Sunday 9th August 2009

Back from my walking weekend in Wales. Had a fabulous time, the scenery was amazing and managed to scale the dizzy heights of Snowdon and visit the brand new cafe at the summit. More to follow shortly, I am in a mad rush to head off to London but will be back to update this entry when I get back from holiday (so sometime in early September). In the meanwhile I will leave you with a photograph and song that sums up the weekend. We left at 16:22 from Victoria Gardens, having packed in all my gear (sleeping bag, luggage and drinks) followed by Lee’s bits. Although I would have been happy sitting in the back seat, I was offered and almost insisted that I take the passenger seat and navigate. (Well a back up Navigator as James has a TomTom). The ETA given was 20:10 for the 215 mile journey but it would be much later, once we had a stop for a food break somewhere in Telford. The route was not what I had expected. The M4, down two junctions to 15 and then the A419 up to the M5 and then joining up with the M6 before finally catching the M54 to North Wales. The later part of the route I am of course familiar with due to my journeys to see Dave and Lisa in Wrexham. Who was going to accompany us on the first part of our journey to Wales. Well there was no option, it had to be Aled Jones. Sitting in for Steve Wright on BBC Radio 2. When we went onto the dual carriageway at Swindon we received a phone call, or rather James received a phone call from the owner of the bunkhouse apart arrangements for collection. She was heading out with the girls that evening and would not be home at 9pm, our guesstimate at our arrival time, so she would leave the key by the pot and advised us to look out for a raw iron gate. This would turn out to be a very important piece of information. Let me quickly go through the other cars in this race to Tyn-Y-Coed. We had a Ford Focus ST with Caroline, Paul and Laura, then there was Fran’s Renault Clio with Gaz and Kirti. We did not know which route the Focus was taking but the Clio was taking the conventional, A43, M40, M42 and M6 route. The traffic soon built up on the road, although James pulled off a major piece of elaborate driving to use an extended lay by to beat some of the queues. A learner driver (or rather a Toyota Pickup with L plates) kindly let us back onto the carriageway. We were behind a very impatient VW Golf Driver, who had to keep checking what the delay was ahead by swerving his car into the middle of the road. We were heading towards Cirencester and the traffic was quite built up, to the Air Balloon Roundabout, it was at this point the Golf guy made his move, he took the outside line and went around the roundabout once to then try and get ahead of the traffic but this move failed and he made little progress. We were listening to Radio 2 for the most part of the journey up, and the drive time show hosted by Chris Evans. This was the first time I was listening to the show in full. Generally I dip in and out the odd time I had happen to be in the car, during the drive home. I was introduced to The C Spot, which is the official start of the weekend. The song which played, I knew very well and I was glad they played the Sammy Davis Junior version of The Candy Man. With everything else going on in my life (and there is plenty) this was one of those moments to forget about it all, sit back and enjoy what was going to be a fantastic weekend. I noted down the time for some reason, it was 6:21pm. We also heard the theme tune to Happy Days which always reminds me of the legend that is / was The Fonz! Around 7pm, we had a stop at the Welcome Break services on M54 junction 4, we needed a toilet break plus to get some food. We planned to leave a clue for the other team to pick up, as we knew the Focus was behind us (but catching up fast). We spent a good few minutes setting up the trap, so to speak in the telephone box. As we pulled away, I noticed Caroline climb out of a bright blue Focus ST. It was them, and it was one of those moments that you see week in and out on Top Gear. Jeremy or Hammond leaving James May for dust. We drove out but James was distracted by You Will Never Walk Alone being performed on Radio 2, so we headed to the Technology Park and then went back on ourselves onto the motorway and the second part of our journey could begin. It was starting to get dark and the dual carriageway would soon give way to single winding roads. It was also a moment to change the soundtrack away from Radio 2 and onto one of the handful of albums that Lee had brought along. Escapology by Robbie Williams. Not too bad, but I did explain that I prefer his earlier material (Old Before I Die, anyone?). Once we joined the A5, it was part dual carriageway and part single carriageway into the Welsh valleys. We soon switched over to the BBC Radio One Live Lounge album, once we had listened to Williams from start to finish. It was at this point our speed dropped, dramatically from the average of around 60, down to 25. We were stuck behind a Red Corsa Van (about three cars ahead). He was driving so slow it was unreal. Of course, Lee and myself being passengers we did not really care that much, it meant we would get to the bunkhouse a little later, but we were all confident that we would be the first to arrive. James lost it, in a fit of anger he over took several cars (not in one swoon but several maneuvers) and then the piece de resistance, hit the horn in a show of complete rage! Rather than blabber on about the journey, why not just watch the video of our arrival to the bunk house.

The question you are going to ask, is did we beat Team Frantzi? Well the answer is no I’m afraid. Further footage (not uploaded to YouTube, due to the lack of comedy value) shows us approach the bunkhouse to discover a piece of folded paper on the mat outside the door. “Team Frantzi wins!”. They had beaten us to it, which would have involved no stops and perhaps the conventional M40 route. However there was no sign of them, so we unloaded the car and then settled down to check out the facilities. Lee was doing a very poor impression of Loyd Grossman from his Through The Keyhole days (which ended as recently as 2003). After unpacking, it was time for a well earned drink by which time, everyone else had arrived. Team Franzti had gone into the closest village to get fish and chips. We had to decide on the sleeping arrangements and Laura and Kirti were given the exclusive penthouse suite upstairs with the rest of the gang in the main bunkhouse (with bunk beds no less). For me this brought back memories of sharing a room with my sisters in the mid 1990s. I had the top bunk and had to re-live that memory. With that all decided, it was down to some party games to kick the weekend off. Fran had brought along a few games which we played, naturally boys versus girls. Password was first and I did not know it was based on a very popular US game show. The game itself was very simple, a timer is set and you have a handheld contraption which generates a word which you then have to describe for your team mates to guess and then throw the device to the opposite for them to switch to the next word and do the same. The team still holding the word when the buzzer sounds losers that round. I think it was evenly matched with the boys winning one and round and then girls winning another before the boys took a two one lead. I think we played perhaps a few more rounds before we got bored and needed something new and opted for Cranium (not as if there was any choice as it was the only other board game brought along for the weekend). This was slightly more complicated than password with various different tasks that had to be completed to move you around the board.

Kirti, Fran, Laura & CarolineKirti's Artwork

Kirti’s creative talent let her down, when she had to draw a shower curtain for her team to guess, which I think they eventually did but not after several silly guesses. This was the time for the girls to make their comeback, but I think the boys were in the lead until towards the end when the girls did catch up. It was getting late now and were flagging, even though Paul (Caroline’s husband) was trying his best to entertain us. I had completely lost track of time but noted the time on my Zen, as I went to sleep listening to some music (a radio signal was non-existent). It was 01:47am, in twelve hours time we would be making our descendent from the top of Snowdon and with that thought, I drifted off to sleep. I woke up around 8am to bright sunshine, looking outside there were clear blue skies, perfect hiking weather. James had been up a while and slowly the rest of the gang woke up and got ready, we had a cooked breakfast. After all, you need fuel yourself ready for what is going to be a difficult journey. The weather though, had us all in good spirits and we left early and drove over to the car park. There were no spaces, so we were advised to drive down to the next public car park, about about two miles down the road. However, we parked at a camp site we thought was the place we had been directed to but we were wrong. Due to the entrance being tight, we drove down a little and then turned around at the entrance to a cottage and went back on ourselves. It was a private camping area but the owner allowed us to park before we headed off to the bus stop. We did not have to wait long before a bus arrived to take us to the main stop, Pen-y-Pass. It was very busy with a long queue for the ladies toilets, but we allowed the girls to have a break because the next stop was the summit and it was going to be a while. The sunny weather had disappeared behind several clouds and it felt much colder. However, I did not put on my mac and kept to my single layer consisting of a t-shirt.


We began our ascent and I was looking forward to the journey, although we were talking a different route to the one James had originally planned, we just followed everybody else, which meant it was slightly steeper than we had expected but not a major problem. I was quite tired, as we got towards the top of this mini-mountain (or would that be a hill, I am unsure of the terminology). Around the corner, we saw the lake and the route we would have taken, which was rather flat. We had a little break, but it was only now I discovered that I had left the water bottle I had filled back at the bunkhouse, the fool that I am. I had plenty of snacks to keep me fueled for the rest of the journey. I think we must have been about an forty minutes into the journey at this time.

Snowdonia National Park

Thirty minutes further in, the track is relatively flat compared to the first section and we made steady progress. We had to stop with a great few of the lake and take a few photographs, below being the best!


It was Lee that made the comment we needed Van Halen’s Jump playing in the background to go with the picture and after three takes, we got the shot! We then moved on, the road was getting steeper and closing in, the rest of the journey up to the summit was going to be difficult. It got busier too, with hundreds, of people making their way up and the handful of people making their way down. They had obviously made a very early start. I must say the final fifteen minutes of major climbing were difficult. This mixed with the fact that at the higher altitude, it was colder and there had been a slight drizzle. The path was non-existent and we were making our way up using both hands as well as feet. Nothing major but you had to be physical fit and check the path you were going to take up. It was now just a ten minute walk to the summit but you could not see very far up ahead, as this photograph of the boys clearly demonstrates. Lee, Paul & GazBy now we could hear the train, if not quite see it but the rail tracks run alongside the mountain (on this side) and we were not far from the £8.5 million cafe. The cafe is just down from the actual summit, so we made our way up and waited our turn before touching the rock (slate?) at the top. It was a proud moment for me, I had done it, although there is no photographic evidence to as proof, although not sure if any of the gang catch me in the act. It was busy and quite a melee around the top, so I quickly came down to take some group photographs. Paul, Lee, Gaz, Fran, James, Kirti & LauraSadly omitting myself but never mind, I was there, I took the photograph not to worry. We then made our way into the cafe, which as you would expect at coming up to 1pm, was absolutely rammed. They spend all that money but you still have to queue. We were inline for around forty minutes before we were served, a nice hot chocolate and well deserved pie for me, thank you! Was it worth the prize tag? No, the building is not that impressive but I suppose on a clear day when you can look out across the park and the Welsh valleys it would be a different matter. Hafod EryriIt was time for a call of nature before we headed off on our descedent. We were talking the road to Llanberis. We followed in part the same route as the railway and after coming down underneath the clouds we were treated to some spectacular views. The weather improved, it was still quite sunny down there in the town. It was fairly busy with many people taking this route up as it is perhaps easier than the Pyg Track. Kirti was the first to stack it (as Paul would later comment). She fell and slid on her backside on gravel for a short distance. Following this, most of us decided to switch to the grassy knoll area instead of the track as we went down. It was quite steep. I tried to take as many pictures as I could but my camera is hardly portable and even though it snuck into the side pocket of my combats it was not the same easy to get it out again to take a photograph or two. We made our way down and had a little break by the coffee shop. The trains went by regularly and we waved at the passengers, many of them children. As were coming closer to the town, it was my time to take a tumble. I remember the moment very well, I was talking to James about Fantasy Football and that we should start a league at work and how Henry used to always be the top performer in the league, and then Ronaldo. (Both now having left the EPL) I lost my footing and placed my right foot into a ditch and collapsed to the ground like a complete fool. There was no chance of trying to act all smooth in my recovery, although I did managed to get back up on my own, only for Paul to laugh, which made me laugh! I was hoping that would be my only fall of the weekend but there would be more to come later. We made our way down, and I was surprised to see young families and children in flipflops (I kid you not) making their way up the mountain. Totally unprepared, fooled by the sunny weather. Snowdonia National ParkThe road down to Llanberis was steep but we made it down walking up to the Snowdon Railway train station at the bottom. No more tickets for sale that afternoon but the strange thing is you can only buy return tickets. Rarely are people given the opportunity to walk up and catch the train down. The sun had come out and the restaurants and ice cream stalls were doing an excellent trade. James was in need of some refreshment and headed for the Ice Cream van parked just outside the entrance to a large car park. Once James headed in that direction, several other members of the gang joined him in ice cream, although I stood firm and declined. We then had to wait for the bus, the Shepa Bus. It arrived fifteen minutes late and we all got on and sat towards the back. We gave the driver (some Eastern European chap) details of our destination, Camp Beris. When we pulled up in a car park, we were surprised when the bus driver told us to get off, this was our stop. This had been the big car park we had been advised to park in. We got off and had to walk the mile and a bit back to the cars. Not an ideal job for very tired legs. It was another mile at least but I think 1.4 miles in total to the cars and humilating to watch the Sherpa bus make it to Penn-y-Pass and back again as we walked, but at least it was sunny and not too cold. Being able to rest a little, by the side of the campsite, while the girls (and Gaz) dipped their feet in the stream, was a relief. I was looking forward to getting back to the bunkhouse and getting down the pub to watch the match and get some food. We got to the bunkhouse and it was a mad rush to get ready and we split up. Gaz, Fran, Lee, Paul and myself headed to find a pub showing the football. It was a fruitless quest, but I believe we could have seen the Newcastle West Brom match as it was on BBC1 (but maybe not BBC1 Cymru). We were told that it cost £800 a month for Sky and no hotel or public house could afford such an outlet. We were advised to head to a bigger town. We ended up going back to the first pub, Tyn-y-Coed sitting in the beer garden capturing the last few rays of the summer sunshine. James was to arrive, much later with the girls and then we were going to get some food in the restaurant. It was around 7.30pm by the time I ordered, catching up with everyone else, most of whom were already half way through their meals. Dreams of a late night faded fast, as we all looked rather tired from the day’s walking. The girls headeded back first but the guys joined them later, walking the ten minutes or so to the bunk house. I recall getting into bed and feeling my legs were like lead and the time being on 11.40pm on a Saturday night. Not very Rock’n’Roll but my body needed to recuperate. The next morning it was the big clear up and pack operation before we departed. I suppose we could have had a little lie in and headed straight back home but instead we made sure we were out of the bunkhouse around 10.30am and made our way down to the village, Betws-y-Coed, parked outside the Millets Store, just across from the Royal Oak Hotel. James had his iPod plugged into the stereo and it was on random. We therefore heard something quite bizzare for the summer Do They Know It’s Christmas Time (original version, not SWA inspired 1989 edition or Dizzee Rap 2004). After James had bought a new water bottle, we headed up for our second walk over the weekend. This was minor territory in comparison to the big trek on Saturday. Our aim was to get to the top and get a group photo at the top overlooking the lake. The track to begin with was fine, it was a big road, just a tad bit on the steepside. Then, we headed into the forest and the trail became a little tricky! Caroline, Laura, Kirti, Gaz, Paul & LeeOnce we got up to the clearing at the top, we could see the lake and had to have the collective group shot on the bench. The view was spectacular but it was rather overcast, not the amazing sunshine we had seen the day before. We made our way down to the the damn and were actually able to look at the reservoir close up. This is the point at which my vast number of photographs on FlickR actually come to an end (112). However, the story does not end there. For every journey begins with “The Arrival”, it must therefore end with “The Return”. The return trip to Newbury was not as eventful as the journey to North Wales but it did have a few minor highlights. It was 13:18 as we left the Welsh village and James put on the soundtrack to Spamalot. I am not a big fan of Monty Python (my Dad is, but then it was his generation more than mine) but perhaps I should be. The soundtrack was very funny and as I listened, I regretted not going to see Sanjeev Bhashir in the lead role for the final few shows at the turn of the year. The Song That Goes Like This was perhaps a highlight, even though I was a big big fan of Bright Side Of Life (when it was released in September 1991. In fact my cousin Susan recorded the song from Radio 1 onto cassette tape for my sisters and me). The ETA for our final destination was 16:58 but given a stop for a fuel and a comfort break, it would be almost an hour more before we got home. Traffic on the A43 did not really help and although we were tempted to take the diversion as prompted by TomTom, we decided to stick it out. I got back at 17:41 and thanked James for driving before getting into my flat and collapsing on the sofa. I had a few hours of rest before the weekend was out and so much to do.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.