Introduction by Peter Hooper
One of the first stories submitted to the Creative Folktales assignment that I’m currently delivering for Tŷ Pawb in Wrexham was a fabulous fairy tale about Snowy, a little Syrian hamster.
I must admit that when Emma Ford produced a series of inspiring illustrations for the assignment, I did hope that her duelling hamsters drawing would generate some interest from pet owners. And it has!
Snowy is a real-life hamster and Polly, the story’s author, is the mother of Isaac and Seren, Snowy’s owners. Isaac has produced a wonderful drawing, which as you can see shows Snowy, a large owl (oh no!) and Chirk Castle.
The story itself is a lovely piece of writing and very moving.
In Polly’s words: “Prohibited from visiting family in Chirk during Lockdown, I’ve been suffering the Hiraeth blues and found myself following the International Eisteddfod page on Facebook, to feel more connected to
folk in the area. I loved reading your very inspiring Creative Folktales brief that was posted there. When it suggested a tale may be written about the adventures of a pet hamster, I just knew I had to give it a go, as we
welcomed Snowy to our household during Lockdown.”
Polly was bought up in Wrexham county as a child but now lives in the West Midlands. In the assignment’s worksheet I do mention Chirk Castle as a possible location for folk tales and fairy stories – and (I love this bit) because Polly used to live in Chirk and as a school girl had a Saturday job
in Chirk Castle’s tearooms she chose to make the castle a key part of her story. I don’t want to give too much of the plot line away, but the key elements are in Isaac’s drawing.
As she says above, Polly hasn’t been able to see much of her mum recently due to lockdowns on either side of the border, so she sent her a copy of her fairy tale in the post. The next day, late in the afternoon, her mum messaged her to say she had brightened her spirits by going for a walk with Polly’s dad and when she got home a gold envelope was on the mat containing the story.
She read it and it brought tears to her eyes. And by a wonderful coincidence she had just been walking in Chirk Castle woods that morning!
How Snowy Found Home – by Polly Caley
A time long ago, a village lay snugly in their beds, dreaming – all, that is, except one little one, who sat awake and alone. Her tiny voice could be heard singing up at the moon as she wondered. How would she ever find her way back home to the mountain? How would she even escape from her cage?
Just then, a gentle breeze blew apart the clouds and the full gaze of the moon shone in through the cottage window. The Welsh dresser standing in the corner became bathed in light. Snowy peeped across at it through her bars. There on the dresser’s shelf, sat the framed picture she so loved to stare at.
In the photograph stood the old woman, with rosy cheeks, wearing a green woollen hat, smiling triumphantly. “Can you believe it? I conquered Snowdon!” the woman would say to Snowy, whenever she picked up the picture to dust the frame.
In the picture, the sky looked huge – white, grey and blue, without limit. And beyond the rocky summit where the old woman stood, there was a whole range of rugged peaks. That was the most beautiful thing Snowy had ever seen and she just knew it must be where she came from. Why else would the old woman have named her Snowy?
With a restless heart, she leapt on to her hamster wheel and began to run and run. Jumping down, she danced her way up and down the small ramp, which partitioned the two platforms of her cage. Too excited by the view of Snowdon, she could barely stop to eat her seeds and pellets – her belly was simply filled with a longing for home.
Eventually, the moon faded. Snowy yawned and crawled into her little blue house, pulling fleecy bedding all around her. In her cosy cocoon, she stuffed her head with visions of the mountain.
The next night, Snowy heard the old woman open the cage and drop in a piece of hazelnut. Then there was a rarely heard ringing sound. It seemed to call the woman away into another room, and then the sound of the woman speaking to someone could be heard.
Poking her head out of her small house, Snowy realised the door at the top of the cage had been left wide open. This was her big chance!
She looked up at the moon to summon courage and began to sing the strange little song to herself that she seemed to have always known. Snowy thought the strange lyrics she squeaked would reverberate against the distant mountainside – the echo calling her home.
Snowy managed to clamber up on to her roof and heave herself out of the top of the cage. With a muffled thud, she deftly plopped down on to the slate floor. Watchful of the sleeping moggy, she frantically scurried towards the flap in the door, which was how the cat always came and went. Her poor head throbbed after running head-long into the flap. It didn’t budge! The cat twitched. Snowy paused. Thankfully, the cat slept on.
Summoning all the might of the mountain warrior Snowy believed she was, she pressed her front paws up against the flap and firmly gave it one final push. To her amazement, she found herself tumbling forwards and into the outside world.
Outdoors it was colder, damper. A strong smell of wood chip filled the air – like the chippings the woman layered in the cage for Snowy to burrow in. Her thoughts were quickly disturbed by the sight of huge plumes of smoke, billowing up into the night sky, just above the nearby tree-line. Perhaps they came from the wood-cutter’s chimney. But the sight made Snowy quake.
She recalled the image of the red dragon, which featured on the photo-frame back in the cottage. Perhaps the smoke plumes come from the giant nostrils of the fiery dragon who guards Snowdon, she thought. Even her whiskers began to quiver. She gulped and really hoped the dragon was sleeping as soundly as the cat.
Just then, a cool wind whipped up. A new, sweet smell drew her to venture further along the lane. When the pathway forked into two directions, she followed her nose and turned left.
Sniff, sniff – sure enough, it led her past the chocolate-maker’s place. She recognised the purple signage was the same she had seen before. It was on the packet that the old woman had been nibbling from that night. With regret, she remembered she’d left behind the whole nut she’d been given.
Wide-eyed Snowy ran on and on, as fast as her little legs could carry her. Her beating heart was her compass and the moon was her only friend. An occasional set of yellow eyes, peering at her from the hedgerows, caused her to keep running without pause.
There was a hump in the road ahead. As she soldiered on up its incline, the whole ground suddenly began to shake beneath her paws.
An almighty, deafening rumble ripped through the air to hit her ears. She feared that the dragon had finally awoken!
Then she realised the sound actually came from an enormous metal snake, which was passing right beneath the road. Through gaps in the roadside fence, she glimpsed the locomotive rattle on by, along its rails, hurtling onwards into the night to its destination.
Snowy allowed herself to catch her breath and then kept going.
The ground became muddier and muddier and she found herself scrambling down a bank. The air was damper than ever now and she noticed she’d drawn close to the edge of some water. Dead leaves and debris slowly drifted by on the water’s surface. Its relative stillness made Snowy feel uneasy and all around her darkness grew.
She realised she had entered some kind of cave. This must be the entrance to Snowdon, she heartened. But as she cautiously pressed onwards, she became more and more terrified.
All at once, there were quickening footsteps coming up behind her. Snowy froze.
The moonlit exit at the end of the tunnel seemed so far away, she wasn’t convinced she could make it out to the other side. Closing her eyes tightly, she pressed herself into a ball, pushing up against the cold, wet stone of the wall.
Just then, a fat rat brushed past her and laughed with a sneer as it ran on by. Uncurling herself with relief, she swiftly followed in its footsteps.
To her astonishment, she eventually emerged from the tunnel. The rat was nowhere to be seen. So glad to see the moon fully again, she allowed herself a moment to sing her Welsh home-going song. Gazing up, she wondered if Snowdon was now very near.
Clouding her vision was a winged creature, swooping down at her. Snowy’s whole short life flashed before her and she covered her eyes with her paws, ready to meet Death.
But she felt no pain. She smelled feathers. She dared to open her eyes. Towering over her, she peered up into the creature’s two large piercing eyes.
“You are not a field mouse. You are not on my usual dinner menu,” said the creature, rather curtly.
“No …I’m, um, I’m Snowy,” Snowy squeaked timidly in reply.
“And I’m Owl,” said the owl, with an air of authority, “And I believe you were singing in Arabic.”
“Not at all,” said Snowy, puzzled. “I’m making my way home to Snowdon – the mountain that gave me my name – and I think that the song must be Welsh.”
Unblinking, Owl glared at Snowy. “Don’t be ridiculous, you’re a Syrian hamster and that song is from a land that is far, far away, called Syria.”
This bird seemed all-knowing and Snowy slumped down into the mud, now feeling sadly confused. She suddenly felt very lost indeed and more alone than ever.
“You say your name is Snowy? You live with the old woman in the cottage, don’t you? You’re not named after Snowdon and we are nowhere near it right now.”
“How do you know any of this?” Snowy asked, shocked.
“I am Owl,” said Owl, unflinching.
Owl quickly spread open his enormous wing span and grabbed Snowy in his talons. For a moment, Snowy wondered if she’d be eaten after all. The ground was becoming more distant and she realised they were flying.
“I will show you where your name comes from,” said Owl, clutching Snowy with great care.
Over the waterway they flew. Over trees and fields, where Owl pointed out the small shadowy outlines of resting sheep.
Soon they came to a large stone structure, a thousand times bigger than the cottage. A flag with a red dragon on it flapped from its high turrets. Owl informed Snowy that this was an ancient castle. Snowy assumed it must be the home of the dragon and was very glad to be under Owl’s protection.
But they didn’t land at the castle. Instead, they flew down into the woodland that nestled in its grounds. Owl carefully released Snowy on to the frosty soil. The chill air nipped at her nose as she took in her surroundings. All around them on the forest floor were crowds of nodding white flowers. Their heads seem to be bowing in reverence, as if recognising Snowy as someone special.
Owl explained that this woodland is where the old woman walks when she’s feeling sad and lonely, missing her family that are no longer around her. It is her favourite place and always lifts her spirits. And it particularly warms her heart at this time of year, when the Snowdrops all appear.
“And that is why you got your name, Snowy. It’s because you bring her cheer and comfort, just like these wonderful flowers.”
Just then Snowy noticed her own heart had grown warm and it felt as though her whole chest may glow. It was like her internal compass telling her she had arrived.
“Snowy, your Syrian ancestors probably came over with one of the choirs or dancing troupes that visit this area once each year for a magical festival. It’s called the Eisteddfod. This is the Borough of Wrexham, which gives a warm welcome to all.”
“The Burrow of Wrexham,” Snowy said softly to herself, realising that home is wherever you are loved. All at once, she realised she wanted to be back with the old woman in the cottage.
Without having to say a word, Owl had already snatched her up and they were flying back over the tree-tops. Back over the fields and roof-tops they flew and they were soon back at the cottage.
Silently, Owl swooped down, expertly depositing Snowy on the ledge of the open window; then he was gone again, silhouetted momentarily against the moonshine.
In crept Snowy. The cat stirred briefly, only to continue its long nap. Climbing back into her cage, Snowy took one more look at the fading moon, before pulling her fleecy bedding up around her in her little blue house and peacefully settling herself to sleep. There was the trace of a tiny smile beneath her whiskers as she rested safely at home.
And of course, she and the old woman lived happily ever after.