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Mount Snowdon, Wales
Three generations to the top
On Snowdon (c) Solange Hando
‘The one you can’t see, up there in the clouds,’ said my daughter. We’d been waiting for three days but whenever we stepped out of our cottage, Snowdon remained out of sight, teasing us now and then with just the briefest of glimpses. Yet when we least expected it one late afternoon, she suddenly appeared in all her glory, upper slopes bathed in sunshine, beckoning even the most reluctant visitor. This was an auspicious sign and we decided to go for the top the next day.
* * *
After a hearty breakfast, Welsh cakes and all to boost energy levels, we laced up our boots ready for the three generation summit bid. Which way should we go? There is a choice of trails, most popular are the steep Pyg track from Pen Y Pass and the longer but gentler route from Llanberris. The weather had reverted to grey skies but given time, it could only improve. We opted for Llanberris.
Proud and excited, we marched straight past the queues waiting to board the rack and pinion railway to the top, and headed for the start of the trail, four miles and a good three hours, we were told, to climb over 3000 feet.
Beyond the last conifers and the railway viaduct over the waterfall, we came to a wide stony path lined with foxgloves, buttercups, fern and rushes. We smiled at the sign on the Pen Y Ceunant tea rooms: ‘it rains for six months of the year, we provide free towels and muddy boots are welcome.’
* * *
The sun was shining now and as we looked back down the valley, the views were stunning, town, lake and mountains like a picture postcard. The train passed us, sometimes on the right, sometimes on the left, but elated like real mountaineers, we plodded along the old mule and pony track which had carried the first tourists to the summit. We could even see the Irish Sea glistening silver and gold in the distance.
‘It’s like being in an airplane,’ said Sidney.
‘Wait till you get to the top, it will be even better.’ We explored a ruined farmhouse along the way, gazed at a dry stone wall built for a competition ten years ago, and stopped for a well deserved snack by a tumbling brook. The lonely seagull hoping for spoils soon gave up the chase and nothing disturbed the peace but the bleating of sheep and puffing of trains belching out black smoke, as they ferried their human cargo up and down the mountainside.
* * *
The trail too was busy but it was nice to know we were not alone to brave the uncertain weather and in these vast open spaces, there was room for all, the families coaxing their children up the slope, the friends picnicking on lichen-covered boulders, the couple with a three months old baby bobbing on Dad’s back, the snap-happy ramblers, the dogs on leads, the young men with ski sticks overtaking everyone in their race to the top. The rocky face of the Snowdon horseshoe rose sheer ahead of us but either side, smooth grassy slopes turned from apple green to russet and gold as fast moving clouds cast their shadow on the land.
The first part of the trek was easy enough. We counted the lakes nestling in the hollows, added stones to the cairns and gathered strands of sheep’s wool for souvenirs. But what happened to the blueberries I had inadvertently promised? I guess someone else had a feast but the search went on for the tiny Snowdon lily, the purply blue milkwort and the insect eating sundew, but when you’re on a mission, you can’t linger long.
Beyond the half way house, the cliffs of Clogwyn Du’r Arddu rose ominously, potholed with remnants of copper mines, and when we emerged under the railway bridge , the wind hit us with a vengeance, I barely managed to hold on to my scarf. We should have been prepared for below was the famous Valley of Hats where Victorian gentlemen who lost their hats in open carriages could purchase a replacement. Ahead of us, the trail clambered up a ridge, vanishing into the mist, and it was hard to believe all this was once under the sea but marine fossils are still visible on the summit.
* * *
‘Are we going to walk in the clouds? What will it be like?’
‘A bit damp, I think, but it will be fun.’ This was the point of no return. Out came woollies, shortly followed by raingear in case of sudden need. The views disappeared and the precipice too but we knew that as long as we stayed on the track, all would be well.
‘I can touch the clouds,’ trumpeted Sidney, ‘I can taste them, it’s just like seawater.’ Stella and I weren’t so keen on the tasting, but we put on a brave face and stopped for a photo shoot. The summit appeared for a few seconds, high above us as the gradient continued to increase. We glanced, almost with envy, when the train whistled past.
* * *
‘Fifteen minutes and you’re there,’ said a kind gentleman on his way down, ‘great views at the top.’
Views? On we went, edging our way along the ridge, in the wake of other eerie silhouettes shifting in and out of sight, weatherproofs billowing in gale force winds like Batman’s wings. This truly was a land of giants and ghosts and Arthurian legends who speak of a Welsh King resting on these slopes.
‘Can we stand on the top? How far will we see?’ I couldn’t answer but the prize was within reach. We tackled the last stretch, a mighty windswept rock with steps leading up to the observation table. We could hardly stand but the time had come to use our imagination, peaks bristling all around, Anglesey, Cumbria, the Isle of Man, Ireland even, so we waited just in case, crouching for shelter among boots and legs. For a moment or two, we caught a glimpse of the station, 60 feet below but that was as far as the view extended.
* * *
‘So, what did you think, Sidney?’ I asked tentatively as we warmed up in the summit restaurant.’
‘It’s brilliant, especially standing on the top. It’s the best day of the holiday.’ We all agreed and with renewed enthusiasm, tucked into energy-packed chocolate muffins, ready for the next adventure, the journey down on the train.
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