Gogarth - A Gala Performance Poetry

© Sarah-Jane Dobner

Gogarth took to the stage - cliffs and humans and animals - all larger than life. A place of arias, disguises, pomp, extravagance and showy dramatics. The Hollywood of Wales! Diva territory! Poems from a glorious long weekend in May by Sarah-Jane Dobner...


Head West, always. As the Joad family in Grapes of Wrath or Otis in Dock of the Bay. Adventurers, pioneers and runaways. The dreamers and desperate. Years ago, hitch-hiking the deserts, flagged a ride with New Jersey kids jumping bail. Headed to California. Drive West. Leaving Llanberis, light rain closing in on the windscreen, peppering the glass. Not forecast. But there it is. Nature of the mountains. Keep driving. Roundabouts. A bridge, squat and self-promoting. Irksome to the island, one would think. Centuries of the Menai Straits thwarting casual visitors and conquerors. Drive over. Look at the state of the tide. You've checked online. But seeing it, the mud or gleaming water, confirms the iPhone's information. Drive on. Through the town. Beyond all conurbations. Beyond fields and into heathland. Sea beyond the passenger seat. Sea ahead. Only sea, and the end of the track where the road runs out. The Western edge of Wales. Crumpled cliffs, high cliffs, red cliffs, yellow cliffs, mud cliffs, crystal cliffs, lichen cliffs, loose cliffs, clean cliffs. It's all there. You can reinvent yourself, out West. Be whoever you like. Be who you are. Start again, each time, and hope for better results.

South Stack Lighthouse.  © Sarah-Jane Dobner
South Stack Lighthouse.
© Sarah-Jane Dobner


Birdwatchers already. South Stack. Dawn. Ribbed, black, knitted hats. Binoculars. The sky an opaque silver screen. Herring gull stands on the closest outcrop to the car park. Can see the lighthouse. Van on level ground by the big metal bin and a telescope selling views for 20p, with scratched glass and poor resolution. My friend sleeping still, earplugs and facemask. A big truck pulls up next to us. Peggy Lee's You Give Me Fever blasting out of the speakers. Refuse-person. Changes the liner. An early morning romantic on Gorgarth.


Queen of Cymru, Snowden commands

Utterly. There is no discussion


The opacity of her rule has always struck me

Even from Anglesea can see her crown


Of cloud. Other foothills and peaks

Preen and parade in the sunshine


Not her. The monarch. Doesn't mix

With commoners. Hangs out with the crowd


From Mount Olympus, I guess. Takes the usual quota

Of fatalities and sacrifices, like the old days


Doesn't mess with modern civilisation despite

The petite railway track ascending her flanks


Could stop it with a shrug. But maybe it's flattering

Ticklish. An adornment like a bangle or a necklace


Thus fêted, she assesses her domain

And, occasionally, pins the sky with a pointy gaze

The ferry to and from Ireland.  © Sarah-Jane Dobner
The ferry to and from Ireland.
© Sarah-Jane Dobner


Gogarth Main Cliff is serious

The descent path itself is horrific


Plus an un-roped sea-level traverse

Multi-pitch skills, big-face route-finding


Top out on steep slopes of

Slick mud and detached pinnacles


Competent teams come here. Not so

The sea, where yachts ever seem


To be flapping their sails and

Dragging tenders, forgetting to reef


And floundering in the rip. Jet skis

Blast around doing doughnuts and


Playing hip-hop as if this were

Brooklyn. Only the ferries


Behave. Following their appointed course

There and back, all day

Gogarth Main Cliff.  © Sarah-Jane Dobner
Gogarth Main Cliff.
© Sarah-Jane Dobner



The eponymous route

After years of waiting and saving up

A play in five acts


Pitch one

The prologue

On the edge of my seat from the off

Daunted by the glamour of the theatre


Pitch two

Three sides of a square

Devious. A masked ball. Going right to go left

To a big sloping ledge in the gods


Pitch three

A ramble

Necessary for the plot

Almost an interval


Pitch four

Romp up the star-studded flake-ramp. A crowd-pleaser!

Belay box with the

Best views in town


Pitch five

The twist! Bold traverse and steep cracks

A stab in the heart. But cathartic

Just about managed to follow it



The namesake

A metaphor for the entire area

Profoundly satisfying, as tragedies are

The view from Wen Slab.  © Sarah-Jane Dobner
The view from Wen Slab.
© Sarah-Jane Dobner


It was a gala extravaganza

Head and shoulders out of the water

Appraised me directly


Then double checked

Left eye, right eye, made certain

I was paying attention


Before backflipping

An exit. Displaying his whole stomach

What a performance!


I've not seen seals in

Pembroke or Cornwall flaunt themselves

So gaily. Ta-da! Lights! Action!


Then he popped up to assess

The reception. I applauded, of course

And he went. What a show-off!

Lichen-covered.  © Sarah-Jane Dobner
© Sarah-Jane Dobner


That most vivid of chameleons, Gogarth

Blink and it's shifted, switched tunes

Never known a rock so keen to fit in


Lichen-covered, smothered

In greenery, disguising its bulk

As heather and grasses and bracken. Or


Main Cliff, close up, white-grey flakes

Folded and rippled like choppy water

Crystals sparkling. The sea a mirror. Plus


Multi-colour options. To match the sun?

Russets and maroon at Red Wall and Rhoscolyn

Yellows and golds of Mousetrap Zawn


Why so changeable, so many hats?

What can I trust? For instance, is that spike

A Thank God hold or death block?


Holy or Trap? Racking up again

Fewer wires - more hexes and slings?

Struggling to pin down the chameleon

Watery ripples.  © Sarah-Jane Dobner
Watery ripples.
© Sarah-Jane Dobner


An event. Like the cinema. Without tickets. A specific time each evening, noted on Met Office. People gather. Two middle-aged women with cameras stand very still by the collapsed wall. A family with children tumble out of the vehicle and rush down the slope. Late arrivals chew up the gravel. Park rapidly. A Drive-In. Sofa-seats. Form a back row. Taking in the panorama. On the headlands surrounding us, figures are standing, silhouetted. The Super Bowl! See the red ball fall! Nothing can stop it. We all know how the story ends, yet we still want to watch it. The dazzling finale. The speeches. Heads rolling at the guillotine. Car crash TV. At the height of its glory the radiant, bloodied, bombastic sun sets and the landscape turns, immediately, grey. The people seem confused as to why they are there. Stony coastal tracks. In the darkness. Within minutes, everyone has departed. Tidily. Taking their popcorn packets and tripods.

19 Aug, 2019

I loved this; very refreshing and alive. Thank you, Sarah-Jane!

19 Aug, 2019

Typo: Snowdon

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