Lockdown Diaries - the Joy of Small Things in Mid Wales

© Myrddyn Phillips

I'm writing this thinking of my lungs. Perhaps this is an unusual first sentence, but now, more than ever, they are hard to ignore. As a youngster I had numerous asthma attacks, and during severe ones I can remember concentrating on every breath, each a struggle where lack of oxygen increased desperation.

The canal towpath allows plenty of scope for reflection  © Myrddyn Phillips
The canal towpath allows plenty of scope for reflection
© Myrddyn Phillips

I also remember being told that a person cannot die due to an asthma attack. I now know this is untrue, though whether it was said to calm me or whether it was then believed I do not know. Thankfully I haven't had a severe asthma attack in decades, but the remnants of wheeziness where my lungs struggle to have sufficient oxygen intake are a constant reminder that these important organs are not functioning as they should.

My world has become smaller and yet on a local level it has also opened up

As a child I was no good at prolonged physical sport, since my lungs could not cope. It was only on discovering hill walking, where I could stride out in fresh air, that I realised I could do a form of exercise, at my own pace, and relish its rigours. This instilled in me a sense of physical belonging, and gave an immense amount of satisfaction and joy. I found I could walk mile after mile and my lungs seemed to be able to cope; those tubes that become inflamed during an asthma attack remained open. I haven't looked back ever since. Until now.

The thought of catching Covid-19 does not enthuse me. It would in all likelihood make a complete mess of my lungs, though I prefer not to find out. I take my daily exercise from my home most days, and otherwise I am now self-isolating.

Here in Wales outside exercise is permitted once a day, and only from the home doorstep [the Welsh Government guidelines are here). Driving a short distance to exercise is not permitted. These are drastic measures, but understandable. Such restrictions have imposed a way of life that is as odds with the natural way of things. But for now they are necessary.

My daily routine has altered, like everyone's. My world has become smaller and yet on a local level it has also opened up, with local walks to places I otherwise would not visit, and neighbours who I rarely saw now a part of social distanced gathering on a Thursday evening, when we come out in support of the care workers who face the virus head-on.

Moel y Golfa from Welshpool - a view of hills is the next best thing to a view from them  © Myrddyn Phillips
Moel y Golfa from Welshpool - a view of hills is the next best thing to a view from them
© Myrddyn Phillips

These brief walks enable a semblance of normality in what has become an otherwise abnormal and worrying world

When I first stood on my doorstep ready to clap and show support I found the experience rather humbling. This form of support, even on a local level, and even just once a week, is a sign of combined responsibility and strength in numbers, and feelings shared amongst many.

Now in its sixth week, life under lockdown goes on. I am fortunate that my home town is Welshpool. In the heartland of Mid Wales (at least, if you ask any local), it is beautifully placed in the Severn Valley, nestled between prominent hills. From my house Moel y Golfa, Long Mountain (Cefn Digoll), Y Golfa and Upper Park are all within striking distance, and all classified as Marilyns, whilst No match for crag id:"Yr Allt" is within easy walking distance and qualifies as a Hump. I am lucky indeed.

As well as being beautifully placed in the Severn Valley, Welshpool also has a stretch of the Montgomeryshire Canal. The canal towpath is no more than three minutes' walk from where I live and it gives access to countryside that in such times is a godsend.

The lockdown has created a quieter way of life, less reliant upon what seemed daily necessities, and more concentrated on a local level, and for one who has enjoyed visiting the hills and the customary freedom this has given me for over 30 years, these small ventures onto the towpath have opened up an appreciation of the wonderful wildlife that a waterway such as a canal can harbour.

It seems ironic that the weather has been unusually settled, with blue skies and unseasonably warm conditions. These have highlighted new growth and new life. Hedgerows and trees are now coloured with fresh growth and birds are now settled, having built intricate nests, or in the case of my local nesting swan, a large mismatch of faded reed and grass.

Sunset behind distant Aran Benllyn  © Myrddyn Phillips
Sunset behind distant Aran Benllyn
© Myrddyn Phillips

Walking on this towpath has given me a fleeting sense of freedom. It has also given me some wonderful moments when some of the smaller residents of the intricate web of wildlife visit; I've looked at the veined wings of a resting dragonfly as it seemed content to be landed on my leg, the sunlight enhancing its luminescent greens. A small blue butterfly wandering my palm and fingers, tasting its new surrounds with its extended proboscis, and the flitting of bats as their silhouettes danced across the evening sky.

The towpath has also enabled access to an occasional extended walk. This enables height to be gained, not to any summit, but at least to a view of the higher mountains, and if timed correctly it also means that one can stare out in longing to those higher summits as the sun casts its last magical spell before setting in the western sky.

These brief walks enable a semblance of normality in what has become an otherwise abnormal and worrying world. They give what I have become accustomed to; a brief glimpse into a natural beauty that otherwise is all too easy to miss. The current lockdown is harsh, but necessary, and I am thankful to live where I do. This at least gives me a chance to appreciate things on a smaller scale than the hills I am accustomed to. I just hope my lungs survive.

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