Boxing Days were normally interesting enough, but when I opened the back door and was faced with a wall of snow above my head, moulded to the shape of the door, another world opened up.
After breaking through the screen of driven snow, I was soon out into Cae Beili Glas, the steeply-sloping field next to our house, and soon there was a crowd of us doing snowy things while our parents tutted in the background, wondering what the world was coming to.
Corrugated iron sheets and tea trays and other improvised sledges were dragged out, and the snowballs flew like pigeons. Snowmen were built and demolished, and a giant snowball rolled down the hill, ending up six feet tall. Hence the expression.
The boys soon decided that a walk was called for. Like one of our rambling summer walks with dogs and sandwiches, only up to our knees in snow. It was a boy’s dream come true.
Passing down the road into the village, the sight of more than a foot of snow covering everything was a beginning. At our age, we’d never seen anything like it before, and we would have been satisfied with that. Then we reached the River Lliedi, and began to realise the scale of the event. Apart from a little channel running down the middle, it was iced over, and there were genuine Walt Disney icicles from the branches of all the trees. Upstream, the waterfall into the river was a pipe of glass channelling water raggedly down through the trees. It was fascinating enough in its usual state. Now it was beyond description. We threw stones at it and brought it crashing down.
Threading our way up the valley one spiky wonder followed another. The constant virgin fluffiness of the pure white drifts. The ecstatic flights of fancy of the random water frozen in time at the ends of branches, or on the green holly leaves, or draped around the arches of brickwork, or exaggerating the barbed wire fences.
Everything looked surprised and new. Like we still were.
We hit the Mynydd Mawr railway and took in the village below, drowned and invisible under the fallen and falling snow. The railway was covered in drifts and we ploughed through like intrepid banana-sandwich eating Polar Explorers, tripping over the smothered sleepers. The dogs were even more excited than we were, and missed no chance to wallow in the meringue, and would suddenly jump in the air from surprise or doggy delight. Alongside our furrow were dozens of tracks of birds and rabbits, and other hungry pawprints.
The deep, blasted railway gorge came into view round the corner, and when we realised what had happened to it, we broke into a stumbling trot. Everything we’d seen before had merely been a taster of this. We should have expected it, given what we’d seen, but couldn’t have foreseen the kind of mad winter wonderland which surrounded us.
Again, this place was gothic and glorious enough in its usual grey damp weather, with its ferns and hawthorns and sycamores clinging to the bare rocks. But now it was like nothing on earth. Like something from the Ice Fortress of Ming The Merciless, or a Disney extravaganza, or what happens when god takes the day off and leaves winter to a 9 year old boy.
Great curtains of ice hung from crag to crag, glistening in the afternoon light. Ten foot long icicles with their sons and daughters layered the rock face, with more families of ice on top of them, and soggy stalagmite icicles on the ground to harness any water which had escaped the initial freeze. There were the gargoyles of leering ice faces and animals everywhere. A giant cathedral of ice.
After gasping in amazement for however long it was, we scrabbled the granite hardcore from between the rails, and let loose, destroying as much of this glorious creation as we possibly could.
The Frozen Lake
The walk down through the forestry to Swiss Valley reservoir was the most Xmas card experience any of us had ever had, or probably ever will. The towering pines and spruces with sheaths of snow thudding from them in the otherwise utterly silent woods.
And then we saw the reservoir itself, which was totally frozen over. It was so frozen that the weight of the ice had caused the surface layer to collapse under its own weight to a depth of about 6 foot, creating a huge ice basin, or collapsed pie crust. We could see how thick the ice was at the edge, and decided that this was too good a chance to miss. We slid into the basin, and began an afternoon of hectic sliding and scurrying until we dripped with sweat and our face-scarves had curtains of icicles on them.
Slowly, we began to realise that the sun was going down and that we were getting cold and hungry and should think about going home. We then realised quite quickly that sliding down into a frozen reservoir was a lot easier than sliding back up.
The general approach was the long run and desperate clutching slide. Eventually, one of us made it, and was able to offer a hand to the next person, and so on until we got to the dogs, who were totally stymied, and who could only do a sort of hilarious cartoon running on the spot. They had to be physically hurled up the slope by the last boy, who was grasped by the rest after a last desperate charge.
It took a long hungry, cold time to get home, but the long slide down the still frozen Swiss Valley Hill helped.
That was just the first day. The snow continued for another two weeks, and we didn’t go to school for ages. And everywhere more than a mile down our Road was cut off for days. Some country areas for weeks.
Many people died, especially the old and frail. As our parents would have known. But as far as we were concerned, the world had been magically changed to suit us, for once. Instead of being the usual rainy spoilsport, Nature had turned the world into a playground. An instant holiday from routine. A sign that perhaps Life was not as bo-ring as we sometimes said it was. Which was encouraging.
The fact that the most un-boring decade in C20th history followed almost immediately was a total coincidence, if you believe in coincidences.