Perhaps because it was my first ever mountain climb, The Black Mountain Range has always held a special place in my heart. It's a landscape of dramatic, windswept cliff faces, their flanks wounded with deep-red scars. Underfoot, otherworldly fiery grasses dominate. Small pools dot the hilltops and the colourful rocks that decorate are arranged brilliantly, as if just for you. All this minute detail is in contrast to the stretching desolation of the marshes. Broken sheep carcass’ and moulding skulls warn of the boggy plain’s hidden dangers.
Navigating said marshes proved difficult for Hollie and me, as there are no paths for a good portion of the journey and this was our first attempt at using a map and compass in the field. Following our compass south found us the one distinguishing feature amongst the vast wet grassland - a snaking river. The bridge was out, or there had never been one. The Black Mountain began to feel increasingly remote. Finding a suitable crossing took us wayward and after fording with a few careful hops we strayed into the depths of a rocky hill maze. Unable to distinguish our whereabouts on the map we made painful progress in the wrong direction. Marshland stretched to the horizon in all directions. It appeared as if we were on a large plateau, but whenever we tried to reach the edge of the plateau another stretched on to the new horizon. Our only course of action was to trust the compass and walk south.
We tiptoed along a thread of drier, yellow grass, trusting it to lead us, like a hidden tightrope, through the wetlands. The bogs in between the hill’s loose boulders seemed deep and hungry. One false move, stray from the dry grass, and it felt as if we would have been swallowed whole. We were also losing light. I was becoming tense, worried we were going to be stranded in an endless mire after dark with no torches (a lesson learned!). Did Welsh marshes have snakes? This seemed a valid concern at the time. I imagined muddy snakes nibbling at my defenceless limbs, whilst I floated, suspended, waist-deep in a bog. No one around to hear my screams. On the upside, I might be fossiled. That could be cool. If it were a film, at this point the camera would have craned skyward slowly before tilting up and resting on the tranquil, dusky Black Mountain. My hapless cries would then fade to silence...
Best not to indulge these thoughts whilst in the thick of it. So we pressed on and finally caught sight of an unlikely saviour, the A4067. Overjoyed, we frolicked through the ensuing valley of ferns and returned to the car. We had been thrown in at the deep end of navigation (luckily not a bog) and consequently, learnt a lot. I wouldn't recommend it, but it was quite the adventure.
Oh, and after thorough research, I can confidently confirm there is in fact no such thing as a Welsh Marsh Snake.
Words & Photography: Scott Norris (@_scott_norris) // summer 2014