From out of the Past (Part three)

Post:   The route described here has always been one of Charlie’s finest – finest for its deserted grandeur, and finest for the frequent worst weather a lone cyclist ever endured or travelled.  He rarely seems to venture on this road with a companion, it is almost always a solitary crossing, and one must ask is this from choice Charlie, or do the others shy away?  Even now, these moors are really deserted and wild, the road a long one and traveller’s infrequent.  What more could a young cyclist, intent on the wild and lonely places, hanker after?  Charlie has the gift of ticking people’s boxes I feel, making them hunger for the loneliness of the mountain track and the scaryness of the open moors.

 

I have recorded impressions of misty Arenig in the past.  Mynydd Migneint and the wide gap between Arenig Fawr and Arenig Fach may just as well be fifteen thousand as fifteen hundred feet above the waves at Portmadoc, on some occasions.  Nowadays the Powers that Be in County Merion have seen fit to put a layer of tar over the turbulent road that somehow links Bala and Ffestiniog.  Unless the same Powers keep a watchful eye on their new surface, I predict a rapid degeneration to the old state, for a tar-engine and steam-roller did the job between them, and the irreproachable surface was simply placed down amongst the channelled ruts of the old track.  Within twelve months ripples had appeared, with here and there the outcrop of stubborn grit-stone pushing triumphantly through the rolled out, shiny blackness.  There were little water-channels too, and water never was kindly disposed towards road surfaces.  The fact that the Blaenau Ffestiniog had slate to send across the border for English roofs, and this upland pass was the most direct practicable way caused a railway line to be built under the very cliffs of Arenig the Larger; this line ascends in tedious twists above the Afon Tryweryn, and leaves Arenig by the barren Cwm Prysor, towards Trawsfynydd.  A good strata of limestone added to the woes of our moorland col, for someone scenting financial elevation began to quarry that side of Arenig, and now a large works and a small village cluster beside a little railway station.  But in the last few years, following the rehabilitation of the road surface, a great new reservoir was built at Trawsfynydd to drive dynamos for electrical power, and now slender pylons of steel carry living wires through Cwm Prysor and across the moors to Bala and – England.  Welsh current for the people who live under Welsh slate.

You cannot close your eyes to these things.  A railway is not beautiful, but our English railways are often put into tune by Nature; the single Great Western line by Arenig does not intrude upon your vision – I was unaware of its presence on my first visit until the screech of a whistle and a puff of smoke drew my attention to it, and near Llyn Tryweryn I saw the arches of a viaduct.  The limestone quarries are a blot upon the scene, but Arenig is too fine and mighty a mass to be marred by a single quarry that bites at an insignificant corner.  Steel pylons will never be lovely, but unlike many people I cannot think of them as atrocities.  They hardly blend with the scenery, I admit, but they are actually no worse than telegraph poles.  We have become accustomed to telegraph wires, and there’s the difference.

I am diverging.  I said that on some occasions, Mynydd Migneint can be as wild as though thousands of feet were added to its altitude.  Through the winter months grey banks of mist, and clouds descending from Arenig Fawr enclose the pass for days at once, till the hours of daylight may amount to no more than the odd four in twentyfour.  I have been up there in semi-darkness at mid-day.  At night travel is adventurous, though that is improved now by the new surface on the road.  In the days when a tar engine and steam roller had never been pushed over the pass, I have spent hours on that seventeen miles, nerve-racking hours of peering vainly into grey blankets that swathed the night and seemed even to keep sound away, straining eyes for the gates that never seemed to appear, but which always came just when I had relaxed for a moment.  Even the brown road has become merged into invisibility at such times, till hardly a glimpse could be caught under wheel, let alone ahead.  The road channelled water-courses, furrowed, ploughed, piled with loose stones, often steep with sharp bends and nothing but a ditch or a moorland fringe to protect it from wandering sheep.  How often have I jolted off the very road itself into ditch or tangly, bog-woven heather !  People at Bala and Ffestiniog have expressed a kind of wandering awe that I dared risk “the mountain” as they call it.  “What of the mist?” they have said, for it is common knowledge on each side of Arenig that mists are paramount there.

I have punctured up there, and wished I had three good hands instead of two frozen lumps of uselessness; I have walked miles aface a wild blast; I have been soaked in torrential rains; I have emerged at last below the mists drenched and weary, with eyes an-ache.  Seventeen miles at the price of seventy.  Hours of it.  Yes, and I would do it again tomorrow, that seventeen miles.

As I have been (and still am) rather fond of Ffestiniog, it follows that over Arenig by both wild ways to Rhyd-y-Fen has been a frequented pass of mine.  I have in mind one night early in May, some years ago.  In May, mark you, but a wild night, with dusk welling up even as I left Bala.  A westerly wind that had the saving grace of summer warmth had nagged me, and there had been rain in patchy quality, and as I climbed up by Afon Tryweryn  from Fron Goch, more patches of rain floated across.  With darkness the mist came down, and once again I repeated the old process of trying to see through the damp, dense, veil.  I hadn’t much time to give to the crossing, for Ffestiniog never keeps very late hours, and I was chancing on a bed there, so I pushed forward as fast as the wind would allow, but faster than common sense advised.  I passed the little temperance house called Rhyd-y-Fen; left the gate behind that marks the beginning of the last climb to the ruined farm at 1507 ft, and had tramped almost to the summit when suddenly the mist lifted, and not a vestige remained.  In place a full round moon shone down peacefully in rolling wastes of moorland that struck me by their infinite solitude.  It seemed that I alone lived then, and all other things were dead.  But what surprised me most was the sight of a phenomenon rarely seen……. A lunar rainbow forming a broad amber arc in the western sky – a perfect half-circle touching the moors on each side.  I saw it fully five minutes until a single wisp of grey mist floated up.  Shortly afterwards I was plunging and crashing down to Pont-ar-Afon-Gam in a welter of vapour as heavy as ever before.  I didn’t see Pont-ar-Afon-Gam, but I heard the coursing stream below, carrying its full flood to Rhaiadr Cwm.  Rhaiadr Cwm was just a roar in the dark, coming from the bedrock depth of a great Space on my left.  The Space was filled with Things that floated about, crossing my vision as I leaned (not too trustily) on the crumbling parapet of the wall.  I leaned and listened, and saw those shapeless forms splitting themselves and coming together again in raggy procession.  The people at Bala had called the ‘Things’ mists.  Maybe they were, but if you go that way, lean over the wall below Pont-ar-Afon-Gam, and watch them.  Perhaps they are mists…..  You can lean on the wall nowadays, since the road was put in order and motor-cars began to venture over Arenig, but that night in May empty spaces betrayed where Time had brought collapses here and there.  The displaced stones were lying below the precipice, four hundred feet down.  It is easy to leave the road when grey and black are the only universal hedgings.

From Rhaiadr Cwm I crossed another mile of vapoured wilderness, then my wheels rushed forward, downhill.  Then I dropped beneath the mist, shook myself from wispy vestiges, and descended on Ffestiniog in the mellowed beauty of a May night, a moonlit night.

From out of the Past (Part two)

Post:    I particularly like Charlie’s depiction of this old pack horse bridge to be found on the rarely used Foxup Moor crossing track.   His detailing of the stonework takes some drawing and didn’t he do well.  I first crossed this little bridge in the early 1950’s on a clubrun, and quite often repeated the run because it was perfect in every respect – a track that you could ride, almost always deserted and that delightful little bridge to enjoy.  Was I lucky or was I lucky ?

From Foxup, at the far end of Littondale, a track goes through a long depression below Pen-y-Ghent and ultimately emerges at Horton-in-Ribblesdale.  Littondale is not well known except to that increasing sect that travels map in hand, searching out unspoiled bits of Britain.  Motorists sometimes stray into Littondale, mostly by mistake because, as they speed up Wharfedale towards Kettlewell, Littondale opens promisingly on the left with a promising road quite as good as the Wharfedale highway for four twisty miles to Arncliffe.  Arncliffe is grey and solid and satisfying to these strayers, and so to them this typical dale-village becomes the end of Littondale.  Some, more venturesome, might cross the Litton by the old bridge and discover delight in the wilder reaches, following a narrow but quite decent road to Halton Gill, which appears first a mile away like a Swiss village clinging for dear life to the steep hillside.  There they turn back unless they have sufficient incentive and a good reserve of power to tackle the dusty byway that corkscrews into Silverdale, then makes their brakes give burdened groans down into Stainforth.

For he who dotes on those double-lines or trails of dots that exemplify the Ordnance Survey and Bartholomew, Littondale becomes a paradise.  He may be lured by the white bit of a road that leaps up a ravine from Arncliffe and strides over lonely places to Malham Tarn.  He may cross the pebbly river from Litton and find the green springing lane restful to his feet and Pen-y-Ghent across the Gill good to his eyes, until he reaches Silverdale Road.  If strenuous is his mood he might chance his strength on the zig-zag track above Halton Gill that takes him 2000 ft over Horsehead Pass to Raisgill in Langstrothdale.  Or he might search out the long-lost trail the ancients used to take them round the back of Pen-y-Ghent to Horton.

I travelled up Littondale on the fourth day of an Easter tour.  Where had been three of us at Kilnsey for lunch; but my two companions had already stayed on a little too long, and had bade me a hurried goodbye, heading westward into a great throng of homeward-bounds.  The day was sunny: Easter Monday on the highways is not a day of restfulness…… and I was free for another day.  My mood demanded peace, so I turned into Littondale.  My fancy was for the white lane that leaps over the fells to Malham, but I passed it by and formed new fancies as I crossed the bridge from Arncliffe.  At Litton I remembered the springing turf of the track to Silverdale road, but again I passed on, and passed the dusty by-lane that presses under Pen-y-Ghent.  At Halton Gill I hesitated; the Horsehead track was tantalising, and cool breezes were up there – the other side held lovely Oughtershaw and the head of Wharfedale in its moorland grip.  Yet again I passed on, along a rough lane to tiny Foxup, the last attempt at clustering humans have made in Littondale.  There the valley closes, is trapped by dark fellsides.  I would have to find that fabled path across to Horton-in-Ribblesdale.

The Path the ancients trod001

 

A first attempt along a cartway close by the beck failed where it reached finality at a farm.  The farmer sent me through a gate, up the grassy hillside, through another gate into a sheep pen, from which I emerged by another gate to the open fellside, high above the hamlet.   He had promised a track there, a faintly pressed trail, but had expressed doubt that I should get to Ribblesdale by nightfall.  “You will miss the track”, he had said: “but keep the gates in sight”.  Drowsiness lay on the moors that afternoon, for I missed the curlews and the grouse: the sheep strayed away without a sound, the sun had taken on an aura, and was sinking, and the becks were low-voiced.  They murmured.  No-one came: with an even stride I passed from gate to gate without trouble, for the turf was smooth to the feet, and the gates themselves were fairly new.

They even swung, had real catches to them.  My mood was tranquillity.  The track had a slight upward trend so that each wall and its gate made the skyline.  On the left a perfect upward curve in the land suddenly lost its symmetry to form the semi-sheer flank of Pen-y-Ghent, and on the right the narrow end of Littondale was shallowing rapidly to meet the ridge.  A higher ridge was behind.  For an hour I walked where I might easily have ridden, but I never gave riding a thought.  It did not seem quite the thing, someway.  Then a limestone gully crossed the path and looking up along it I realised that Pen-y-Ghent stood just above, aloof, with worn-in scars of many a waterway striking parallel lines down it.  Just after that I passed below a little line of outcrop crags, and lost the track.  The farmer had spoken truth…… the way the ancients had trod was obliterated.  At the next wall there was no gate, but a great gap through which I passed, and carelessly descended into a great basin, a perfect saucer in the moors.

I am writing as an impressionist now, and my impressions must be faithful or this book is untrue, unfair.  I am speaking truth when I say that my descent into that hollow place on the moors led me to a feeling akin to trepidation.  The place was eerie, as if haunted.  It weighed on me.  The sky had blazed all day, and now it was charged with a coppery heaviness that had smothered the earlier breezes.  Not a sound could I hear, not a living movement could I see; the wandering sheep, with unerring instinct had never tracked this place.  I knew something lay on the bed of that depression that I was confidently beginning to cross, and I reasoned that I, who was strong, had hardly known a moment’s fear in my life.  Why should I now fear a moorland hollow that was deserted and lost to sound or movement ?

I hesitated, pushed on, and hesitated again.  There certainly was something queer here, some brooding moodiness that was getting on my nerves.  The turf underneath was silent as a rubber pad, and sprang under the weight of my feet.  An ideal camp-site, but I shuddered to think of camping in that atmosphere.  As I pushed forward again I became aware of a sound, a faint, hollow murmur that I could not place.  The sound became louder in a few yards, a gurgling, muffled voice that seemed to rise underfoot.  The truth then dawned on me: a stream ran underground a few inches beneath me, it could not be deeper.  I moved forward again, and the sound died away, to be replaced by another, yet another, until the deep-voiced chattering came in on all sides, hollow murmurings from every side and eerie in the almost unnatural solitude.

I could not shake off that uneasy feeling  which had first assailed me, and as I approached the centre of this basin, a new quite natural explanation appeared.  My feet suddenly sank into bog; before I could retard myself I was knee-deep, and it sucked at me with great force.  I tore myself out of it, extricated a shoe just as that necessary piece of footwear was becoming immersed in green, slimy fluid, and back on the turf, surveyed the treacherous expanse.  I ought to have guessed the obvious at the sight of this moorland saucer without outside outlet.  It was a great sink into which drained all the water from the surrounding ridge, and as the limestone underneath, being porous, could not hold the water to form a lake or pool above, there was constant saturation of the surface.  Beneath that central bogland must be a great underground lake or an intricate series of channels to bear the water down to some other outlet.

Obviously it was foolish to attempt to cross there, so I turned sideways, skirting the bog and climbing the ridge.  Over the other side drowsy sheep scattered on my approach, I climbed a wall and dragged the bike after me, then covering a rough heather tract, I regained the track where it showed clearer in a dirty gateway.  Thence the going was boggy and well defined; I was able to reach a stream where I cleaned the mess from my legs by the simple, usual method of paddling while retaining footwear.  Clean wet shoes and stockings are preferable to the discomfort of caked slime !

Over the next ridge I espied a walled clearing and a hut, and descending into the clearing, came upon the great gap of Hull Pot, smooth, grey-walled, gaping to the sky.  Without ropes Hull Pot – over 100 ft deep – is nigh impossible to descend.  From there the wide sweep of Ribblesdale appeared below; on my left a huge ravine blocked by limestone cliffs, each cliff a tremendous step towards the head held a stream of pigmy size.  The track, now a road of sorts, led me down past an isolated shippon where a farmer was engaged.  From him I obtained a ready consent to camp in a lovely little hollow sheltered from the wind, and ere dark brought heavy banks of cloud onto the fells, was comfortably ‘bivvied’, and soliloquising on the crossing from Foxup by the path the ancients trod, and the weird ‘sough’ below Pen-y-Ghent.

From out of the Past (Part One)

Post:    This item, From out of the Past, is in three unconnected parts, and actually appears in Charlie’s Book Four on Page 131, but for me it summarises beautifully the love of cycling that both Charlie and I were able to enjoy earlier in the last century !

It makes it sound as though I am very old, and in some ways I suppose I am, but at heart I am still an adolescent enjoying life awheel and exploring everywhere. Parts 2 and 3 will appear in the next two weeks.

 

We humans are creatures of moods.  They pass across our life like some stray wisps of mist that foretell the coming of night on the mountain tops.  Sometimes we brush them aside like the wind disperses the mist; sometimes we cause them to stay a little-while until the next mood captures our fancy.  Our moods are mists on the mountains.  We cannot capture a mist, bringing it to our mountain from afar; we must push our heads into the sky and wait.  We have stormy days, when the mists of our mood drive past in quick succession, the one pushing the other off till night comes down.  We have clear days too, when the blue of our skies is faultless and barren, as the brazen weariness of an Indian summer sky.  But sometimes we have English days of summer breezes and straying wisps that we can hold.

I am hold of a mood, a mist obscuring the present, and bringing up the past.  The past, that is always better than the future or the present because it is distorted like the mist distorts the mountains.  Grandeur is assumed by little things, and big things loom in a high horizon.  I have much to draw upon, though my road-mind can only swing about in ten years of time.  Much can happen in a less space of time than that.

Those things that happened came marching out in the order of their happening like a long procession, but they are now memories, and are held in ordered sequence no more.  They wander back and forth at will, bumping about in their fat circlet of ten years like a small boat on a long anchor-rope.  The past works like that in the mind, and after all, the future is only a procession waiting to be released in the same way.  The present is in process of release, but the present lacks the cohesion of the future and the freedom of the past.  It is an everlasting Now that crawls a second at a time, leaves nothing behind and reaches no finality.  It is really immovable, in that it never had a start and has no journey’s end.  I don’t like it; I want to feel something more tangible.  In the future there lies something that now seems reachable amongst lots of unreachable things, so the future has the merit of clean, undamaged prospects.  We can dream ahead.

But the past has a concrete base.  What lies there belongs to me, to ransack and play about with at will.  Some shattered unreachable from the one-time future lies there, but there are a lot of things I did reach.  I can’t destroy the past, neither can I hide it away, except from you.  It is not a region of regrets like many pasts are, neither is it a land of never-never, bloated, puffed into magnificence by constant incursions into it.  They are assumptive, these memories of mine, but they have at least the merit of a grain of truth.

 

*         *         *         *         *         *         *         *         *         *         *

There was an Easter spent at Nant Gwynant.  I remember one of the chaps who’s misfortune compels him to spend a third of his life in semi-somnolence at a bank.  On Easter Saturday morning the office desk chained him, so he must needs ‘sprint the rapid miles’ to make Gwynant that night.  In one of those very occasional bursts of fellow-feeling, I had promised to guide him to our camp-site, which he did not know, so we arranged to meet at Pen-y-Gwryd at 11.30pm.

The day was lovely.  I got away alone that afternoon; there are times when you feel like being alone for a while, and this was one of them.  I was on the bike; I think I had tea Rhyd Ddu, near the Snowdon Ranger; I know I crossed that magnificent little pass called Bwlch Gylfyn or Gyfelin.  There is a lake on the summit with an island in the middle that tradition asserts posesses moveable qualities, hence the name ‘Llyn Rywarchen’ which means ‘Lake of the Floating Sod’.  The lake isn’t striking, but there is a striking view of Snowdon from there, a finely contoured peak, and worthy of its title ‘Y Wyddfa’.  From that lake, looking in the other direction – down the pass – there  is a line of crags called Craig-y-Bere on the north side and overlooking the road.  They cannot be above 1500 ft high, but they hang over the pass as if tottering.

Strangely enough, you hardly descend ten feet before they seem suddenly to have flopped back and lost all their grandeur.  The bottom of Bwlch Gylfyn is marred woefully by quarrying; the first village is a long, dismal, stone-built place called Nanttle, and when I went through, the road to Caernarvon had no attraction to speak of, except a rare following wind and a gently contoured highway.  That is the fault of taking the Bwlch Gylfyn road; you come from a fine bit of Snowdonia and immediately descend into a country that is neither mountain or plain or even hilly.  It falls flat when you have just bloated yourself, so to speak, on beauty.  About two miles short of Caernarvon I turned along a lane to get to the Caernarvon-Beddgelert road about one and a half miles out of the first named place.  The wind, coming from the south-east, brought rain, real Welsh rain, and turning towards Beddgelert, I came up against it, rain and wind and those swinging contours that make you ‘flog it’ up-wind.  Night didn’t creep up, it jumped down as though it had been waiting on the mountains.  The loveliness of a Spring day had changed into a wild night as in Winter, February, or early March.

It was just then, on the first mile with that trying foursome that so often links together against the cyclist, that my mood changed suddenly enough to startle me.  Though I have really set out with the intention of describing it, I find that I can’t do it proper justice.  Maybe it’s a relic of primitive animalism in me that the conditions awoke.  Put it down as an absolute carelessness of anything, and couple it with savage joy; the savage joy of a wild thing.  That wind smote me hard with its needle-stings of rain, till my face might have smarted had I been capable of feeling.  I was incapable of feeling even the tough tug when the black road bent upwards; just stamping the pedals down as they came up.  Bettus Garmon, stretched in a long line of dim lights along each side of the road, crept back till an upward tilt and a tearing of the wind at my cape forced me to dismount. On that walk a noise came through the wind like an incessant chatter, and only some distance beyond where the wind had itself alone and whistled across a vast blank, did I realise the chattering sound had been the stream where it crosses under the road at Bettus Garmon.  Then I became conscious of a kind of dark spaciousness on the right, and I found it was Llyn Cwellyn.  There was a space of interior satisfaction at that, though why, I don’t know, because I didn’t much care if I never made my destination so long as the wind whipped me hard all the time.

I had got over that long start up which preludes a longer slant down into Beddgelert when a motor-car shot a pair of dragon’s eyes at me, and kept me fascinated till I could have run full tilt into them, but the instinct of human safety in me is stronger than the foolish fascination that lures ‘daddy-long-legs’ to the cruel candle flame, and I curved aside, inches clear of the purring shape that passed.  That brought me down to the bed-rock fact that my lamp was out.  How long I had travelled lightless I didn’t know: I couldn’t even be sure I’d lit the lamp at all !        In Beddgelert a few cyclists slouched under the porch of a hotel; a light or two shone without attraction; I crossed the bridge and made up Nant Gwynant.  The wind had lulled in the sheltered village, but in Gwynant it came up dead behind, and I soon passed Llyn-y-Dinas and climbed the little lane to the camp-site.  The boys were at supper, dry and comfortable, and pulled wry faces when I peeped in, drenched.  “Gimme a drink”, I said, asked the time (11pm) and bidding a “goodnight”, received a groan of sympathy in return as I turned back down the lane to keep my tryst.

Perhaps you have travelled up a deep valley in the black depth of a cloud-capped night, when the rain is falling and a cold breeze shakes the unseen trees above you.  You feel chilly little shivers at the gusts that come on the open places till the gradual, relentless gradient warms you up.  Down below, at the valley bottom you had arched trees over your head, not seen, but rather felt – a suggestion of inclosure and vague scents that come off the wet leaves, and rustlings in the dark mingled with the even fall of rain.  As you ascend you sense a change – you have become aware that the trees arch one side only, and a freer play of rainy wind, has come from the other side.  The valley is below you now; you are climbing higher above it all the time, and you try to remember what lies below and across, lake and rocks and  mountainside, as you have seen it by day.  Then you cast away a memory half-formed; the lake, the rocks, the wild farther slope have no immediate existence; they are of an age you have passed or have yet to meet.  Below you is the wind and nothing more.  You get back from your thoughts of Day, back to your rightful place in Night.  To your ears comes a sound – a noise – a clamour – and then the dying of it.  You have passed a stream that shouts, deep in its own ravine.  The trees have gone; the streams go rushing by more frequently; the road takes on a steeper tilt; the wind comes up stronger, colder, and the rain has a drive with it.  The sound of water that came and went at frequent intervals dies with the last thin trickle, and you have the wind and the rain, and a leveller road…… you reach the summit.

Thus I came to Pen-y-Gwryd at 11.30 on a wild Easter Saturday night.  At Pen-y-Gwryd there is a vastness around; the threshold of things great…… a little plateau below the great bulk of Snowdonia, where three roads branch their various ways; where man has set a small hotel and a few contemptible sheds.  I was sheltered, but far above on Lliwedd and Crib Goch the everlasting roar of the wind sounded like ceaseless breakers on a distant shore, pounding, pounding, in a timeless existence.  Nothing more – not even the faintest silhouette of a peak, not the stir of life nor the flicker of a lamp other than my own sulky glimmer too weak to reach the floor.  Staring into Night, and with thoughts such as attune themselves to a mood borne in Night, I passed the midnight hour unnoticed.  Then came the realisation that my friend had not appeared; I went back into the drizzle and pushed against the wind down the open emptiness of Cwm Pen-y-Gwryd, venturing further towards Capel Curig.  That way he must come.  Then a light wavering ahead, drawing closer – a faint, bulky silhouette, and a shout of welcome.  My friend was with me……… the spell was broken.

In the Highest Pennine – Part One

 

 

In the Highest Pennine011Jo’s enthusiasm runs high on the unexplored.  When she is prospecting the possibilities of forgotten passes and ancient pathways she could not be happier, unless it be upon the actual exploration.  Every dotted line across the hill-shading of our maps is sure to receive attention sooner or later.  The fascination of the ‘dotted line’ dates from the first time she cast eyes on an Ordnance Survey in her earliest cycling days.  Someone had informed her that all dotted lines are tracks, and Jo implicitly believing, set her heart upon a certain wavering, heavily emphasised line that passed from peak to peak in the rough regions of Shap, regardless of the laws of natural contour.  The route lacked any track, but Jo’s boundless enthusiasm carried her over a long series of disheartening obstacles before she discovered that she had been attempting to trace a county boundary !

In the course of time one learns to understand maps more thoroughly.  Experience is a hard teacher, and in the case of exploring alleged tracks encumbered with a bicycle the lessons are sure to be remembered.  Difficulties crop up which people who never leave the roads cannot imagine.  It is generally believed that Britain is a settled country where Nature is well tamed, but that is far from the truth.  A man may yet get lost and never be seen again, or may wander for days in desolate land without habitation of any sort.  Paths over the mountains are often too faint to be traced with certainty; climatic conditions may be such as to make a moderately difficult passage impossible, even in summer.  The person who frequents the solitudes faces, at times, pitiless conditions which call for determination and much careful thought.  That is half the pleasure of it.  He alone has the right to say if it is worthwhile.

High Cup Nick is a natural phenomena in the limestone of Cross Fell, and is reached by a track of sorts [now part of the Pennine Way] between Teesdale and the Vale of Eden.  The name, High Cup Nick, is very expressive.  It fascinates.  Jo had talked of it for months, a prelude to certain action at the first opportunity, for High Cup Nick is just beyond the range of an ordinary weekend.  The chance came when the Cotton strike of 1932 took place.  Jo works in the mill, I was unemployed.  As it was desirable to cover much ground by Saturday evening, we arranged that Jo should leave Preston soon after noon, and I should follow with all speed from Bolton.  By thus minimising delay we hoped to make camp on the high ground between Brough and Middleton-in-Teesdale, a hundred miles from home.

After a long dry spell, the weather had broken.  A night or two of heavy rain and drenching showers during the day with strong westerly winds told too plainly of the best we could hope for.  I started late, riding hard across the paths of many a fierce downpour until the turn for Quernmore valley put the wind dead behind.  After tea I entered Lunesdale.  The river was a swirl of spate; at Caton by Lancaster it flowed brown and full-lipped, encroaching the low fields; at Kirkby Lonsdale 12 miles higher the river boiled over the rocks in mad endeavour.  All the twentysix miles of the Dale to Sedbergh were changing panoramas of threatening clouds in a windy sky, brown fells reflecting the sky in moods from sullen to gay, and always chattering waters within sound.  Dusk in Rawtheydale, a gradually rising road, the noisy stream at hand, shapely mountains between which the road pursued a winding way.  Cautley Spout was a white flake in a ravine already filled with night.  Jo was still ahead; I lit my lamp and rode harder along the lonely highway, over its final steeper pitches to the black, windy summit from which the dim lights of Kirkby Stephen lay scattered below.  At 9.30pm in that highland railway town the silence of sleep had already settled.  Under an inky canopy I crossed the Vale of Eden to Brough, that ancient, stone-built village clustered below the ruins of its castle.  Brough lives in less fearful days now – Brough was abed and secure, with only the wind wandering abroad.

Jo was riding well.  I had seen nothing of her, and felt the cold hand of doubt.  Was she really ahead?  I could only go on.  The wild road that crawls over the fells to Middleton-in-Teesdale pulled me up, and I faced a long walk uphill.  High above me a light flashed, and hopefully I signalled back.  The light remained stationary, so I hurried until I came within hail.  “Thank Heaven it is you!”, came the response, “I’m tired out”.

Jo had waited until after the usual time, then fearing I had got away early, she had hurried.  For eighty miles we had chased each other with no more than a few minutes between us!  Below the summit there was a bridge over a peaty burn; gratefully we camped in the lee of it.

The morrow began cold and stormy.  A passing shepherd peeped in to congratulate us on the choice of a comfortable place on the rain-sodden fells and held our attention with tales of winter storms and inky mists when even these weathered old hill-men had lost themselves for hours at once.

Our journey eastwards crossed a high ridge at 1,574 feet and took us over miles of purple moorlands swept in turn by sun and rain, till Teesdale lay below, and we swooped down into Middleton.  The main road up the dale gave us a hard struggle in the teeth of the wind.  We saw the distant fleck and heard the roar of High Force a quarter of a mile away heading the steep ravine.  The next half hour yielded three miles of hard pedalling to Langdon Beck, where we abandoned the highway.  This road, on its way to Alston, becomes the highest main road in England at 1,942 feet.  This is a land of high roads threading their difficult ways over the highest Pennine – the bleakest country below the Cheviot.

Behind a wall we shivered through lunch, a meal which terminated abruptly in a rush of rain.  We tramped along a stony track for four desolate miles of successive summits, wind and rain raking us all the time, and ahead on Cross Fell, such a grey swirl of cloud as might dishearten less enthusiastic travellers.  The track, in a shocking condition, tumbled us down to Cauldron Snout, that waterfall with the expressive name which must surely bring many people enquiring ‘what’s in a name?’  Normally the Tees descends a series of great steps; this day it was a raging slide of white water, fearful to look upon, and shaking the very earth about it.  At the foot of Cauldron Snout, Maize Beck pours in, forming the angles of three counties, Durham, Cumberland and the North Riding of Yorkshire.  A decrepit hut close by saved us from a terrific storm that swept down from Cross Fell with an awful show of cloud.  By a small bridge above the falls we gained access to Cumberland, and following the course of Maize Beck, through several fields – hardly won intake from the predominant moors – crossed stiles and gates to Birkdale, reputed the loneliest farm in England.  We had tea there.

No modern complications disturb life at Birkdale.  The nearest neighbour lives two miles away, the nearest village is eight, and the nearest railway station eleven and a half.  From the first of May until the end of September the postman comes twice a week (if necessary), but for the remaining seven months not at all, the reason for which is plain to see when one looks round at the vast wilderness of black fells and their intersecting maze of peat hags with brown becks, so often unfordable.  The old farmer spoke of long weeks of isolation when the snow makes the whole region inaccessible, the search for buried sheep, the relief when all are safely penned and the stock warmly stabled.  All life marks time, waiting patiently for the release of Spring.  Four people and a tiny baby, then only ten weeks old, shut away from the outer world, provisioned already against the Autumn floods.  The young woman with the baby turned to Jo and said with deep fervour, “Oh, if I could only go to the warm south for a few weeks!”  Even then, so early in September, the great shoulders of the Pennine had the stamp of winter upon them.  She feared the winter with her baby in mind, but the old farmer thought more of the big thaws that change the clean, far-stretching snow into wild torrents of water.

Our host displayed interest when we announced our intention to cross the fells to Dufton in Edendale, eight miles away.  Came questions.  Were we used to fell country?  Did we know of the hundred traps set by nature and the weather-demon?  They were manifold on Cross Fell.  Unwary travellers are better away, initiating themselves on the more gentle hills of the south, not causing trouble and inconvenience to the shepherd folks at the busiest season.  His tone softened at our reply.  We were no plains-people out on a day trip.  Not strangers to the hills.  Our whole beings were wrapped up in them.  They were our life, and our experience was nothing light or shadowy.

The discouragement was not unjust.  People often come to Birkdale for the purpose of crossing High Cup Head, usually day-trippers woefully unprepared in the matter of clothing and equipment, expecting to find a kind of mild moorland footpath.  As a rule they come back hours later, baffled.  One party set off at noon in high summer, wandered through the day and night, and regained Birkdale by a mere chance at 4am, utterly worn out.  There was recalled the rare pluck of a girl who had twisted off the heels of both shoes, had limped through the night with a large nail drilling her foot, whilst both feet were badly cut and bleeding.  She had suffered agonies, but had the spirit to smile and cheer the rest of the party.  Commonly people came back to Birkdale later than midnight, begging for accommodation.  The shepherd vigorously denied the existence of any track for the first two and a half miles, though the Ordnance Survey show one.  He said he was willing to post the whole route if approached on the matter by the authorities, an offer that must be  regarded as very generous.  If there is mist about he advised nobody to cross.

[To be continued on Christmas Eve]

 

Sunday, 10 December 2017 – Website Update !

Now it is time for the unpalatable news, we have run out of material – well not quite – to publish on the website.  All of Charlie’s stories and journal entries have now been published, either on this website or in the four volumes of Charlie’s books.

However, what has not been published are the odd jottings and poems and occasional MSS that pop up out of his many records.  There are also many small photographs stuck into his photo albums which can be scanned, although I fear we will lose some detail in the black and white reproduction.  But I am going to have a go.  So all is not yet lost.  In order to preserve continuity and keep our readers interest, I am reverting to Sunday only posts and thus making what we have left last a few months longer.  I truly hope you will find this proposal acceptable.

I do have a problem with the material in Charlie’s four volumes already published.  To serialise them on this website will undermine those followers who have invested in the published books, and I do not think that is fair.  So unless I am inundated with requests to carry on regardless and serialise the books on this website we could be looking at the end of this website in the fullness of time.  I will do my utmost to keep things going as long as possible.

Finally, with regard to the engaging story of Charlie’s travels in the Caucasus mountains, published last week, it was all fiction.  But you must admit he did have the descriptive gift of writing to paint a picture !  In fact, one of our RSF members, Steve Gregson, who has worked all over the world as an oil pipeline engineer, and who has at least knowledge of the Caucasus, was given this story to review by me, and his comments sought.  Steve said it all rang true, although he did not know it was fiction at the time of reading, as I needed him not to know that it was written as fiction.

Charlie’s original manuscript relating his travels in the Caucasus – or so we thought, buried somewhere in the mountains of material I have, was signed and dated, and that date was the day before he took off for a fortnight’s cycle camping in the Scottish Highlands.  Game set and match to Charlie I think?

Somewhere in Caucasus

 This fascinating account of an extended trip by Charlie and his wife Peg, (her nickname changes several times during their lives !) detailing their travels in the Caucasus mountains one summer in the late 1930’s was a real tour de force. 

SOMEWHERE IN CAUCASUS

         by Charlie Chadwick

        I am writing perched on a slab of rock that commands a breath-taking view down a tremendous gorge that must be a quarter of a mile deep.  We are nine thousand feet by the altimeter, sheltered by a cliff from the sun, and we command a view across a ravine of great waves or rock and earth rising to profiled peaks of snow.  The scene is quite common to travellers in the higher Caucasus, but of a beauty and spaciousness unimaginable to people whose misfortune is permanent imprisonment in England.  They cannot possibly comprehend the startling brilliance of these tapering spires of snow against the blue of a sky utterly unlike the blue of English skies any more than they can visualise the wild ruthlessness of these regions when swept by storm fiends.  In the Caucasus you live like that and mould your fancies to the fanciful caprices of the Alps.  They are tender sometimes and sometimes they are terrible; they give shelter and a precarious existence to a host of little human races that reflect their surroundings in their many moods.  We are in love with the Caucasus, but sometimes I feel our love is not reciprocated, and then I wonder why we love them, but love them still.

Peggy (his wife’s other nickname is Jo) is just now engaged in patient barter with a leather skinned old Lesghian for a trinket which he is unwilling to lose.  She will get it, and my pack will be the heavier for it.  Fully a fifth of the hard-pressed rucksack is taken up by the kind of ornamental souvenir dear to the feminine heart, and if we travel these ranges much longer they will become a problem in transport.  I have repeated many times that I do not mind how many times she tries her wiles on the natives, but I do mind carrying cargo of this description up and down about twenty thousand feet a day for weeks on end, until we reach a ‘postie’.  There is a small ebony box exquisitely carved which she wrested from a filthy old brigand in the Kutai country.  She says she would not part with that box for all the world, as she considers she risked her life for it.  She risked mine too, for his cronies set envious eyes on our packs all the time she was wrangling, and I was glad to get away.

Life is very hard here, and is lived to the limit sometimes.  For three weeks now the weather has been gorgeous, the day temperature on the exposed ranges often exceeding 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and for three weeks we have not pitched our tent at night, being too tired.  Without supper we have just rolled up in our sleeping bags and slept like logs till the sun has scorched our faces, or the morning dew, falling like heavy rain, has roused us.  Often we have the opportunity to sleep in the huts of the village or mountain people, or in the occasional rude farm shelters, but we rarely do so for very good reasons.  Though usually hospitable to their last crumb, these people don’t seem to know the meaning of cleanliness.  Godliness is not a strong trait with them, but if cleanliness comes next it lags a long way behind.  The places crawl with insects to which they appear marvellously invulnerable, but we are, on the other hand, marvellously vulnerable, and a night spent thus takes days to get us back to our original comparative comfort.  Coupled with this plague is usually a stench which is only exceeded by the next door neighbour !

Sometimes the food we are able to obtain is hardly enough for one, let alone two healthy travellers, but we share it out and if we are short we simply have to go without until we strike kindly peasants or can gather fruit for ourselves.  Hospitality in this poverty-stricken country is a matter of common courtesy, and scarcity, even famine, is not new to these people.  More than once the inhabitants of remote regions have waxed ecstatic at our arrival, and for Peggy (who is always treated with great respect and often with deference) the very best is only good enough.  The very best used to seem very bad, but now the common black bread we used to abhor, the awful treacly liquid they call coffee, and a greenish abomination known as cheese go down quite well.  Indeed it is a treat to get this cheese and black bread at the same time, and if we are on the European side, we may even get a nasty kind of vodka instead of coffee.  The peasants seem very sorry when we leave them, especially the children, for Peggy is always a favourite among the kiddies.  We called at one hamlet stuck on a ledge half-way down a precipice, and when we asked for food the place was ransacked, each house contributing some small item.  At another place an escort volunteered to take us through several versts of forests which were infested with unpleasant things such as bears, bandits and wolves, though wolves are hardly dangerous in August, and bears prefer more rocky regions.  Ghouls and spirits seemed to be denizens of these particular parts according to the headman of the hamlet, so we submitted to the escort.  Two mules were brought along for us to ride, but two versts sufficed for us to decide that mules were never intended to give bodily comfort to English people, and after that we walked.

Each day our way has been up mountain sides for thousands of feet or down precipitous slopes along tracks often painfully steep and dangerous, often as faint as the tiny wisps of cloud across a Caucasus sunset.  Once we traversed through a bed of cactus-like plants that differed from its American prototypes only by its superior prickliness.  These grow in little patches of desert land in low places such as plateau’s in the foothills, where the sun beats down on the dust called earth till it literally burns through the shoes.  It is better in the gorges, though at the bottom the heat produces a heavy, deadening atmosphere and travel is much more laborious through bog, marsh, or amongst great masses of boulders thrown down by the towering crags above.

Peggy surprises me.  She has the endurance of two men and ten times the enthusiasm.  It is she who makes the trail along this wilderness – she who faces up to natural barriers as bravely as one would do if no dangers exist – who faces terrifying passes as though she were merely crossing the little Larig Ghru of Scotland !  And when trifling dangers are present she shrinks to me with little shudders that are admirably well acted !

Last Tuesday we reached a spur of the ridge east of Elbrus (Elbrus is the highest peak of the Caucasus, 18,526 ft ) from where, at 7,500 ft we obtained a magnificent prospect of the ‘foothills’.  These foothills are about the general height of the Scottish Highlands, and as wild as Inverness-shire.  Amongst them was the town of Tabu nestling in a green fold, and besides a population of 25,000 boasts some fair-sized buildings and a railway termini, a branch of the Baku Railway of Cis-Caucasus (European Caucasus).  Civilisation – a bath, a change of clothing and a square meal of white bread and real butter was within two days walk, but Peg was unmoved, unyielding to persuasion, and led the way back into the brutishly inhuman regions of the Elbrus system.  After five months wandering between peaks and gorges, from glaciers to sweltering forests where you can get the icy blast of winds from the snows and breezes as hot as the breath from a furnace-tuyer in the same day, this turning away from a spell of comfort and plenty required some strength of will !

But we will have to make contact with civilisation soon.  Our packs contain a pile of MSS we have not had the remotest chance to post for six weeks, a growing pile of ornaments belonging to Peg (to which I have referred) a dozen rolls of exposed films and only two rolls unused, and some fine species of the flora of this latitude carefully pressed in a linguistic book on Russian that is as much use in this cosmopolitan land as a guide book to Abyssinia in the Antarctic.  Our boots, repaired time after time in a cruder way each time, have broken, letting water in like a sieve, our clothing is patched in places and in places beyond patching, our rucksacks have at last bursted [sic] here and there where the bumps they have received have been too much for the Manchester spun yarn they are made of; our camera has had far rougher use than it was made for, and is patched up, and my razor has gone past the sharpening stage.  It is a week since I shaved.  Yesterday I caught Peg cutting a notch in her stick with it to celebrate seeing a grizzly bear.  Five notches represent five bears.  It is a great joke when we see a bear.  Peg flies in one direction and grizzly ambles off in the other !  Although harmless enough in summer if they are left alone, the brown bears of the Caucasus are an abiding terror to Peg.  Snakes, toads, and bears are her bogeys.  She would go miles to avoid seeing a snake although they are not common and usually sneak away on our approach.  The same with toads or frogs.  Once the sight of two of these harmless creatures made such an impression on her that she lay awake all night and had breakfast ready just after dawn, the sooner to get away.

The most important reason for our evacuation of these provinces is the approach of winter.  Although the sun shines so strongly now, by the end of the month the autumn storms will close the passes and all the heights over four thousand feet in deep drifts of snow for the next seven months.  The gorges will be flooded with torrents, and the upland farmers will have come down to the more kindly lowland country with their flocks and cattle.  We shall perhaps return then to civilisation, to that bath, to a change of clothing, to a square meal – and to cigarettes.  I haven’t had a smoke for ten days !  It will feel great to roll in luxury in a railway carriage along the hot coasts of the Caspian Sea, across to the Mediterranean – to sail for home – unless Peg gets it into her head to drag me off in search of the sun and the warmth that she loves as much as travel itself – to some other outlandish country in the Tropics.

Peg has won the trinket; the leather-faced old Lesghian has tucked a knife into the recesses of his clothing.  That penknife looks like mine.

Yes, it was my knife.  She says we can manage with the razor………

We are to cross the Zakatel Pass onto the Asiatic side before the snows come down.  Peg says so.  Fourteen thousand feet up, across the Neo glacier, and as rough a track as she can find.  That means another week before I can post these notes.  Never again will I entrust Peg to make the route.  Weird and wonderful are the workings of a woman’s mind, though I have ceased to trouble.  She will have her way.

The sun is going down and twilight is unknown here.  We must go lower yet – the night winds are cold at nine thousand feet.   Au revoir !

 

Sunday, 13 December 1925 The Street

Post:       A nice gentle day for Charlie, recovering from his eye problem, and starting with his black protective eye patch.  But instead of recuperating, he must have thought, hang it, I’m going to enjoy myself today, and got stuck in !!

Sunday, December 13                                     The Street and Goyt Dale

I journeyed across to Tom’s yesterday afternoon, just for the half day, on my bike, for I was not sure that cycling would do my eye any good just yet.  But when I got astride the dear old machine, feeling the jolting road and the twirling pedals, the eye was forgotten in the ecstasy of the returning joy of cycling – my insatiable craving was at once satisfied, and I immediately felt part and parcel of the machine – the little, lively, low-geared lightweight.  I felt free once more – ‘Free! Free!! Free!!!’  And to feel free and unharnessed, to feel that your only master is the Road, to feel that you would not bow to any man on earth, or be subject to no will but your own, get on a real light bicycle – and the world is yours to conquer – you feel you made it speed along the road via Trafford Park to Manchester.

I felt at home immediately with the city traffic and soon reached Tom’s place.  I was asked to stay – Tom had to meet Joe at Kingsway End, 9.30am.  Then I fell – in short I wanted so badly to spend the day in the hills of East Cheshire that I decided to let the eye take care of itself, and go.  And I went, and the eye took care of itself so well, that it is better than ever despite the wintry conditions.  Which all goes to show that cycling is beneficial, in more ways than one.

We got up sleepily enough at 7am, and at 9am made a start.  The morning was very cold, our noses ripening in a short time.  Neither of us are without.  Needless to say, by a sordid jumble of streets and factories and tramcar lines – and setts, we reached Kingsway End just on time.  Joseph was shading the watchman’s fire when we rolled up, and yielding to the overwhelming temptation, we joined him.  We paid for it when we restarted along Wilmslow road.  At Handforth we turned into the lanes and passed into a glittering fairyland.

Nature was robed in a new silvery dress – fascinating to my eyes which had been bored with the dullness of life at home.  A lively pace was kept up, and we were soon skirting the end of pretty little Prestbury, crossing the frosty highway and climbing up to the white roofed town of Bollington.  Here, Joe aroused the inhabitants – and us – with a skid off Tom’s back wheel – Tom always seems to be implicated with Joe’s skids (which are numerous).  Right again, and we were soon on the long trail onto the roof of Cheshire, which was lost to sight in mist.  Seasonably enough, a blinding snowstorm made its appearance, and soon the road disappeared beneath a white mantle.  It was glorious.  We tramped on in the teeth of it; I put a shade over my bad eye for protection, but the eye protested vigorously and I found it more comfortable without it.  Besides which, the shade being black, Joe called me ‘Captain Bones’ and Tom thought ‘Long John Silver’ more appropriate.  I hate the sight of eyeshades now!

When we were able to ride a bit, Joe thought we had reached the top, but was soon disillusioned.  The beggar about this thing, he complained, was that there seemed no possible way for the road to go up – being on what seemed the highest point, but yet it kept on climbing.  Joe has not yet learned that this is an elusive habit that Derbyshire and East Cheshire byways have, and the moral to be drawn from it is, ‘Never expect the summit on a Derbyshire road’.  We stood at Patch House, hungry, and half decided to go inside for lunch, but Tom urged us on.  Had we known what was to happen, we might have stayed at Patch House!  Down now, in the cutting snowflakes to Blue Boar Farm, along that narrow road to the corkscrew, where we had more than one slippery sensation on that super descent to Saltersford Valley.  The climb past Saltersford Chapel to the Street, on Cat’s Tor was terribly slow – and warm despite the snow.  Our inner men cried long and often for food, a snack only served to enhance the hunger, and the road climbed one hill after another, the snow snowed, I got absolutely leg-weary (I had not ridden for five weeks and was badly out of condition).  At long last, the lone signpost heralded the summit, and I halted to change over to freewheel, then started again, and got a real fright.  I got going downhill, on a surface of ice and boulders; I put my brakes on, but they wouldn’t stop me.  I had a real job to stop, too, and was ‘skidding all over the shop’.  I changed back right away to fixed, and found it the only safe and effective brake.  Freewheel is alright in its place, but on the roads that we experienced that Sunday, a freewheel is a positive danger.  There were times when a touch of either back or front brake would have sent us flying, but when the ‘fixed’ gave us complete safety.  Which goes to demonstrate that ‘fixed and free’ are the ideal combination.

Then came a steady, rather steep descent down the Roman Road, which is called ‘The Street’, running, I believe, between Derby and Manchester (I am not sure though).  We agreed heartily that it has not been repaired since the Legions created a lot of potholes.  Boulders, frozen lumps of clay, streams frozen solid, and biting sleet made for us a rough passage, but lower down where it reached Goyt Valley, the scenery made us forget the hard road.  Oh, it was wonderful!  Imagine a woodland glade, the ground a soft white carpet, the brown tree trunks holding little gleaming patches of snow, the branches covered with delicate flakes, every rush and blade of grass and twig was covered.  Really fairylike it looked.

We reached Goyt Bridge, a scene enhanced by the snow effects, and soon found Goyt Bridge Farm, a regular cyclists and walkers feeding place.  So ravenous were we for a drink, that I, for one, drank eight cups of tea!  Instead of going round by the bridge, we crossed the Goyt by means of stepping stones, placed widely apart and sometimes submerged, sometimes unsteady, on the edge of a small waterfall.  With bikes on shoulders, it created a bit of fun!

Then the climb through the Vale of Goyt.  The limestone dales of Derbyshire and Yorkshire are very beautiful, but nowhere outside of Scotland can compare in my estimate with Goyt Dale.  The steep hillsides clothed with fir and pine, the river deep below, on a boulder-strewn bed, and the higher moors are just magnificent – all the valley might have been a miniature Trossachs (of Scotland).  ‘Tis said nothing is so exquisite and peaceful as a Welsh Valley; I am great on Welsh scenery, it is incomparable, but this is a different type, and just as beautiful in its own way.  The road was overshadowed with glittering Christmas trees (which, by the way, look finer here than filled with baubles and coloured lights as at home), now and then the valley would turn and we would get a glimpse through the trees of the sparkling Goyt.

Low cliffs sometimes fringed the road, from which hung long pendant canopies of icicles.  In one place was a thick, even pillar of ice from the overhanging rock above to the ‘shelf’ below, whilst yet again was a waterfall frozen fast to the rock, for all the world like a colourless specimen of stalactite.  Tom’s camera was working overtime here.  Then leaving the trees behind, we came into the moorland ‘col’, where the road was frozen over, and where a motorcyclist stopped and told us in violent language what he thought about it.  Then he skidded cursing away.  What manner of man is this that does not appreciate the beauty of snow and ice?  Of course, petrol burners are that way inclined, you can’t expect anything else from them.  One cliff we saw was chock full of huge icicles.

Derbyshire Bridge now reached, we soon came to the Cat and Fiddle (1,690 ft) on the Macclesfield road, then sped away on the long snowbound descent to the silk town.  So bitterly cold was it that my hair was frozen into a stiff mass (Tom and Joe had hats on), and the snow froze as it collected on our bikes and shoes.  Through Macclesfield and across to Alderley Edge, beautiful in its white cloak, to Mrs Powell’s for a rousing tea.  The return journey was a nightmare, the main road being frozen like glass, so that the slightest pothole or turn of the wheel produced a nasty skid.  Near Handforth a motor bus had skidded across the road and blocked the traffic.  Progress was dead slow, for we dared not use any brake except the ‘fixed’, and we had to walk down School’s Hill near Cheadle.  After a chat at Kingsway End, Tom left us and from there the road had been thawed with salt and was only slushy.  Stretford, Barton Bridge, then another slippery road – and home at 9pm.

A day ‘pinched’ has seemed all the sweeter for the taking, and shows what I have missed all these five long Sundays.  My eye, so far from being worse for the cold, still improves, and the ‘spell’ being broken, I am free again to ride.                                                                                                                          82 miles

A Matter of Luck

A Matter of Luck

  It seems as if I have been for the ‘high jump’ this year.  I am speaking only from the cycling aspect, although it has had a bearing on my work, which, of course, has to placed first.

I started the year with a dose of flu, first of all, then in March the old steel bike went bust, and five precious weeks including Easter were wasted, whilst a new lightweight bike was on order – a Grubb.  Then in July, I got a bootful of molten metal at work, necessitating a further five week layoff.  This November, as a kind of grand slam to complete (if it is completed) the vicious circle, I got an eyeful of hot sand at work.  So far – December 10 – five more Sundays have been absolutely lost.  An eye is an awkward and somewhat painful thing, needing care and warmth, so, beyond an afternoon tramp over Rivington Moors, I have had to lay off cycling.  However, the optic is all but recovered after a dozen or so visits to Bolton Infirmary, and I hope to start work next Monday – then we shan’t be long !

It is possible that I may, after all, join the little party that is set to be based at Capel Curig for the New Years Holiday tourlet, the Mecca for Welsh mountaineers – and the destination of my last ride before my accident.  To now, I have lived on the memory of that weekend.  True, ‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder’ but I don’t need absence, my pastime ‘grows by what it feeds on’.  But these compulsory hold-ups, serve to show what a dreary, dismal life I would have if it were not for Cycling, and what a drab life non-cyclists seem to have – in my eyes.

The weather has been intensely cold with some snow while I have been at home, taking it all round, glorious cycling weather.  Canals and lakes have been frozen over for upwards of three weeks, the countryside has taken on a new and beautiful garment, and the woods with their snow-carpet and hoar-frosted branches have been a veritable fairyland.  As before said, I managed to get out one afternoon, and tramped from Montserrat, by Eighteen Acre Farm and the Sugarloaf, up the moorland col on to the open moors of Rivington, then down to Chorley Old Road near the isolated ‘chateau’ which is associated with a leper, and down to Doffcocker, Markland Hill, Lostock and up Deane Clough etc to home.

The town boundaries passed, the snow lay in its natural whiteness, and when I got on the moors, it was often knee-deep.  The setting sun tinted the ridges a delicate pink, which, as it went lower, turned grey, then the hush of night settled, and the world seemed beautiful in the twilight.  In the town the snow was churned up into dirty slush, and everybody cursed it for a nuisance –

‘The men with shovels in a row

Pile up in heaps the trodden snow,

The dirty snow, with ooze impure,

That trickles slowly towards the sewer,

The sloppy snow that fouls the street,

And squelches up beneath my feet;

The snow that neither goes nor stays,

That comes o’nights and melts o’days,

Churned under wheels, spat on, and cursed,

As being of all bad things the worst,

The snow, the nasty filthy snow –

“Thank God!” men say, “Its going to go!”

 

‘But as I walk with rubbered feet

Between the puddles of the street

A different picture seems to rise

From that the sordid street supplies

I see a great, white, glittering peak,

I see a tree-hung frozen creek,

I see a wondrous fairy glade,

Where frosted fir-boughs cast their shade

And as the cart comes down the road,

And grating shovels fill its load,

One thing is in my heart to pray:

The country!  Let me get away!’.         Jessie H Wakefield, writing in the Daily Herald

So here’s to snow, plenty of it on the (hoped for) New Year Tour, and many glittering peaks will be seen.

 

 

Sunday, 1 November 1925 Over the Denbigh Moors

Post:       This day is the sequel to yesterday and gets him back to Bolton from North Wales and gets us into the penultimate journal entry for 1925, as he has an accident at work next week !  So please read on, but things will change next year, there will be items aplenty to read, but they will not be in the current format.

Sunday, November 1                                       Over the Denbigh Moors

 As I awoke this morning, I looked through the bedroom window and beheld the Cyfyng falls and the autumn tinted moors and rocks and heard the wind howling above and saw the grey mists rise from the hill tops.  It was but 7am when I went outside for a ten minute stroll before breakfast, when I am on tour I always like a walk early in the morning, it seems to put an edge on my appetite.  Then a good breakfast, a rest, and paying my bill I enquired over the possibility of housing four of us over the New Year holiday.  We should be very welcome, I was told in broken English, and we should have the best of everything at six shillings a day (each) inclusive – and there would be a roaring fire waiting for us after we had been out, and a little parlour for ourselves.  That’s the stuff!

So, changing my wheel round to ‘free’ again, I made a start at 8.30am, crossing the Pont Cyfyng and running easily down the Llugwy Valley, which was gorgeously arrayed in gold and brown.  Passing the Swallow Falls (which I heard quite plainly from the road) I stopped again at the Miners Bridge and soon stood on the wooden footway, watching the seething flood beneath.  There is something almost terrorising in the raging cauldron beneath – something which could easily become an irresistible magnet to anyone suffering from ‘nerves’.  A squirrel came running along the bridge almost to my feet, I watched it for fully half a minute, then it looked up, saw me, and in the twinkling of an eye, had gone.

I proceeded down to Bettws-y-coed, passed through the barely awakened village, crossing the beautiful River Conwy by the Waterloo Bridge, and starting the climb up Dinas Hill.  Now was a wonderland indeed!  The trees overshadowing the road where richly tinted, the slabs of rock, creeper clad, interwoven with moss and roots, were the bed for a brown carpet except where they broke into precipices, then they were a white-grey, newly washed.  Higher up, I saw the Lledr Valley opening out on my right, with the grey road creeping down it, a road that I shall never forget, for last night it held untold wonders for me.  Ah, the woods and rocks and streams around, the golden valley towards Dolwyddelan and its silvery river, Moel Siabod’s crescent of grey-white cliffs forming a seeming impasse, the Vale of Conwy with beautiful Bettws, hidden by riotous foliage, nestling at the foot of a hill of gold and brown, green and grey.  Magnificent, Magnificent!  As one stands and gazes at a scene like this, one finds creeping over that ‘Peace that passeth all understanding’.

I climbed onwards, intoxicated by the paradise around me; I left one wonder to be confronted by another.  The Conwy was beside me now, young, vivacious, the while the road climbed through woods clad in autumn splendour.  A wind sprang up, and as I gradually dropped the trees behind, it became more and more formidable until I reached the open moors at Pentrefoelas, where I had to get down to it, and almost stamp the pedals round.  Then I turned off the Holyhead road – The Road of High Romance, and found myself on a deteriorating, narrow road climbing into the bleak moors.  The wind was now dead behind – I could feel it pushing me, and by its aid I made childs play with the long drags that followed, walking only one to the 1,480 ft level.  The scenery was wild in the extreme, bare, heaving moors for miles upon miles around.  Near the latter point, the views started to open out, until from the summit, a magnificent mountain panorama was opened out to me.  The great saw-edge of rocky peaks from Bangor to Beddgelert, from Ffestiniog to Barmouth were visible.  They started with the ridge of Cader Idris to the south, and swinging round through the west to the northwest, all the principal peaks of North Wales could be seen.  It was a sight worth seeing, and I counted myself extremely fortunate in having such a day for views for my run over the moors.

With little Llyn Alwen on the left, I tumbled down fiercely 280 ft to the River Alwen which runs into the lengthy Alwen reservoir, visible on the right.  At Bryn Pellof, the road lurched upwards, at a gradient too much for me, and the road became a white, sticky, churned up mass of ruts.  In front, on the hill summit, stood a big mansion, which I thought was the Sportsman’s Arms Hotel, the summit of the road at 1,523 ft, but as I climbed up to it, I found it was a private house, and the Sportsman’s Arms a little Inn similar to the Crown Hotel at Llandegla and almost a counterpart of the Snake Inn near Ashopton [long since lost under the waters of the Ladybower reservoir when the valley was flooded in the 1930’s] in Derbyshire.  Then the road became an even, tarmac-surfaced first class road, and I swept down, past where Llyn Bran, coming up to the road, sent big waves across it.  Wild Mynydd Hiraethog was behind me, I dropped down to more wooded, but not striking country, through Bylchau, and with the brake continually in play to Groes.  The scenery now was passing pretty, and full of little hills, giving glimpses of the Vale of Clwyd and its line of guardian hills.  Then I dropped down to Denbigh, with its castle-crowned and narrow, twisty streets.  I had thought of lunch here, but discovered that it was only 11.10am, so I joined the Chester road, and dropped into the Vale of Clwyd.  The going was exceptionally fast, so that soon I was across the beautiful valley and entering the ‘pass’ from Bodfan.

I was beginning to get hungry, but there was not a place that seemed likely to satisfy my wants.  Again the scenery was good, but the road was dead straight and motorised, so therefore monotonous.  Moreover, the wind, which had pushed me from Pentrefoelas, turned – traitor now and harassed me considerably.  Mile after mile dropped behind, until, eight miles beyond Denbigh, near Nannerch, I saw a ‘Teas’ board outside a farmhouse, and stopped there for lunch.  It was a bit of a wash-out for a cyclists place – they don’t appreciate the appetite that cycling creates, and I had to continually ask for more bread and butter and tea.  Before restarting, I decided to quit the main road, for I was but 60 miles from home and had about 9 hours to do it in.  I followed a steep byway to Walwen on Halkin Mountain, I got lost then, and could not locate my bearings by means of the map so I just carried on, on lanes that only just earned the definition.

Once I climbed up a rare little pass to the summit of Herseeld, and got some excellent views therefrom of the Clwydian district and the edge of Cheshire from Mold to the hills about Nant-y-Frith.  Then the scenery ‘gave out’ for a while and I wandered about scattered villages, brickworks, tips etc, sweeping down at length from Rhosesmor into a pretty little lane that dropped me on to the Mold road again, one and a half miles from the latter place.

The Sunday crowds in Mold stared at the bike; yesterdays rain and wet sticky roads made it look as if it had been daubed all over with lime, and my shoes were in a similar condition.  I did not care to re-traverse the Chester road again, it has become too familiar, so I followed the Queensferry road through rather dismal scenery and with a hampering cross wind, via Bryn Offa (I wonder if the name has any connection with Offa’s Dyke?) and Ewloe to Queensferry, then across the toll bridge, which, I think is rather dear at 2d a time, on to the Wirral.  I see a new bridge is under construction to take place of the old road – and will be free of toll.  Then a hardy struggle along the flats to Saughall, and to do a bit of main road dodging, I followed a tricky bylane route out through Mollington, Backford, and Picton Gorse to Mickle Trafford.  I stopped for tea at Mrs Dennison’s, though it was yet only 4pm, but I was hungry, for I had had an unsatisfactory dinner.

It was raining heavily and blowing a hurricane – and dark too, when I left the warm fireside and donned my cape and lit my lamp.  Progress was erratic, for the breeze, generally favourable, had a trick of coming round the side and under the cape, accompanied by what seemed a solid sheet of cold water, which always poured into my shoes.  Yet I thoroughly enjoyed the ride, for experience has brought that ‘gift’ of revelling in rain and laughing if the odds are all against one.  Often a ride of this type provides far more ‘fun’ than a month of summery excursions would, and makes one become more and more attached to this greatest game of all.

Except for a halt for a lamp wick at Frodsham, I remained in the saddle all along Chester road.  I had at first thought of coming home via Lowton and the Leigh setts, for the wind would be at its fiercest across Chat Moss, but on second thoughts I said “to —- with the wind”, (Chat Moss has tarmac roads).  To my surprise, when I left grey Warrington behind, I found the wind dead behind, and I fairly swept along the dreary marshy flats.  Then Glazebury, Butts Bridge and dark, watery lanes to Atherton and home at 8pm.  Had I been better able to judge the time, I should have found room for a couple of hours longer in Wales.

Of one thing I am convinced.  Weekending is far better than single day riding, whether alone or otherwise.  Whether it is the thoughts or not of having to return home at night, or the glamorous questions “Where shall we stay tonight?”, what kind of place will it be, cottage or Inn, in a village or town, or alone in a lonely county? Or the joy of exploring new country, seeing new wonders, and meeting fresh people.  I don’t know, but there is something in weekending that is not found in an ordinary ‘out and home’ ride, something that verges on touring – the best phase of cycling.

This weekend has been better than I ever dared to hope for.  For ‘ten bob’ I have traversed 230 miles, everyone of which I enjoyed.  I have never lifted my finger in repair of my bicycle – it cost me 1d for a new lamp wick – so that is cheap, easy, comfortable travel indeed!  All of which goes to illustrate what anyone with a good, light bicycle can do without fatigue, something which is within the reach of poor and rich alike – the most democratic and finest game in existence.                                                                                                               107 miles

Editors Note

Sadly, due to a further accident at the foundry where Charlie worked, apart from one further entry on the 13th of December, his cycling travels are over for this year of 1925.  He did go to Wales for the New Year Tour, but as it did not commence until January 1, 1926, it cannot be listed under 1925 !

Charlie changed his format in 1926, not logging his travels in the way he has since starting his journals in 1921 at the age of sixteen and a half.   Since the end of 1925, all his writings are literally just writings, without being a weekly, or month by month account.

The stories he wrote so faithfully, gradually became less and less in the 1930’s, not because he wasn’t cycling, his literary life just slowed down to almost nothing, but he did keep on drawing, we know, because they were all dated.

He did keep his love of cycling throughout his life, to the extent that upon his marriage to Margaret Barron, another mad keen cyclist, their honeymoon was a cycle camping trip to Scotland for two weeks starting on July 25, 1936.  For obvious reasons, perhaps, no written record was kept of that tour.

He did keep a very detailed resume of all his travels, set down without any description, so we have always been able to trace his travels from 1921 to 1947.  Beyond 1947, he didn’t keep any records, or if he did, they have not survived. Please note that there are still two items to come, published here on the 21st and 26th of November.

Dear Reader, do not despair.  I shall be continuing with Charlie’s stories, there are plenty that didn’t make it into his four Volumes of Books, and those shorter and discarded items will all be published on this website starting in late November 2017.

But first your website Editor is taking a well earned summer break and the website will run itself over the summer until I get back into harness in the Autumn of 2017.    Happy Cycling.

 

 

Saturday, 31 October 1925 Capel Curig

Post:        This entry, as you will find out, is very long, and only covers the first day of a weekend.  Charlie is instantly smitten by the daughter of Mrs Jones’s Bed and Breakfast ‘digs’ in Ffestiniog, a girl who he thinks is called Jean, but who turned out to be called Jenny.  He makes many visits to this address and I would particularly recommend you read the Chapter on Page 159 of Volume 3 – but only after you have read ‘How the Year Began’ on Page 6 of the same Volume.

Saturday, October 31                                      Capel Curig

 Tom and I had arranged for a weekend to Alum Pothole in Yorkshire, but last week, a workshop promotion made it impossible for Tom to ‘pinch’ a Saturday morning, and I, having got the weekend fixed in my head, decided to go alone – but not of course to the Yorkshire destination.  Then I remembered a New Year holiday tour with Capel Curig as the centre, which has been projected for quite some time, and so I decided to visit the prospective ‘digs’ and see about it – alone.

It was a misty, heavy morning when I started just before 8am, and I made a dash out of Lancashire via Leigh, Winwick and Warrington.  On Chester road it started to rain, and my cape came into active commission.  I stood in Chester at 10.45am, wondering which way to go.  Should I go via Holywell and St Asaph, and then shape my course owing to inclination either down the Conway Valley or over Nant Ffrancon, or should I go to Llandegla, and then decide the route?  After some wavering I joined Wrexham road, for Llandegla, for it offered a better choice.  If I did not feel up to much I could easily go on to Corwen and then take the Holyhead road to my destination, if that were not enough – well, down Nant-y-Garth to Ruthin and over the moors would make a good alternative – or Corwen to Bala and then to Cerrigydrudion and the Holyhead road again – and should I prove to be in hill climbing form I could achieve a long thought of ‘stunt’ by seeing for myself whether the Bala-Ffestiniog-Dolwyddelan roads were really terrors for hills and surfaces.  Keeping my cape on continually through Pulford to Rossett, the Vale of Gresford, Cefn-y-Bedd – and that uphill tramp to the Nant-y-Ffrith turn.  In the little glen at the foot of the headlong descent, I found a little wonderland of autumn colours, and in the sunken lanes that followed too.  I put my cape away at Bwlchgwyn and hummed across the moors and into the valley to the Crown Hotel, Llandegla for lunch, with a four and a half hour run for a mileage of 56 prior to lunch.  So far, so good.

Bk 7 -33035

When I was ready for the road again, the rain was driving down, and a heavy white blanket overhung the Maes-y-Chain.  At the four cross roads at Dafarn Dywarch, I pondered for a moment.  Should I go over the Horseshoe Pass and traverse that glorious stretch of Dee through Berwyn, or see for myself the autumnal splendour of Nant-y-Garth, or re-traverse the road direct to Corwen as last July?  There was a problem for me, and it was only after some deliberation that I decided on the Corwen road – a decision that probably changed my ride into a renascence of wonder indeed.  The road was dirty, but every bit as fast as last July, and my cape was put away at Bryn Eglwys, and the clouds, lifting from the blunt hills around, revealed a wealth of moorland beauty.  Then the sun came out, and one by one, the peaks around Bala appeared.  The Holyhead road – the road to Ireland.  Yes, I would go to Bala, and by the best way – the hilliest way – the roughest way – but the way through the ‘sweet Vale of Edeymion’.  So I turned to Corwen, crossing the swollen River Dee, and turning uphill.

At once my choice was justified, the wood and rock intermingled, the sparkling cataracts, the dirty, rough winding lanes – and I knew, that once again, I had recaptured the glamour that draws me irresistibly to Wales.  Again the road was fast and I thanked the happy thought that put me on freewheel, for I could travel quickly and yet see so much.  Beyond Llandrillo, I stopped to pack away my waistcoat and curse the folly of a sports coat in place of an alpaca on a hot day, and incidentally to look back down the valley towards Corwen, and enjoy the exquisite shades and the simmering woods and rivers and moorlands, and thought, as I invariably do amid such scenes as this, of those grinding away in towns or seeking artificial enjoyment in dance halls or theatres – if they could just be with me now, surely they would see the difference between their shallow amusements and the broad freedom that a bicycle gives them.  Crossing the river at Llandderfel, I passed along the Vale of Penllyn to Llanfor and Bala.  It must be market day on Saturday, for High Street was crowded with people who stared at my dirty machine and shoes.  I was delighted – and surprised to see that it was only 3.30pm – I had two more hours of daylight, and so at once decided to try the wild Ffestiniog road, a road that is boosted by ‘Wayfarer’.

The road ran by the railway and the River Tryweryn – a boulder strewn waterway which abounds in pretty little cascades; in a little valley that was often picturesque, but more often spoiled with ugly hamlets and factories.  The gradient was a gradual climb to Fron Goch, where the Cerrigy-drudion road went off to breast a high moorland ridge, whilst my road got steeper and improved scenically with the disappearance of the industrial vandalism.  Looking behind I got a good view down the valley to the Berwyns, which were ablaze with autumn colour, and the sharp knife-like peak of Aran Fawddwy, of Bwlch-y-Groes memory.  Higher and higher I climbed, the valley giving way to a shallow sweep in the moors, which became wilder and more desolate with every yard.

Afon Tryweryn was a listless swamp now, the bank of trees on the right dropped away before the flinty moors, the road was rough and grass grown in places, an isolated farmhouse of grey stone and many sheep which invaded the road were the only signs of life.  Across the shallow basin rose a mighty mass of earth and rock, full of deep crevices and ragged peaks, lofty, isolated from the moors – Arenig Fawr, a mountain that in its position seems to me to be more impressive even then Snowdon.  I could not help but stare and wonder at it, even as old George Borrow did in the 1850’s; he said that Arenig Fawr impressed him more than any other mountain in Wales had done – I would not say that, for Trifan holds pride of place with me as the most remarkable Welsh mountain.  The moors here knew little autumn colour, for they are heather and bog and rock, grim and dark, but, oh, how fine!  At Capel Celyn, the tiniest of hamlets with a general store, I managed to procure cigarettes; they only had Woodbines in but – I like the ‘evil-smelling Woodbine’ really.  The hard road got harder, and I passed the little Inn at Rhyd-y-Fen, which Wayfarer finds so good, and at which George Borrow quaffed a tankard – a lonely place it is too!  Still climbing mostly, with the scenery getting wilder, lonelier and Arenig showing his great form to still greater advantage, I had to open gates, and the road surface changed to loose, blue, slate-shale.

Then I heard a distant roar, coming nearer, and instinctively looked down the green track that passes little Llyn Tryweryn and runs into the gap of Cwm Prysor, remembering for the first time that a railway traverses this moorland col.  An engine and train of wagons appeared, the metallic click of the wheels on the steel rails changing to a deep, prolonged booming which reverberated strangely across the vast solitudes.  The train seemed a tiny, infinitesimal thing as it ran along the foot of the high slopes – the lower acres of Arenig.  I turned again, for daylight was waning and I must reach Ffestiniog ere dark.  Climbing a ridge past where a weather-grizzled old shepherd was driving a flock of sheep towards a lonely group of farmhouses, I swept down to cross a moorland stream and climbed spasmodically, the gradient bringing me out of the saddle.  When the summit was reached at a height of 1,507 ft, I thought that I had come in the hardest direction, for I discovered that I had been climbing for eleven miles.  But in front had appeared a range of mountain peaks, sharp, abrupt, rugged – a view that kept my eyes fascinated despite the bumping and crashing that my bicycle endured through neglect of the road surface.

The gradient was with me now, and I sped along while the coming night hushed the moors to a brooding quietness and the wilderness around became lonelier – stranger.  Pont-ar-afon-Gam, where this neglected road is joined by another one, old, grass-grown, where a lone signpost, bent and scarcely readable points to Penmachno, where is an old farmhouse with a notice that says ‘Cyclists Teas’, where is a tumbledown bridge beneath which a swollen stream rushes.  Pont-ar-afon-Gam.  Here I left my bike for a moment to find Rhaiadr Cwm ‘The Cataract in the Hollow’, but failed to locate it.  A little farther where the road runs on a shelf with a sheer drop of 50 ft over the wall, I caught a glimpse of Rhaiadr Cwm, the most magnificent falls I have yet seen in Wales.  The Afon Gam descends a deep gorge, a rift in the precipice, which is so sheer as to be unapproachable, in several huge leaps.  The swollen river was the whole width of the cleft, making the view of the foaming torrent extremely vivid.  From the road summit another, different view fell to my lot – a view which I could never hope to explain, even with a pen like Basil Barham.

At my  feet was the beautiful Vale of Ffestiniog, with the winding River Dwyryd like a stream of molten silver stretching along to the sea.  The fading day threw a glamorous mist over the Vale – not a mist, a haze, the sky seaward retained a last bright streak, reflecting in the sea.  On each side of the green and gold valley, reached a line of peaks, saw-like in contour, black, impressive, one that might make anyone stood there, and seeing them as I did, say with Borrow,

‘Wild Wales’.

I knew every peak – I named them from south to north, there was Llechog, above Barmouth, above the incomparable Mawdach, Diffwys and Y LLethr, the Rhinogs with Bwlch Drws Ardudwy between, and many lesser heights on one side, Moelwyn Bach overshadowing Ffestiniog.  Moelwyn, that remarkable peak, which from this position looks as though the top has been sliced clean off, a range of lesser peaks again, behind which stood the splendid profile of Cynicht.

But here I was, with darkness creeping down and the road hardly discernible beneath me, and Ffestiniog yet three miles away – three miles below though!  My freewheel worked overtime on that descent to Ffestiniog – and so did my one and only brake, so that soon I stood in the main street at the fork roads; the place was lit up by street lamps, under one of which I stopped to peruse the CTC handbook.  I soon found no. 4, Sun Street (Mrs Jones) and the door was answered by a remarkably pretty girl.  Here I was made heartily welcome, and sat chatting by the fire with (of all people) a Wesleyan minister, a very nice gentleman, Mr Rothwell by name, whilst Mrs Jones and Jean, [To sort out any future confusion, Jean was actually Jenny, but as I learnt many years later when I was researching the family of Mrs Jones, the Welsh pronunciation of Jenny sounds like Jean.  It becomes obvious by reference to Charlie’s books that Charlie was very smitten by Jenny.  Ed]  got the tea ready and Jean went for some fruit and cream and cakes.  A good tea, and ten minutes before the fire talking with Mrs Jones (and Jean) – Jean gave me a guide to Ffestiniog afterwards; I was almost persuaded to stay the night in Ffestiniog, but got away with the plea that it was too far from home (only 100 miles).  At any rate it would have meant a lump of the same road over again.  They were incredulous to think that I was going over the mountains to Bettws-y-coed that night, though I could not see why, though I did change over to fixed before I started, for one brake is often insufficient in these parts.

Ffestiniog gave me an excellent impression, firstly the Rhaiadr Cwm, then the view of its Vale, then its hospitality, and lastly, but not least, its pretty lasses!  That reminds me of the verse that ends:

‘But fairer look, if truth be spoke,

The maids of County Merion!’

I don’t think it will be many moons before I visit this place again.  Brilliant moonlight – as anticipated, it was a full moon, and perhaps the clearest moon of the year, for with the disappearance of summer, the heat-haze also goes, giving way to a clearer atmosphere.  My little ‘two bob Lucas’ was of little use, for even in shadow, it gives but a pale yellow glimmer.  Had the night been wet or cloudy, the crossing to Dolwyddelan would have been an adventure – and there was no alternative.  But all was well.

Pausing a moment where the Bala-Maentwrog-Blaenau roads diverge, to ascertain my way, I soon left the quiet little town behind, and sped along a road that was overshadowed by great bulky forms, where sharp summits stood out clearly against the starry sky.  The great hills on the right shut out the moonlight, and screened a greater part of the valley on the left.  In front, the lights of Blaenau Ffestiniog appeared, then soon the scenery changed – a blight, so to speak, fell on the land.  A tinkling rivulet hurried beneath the road, I looked for the shadowy trees, the green grass – the boulders covered with clinging moss, but saw, instead, a hideous mass of shale which formed the banks of a stream which stank and appeared discoloured.  I hurried on, past huge slate tips to a town that, in its industrial meanness, reminded me of some Lancashire towns.

A long straggling place it was, with the houses on the right sometimes built directly beneath an overhanging cliff, sometimes below a shale slope, sometimes overshadowed by large factories.  The town became noisy and well-lit and crowded with people.  I pushed my way through the jostling mass, then the streets became quieter, and all at once I found myself above another noisy stream with banks lined with tall dark trees – and I rejoiced that Blaenau Ffestiniog was behind, but not the ugliness caused by it.

The road started to climb steeply, I left the trees behind and dismounted, walking between high steep slopes of broken slate: the moon shone on one side, revealing the true nature of the pass with cold, searching brilliance that I almost resented.  The walk got harder, phew! it was a warm night.  When the slope petered out on the left, it revealed huge mountains behind, the whole of which were scarred and broken – the whole mountainsides were vast quarries.  Higher I climbed, until the road shook itself clear of encumbrances and left all traces of the chaos of Blaenau Ffestiniog behind.  On the right a low ridge hid the view from me, on my left I looked across a little level where was Llyn Tfrydd-y-bwlch and a backing of rocky peaks all bathed in moonlight.  A little farther on I reached the summit, 1,262 ft.

Then the descent of the pass down the side of, and round a shoulder of, Moel Farlwyd; sometimes the road in shadow, sometimes in moonlight, sometimes in long, easy sweeps down, sometimes in short, sharp pitches, round corners, one of which performed a complete turn about in so short a distance, and on such a gradient, that I had all my work cut out to get round at a speed not more that 6 miles an hour.  Then the road went level again, I crossed the railway, and was in the Lledr Valley.

I stopped on Roman Bridge and stood watching the water foam down the glistening rocks, the Lledr dancing and sparkling in the rich moonlight, I rode slowly on the even, level road, enraptured with the autumn colouring of the woods and hills and the moon-toned grey and brown of the rock, and the liquid clearness of the hurrying river.  I forgot the time – the day – the outside things – I had only eyes for what I saw and mind for what I might miss, no motors, no cyclists, no pedestrians were met; I had the Vale of Lledr to myself on that wonderful evening, I wanted it for myself.  No amount of writing will describe it – no words could, and all I could say of it at every turn was “Magnificent, magnificent!”

Then on my left, on the summit of a huge rock, a square solid looking tower appeared, and I remembered that this was Castell Dolwyddelan.  It seemed to be wonderfully in keeping with the rugged majesty of the surrounding mountains – indeed, it can almost be said to have grown with them, for this rude ruin has stood for almost 1,500 years.  Here came Iowerth Drwyndun when he was refused the British throne because of his broken nose, here the great Cymryc hero, Llewellyn the Great was born, and here the peaceful Meredith ap Ivan sought a quiet retreat, who used to, as Southey says:

‘Linger gazing as the eve grew dim,

From Dolwyddelan’s tower’.

These things passed through my mind as I looked on the rough old edifice, and thought of the pageant of history that the precipitous crag it crowns has witnessed.  Then on again by the multi-coloured banks on the left with its numerous little ravines down which some noisy stream would chatter, and the low meadow on the right, through which the river finds its course, and above which floated a low, white ground mist.  I came to the tiny, ancient town of Dolwyddelan picturesque and in harmony in its isolation amid the greater isolation of the everlasting hills around it, a town I had never seen actually, but which seemed familiar, from the many pictures and paintings I have seen of it, Linnel and Varley, to name but two are great masters who have painted Dolwyddelan and its surroundings.

The hills on each side draw in again, the river keeps close companionship to the road and fills the air with its music.  The trees overshadow the now rough road, throwing it in greater darkness.  Here and there, a moonbeam comes through the foliage and make a pattern on the grey surface, which is strewn with fallen leaves that rustle beneath my wheels.  A few cottages and a church melt away behind me, Pont-y-Pant.  I make erratic progress, for I must keep looking over the wall to admire the river, or stop and look back at the wonder-pictures enhanced by the moonlight.  Then I instinctively swerve across the river – another road seems to go on, and as I ride beside a high wall I wonder if I have gone wrong.  The surroundings bear a strange familiarity which seems to grow on one, then I find myself on a smooth wide road, I cross and iron bridge and come upon a village – then I remember it all.  The Holyhead road – the Waterloo Bridge – Bettws-y-coed!  A clock in the village struck 8pm just as I stopped in Pont-y-Pair to watch the River Llugwy wildly and noisily fling itself beneath the creeper-clad and moss-grown arch.

Again all signs of life melt away behind me, for my journey is not yet at an end, another five or six miles must be covered.  The road tilts upward, and I get down to it, increasing my pace from the eight miles an hour or so of the Lledr Valley to twelve miles per hour, for before I retire tonight I have much to see.  For a little while I climb until a row of cottages appear on the left, I stop on the right, leaving the bike by the wall and carefully walk down a path, descend a few rough steps, spray splashed, and reach the narrow, stout, steeply ascending bridge known as Miners Bridge.  From the middle I looked down over the handrail at a maelstrom of creamy water raging incessantly between smooth grey rock-walls. It was a weird sight in the moonlight, holding me fascinated with the wild torrent and the continuous steady roar.  Then I slowly went back to the bike and remounted.

A large hotel appeared, and simultaneously I became aware of a deep roar coming from the woods on the right.  Again I stop and leave the bike, going through a ‘penny in the slot’ turnstile, and going on rough, steeply sloping ground, I again reach some steps with a handrail to guide me, until the spray comes thick and wet, and I stand, a hypnotised witness of a terrific spectacle – Swallow Falls in spate.

The moonlight was thrown full on the madly rushing water, a sight that was a hundred miles of riding alone.  From my position, I could hardly see the upper fall, but stood on a boulder at the foot of the second fall and just above the third.  The water came leaping over the boulders and foamed and roared at my feet with such force that the air was filled with spray, descending on me like heavy rain, so that soon I was wet through.  But not for the sake of a wetting would I abandon this scene, and I stood there for full ten minutes until my shoes ran water, watching the awe-inspiring fury of the waters of Llugwy.  Then I moved to another vantage point, from where I got a better view of the upper fall, the most majestic and inspiring of the three.  It looked to me just like a great picture, finer than a masterpiece, and the deep booming roar like sweet music.

It was with some reluctance that I left Rhaiadr-y-Wennol and passed through the turnstile to my bicycle again.  The Valley of Llugwy opened out and became a littler barer as I came to Pont Cyfyng, where once more I peered over the walls to watch the river plunge wildly between great white-grey slabs of rock.  Across were the row of cottages, in one of which I should find a haven for the night.  But not just yet – no I must go up to the fork-roads at Capel Curig and see Snowdonia in the light of the moon, for I was loth to give my ride up yet, on such a night as this.

The valley was opening out now, was more bare, wilder, more desolate.  The hillsides, which lower down were clothed in golden, glowing vegetation were here brown, sweeping moonlit moors, sometimes breaking into little crags, grey or black.  There was Moel Siabod, dreary enough from this outlook, a long heaving waste of moors and marsh, culminating in a desolate peak, a striking contrast to the fine semicircle of precipice which is seen from the other side, or from Bettws-y-coed.

Ah, there was a change again, rocks, rocks, rocks, the houses appeared at Capel, the big hotel, then the joint roads.  I looked on shining masses of rock, precipitous crags, soaring into the transparent sky….   Glyder Fach, I turned to see the greatest, the loftiest, but over the three peaks of Snowdon a billowy white cloud-bank hung, for all the world like a great snow-white silken curtain.  Grib Goch, the northern tentacle of Snowdonia stood out of the snowy mist like a huge saw edge, Y Lliwedd was hardly cloaked, for the moonlight was directed full on the lower cliffs.  I think that it was better to see Eryri as I saw it, for it gave an awe-inspiring effect.  For the first time today, an overwhelming sense of loneliness came over me, the dead quietness of the night, the moonlit solitudes of the mud sides of Moel Siabod, the bare valley in front culminating in Snowdonia and its clinging blanket, the huge rock-masses of the Glyders, all dead quiet – vast, unworldly, in the moonlight.

At length I turned and sped down again to where the silence was broken by the vivacious Llugwy.  I crossed Pont Cyfyng and stopped at the little cottage.  “Could you put me up for the night, please?”  “Yes, come in”, and I was welcomed into the warm kitchen.  Mrs Jones busied herself about supper whilst I was being taught the intricacies of the Welsh language, a language that I have no hopes of ever being able to understand properly.  Supper of sausages and meat, a chat with Mr Jones, then a walk outside, to savour the last cigarette of the day!

As I leaned over Pont Cyfyng smoking and watching the river pounding the grey rock just as it has done for thousands of years, and will do again, looking down the Valley towards Bettws, where the low white ground mist was rising, I reflected on the day and on the wonderland I had seen and felt truly thankful for the whim which irresistibly forced me to this weekend.

So to bed, to be lulled to sleep by the eternal roar of the Llugwy just below the window…                                                                      123 miles