We didn’t have to climb the whole height of the mountain; there is a makeshift car park about halfway up. I was glad of that, as my poor, much abused feet were not happy. I spend much of my life barefoot, the soles of my feet offer better protection than most of my shoes these days and anyway, I like to feel the earth beneath my feet. Left to my own devices, I would have walked in the flimsy lace slippers that allow them to breathe and expand, but common sense demanded the walking shoes be worn. It would be a long way to carry an idiot with a twisted ankle back down the mountain and we had been warned of a scramble over loose scree at the top.
Walking shoes come into their own in rain and winter weather, or when crossing the boggy stretches of moorland born of upland springs that bar your way, even when it hasn’t rained for weeks. Their soles are thick and rigid with excellent grip, their uppers breathable, their construction protective and waterproof and they hug the feet securely. They are faultless and comfortable… except when it is already hot and said feet are gasping for air and threatening to go on all-out strike if not given worker’s rights.
Just to add insult to injury, as soon as my feet overheat at present, the pain and the itching of the spider bites return. Consequently, my ascent of the mountain was slow, punctuated by muttered expletives and lacked the grace of the supercilious sheep and the ponies that watched our progress. They, I noted, had surrendered to the heat of the day and were comfortably lying on the grass.
It is one of the inevitabilities of the ageing process that the body starts to impose limitations long before the inner self has begun to slow down. I am not sure that we ever have to leave our youthful eagerness and joy in life behind… but the consequences of the lives we have lived etch themselves on muscle and bone. Growing older is a privilege that should be appreciated for the gift it is… and one we would probably appreciate more often if it didn’t hurt so much.
Sometimes, though, a slower pace is not such a bad thing. A leisurely stroll with frequent stops gives plenty of time to observe the land and its creatures, and this landscape was certainly worth more time than we would have. You could probably spend a lifetime on the mountain and still not learn all its secrets. Sometimes, too, that slower pace has unseen reasons that shadow forth a purpose other than our own. Without the aching feet, I would have missed something that will remain with me for a very long time.
St Brynach, a local saint of the 6thC, is said to have climbed Mynydd Carningli many times, when the busy life at the monastery he founded in Nevern became too much for him. He would walk to the summit to pray in the silence, surrounded by the beauty of his God’s Creation and ‘commune with the angels’.
Mynydd Carningli, the ‘Hill of the Angels’, is an ancient volcano that rises some 1,138 feet above the sea and its origins are written in its stone. It is part of the Prescelli range of hills from which the famous Bluestones of Stonehenge were quarried and carried some hundred and forty miles to their home at the heart of the Hanging Stones. It appears to have been a sacred place for much of mankind’s history and is rich in archaeology. There would be no time to explore the massive hillfort that crowns the mountain and which goes back to the Bronze Age, or to go searching for the hut circles, gateways and revetments that make this such a fascinating, as well as such a beautiful place. We were climbing for other reasons.
I wasn’t the only one struggling with the ascent that day. The fittest amongst us were way ahead of us, stopping occasionally to allow us to catch up for a while. The laggard group fell further and further behind and one of our Companions, already beyond his usual limits, started looking for another path back down.
I could sympathise, but was determined to make the top. Our guide for the weekend was taking us to places that spoke to her heart and soul in words of silent beauty. They meant something to her, far beyond their undoubted historical or aesthetic value. In sharing them with us, she was opening a door through which we could see a glimmer of her own inner light. That level of trust a thing of great beauty in itself.
And there was another reason too… we planned on a sharing a healing meditation there for a much-loved friend whose health was giving cause for concern. I voiced this, as much to affirm my own determination as for any other reason and witnessed what was, for me, the most singularly beautiful moment of the whole weekend. “I needed to hear that right now,” said our weary Companion, straightening his back and striding on up the mountain. What he might not have attempted for himself he would do for Love.
You have to climb to reach any summit, just as you have to travel to reach any destination. That journey is not only part of the experience, but gives value to its attainment. Stuart has a theory that the effort of the ascent is the willing sacrifice we make when we climb these sacred hills and what may be granted in return is exponential to the offering of self that you have made. Watching that determined back precede me up the mountain is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. It is in such moments that you glimpse the true strength and beauty of the human heart and soul.