In 1985 I came up to North Wales to perform a show I was doing arising from my experience as a bush artist in the Aboriginal communities of Central Australia. After the show I met some lovely people including Tim McCartney and Tracker. They’d studied with a prominent Native American teacher and were planning to run a sweat lodge on Anglesey a few weeks later. I decided to go.
The day after the lodge we walked over the hill to the holy well of St Seiriol in Penmon. On our return we were directed by Tree – a striking part Native American woman – to walk along the nearby beach and choose a dreaming stone, a stone we would put under our pillow to help us remember our dreams. The beach was near a disused marble quarry so had many beautiful marbled pebbles. I lingered behind at the well, reflecting on what had been said. By the time I got to the beach those ahead of me were already leaving. I picked up a stone. It wasn’t it. Nor was the next. Then I saw what looked like an eye blinking at me on the edge of the water. I picked it up. It was a pebble with a fossil in it like the sun with sunbeams radiating out. Small waves lapping over made it look like a blinking eye. It fitted perfectly in the palm of my hand.
To find a fossil is rare. To find one in a rounded pebble that fits perfectly in palm of your hand is even rarer. To find one when you’re looking for a ‘dreaming stone’ probably only happens once every few lifetimes. I decided it was a sign. After all my travels I’d finally found the right place to settle down.
A few months later I was back in North Wales, this time actively seeking a place to live. I was on my way to a tiny cottage in Dinorwic. On the map I spotted a narrow winding lane going up the hill. I decided to try it. Two thirds of the way up was a ‘for sale’ sign. Hmmm, I thought, come back and check it later. I liked the Dinorwic cottage but someone else had, fortunately, already made an offer. So I came back down the lane, parked near the ‘for sale’ sign and walked down the track thinking: ‘this is amazing but where’s the house?’ After half a mile I came to it at last. The house wasn’t anything special but the setting was fantastic. There was a stunning little river, a dappled mossy oak forest and lots of charming nooks. I fell in love with it at once. But then realised I couldn’t possibly afford to buy it. I had no money, no accounts and no job, and therefore no prospects of raising a mortgage. The place was called Muriau Gwynion. I had to let it go.
Meanwhile I was working at the Commonwealth Institute in London as the educational coordinator for an exhibition on human origins called ‘The Human Story’. I’d written a handbook for teachers and scripted, directed and performed in a theatre-in-education piece called ‘Gaia Song’ where we took kids imaginatively back in time to meet their ancestors. I’d worn a bearskin! It was intense and enjoyable (we’d met the Queen at the opening) but when it was over I needed a break. So I enrolled on a meditation retreat at Gaia House in Devon. After a week, when all the surface chatter had ebbed away from my mind, I was left with a really strong vision of what I could do at Muriau Gwynion. The vision seemed to rise up from the ground and envelop me. As soon as I could I went back – to discover someone else had bought it. For a second time I had to let it go.
More months passed. At last I had a couple of days to come to Gwynedd and look again. By now I’d scaled down my ideas but was still hoping to find something with a little land and a few trees. I walked down the Bangor High Street in and out of the estate agents. When I reached the last one I had a sheaf of details and was running late for an appointment. So I whizzed around, picked out a couple of things and was about to leave when the manager said: ‘What are you looking for?’ I almost said: ‘It doesn’t matter, I have enough.’ But I blurted out that I was looking for a place in the country with trees. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘we’ve got this and this… And then there’s a place in Fachwen, bit difficult to get to, you’ve got to go down a half mile long track.’ I looked at the picture and it was Muriau Gwynion. It had come back on the market just a few days before. I still had no money, no accounts and no job. But I did have the vision and that, it turned out, made all the difference.
Miraculously I managed to get a hundred percent mortgage. Trying to be clever with mortgage brokers in London led nowhere. Then my cousin, an accountant in the city, advised me to gather the two references and two sort-of-job-offers I had, and a strike up a relationship with a building society manager in Bangor. Which is what I did. The first one rejected me out of hand. The second one took my letters and told me to come back tomorrow. The next day he offered me a hundred percent mortgage. It would never happen today.
The whole house buying process was put in train until it came to the day before I was due to sign the contract. I went to the other side of Llyn Padarn to look at the house and land I was about to commit myself to. It was June but it was a grey day, the cloud hanging heavy over the hill. Suddenly I was filled with doubt, as one is before making a big decision. Until a few years before I’d lived in Alice Springs where the sun almost always shines. What was I doing moving to a place where it didn’t shine even in the summer? But that night I went to a singing group held at the house of my friend Sheila Brook. People brought songs to teach each other. That night Martin the Fish (so known because he was a fisherman) brought a song, part of which went:
Sleep, sleep tonight
And may your dreams be realised.
And when the thundercloud passes rain
Oh let it rain, rain down on me.
By the time we’d sung that song over and over again it didn’t matter about the rain because it was about dreams being realised. So the next day I signed the contract with a clear heart. The day after I bumped into Dav Devalle and told him what I’d done. ‘You know what it was yesterday?’ he asked. ‘No,’ I said. ‘Midsummer’s day!’ I’d signed the contract on midsummer’s day without even realising it.
Thirty-two years ago!