Out Walking

derelict building near Talgarth

I visited this derelict farmhouse in 2004. It was deemed 'a bad place' because the last owner had reputedly shot himself in the parlour and wasn't discovered for eight weeks - I don't know if that was true or not. I haven't been back there since, but understand it is now a family home.

Over the past twenty years I've collaborated on three unpublished 'each author writes a chapter' novels and five publications for charity of short stories - only two of which of which saw the light of day. It's not done without the best intentions by the organisers, but projects like these need quite a lot of work, and people move on, projects lose momentum, and well, there you go. I wrote this one afternoon - I do that sometimes, when in idle yet writery mind - and submitted it when someone asked. The project foundered in 2012 so I instead used it as my default 'have you got a story?' story. It is here published - finally - for the first time.

       This incident happened in the mid 1980's, in an region of Wales just North of Rhayder - an area of rolling hillside, thorn hedge and stunted oak. Mainly sheep-farming and much of it comparatively empty, it is a land so spectacular in its loveliness that entire lives could be spent here without necessary recourse to anywhere else.
       I live in Wales but consider myself a long-term visitor. My adopted nation, if you will. I like to walk across the hills, but where possible seek the landowner's permission, especially if they have 'a fiery reputation'. There were several hills I wanted to visit in the area, seen from afar, hilltops covered with tight oak forest, so after getting the relevant permission, set forth into the relative unknown, away from the footpaths and the bridle-paths, off into the hidden world that exists in the heart of Wales that was very much off-grid in the 1980's and to a certain extent, still is.
       It was a relatively easy walk, and by wending my way up the hillside through dilapidated gates held together with binder-twine, I made my way to a rocky outcrop hidden beneath the oak canopy, where the rocks were covered in moss, and tree roots clung tightly on the rock as though fearful of being carried off in the wind. It was, I think, a glorious spot, and after looking about to see if there was anything of interest, I headed back down the hill.
       I was met by two men in an aged Land-rover held together, like the gates and fences, with baler-twine. I must have surprised them as they looked up with a degree of shock and suspicion, and instantly stopped what they were doing. They were dressed shabbily and I suspected that they too - or their trousers at least - may also have been held up by baler-twine. One was the father, I presumed, of at least seventy years, with a gnarled face that spoke of long hours outside,. The second man was quite clearly his son, as they looked very similar. They did not, I confess, appear overjoyed to see me.
       "Hello!" I said in as bright and friendly tone as I could, "A fine day."
       The older of the two said nothing but simply eyed me suspiciously and I saw the younger of the two move to the back of the land-rover, where he stood, as if somehow at readiness for something. It put me very much ill-at-ease, but I could run fast, so was not fearful of harm - just of confrontation.
       "Do you have Kites around here?" I asked, hoping the nervousness did not show itself in my voice, "I saw some buzzards."
       "Oh yes?" said the old man, with the heavy mid-wales accent that you don't hear so much these days, "And where you come from today?"
       I explained as best as I could in a flustered tone that I lived about thirty miles South of here, all the time with the son's eyes boring into me. I knew full well that it really isn't usual to be murdered on a Welsh hill-top, but at the back of my mind there was a feeling that perhaps I may get a thick ear for the wearisome intrusion into their world. It was the eighties, after all. People could do that sort of thing then.
       "Private land," said the farmer, cutting into my hurried explanation of who I was and what I was doing here.
       "Trespassing," said the son, speaking for the first time.
       "Oh, I asked permission," I muttered quickly, "from P- Farmhouse, down the way."
       This altered the old man's demeanour slightly, but not much.
       "Oh, yes?" he said again, and looked at his son, who gave an imperceptible shake of his head.
       "Yes," I replied, "I spoke to your wife, I believe."
       This was entirely true. I had approached the open kitchen door not two hours before and seen an elderly woman dressed in a flowery pinafore behind the kitchen table, mixing something in a bowl. The kitchen smelled of hot Rayburn, warm bread and washing. I'd asked if I could climb P- Hill and she had nodded agreeable assent.
       I explained this to the farmer, who stared at me, the expression on his face moving away from anger, and more towards something that might be construed as friendliness. His son's demeanour, however, moved in the opposite direction.
       "That's nonsense, that be!" he said, taking a step forward, one fist clenched tight. I took a step backwards, but the farmer stopped him with a wave of his hand.
       "This woman," he said after a long pause, "did she say anything?"
       "No," I replied, "I just asked if I could walk and she nodded."
       "Ah," he said.
       "This is so much rubbish!" said the son in a voice tinged with barely-controlled anger.
       "Hush, Gethin," said the old man, then turned back to me, hie eyes glistening with tears.
       "How did she look? Was she well?"
       The questioning up until this time had seemed unusual, but just then I suddenly realised where this conversation was heading. I felt the hairs on the back of my neck lift as the old farmer stared into my eyes not with a sense of anger, but of loss.
       "She looked .. fine," I said my voice sounding strange and thin, "making something - stuff - I don't know - in a bowl."
       He nodded and gave out a short cough, and his son was swiftly at his side, comforting his father. I was now trespassing not on their land, but their grief, and my place was elsewhere.
       I made some comment - an apology, I think - and moved away down the hill at a fast pace, without looking back. I was shaking when I returned to my car, and hurriedly left the area.
       I didn't go back until last year, almost a quarter of a century later. The farmhouse had changed little, and I guessed the son now farmed here, probably still holding everything together with baler-twine, like his father before him. I thought about knocking on the door to see if he remembered the incident - to ask him whether it had been an elaborate prank to frighten off an unwelcome visitor, but I decided not to approach the kitchen door. If Gethin was out, then I didn't really want to know who - or what - might be in.

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