I’m coming down off Corn Du by torchlight, chatting to a guy I’ve met just a couple of hours earlier. I’m not entirely sure if he’s the same guy I was chatting to five minutes ago, as all I can see in his direction is the round glare of his head torch. More people with torches are a little way ahead and some further back; they’re all lovely, welcoming and more than prepared to share hiking stories and hot chocolate, which pretty much makes them the best kind of people in my eyes.
There’s been a vacancy for a best walking friend for some time. The old one got himself a new best friend who does walking and other things, and it turned out there wasn’t room for us both. So I spend some painful months wondering what that was all about, hiking on my own and generally saying ‘no’ to lots of things and to nice people. And then, somewhere between a new year’s dawn hike and a magical stomp over Carningli, it doesn’t matter anymore, and the hurt fades with the end of a rainbow arcing into a wintry Cardigan Bay.
I hike with friends, remembering what it feels like to have to stop walking to laugh til I cry, and I hike with Lionel and the teen and teen-in-training (I’m using the word ‘hike’ with gay abandon here; we walk across a field and look at some stiles, and I sigh and the teen and nearly-teen pretend to sigh too but give Lionel extra fuss and treats when I’m not looking, for putting paid to yet another Long Walk). We stroll along the River Tawe and the hiraeth deepens, but I can’t move home until these two leave their schools and don’t need me anymore. Until then, I’m not where I want to be but I’m with who I want to be with, so it’s win-win.
A year of wondering what’s going on with my health passes, but mild bafflement has quietly taken the place of the shit-scaring so that’s fine too. New symptoms flirt briefly before passing on – a little like old walking friends, I guess – leaving familiar ailments clearly intent on staying the distance. Sometimes my fingers hurt so much my eyes fill up in shock, which is stupid as they are only fingers, albeit quite important for typing all day and essential for opening flasks of tea on long walks. A friend reminds me to write creatively, which I’ve forgotten to do, so I take his advice and that makes my eyes fill up too.
And here I am, crunching down an icy slope above Llyn Cwm Llwch, in easy rhythm and conversation with a guy who might or might not be one of the lovely people I was laughing with on Pen y Fan a short while earlier. I made a snap decision to join a Meet Up group’s sunset walk to welcome in British Summer Time and it’s marvellous. No one needs a best walking friend, I realise. I have the teen and nearly-teen when they’re not being shared with the fun parent, and I always have the world’s worst hiking dog. Sometimes, I need many walking friends. And sometimes, I need to say no to all the lovely people and seek out the quiet places on my favourite mountain, content in my own company (it’s a very exclusive club).
We near a Storey Arms lit clearly by the moon, the stars and even Venus, as one of the new walking friends points out. The sky is nearly as beautiful as that in which a radiant sun hung so patiently over the western Beacons while we took myriad Instagram photos and shared hot chocolate, before it slipped like a stone behind Fan Hir, leaving a horizontal rainbow of blues, purples, oranges and reds over ‘home’.