November: on the Welsh border there’s a rainbow for Hallowmas, and a flock of birds takes flight. Kites and fiery leaves fly through the air on Hampstead Heath.
We are all as full of echoes as a rocky wood, echoes of the past, reflex echoes of the future, and echoes of the soil…
– Mary Webb, Gone to Earth (1917)
The photo above was taken late afternoon in a place that seemed to have come straight out of the Powell/Pressburger film of Gone to Earth, adapted from Mary Webb’s book…
Photos taken on holiday around Aran Fawddwy in Wales.
The inside of the farm outbuilding looked like a scene from the last century, not ours – I didn’t see how a book that looked pre-war would still be sat there, as dry and clean as if it was on a kitchen table, twined with a piece of rope. It seemed too contrived to be true.
I also loved what I assumed was a chapel but I seem to remember they are something other on reading up. I poked my lens through a gap in the door, into darkness, and the camera picked up more signs of life not quite departed – the ancient bicycle in particular. This photo was grainy and smudgy so I put it into Photoshop to see if I could help it. Adding a cross-hatch filter revealed some great patterns around the blocked-up arched doorway and along the dado rail which couldn’t be seen before.
And then they took the flowers of the oak, and the flowers of the broom, and the flowers of the meadowsweet, and from those they called forth the fairest maiden that mortal ever saw, and baptised her with the baptism of that time, and named her Blodeuwedd.
Blodeuwedd was made thus for Lleu, ‘a man in stature and the handsomest youth that mortal ever saw’ and they marry. But Blodeuwedd betrays Lleu and takes a neighbouring lord, Gronw, as her lover. They plan to kill Lleu.
Even though he is protected, with guile Blodeuwedd finds his weakness – to be slain with a spear which has been crafted only when folks are at Mass on Sundays. Lleu is killed and turns into an eagle, and flies away.
Lleu is rescued and restored to human form and health, and with an army marches on Gronw and Blodeuwedd to seek redress. As Blodeuwedd flees, Lleu catches up with her and turns her into an owl:
I will not slay thee. I will do thee that which is worse; that is,’ said he, ‘I will let thee go in the form of a bird… thou shalt not lose thy name, but that thou be for ever called Blodeuwedd (Flower Face).
The text continues to say ‘Blodeuwedd is ‘owl’ in the language of the present day’; and owls are shunned and mobbed by other birds today because this was the fate of Blodeuwedd.
Gronw is then slain by a spear which breaks through the stone he uses to shield himself and breaks his back.
It is the core of this story from fourth branch of The Mabinogi which Alan Garner uses in his book The Owl Service. The background photo in the image of Blodeuwedd was taken in Wales, at the location used for the television adaptation in 1969. Directly behind Blodeuwedd is the iconic hilltop…