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I am back in Mid-Wales after all these years. I've dreamed of this place, imagined coming back. Then the dreams come alive and real when I travel up towards Aberystwyth on the mountain road from Rhayader, up along the Elan Valley. I fall in love with the place again and don't want to leave. That evening I stay with a friend in Tregaron and go for an evening walk with him. I tell him about my longing for this place and he tells me that there's a word for that longing in the Welsh language – 'hiraeth'. Knowing that the Welsh have a particular understanding of the way I'm feeling, that feeling the call of the land is part of the Welsh psyche, only makes me more determined to move here. So I pack up my essentials and move – first to a house two miles up a steep winding track, near Bedd Taliesin and with a view of Cadair Idris, then to an old vicarage next to a church enclosed in an ancient stone circle.
Once there, I spend time walking and driving around, exploring by day and by night, alone and with others. The land around me seems alive with music and with stories. I strain my inner ear to hear, and want to draw these mysteries out, unlock this enchanted world. I take my minidisc recorder with me on my walks and record the birds, the streams and waterfalls, the wind and rain, and the jet planes that slice through the quiet. I listen and absorb as much as possible and then go home and try to turn what I have into music.
I meet people who love the land as much as I do – people who've lived here all their lives, who farm on land their fathers farmed on and who claim poets as their ancestors; others who've moved here, learned the language and been welcomed in. I feel like I've travelled back in time – into my own memories and into the past - or into a land of faery. I encounter hares with black-tipped ears and lie awake at night listening to hooting owls. I wander in lonely valleys, feeling like the only person alive, then emerge onto a path and meet a stranger who greets me like an old friend.
I'd been drawn to Mid-Wales by the beauty of the land, but in the background, adding an extra charge to my experience of the place, were the stories set here that I'd read as a child: Susan Cooper's The Grey King, Alan Garner's The Owl Service, the tales of the Mabinogion. One thing I discovered, to my surprise, is how true to life those stories are. The magic is real and tangible here and the people who live here feel it and live it, and many seem like characters from these stories come to life.
What makes a place magical? What makes this place so special? And if it really is magical, how can some people come here and not feel the magic? I think it's a question of unlocking – of having the right key for the lock: if you have the key that fits, the land will open its secret doors to you and let you in. Or maybe that's the wrong way round – it's not the land that needs unlocking, but you, yourself: you come here and you find the key that will unlock the secrets deep inside you. Or is the truth that in any act of love, there's not one key and one lock but a mutual unlocking?