Perhaps it was foolish of me to take the road that snakes across the top of the Long Mountain when there is a sensible alternative, but I do like to think that even at 10.00 o'clock at night the spirit of adventure lives on.
In the 5 years we've lived here this 8 mile stretch has wormed its way into my affections and, given the choice, that's the road I'll take for journeys to or from Shrewsbury. Like all love affairs it's irrational - common sense would take me along the valley bottom on a road which is fast and efficient but also carries more traffic. Up here on the spine of the mountain is solitude. It's unusual to meet more than a couple of vehicles along its length - 5 or 6 constitutes 'very busy'. I can dawdle along undisturbed taking in the verges, the hedgerows and the changing scenery and seasons. Wales falls away to the west and Shropshire's Blue Remembered Hills are to the east. I find, even in the wildest weather, a sense of stillness here atop the world. There's room to contemplate and collect one's thoughts and drift off into a state of blissful relaxation. Wait! Watch out! This is a road for heaven's sake and it definitely pays to stay alert.
As I climb up out of the village of Westbury, on to Vennington and through Vron Gate (where the old pub The Seven Stars is being reburbished) there is a hint of mist in the air; mist which thickens as the car climbs up the narrow road. The radio prattles amicably in the background, I am cocooned and warm. All is fine and dandy. As I drive past Dot and Dave's (I'm looking forward to their Christmas Lights again) and then past Mountain Farm I realise that my field of vision has become very limited indeed - the light from my headlights glares as it bounces back at me. The beams seem solid - carved out of light, almost as if some child had drawn them. Dipping them seems to help. Up at Nant-y-myssels the mist is thick fog, swirling grey flannel blankets of it. I am driving - and will drive for the next 5 miles or so - relying on the edge of the road to be my guide.I creep along, hunched over the wheel now, my eyes searching for the road under the lights' glare. Every so often a field gate or farm lane interupts the edge of the road and I have lost my guiding line. I could be anywhere, moving in shapeless, undefined space. As a driver, moving and not knowing where is a disturbing experience. My concentration is absolute. I am dis-orientated, though realise that I know more or less where I am from the shapes of the road sides and verges which I can see. This is some comfort.
Up on Heldre Hill - where the common land is - and a bleak old windswept place at the best of times - I'm going so slowly I stop. Curiousity gets the better of me. What's it like out there?
I roll the window down the better to look and listen, letting the cold wet air creep into the car and over my face. Without the engine it is an eery world indeed, not a sound to be heard, only muffled silence, oddly still. It is a night for imagining the ghostly shapes of the long forgotten peoples who once laid their kinfolk to rest on this hill. A sacred place for them; their tumuli are over to my right. It's a night when one might hear the tramp of a Legionnaire's boot as he marched from Forden Gaer to Wroxeter, cursing the deplorable weather and food of this benighted island and longing for the sighing pines and thyme scented hills of Rome.
What else might be in the shadows? It's better not to whisper 'Is there anybody there?' too loudly lest I conjure up some lonely wraith.... We won't go there.
I am utterly alone in a little fuzzy world of grey, surrounded by walls of fog. No light. No sound bar the thump of what must be my heart pumping. Nothing.
With a shiver and a flick of the key we're motoring again - slowly, as before. Gradually as the road drops down the hill I leave the fog behind and see the twinkle of house-lights in the distance. Back into the real world again it seems.
My photos are not of course taken at night. Wanting to capture some of landscape's atmosphere, I nipped back in daylight with the camera.