My name is Owen Thomas, and I am a Professional Playwright, raised on a farm in the hills above Bronllys. My family have farmed in the foothills of the Beacons for many generations, both on my mother’s and my father’s sides. I am not a Farmer, but farming is in my blood. I started my writing journey in a bedroom that looked out onto the Beacons, and I am proud beyond words to have been appointed the inaugural English language Writer in Residence for the Brecon Beacons National Park.
This appointment has afforded me the opportunity to see my homeland with fresh eyes. It has also encouraged me to look deeper into the heart of the Beacons, at what makes it so special, and to meet some of the people who live, learn, and work there. I have trod in the footsteps of millions by scaling Pen Y Fan in September sunshine, only to see for myself at the summit that breath-taking something that makes so many make this ascent. I have also climbed it in deepest, darkest winter, seeing and feeling treachery where once was calm. I have walked Craig-Y-Nos in the company of Rebecca Thomas, my fellow writer in residence, and Alan Bowring, our guide, an incredible fountain of knowledge of this National Park. With my mum I have walked to the top of Castell Dinas. On a bright sunny day in early January, we stood where people have stood for thousands of years. And beneath circling red kites we imagined ourselves as the long dead watching for unwelcome invaders
I have sat and stared in silent awe at the gentle lapping waters of Llyn Y Fan Fach. I have stood in the shadow of the mighty Llanthony Abbey, gazing at the mountains framed by what remains of her vast windows. I have eaten a sandwich in the palm of Carreg Cennan Castle, picked blackberries on the walk that skirts the river below her feet. I have seen waterfalls from the front, and waterfalls from behind, felt them tumbling cold on the palm of my hand. I have seen the birds, the insects, the animals. I have walked countless pathways, scaled mountains large and small, and bit by bit I have fallen in love with a place I thought I knew well. It has, in many ways, been like meeting again with an old friend who I had lost track of. We have caught up over countless coffees and conversations.
I have had passing chats with fellow walkers, hikers, and explorers. I have hunted for parking spaces and bins. I have picked litter from paths and drunk water from streams. I have seen the colours change as the seasons rise and fall. I have seen life in the depths of winter and death in the heat of the summer. I have seen the tumbledown beauty of Cwmyoy Church and the serene charm of the chapel at Capel-Y-Ffin. I have watched my frozen breath rise with wonder as I stared at a vista of the whole Beacons from the edge of Llanfihangel Talyllyn, marvelling as the view changes second by second like something within a shaken snow globe. I have walked the streets of my hometowns and villages. I have reacquainted with old friends, and I have seen, on interval, a younger, greener me.
I have seen this is not some idyllic life where people spent their dazed days gazing at the beauty of it all and revelling in how lucky they are. I have seen that to live here, whilst the rewards are infinite, the challenges and the daily issues are every bit as real as the mountains themselves. And I have been ever mindful of our collective responsibility to this place. The fact that when balanced against their incalculable lifetime, our own experience can seem inconsequentially small. But although our lives are mayfly blips in the vast expanse of the Parks history, we still have a role in keeping it safe.
And no. I am not a farmer. But I am a writer, and I am a Farmer’s son. I feel the huge responsibility of attempting to communicate what I have experienced and what I continue to experience. I know the life, having observed it at close quarters for all my 46 years. I have seen the reality of this existence. I have seen the rewards and the disappointments. I have heard quiet prayers for rain to begin or rain to cease. I have seen the impact of government decisions, diseases, and the unpredictable peace or fury of mother nature. I have seen everything that can be thrown at someone who makes their living from the land. And as someone born in the heat of the summer of 76, I have felt the climate shift.
I have seen the care, the love, the respect for the countryside that guides every decision, every waking thought of people who have devoted their lives to this challenging but rewarding way of life. I have seen births and deaths in the fields and barns. I have seen the devastation of foot and mouth, watching people watch as everything they worked for is killed and burnt to ashes in less than a day.
My challenge is to write a play that utilises all my past and present. I am going to try to wrestle this beautiful friend and my reflections on my own unique upbringing into a story, trying to tame its beauty within the confines of dialogue and narrative. I am going to try to capture everything that I love about this place and explain how essential it is that we all protect it. I am going to explore the partnerships that exist between people and people, and people and the land. And in doing so I will add my voice to this rallying call so those yet to be born can marvel at the marvel of the Beacons.