Seven stone steps Posted on July 27, 2009

Just home from our woods in North Wales with a glowing sense of achievement. We have left something for posterity: not more trees, but a feature that could be puzzling archeologists centuries from now.

It starts with a pond, mere or tarn (the Welsh llyn seems to make no distinction). A body of water, anyway, some hundred yards by thirty, that I made eight years ago by damming a stream through a new plantation of spruce and pine. This is up in the hills, at 700 feet or so, overlooked only by the heathey ridge of the Rhinogs. There is a forestry road, but no footpaths. As soon as I made it I wanted to swim in it. The bottom is soft, though, and there are snags of old roots to discourage you.

So I planned a wooden jetty with a ladder to get me out into the deep water.

It would look slightly mysterious, as though it was expecting a boat. When I got there last week, though, I suddenly saw a better answer. We had drained the pond to explore the bottom. These hills are full of huge flat stones. We could make a flight of steps up from the depths to the sedgy bank. There is a famous path of steps like this in Cwm Buchan, ten miles north, attributed in legend to the Romans.

What would the Romans have done if they had had a Komatsu? This massive engine, in the right hands, can arrange ton-weights as delicately as pieces of marquetry. Wyn Owen, who owns the surrounding hills and the sheep that mow them, could part two blades of grass with its huge bucket. He spent a morning unearthing slabs, shaking them free of earth by tossing them in the air and catching them. In the afternoon, with the blue water of Cardigan Bay in the background, we placed them to form seven giant steps from the bottom of the pond to the bank.

It will have to fill again from the stream before I can run down them, splash in and swim away. The idea fills me with excitement. I understand the pleasure Richard Long (now at Tate Modern) gets when he leaves his traces on nature.

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