POST CARD FROM SNOWDONIA
We have just returned from a week in Snowdonia, North Wales. My first impression of the beamed cottage we rented for a week was that it was dusty and in need of refurbishment. Esther pointed out that it was in fact a rustic experience. She even made friends with and fed the field-mouse that lived rent free in the kitchen. Each day I chopped logs to feed the open fire. Every night we sat by the roaring fire with a glass of wine and didn’t watch TV for a week. There was a TV but it was old and so tiny the cleaner had overlooked it for many years.
Our isolated cottage near Betws-y-Coed was neighbour-free and next to the raging LLedr river. On one occasion, after a night of heavy rain, the river rose 10 feet and started to flood the patio. Standing on the bank and with raised walking poles I called on my gods for assistance. The waters subsided and the rest will become legend.
Esther forced me to walk many miles as she ticked off each prescribed hike in her Jarrold Pathfinder Guide, like a school teacher marking homework.
‘I’m supposed to be on holiday, relaxing,’ I ventured.
‘Your whole life is a holiday.’ Esther reminded me.
So we pressed on through the rain, across the flooded plains, through mud, brambles and over endless stiles as I sought to achieve a gold star.
Each day sheep covered valleys and mountains came and went as North Wales rolled itself out beneath our feet. Lakes led to rivers, then cascading waterfalls. Each day another tick in the book, then a return to the cottage to feed the mouse and stare at the log fire. I kept looking at my legs and wondering why they were not moving, while Esther planned our next conquest.
‘I’m a bit tired today.’ I confided.
‘That’s because you drink too much wine.’ Esther explained.
‘Ah! I knew there must be a reason.’
The next day Esther took pity on me and allowed me to let the train take the strain. We enjoyed a splendid 3 hour ride on the restored Welsh Highland Steam Railway that ran on a narrow gauge railway between Porthmadog & Caernarfon while serving refreshments. A man bearing an uncanny resemblance to John Hurt ignored the mountain views and peered at Esther over an upturned old broom, which turned out to be his moustache, while explaining his devotion and contribution to the railway’s restoration. Steamy stuff indeed!
We drove to Penmaenmawr, a coastal town on the North coast. Puffin Island is visible from here. After a life threatening hike around Druids Circle and braving torrential rain, we drove along the coast to Conwy. It boasted a large castle which the English started building in1085 to keep the Welsh out.
‘But this is Wales!’ I exclaimed.
It turns out that the English had decided to establish a garrison there and built the castle to keep out marauders, not realising that they themselves were in fact the marauders. I began to realise why the Welsh consider the English to be arrogant. Despite this, the Welsh treated us well and were happy to take our money, now that we are all part of the partially United Kingdom. The sun came out and the Welsh dived for cover. We squeezed in a boat trip and a visit to Conwy’s oldest house. We also saw the smallest house in Britain whose last occupant was a 6’3” fisherman.
Our holiday over, we headed south and stopped off at Ludlow for lunch. Ludlow is one of England’s best historic towns and was hosting one of its many festivals. For inhabitants that live for their food, it was sensibly themed on sausages and beer. Heaving with friendly people speaking a gargled accent somewhere between John Lennon and Sean Connery, the population were a stout and happy lot. Ludlow also boasted yet another huge castle, built by Edward I in the 13th century at a cost of £15,000. It was actually captured by the Welsh for a short time but must have escaped. Ludlow is well worth visiting for a long weekend or even moving to!
Finally, gold star confirmed, we collapsed into the car. I rammed it into auto and we sped south-east towards the safety of suburbia, to contemplate the meaning of rustic holidays and the call of the great up North.
Take care and tread carefully - it’s a curious world out there.