Saturday, 30 July 2011
Returning to the Past
Last weekend I made the long journey back to the university I attended in the far off past, having been invited by the Lampeter Society to give their annual after dinner talk. Now in the 40 years since I’d left St David’s University College (currently called Trinity St David) I’d had little to do with the place or the little town of Lampeter in mid-Wales in which it is situated. Indeed, I was surprised to discover that as a graduate of the college I was automatically a member of the Lampeter Society and had been all those years. Deciding it would be interesting to finally go back (and I must admit a little flattered to be asked) I accepted the invitation and then, months later, discovered that reaching Lampeter had not become any easier. Door to door it was a twelve hour journey – ten hours on three trains – Aviemore to Edinburgh to Wolverhampton to Aberystwyth - sandwiched by two one hour car journeys. On the final taxi journey to Lampeter I watched the soft, rolling green hills, dotted with little woods and thick hedges. I had forgotten how lush this landscape was in summer, how quietly beautiful.
My brief stay in Lampeter was both strange and familiar, a peculiar feeling. There were big changes of course – student numbers have grown from 340 to over 2000 so there were many more buildings. The central Old Building still looked the same though and I could just find my way about. The town was the same, bustling with shops I’d never seen before yet amongst them ones I remembered. I even had breakfast in Conti’s Café, just as I used to after sleeping in and missing breakfast, a regular occurrence in my student days. And on my first evening I joined others, most of whom I hadn’t seen since I left, in the Black Lion, where we used to drink regularly. Sitting with friends from the past over a pint again part of me felt as though it had only been a few weeks since I’d been there with them whilst another knew that it was decades.
There was a local Food Fair in the college grounds the day I was there, busy with stalls and people. The sun shone and the air had an almost dreamlike brightness and clarity, adding to my feeling of unreality. (A friend from the past punctured this a little by saying that all he remembered of the weather was that it was always raining). A highlight of the fair was when a local music group, mostly playing rock and pop standards, broke into the familiar opening chords of Muddy Water’s Hoochie Coochie Man and then sang it in Welsh. That was a first for me – Chicago Blues in Welsh.
While at Lampeter I used to wander the local fields, woods and hills, usually on short half-day walks. One particular joy was to wander beside the placid River Teifi, which meandered through the landscape. Strolling down to the river again I found it hadn’t changed much, if at all, though the town had encroached almost to its banks. The sense of serenity and quiet beauty was still there; the gentle waterway slipping through countryside that seemed unchanging.
At the dinner I showed images of my home hills, the Cairngorms, and of my hike along the Pacific Northwest Trail and of igloo trips in the Rocky Mountains with Igloo Ed. I don’t think they’d had a talk like that before!
Then it was the twelve hour journey home, feeling a little changed and contemplative after reconnecting with another time and place.
Posted by Chris Townsend