A walk in Wales #1

After a relatively lazy day yesterday, M had plans for us to walk the 9.1 miles between Blaenau Ffestiniog and Dolwyddelan. ‘It will be a good walk,’ he said. ‘And we’ll only need transport the one way, as we will just walk back. We’ll go on the train.’

He’d spent yesterday evening with his head buried in the walking guides and seemed quite happy making the plans. It was only when I saw him making yet another cup of coffee this morning that I thought to ask him what time the train was.

‘I’ve no idea,’ he says. ‘We’ll take a walk to the station in a minute and see.’

‘You do know there’s only a couple of trains a day, don’t you?’ His blank look told me he didn’t, so I get onto the internet. ‘The next train is in eight minutes – we won’t get to the station in time, and the one after that is in three hours. But there is a bus from the corner in five minutes – have you packed everything you need?’. M assures me he has so we run out and jump on the bus.

The bus winds its way between high, slate covered hills and I say nervously ‘we’re not going up there, are we?’

‘No, of course not!’ M says happily. Hmmm…

We jump off the bus at the Post Office and set off up a steep hill. All well so far.

Pretty soon M starts looking around him. ‘We’re looking for some old tramlines,’ he said ‘and some ruined quarry buildings.’ There are bits of old metal and ruined buildings everywhere. ‘Aha! he chirps. ‘A footpath sign. This way!’

The path leads up a steep hill and straight into a ruined cottage or building. M comes up with the brilliant plan of climbing through the cottage, which is half filled with rubble, and out of the window to pick up the path.

‘I’m not going to be able to do that with my rucksack and camera,’ I say.

‘Don’t worry, give them to me,’ M says. I do, and scramble nervously through the rubble. After a lot of effort, I emerge through the window, drop down onto the grass, turn the corner: dead end. There’s no path leading any other way, and a sheer drop onto a path far below, so muttering something about stupid husbands I climb back in through the window and pick my way tentatively across the rubble and back down the steep slope. I am nearly at the bottom when I hear a sickening sound of plastic hitting stone and I turn to see M scooping my camera up from the path. The end of the lens seems to be at a strange angle, but miraculously it seems only to be the lens cap that has cracked and been pushed in, and a hefty dent in the extra filter screw. ‘I don’t know how that happened!’ says M. ‘It was on my shoulder, and then suddenly it wasn’t!’ Hmmm…

‘Right!’ M says, consulting the book and pointing above us. ‘We need to be on that path up there’

We are standing on a road in a working quarry that winds up to the right, but M is pointing to a grassy path about fifty feet above us. There’s a steep, grassy incline between us and it. ‘I reckon you can do that, Jen!’ M chirps, and sets off up.

This is a good point to confess I am not a natural hill walker. I get vertigo from heights, and I don’t like slipping or not being able to stand with both feet securely attached to the ground. Added to that, an old knee injury gives me the constant sensation that my knee is about to give way. So the idea of leaving a path and going up a steep grassy incline is not a welcome one. I get three quarters of the way up before my feet slip a few inches, resulting in shouts and tears from me. I have to climb the remaining section on my bottom, shuffling up inch by inch and trying to avoid the sheep poo.

Finally, we reach the top and scramble onto the path. I turn to see how far we’d come, and realise I’ve got virtually no chance of going back by the same route.

We set off following the path to the left, only to find a sign saying ‘Footpath ends here. Please turn back.’ At this point I snatch the guide book from M’s hands, and discover that it is woefully inadequate (and indeed incomprehensible) with its directions.

‘I don’t think this is any good!’ I say. ‘ Can I have the map?’

M rummages about in his rucksack and looks a bit glum. ‘I haven’t got it,’ he says.

‘Shit!’ I say, staring down the incline. ‘What about the compass?’

M rummages about in the rucksack again. ‘I’ve got Jaffa Cakes,’ he says, hopefully. Then, at my glare, ‘It’s not my fault! I was rushing for the bus…’

I fish out my iPhone and work through various apps until I find one with a built in compass. ‘Ok,’ I say. ‘Let’s follow the path back along the opposite way. It’s in the wrong direction but it’s our only real option.’

‘I think we’re on an old quarry workers’ path,’ M says. ‘It’s the equivalent of you commuting to work. It must be doable.’

‘Our average age is 46,’ I bite. ‘What was the average life expectancy of a quarry worker two hundred years ago?’

M goes quiet.

For a while the path is broad and grassy, but as we turn the corner we see a section that has dropped away and is now a jagged bit of rock and slate, with loose slates hanging over an incline. The only other route is over an ancient wooden bridge with most of its boards missing, totally impassable.

‘No way!’ I say, but really I know I have no choice.

I spend the next five minutes clinging to the side of the hill, tears and snot everywhere. Eventually the ruck sack and camera go to M again (‘Don’t drop it!’ I say) and I traverse it on my bottom. Again. Sharp slate on the bottom is not a great idea and my tears turn into loud swearing.

We finally get past this section (in reality a short section) and I stand up, trying to clean my face. Suddenly we are overtaken by an elderly woman in a floral skirt, elasticated stockings and slipper boots walking three unleashed dogs.

‘Hello!’ she says in a lovely Welsh accent. ‘How are you?’

We ask her about the way to Dolwyddelan and she points cheerfully along the path. ‘You’ll need to skirt the lakes, of course. When you get to Dolwyddelan, you should say hello to my daughter who works there.’ She looks us up and down dubiously. ‘Mind you, by the time you get there, I should imagine she’ll have long packed up and gone home!’

We find the lakes and walk round them.

We find ourselves back in an old quarry.

A loud noise starts up, and while we’re wondering what it is, we hear blasts coming from the quarry we started from. For once, I’m quite glad we’re on top of the hill, even though the quarry workers had smiled and waved us on at the time.

Continued here: A walk in Wales #2


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