The mountain and the picture not taken

As I drove over a hill in southern Snowdonia on an August afternoon in 2013 I was struck by the wonderful site of Lake Mwyngil in the distance, the remnant puddle of a glacier long-since melted that once carved it’s way through the mountain range…

I slammed my brakes on and skidded to a halt in a lay-by. I was late, really late, but views like that don’t come along every five minutes, even in Snowdonia!… So I ran across the road, set-up my camera, took a few shots and then continued on my journey south – it was the last day of my Welsh photography trip and I was behind schedule; I had to make my destination before nightfall or the campsite would be closed and the shots I’d planned on taking that night and the next morning wouldn’t be taken.

Lake Mwyngil_

As enchanting as this picture makes the scene look, as I got closer to the lake I realised that it only got better. I also realised that the road which would lead me most quickly to that evening’s destination was the one that would take me up behind the mountain to the left in the picture, and therefore away from ever-increasing beauty of the lake.

It was gutting, especially with the late-afternoon sun and cloud forming such great views. But I’d have to take the fastest route if I wanted to complete what I set out to do. So I chose to take the high road away from the lake, hoping as I rose, I might be able to get a sneak-peak at the lake through the trees and maybe even a shot. But the woodland was dense and I couldn’t see down through it, let alone stop anywhere on the winding, narrow road on the side of a mountain, (one that trucks like to travel down at great speed, adding more spice to the journey… The type of thing you hear on traffic reports: two men were killed on the A-4501432 in Snowdonia when a lorry and car collided between Gwjhsrf and Port Erygksamnf…)

But as I drove up the mountain a small gap opened in the trees, probably about 5 metres wide, revealing the most breathtaking view of the lake and mountain, both peppered by golden sunlight. I slowed down and looked in the rear-view mirror. A could just see a car driving up the mountain behind me, probably several hundred metres back, maybe less… If I wanted to get a shot through the gap I’d have to park, but where? I carried on driving slowly and after about a quarter of a mile, just past a sharp bend, out of nowhere there appeared an odd little lay-by carved into the side of the mountain, perfectly rectangular in shape, (as I noticed some Welsh lay-bys can be, almost as if they’re built for cars with adjustable axes that can park at right-angles, or more plausibly, for tractors…) making parking challenging to say the least. However, at a time like this, even with parking issues and the fact that it was after a blind bend and that there was the occasional lorry speeding past me, this little lay-by looked as it had been sent by the Gods themselves, to help me park and take THE BEST PICTURE EVER!!!

I slammed on the brakes and reversed back to have a look, keeping my eye in the mirror for the car that would be coming round the bend. I had a choice to make, and quick… Either: (try to) park in the space and hope that the car I’d seen earlier wouldn’t be arriving imminently round the blind bend and lead to my untimely demise, then jump out, run down the mountain a quarter of a mile on a road barely wide enough for two vehicles, hoping not to get knocked down by any speeding lorries and other traffic, and take the (hopefully amazing) picture, then run back up the mountain, jump in the car, pull out of the tiny driveway, (hoping not to be hit by any more traffic coming round the blind bend), drive off and get to my destination probably half-an-hour later than my already desperately hopeful ETA suggested I would… Or: don’t (try to) park the car, don’t run down the mountain, don’t risk my life and don’t get the shot…

Life is made of split-second decisions: Speak to the girl or don’t, book the ticket or don’t, squeeze on the packed train or don’t, hold your tongue or don’t, park on the blind bend to run down the mountain to take the BEST PICTURE EVER or don’t… Most of the time you don’t know where a split-decision will lead to, but occasionally you might get an inkling… The decision was mine to make…

Well, I didn’t park on the blind bend that day. And the reason is: it didn’t feel right… Maybe a few years earlier I’d have jumped in with both feet, I don’t know. But something kicked in that day, and I recognised it. Perhaps, I was finally making a grown-up decision – one that would prolong my existence rather than laugh in the face of it. Perhaps…  All I know is that at that moment, sat in a stationary car, looking back down a mountain at a parking space and a blind bend, every part of me screamed CAUTION!!!

So I drove on… Smiling to myself at the beautiful sight I’d seen for only a few seconds… But at least I’ve seen it. There’ll be more lakes to see and sunlight on other valleys to witness, and there’ll be more mountains to climb, I thought to myself. At that moment I felt alive, thankful, and I realised that this world is ours, to witness and shape and travel in as we choose, and as we’re able… As long as we keep ourselves in the game, that is… As long as we stay alive.

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And one thing’s just struck me, reading this back almost 5 months later… I don’t regret not taking that picture for another reason: because I achieved what I set out to do and what I sacrificed in taking the faster road that day – I got to my destination in time for some beautiful dusk and sunset shots of a place that’s haunted me ever since I first saw pictures of it… The church at the end of the world…

Church at the end of the world sunset #1

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