Ancient Steps, Thin Spaces, New Life

Slender set of waterfalls tumbling down a rocky, mossy mountainside
Aber Falls

I walked a portion of the North Wales Coastal Pilgrimage Trail today — Aber Falls. . An old area of Britain, with ruins littering the landscape. Some of these archeological wonders are around 4000 years old, some date back to Roman times, others to the medieval era, and few from around the time of the Enlightenment.

These paths have been trod by thousands of people for millennia; an Old Way in the truest sense of the word. Clanspeople walked here, pagan Druids, Roman centurions, Christian pilgrims, peasants, princes, knights, farmers, young and old, all stations, all times. It’s a space where mountains and rivers and forests all share primal space together.

I began the trek at Abergwyngregyn, a quiet Welsh country village by the sea. Meandering the one major street towards the car park, it was easy to appreciate the slower pace of village life. Reaching the starting point, I walked through old forests overflowing with greenery — ferns, lichens, mosses, and knarled trees some of which were centuries old.

Crossing the small river, I walked upwards through the valley. To my left was a steep hillside that had been clear cut of all forest. I don’t know why such a large swath of woodland was cut down — whether it was for industry or environmental care — but all I could think of was “It’s here too”, and sense a bit of sadness. How many spaces in Canada have been stripped of its woodland to make room for what a select few have defined as progress?

Passing through green pastures, I shared space with more than a few sheep. Some scampered away at my coming, but others hung around to investigate me or tell me just what they thought of this wandering pilgrim. The weather was cloudy and slightly drizzly, but I was soaked quickly by the distant spray of the falls. The warm, muggy weather forced me to strip down to my t-shirt, but the spray and the drizzle together ensure that I was well and truly damp.

The falls were a slender ribbon of white silver tumbling down the mountain. Creating a raucous music that could be heard for miles, they emptied into a rocky basin that was slick and treacherous if one wasn’t watching out. I spent a good deal of time exploring the falls, crossing the river back and forth over the rocks, and even having a moment of silence for the drowned sheep I came across.

The first set of falls were the largest, but the second set were no less wondrous. Crossing the river across an old footbridge, I began my trek around the valley. Ferns, gorse, and heather covered the hillsides giving colour to the grey cloud that sat low on the mountaintops. It was a lonely view filled with many voices of the past. I can easily believe why so many stories have emerged from wild spaces like this. It’s a kind of powerful beauty that refuses to be domesticated, and stops at nothing to capture the human heart.

The second set of falls had more of a variety of colour along with the bright, dripping green. Reds and golds stood out like banners snapping the wind, and it was all I could do to take it all in. I know it sounds highly romanticized, but there are times when we face our lifelong dreams only to be disappointed by their ordinariness. There are other times, like this one especially, when the world does not fail to disappoint.

Slender set of waterfalls tumbling down a rocky green hillside
Aber Falls (2nd set)
Small set of waterfalls tumbling down an open rocky hillside
Aber Falls (2nd set)

Trekking around the valley, I moved across the North Wales Coastal Pilgrimage Path. Cresting the rise of a hill, I saw the sea. Behind me were mountains and waterfalls, below me were forests and rivers, and now…the sea. All of these remarkable aspects of creation all converging together in one area made for slow moments of humility. I couldn’t help but feel decidedly small in the face of such wonder. And rightly so.

View of sea estuary behind large forested hills
The Irish Sea…

I may never pass this way again, but the gift of today is one I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Countless others before me have followed to calling of the Creator to walk through this intersection of cloud, land, and water; of waterfalls, mountains and forests, and the sea. And that is a strangely comforting thought.

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