We drove west from Bath along the motorway through sleet and heavy traffic, windscreen wipers smearing our view. At the Severn Crossing the streetlights snaked ahead of us, the great towers loomed overhead, while the road carried us over an invisible river. We took the big the dual carriageways north to Abergavenny, headlamps cutting a path through the dark, until we picked up narrower country roads that fit more snugly into the landscape. Over the hump-backed bridge that spans the canal, through the village of Llangynidr, we suddenly came on the sharp turn left and up into the narrow lane that climbs steeply along the side of Dyffryn Crawnon valley.

After winding between high hedges and splashing through potholes for about half a mile, at the edge of a farmyard the road peaks sharply and the hedges drop away. On a clear day the valley opens up ahead. A line of trees marks the path of the little stream winding between bright green pastures dotted with sheep; the lower slopes steepen toward the rough scrub of the hilltops. A handful of farmhouses are spaced along the valley bottom and one’s eye is drawn past them to the mountains beyond. It is one of those places where the world catches hold of you, opens your heart and says, “Just look!”

But that overcast evening, as we eased the car over the rise, instead of this open landscape we stared into the January dark: just one dim houselight glimmered on the far hillside. This dark enveloped us for but an instant, but it caught hold of me, rolled around in my memory. For it was not an empty black, but a silky dark, soft, unfathomably deep, strangely full of sensuous colour. 

We plunged downhill, on through the farmyard and deeper into the valley, careful not to catch the car wheels on the sharp edges where the rain have washed away the side of the road. Then we turned between stone gateposts into the yard at Ca’er Hendre, the old farmhouse that Pip and Gil have restored and made into their home and studio. They welcomed us into an evening of warm fires, good food, wine and the convivial conversation of long friendship.

In the morning, when Pip brought tea to our room, I swung my legs out of bed and drew back the curtain. The view through the window was distorted with condensation running down the glass panes, but I could see brightness in the eastern sky, and the hint of frost on the roofs. Downstairs and outside, I realized the sun had not yet risen over the southern ridge of the narrow valley. The shadowed hillside opposite was an almost monochrome scene: skeletal trees framed dull fields below thickly frosted hilltops, scarcely tinted with browns and greens, and silent save for the distant running of the stream and the call of birds from the woodland behind me.

High in the sky the two aeroplanes glinted in the morning light, their contrails pure white against the pale blue. Looking west up the valley that the previous night has been so deeply dark, the sun had caught the peaks, picking them out in purple above the shadows below.