There were three children, and they usually played together, taking turns to bully, tease, and perform practical jokes on one another, of invariable crudity and variable inventiveness.
They built numerous "dens" in field and hedgerow, of which the overall standard of construction ranged from very-nearly creative, to execrably desultory. Sometimes these makeshift homes would be colonised by other little gangs, and ferocious battles would take place, from which many a deflated bike tyre, dead arm, and torn jacket sleeve ensued. They broke into derelict cottages, all of them Haunted, and carried away many treasures snatched from between rotting floorboards and falling ceiling plaster - abandoned fossil collections, centenarian pickles, and trunks filled with mildewed books - Anatole France, Mark Twain (illustrated), religious almanacs in Welsh (some Methodist schism, belonging to the same era as the preserves).
And they loved to make maps, sometimes elaborate and detailed surveys of imaginary lands, highly influenced by Tolkein and Co., sometimes carefully labelled charts of their real, immediate environment, all landmarks of juvenile importance being scrupulously inked in under real or - more often - assumed names, fanciful, onomatopoeic, or simply descriptive.
On these more prosaic plans appeared in addition, indicated only by complex codes, the locations of certain caves and crevices in the surrounding foothills, considered safer havens than the temporary encampments of the "dens", where could be stored all durable, damp-proof, and illicit prizes, without much fear of discovery - unless of course an older sibling, or other Enemy Child, should come across, and decipher, the map.
In the cave stores were also kept emergency packages, tucked into tins or plastic boxes and buried in floor or wall, as convenient, containing all manner of things of which one might have need when far from home, for all three prided themselves on their knowledge of Woodcraft and Survival Skills, garnered from such disparate sources as Baden-Powell's "Scouting For Boys" (1938 edition) and a much-thumbed paperback copy of "Papillon", daringly liberated from the Mobile Library. The factual contents usually comprised half a dozen Swan Vestas, dipped in candle-wax to keep dry, an assortment of unhygienic plasters and gauze bandage, and a lump of Kendall Mint Cake. None of them liked Kendall Mint Cake, but a Guide for Hill-Walkers that they had once read had recommended it, so in it went.
One of them was afraid of spiders, but more afraid of the others knowing it. One was openly afraid of Ghosts, whereas two claimed not to be, at least when there were three of them, and it wasn't too dark. All three were afraid of farm dogs, which was a reasonable fear, as these were the usual, bite-happy welcome laid on for persistent and habitual trespassers.
They spent much time by The River, splashing and ducking each other in the shallow pool where you could swim a few strokes if you weren't too tall, hunting for the bigger boys' nightlines and stealing their hooks - their catch, too, if there was any - tickling tiny, illegal trout, and making dams that were meant to keep the trout from escaping, but which always ended up with colossal, savage eels as sole occupiers, having eaten such fish as might not yet have slipped out between the carefully placed stones and away downstream.
So here it was, one day, that the three hit upon the idea for their most ambitious Adventure yet. They would follow the River back to its Source, making, on the way, a new map, so accurate and detailed that even the Ordnance Survey might be happy to get their hands on it. (A previous idea, to follow the River down-stream to its mouth in Cardigan bay, had been discounted; not only was it too far, but the route would take them through Tregaron, where lived several schoolfellows they were currently anxious to avoid). So the source was fixed on as a goal. They called it "The" Source, just as in their local egotism they called their little tributary stream "The" River, because it was the only one they knew.
The following morning, they set off so early that even the most vicious of dogs still lay safely sleeping. Trying to move stealthily in dawn light, army-surplus khakis and outsize rubber boots, they scaled the churchyard wall, picking out a shortcut between graves and garden spiders (on overtime repairing dew-damage), hardly pausing even to peer into cracks in the slate tombs, to see if the Bones had Moved in the night. Down the steep earth bank that separated church from stream they slid, the last tossing down to the first their once-green kit-bag, tastefully vandalised with Punkish biro hieroglyphs, and containing the usual supplies, supplemented by paper, pencils, and a makeshift measure - a school ruler and a ball of string.
END OF PART ONE.
PART TWO TO FOLLOW