Walking to Scotland 1965
1: The Forest of Dean and Wales
“There’s a cottage down there, tin out-buildings, an old car on its side, a stream and some chickens. Go down to the cottage and a women wearing a beret and her old man’s old jacket – stained on the lapel – tells me I’m on the wrong track. ” – Forest of Dean, March 23, 1965.
Introduction Between March and June, 1965, Le Patron walked over the hills and through the dales from Wales to England and then on to Scotland eventually to Kishorn in Ross and Cromarty, staying in youth hostels along the way. He was nineteen. He funded the walk by saving hard whilst working the winter of 1964/1965 on a building site near Bristol.
On some sections of the walk, where there were gaps of more than 25 miles between a hostel and the next hostel he hitch-hiked. In the 1960s drivers were usually ready to stop and give a lift. This was partly a left-over from the Second World War and from National Conscription, when servicemen and women and civilians regularly hitched. Many of these in turn, back in civvy street, would often give hitchers a lift.
Le Patron kept the weight of his Karrimor rucksack to a minimum by, for instance, sending Ordnance Survey maps he no longer need back to his parents’ address. Basic equipment included a cheap compass, a small torch and, for emergencies, a whistle. He had read that to gain attention if he had fallen or was in other serious difficulty, steady blasts on the whistle was the recognised help signal. He’d also read that date block was high in energy, along with other sugary things like biscuits. In the 1960s date blocks were readily available from village and town shops. A date block was a rectangular block of compressed dates (the stones removed) in cellophane, about 4½inches long by 1¼inches deep (11.5cm x 3.2cm). There were several brands. They are now a rarity in shops and supermarkets. In the daily notes that Le Patron wrote in cheap exercise books as he went from hostel to hostel he refers to them as “date bars” – but they were the date blocks as outlined above. Date bars as understood and marketed in 2017 did not exist in 1965.
The other essential item he carried in his rucksack was the England and Wales Youth Hostel Handbook for 1965, and the SYHA (Scottish) Handbook. The England and Wales handbook listed all the YHA hostels, giving details of the individual hostels, where the nearest railway station or bus stop was, along with the local shop half closing day, that in in 1965 was still part of village and small town life. It also noted whether the hostel took SJPs: School Journey Parties. SJPs were a curse for the lone walker as some small hostels accepted them, and these hostels could be unexpectedly full when arriving at them having done a twenty mile hike across the hills. Unless you were part of a largish organised group, the handbook stated that hostellers were not allowed to use a car to arrive at or travel between between hostels. On the whole this wasn’t abused too much, although it happened, with cars discretely parked out of sight of the hostel and the warden. In Scotland, because of greater mileage between some hostels, there was a tolerance from the Scottish Youth Hostel Association (SYHA) about the use of cars by hostellers.
The Youth Hostel symbol on an Ordnance Survey was, and continues to be, a red triangle, as above. Contour lines and hill and mountain heights on the Ordnance Survey Seventh Series One Inch maps were in feet.
March 22, 1965. Northolt tube station, north west London, and the A40. Monday morning.
March 22nd, 1965. Mitcheldean Youth Hostel, Gloucestor. Monday night.
Just made a meal and am now sitting in an empty Common Room. Raining outside, but it’s warm in here: there’s 6 cane chairs with cushions arranged around one of those big old range fires. The place looks like old stables, cream painted stonework with crimson paint and an archway leading into a yard.
This morning I was at my parents home in Essex. Left home at quarter past eight and it took me 1½ hours to get to Stratford (East London) station. Stop start, stop start. Drivers all mad, one long queue. It’s stupidity – you do an 8 hour day and it takes you 30% of that time, if not more, getting to work, and getting back. From Stratford the Underground to Northolt and A40. Start hitching. Don’t wait long. Bloke in Bedford delivering meat pies gives me a lift to 10 miles from High Wycombe, stopping on the way to deliver his pies, whilst “Music While you Work” (Music on BBC Light programme) blares out the radio he’s got in the van. Don’t have to wait long after he drops me off. I get a lift in a Cortina from a youngish late 20s, early 30s good looking bloke, and doesn’t that Cortina go – feel it pulling away from under you.
Automatic transmission. Don’t talk much at first. Notice a box of Kleenex tissues, a Daily Sketch and a pair of hi-heels in the front.
Get talking and it turns out he’s a theatre director, just come back from Canada and returning to the Oxford Playhouse. Tells me about something he heard when he was in Canada – some students in the U.S. went round with a petition in a town and 84% refused to sign it – and it turned out it was the First Amendment of the American Constitution.
“The First Amendment (Amendment I) to the United States Constitution prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, ensuring that there is no prohibition on the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble, or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.” (Summary by Wikipedia).
He drops me off on the Oxford ring road. A bit of a wait and then a lift from a young mechanic driving a 15 cwt van going, returning to Gloucester. I’m knackered and almost fall asleep, and the continual noise of the engine gives me a headache. We don’t talk much. He drops me off on the Gloucester ring road. Standing outside some industrial site – Brackley Builders, Instant Car Wash, caravans, flags flying…Behind me post war, just post war, council houses, a patch of green and a glimpse of Gloucester Cathedral.
Lift at last to near Cinderford, bloke driving a Fiat 600 on his way to Newport. It starts to rain.
The driver drops me off where the road goes to Cinderford. It’s still quite a way and a small country road so wait for a bus as hardly any traffic. Wait and wait, I’m getting wet, my rucksack seems to weigh a ton and I’ve still got the headache, and the scenery’s dull. At last an old 1952 type double decker comes, a firm called Red and White.
The scenery starts to get more interesting, more valley like. The bus goes to Cinderford. Cinderford’s one of those big/small places – coal mines, heath, forest, hillocks and vales
I have to get off the bus at Cinderford and get into a stationary bus waiting for Mitcheldean. It’s just gone 5. It starts to fill up with workers who all seem to know each other, and the bus conductor. Some talk with a Gloucester accent and some with a Welsh accent. Curious. As the bus fills up they chat to each other. “Did you see that try on the TV, Dai?” – and with a ding ding of the bell we’re off and get into Mitcheldean quarter of an hour later. It’s a bit like Cinderford, less industry, just as old and narrow streets and small grubby shops. Go in one and buy a loaf, and sugar. Find the youth hostel and enter. First thing that happens is a youngish plump woman crosses the archway – there’s a door on it – it leads straight onto the street in the village. She’s carrying a pile of blankets. She tells me I’ll have to hang on as she’s got to move them, then asks for help. I drop my rucksack and help her carry them into the Drying Room. She’s trying to stack them properly and swearing “Bloody things… Bugger this”. Two kids looking in annoy her, she shouts at them, and at an old man who is also looking in. He’s got a displaced jaw that makes him look mental, and deep set eyes and prominent cheek bones.
Make a meal. Still got the headache.
March 23, St Briavels Youth Hostel, Tuesday evening.
“There’s a cottage down there, tin out-buildings, an old car on its side, a stream and some chickens. Go down to the cottage and a women wearing a beret and her old man’s old jacket – stained on the lapel – tells me I’m on the wrong track. “
A test of character today as it rained all the time. Slightly aching as I write this in the Common Room and a damp body, but otherwise OK.
Left Mitcheldean about nine in drizzling rain.
I’m wearing my ex-WD (War Department) cape, over-trousers and sou wester. Climb up a hill that overlooks Mitcheldean, but there is a misty cloud hanging over the village. The village nestles in a valley surrounded by low hills. Then walk through Forestry Commission land and come onto cross roads and then realise I am lost. Start on a track that goes past a small quarry and curves round to a cottage – green hillside, wood on one side and looking down on steep little valley. There’s a cottage down there, tin out buildings, an old car on its side, a stream and some chickens. Go down to the cottage and a women wearing a beret and her old man’s old jacket – stained on the lapel – tells me I’m on the wrong track. So climb back up and retrace my steps to the cross roads. Bit of a bleak view but not too dismal. A woman waiting at a bus stop with a young girl points me in the right road to Speech House.
The track goes across bog, waste ground and small coal slag heaps with grass growing on them. The track winds around to a small brickworks, and crosses a railway line. The brickworks is old and small; long low sheds and four square shaped chimneys. Inside you can see a furnace glowing red. The track then goes steeply up, through woods, and I come to an old railway track – the rails removed and the track now a flat green elevated path through the forest. Come to an old railway station. (Drybook Road station, closed 1929, in Birch Wood.) There’s a platform and a cottage, right here in the middle of the forest. Someone is still living in the cottage but the platform is crumbled and overgrown with grass and here I must turn left and follow another a forest track. It’s conifers on each side.
It’s still raining when I come out at the Speech House, an expensive looking inn with an expensive looking car parked outside.
I walk along a road that goes past a school, it looks like a Special School, it’s by the road but surrounded by trees, a Victorian building with a modern well designed extension, Off the road and on to the track again through more forest. As it gets wetter I realise my 9/6d plastic leggings are useless – great gashes/splits in them, so that’s that on Day Two. There’s a couple kissing in a car, and I wonder what they’re doing out here, right out here in the forest, more than just kissing I reckon. I descend to the same railway track of earlier and another platform but no station. There’s a large swing crane, perhaps used for swinging large stone slabs onto the platform from trucks when there was a railway once here – for past a lake and a long artificial water chute/waterfall there’s a stone works. It’s a long shed with open sides and there are about six cutting machines and some blokes are working there, half in the dry, half in the rain. One machine is cutting stone into five thin slabs, like so:
Pennant Sandstone online site, 2016:
“Barnill Quarry sits at the head of Bixslade, close to Broadwell village. Our office and production plant, Bixslade Stoneworks is around a mile away, next to Cannop Ponds. The man-made ponds were built in 1825 and 1829 to create a head of water to drive a wheel at the ironworks at Parkend. Today we use the Ponds to power our micro hydro turbine generating electricity for our works.” – Forest of Dean Stone Firms Ltd
A bit further on I come to and cross a road and follow a very muddy track up a slight valley. There’s a lorry with fresh cut tree trunks, stuck in the mud. The driver in the cab shrugs at me, not sure what he can do. My boots are sticky with clay/mud and I realise I’m lost. End up in a hill billy looking place – hummocks, streams, some houses. Ask a bloke the right way. He directs me back in the way I came, only following a stream lower down. Eventually ascend and descend to Oakwood Inn, ascend again, accompanied by wolf whistles from two yobs on the road below.
And at last get onto the road that leads into St Briavels.
Buy some food in the village shop, and after she says “Be careful with the eggs” I go and drop them on the pavement outside as I make a grab at the door to close it, my other hand loaded with milk, spuds, grapefruit, etc. Hurriedly scoop eggs off the ground and put them in my billy can and trot off to the YH.
Old Norman castle. Enter through one of those keep doors, small door in a very big door, so small you have to stick your rucksack etc through first, and then follow. Yes, very old castle place.
Me and four others here tonight – a young German couple on bikes and two students who have gone down the boozer. I’m sitting in the dining room, the room with the fire and am writing this.
March 24. Llandogo, Monmouthshire. 11.20 a.m.
“When the bus comes it’s a single decker painted red and pay as you enter. Sitting, riding along, two women chat behind me. “That Mrs Jones is a very nice person”… – “Do you know Mr Thomas?”… They talk about music, and choirs and people they know, and we’re coming into Crickhowell.”
Trying to rain when I left the hostel. German couple passed me on their bikes, free wheeling down the hill, the long descent to the Wye Valley. When I get down to the Wye there’s a new steel bridge which I cross. The river’s chocolate treacle colour, bulging, flowing fast, pieces of hay and branches getting swept along. On the other side a steep wooded slope and hugging the slope and the river is the main road and below, at a second level, a ripped up railway track and disused station. Walk along the railway track and pass two men shovelling earth from a dumper, down the side of the railway bank.
Walk into Llandogo which is round the corner and it looks exactly like somewhere in the Rhine Gorge.
Houses up on the hillside, and dug gardens, which from a distance could be mistaken for terraced vineyards. The Wye has a sharp corner here. There’s a few houses down on the main road and tourist cafes.
The drizzle has stopped, the sun is now shining, there’s a slight breeze and birds are whistling and looking down on Llandogo I feel moderately good.
Treworgan Common. 3.5 p.m.
Sitting for a cig near a farm house. Grey stone, blue/grey slate roof, green painted door and windows. Grey stone outbuildings with rusted tin roofs, and a stone bridge crossing a stream. Daffodils, dandelions, violets, bluebells and snow drops beginning to bloom. There’s pussy willow and green buds on the trees. Sheep and lambs baa-ing, some cattle and on the way here rain followed by a hail storm for five minutes. Earlier, about 12 a.m., back near Tintern Forest/Cecil Ford I asked a sewage bloke in a lorry if I was on the right road. I was. Welsh accent, long oldish face, needed a shave.
Flat country around here.
Crickhowell YH, Breconshire. 9.50 p.m.
Back to this afternoon: In Raglan at 3.45 p.m. and buy a grapefruit, tin of soup, packet of biscuits and get on the A.40. I’m hitching the other side of a round-about but there’s not many cars. Then at 4.15 a yellow Consul stops and he’s going to Abergavenny. Get in – the interiors a mess, papers, empty fag packets. Nice ride to Abergavenny, there’s a lot of school children around, just out of school as we get there. He drops me off. It’s a moderately big place. Buy more food as it is half day closing in Crickhowell.
In Abergavenny roll a cig as I wait for a bus to Brecon that will take me to Crickhowell. When it comes it’s it’s a single decker painted red and pay as you enter. Sitting, riding along, two women chat behind me. “That Mrs Jones is a very nice person”… – “Do you know Mr Thomas?”… They talk about music, and choirs and people they know, and we’re coming into Crickhowell.
I find the YH. According to the Handbook the warden lives in a house adjoining. Knock, her son comes to the door “She’s out”, he says, and takes my money and takes me to the YH and shows me around. It’s a sort of Georgian House, and tonight I’ve got the place to myself. Explore the kitchen as I start to cook a meal. Some previous hostellers have left a load of moulding food in one of the cupboards. As I’m throwing it out the warden turns up. Not worried I’m here, and doesn’t ask me to sign the hostel book yet. Pretty lax here.
Go out for a drink, a pint of bitter, but I didn’t really enjoy it. Youngish bloke in the near- empty bar telling anyone who cared to listen a. how he applied and failed to become a prison warden at Horfield, Bristol and b. how the law was cock-eyed. “Done away with this hanging, see. S’not right, is it?” The woman behind the bar chimes in with “They only get 15 years now.” Only? And I kept drinking.
Back at the hostel I noticed, which I hadn’t noticed before, “Victoria Toilet Fixtures” on the toilets in the bog.
March 25. Thursday. near Bont, Black Mountains.
“Suffering from misguided romanticism I ache, I’m wet and I’ve sore feet.”
Back towards Crickhowell it was blotchy black and blue a minute ago and jet black clouds were rolling over the brow of Pen Cerig-calch on my left. The hills around here are in some respects like the Yorkshire Dales, but with different colouring. They are black on top, probably some kind of grit, otherwise they are fern covered limestone. The fern and bracken is dead, a sort of ginger colour. There are small patches of forest – mixed colours: olive greens, light browns, burnt reds, and on the farthest mountains there are patches of snow. There are quite a few cottages and farms in the valley and a lot of the hill slopes are fenced/walled in green pasture.
12 o’ clock. Grwyne Fechan valley, by the Hermitage.
The Hermitage is a derelict stone two storey building, no roof, with two Elizabethan or possibly Gerogian looking chimney stacks. This winding, steep sided valley is beautiful with a wide fast flowing mountain stream hissing over the boulders, on its way down to Crickhowell. I’ve passed about half a dozen derelict cottages/farm houses right by the water’s edge. There was one set back from the stream in some trees. The roof had fallen in and crows were flying in and out of it. But you’d have to have about £3000 to rebuild them to live in. Further back still there were a couple of houses that had been converted, looked like rich men’s country cottages. But I’m not rich. Now for some date bar.
Further Up the Valley Could so easily be raining, but it isn’t. Most of the time the sun is out despite the black clouds. I’ve left the Hermitage and woods behind. The valley is in its earlier stages here, the slopes are less acute and the valley floor is wider. Crossed a flat stone bridge with no walls that spans the stream. Made a sketch of the view.
3.20 Reservoir. Abertilly Reservoir, built 1928, 1,750′ above sea level.
I continued climbing up the Grwyne Fechan valley and to my surprise there was a path that went over Waun Fach (2,660′). It’s not shown on the map and I don’t think it was a sheep track. Great panoramic view from Waun Fach. Snow on the Brecon Beacons. There are a lot of patches of snow around where I am – snow and ice. Snow on my boots. The ascent and the descent was very boggy with the melting snow. Luckily not much wind.
Later, in Crickhowell Y.H. evening. Suffering from misguided romanticism I ache, I’m wet and I’ve sore feet. To pick up the story from where it was left off. After leaving the reservoir it started to rain (and me saying ‘It could so easily be raining’ earlier). I thought it would clear up, but it didn’t. It went on and on and I started to get wet. I’m walking down the wooded valley of Grwyne Fawr, getting wetter and wetter. Instead of going the long way round on a road that eventually goes into Crickhowell I try a short cut across the mountains, but it misfires, I come out of a wood back onto the same road. By this time – 4.30 – I’m about as wet as I can be, jeans soaked, sticking to my legs, water squelching out of my boots as I walk along. I’m swearing as there is no short cut back (well, no easy one) to Crickhowell. Come to a road junction with a sign that says Crickhowell’s 5 miles. Teeth literally gritted together, I set off as fast as I can, looking down at the road thinking psychologically this will make me think I’m covering a lot of distance, but the road’s unending and the rain’s unending. Eventually come to a point where I’m looking down on Crickhowell. It looks like a small German town, and irony of ironies – it’s now 7.15 p.m. – it’s stopped raining and there’s a strong wind.
Descend into the town and at last, at 7.35 make the YH. In and change my clothes, empty my boots of water. There’s a young Civil servant here tonight, besides me. He’s got a pot of tea and offers me a cup which I gladly take. Seem to spend all of the evening hanging up my clothes to dry and trying to dry my rucksack. Later, in the dormitory, in our beds before we go to sleep, me and the Civil Servant discuss the mental make-up of dachshunds.
March 26. Ty’n-Y-Cae Youth Hostel. 8.55 p.m.
Having a sort of little crisis at the moment. The weather was nice today as I walked to Tyn-Y-Cae but my boots suddenly hurt like fuck, big blisters on my heels. Maybe because the woman warden at Crickhowell dried them in an oven for me overnight. She said it would be alright, but I think they’ve shrunk. Walking today was hardly tolerable and my pack seemed heavy, and the scenery, apart for one or two spots, was dull, as because my feet were hurting I decided to walk most of the way along the Monmouthshire and Brecon canal.
The little crisis is that at one point as I was walking along the tow path I thought “Fuck it! I’ve had enough of this.” Three months hike to Scotland was a glorious big misconceived idea! Besides the boots and heavy rucksack, nearly all the hostels seem booked up in the coming weeks, and also there is a pressure to get to a youth hostel before local shops close at 5.30 to get food for myself, and sometimes with the distance between hostels or the terrain, that isn’t always possible. (Small hostels often did not have a hostel ‘store’ selling basics such as tinned food, or milk.) Still, what would I do if I packed it in. Spend three months writing TV plays? I don’t think so. Let’s see what I feel like this time next week, next Friday.
Incidentally, Tyn-Y-Cae is dead smart and nice. Quite a few walkers turned up. Friendly lot. It even has a proper hot bath. I soaked in it. Staying here tomorrow so I can hike to the Brecon Beacons.
March 27. Saturday. Tyn-y-Cae YH
“There was a slight diversion this evening (he’s gone to bed I think) of a Welshman staying this evening, muttering about “immorality” in the YHA.”
Today was good, very good. I went with a group of Cardiff hostellers over the Brecon Beacons to Storey Arms. They were: Anne with blond hair; a small dark wearing glasses girl and two blokes, one tall and one short. Thank goodness my boots were comfortable, I’d dubbinged them the evening before. It was quite a climb, leaving Brecon by the old Roman Road, up to the three peaks, the highest which we went to being Pen-Y-Fan. (2906′)
It clouded up there and there was a bit of a wind, but otherwise walking up it was sunny. Made our way down to Storey Arms YH on the main road that goes through the mountains. In the same house there is a cafe. We all bought something. I had a cup of tea and two buns. Old couple run the cafe. Some army blokes and birds came in. (The Brecon Beacons are still used by the Army for training and other exercises.) The blokes drank tea and they had pop. Anne and the Cardiff hostellers were going to stay at the Storey Arms, so I started hitching for Brecon.
Get picked up in a new maroon coloured Mini and taken to Brecon. Shops still open so buy postcards, OS 128 map, Shreddies and walk to the YH. A new list of booked hostels has been put up by the warden. It’s not good. It’s fucking terrible. Because of Easter in April and school holidays some I had planned to stay in are now fully booked up. Instead of being spontaneous I really have to plan very carefully with that nagging worry, because I can’t afford bed and breakfast, which would eat desperately into my weekly budget, and this is not the best time of year for sleeping out. However, there was a slight diversion this evening (he’s gone to bed I think) of a Welshman staying this evening, muttering about “immorality” in the YHA. He didn’t make it clear what sort of “immorality” he was talking about. Was he religious?
March 28. Sunday. Glascwm YH.
“It’s dusk, almost dark now. Start the walk along an uninhibited valley to Glascwm, after putting my anorak on, taking out my torch and eating chocolate. On one side of me the sound of a stream in the valley, on the other side a dark hill slope running up to a dark sky, with stars starting to show.”
Left Tyn-Y-Cae YH at 10. Blue sky, warm day. Walked up the main road that goes to Hay on Wye. Hitched for half an hour but being a Sunday road very quiet, so thought “Sod it” and started the long walk to Glascwm, which it’s turning out to be.
Yes, it’s a warm, sweaty, pleasant day.
Walking along quiet back roads. In one two girls looking for eggs in the hedge. Past a church, it was more like a house, near Llwyn Cynog. No-one around. Church – Chapel? -goers Austin’s and Morris’s parked on the grass outside. There’s a cat sitting on one of the car bonnets looking at me. Start on the steep road for Pentre-newbry. A dog back near the church starts barking at me. At Pentre-newbry it’s flatttish heather clad highland. Then on to Mynydd Fforest (1312′) where I make a bad mistake.
It’s all grass tracks up there and I took the wrong one, although it took me to as far as Llyswen to realise it. Ten miles out of my way. I should have come out onto the road further up, to the north. It’s four o’clock and I’m weighing up my chances to getting to Glascwm across the hills before it gets dark. Meet four lads with rucksacks who’ve been camping in the town, as small as it is. I cross the Wye to Boughrood. The river is cleaner, fresher looking here. It’s 4.5 p.m. Buy a bottle of Corona Clarade – it tastes like cherryade – and some chocolate – long walk ahead of me.
Cross the hills and come down into Pentre. Ask a woman where the footpath is that crosses the stream and up over the next hill is. Her hubby sits on a tractor a way off. She shows me. I have to cross the stream but there’s no bridge so take my socks and boots off, cross and start the climb up. I get up to the ridge and it’s 7.30 p.m. The sun’s setting and there’s five horses – golden silhouettes against the sinking sun. They look good.
Then a knee deep walk in bracken and heather to a deserted house called Ireland, and follow a track down into Rhulen, which is a few farms. It’s dusk, almost dark now. Start the walk along an uninhabited valley to Glascwm, after putting my anorak on, taking out my torch and eating chocolate. On one side of me the sound of a stream in the valley, on the other side a dark hill slope running up to a dark sky, with stars starting to show. And before I calculated it I’m in Glascwm. It’s 9.5 p.m.
The YH is a small school house. The warden’s house is across the road.
Two others staying there – oldish couple, cycling. The couple give me a welcome cup of coffee, and then I go across with them to pay the bed night fee, buy some eggs, chocolate, biscuits, milk and there’s a letter for me I was three quarters expecting from Judith. Read it as I have tomato soup followed by coffee. Nothing startling but an amusing letter none the less. The oldish couple act like a couple of 18 year olds. I like them, spirit, guts. Living in the present. The sky is now jet black and intensely starry.
March 29. Monday. 10.7 a.m. Near Little Hill, 1,601′. Starting on my way to Llandrindod Wells.
“Leisurely descent down to Llandindod Wells. It’s a weird place. I walked into it along a tree lined avenue – it was like walking into a Sunday afternoon from 60 years ago.”
Woke up this morning around 6.30 and I can hear the couple talking. “I say, isn’t it beautiful!” She’s a bit of out-of-this-world pleasant nutter. Like an 18 year old unsophisticated girl. She holds her age well, I can’t guess it – perhaps 40? They cycled off before I left. I left at 9.30. I’m near Little Hill.
Its peaceful here. There’s a blue sky, a warm sun and there’s a bird singing somewhere in the burnt chocolate coloured heather. The only other sound is my watch ticking as my hands are behind my head as I look up at the sky. There’s a sudden fluttery noise and that bird has just flown over. A plane flies slowly overhead, wonder where it’s going, wonder who’s piloting it. I sit up and read Judith’s letter again.
1.55 p.m. Just past Pawl-hir. Descended from Little Hill, crossed A 481, quiet country road, no traffic on it, and then walked to Frank’s Bridge and partially followed the road by the River Edw, and then climbed up a track that went past a tree plantation, conifers with a sign saying Economic Forest Group. Spoilt by the barbed wire going around the plantation.
This is a pretty leisurely day, compared with the long hike yesterday. I’ve paused to have my dinner – bar of chocolate, water and a cig. From here there’s a path descending eventually down into Llandrindod Wells.
4.30 p.m. Waiting for the YH to open. Still warm. Leisurely descent down to Llandindod Wells. It’s a weird place. I walked into it along a tree lined avenue – it was like walking into a Sunday afternoon from 60 years ago. No one around, came to the town centre, a square, a few people. A policeman talking to a bloke, a dog chasing another dog. The place is like a Victorian New Town – nearly all the buildings are Victorian suburban houses. If you took the cars away it would be like being back 60 years. Some of the “main” buildings are monstrous – 4 storey high, red brick, glass veranda with ghastly turret towers shooting upwards from the side.
9.35 p.m. The YH, Llandrindod Wells.
This hostel gets me down. It’s not a YHA hostel, but YHA members can book in to it. It’s part of St Christopher’s Holiday Centre, what ever that may be. (St Christopher, Patron Saint of Travellers. YHA hostellers could use its facilities between 1962 – 1966. The holiday centre is believed to be now closed.) I’m sitting in what I’ve been told is the ‘temporary’ common room. Presumably they’re doing up the regular one. There’s Catholic scrolls encased and hanging on the walls, which gets me down, which smothers me. There’s also a weird framed large head and shoulders painting of Christ with long sort of blond hair, and wherever you are in the room, he seems to be following you – the eyes. There must be some trick with it. It’s a craphole of a hostel and I wish I hadn’t booked in for tomorrow night, but I have. A lone cyclist here, waiting to go to Birmingham University. Went to a pub with him and had 2½ pints of bitter.
March 30. Tuesday. Near Cefn-y-grug, 1,542′.
“This waterfall looks like the Consulate Menthol Cig ad on the back of last weeks’s Observer.”
Left the hostel at twenty to nine and caught a bus to Penybont. The bus runs on Tuesdays only. Run by a company called Cross Gate Motors – even more decrepid than Pennine Services in the Yorkshire Dales. Cross Gate buses are old Bedfords. There’s me and just two other people on it
From Penybont I take a track and then footpath up to the summit of Cefn-ygrug (1,542′), and I’m having a cig before I follow the path along to Nyth-grug (1,767′) and then down to Water-Break-Its-Neck.
The sun’s out, it’s a warm day and just had dinner of an orange and chocolate. Bits of the landscape here remind me of the Yorkshire Dales. It’s a good place.
2.28 p.m. Water Break It’s Neck is the name of a 100′ waterfall – the highest in Central Wales, which I’m sitting near the foot of. It’s not that impressive as it isn’t a sheer drop. There are Forestry Commission woods around here, mixed conifers including larches. Lovely blend of colours. The path here crossing the hills was a wild flat plateau top, and dropping down on the way to here is a shooting range belonging to Imperial Metal Industries.
Actually, this waterfall looks like the Consulate Menthol Cig ad on the back of last weeks’s Observer.
3.34 p.m. On the long track back across the hills to Penybont, stopped by a beck to have a cig, lying on its bank and look up at the blue sky. Rusted barbed wire across my field of vision against the blue ceiling, and rotting wooden posts.
8.45. Llandrindod Wells YH. Got to Pennybont five to six and waited until 6.30 by which time I reckoned the bus wasn’t coming, so started walking, when a Civil Defence van, woman driver, two blokes, stopped and gave me a lift into Llandrindod.
March 31. Heading for Nant-Y-Dernol YH. 11.25.
“This is the greatest place I’ve seen yet. It’s beautiful”
On Rhiw Gwraidd, 1,429′ Stiffish cold breeze but the sun’s out. A view from here of rolling hills and patchwork fields: that’s Central Wales. All farm dogs around here seem to be black and white scruffs. (Given his semi-suburban upbringing Le Patron didn’t realise that these “scruffs” were pedigree Border Collies that all hill farmers in Wales, England and Scotland use because of their exceptional ability to round up and control sheep and cattle.)
Franklyn’s Mild is the cig tobacco around here. Hardly ever see it in England, usually AI Light or Sun Valley. Yes, rolling hills around here.
1.5 p.m. Near Gaufron.
Instead of going across the hills to Rhayader I ended up on the A44 going to Rhayader having taking the wrong track.
It’s now a hot day. Asked a farm worker at Nantymynoch where I was. Old bloke, woman by a farmhouse weeding, two blokes with a tractor in a stream, washing it. I find a track that’s running above the A44 which I’m now on. It really is hot here.
2.25 On unclassified mountain road to Aberyswth, as I write this. Rhayader is a great place – a real country town in mid Wales, genuine and not like Llandrindod. Bought a Cornish pasty and date bar in the town, which also has several hotels, classy as well, but a nice place. The scenery around here starts to pick up.
3.10 p.m. This is the greatest place I’ve seen yet. It’s beautiful. It’s on the mountain road between Dderw and Craig-ddu. A great, great valley with the road slowly climbing on one side, and you look down and see the slopes covered with silver birch and there’s a small lake in the bottom. Looking up the slope from the road all you can see is knarled twisted silver trunked trees, flaking grey limestone slabs and just about, the blue sky. But amongst all those trunks and branches it looks almost black.
Up here at the pass you look down and that wooded hill slope looks fantatsic – lime/olive greens, ginger (from the dead fern), silver from the birches, sand yellow colours and the grey of the limestone and the faded yellow green turf on top – all this in a clear blue sky and Spring sun. Where I’m sitting, either side of me, great slabs of flaking limestone jutting out of the hillside, and there’s some sandstone and slate too. And dotted along the roadside white painted posts for the weary driver at night.
3.55 Pen-rhiw-wen It’s one big cotton grass and turf plateau top up here. From Ryadader it’s been the best walk so far. Weather’s great, I’ve been lying back on the turf feeling the sun on my face. A few people pass in cars, sight-seers, like me.
5 o’ clock Near Dernol, on hill slope overlooking the Wye Valley. Yes, the River Wye again. It’s in it’s early stages here.
Now for the YH, about half an hour’s walk.
10 to 10 p.m. Nant-Y-Dernol YH. This place is even better than Glascwm. Nearest shop is 7 miles away, in another valley. The hostel is on a valley slope, by a track. The warden’s house is ½ a mile down the road, and I’ve got the hostel to myself. No electricity, sanitation or water. I have to fetch my water from a well that’s further up the track. There’s a very old looking range with side compartments and there’s a red coal fire burning. There’s a pile of wood in the corner and light comes from two gas lamps that are run off a Calor Gas cyclinder. Black beams above, and the floor is old stone slabs. I got fresh milk and eggs from the warden, who’s an old woman who milks the cows on the farm down the valley. Another great starry night. I look out and you can see the dark outline of the hills opposite. This is the sort of place I’d like to live in.
April 1. 10.40 a.m., near a ford, sitting on the banks of the River Wye, north of Nant-y-Dernol.
“When I was waiting for the Y.H. to open, two small boys walked up to the spot where I was, one carrying a yellow balloon, and came and joined me and then interrogated me as I started to walk back down into the town.”
What a difference from the Wye I crossed last week near St.Briavels. Here it is crystal clear, about three to four foot deep, moving leisurely, about 25 foot wide with a few pebble banks. Valley is quite wide here, a bit of meadowland and then the hills rising up on either side. Another great blue sky warm day. Left Nant-y-Dernol YH at 9.30.
12.35 p.m. Llangurig is a nice small village. Bought a packet of biscuits in the village shop/Post Office and then a steepish walk out of Llangurig on the unclassified road. Talked to a shepherd as he moved his sheep along the road from one field to another.
After talking to the shepherd I sat on a bank and being the pig I am I ate the packet of biscuits – this being lunch, this being 11.30, this only intending to eat four. Wide valley ahead, a view of Llanidloes and sound of children playing in the distance.
4 p.m. Walked into Llanidloes at about half one. It’s a beautiful place. Georgian, with two wide main streets. A lot of grey/blue slate in the buildings and slate cobbled paths. Hardly anyone around. It’s warm, quiet and peaceful. Serene. Went into the Public Conveniences, as the Council calls them. And out again. A few old men standing around. There’s a great black timber and white plaster market building in the centre with arches going through it –
– yeah, well something like that, and so onto the road for Newtown. Light traffic – green fields, river – donkeys in the field, rolling in a dust patch.
Van stops, dark green Austin van, get in, going to Newtown – incredibly, gloriously untidy inside. Forestry bloke, shrubs, private, not Forestry Commission. Gives me an Embassy, tells me about the floods they had in Newtown last December, pointed out the caravans where flood victims now live. Apparently it hit the whole town, smashing down buildings and smashing in shop windows.
Goes out of his way to drop me off at the YH, an old church by the looks of it. I walk to the only shop that’s open – half closing day – the Co-op, and get some food I didn’t intend to get as they haven’t got what I wanted – i.e. grapefruit, and a Vesta meal.
Despite its name, Newtown is another pleasant old town with wide streets. I’ve taken a steep walk out of the town, in the countryside, to wait ’til 5 0′ clock and the YH to open, and write these notes.
11.35 p.m. Newtown Y.H. When I was waiting for the Y.H. to open, two small boys walked up to the spot where I was, one carrying a yellow balloon, and came and joined me and then interrogated me as I started to walk back down into the town. One of them asked to hold my map case, and the other one showed me where a milk vending machine was in the town. They left me when I went into the Y.H. which was now open. A woman there in the office takes my card and says the warden will be up later.
Eating my meal in the self-catering kitchen he turns up and turns out to be bent – calling me Pete, offering me cigs – which I took – and dropping his cig ends all over the floor. Lights a fire in the women’s dormitory and sits by it, with me, while I pretend I’m reading the Observer. He eventually pushes off – (warning) telling me he’ll be back at 9.
Two Israeli girls turn up, who at first I mistake to be French. Nice to look at, nice to talk to. They drop off their stuff and go out to the town to find something to eat and in the meantime Cyril returns. (“Cyril”, as written in the notes, is not his real name. The real Cyril was a sports teacher at one of Le Patron’s former schools, who enjoyed ogling the boys in the showers as his glasses steamed up and later left teaching to join the Church of England.) Stilted, suggestive comments and conversation for half an hour and getting nowhere with me he pushes off again. The girls return from the town and the three of us talk solid ’til ten past eleven – mainly – well – spiritual things, philosophy – call it what you will. Sartre, existence, etc.
April 2. Harlech station, possibly 4 p.m.
“Suddenly – from nowhere – a load of scruffy looking, shouting, squealing school children – and I guess I was like that once – black blazers and grey flannels and hats on the back of their heads – and ties off – the heat – and scruffy looking. They pile into the 4.13, me with them. And the amazing thing is the majority are speaking Welsh. I always thought use of Welsh was isolated, but here are tens of school children speaking Welsh – a foreign language to me – but their first language.”
Watch has packed up, so that’s why I’m vague about the time.
“To The Warden,Youth Hostel, Greenfield Road, Holmfirth, Huddersfield, Yorkshire.
I would be grateful, if it is possible, if you could reserve a bed for myself (male) for the nights: Thurs, Friday and Saturday, April 15-16-17th.
I would also like to order in advance 3 pints of milk, 2 loaves of bread and a dozen eggs for that period. I enclose a P.O. for 16/9 to cover overnight charges”
(The dates requested were the Easter weekend in 1965. 16/9 = 84 pence)
That was written a couple of minutes ago but I’ve changed my mind as it will be absolutely useless trying to book in advance, without seeing the hostel booking lists and with me having no definite YH address for the warden to write back to. So, to pick up the story after last night in Newtown.
Got up early, though didn’t realise it as, as I said, my watch has packed up. Didn’t realise it ’til later. Had breakfast, two cigs, and then hesitant if I should knock on the girl’s dormitory and wake up Sima and Shula to say goodbye. Saved by hearing their voices. So I knock. “Good morning” they say from inside. “Can I come in?” – “Wait a moment please” and I do. In the meantime the woman from yesterday turns up to give us our YH cards, and the girls emerge. The three of us exchange addresses and promises of seeing each other again – in Israel? It’s an idea. So I leave and cash some money at the Post Office.
Get on the road for Dolgellau.
Get a fairly long lift in a new Austin van, bloke delivering paint, going to Towyn. Hot, hot day, pleasant valley scenery. He dropped me off at Machynlleth a pleasant old town, and I bought a date bar and the O.S. map for Snowdonia.
Walk past a railway station, over a bridge – wide, clear river.
Hitch, though there are few passing cars. And then a big Austin stops and I get in. At a rough guess, a farmer. A tin of black treacle in front of me. He has a stuttery, almost incoherent speech, telling me that being such a nice chap I should get my hair cut, that it would effect my chances for a job in an interview, then keeping silent for the rest of the journey apart from whistling softly. And he’s a terrible driver. I don’t mind him going slow – I was enjoying the view – but he kept putting the break on every 50 yards for no conceivable reason – there was nothing on the road, a clear view, and yet, brake again almost to a crawl, and then off again, but it’s a great road into Dalgellau.
He drops me off across the bridge on the road going to Barmouth/Ffestiniog. I start to back over the bridge for a pee when I hear someone calling – “Peter!” I turn and it’s Sima and Shula. I’m glad to see them. They’re making for Caernarvon. We’re having a chat when a young American turns up. He’s just come over from Ireland, spending a year in Europe.
I give Sima and Shula first chance at hitching, as we’re on the same road. The American crosses the bridge going into Dolgellau, and I have a discreet pee by the bridge.
I’m noticing three things: first the greenness of the tress, the leaves, buds sprouting – didn’t see that in south and central Wales; two, the mountains – although only 1,500′ – 2,000′ – are rugged, stark and impressive looking. A different rock accounts for that. I think a lot of it is volcanic, not sure and three, a lot of people are talking Welsh.
A bloke in an old Austin van picks me up. He’s just been in hospital and the fool I am – and I was kicking myself afterwards – go the coast route with him, which is a diversion.
Ffestiniog YH. No idea of the time, gone 8 p.m. I think. There’s no fire and I’m cold.
Anyway, to pick up where I left off – The coast road’s pleasant and he drops me off seven miles the Harlech side of Barmouth. He assures me I’ll get to Ffestiniog easy from the drop off place. But there’s sod all traffic on the road. Nothing. Sand dunes and a RAF camp (RAF Llanbedr, now no longer a RAF camp) in the dunes in the distance and training jets with bright red paint screeching across the very blue sky.
I walk along the road, rest and eat and walk and eventually make Harlech a nice, dead place. Dead meaning no traffic.
Go into a cafe and have an ice cold glass of orange, cold yes, but not much of it. I ask about buses – missed one by ten minutes, I’m told. Next one’s 7 p.m. Pee-ow. I think, walk down the road, change my mind, no traffic, and go back to the cafe and ask about trains. Information sounds more helpful and hopeful, so I trot down to the station which is near the dunes. Train at 4.13 to Penrhyndeudraeth and I was told I can get a bus from there to Ffestiniog.
There’s a fly annoying me as I write this, it’s flying around this big cold hostel room. Anyway, back at the station and the train comes in and suddenly – from nowhere – a load of scruffy looking, shouting, squealing school children – and I guess I was like that once – black blazers and grey flannels and hats on the back of their heads – and ties off – the heat – and scruffy looking. They pile into the 4.13, me with them. And the amazing thing is the majority are speaking Welsh. I always thought use of Welsh was isolated, but here are tens of school children speaking Welsh – a foreign language to me – but their first language.
Get to Penrhyndeudraeth and a mad clumsy dash to get the bus. Make it after asking a small kid if it’s gone. He spoke English to me – “Don’t know”, then turns to a mate and asks his mate in Welsh. It’s – ah, sodding fly! – amazing how they can switch from one language to the other.
So it’s a green “Crosvilles” double decker – looking like an Eastern National – to Ffestiniog.
Conductor’s smoking an Embassy tipped and telling me where the shops are in Ffestiniog. Ffestiniog and those – bastard fly – those only 2,000′ hills look fanatastic, ragged angry against the sky – a great alarming makes me afraid sight. Buy some food, a lot of food and milk from a dairy I had trouble finding, where again the two shop hands had no trouble switching between Welsh and English with me. Make my way to the hostel. Large Victorian house.
It’s completely empty – and yet there are other hostels 15 miles away, nearer Snowdon, that are probably booked up. Hard to define how I feel at the moment. See what the morning brings.
April 3. Saturday. Tan-y-grisiau
“After taking a wrong direction I can’t go on any further because there’s a crag and I’m on a narrow ledge, virtually a sheer drop below me where fantastically quarry trucks must have gone down – you can make out the track and about 15′ above me there’s a winch.”
It was a warm morning to wake up to – the warmest yet, and the visibility was so sharp and intense, like that morning in the mountains in Switzerland.
Last night at half past midnight (!) a load of students in a Land Rover turned up at the YH. In the morning they had a dirty great box of stores which they unpacked in the kitchen whilst I had my Kellogs, grapefruit and coffee.
After breakfast walked to Tanygrisiau which looks like a one time slate mining village – slate heaps, narrow gauge railway, grass growing over it and here and there the track torn up. The village is at the foot of the mountains – little slate cottages spread along and discarded pieces of machinery. Walls made of thin slabs of slate sticking vertically upwards and pieces of iron and tubing scattered around. I can see a new power station in the distance and electricity pylons spanning the craggy mountains. (Ffestiniog Hydro power station which had started producing electricity in 1963.) A place full of feeling.
Sometime before dinner time. Llyn Clogwyn brith. This really is a fantastic valley ascending from Tanygrisiau.
I’m sitting at the top, looking down on the valley, which is curved. Wide, flat valley bottom and steep craggy sides. Great piles of slate 150′ high, layers of it and broken down deserted cottages/houses, even a church and at a rough guess I would say they’re not more than a century old. Old quarries, remains – pieces – of trucks that once went on the track – a winch for pulling them up and down the steep slope. All remains of a once thriving slate industry, yet sitting here it’s hard to imagine activity, people living in these slate broken-in-roof cottages or working in the quarries with the rusted track and the long grass. I had a look inside the church, and a house. From the outside they look alright but go in, and the ceiling’s gone, the floor’s are gone – nothing but stone and rubbish.
Later, over-looking Cwm Croesor valley.
After taking a wrong direction I can’t go on any further because there’s a crag and I’m on a narrow ledge, virtually a sheer drop below me where fantastically quarry trucks must have gone down – you can make out the track and about 15′ above me there’s a winch. It’s a straight ‘U’ shaped valley. Further back was the main quarry – rusted bogies, decaying buildings, dripping water, a shaft going into the hillside. You could see the sleepers amongst the pools of water and rock and weed and literally mountains of discarded slate.
Now to retrace my steps and find the right route.
Later, the bridge that crosses the Afon Maesgwn near Croesor. But I changed my mind, retraced some of my steps and then walked above. I could see two big mountains, and wondered if one of them was Snowdon. I was surprised to see the sea and the estuary five miles away. And then on to Moelwyn Bach, 2334′ and Moelwyn Mawr, 2527′ and suddenly I saw something in a bush I’ve never seen before – a red squirrel. Seen tens of grey sqirrels but never a red. It had a an orange/cream stomach. I was five feet away from it, it couldn’t decide what to do, and then dashed down and onto and along a stone wall.
Afternoon, between Moelwyn Bach and Moelywn Mawr, overlooking Llyn Stwlan.
A lot of hills in the hazy distance. It was a puffy walk up to this point but rewarded with a view when you make it. The rock is black, slatey, craggy, harsh and glistens white like glass in the sun. Streaks of white crystalline in it. Can hear blasting in the distance, probably from Blaenau Ffestiniog. (There was still slate mining in Blaneau Ffestiniog in 1965. Significant quarrying ceased in 1970, putting many out of work. Some small scale quarrying continues but tourism is now the main ‘industry’.)
Wish I knew what the time is – wish my sodding watch worked – well, it’s ticking but the hands keep getting stuck. The sun’s been very hot, but just gone in behind some puffy looking white clouds.
Ffestiniog YH, around 7.30 p.m. at a guess. Again in this big cold room, but no fly this evening, thank goodness. The students haven’t returned yet – if they had, or did, we might get a fire lit. So back to the afternoon: descent to Tanygrisiau, only the path flaked out so had to descend at my own initiative. Passing and looking at more mine shafts followed by a descent down the piles of slate slag, on through derelict buildings and down into Tan-y-grisiau. A hot Saturday afternoon, hardly anyone around, very quiet. Go in a shop, get a small loaf and find out it’s 4 p.m. Walk to Ffestiniog looking forward to a meal of fish and chips but find that they don’t fry on a Saturday night. In the YH I have a middling meal of cauliflower soup and one Oxo cube and brown bread and Marie biscuits and coffee. Writing this now and feeling a bit bored and thinking I could be doing other things at the moment. Like what?
April 4. Sunday. 10.35 a.m. near Llyn y Manod
“From Manod Quarry a walk to a second disused quarry, but once in use possibly 10? 20? 30? years ago. Long sheds, go in – broken machinery – pulleys, saw benches, files, tools and outside there are trucks still on the tracks and two small engines for pulling them.”
Woke up feeling enthusiastic with a peculiar vision of the joys of seeing different parts of Britain. I usually do wake up in the morning feeling better than when I went to bed. Had my breakfast and outside a misty rain, which cleared up by the time I left.
Hills are lower here – 1,ooo’ to 2,000′. I look down and see flat undulating lowland. On either side of me the start of very black, craggy rock slopes and I’ve got to ascend the right hand one.
Later. Passed Llyn y Manod, which is a small lake, and now over-looking Blaenau Ffestiniog below. Impression of planned streets and everything a complete grey: grey slate roofs, a huddled slate mining town surrounded by slate slag heaps, and old quarries filled with water, the sun partly shining through low white clouds that are moving steadily along.
Overlooking Manod Quarries. A completely different scenery here – low smooth rounded hills, some wooded, some a dirty brown. There are telegraph poles descending to the quarry and then continue over the hills.
1.25 p.m ? One mile from Penmachno I’m sitting near the road on the edge of a Forestry Commission forest. From Manod Quarry a walk to a second disused quarry, but once in use possibly 10? 20? 30? years ago. Long sheds, go in – broken machinery – pulleys, saw benches, files, tools and outside there are trucks still on the tracks and two small engines for pulling them. A lot of rusting machinery. And then a descent into Tre-Gynwal. Very quiet, cloudy Sunday morning. Slate roofed, walled cottages. Pass one shop, “Closed”, then a second “Open” and to my luck it is. Buy a pint of milk and two packets of biscuits. Then walk along this broad flat valley with a river to Penmachno. Gentle descending valley slopes here, bleating of sheep, wood on left hand side, a few farms. Have bread and chocolate, a cig and write this.
Around 4 p.m. Just come through Pwll-y-gath and near Tan-y-clogwyn. Walked through the the forest after Penmachno. Out of the forest into Pwll-y-gath – three farms strung along a small pleasant very green in parts valley. Dragging on a cig, sound of a waterfall below me and low wooded hills in the distance.
April 5. Monday. Overlooking Dolwyddelan. 20 to 11 a.m.
“Bill please come down to the hall – Mama has invited us all to lunch – Joan.” Hand written message pinned to a board outside a place called Lledr Hall Guest House – Outdoor Pursuits Centre. Wonder what that was about.
Grey slate roofed country village where no one seems to have heard of Vesta meals after unsuccessfully going into the shops to buy some.
(Vesta Meals were ideal for hikers as the packet was light to pack in a rucksack and all that was needed to make them in the hostel self-catering kitchen was boiling water, and they tasted better than the tins of grisly, fatty Irish Beef Stew that were often on sale in the hostel ‘shop’.)
Overcast but bright. Craggy hills in the distance, possibly Snowdon amongst them. Sitting on a green painted wooden bench writing this.
Timeless – watch finally packed in, on way to Moel Siabod, 2860′. A walk through the forest, up a small hill, past a party of students with leader, past a lake and now here. A view of big mountains, probably the ones I’ll be crossing tomorrow to get to Idwal Cottage. Behind me, Moel Siabod – craggy, brutal, dark.
One o clock? Sitting on the pinnicle top of Moel Siabod 2860′. Panoramic view of Snowdon and other mountains on both sides of me. The best view yet. In front of me are low hills, dark greens, almost black, and fawny browns and faded, faded greens. Behind me and around me in a semi circle dark, dark jagged mountains, Snowdon, the lot. Completely dark, in an outline and there’s a fantastic looking cloud curtain just above them. Something like this.
It was a long and at many times steep and sweaty walk up to here, passing on the way a party of school boys and master. On the peak rock and boulders – dark, black – tumble steeply down into the rolling hills below.
Two o clock? Following the ridge from Moel Siabod. Sitting opposite the Llanberis Pass and Snowdon and can make out the miner’s track part way up to the summit. A little further on a flat moorland plain below me, fawny green/yellow.
Around 25 to 5, in forest above Dolwyddelan. The “flat” moorland plain wasn’t so flat as it looked when I descended to it – “undulating” would have been a better word. And it was quite boggy, so not straight-forward walking as I thought it would be. Follow streams, then onto the Ancient Track, and of then off and then back on, past the Castle in Dolwyddelan…
… past two blokes trying to push a mixer (cement mixer) onto the pavement and into the village and into a cafe to buy a box of matches. Surprised to find it’s only twenty past four which means (theoretically) that the ascent of Snowdon from Idwell (and back) should be done comfortably – say eight or nine hours.
Went into the village post office that also sells wool, small clothes, cotton, etc, besides the usual, and buy two 2½ d. stamps. (The Labour Government Postmaster-General, Anthony Wedgewood Benn, was to announce on 25 April, 1965 that charges for letters were to inclease to 4d for letters and 3d for postcards, effective from 17 May, 1965.)
Going out, in the street I notice a bloke with a fantastic looking large pack that must be killing him.
Just as I’m writing this in the forest, three Forestry Commission workers and a dog pass me, we nod at each other, and they all have the universal ex WD gas mask bag slung over their shoulder, with the Thermos flask poking out, just as I have on the building sites.
Lledr Valley YH evening.
“Bill please come down to the hall – Mama has invited us all to lunch – Joan.”
Hand written message pinned to a board outside a place called Lledr Hall Guest House – Outdoor Pursuits Centre. Wonder what that is all about. On the way to the YH it’s a walk along the River Lledr which is wide and full of boulders and clear and deep in places, and past the above named place. I ask a bloke who is passing what the time is and he says 5.45. As I’m walking, near to the YH, there were two girls walking along the road and for about a minute I thought they were Shula and Sima but getting nearer – ah no – two New Zealand girls – beefy.
The hostel should be open but there are two bottles of milk outside the front door, not taken in. Is the warden in? Is he ill? Is he dead? I wait, sitting on the steps writing this and it’s spitting with rain. The New Zealand girls are waiting too. But – a-ha – the warden turns up and I was thinking I would complain for being late when he opens up and having to wait, but being me when he asks if we’ve been waiting long I say no (and the girls say no too) . But he’s a nice chummy chap.
The hostel from the outside looks vile – Victorian monstrosity built – of all things – wooden tiles painted institution green. But inside it’s not at all bad – warm for one thing and pleasant interior decoration. I’m given a small warm dormitory. A party of army cadets are in another dormitory, and there’s the two New Zealand girls.
I cook a Vesta Meal for One, chicken curry, with trepidation but to my surprose, because I hadn’t had the Chicken Curry one before, it turns out to taste pleasant plus a big filling meal. So again, Batchelors deserve a medal. The Vesta meals weigh only 3 ozs, they’re easy to carry several in your pack and they’re cheap, 2/3d. (27 pence.)
Whilst I was cooking the Vesta curry the army cadets came into the kitchen with their boxes of army rations, and on each box a little bit of paper says that besides the rations the contents contained are can opener, cooking instructions and – and – bog paper. They open the cans, cook the stuff and then use the bog paper when they’ve got the shits from eating the stuff. Is their food really that bad?
Used the pay phone to ring up Idwell Cottage (youth hostel), having difficulty pronouncing Dolwyddelan 202 to the Welsh operator (the Dolwyddelan bit). I managed to get booked in for tomorrow night. I then bought two postcards from the warden. Wrote one to parents and one to Colin and all at Pilning – hope they get it. (Le Patron had saved hard during the winter, working as a brickie’s labourer on the site of what was to be the Fire Station for the new Severn Road Bridge which was still being built. Colin was the affable foreman on the job, and the blokes on the site were a good lot. On a clear day from the incomplete roof of of the Fire Station there was a view of the Welsh hills across the Severn estuary. The Severn Road Bridge opened to traffic in September, 1966. The Fire Station has since closed. )
So, chummy warden with wife and kid of 3½. it’s OK here.
April 6. Tuesday, on track leading to Capel Curig. Around 10.15 a.m.
“I went up the steep climb gradually, often having to grab the heather and rocks. Some shifted though luckily most of them stayed. Having got to here I’m feeling pleased with myself. Unjustifiable though. It was a stupid thing to do. It could have been dangerous.”
Left the hostel 9.15 after having a chat with the warden. He worked in the shipyards at one time, was a shop steward. Went to the Peace Conference in Vienna in 1951. This morning he had a mild argument with the army cadets, well, more a discussion, about the army.
There’s a white frost this morning and a white mist in the valley, but the sun’s out and it’s getting warm. Walking to Capel Curig I’m thinking – as I’ve often thought – that I’d like to be a YH warden. But how does one start? Presumably by joining a local group, getting experience as an Assistant Warden during the summer season and then applying for a full time Warden’s job. I think it would be a nice and rewarding job. However, as I know, dreams can often be better than reality.
A comfortable walk through the forest, then out of it and along a slowly descending track.
Later, near Capel Curig, Idwal Cottage side. There’s a great grocers shop at Capel Curig, about the only building there and I guess it gets a lot of hostellers/tourists stopping. The bins outside are stashed full with empty Coke, Orange, etc, tins and spilling over onto the ground. And of all things, this shop sells mostly Continental food! French biscuits, Chinese food – the lot. And Vesta meals. I got several.
I’m sitting on the track that will eventually take me to the Devil’s Kitchen. A couple of minutes ago over there on the other side of Afron Llugwy I watched a big red Austin lorry loaded with coal grinding up the gradient of the A5, with three cars following it.
Later About 100′ below the summit of Tryfan after climbing up – and I mean climbing up – its rocky heathery face because I lost the track down in the valley. So I went up the steep climb gradually, often having to grab the heather and rocks. Some shifted though luckily most of them stayed. Having got to here I’m feeling pleased with myself. Unjustifiable though. It was a stupid thing to do. It could have been dangerous.
Tryfan rises up out of the ground like a triangle, and on top, above me there’s jagged rock that sticks vertically up reaching for the sky. When you’re looking at it from a distance, before you climb it, it looks like people standing on the summit. As I’m writing this I can see a track that will take me to the top.
On the summit Great view – in front of me Glyder Fach, 3262′, which I’ll be going over later.
A lot of snow over there on Glyder Fach. Just eaten my lunch of date bar. Black vertical jaggy mountains and the valley below me.
Then Restarted. The low clouds came even lower until it started to piss down and I took shelter under a slab of rock that was resting against Tryfan. Then the rain cleared for a bit and a tricky descent and ascent of Glyder Fach, 3262′ – a long ascent and the low cloud returned and I was guided by small cairns, spaced roughly at ten yards intervals. If they hadn’t been there I’d have been fucked, compass or no compass. Got to Glyder Fach and the summit is fantatastic – like a stone cactus, as if a gigantic mechanical shovel or crane had dropped great slabs on the top of it. Some are horizontal. Not the result of erosion, or glacial erosion I should think. A fantastic sight.
Coming off Glyder Fach I met four coming up – they told me I could follow the cairns down to Devil’s Kitchen, so I followed the cairns, climbing Glyder Fawr, 3279′ – another stone cactus – and started descending in the rain and low cloud following the cairns, which I thought were so friendly until I started descending a very, very steep slope that I mistook for Devil’s Kitchen – and to my horror of horrors I then realised I’d come down the wrong side – Llanberis/Snowdon side.
Swearing and cursing and wet I descended to the road. There’s a bloke walking along with three kids and find out it is five past six and I’ve got one sod of a walk ahead of me – but car comes, hitch a lift and get a thankful lift to Capel Curig. He was a young bloke driving a Herald looking for somewhere to pitch his tent.
He drops me off and I walk along the road from Capel Curig. Two cars pass me but don’t stop, but a third does and drops me at the hostel. Leave boots in the drying room. Hostel is crowded – party of girls and army party. Have a meal. Talk to a bloke in warm coal fire common room and write this.
April 7. Wednesday. Penyrole-wen, at 3211′ point
“A lot of snow around. Snowfields on the cliff face, driven into the cliff face.”
Ten to eleven? Woke up and hear rain outside and there’s low cloud on the mountains. I’m not on the mountains and there’s still low cloud – wearing shorts – as if it rains at least I’ll have a dry pair of jeans to change in to when – (if?) – I get back. There was no point going up Snowdon in this visibility. Yes, low cloud, visibility down to 15 yards and coming up to this point it’s been a case of using my initiative and occasionally following the cairns, which I keep finding and losing. So far dry, but I doubt whether it’ll keep like that. There’s no wind at least and not too cold. Can’t see a thing except immediate surroundings which are jagged grey moss and lichen covered rock and heather.
12 a.m. Watch seems to be working. Sitting on summit of Carnedd Dafydd, 3427′ and an easy ascent. Great beds of small rock all the way up. Like at the beach when the tide’s gone out. Penyrole-wen was more difficult to get up.
Been following the cairns and using my compass. Sun’s come out several times and you suddenly see blue sky, but low cloud has now closed in again.
1.30 p.m. Craig Yr Ysfa. Half an hour ago having lunch on summit of Carnedd Llewelyn, 3485′ and before that the sun penetrated and the low cloud lifted and a great stirring view on either side of me – a massive U shaped valley and these fantastic deserted big valleys below and a view of Ffynnon Llugwy, the lake and still a lot of snow around. Snowfields on the cliff face, driven into the cliff face. All in all very impressive wild boggy craggy terrifying scenery. Carnedd Llewelyn was also an easy descent – again pebbles but even smaller. Now walking along a broad ridge to descend to the lake. Another big deserted brown/green dark rock valley below me. Really is great scenery.
Just past the lake, 2.25 p.m. A dodgy descent over loose scree to the lake – path just flakes out.
Sun out at the moment and got a view of Tryfan from here. It looks like the Matterhorn. It really is a peculiar mountain – lower than the rest and yet dominant. It’s shape, I think, and needle top. Looks like one of those dark mountains where witches have their castles on top in Walt Disney films.
Later at 4.15 p.m. Just finished writing a letter to parents – one way of killing time otherwise I’ll end up at the YH before five. After the lake descended to the A5, then back on the track I was on yesterday and now at the foot of Tryfan writing this – killing time.
April 8. Thursday. Chester Public Library. 2.10 p.m.
Left Idwal in the rain and I spent quarter of an hour by the roadside, by the lake, hitching the few cars that went past, and then a new Hillman stopped – and luck – got a lift past Llangollen on the road to Wrexham. Firm’s car, running it in.
Youngish chap who in some ways reminded me of the warden at Lledr Valley – been in the army, national service, enjoyed it – married, done some camping. Pleasant bloke. So on the Wrexham Road and a Pakistani stops in a Thames Trader – Radio Caroline on the portable wireless and I notice different scenery.
Flat land, red brick houses, completely different scenery – red bricked villas, roadside transport caffs, NCB (National Coal Board) lorries and a road sign saying “This Road is Liable to Subsidence”. Because of mining, presumably, Corporation buses and you’re nearly back in England and a few slag heaps in the flat land.
Wrexham and get a lift to Chester from young bloke in another Trader, mechanic. Gives me a cig, going along, the rain’s driving down, the wind screen wiper making a noise. Dropped me in Chester around 12. Old place – students and school kids with satchels and football gear, perhaps they’ve broken up for Easter. People shopping, blokes in boiler suits – and it’s drizzling now. Find a bog, have a piss – go through an indoor market, buy grapefruit, Kellogs, etc. Walk past some of the Old Wall – there’s a moat or river filled with filth and oil. Go in a fish and chip shop, in the dining room, and after a long wait for service have fish, chips, peas, bread, tea for 3/6 – and they could have been a bit more sparing with the chips.
The dining room’s in the back – no windows. Woman and I presume her aged mother sitting at a table to the side of me, aged Mum chewing on her chips and a piece of fish. “That were lovely.” – “Did yer enjoy it? Are yer feeling better now? – Ooh, she does enjoy her chips. – I said, you like your chips, don’t yer mother.” Three young blokes sitting opposite me reading Merseybeat, and two girls and father on my side. Curious mixture of people in the place. So pay, go out, buy meat pie, potatoes, walk around but the rain gets heavier, go into the Public Library at 1.15 p.m. and I’m still here in the library.
Walking to Scotland 1965
2: England, The Peak District and into the West Riding.