On the Monday after one of the warmest Christmases I can remember we packed up two cars, and eleven members of our family headed over the border into Wales to visit the Elan Valley. The family needed to get out and blow the cobwebs of Christmas away. There are several reservoirs in the Elan Valley that supply fresh water to the city of Birmingham. We walked around Caban Coch Reservoir where recent heavy rainfall meant that the reservoir was overflowing quite spectacularly. Some of us walked further than others, and some of us would have liked to have walked further. Eventually, we returned to the Visitor Centre where food and flasks were retrieved from the cars so that we could enjoy a picnic.
It wasn’t really picnic weather on the Monday after Christmas, but I recall another picnic in the Elan Valley one August when we had to wrap up even more against the weather. Folk love to complain about the weather in the UK. It is either too cold or too warm, too wet or too dry, too windy or too humid, etc. In fact the weather is pretty much always doing something that at least some of us would rather it wasn’t – a bit like life.
But since when was life a picnic? And who compared life to a picnic in the first place? It doesn’t matter how well we plan a picnic, or how good the food we pack might be, there is always a chance that the weather might conspire to spoil a picnic. Just like life sometimes seems to plot against our wellbeing, happiness, and state of mind.
I wonder how the 100 residents of the area flooded by the Elan Valley project felt about being forcibly relocated from their homes back in 1892? During the construction of the Elan Valley dams two large manor houses, eighteen cottages and farmhouses, a small church, and a Baptist Chapel were demolished, with compensation paid only to landowners. It was no picnic for the people of the valley who were given no choice in their future. I am guessing that life might have been a challenge for most of them as they left their homes in the knowledge that they would never be able to return. Similar to, but nothing like being a refugee from famine or conflict.
As we consider our world at the beginning of another new year we can be certain that whatever life throws in our direction there are people elsewhere who would gladly swap places with us. People who cannot begin to remember what a family picnic is like. None of us really know what the year ahead holds, or even what lies around the corner. So why do so many of us step out without holding the hand of the One who cares all of the time, but especially when life ceases to be a picnic?
The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honour to his name.
Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honour me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23 (NLT)
Memories of the Lost Valleys (Powys Digital History Project)