Daughter Of Conwy – Episode 10

“This is so peaceful.” Iona sighed wistfully as she joined David and Mr Stephenson, along with a small number of the more energetic passengers, on the short walk from the quayside at Trefriw to the Roman spa. Coaches rattled past now and again, filled to the brim with eager sightseers, but for the most part they were free to walk on in peace.

On one side the slopes of the valley rose skyward, covered in oak trees interspersed with beech and the delicate leaves of birch that hung over the road, giving a dappled protection from the sun. While much of the Conwy Valley was wide and green, this part was steep, leading up to the watery expanse of Llyn Crafnant and Llyn Gerionedd, where the river that powered the water wheel of the woollen mill in Trefriw began.

Iona breathed deeply. Her companions didn’t appear in the least bit shocked that she had left her maid Elspeth to guard her easel at the Snowdon View. She was now striding along without any pretence of being ladylike, sketchbook in hand, jotting down the shape of a leaf here, the sweep of the River Conwy there. Papa would never let her out of Plas Arthur again if he ever got to hear of such scandalous behaviour, while Rhodri would probably never let her out of his sight.

Iona pushed the thought behind her and lifted her eyes to the sprinkling of bright sunlight between the leaves, enjoying the precious freedom while she could.

Soon the white building appeared between the trees. They passed the main pump room of the spa, which offered everything from an elbow-bath to complete immersion for those seeking relief from a whole host of ailments in the sulphurous waters trickling down from the deep heart of the slopes above Trefriw. Advertisements outside proclaimed an unrivalled cure for anaemia, indigestion, rheumatism, neurasthenia and neuritis, alongside flowery praise from enthusiastic medical men, and the miraculously cured.

“There’s an older part, up there, in the trees,” she explained to David Ross as a new rush of visitors arrived. “There were once baths there, too. People used to bathe in the water straight from the mountainside without any heating at all.”

“I’m not sure I’d call that healing,” he replied, laughing.

“Me neither.”

She led the way to where ivy wound itself around the massive stones, half obscuring the building, one half of which had now been turned into a tank to gather the slow ooze of water to be piped down into the baths below.

“There’s a cave up above, where you can see the water emerge from the rocks.”

They followed a paved pathway, where the bare rock on either side ran with moisture. At the entrance of the cave, she turned. They had left the others far behind. Her companion didn’t appear to have noticed that they were now completely alone, being absorbed in inspecting his surroundings.

A faint thrill shot through Iona. She had never been alone with a man before. She was quite certain Mr Ross was the perfect gentleman who would offer her no insult. But it felt deliciously wicked all the same.

“So now I have to taste the water, I take it?” David was peering into the little grotto. “Having heard all about its healing properties.”

“I wouldn’t, if I were you. My brother made me once. It’s utterly vile! I’m sure it’s very good for you, but I wouldn’t drink it again for all the tea in China. But it is magical in there.”

Careful not to slip on the damp floor, she led the way inside. In the light of a lamp the small chamber within the rock lit up, oozing damp gleaming on the walls. The drip of water was louder here, echoing around the tiny cave.

Iona picked up the lamp, moving it a little, and the walls in front of her eyes seemed to open up into miniature caves not much taller than an arm’s breadth, and stretching back into the mountain in a shimmering pool of reddish water. Miniature columns of stalactites and stalagmites reached from floor and ceiling of these tiny worlds, dripping slowly into the clear water below, through which the rusty red of stones could be seen as clear as if through glass.

“That’s extraordinary.” David’s face in the lamplight was entranced. “It’s as if we are looking into the very heart of the earth!”

“Yes!” Iona said eagerly. “That’s just it. I can’t capture it. However many times I try, I can’t capture that feeling. I’m just not good enough.”

He turned towards her.

“You sound like a perfectionist, Miss Tudor. I’m certain every artist must feel the same. It comes with passion, don’t you think?”

“I suppose.”

No-one had ever spoken to her seriously of her painting. David Ross had referred to it as an art, not the accomplishment of a girl to capture a husband. An ache opened up, deep inside. Without her painting she was only half alive. How could she ever set it aside?

“The others are arriving.” David was making his way outside. “I’ll hold them off for a while to give you a little time on your own.”

“Thank you,” she murmured.

Alone in the little grotto, she sketched furiously, trying to ignore the confusion of her heart. But she had understood something about herself, in the darkness and the flicker of the lamp. Something that would not again be denied.

Alan Spink

I am a member of the “Friend” Fiction Team. I enjoy working closely with writers and being part of the creative process, which sees storytelling ideas come to fruition. A keen reader, I also write fiction and enjoy watching football and movies in my spare time. My one tip to new writers is “write from your imagination”.