Llwyn-y-betws is the sort of house you might find in a welsh village, or perhaps at the end of a bumpy farm track. A house of fair proportions, a two up, two down. But Llwyn-y-betws sits in the middle of a moorland hill, with no road running to it or near it. It's as if one night it had decided it'd had enough of man and his noisy roads and had, like Baba Yaga's house stood up on two strong legs and marched itself up into the hills to sit quietly amongst the reeds and the sheep and slowly rot away. Perhaps the fabulous view of the Nantlle ridge reflected in it's windows gave the house a sense of deep satisfaction. It could settle here. It'd had brought Hawthorn Tree with with it, they had been friends forever, and they would murmur to each other in low voices of their past life in the village and how this was what they had always dreamed of for their retirement together and wasn't it fine!
Here's a wee film to show you how remote Llwyn-y-Betws, or as the maps call it Llwyn-y-bettws, which I reckon is a silly English spelling, so I'll stick with Llwyn-y-betws. Those lines you can see are not roads... they are walls. There are a great many really ancient soil covered walls, possibly Medieval or earlier. The house looks late 19th century... I may be wrong. It's all a mystery. If anyone knows the history of this house please, please comment!
Oerddwr-Uchaf ('Oerddwr' - 'cold water', 'Uchaf' - 'upper') - the birthplace of William Francis Hughes, the bard 'William Oerddwr' (1879-1966). Grade ll listed. Located high up on an isolated hillside above Beddgelert, within view of Pen-y-Gaer hillfort.
William made his living as a farm labourer, and spent sometime working in the USA, according to Eric Jones. His cousin and fellow bard - Thomas Herbert Parry-Williams who was a conscientious objector during WW1, often stayed here, perhaps to escape the hatred that was being directed towards him during this time. It is said that you can find T H Parry's initials carved into one of the joists inside the house.
Welsh stone walls and slate fences.
Even in the wildest of welsh landscape there are walls. Jigsaws of rock and slate, running for miles, through bog, over boulders, weaving around the contours, marking the boundaries, keeping in or out the stock and flock. Clothed in moss, splashed in lichen, a home for ferns and mice and wrens.
Imagine, each rock, lifted, examined chosen for it's shape and size, placed with care and concentration. The farmer, the prisoner of war, the quarryman. Hard hands, hard lives. The walls... monuments of their toil.
The crooked teeth of the traditional welsh slate fence make for a great foreground to a photograph. Beautifully decorated with lichens, each tooth has its own shape and pattern. They stand shoulder to shoulder, feet buried soundly, heads bound by wire, a thin palisade of metamorphic wafers.
The mystery of the menhirs. Menhir - 'Maen hir' in welsh which means 'long stone', usually 'standing stone', sometimes orthostat, or lith.
A menhir is a large man-made upright stone, typically dating from the Bronze Age. Some stand alone. They stand, often at a tilt and radiate a deep ancient magic.
Why am I here? I used to know, I'm sure... but time and weather and more time has washed the reason, or reasons away. And now I just stand and wait to fall. I'm patient, I have plenty of time.
Some stand in groups, megalithic monuments of magic. Arrangements of mass that meant something amazing to somebody at sometime. We'll never know, but we can have fun guessing!
The house stands alone on the heath. No road leads to or from its door, the door that grumbles on one rusted hinge. Tatters of rotted cloth wave from glassless windows at passing sheep and clouds. Upstairs a single bed teeters at the shattered boards, promises to join the chaos below... just one more gale, when the last slates will fly up like a courtroom of angry cards!
I made this short black and white film about abandoned homes in my area (Wales, UK) by combining my photographs with music written to evoke a sense of the haunting beauty that I feel when exploring these sad but fascinating places.
I created the music on Garageband on my iPad and put the film together with iMovie.
Most of these photographs were initially colour images but I chose to go the mono route for the film. I think it adds a cohesive vibe and adds to the feeling of sadness. I love photography without people but here, although they are peopless scenes, you can somehow feel the past lives of the lost inhabitants. Who stood at this window, who sat by that hearth.... and what were their dreams, their dramas?
Night whispers in the darkling corners and the day bends her head and slowly withdraws.
The west twll of Rhosydd slate quarry. The opening here is around 150ft... plenty of room for a ddraig goch!
'Alexandra': Greek for 'protector of man'. Apposite... its slates sit upon roofs around the world.
Hill ripped inside out.
Hard heart broken to a million, trillion pieces
Spewed out into the sun for lichen to climb.
An impossible jig-saw tipped onto golden slopes to refract the high light;
A puzzle, pieces missing- shipped on seas,
Mismatched on rooves, in walls, on floors.
This one next to this...
Each missing piece a decision carefully eyed,
Each conscript knows a palimpsest of a discarded shape,
A brother tossed aside, one particle in a heaving mound.
Just another transformation in an atomic life.
I love to see wild goats in the landscape. Brave mountain souls that roam free. There's an ancient knowledge in their eyes. And how magnificent are those enormous, defiant horns that the billy goats wear.
Smiling for the camera at Beddgelert.
A fabulous male with his lovely ladies at Nant Gwrtheryn.
Sarn Helen passes through this valley. The route is named after Saint Elen of Caernarfon, a Celtic saint, whose story is told in The Dream of Macsen Wledig, part of the Mabinogion. She is said to have ordered the construction of roads in Wales during the late 4th century.
If you look carefully you can see the small waste tip for the Sarn Helen mine on the golden flanks of the hill .
In nineteen eighty something or other a couple of friends and I hitched from Bangor, where we were attending an art foundation course, to Beaumaris with the purpose of hunting down Baron Hill, a long abandoned ruined mansion house. We asked about it in a little pub up a sidestreet and were told by some lads that local witches were rumoured to use the grounds of Baron Hill for their rituals. After a couple of ciders and a long walk we found it... what a place! My young head, steeped in Hammer films and M. R. James ghost stories, thrilled in the desolation and dark romance of the place. It was a really grey windy day and there were banging, creaking and scratching noises coming from within the ruined shell... we were mightily spooked! It seemed the tales of witchcraft were true... in one of the old out-buildings we found a large pentangle chalked on the floor! We made a hasty retreat! We had taken a few photos of the house on borrowed, college cameras, and as soon as we returned we rushed excitedly to the darkroom.
Two shots seemed to show ghostly figures looking out at us. We freaked out a little, then hugged ourselves in glee. We had caught 'real live' ghosts on film!
Feeling brave and nervous, we returned to the old house to take more pictures. As we gazed up at the haunted windows we saw that our spirits had manifested themselves from the plasterwork on the wall beyond the frame. The camera had flattened and blurred the shapes, and the black and white film hid the buff coloured, broken wall. I think part of me was rather glad.
Last year Iain, Sam and I sneeked back into the grounds. This time it didn't feel creepy at all... but it was fascinating, and a lot more overgrown after thirty years, as you can see if you compare the photograph at the top of the page with the small photo just below it. I really love it when a ruin is swamped by greenery, like a temple in the jungle, it's magical!
The mansion was originally built in 1618 by Sir Richard Bulkeley as the family seat of the influential Bulkeley family. It underwent reconstruction in 1776 by architect Samuel Wyatt who adopted the Neo-Palladian style. In World War II the Royal Engineers were stationed at the house. It was later damaged by fire, but the shell of the house survives.
As a photographer it's a site crammed with opportunities... but beware, you will be trespassing on private property.