I was forty before I heard the word liminal and I loved the sound of it a lot, though I didn’t understand it. It’s only been in the last few years that I have understood what it meant and realised how much liminal spaces inspire me.
Many spaces in Wales feel like you are on the edge of something. Sometimes it’s a physical space, but it’s also often a feeling that you are balancing on the edge of some other time or dimension entirely.
I’m lucky to live near a place where the River Loughor comes out from under the Black Mountain. The first time I went, I had low expectations. It seemed like someone would have mentioned it if it was worth visiting. I assumed we were lost until we heard the noise of the water. But it was incredible- hiding underneath Carreg Cennan, in a gorge. The water was clear and bubbled down between mossy stones. The banks were covered in ferns and short sheep-nibbled grass. Trees hung over us, and the sunlight sparkled on the water. It was clearly a place where fairies and elves should live.
We’ve lived in Wales for five years, so I should be used to the way that there are so many beautiful, quiet places. This area is full of shake-holes. I know it’s unlikely that I will fall in one and crash down into a underground cavern, but I’m pretty clumsy, so I like to give them a wide berth. Again, the border between ‘real-life’ and being in a Alan Garner novel feels thin here.
Wales is full of spaces where you hover on the edge of history, or even better, where history and myth collide. Today, I drove past Merlin’s Hill. In Mary Stewart’s Merlin trilogy, she talks about Merlin watching a grain barge being unloaded on a quay which is now my favourite garage (they have convenient, fairly accessible toilets with a sign requesting that you don’t steal the soap and a reassuring covid-safe set up).
Dinas RSPB reserve is another place where you can feel yourself on the edge of slipping into myth. Most of the hill is inaccessible- it’s very steep and you are told firmly to stay on the path, but if you can make it up the steps, you can peer inside the cave where Twm Siôn Cati hid. Twm is usually described as a Welsh Robin Hood, but there doesn’t seem to be much of a record of the giving-to-the-poor bit. In one story, he wooed his wife-to-be by cutting her arm until she gave in. Apparently, the wife-to-be was Johan Price who lived in a nearby farm, and her grandmother was the sister-in-law (and, in Hilary Mantels’ version, the lover of) Thomas Cromwell. So many parts of Wales come with this rich underlay of history and myth, and I feel incredibly lucky to live in such an inspirational place.
Jo Lambert writes poetry and prose, which often seems to be more angry and sad than she initially intended. She lives in Carmarthenshire and is currently studying Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University. Her work has been published by The New York Times, Gloucester Poetry Society and Don’t Die Press. If anyone would like to feel more angry and sad, with an occasional overexcited post about local sunken lanes and drover’s roads, she can be followed on Twitter as @JoCourgetter.
You can read Jo’s story, Sea-Spell, in our second issue.