Wild, wet, windy Wales

Posted on: 06 Sep 2016

Sorry to have been AWOL again - blame work! It is consuming far too much of my time and energy at the moment, it is very stressful, and I am really hating it. The more I see of the way the theatre is heading, the more certain I am that my decision to leave is the right one. Bring on retirement, say I! I did manage a flying visit to Chamonix to spectate at the UTMB and meet up with the great Bolty, however - account to follow (eventually..........)


Meanwhile, back to my summer break (a distant memory now - good thing I made notes as I went along!) and our excursion to Snowdonia.


Monday 27th June: slightly stiff after the previous day's race, but otherwise fine.
Tuesday 28th: loaded up the car (aka 'Little Rusty Heap' - it's 29 years old!) and set off. The scenic route (via Castleton, Cheshire, Llangollen........) rather than the quickest; first stop at Nantwich, short leg-stretch round a little lake there; then the traditional picnic stop at Hanmer, also by a lake (this is where we always had our lunch stop on family holidays to North Wales many decades ago). Soon after, it began to rain. Another brief stop at Llangollen to look at the viaduct, but in view of the rain, decided to defer crossing it until the return journey. By Betws y Coed, it was bucketing down, and had that 'seriously meaning it' look about it. Over Pen y Pass to Llanberis, and around the end of the lake to our accommodation at Fachwen. No problems finding the chalet, which was sweet and cosy, with flowers and Welshcakes on the table to welcome us. Dumping our luggage, we drove back down to Llanberis to buy provisions, getting caught in another deluge while we were about it. But by the time we had got back to the chalet, dried out, introduced ourselves to the owners at the house next door, made beans on toast, and enjoyed our Welshcakes, it seemed to have rained itself out for today; late in the evening, the sun even put in an unexpected appearance, so J. and I went out for an exploratory walk, up the road towards Dinorwig and the slate quarries. Where the road ended, we found a promising-looking path, and followed it as far as some ruined buildings (and a herd of goats with enormous horns.) The evening light was wonderfully atmospheric - I really regretted not having a camera with me. By now, though, it was getting late, so we reluctantly turned back, retracing our steps as that extraordinary light gradually faded into dusk, and then darkness. S, my brother, was already tucked up in his bed(sofa), and beginning to wonder where we had got to. He just doesn't understand the lure of an interesting path...........


Wednesday 29th: woken by a raging storm, with rain lashing down, and the tree growing through (sic) the balcony thrashing wildly.

This was not looking promising, so I turned over and went back to sleep. Over a late breakfast, the wind gradually died down, but it was still raining hard, and Snowdon was sulking invisibly behind a thick veil of cloud. Museum day, then. We tried the Electric Mountain visitor centre first, but unsurprisingly, all the tours were booked up. So we watched a short film which showed us what we would see if we had been able to see it, then headed off to the Slate Museum, with a short diversion to a ruined castle on the way. This proved an excellent way to pass on a wet afternoon; I particularly liked the quarry workers' cottages furnished in different eras, and the giant waterwheel that powered the workshops. Takeaway fish and chips for our evening meal.......... then it did it again: the rain finally stopped, and the sun broke through. So once again J and I went out for an evening walk, a bit earlier this time. Back up the road to Dinorwig, then a track leading higher up the hillside and veering right towards the towering mountains of slate waste. Eventually we found our way barred by a locked gate, so went back down to Dinorwig and returned to yesterday's path, continuing along it to the viewpoint someone had told us about. The light was not quite as magical as the previous evening's (and no sign of the goats this time), but I took some photos.

 

 

Back at the road, we explored a short way down another path, but it was beginning to go dark again, so we headed back. Found S. reclining on his bedsofa again, listening to the football commentary on the radio - Wales beating Belgium. Being in Wales, we felt quite partisan, and celebrated with tea and another Welshcake (we didn't have anything stronger.) We were less thrilled with the Welsh weather, though. With 2 days left, and 2 'big' walks planned, I really hoped the next day would be an improvement.


Thursday 30th: and it was. Not spectacularly so, but at least it was dry. Snowdon, having revealed itself briefly the previous two evenings, was once more wrapped in heavy cloud. Well, it would be a pity to make the effort to get up there, and then see nothing, so we decided on the other option: the Mawddach Trail from Dolgellau to Barmouth (as featured by Julia Bradbury on her Railway Walks.) I thought this was one S. might manage too. Barmouth had also been the location of a childhood holiday, though I could barely remember it - just the beach, and a little train - and S, aged 3, singing 'Nick Nack Paddywhack' in a fish and chip shop and being rewarded with a bottle of pop! So we drove there first, passing Harlech castle on the way, agreed on a car park to meet up at, then S drove us to Dolgellau and saw us off, before driving back to Barmouth, proposing to set off up the trail from the other end and meet us partway. Initial small hiatus at a bridge - which side did we need to be? We asked a chatty couple, who expressed concern when we said we were walking to Barmouth ("It's ever such a long way!") "It's okay," we assured them, "we're from Switzerland, we're used to walking!" It was easy going, and we strode along, first through trees, then wide reed beds, and then along the estuary. In the far distance, the famous bridge came into view, appearing and disappearing as the track curved. There was the occasional spit of rain, but nothing worse. Suddenly I spotted a familiar figure coming towards us - S had made remarkably good time, and met us not long after halfway. He was disappointed, in fact, not to have caught up with us before the George Inn so we could call in for a drink. So we all walked companionably along together, spotting Julia's landmarks (the telegraph poles; the tank traps; the little that remained of Arthog station.........), as the bridge loomed ever closer. It's very impressive, I must say. Through a fourth gate, just as the man at the toll booth by the George had told me, and then we turned onto the bridge, the railway on one side, the wide expanse of the estuary on the other. The tide was coming in, and the water was racing below us. (Not a good place to fall in.) The iron structure looked worryingly rusty in places!

 

Back on terra firma at the other end, we felt the need for something to eat, so went in a cafe near the beach, where I enjoyed a baked potato with tuna. (Yes I know, I always tell you what I have to eat on my walks - but food is important!) We walked down to the sea afterwards, and some way along the beach, but the weather was deteriorating again, it was cold and very windy (though that hadn't deterred a couple of hardy souls from swimming), so I passed on the proposed paddle and we headed back to the car. Just in time; here came the rain again. A downpour of biblical proportions as we drove back up the coast. S was considering something. I had a good idea what it was, but I pretended surprise as we ended up in Porthmadog, and then in Borth y Gest (more childhood holidays revisited.) Only semi-seriously, I suggested carrying on to the camp site we used to stay at........ so he did. It has changed; it's mostly caravans now, and much more ordered. But S can still remember exactly where we pitched the tent, each of the four times we came here - he does have an amazing memory. Where there just used to be a house where you checked in and paid, there is now a hotel/restaurant with a bar, so I suggested going in and having something to drink. The trip down Memory Lane was still not over yet, though; after that, we drove further down the road to Black Rock Sands, and actually onto the beach, just as we used to do. (One not-so-good memory: my first and only driving lesson was there. Unfortunately I looked down while changing gear, only for my father to yell at me "LOOK WHERE YOU'RE GOING!!!" as I almost drove into the sea. I have never driven since.) A one minute visit sufficed; then a very narrow, winding road - S confessed later that he'd never been on it before, and wasn't altogether sure where it ended up - took us over to Criccieth, and the civilization of the coast road again. One more short detour, past Caernarvon castle, and our seaside day was completed. Back to Llanberis and Fachwen, once more in pouring rain - no evening walk today.


Friday 1st July: last chance for Snowdon. Another dull day, with low cloud obscuring the mountains again, but dry at least. S. drove us to Pen y Pass, and J and I set off up the Miners' Track. Despite the crowds of people in the car park, it was surprisingly unpopulous; we could see a group some way ahead, but we caught up and overtook them at a lake, where several of them stopped to take photos. The path wandered harmlessly along for a while, reached another lake, then began to climb. It had also become very windy; I needed my hood up to save my ears a battering. Just as I was thinking "Well, this is pretty easy - much easier than some of the stuff we've done in Switzerland..........", it became steeper and trickier, necessitating hands as well as feet. For a while we were playing leapfrog with three girls, but one of them was clearly struggling, and we definitively overtook them when the other two stopped to wait for her. Battling with the wind, which seemed to be getting stronger all the time, (now and again, it was downright scary), we continued on up, past the junction with the Pyg Track, and then up a steep and awkward section where I had some trouble negotiating one particular shelf of rock. "My legs are too short!" I commented to a woman passing on her way down, as I heaved myself ungracefully up it. " I know the feeling!" she replied, laughing, "Men just don't understand, do they?" (as we watched our respective long-legged partners marching obliviously on.) I love these snippets of conversation you sometimes find yourself exchanging with random (but kindred spirit) strangers in improbable places. There were more people here - where had they all come from? Reaching the top of this section, where it joins the railway and the Llanberis Path, we were struck anew by the full force of the wind; the wide view was impressive, though - what we could see of it through the flying rags of cloud. In a momentary lull, I heard a faint chuffing sound from below - the train! As we walked up the path, part of a constant human traffic now, the sound grew louder; then there it was, emerging out of the greyness and steaming past with people waving from the windows. I felt no envy, though - I was quite enjoying battling the elements, now I was less preoccupied with the fear of being blown off the mountainside. Bypassing the cafe, we headed straight for the summit, where we had to queue briefly for a space on the top; then, hanging on for dear life in the gale, a quick, triumphant photo before surrendering the space to the next waiting person. 2 hours 1 minute it had taken us. (It would have been less without the photo stops.)

 

 

 

 

Walking right round the cairn, "Hello, stones!" I said aloud, though I couldn't identify which ones they were. Someone had left a windmill. J tried to set it back up, but it blew over again straight away. Once you stopped walking, the cold began to penetrate even through the layers of fleece and jacket; I looked in astonishment at people in shorts and tee shirts. Or maybe I'm just a wimp........ but anyway, hot tea was next on my agenda. Tomato soup for J. The cafe was doing good business. Just a quick stop here, then back out to face the elements again, and the descent down the Llanberis Path, which I thought would be the kindest on the knees. Also, S. had said he 'might' walk part of the way up to meet us. He had mentioned the previous evening that he had read there was a cafe about halfway up, and I was guessing that might be where we would find him. The weather was clearly turning, though - the cloud was closing in more densely - and though it's probably quite hard to get lost on the Llanberis Path (a motorway in mountain path terms), when I saw two purposeful-looking boys walking ahead of us, I wanted to keep them in sight. So we were striding along at a brisk pace, when I saw a figure emerge from the mist.......... Surely not! It can't be! But it was: S. had made it almost 3/4 of the way up. Now he's not much of a walker, and I was impressed that he'd managed so much of the Mawddach Trail the previous day. But this was really outside his limits. The effort had clearly taken its toll, though; he looked haggard and pretty exhausted, said his back was hurting, and had to sit on a rock and rest for a couple of minutes. We revived him a bit with an energy bar and some water - though he had the cheek to complain the energy bar was very dry! ("Sorry, but we don't have a full roast beef dinner handy!" I replied a little tartly.) I took over his rucksack, and we adjusted our pace to his.

 

Post with coins stuck in it!

This path seemed very easy in comparison with the one we had come up, but he was finding it hard. It was slow going, but he tramped doggedly on. About halfway down, we had an encounter with 'ghosts': a group of uniformed soldiers marching along in silence, commemorating the anniversary of the Somme. They did not speak, they were expressionless, they did not react to people they encountered, other than to hand them a card with the name of one of the dead soldiers on it. It truly was a bit spooky, the way they emerged out of the mist, and vanished back into it again. Apparently there were companies of these 'ghosts' all over the country that day, silently marching, handing out these cards. Soon after, we reached the halfway cafe; S. said that on finding it closed, he'd debated whether to go back, but then decided to carry on. "Brave, but rash!" I commented sternly. (He agreed.) We stood in the lee of this unwelcoming establishment, sheltering from the unrelenting wind, for another instalment of energy bar and water, eyed up by an enormous seagull. S. was looking very grey, and I was concerned about him, but there was nothing else for it, we just had to carry on. I did wish we could go a bit quicker, though - the sky was getting ominously dark! When the rain arrived, it did so in another of those cloudbursts, mixed with some hail. My boots were full of water within seconds, the path was a river. My trousers were so wet, they were semi-transparent. My jacket held out a little longer before capitulating to the onslaught, but only a matter of minutes. J, proud possessor of a brand new outdoor jacket, did slightly better; S, not equipped for mountain walking, very much worse. Exhausted, in pain, and now soaked through - he was living a nightmare. But one foot in front of the other, on he plodded; and on we plodded too. Finally we reached the road, and headed down towards Llanberis. Still a fair way to go to reach the sanctuary of Little Rusty Heap........... but then like a mirage, we saw a cafe.......... and it was open! Thankyou thankyou thankyou to Steffan and the Penceunant Isaf Tea Room for the warm welcome! - literally warm, there was a crackling open fire, with boots and socks steaming gently in front of it, while their owner enjoyed a foot spa(!) A pot of tea, some (free) Bara Brith, the warmth of the fire, and I think even S. began to think he might live. We chatted with the genial proprietor of the establishment, were invited to look round the other rooms, and eventually went on our way warmer, slightly drier, and much more cheerful. Finally reunited with the car, we picked up a few items from the shop, and went back to the chalet, dry clothes, and beans on toast again. And as it had yet again turned improbably sunny now, J and I went out for another of our evening walks. Several times now, we had passed a footpath sign pointing down into the woods, and I was curious to know where it went. Sun-junkie J. was not keen, he wanted to go up on the hillside again, but I had my way. At the end of it we found a waterfall: curiosity satisfied. Our mistake, though, was trying to find a different way back. We got completely lost. I no longer had any idea which direction was which, as we wandered at random through endless trees. It was just beginning to go dark as we finally emerged on a path we were eventually able to identify as the one we had briefly explored a couple of days previously. So the usual walk home along the road through Dinorwig.


Saturday 2nd July: on our way home soon after 10. S. dropped us off a couple of miles from Llangollen to walk the rest of the way along the canal, while he went to park the car near the viaduct and walk back to meet us. Again we were surprised to see him so soon, apparently none the worse for his Snowdon experience. The day's early sunshine soon faded, alas, and it was not long before the rain was pouring down again. (I think I picked the worst week of the entire summer! - but I couldn't know that when I booked it.) At the viaduct, rain and sun alternated for the few minutes it took to go across and back and take a few pictures (including some lovely flowers on the bridge across the basin.)

 

 

Tea and sandwich in the steamed-up car in the car park; at the lake in Nantwich, our leg-stretch walk was foiled by another onslaught of rain seconds after we set off; by the time we got home to Sheffield, though, it was warm and sunny!


It's taken me forever to get this written, sorry. Don't worry, the next one will be shorter...........

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