I saw an apparition… and followed it.
It all started as I was hiking along Haterall Ridge, a part of the black mountains that goes on for what seems like forever. The sun had been blazing down on me all day, and there seemed to be no end to the ridge. The last tree had been literally ten miles back, and when I found a concrete marker, I gratefully sat in its shade for an hour.
In fact, I think the sun was getting to me and I was starting to feel a bit loopy.
That was when I stopped and looked down into the valley on my right. I had seen on the map that there were supposed to be some ruins of an abbey down there.
“Yeah, ruins,” I thought, “like the last ones that turned out to be three stones and an information plaque.”
By now the clouds had come out, and as I gazed down into that valley, the sunlight burst through the clouds and shined down upon the ruins of… a very large abbey. It looked beautiful. And I pulled out my monocular to get a closer look.
My plans had been to continue along the Offa’s Dyke Path that I had been on, so I debated a while. The abbey looked like the kind of place Saint Kevin would have loved. And I was ready to get off this ridge. And it might be a good place to write in.
I turned back and headed down into the valley.
As soon as I got off the ridge and into the trees that marked the start of the valley, everything felt different, a difference like I’ve always felt when I go to visit Saint Kevin’s valley in Glendalough, Ireland, or like you feel when you go to Assisi. It felt holy and like there was a goodness covering the valley.
The ruins are charming, and fun to poke around.
I continued down the valley to check out the little river and see if I could find a spot to swim.
On the way down I saw a family sitting on a lawn together, talking.
The river was nice but I couldn’t find a good swimming hole.
As I headed back up, one of the grandkids in the family was kicking a soccer ball with his grandfather. I asked if I could join in.
He gladly gave me his place, and I kicked the ball with the lad and then his cousin a good long time.
Eventually one of the sons offered me a beer, then they gave me a delicious dinner of pulled pork sandwiches and coleslaw, along with another beer.
After chugging along that ridge all day in that sweltering sunlight, joining the Bloor family (that’s their name) felt like stepping out of the Sahara into an oasis. Yes, after days of camp food, the real dinner they served me was amazing.
But it was more than that. These were good, fun people, and they reminded me of my family very much. Grandma and Grandpa are about my parents’ age, then they had two sons and two daughters and all their families. We ate and talked, and I even got to show the grandkids how to roast a marshmallow the proper way, till it was golden brown.
I miss my family very much. We have brunch together every Sunday, and often see each other during the week. It is always good to be together.
And somehow I was drawn down into this beautiful valley and was blest to spend time with this beautiful family. They adopted me yesterday, and I spent a good bit of time with them today as well. They showed me where the best swimming hole is, and we played some more soccer. After dinner, we played a game called questions. Each family wrote down 5-10 questions about anything, and everybody else tried to answer as best they could.
Questions ranged from “What’s my favorite food?” To “What are the six words with ‘monger’ in them?” To “What was the name of the Sith Lord who made the rule of two?” To “What are the names of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?”
It was hilarious, and I hope to bring the game back home to my family.
Sometimes we think that people who live on the other side of the world from us are different, or that they wouldn’t understand us. We imagine all kinds of imaginary barriers exist between us. But they’re not, they’re normal. And we have way more in common than we might think.
Two nights back I sat eating fish and chips on the banks of the River Wye with a man from Pakistan who had moved to London. He was a good kind man.
This family was a good good loving family. Their children were normal children. (The first night, when one of the moms told her daughter that it was time for her to go to bed, the girl dutifully informed her mommy that it was not time to go to bed since they hadn’t roasted marshmallows yet. Needless to say, she got to roast her marshmallows.)
And I am glad for it. I’m glad to take this journey and meet all these good people. It gives you hope. And, I think, keeps you grounded.
Blessed heat and blessed sunlight, that sent me down into the Llanthony Valley! And many blessings on the Bloor family!!!!