It is very important to consume appropriate quantities of bacon when getting up at god awful hours because everyone knows that bacon contains all the nutrients necessary to stop your body clock from going into shock upon the discovery that there are, in fact, two 4 o’ clocks in a day. We wanted the early start though, we wanted to get to north Wales at a reasonable hour. Google said it’d take about 5.5 hours. Google doesn’t take into account the fact I drive like your Grandma. We were on the road by 5am and basically ended up stopping at most of the service stations on the way for Red Bull and tea which lead to lots of frantic piss stops, and while we were there, more Red Bull and tea. Google Maps needs a navigation setting for people like me which predicts the filling and emptying of the bladder. Walking, public transport, driving, and Claire.
We’d rented this car, a VW Up, because owning a car in Brighton when you live walking distance from work is basically akin to piling large quantities of cash up on the road side every day and setting fire to it. We rent cars relatively often. Usually we get pretty decent cars, the last one we had to visit my folks all but drove itself and I wondered how I’d ever coped without cruise control before. We’d gone with a different company this time though and guys, seriously, it was like being transported rudely back to the turn of the century. I get it, I’ve been spoiled, but not only was there no way to connect your phone to the radio, a feature we’d become comfortably used to, you had to tune the radio. Manually. I shit you not. If there was an auto scan function then we couldn’t find it and as we drove across Britain from region to region, Tarrant’s arm nearly dropped off trying to find a radio station that didn’t fizzle out after 5 minutes. Retro. But not in a cool Nintendo 64 way. Guys, I had to wind my own window down by hand! *presses back of hand to forehead*
Anyway, a record number of service stations later our satnav, who we’d named Myfanwy on account of the fact it was her first outing with us and it seemed appropriate to give her a good Welsh name, guided us into Wales and I’m not even shitting you, it started pissing it down the minute we crossed the border. I mean, we’re not talking biblical, just the typical type of downpour that’d have you diving for the nearest pub should you be on foot at the time. We weren’t expecting perfect weather this holiday, all we asked that it was whatever passed for dry when we put the tent up and took it down and if anyone had a small goat or a toddler they could sacrifice to the weather gods we’d have been very grateful.
Here’s a solid word of advice… always carry cash in Wales. Once we were off the motorways toilets were getting harder and harder to find and the ones we could find were either coin operated or we couldn’t use them without being a customer. Fine. Except they wouldn’t let us be customers on account of the fact they didn’t accept cards. Seriously, I was prepared to meet all manner of minimum spend just to have access to a porcelain throne, I’d have bought them out of cake if necessary, but it wasn’t to be until we found a wonderful cafe, which simply seemed to be called Cafe, which met all of our ATM and urination needs. That was that lesson learned.
We refilled our bladders with tea and headed onto the Llechrwd Riverside Campsite where we’d booked for five nights and secured ourselves a pitch, right by the river with a lovely little fire pit sheltered under some trees. Perfect. Now all we needed were things to shovel into our faceholes which could be obtained in the nearby town of Blaenau Ffestiniog which we couldn’t for the life of us work out how to pronounce thus affirming our status as ignorant English tourists. So yeah, we just called it Blonde Fisting and had to be very careful not to refer to it as that in front of locals. We liked it though, it’s a pretty little town with a Co-Op for all of our face filling/liver damaging needs. Not that we’d be having a mad one tonight, I don’t think any of my basic motor functions had forgiven me for the early start this morning and we’d decided to walk up Snowdon tomorrow.
Tomorrow arrived. Everything is so beautiful just after sunrise! Apart from the time. The time is somewhat unholy. But we’d been told that all of the car parks at the start of the trails up Snowdon fill up pretty quickly so we aimed to get there at 7am which meant a 5am start because everything just takes longer when you’re camping. I don’t know why, it’s like some unstudied law of physics. At home I can get showered and dressed, cook breakfast, check Instagram and Facebook and be out of the house in less than an hour. When I’m camping it takes me a good 90 minutes to get going. But get going we did and by the time we pulled out of the car park not a single other soul was stirring. It felt like we had Wales to ourselves, there was no other car on the road either and everything was so quiet. We drove past this gorgeous, still lake and as we stopped to take photographs, no one drove by. We briefly considered the possibility that the zombie apocalypse had occurred as we slept last night.
So despite some pretty comprehensive planning for this holiday neither of us had bothered looking into the six different routes to the summit of Yr Wyddfa, Snowdon, so we just went for the recommendation in the Lonely Planet; up Snowdon Ranger, down Rhyd Ddu. It was only £5 to park at Snowdon Ranger all day. It’s coins only so make sure you have a stash, we had to rely on the kindness of the only other humans we’d seen that day to change some money for us and even if there was anywhere to break a note within any manner of sane distance from the car park, it was highly unlikely to be manned at this hour. We took the obligatory start of walk selfie then headed off to the start of the trail.
Oh my god. Guys. I didn’t realise how fucking unfit I’d become. I mean, I’ve climbed bigger hills at higher altitudes but I don’t think I’d invested quite as much time and money in lager and cheesecake in the 8 months leading up to the climb. Fortunately there are some stunning views as you head up the mountain. Views which have to be taken in. Frequently. Whilst sitting down and trying to convince your lungs they’re not going to die. We zig-zagged up the footpath, stopping for photos and water and general complaining. Even from this low down we could see that the summit was shrouded in mist but we were hoping it would have burned off by the time we hauled our sweating, gasping carcasses to the top. Once it gives over zig-zagging it does do what passes for levelling out when you’re walking up a mountain. We enjoyed this little interlude before we noticed the massive, steep hill looming up ahead of us. Oh dear god. We were doomed. We rested a short while before we tackled the incline, walking closer to the mist before it started to envelop the view.
Mist is a bastard, isn’t it. It’s all like, “Oh you’re climbing a massive fucking hill are you? Wanted some views did you? BAHAHAHA!!” Fuck you, mist. The temperature dropped quite significantly as we walked through the cloud too so we didn’t stop for too long during rests. It was eerie. Humans emerged from the shroud, strolled past us with a brief “hello” before they carried on and were swallowed back into the gloom. It was relatively level here again so we celebrated not being lost or dead with a mango as a random seagull watched us. Seriously? How far from the coast do we have to be before we stop being stalked for food by seabirds? If a seagull is staring at you in Brighton you need to be prepared to defend your food, or just hand it over, drop into the foetal position and protect your soft tissues. It was actually pretty bloody cold so we finished the mango, glared at the seagull and carried on. It’s hard not being able to see where you’re going, we couldn’t see more than 10 metres around us. It was around this point that I decided the summit of Yr Wyddfa was probably a myth.
Eventually we came to the railway tracks, there’s a train which transports tourists (and I’m assuming the people who work in the cafe at the summit) to the top and back again, and it’s around here where a few of the paths converge. There was a standing stone with “Copa Summit” carved onto it. Yeeaahhh… I’m not gonna lie, it took us a few minutes to work out that copa is Welsh for summit and we hadn’t suddenly stumbled upon the peak of the lesser known Mt Copa. There were a lot more humans heading in both directions here, and some of them were running. Running!! I’d been reduced to a wheezing shuffle and people were just jogging on past us. Crazy people.
We made our way up the last slog which didn’t seem like it wanted to give up any time soon, then the cafe emerged from the mist. Amazing. We were pretty much there! There was one last short climb to the trig point at the very very top but there was no view so we decided to wait this one out in the cafe whilst applying tea and crisps to our faceholes. I gallantly sacrificed a cream cake to the stomach gods and asked for a nice view so we hadn’t just walked up this fucking mountain to stare at an expanse of white. Our timing couldn’t have been more perfect. As we finished our tea the cloud started to clear so we left the cafe and scrambled the last few metres and jostled for selfie room with other tourists. 1085 masl, the highest point in England and Wales. Ok, so it won’t have you reaching for the Diamox but I’m definitely telling everyone I “bagged a peak” like the cool adventure people do.
Rhyd Ddu then. Yeah. I probably should have vetoed this when I read the bit in the Lonely Planet which describes a section of the walk called Bwulch Main which apparently means “slender path” and has drops to either side. I’m about as surefooted as a three legged giraffe on roller skates, and if you couple that with the fact I’m a complete pussy when it comes to high places I wasn’t too sure how I was going to fare on this descent. The first bit was quite scrambly anyway, we gingerly made our way down, neither of us being particularly fond of downhill, Tarrant because of her knees and me because of my aforementioned bravery status. Then we got to the ridge. For fuck’s sake. It’s basically a case of pressing yourself into the wall, as far away from the edge as possible, whilst trying to convince yourself that hundreds of people do this route every year and don’t die. At one point we were so focused on not plummeting to our deaths that we took the totally wrong path and had to double back. Ohhhh, so that’s how people get lost on a mountain with well defined tracks! I’d been wondering.
After the ridge came another terrifying death scramble down, then it was a relatively easy incline the rest of the way. I say easy, we were about two thirds of the way down when my calf muscles decided they probably hated me and were going to make me suffer for this. We finally made it to Rhyd Ddu train station, half sat half collapsed onto some steps, realised we were started to seize up and decided to walk the last two miles back to Snowdon Ranger rather than wait for the train. It was an hour wait anyway and we wanted to get to the Co-Op in time for its Sunday 4pm closing time to buy Prosecco because everyone knows Prosecco contains all the nutrients your body needs to replenish itself after hiking up a massive fucking hill. It was only meant to be an eight mile walk. Are miles longer in Wales or something??
That evening, as we chilled by the fire and BBQ’d our steak and corn whilst sipping Prosecco from massive plastic camping mugs, I finally conceded that not a single bone in my body considered the ground an appropriate place to sit anymore. Future me would be required to purchase camping chairs. In the meantime, current me would be content with another early night.
Yr Wyddfa (Mt. Snowdon), Gwynedd, Wales
Stayed at: Llechrwd Riverside Campsite, Blaenau Ffestiniog, Gwynedd