I often drop in on my old friend, Non, when I have more than I need on my mind. A little off the beaten track, there are two ways to get to her place: the easiest is along windy lanes by car. The other involves a contemplative couple of miles of narrow footpath nibbled into the rugged Pembrokeshire clifftops, until you come to a squeaky iron gate, opening onto an incongruous sloping lawn.
The hefty oak door is always open, as I step from the mossy cobblestones outside and pause on the worn stone threshold whilst my eyes adjust to the shade within. Non’s is a small and sparsely furnished place. The rough stone walls radiate illusory warmth, being soft shades of pink and grey and purple: same as the cliff faces, same as the pebbles on the beaches, same as the cathedral. A few white splashes on the stone floor betray the swallows that have availed themselves of the ever-open door and plastered a couple of nests among the high beams.
Dear Non, still in her prime at 80, is waiting by the window in the corner, her baby son straddling her hip. I greet her, take her hand, and fondle the child’s chubby foot, and in spite of their cool, mute white marbleness, I feel expected, I feel welcome. Then, with the same Pavlovian impulse as putting on the kettle, I post a few coins into a brass slot in the wall and take a few candles from a basket. I feed them into the tall circular candelabra and light each one with silent dedications to my concerns or gratitudes of the day.
The candles quickly generate warmth and shadows, as I then stand and savour the modest beauty of this little stormrider chapel. A simple stone altar bears a plain brass cross and informal flowers, whilst five sublime stained glass windows depict St Non and her grown son St David and a few saintly mates. Their colours bespatter the walls. Deep cobalt blue predominates the spectrum and nourishes my hungry pagan soul.
Meanwhile, the only sound is of the feral elements awaiting me on the other side of the threshold. But I’m not ready yet.