John Dexter Jones

The Head Torch

Jo got me a head-torch for Christmas. I’m not a cyclist, so it’s not going to wind up motorists who wonder what’s coming towards them. I won’t be looking down to take a quick drink of Lycra-Sky-Energy-Shake (light becomes diffused and weird), and then looking back up to penetrate the driver’s eyeballs with laser beams. It’s for the early starts. A couple of hours-worth of charge to enable significant progress on the mountains before sunrise, and more significantly, before the clamour…

Don’t write to me if you’re an aggrieved cyclist, by the way. Instead, buy yourself a set of sturdy lights that attach to your bike, not your head, include in that purchase a red rear light, in case your muddied reflector isn’t quite adequate, and you’ll be fine.

I was excited to wear my head-torch last night. I fiddled with the strap, compared the two settings, and set off to test it. The road from Croesor to Tan y Bwlch does not suffer light pollution – not in any permanent sense, anyway. After three days of heavy precipitation and a cloud base of less than five hundred feet, the chances of moonlight were also slimmer than none, so as opportunities present themselves, it would have been hard to beat.

The last streetlight by the crossroads waved me by. Go on, it said. Go on, go up there with your cavalier attitude to the night; go into the dark to flounder and curse. That was the point at which I switched on the direct beam. I looked over my shoulder at the tired old lamp and shone my freedom-to-roam up into its drizzle-flecked halo. It winced at the glare. You stay there, I said. You do a good job, but yours is to stand, and mine is to thrust, intrepid – with my HEAD-TORCH.

Perspective, in spite of the powerful light-emitting diode, took adjusting-to at times. My legs, expecting to feel the resistance of an upslope, occasionally found themselves involuntarily bowling downwards, but after further tinkering, angling, tweaking and pointing, this uncertainty was mitigated. I am allowing for the fact that by the time my apparatus was optimised, the rest of the way to the Bwlch was anyway, without exception, unrelentingly uphill.

A distant dog, at the splendidly isolated Penrallt, barked at the head-torch. I got into my rhythm, the dead-dark road winding upwards in the fog was reduced to a mere convenience, until two by two, in the nothingness, Will-o-the-wisps, Jack-o-Lanterns and corpse-candles, began to appear on the moorland. I thought of the last streetlight. The warning. They were above and below me, either side of the reassuring road; silent lights – bright, still and magnetic. I knew they wished to lure me from the road onto the Moelwyn; to claim one more soul, one more foolhardy explorer… head-torch and all.

I thought, should I turn back? No. I must overcome. Ignore them. They are but fey illusions; fell deceivers in the mist. Strength. Up and up I went. I could not resist looking, left and right. More, more… thirty, fifty… a hundred lights!

And then near the top, where the gate bars the way into the woods, they were gone. All was dark again. Tall pines bent towards me, craning their necks towards the head-torch. I walked on until I thought I saw Penrhyn and Traws, and was that Harlech? There were red lights down there for the train.

I turned around. It was time to go back. This was just a test-walk for my new equipment. That’s all. An hour in the dark. The sound of rushing water was all I noticed. There were no longer corpse candles flickering in the stratus muffle that clung to the hill beside the Tan y Bwlch road, for the sheep, it seemed, had lost interest in my new head-torch.