thriving, turning the fields a vibrant lime green and the forests, though bare of leaves, have an emerald carpet. The bare birch trees are a smokey purple while the gone over bracken and heather brings russets and burnt oranges to the party. The deep green conifers contrast with the pure white mist that hangs among them. There is as much colour here as there is in summer; it’s different, but equally as uplifting.
I realise writing this that most of my observations have come from behind a window, and it’s true that we’ve not been out and about as much this winter. A part of that is me making myself busy with work but also, as hardy as we like to think we are, torrential rain just isn’t enticing walking weather. But where we have been it’s dramatic how they change in winter. The river we paddle in and can more or less walk across in the summer has been carved into a deep and ferocious torrent by the rain tearing down the mountain. Waterfalls hurl themselves aggressively over their edges; the angry, muddy sea leaves debris and bodies as it retreats at low tide to sulk. When in the summer the landscape is inspiring, in winter it can be terrifying.
All in all, I feel more at home here in winter. As a rule, people seem not to travel as much in the winter; we wait until places are ready for the show, with their looks and perfume on. But in winter you see somewhere raw: one drink to many and shouting at the top its voice, the perfectly coiffed hair unravelling and showing the roots underneath. But that’s the moment you get to know the whole story, the side of the personality that’s less attractive but so much more authentic. And that’s the moment you fall in love.
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