Three Welsh Nocturnals Part Two

Our next all-nighter was a different kind, a ‘night after the day’ ride, and our experience was directly opposite to the midsummer ride above stated.  It was in the September holiday of 1925, and here it is:

It was one of those occasions when everything seemed to go awry.  In the first place, Joe, his friend Bert and I decided to meet at 6.30am, and visit that obscure but magnificent waterfall, Pistyll Rhaiadr, returning home through the night.  Strangely enough, all of us overslept, and when we did meet, it was 9am instead of 6.30 !  It had rained all the night, so in consequence the lane route we had chosen was in a messy condition, whilst we were in poor form, and heckled by a headwind.  We had barely covered the first 24 miles when I was left brakeless through the cable of the front calliper snapping; the rear one had broken on Sunday.  I had ‘fixed’ on, however.  We traversed the ‘same old road’ to Beeston, a road that demands a eulogy to itself, but progress, slow as it was, was often brought to a standstill by Joe’s almost fanatical attachment to blackberry bushes; that voluptuous attachment, two days earlier, having earned for him the title of ‘Blackberry Joe’, and immortalised him in certain stanza’s and poems by the Bard of the We are Seven cycling club.

After lunch at Beeston, it was perhaps natural that our form should improve, owing to the downward tendency of the road, so that in good time we found ourselves at Bangor Iscoed, but an upward tendency following convinced us that our return to form was only temporary, and the wind blew as hard as ever.  Ruabon was followed by the hideous road through Cefn, the rather pretty ‘bit’ over the Dee at Newbridge, and the dismal Holyhead road to Chirk.  Then with a sharp descent, one finds oneself on the bed of the Vale of Ceiriog.  So, for six miles we wormed our way beneath autumn-clad hills, beside the rapid-flowing Ceiriog to Glyn, where we decided to adjourn for tea.  We found a place where the fare was just our heart’s desire, and where the people were a direct contravention of the bigoted English idea of Welsh folks.  Pistyll Rhaiadar lay 16 miles away, over country that was unfit for night riding, and on roads that made riding brakeless suicidal, so we threw the idea overboard, tackling the fierce 3 miles of Allt-y-Bady instead.

By the time we reached the summit, Joe and Bert had given All-y-Bady a selection of euphonious titles, and incidentally had re-christened me at the same time.  But we lingered long over the view down towards Llanarmon for it was one of those nights when the hush of twilight casts a glamour over the hills and valleys, and robes the distance with its mystical purple curtain.  On the Llangollen side the same superb beauty was evident, the beauty of summer twilight over an inimitable Welsh valley.

Already Llangollen was lamplit when we reached the town, so pausing only for oil, we made our way into the mountains again.  We were now in form, and started singing appropriate songs to the glory of night, speedily making our way by the heathery hillsides past the Abbey of the Valley of the Cross.  At the Britannia Inn we lit up, then our road lay beneath a heavy carpet of leaves, beautiful even in the dark.  A pit-a-pat on the leafy roof, then a sudden pattering told us rain, so we put on our capes, leaving the shelter and emerging on the open moors.  Fickle climate !  The rain came down in torrents; the gradient got too much for us on the horseshoe.  Right down in the valley were the lights of Pentre Dwr, twinkling points of light betrayed the hillside farms here and there, and someone on the opposite slope was wandering about with a storm lantern.  So black was the night that we could barely distinguish the difference between mountain and sky.  At the Oernant corner, we mounted and flew up the opposite side to the summit, 1,351 feet above the sea.  Away down the deep cwm the lights of Llangollen twinkled, and before us – around us, blackness pricked here and there by a solitary glimmer.

The rain ceased as suddenly as it came, and free from capes, we crept slowly down Bwlch Rhiwfelin, guided by the feeble rays from our oil lamps.  From the open moors, holding back only by pedal pressure, we dropped where the wind sighed through a belt of trees, where water tinkled musically, where a blacker shadow would rise by our side until an upward pull, then down and up again and the dark bulk of the Crown at Llandegla, at the back of which glimmered from the window, a fire.  At the front the glimmering panes of a lamp-lit room guided us to the Inn.  Would they make us a pot of tea ?  We knocked and after a while a voice came from behind the door.  “Who’s there?”  Joe gave our request, then a pause ensued, and the voice replied: “I’m sorry, they’ve all gone to bed and the fires out”.  Oh, worn, ancient tale – had we not seen the flicker ?  “All right, sorry to trouble”, we answered.  Perhaps they were afraid of robbers, it is a common fear in these lonely places, for it is unlike mine host of Ypento to refuse cyclists.

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We did not blame them however, for it is a queer request at 10pm.  We got a drink at a cottage up the road, then started on the rough and tumble Treuddyn road.  Rain again, a road that was fearfully mutilated, a falling gradient, and the encumbrance of capes, feeble oil lamps and intense darkness; it sounds undesirable enough, but to we three mudlarks it was thoroughly enjoyable.  At Treuddyn away went the capes.  In the deep wooded glen before Pen-y-Ffordd we ate our supper, and for drink had unlimited supplies of clear, cold water, using bell-domes as drinking cups.  What more can one wish for ?  I had boiled a couple of eggs at the start, and now we had to use a jack knife and stone to open them !  After that the rain soused us again and Joe had a puncture – a messy job on a dark wet night.  We reached Chester at 1am with a starry sky above, seeing the city as a dead forgotten place, quaint and glamorous.

Warrington road, and the miles sliding back as we blinded for all we were worth.  At Helsby the rain re-asserted itself and swept down with grim determination to wash us off the map.  Surely the solitary policeman in Frodsham thought us mad to hear us singing and laughing and joking as our shoes became filled and the water found its way ‘in’ via the back of our necks !  Perhaps he smiled and tapping his head, said “Cyclists!”  When Warrington was reached a change came over us.  The novelty was wearing off, for we were on familiar roads; Bert was yawning; Joe was no longer noisy and I felt a bit jaded.  Another 18 miles during which match-stalks were in big demand as eye-props, and Joe and I had a startling experience each, and home was reached, tired out, but happy in the memory of 148 miles that, despite things being ‘all against’, were well worth-while.

If anyone two years ago had said that Snowdonia and Aberglaslyn was accessible in a night ride, we should have disbelieved – derided him.  To us, that rare district was only within reach on a tour, and to many, it still is a long journey of two days away.  Yet in April this year, Tom and I thrust deep into the heart of it, and really amazed ourselves at the ease which we did it, convincing ourselves that there is practically no limit to the scope of the hard-riding cyclist on a modern mount.

Three Welsh Nocturnals Part One

Some Welsh Nocturnals001 Unlike many pastimes, it is not only possible to cycle in the dark hours, but indeed, the night time forms a popular and attractive phase to the energies of the true devotee of the wheel.  It is admitted there are drawbacks to all-night riding, but there are also advantages, overwhelming advantages, and then, after all, what is the use of a game that possesses no drawbacks ?  The difficulties encountered are made to be overcome, and so, in overcoming them, we find a fierce joy.  So here I set about trying to tell of my own experience of all-night riding, and the disadvantages and advantages, and the lesson of one on the aspect of the next.  I call them Welsh nocturnals, for it is in Wales that our all-nighters have been most successful.  As a matter of fact, apart from two early ones in Cheshire, and two on the road to Meriden, my other earlier all-nighters have been merely fiasco’s as compared with the later ones.

It will be recognised that a successful nocturnal is a study in itself, and each ride serves to show just what is lacking, whilst the conditions, varying from those of the day, demand some special consideration.  The big question, of course, is the right food to carry, a point that, varying according to the special tastes of the individual, would be best settled in detail by the individual, though a general rule might be followed with success.  For my part, I take plenty of fruit, fruit containing juice being preferred on account of the difficulty of obtaining drink – warm drink, I mean.  The golden rule is to eat little and often, but not to stop by the wayside for a long spell to feed, or the cold night soon chills you, and sleepiness that is hard to shake off, often creeps over you.  I do not ‘blind’, but take things evenly all along, and – here is a tip that stands good on other occasions, walk the hills that pull, especially for the first 60 miles or so.  Clothing is another matter, though I have ridden through the night with the lightest of summer touring clothes and not felt unduly cold.  I think that for summertime, a silken or woolly scarf and a pair of gloves are ample – with the addition of a cap if one is inclined to feel a chill from the head.  Personally, I would not be found dead with a cap on.  It is a matter of course that the bike and lamp should be in a fit condition.  There is one very important thing about night-riding which I soon discovered.  In country like Cheshire and the Midlands and – in fact any type of fairly even country, an all-nighter is apt to pall, so I would strongly advise cyclists to choose a mountain land; the Lakes, the Yorkshire or Derbyshire hill-country, or Wales, are the best.  The more mountainous, the better.

In following the above code, and being in a fit condition, I attribute the following mileages and rides – nocturnals of course, during 1926 alone.

April 24-25    The Vale of Gwynant                   245 miles

May 29         Llanberis and back                      110 miles

June 26-27   Pistyll Rhaiadr and Milltir Cerig     180 miles

July 8-9        From Somerset to North Wales    238 miles

Sept 24-25    Ffestiniog                                    210 miles

It is of these, and an outstanding ride or two at other times that I am writing…..  just to show the disadvantages and advantages.

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It was Midsummer Day, June 21 1924.  Tom and I had arranged an all-night ride ‘somewhere in Wales’, meet on the Chester Road at a point 2 miles wide of Warrington.  All day it rained heavily, and the general outlook at teatime convinced me that we were ‘for it’, but miraculously it cleared up just as I was starting, and before I reached the town of Many Smells (Warrington) this Midsummer Night was all that its name implies, and a hot sun caused me to cast off superfluous clothing.

Tom was waiting at the rendezvous, and soon we were pottering along Chester Road.  The oft-maligned Warrington-Chester road was really gorgeous that evening, with the gardens all aflame and the villages peaceful and quaint.  Helsby Point was a mass of colour, and on the road beyond, the rich pasturage and great shady trees painted rural Cheshire to perfection.  Before 9pm we were having supper in a quiet farm-house, 34 miles from home, and by 10pm we had passed the City of Legions, and were rolling along the long Dee flats to Hawarden.  It was all but dark when we passed by ‘Harden’ Castle to the village, where we stopped to look at the quaint old village lock-up, now long passed out of service, but retained as a curio.  A byroad rushed us down to the Dee at Queensferry, then the estuary road to Connah’s Quay and beyond, with the road filled with the usual Saturday night crowds.  Night had come; our lamps were lit; all along the right hand side were the sandy reaches of the Dee, and between the banks the water gleamed in thin long streaks.  The sky was light – a transparent light, the wisps of black cloud forming islets in a sea of vastness illimitable.  And it was nearly midnight !  Another industrial town hove in view; coast-wards a black ruin in silhouette proclaimed this as Flint, then once more the road and the hush of night.  It was a long, level road this estuary road, with the gigantic monoliths of Industry ever and anon looming ahead, it was a road that no tourist would wish to traverse in daylight – but in darkness a road that held some romance, some glamour.

Once a red glare shot out skywards, and the hissing of steam and clanging of metal betrayed the proximity of the god, Iron.  We sat astride a wall, looking across a maze of railway lines at two great blast furnaces, from one of which ran a stream of liquid fire.  I work in a foundry, I handle this molten metal, but think nothing of it, yet when I watched that fascinating liquid run down the spout and in a white-hot fall, drop into the bogey in a halo of sparks, and watched the men toiling, filling this capacious monster that the liquid might be kept running, hurrying here and there regardless of the flying pellets each white hot that fell like hail about, the romance of these Workers in Iron was borne upon me.  From the ceaseless, seemingly meaningless clanging and grating, hurrying, sweating, toiling, which was illuminated by the blinding liquid iron comes the production of half the industry of Britain.    Would that it were better arranged for those stalwart Workers in Iron !  In fascination we watched the burning stream cease, an engine couple the bogey up, and bear it away, a great cup of light, until distance robbed us of further sight.

From Ffynnongroew we drew inland and the scenery assumed a more pastural character.  At Gronant we got lost, and after wandering along an obviously new, unfinished road, came to Prestatyn where we solicited the aid of a lonely policeman, and were put right again.  A narrow hilly road took us through Meliden to Rhuddlan, where on the bridge over the Clwyd we stopped to look at the ivy-clad round towers of the historical castle just above the river bank.  The moon came from behind the humpy guardians of the Vale of Clwyd, but bright though it was, it was robbed of half its glory by the lightness of the night.  It is a long drag for four miles over that perfectly level waste, Morfa Rhuddlan, with nothing to stimulate interest except the historical books that tell us here was fought, in the year 796, between the Saxon invaders and the Cymric people a great ‘battle’  The Saxons drove the Welshmen into the sea, and over 10,000 of them perished.  This gave rise to that plaintive national air, ‘Morfa Rhuddlan’.  Abergele ended the marsh for us, and the quietness too for that matter, for a belated charabanc party was just unloading.  From Abergele, the left hand side is overshadowed by the great, medieval-looking walls of Gwrych Castle.  The style of the massive gateways is 13th century, but the building is quite modern.

We had lunch under the shadow of one such gateway just beyond Llandulas, with a view of the sea, white and blue, a perfect replica of the sky.  Far away beyond our horizon we saw the periodical lights of distant buoys, sending their danger signals out to approaching vessels.  A ‘man’ was stood by the water, and ‘he’ seemed to behave in an uncanny fashion, stooping, jumping, running backwards and forwards, yet never leaving the same spot !  We both saw ‘him’.  After rubbing the sleepiness out of our eyes, we found ‘he’ was a stump driven into the ground !  That is one of the hallucinations the cyclist who rides all night is liable to.

Daylight was coming, slowly, and almost without our knowledge, though we turned our lights out, after they had burned for 3 and a half hours.  An uphill ride took us to Penmaenrhos, where Tom led me through a gateway, from where we had an amazingly beautiful view of Colwyn Bay and Little Orme.  There was that transparent sky and equally transparent sea, an arc of golden sands at the end of which rose the low cliffs of Little Orme.  Even the town behind and Old Colwyn below looked beautiful in the soft light – just at dawn.  We fled down on a tram-lined road into Colwyn Bay, endured the rough jolting, and came to Rhos-on-Sea and the junction of the Conway- Colwyn-Llandudno roads.  Four years before, I was in camp with the Church Lads Brigade on that field where now stood a fully peopled modern housing scheme.  I remembered a party of us exploring a cave in yonder woods at the unearthly hour of 2.30am on the ‘first night’ four years and five days ago exactly.  For the sake of a four year old memory, Tom and I went to look for that cave – and we found it.  A little later we came in sight of Penmaenmawr Mountain, with Conway mountain in front, then the sandy river Conway.  From the cross-roads we took the Llanrwst road, pausing to eye that noble ruin, Conway Castle, which lay just across the river, behind the suspension bridge.  Conway Castle is always an imposing picture, but see it at early morning when the mists are rising from the river to see it at its best.  The ride that followed down the Conway Valley is one of those precious memories that I still look to with the keenest of pleasure.

Across the valley, the mountain sides rose almost from the water, in great slopes full of colour, with a village clinging almost insecurely here and there, for all the world like the Alpine village pictures we see.  Above, the gleaming grey precipice of Drum caught the first rays of the sun, and behind that the ridges of Carnedd-y-Filiast struck a perfect contour in a faultless sky.  All the miles down to Llanrwst gave us such views of the mountains, whilst in the valley itself we rode by the river and by a woodland bank.  Near Llanrwst we looked across to the ravines running up to Llyn Crafnant and Llyn Eigiau, lying behind Trefriw and Dolgarrog, and leading to a hollow, behind which was a fine rock peak coloured red; the infinite variety of colour in that view must be seen before it can be realised.  How wonderful and quiet that wooded ravine directly above Porthllwyd seemed, how safely was Llyn Eigiau imprisoned – for another year….. then, well, everyone knows of the Eigiau Dam burst and the story of the destruction of Porthllwyd and its people in 1925.

Llanrwst is just like so many tiny Welsh towns, built compact and anyhow, yet clean and a bit quaint.  We crossed the high-spanned bridge that Inigo Jones built in 1636, passed the rock on which Gwydir Castle, a 16th century residential mansion containing many art treasures, and joined the road that takes the west bank of the river.  On our left, the river gleamed through the trees, on the right was the steep bank called Coed-yr-Allt-Goch, which means the ‘Red Height in the Wood’, ablaze with wild flowers.  The sun was weaving a leafy pattern on the road when we came to Pont-y-Pair at Betws-y-coed, stopping a moment, as is our wont to watch the ever-hurrying Llugwy, hurrying to meet the Conway.  The last time Tom and I leaned over that creeper-clad old parapet, was on the night of our first meeting at Easter, 1923.  How often since have we watched the river from that point !  The surroundings of Betws-y-coed grow more charming with each successive visit, and on that morning, soon after sunrise, they were magnificent.  Lunch beside a pretty cascade behind the Waterloo Bridge at 5.20am, afterwards essaying the ascent of Dinas Hill on the Holyhead road.  On the right the Ffestiniog road threaded its way like a grey ribbon through the fair Lledr valley, at the head of which, standing proud and clear was the gleaming precipice of Moel Siabod.  A slight sleepiness was warded off by a soapless wash with handkerchiefs for towels.  Higher up we caught the first view of Snowdon, sharp and clear, and after leaving the woods behind and embarking on the wild moorlands beyond Pentrefoelas, a turn about revealed the whole mass of mountains called Snowdonia, Llechog, Llywedd, Wyddfa and Crib Goch as clear as though they were within our grasp.  Then to Cerrigydruidion on a hard featureless road, with reaction setting in and the expected listlessness which often comes at that time after night riding.  Between Cerrig and Corwen the road is mostly of a downward tendency, but we were far to gone to notice it.  A cuckoo seemed to mock us with its ‘Cuck..ooo…silly…fools…cuck..oo….sleepy..fools…cuck..oo’.  At least that is what it sounded like !  At last we sat down and ate some fruit and I had a smoke – and the way we woke up after that was amazing.  We sprinted to Corwen with alacrity, pausing just a moment on the Dee Bridge.  In Corwen we found a place for a pot of tea, the landlady of which regarded us as vagabonds and our expedition as nothing short of criminal.

So it was in a jocular mood beneath the tropical hat of a June sun that we pottered down the ‘Glen of the Sacred Dee’ to Carrog, with many a wonderful view to Llangollen.  Industrialism presided on the road to Wrexham, but beyond, at Pulford, we entered the grounds of Eaton Hall, and pottered through the woodland glade to Bruera, whence intricate bylanes to Saighton, Egg Bridge, and Kelsall, brought us onto the infested Chester road.  After lunch at a little farmhouse near Tarvin, we sped with the flowing tide of traffic to Northwich, Altrincham and Sale, where we parted.  At 7.30 pm I reached home.  So went down our first all-night ride into the land of the Leek, a ride of 212 miles and a ride never to be forgotten.

 

In Derbyshire Dales Part Two

Sunday: February 8, 1925.

Monsal Dale:  The road (in Miller’s Dale) ended at Litton Mill, the beginning of wonderful Cressbrook Dale.  From a notice board we learned that pedestrians only could continue at a toll of six pence.  Now if there is anything that maddens me, it is the commercialisation of natural beauty.  There is far too much of it.  As soon as anything such as a glen, waterfall, or natural curiosity becomes known, a padlock is put near it, and a man forthwith haunts the spot with a roll of tickets.  It is not the price, that is negligible, but the principle of it.  If that particular ‘sight’ had been made accessible, I would not grumble, but when, like Cornbrook Dale, it has just been looked up, it is a bit too bad.  We decided not to pay, and joined a narrow road leading of the dales instead.  Once could almost lean on the wind when we left the shelter of the valley.  A splendid view of Miller’s Dale and Cressbrook Dale were ample repayment for the barrier.  Soon we joined a road that immediately dropped us at the end of Raven’s Dale, another pretty little scar.  Then the village of Cressbrook and a small section of Cressbrook Dale to Monsal Dale.

We left the road again, embarking on a squelchy field, and crossing the Wye by a stout footbridge, we passed under the railway and so entered the Dale.  Simultaneously heavy rains came down, but we continued without capes.  The path was wet and muddy but quite good, and ran on the fringe of the wooded right escarpment, often making little detours to the flooded river, which broke into many fierce little falls or noisy rapids, the steep slopes on both sides being well wooded and overlooked by fantastically shaped masses of rain-washed limestone.  One could picture familiar shapes in these pinnacles and slabs.  Here a resemblance to some church steeple or spire, there the profile of some animal, and high above were the walls and towers of some legendary town of Arthurian days.  The rain was quite forgotten during that all too short tramp through this little earthly paradise.  At length, a ‘teas’ hut hove into sight; a strange familiarity seemed to hang over, then we struck a main road which we recognised as the Buxton-Bakewell road, at the foot of Taddington Dale.

The ‘Ravine of the Wye’ is comprised of six dales, namely, Ashwood Dale, Wye Dale, Chee Dale, Miller’s Dale, Cressbrook Dale and Monsal Dale, through which runs the Derbyshire Wye on its way to the Derwent at Rowsley, two miles beyond Bakewell, and into it run many other dales from each side, all of them interesting, and some of them very beautiful.  On the left are Cunning Dale, Woo Dale, Great Rocks Dale, Monk’s Dale, Tideswell Dale, Littonfrith Dale and Raven’s Dale, the right being fed from Cow Dale, Kingsterndale, Deep Dale, Buck Dale, Horseshoe Dale and Taddington Dale, another Deep Dale and Kirkdale, excluding many nameless little chasms such as Lovers Leap.  Then there are the dales joining the Hope Valley, such as Otter Dale, Bradwell Dale (already mentioned), tiny Pin Dale, a fine example of limestone formation, Cave Dale, in which is situated Peak Cavern, and the Winnats Pass, the best of them all.

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The following is an extract for June 7, 1925.

Here, (from Castleton) we had two routes to choose from, for this is a cul-de-sac (the Hope Valley) the outlet being either by a long climb round the hairpins of Mam Tor or the steep ascent of the Winnats.  We chose the Winnats in preference, for if it does not yield the same view of the valley or give a glimpse of the scaly sides of the ‘shivering mountain’, it is grander and more awe-inspiring – and a jolly sight steeper and rougher too.  We generally, intentionally or otherwise, pick the harder and rougher way.  The Winnats is the old coach road; being once an adventure for the traveller, for on days when a gale is blowing, the formation of the pass turns the wind down the gorge with amazing velocity, and has been known to cause death by suffocation.  Then again, it was a popular haunt of highwaymen, the story being told of a bridal pair being murdered here on their way to their honeymoon.  And when one stands at the summit and looks upon that tortuous descent and upon those great walls of limestone on each side, one can quite believe what terror it caused in the ‘bad old days’.

Again on October 4, 1926.

We left the main road and made for the Winnats, past the entrance to Speedwell Cavern, but we did not see the pass until we were in it, so thick was the mist becoming.  As we climbed higher up the gorge, the pass became awesome.  Seeing only the base, and the rising, tottering crags, we could easily imagine ourselves somewhere in the dark clefts of the Caucasus or the fearsome chasms of the Himalayas, an imagination that grew upon us as we scrambled hotly through the mist.

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Middleton Dale, opening to the Derwent about midway between the Hope Valley and Monsal Head, is another excellent gorge, though halfway down it is marred by quarries.  At the foot of the dale lies the village of Stoney Middleton, and on the left hand side of the road the houses are built right beneath the cliffs which overhang the roofs.  One bulging mass of rock is called ‘Lover’s Leap’ to which an interesting but suspiciously common legend is attributed – with variations.  The limestone in Middleton Dale is known to be a solid thickness of 5,000 feet, except for the possible caverns, which have not been discovered.  Just where the quarries spoil the effect of the dale, one of the sweetest little dales in Derbyshire opens out.  It is Eyam Dale, and through it runs the road to Eyam, a beautiful little village with a terrible history; the Plague village it is called – of which more anon.  Though only half a mile long, Eyam Dale is possessed of the richest beauty.  The left hand side (on the way into Eyam) is deeply wooded, with the limestone bastions either gleaming grey through the trees or covered with ivy and creeper, whilst on the right the cliffs rise in fantastic masses with, just near Eyam, some picturesque cottage stuck here and there beneath the bulges on ledges above the road.  In Spring the ground is carpeted with flowers and far into the Autumn the gardens display a rich variety of colour.  Autumn Glory in Eyam Dale in November is a scene never forgotten.

Derbyshire rivers and Derbyshire Dales are in the foremost class for beauty, one river and dale ranks above them all, however that sweet ‘Valley of Rasselas’, Dovedale, and its river.  What did Cotton say ! :-

“Oh, my beloved nymph !  fair Dove

Princess of rivers……… “

And Cotton was right – it is a princess of rivers.  Yet I have only once been to Dovedale; my excuse must be the big mileage in hard, often uninteresting country that is necessary, the very early start which must be made to give one time to see the Dale, and our experience of the dismal ups and downs against a headwind of the Buxton-Ashbourne road, and a ‘big’ dinner, an exorbitant charge, and the after effects of the dinner on that “‘ard ‘igh road” from Milldale to Leek.  But for a’that, as Burns has it, Dovedale is worth it.  Here is the entry in my diary.

Sunday, May 3, 1925.

Returning to Thorpe, we turned left by the ‘Dog and Partridge’, dipping suddenly downhill past the entrance to the ‘Peveril of the Peak’ hotel, and across the river Dove to Thorpe Cloud, a village below a bold hill which bears the same name and guards the entrance to Dovedale.  Up again, and a rough, steep pitch brought us back to the river and the entrance the Dale.  A little farther on the road ended suddenly where a crowd of motors were drawn up and the hillside was thickly peopled.  The track into the gorge lay across the river, and at first we feared we should have to retrace our steps for half a mile, but Tom discovered some stepping stones, so hoisting the bikes on our shoulders we crossed quite easily – to the obvious surprise of the crowd.  There, the real glories of this ‘Valley of Rasselas’ started, and there lay the most wonderful three and a half miles in the world (it is said).

                    From Thorpe Cloud to Dove Holes the scenery is as though carried out by a giant artist from a fairy design.  Everything is on so magnificent a scale, yet so exquisitely beautiful in all its detail.  Trees, bushes, undergrowth, elfin dells and goblin rocks are everywhere; the path along which we tugged our bikes was at first along fairly open ground though rocky and uneven, but across the river the hills were a mass of foliage of every conceivable shade of green, for now Spring is at her best.  On the Derbyshire side the limestone had weathered into rugged cliffs and fantastic pinnacles, and a little further on we crossed Sharplow Dale.  Near here we started to spend money like water, paying one penny to visit the Reynard Caves, ‘Hill’ and ‘Kitchen’.  Scrambling up a rocky slope to the high, bare cliffs and, above, the natural arch in a great rib of rock that marks the opening to the two caves.  These caves are not deep, but inside them prehistoric and other remains have been discovered, and the name was given because they were the retreat of Reynard the fox.  From the top of this rocky curtain we obtained a fine view of the dale.

On returning to our machines we were persuaded into buying some picture postcards, and were shown one – a real photo, on which the shadow of Reynard darkened the cave entrance.  This phenomenon occurs only at very rare intervals and is caused by the sun’s rays falling across the cave mouth from a certain position.  Owing to the (supposed) rarity of the picture, the old lady in charge of the stall wouldn’t sell, although I fancy that had we cared to pay the price, it would have been ours; probably more would be forthcoming for some other gullible tourist.  Tissington Spires, an array of needle-like pinnacles could be seen from below the caves, and across the water, half-hidden by trees, we could see the limestone spires of Dovedale church.  This, of course, is not a church, but just a name given, such as abound in Dovedale, to the masses of limestone, and which have a fanciful resemblance to the buildings so named.

A little farther, we came to the Straits, where the river narrows between the tree-clad banks, and where we could only just scramble along the path.  On the far side of the Straits we passed a little wood to where the cliff comes down to the water, and where the ‘Lion’s Head’, a rock which has weathered to a remarkably close resemblance to the head of a lion, juts out.  Here we were at Pickering Tors, a great round bastion of limestone with five distinct points, the Lions rock being on the right, and a huge Tor with a cave at its base being on the left.  There also we saw Ilam rock standing up like a needle out of a deep pool in the Dove.  There was no doubt that the scenery was hypnotizing us.  We could have scrambled and climbed along this wondrous dale for hours, but the time was getting late (3.30pm) and there was more dale work yet and then over 60 miles of hard country to cover, so resolutely turning our faces ahead, we tramped, scrambled, and carried the bikes onwards.  Passing the big hill with its serrated and weather-worn outlines called ‘The Nabs’, we came to those two natural arched recesses in the rocky hillsides called the ‘Dove Holes’.  The larger arch has a span of over 50 feet, and rises to a height of 30 feet, but the other is not so majestic.  From here the dale became barren, and a very rough passage for half a mile took us to Milldale, a quiet little hamlet at the end of the dale so named, and where the Alstonfield road led us away from the limestone and Spring beauty of Dovedale onto the high green-brown moors.

Of the other dales in the district I know nothing, except that they are worth a visit, and a weekend is demanded to traverse Lathkill Dale, Beresford Dale, Milldale and the Manifold Valley.  Many more dales, too, I am almost ignorant of , as Darley Dale and the whole Matlock district, including Matlock Dale and Matlock Bath.  The valley of the Derwent to Rowsley I am acquainted with, the Hope Valley, and the North Derbyshire and Cheshire border ‘cloughs’, as Ladyclough, William Clough, Woodland Dale, Ashop Dale, Barmoor Clough, of the Kinder Scout, Wildboarclough (really a Cheshire valley) and beautiful Goyt Dale which is as much Cheshire, I know very well.

From the Derbyshire I have seen I gather that I have many rich treats and pleasant surprises in store when I start out to explore still more of that beautiful county.  And this story of the Derbyshire Dales does not end there, for folk-lore and legends, the wonderful story of the limestone and water, the netherworld of Derbyshire, its moors and its paths yet remain to form another theme somewhere in these pages.

November 27, 1926

 

In Derbyshire Dales 1926

Derbyshire Dales001Post:        Charlie compiled a miscellany of tales detailing several excursions into Derbyshire, together they are too long, so here is the first offering.

I was bound like a child, by some magical story,

Forgetting the South and Ionian Vales,

And thought that dear England had temples of Glory,

Where any might worship in Derbyshire Dales.

One of the happy hunting grounds for we Lancashire cyclists, is that section of the North Midlands that is deeply indented with cliff-bound, narrow ravines known as the Derbyshire Dales.  Here nature has bestowed her gifts of greenery lavishly, and time has made its impression in the limestone rock by weathering it into the most fantastic shapes or creating great bulging precipice, beneath which run the crystal waters of the Derbyshire streams.  Many times have we turned our wheels into the these glorious dales, sometimes following their courses by road, and sometimes by path, in all the seasons of the year, and never have we failed to find something new, something different on each occasion.

My first visit to the Derbyshire Dales was made nearly four years ago (1923), when Tom and I left Manchester at an early hour and found ourselves in Buxton before 11am.  From that fashionable spa, the Bakewell road took us into Ashwood Dale, woefully ruined by the appropriation of the dale for sewage and gas purposes.  Here and there one sees, in little, undefiled spots, what Ashwood Dale was before Buxton laid its ruthless hands upon it, and in one place, the much visited Lover’s Leap runs into it.  This is a sheer-sided gorge, down which a little stream finds a course, and seen as we once saw it, when melting snows sent the stream into the gorge in a fine little fall, and filled the bed of the ravine with surging water, is to see it at its best.  Two miles from Buxton, Wye Dale takes the place of Ashwood Dale, and one sees the limestone cliffs go higher, and the river Wye loosened from its paved bed to take a more natural course.  Here again its proximity to a town and its limestone formation have been its undoing, for in the most part, it has been hopelessly despoiled by quarrying on a large scale.

The Bakewell road climbs out of the dales at the end of Wye Dale, returning into this ‘Ravine’ of the Wye in Taddington Dale.  From the road summit, above Wye Dale, Tom and I were able to take a bird’s eye view down to the gorge below, but the view is spoiled by quarrying.  Right across, a sweeping valley has been turned into one huge quarrying concern, making Great Rocks Dale into an eyesore rather than a scene of natural grandeur.  Still, I suppose it is necessary that certain beauty spots shall be given up to the hand of ‘civilisation’, and it is a matter to be thankful over that the best have been left intact.  So to get back to our ride.  A byway led us downhill between the crags of limestone into Miller’s Dale.  This is perhaps the most popular of the Dales with the exception of Dovedale, on account of its accessibility.  The river opens out into a kind of lake, upon which is always an assortment of ducks, usually ravenously hungry.  On the hillside lies the village of Miller’s Dale, and then farther down, the dale takes on a more characteristic appearance, and shows some magnificent cliffs.  From Miller’s Dale, we took the tiny, barren Tideswell Dale, to Tideswell, a rather quaint little town possessing a fine old church that is often termed the ‘Cathedral of the Peak’.

Thence our way lay across a tract of grassy moorland into the dusty, broken Bradwell Dale, in which is located Bagshawe Cavern, the most wonderful stalactitic cavern yet discovered in Derbyshire.  Bradwell Dale gives access to the Hope Valley, not a dale in the Derbyshire sense of the word, but an open valley, very much like the Welsh Vale of Clwyd or the Tanat Valley.  From Hope, our way lay along a winding, narrow lane by the railway and the river Noe into the Vale of Edale.  Edale is magnificent; it is more Welsh than Derbyshire – perhaps more Lakeland than Welsh, as it is deep-seated amid the moorlands, and ends in a cul-de-sac.  From Edale village the road climbs up to Rushup Edge in many a sharp upward lurch and many a hairpin bend, and from the summit one sees the dale below in all its beauty.  The best time for Edale is late Autumn, when the moors around are ablaze with bracken, and the valley is tinted with russet and green admirably blended.  The end of Edale was the end of the Derbyshire Dales for us that day, but the beginning of numerous visits into that region, each one proving more ambitious than the rest.

So now I propose to give a few extracts from my diary, and as befits, I will start with the Ravine of the Wye, when we followed the footpath from the end of Wye Dale to Miller’s Dale, in that wonderful glen, Chee Dale.  It was our second visit to Chee Dale, but the first successful one, as on the first occasion, heavy floods made it impassable.

Sunday: October 4, 1925.

Just as the road tilts upwards to leave the Ravine (of the Wye) and climb Topley Pike, we abandoned it, passing through a gateway and traversing a cart track which was strewn plentifully with flinty stones and led to a small lime works, from where we reached the row of cottages at the commencement of Chee Dale.  It was raining heavily, and the atmosphere was stuffy and misty, whilst the paths were heaving in mud.  The limestone cliffs were taller and sheerer here than hitherto, and the path deteriorated to a mere track.  A youngster informed us that the Stepping Stones would probably be submerged but that did not deter us.  One or two stiles and a rough crossing of broken rock and flinty outcrop brought us to where we had been finally checked last time.

The river was lower and we perceived that though it ran flush with the bulging cliffs, stones had been placed at regular – or rather irregular intervals to enable one to get round, so we shouldered the bikes and stepped out to them.  We found that we weren’t traversing a bed of roses however, for these stepping stones either came to a point, or rocked, or were partially submerged, each stone possessing its own peculiarity calculated to inconvenience the ‘stepper’.  Besides this, they were too near the side, and the overhanging rock caused us to bend down here, or lean outwards there, the while we poised artistically with the bikes on our shoulders on some wobbling stone.  Half-way along was a little beach on which we rested and sheltered.  Oh, but the scenery was magnificent, the great rock bastions, the swirling river, and the delicate shades that autumn had given to the woods.  White and grey were the cliffs, green and clear was the water, which leapt in many little cascades, turning to creamy white; brown and gold and green in an infinite variety of shades decked the trees, and grass and undergrowth, nettle and bramble put a finishing touch to the pageantry of colour.

We managed to get across the stepping stones alright, though as a matter of course we got our feet rather waterlogged, a regular Sunday happening that is liable to obtain even during a heatwave !  In comparison with the route that followed, the stepping stones faded into insignificance.  The general surface was composed of clay set on a camber steep enough to make us slip continually into a morass, in which grew dense masses of nettles.  Then here and there was a little crag of limestone to be surmounted, and only Chee Dale clay is slippier than Chee Dale limestone.  The best way to get along – and by far the easiest – was by carrying the bike all the time.  A huge bastion of sheer rock towered over the river, Chee Tor, whilst a backward glance revealed the bulging cliffs overhanging the Stepping Stones.  Then the dale narrowed, and the Wye flowed swiftly into a deep, silent pool hemmed by an impassable precipice, over the edge of which leaned stately trees.  Longfellow might have had this in mind when he wrote:

“Reflected in the tide the grey rocks stand

And trembling shadows throw;

And the fair trees lean over side by side,

And see themselves below”.

A long narrow plank, half-rotted, crossed the river, and as we trod warily across we could feel it bend and creak before our weight, then on the other side the path climbed to the top of the cliffs, so near the edge that a slip on the clay or rock would ensure an impromptu dive into the pool.  Then it descended to the river again beyond the channel, and a stouter plank bore us back across the river, where we came up against the toughest problem we had ever faced.  We had to scale a 10 foot crag, across the top of which had fallen a great tree, with two fork branches entirely blocking the way.  On the right the crag dropped sheer to the river, and to the left the roots of the tree were like a wall, whilst on the other side a steep slope of clay ended over the cliff.

We tried different methods without success, until we hit on the plan of holding the bike as high as possible from a little ledge, and Tom, leaning over the tree, managed to hoist it to the other side.  As soon as he left the tree with it, he started to slide down the clay slope despite vigorous efforts to keep a foothold.  Things got desperate; meanwhile I tried to get round the roots to help, arriving on the scene just as he was nearing the edge.  Relieved of the bike, he soon gained a firm foothold.  So much for one, but obviously that plan would not do again, so with a change of tactics, I got astride the tree trunk, Tom lifted the bike over his head, I leaned over and grasped it, pulling it over to the other side, then Tom regained the treacherous clay and ‘dug himself in’ by his heels, carefully drawing the bike across.  Then I found that I could not get off the tree, and had to work my way backwards to where I could get a hold.  It had taken us over half an hour to get our bikes over a tree trunk !   Our clothing was full of clay; it showed in big, yellow-brown patches all over my black alpaca jacket, and our sodden shoes were thick with it, but the wonderful scenery around made up for the discomfort; if not, why the very fun of dragging a bike over the obstacles made us satisfied.  After that we had a long walk by the river, through mud and over crags in the beautiful woods, carrying the bikes nearly all the time.  Skirting a sinister-looking morass, we passed the end of another dale, and then, progress being more or less easy, we came to Miller’s Dale.  The two and a half miles of Chee Dale had taken over three hours, and we recorded it as the hardest scramble with bikes we had ever had – and one of the loveliest.

Easter Tour 1926 Part Four

Part Four:   Mynydd Hiraethog

The joys of touring !  One razor that could have been sharper for three of us, with cold water, so that it felt, during the process of shaving, like a chicken would feel being plucked alive; an attic so low at the walls that, as you sleepily rose in bed you got a nasty whack on the head that drove all thoughts of sleep away and brought forth a torrent of lurid oaths.  At least that would have happened had I not noticed that the rest, with such suspiciously innocent faces, sat waiting for me to get up.  I disappointed them.  Before breakfast I walked down to where the ever vivacious Llugwy was dashing itself over the rocks below Pont Cyfyng.  The rock about Cyfyng Falls, has been worn remarkably deep and smooth in curves and crevices by the action of countless million gallons of water over a period of thousands and thousands of years.  Stood musing on this and other facts and marvelling over it all, I lost all thoughts of time until Joe, in a voice that is no longer sweet and low, announced that breakfast was ready, and I abandoned my ponderings in favour of more urgent demands.  Our breakfasts were at 8.30 – what the others called early;  I often kicked up a row over it, for 7.30 is late enough, because I think that for touring, there is nothing like an early start.  It is the same at night, for whilst many like to finish soon after tea, I’d rather ride until the very last minute, say 10 to 10.30 pm.  Of course, one has to ‘touch wood’ to get digs at that hour – and that is where the fun comes in !  At long last, after the usual delays, we bade Mrs Jones and all the little Jones’s good-day, and kicked off.

Moel Siabod had lost its wraith during the night and now stood out as clear as a bell, in a perfect sky.  Bettws-y-Coed was quiet – the morning motor trek was not astir yet, and we had the Holyhead Road pretty much to ourselves.  We broke the long grind up Dinas Hill with a journey to Conway Falls, said journey costing us two pence each.  Joe thought that they should pay us for descending all the steps, then ascending them back.  The falls were but a shadow of what we (Tom and I) witnessed at New Year, being so much shrunken that I was able to scramble round the base of the ‘sump’, where the water whirls round in flood time with terrific fury, and look up the chasm from where the falls commence.  In this gorge was a series of steps, each of which formed a little fall, though in flood time the whole would be one racing torrent.  The pretty wood-lands of Dinas Hill petered out as we reached the summit, and in company with the now youthful Conway, reached Pentrefoelas, with our tongues cleaving to our mouths.  This was remedied for the nonce at an obliging tap.  Here we abandoned the Holyhead Road and joined the Denbigh Road, a high byway that I knew would amply repay the ‘collar-work’ we should be called upon to do.  As expected, the start was not exactly alluring, extremely rough and rutty, but as it was mostly walking the roughness counted for little.

Gradually we climbed onto the open moors, the expansive Mynydd Hiraethog, into the full heat of the sun, which brought the skin off my arms, whilst westwards, the Shire-Carnarvon peaks hove into view.  A lake on our left, cupped in the brown moors was surprisingly blue.  I have never before – or since – seen water show such a deep beautiful hue.  Meanwhile our search for a stream to drink, started on Dinas Hill, was fruitless – I don’t know how they go on in the tropics, it was bad enough here.  The mountains had gradually appeared until, now, supremely set behind a rolling expanse of heather and moss, the magnificent barriers of rock stood against the faultless sky.  From the long grey ridges of the Carneddau, over the sheer, triple-headed Trifan, the ragged Glyder group to the magnificent mass culminating in the graceful peak of Eryri, our eyes wandered, down past the clear sweep of Siabod to the guardians of the gorgeous Vale of Dwyryd and the misty peaks of Ardudwy, a long saw edge of splendid mountains.  They hold a magnetic attraction someway, these Cambrian giants, they always seem to beckon me to go among them, and when we have been we are not satisfied – we want to go again !  The following verse from Byron explains, perhaps, why Wales so persistently calls to us, though elsewhere will be found the reason why only Wales seems to satisfy me.

He who first met the highland’s swelling blue

Will love each peak that shows a kindred hue

Hails in every crag a friend’s familiar face,

And clasp the mountains in his mind’s embrace.

 

From the summit, where stands the little Sportsman’s Arms, at an altitude of 1523 feet, we had a breathless succession of downhill sweeps on a superb surface, the while the western peaks one by one dropped out of sight, and the Clwydian earth-clods lined themselves across the eastern sky, and the rolling, swelling half-greenery unfurled itself before our eyes; the high, brown Hiraethog Mountains from the roof of which we had just descended, rolling away to the ultimate humps and blunt ridges behind us.  We flew through Bylchau, down the woods of Groes, blinded along pastoral foothills until we came in sight of the ruin-clad hill of Denbigh Castle, very soon finding ourselves in the ancient capital of Clwyd.  We got the lunch of our hearts at a café over a grocer’s shop – no fear of a food shortage here !

Easter Tour 1926 Part 3006         Some slight difficulty was experienced in getting out of Denbigh, our wanderings leading us to what we took for a museum of antiquated vehicles or an ancient cab-house, though afterwards we ascertained that it was the fire station !

We had 16 miles to cover to Mold, and by the way we started blinding we bade fair to set up a new record.  Crossing the Vale of Clwyd, I was struck by the very green-ness of everything, perhaps more noticeable after the brown moors of Hiraethog.  This road would be passing pretty if it was a bit hillier and less motorised, for the long, level stretches palled on us, and the Bank Holiday traffic was showing itself.  So, though passing between hills, we blinded hotly right through Mold, where well known roads hurried us on for another six miles to Pen-y-Mynydd, where a grassy bank proved a temptation irresistible.  Whilst sprawling here two pretty girls passed with a dog, and Billy, ever ready to seize on a joke, made humorous assertions relative to it.  Like true flappers, answers were forthcoming, and a dialogue ensued that set everyone rocking with merriment.  All the way to Chester it was the same, one continual round of jokes.  At length Chester was reached and our circuit was completed, Chester to Chester, without covering the same roads twice at any point except, perhaps, the two miles, Dinas Mawddwy-Mallwyd, and the Capel-Ogwen detour.  We had tea at Frodsham, where we implored Mrs Littler to lay us the first square meal of the tour, just to get her to make a bust-up, and a bust-up it was, a worthy last meal for a tour like this was.

In the last glow of a perfect evening we pottered down to Warrington in company with the hosts of youthful, would-be, cyclists who, having survived Good Friday’s day out, were essaying the second ride of their lives, and were feeling the effects to judge from looks both fore and aft.  We were all bronzed and merry, drawing more than a bit of attention from passers-by.  Tom left us at the canal bridge, to make his way home via Lymm and Altrincham, and we four, with a Bolton CTC-ite we had picked up passed through the notorious bottle-neck to Winwick and Lowton, where Billy and Fred struck off to Hindley whilst we endured the Leigh ‘setts’, arriving home at 10pm, and thus spending the holiday almost to the last minute.

And now, as always after touring, comes the reckoning; the weighing of disadvantages against advantage, the cost, and the final question: is it worth it ?  To weigh advantage and disadvantage is to weigh a sack of potatoes against a feather, whilst as for the cost, to me it amounted to just about 80 shillings, that is seven and sixpence a day including all expenses.  I defy anyone to cover the ground we did, see what we saw, enjoy life as we did and feel so well as we did other than by cycle at so low a cost.  To ask:  “Is it worth it?” is merely superfluous, we never were in doubt of it before we started, and it only served to strengthen the view that for holidays, cycle touring is the only way.

The seven Passes still linger in my mind as I write, over 7 months later, Nant-y-Ffrith, sylvan and quiet, Bwlch-y-Groes, high and wild, the views and scars of Bwlch Oerdrws, the glittering crags of Tal-y-Llyn Pass, the deep blackness of Aberglaslyn by night, the immensity of all things in the Pass of Llanberis, and the evening romance of Nant Ffrancon.  The weather was glorious, but altered itself strangely to give us the best effects of dull, hot, cold, mists, thunder and lightening, rain and brilliant sunshine, always just where it could be best appreciated.  One disadvantage we did find, and that always must be faced, the thought of coming home again to the same old streets and the same old round, but with the memories of a holiday well spent and the thoughts of future holidays in the spirit of that wonderful Easter of 1926.

A rather insignificant point is the mileage, which was: Good Friday, 106, Saturday 58, Sunday 48, and the final day, 96, a total of 308 miles.                  12 November 1926.

 

Easter Tour 1926 Part Three

Part Three:   Around Snowden

The verse came upon me as I looked through the bedroom window, at Beddgelert and the mist-wreathed heights above, the heights whereon Ailwyn had wandered in search of his lost love, where he had heard her playing the harp so sweetly under the crags of the Knocker’s Llyn.  I would advise anyone to read Ailwyn if they love a good, classic novel which is woven round, and set upon, the stage of reality.  I was first down, and had the pleasure of meeting one Mary, who for beauty compares with Jennie of Ffestiniog.  When I went up and told Billy and Joe about her, they were up like a shot !  It was here that we heard a true animal story that is worth recounting from the lady of the house (‘Florence Nightingale’).  It started through an enquiry of mine about a poem framed on the bedroom wall, in Welsh, and in which the words ‘Beddgelert’ and ‘Eryri’ aroused my curiosity.

Many years ago, when she was a child, she had a brother who tended sheep on the slopes of Snowdon.  He possessed two dogs named Cymru and Prince, who were always with him.  It was his custom to call at the farm for his meals and come home to Beddgelert at night.  One day, when snow lay thick on the mountains, he did not appear for dinner at the farm, and at teatime he was absent too, but only when he did not come home at night did his people become anxious, and a search party was sent out.  After a night of vain searching the party returned, and were just about to turn out again, when Cymru, the dog, came bounding in and started to paw at them and run towards the door.  They let the dog have the lead, and he took them over the foothill onto the screes on Snowdon, where they found the boy below a crag, with Prince, the other dog standing sentinel over him.  He had slipped over the cliff in the snow, and was killed, and while one dog had gone to find aid, the other had stayed to guard his body.  The boy was buried in the little churchyard at Beddgelert, and often the two dogs could be seen sat solemnly over his grave.

Outside a thick low mist hung over the mountains almost hiding them altogether, and our hopes of climbing Snowdon began to fade.  I was quite willing, if only for the sake of the climb, but Joe and Tom saw nothing in it, as only the views made it worth while in their mind.  So we rearranged our plans, settling on the Carnarvon road as one that none of us had hitherto traversed.

Easter Tour 1926 Part 3004

 

We ate over two loaves, generous loaves too, at breakfast, no remarkable thing when you consider that there were five of us, and five healthy cyclists can eat quite a lot between them.  Owing to the position of the County border, we had supper in Shire Carnarvon, slept in Merioneth, and breakfasted in Carnarvon again.  Dozens of people were about in the village, cyclists starting out, and two motorloads of merry cragsmen armed with ropes and rucksacks were just leaving as we turned out.  The mists did not trouble them !

We found the first three miles a heavy drag through open country that would be rather dismal had it not been for the almost weird effects of the mists, which came to the road almost and seemed quite plastic, breaking and closing in solid palls, revealing sheer mountainsides and towering peaks, only to shut them in again almost immediately.  Very probably in clear weather this road will give some wonderful mountain views.  At Pitts Head (named after a rock that is said to show a good profile of the former statesman), the road started to descend and we speedily came to Rhyd-Ddu, where is the Snowdon Ranger Inn, an uncomfortable looking place at the foot of Snowdon.  George Borrow mentions, in his ‘Wild Wales’, a chat with the innkeeper, who was a guide for Snowdon, and who called himself and his house ‘Snowdon Ranger’.  In those days a guide was a necessity, for to the stranger Snowdon was a terrible and arduous climb fraught with dangers, for mountaineering had not found its way into the hearts of the people, and nobody seemed to care for the mountains.  Rhyd-Ddu, a simple sounding name, is the usual stumbling block to the tripper.  One calls it ‘Rid-do’, until a Welshman comes along and makes it unrecognisable by saying ‘Rhud-thee’ (Black Ford, it means).  A little farther on is Llyn Cwellyn, which every guide book and map spell wrongly, calling it Llyn Quellyn.  There is no ‘q’ in the Welsh alphabet.  Llyn Cwellyn is a large sheet of water set deep in the mountains and over-shadowed by an awe-inspiring crag, Craig Cwm Bychan, tentacle of Mynydd Mawr.  The road runs along the north shore and the crag stands to the southwest.  The mists, hiding the upper portion, made it seem higher than it really is, and imported the same weird air of grandeur as at Beddgelert.

The others went on, leaving me sat on a wall admiring the scene, and it was full 20 minutes before I left.  I came to Nant Mill, a pretty spot and an old flour mill with a water wheel, and then again it went dull, the mists, though not nearly so thick, hiding the hills, and houses lining the road.  At Bettws Garmon an improvement was noticeable, and at the top of the next hill the mist disappeared and away below me stretched the fertile country around Llanwndda, fields and woods and villages and the sea, gleaming beneath the strengthening sunlight.  From Waen Fawr I swooped down into Carnarvon, coming to rest by the castle.  I found the others by the Straits.  We did not go into the castle, though it was open (I had been inside previously), because the fine ruin looks best from the outside, with its massive gateway, walk, and imposing towers.  After a short potter in the vicinity of the river Seiont, the Menai Straits and the castle, and accompanied by the stares of the townsfolk, we joined the Llanberis Road.  The mists had, by now, entirely dispersed, and the sun bade fair to outshine all its previous glory, whilst, ever aware of the call of hunger, our speed became hectic except when a hill got in the way.

Easter Tour 1926 Part 3005

 

After some miles of rolling country that to me seemed wonderfully fresh and green, we stood on an elevation that brought us in view of the stunning array of mountains from each side of the Llanberis Pass.  There was the Pass, an awesome looking defile over which hung the chaotic confusion of rocks which we call Snowdonia, as clear to behold as earlier it had been misty.  The shining cliffs and boulder-strewn screes, the lofty peaks, all beneath a perfect sky, sent me madly longing to be amongst them, and to climb, climb, climb, until I finally reached the utmost height.  Above all other scenery.

I love a high hill,

With its granite scars:

From Cwm-y-Glo we rode above the long, deep Llyn Padarn, across which the hillsides were ablaze in colour, and came to Llanberis.  As everyone knows, Llanberis is a centre for Snowdon.  The railway starts here for the summit, and also the most popular track.  To the infirm or aged, the rack railway is a godsend, but why, oh why do so many physically fit people go by the railway?  I hate it, it has lowered the prestige of the finest mountain in Wales, and though it has given many a chance of seeing the beauty of high mountains, it has encouraged others to ascend the peak by an inferior route.  Then how many misguided folks climb to the summit on foot from Llanberis and regard it as a mountaineering feat when it is only a long and somewhat dreary walk?  Their energy could be better employed on a more worthy route.  I say to all who intend to ascend Eryri, to take the Capel Curig track, or Sir Watkins from Nant Gwynant, or the Snowdon Ranger route, and to those who are not afraid of a bit of real climbing, try the pathless screes to Cwm Glas and the easier pitches of Crib Goch  It is only off the beaten track that one sees the real grandeur of the mountains, and where ‘Natures heart beats strong amid the hills’.

We stayed not in Llanberis, but at the end of the town, and just as we left the road to go up to the waterfall, we met the Bolton quartet, and the whole nine of us went along together.  The river comes down in a leap of 30 ft or more into a rocky basin, being more of a very steep slide with a curious twist in the middle.  A fair volume of water was coming down owing to last nights rains.  It is named Ceunant Bach (Little Fall), which we did not see.  Our return to the bikes was made in perfect formation, two deep, to the rendering, by a musically inclined member of Mark’s Troupe, of “Toy Drum Major”.  As their direction was directly opposite to ours, we left them on the road, and once more headed for the Pass.  In a little while we saw a ‘Teas’ notice in a garden and a lawn with easy chairs, so yielding to the temptation we ordered lunch and scattered ourselves all over the lawn in the hot sunshine.  A party of Liverpudlians stopped, attracted by the notice, but we told them it was not much of a place, so they hied off.  We could forsee a shortage of food if they joined us.  As at Beddgelert they gave us the loaf to hack as we pleased, so we ordained Tom bread cutter, but after the first loaf he gave it up, as we were eating as fast as he was cutting, leaving him without.  The second loaf was cut by Joe, but he too relinquished the task, and I took it over, cutting a loaf into five slices, giving each a slice.  They charged me with cutting the thickest for myself, so as I had cut it wedge-shaped, I showed them the thin end, and they were satisfied.  After four loaves we were still unappeased, and my turn came to go for more (we took the fearful job in turns).  I got a shock when I was told there was nothing left, and when I informed the others they roared in laughter; Joe was doubled up in real pain, tears streamed down our cheeks, and we became helpless, but when a large cake came in we managed to shift it between our chuckles.  Fancy five of us eating up the stock of a catering house !

Our next move was to the ancient round tower that is all that is left of Dolbadarn Castle, the last home of Welsh Independence.  Situate on a little rocky knoll between Llyn Padarn and Peris, and commanding a view west down the lake to the country beyond and east up the Pass, it gives a true glimpse of Wales both wild and sublime.  Glyder Fawr on the north side of the lakes has been quarried into vast steps, the whole mountain being entirely despoiled.

Once more we were riding, the precipice on each side drawing closer, until just beyond Nant Peris, we were in the Pass proper.  Utter chaos reigns on each side of the road; from the high cliffs above, thousands of boulders have fallen, some breaking into tiny pieces, others perched on all kinds of seeming precarious positions, and others, great masses of rock have caused the road to be built round them.  The heat was merciless, making it easier for us to walk rather than ride even when the gradient was easy.  Near Pont-y-Cromlech a break appears in the line of cliffs on the right, behind which is the ridge of Crib Goch with the Snowdon summit peeping from behind.  I had heard that up there is Cwm Glas, the wildest hollow in Wales, so I suggested a scramble up the screes to the hollow.  So we abandoned the bikes and – well, elsewhere in this book will be found the story of that afternoon in Cwm Glas, and of the wonders unfurled to us. [The Narrow Way that leads to Paradise – Ed]

It was after 5pm when we were all united again, Billy and I climbed Llanberis Pass without stockings on, and the sight of our bare legs provoked every passer-by to merriment.  We did not care: it would have mattered nothing if all the Principality had come to laugh at us.  A treat awaited us at the summit.  All the Capel Curig side was in a choking mist, whilst the Llanberis side was perfectly clear and sunny, then as we descended to Pen-y-Gwryd, the peaks appeared one by one above the mist, sharp and clear at first, then faint and distant looking, an effect that lent them the appearance of being immensely high.  Again the mist covered everything, and then the sun, a faint ring, broke through above the ridge of Lliwedd.  When we reached Pen-y-Gwrd, the valley was flooded with brilliant sunshine, whilst a few yards higher, the mist cloaked everything.  Weird and wonderful is the only way to describe the continuous moving pictures caused by the mists on that switchback down to Capel Curig.  There were the Snowdonian pinnacles jutting from a white sea, here on the left a precipice reared into a snowy blanket, on the right a line of billows cut Moel Siabod in two, yet in front everything was as bright and clear as it ever could be.

We had a great tea at a place we knew at Pont Cyfyng, one mile south of Capel, and arranged to stay the night, so Tom, Billy and I decided to have a sprint as far as Nant Ffrancon, Joe and Fred being too lethargic.

Easter Tour 1926 Part 4009

 

We turned our wheels back to Capel Curig, continuing along the Holyhead Road.  Over Snowdonia the mists still clung almost, one might say, affectionately, and Siabod still retained its snowy girdle.  Our way now lay into that great glacial hollow between the rough old Glyders and the expansive Carneddau.  Twilight, a beautiful quiet twilight, broken only by the even hum of tyres on the glossy highway, or the steady hiss of the chains over the cogs, had settled on the mountains which lay before us in a frowning range of crags – not frowning, for the crags cannot frown at an hour like this.  This smooth road is excellently graded, so the five mile climb was child’s play, though we blinded it all because we wanted to get amongst the crags ere dark.  Two cyclists who were en route from Manchester to Bangor made interesting company, and, though riding roadsters, in long trousers etc, they had all the makings of “real” cyclists.  When at last we gained the proximity of Llyn Ogwen, it was almost dark.  We rode by the lake, which, at first, brightly streaked with rippling reflections, had now changed to deep gloom.  Left of us, the ragged crags of Trifan rose for over 2000 ft to the three points which loomed unreally overhead.  Ogwen Cottage, the climbers hostel came into view, we stopped, bade the Mancunians goodbye, and dumping the bikes, we joined the rickety track that leads to Cwm Idwal.  Boggy, stony and darksome was the way, so the half mile or so took much longer than in daylight, but at length we found ourselves beside the Lake of Darkness, Llyn Idwal.

Ringed by boulder-strewn screes and over-shadowed by great cliffs, there is an awesome grandeur about this spot that is very fascinating; its fascination and that of the towering crags around has lured many to climb – and many to death.  We sat down on the rocks by the waterside and watched the darkly rippling wavelets, the black, pinnacled mountains, and the sky, a deep velvet  pricked with a million points of light.  Oh, inspiration, impulse!; that urge to go forth and do something great, the thoughts that arise from the mind, when the urge of the mountains are upon one !  None of us spoke, yet we all spoke, in thought, but which we all understood and heard.  It was the tone by which the note of genius is struck, and finding us barren of the quality, it implanted itself upon our minds as an engraver in metal stamps his subject.  The Romance of it all, too !  The Romance of Idwal, and the tragedy that for ever darkened the waters of the Llyn, the romance of that terrible chasm in the cliffs ahead, where many men have climbed their last, and the romance of the Cymric battle for independence.  The very cliffs and boulders breathe it !

It was a long time before we tore ourselves away, and, still in deep reverie, stumbled up a low mound from where we looked down the Nant Ffrancon Pass, where the last bright streak of day was merging into night over Anglesey.  The great gap with its still silvery thread of a river, a vivid contrast to the blackness of the hollow, and the two pinpoints of light from a motorcar slowly ascending towards Ogwen, still live vividly in my mind.  Our way back to Ogwen Cottage was something of an adventure over bog and boulders in Stygian gloom, and when we regained the road we walked to Ogwen Bridge to listen to the water as it escaped from the lake and leaped down the crags ere it wandered down the ‘Vale of Beavers’ to the sea.  Then we remounted our bikes and slowly pottered back between hoary Trifan and the overshadowed depths of Llyn Ogwen, until the lake and the Pass and those wonderful old mountains were behind and the open moors in front, the darkness being broken here and there by the light of some farmhouse set below the mountains.  Ugh! It grew suddenly cold, icily cold, then we entered a clammy mist.  We had to feel our way slowly down to Capel Curig, the while a chilly breeze blew right through us.  At Capel the mist miraculously disappeared, and a backward glance revealed the white curtain hanging over a strip of country – we had passed through it.  Snowdonia was still as we had left it, and Siabod’s girdle had not moved at all; how tenacious it was !

Easter Tour 1926 Part 4010

 

Our first thought when we reached Bryn Afon (our place for the night) was to be against the fire; then supper.  Once again we were to sleep abroad, fully three minutes walk away, in a house of which opinions were soon formed, but a minute search of the bed and effects hardly failed to confirm our beliefs, and the night passed comfortably enough.

 

Easter Tour 1926 Part Two

Part Two:  The Two Voices

“Two voices are there, one is of the Sea

And one of the Mountains, each a mighty voice”.

As I awoke this morning, I lay in bed looking through the window at this green valley of Dyfi and its lines of guardian hills, such a contrast, I thought, to the bricks and mortar of the next street which falls to my lot through eleven twelfths of the year.  I arose early, before any of the others, and mounting my bike, took a leisurely spin down to Dinas Mawddwy.  In truth was I amidst my beloved Welsh mountains, though here they arise not in masses of rock, but in great earth-clods intersected with deep ravines that sometimes hide ravishing glens and cascades, and are sometimes black, treeless and as wild as could be imagined.  Romance and history too, breathes the air here: many a tale is told of the old-time terrors encountered during the crossing of the three inlet passes to Dinas, Bwlch-y-Fedwen from the east, Bwlch-y-Groes from the north, and Bwlch Oerddrus from the west, when the Red Robbers of Mawddwy haunted the mountains and laid waste to the hamlets and isolated farmsteads.  Now the terrors of these passes lie in the elements and gradients.  The air was fresh and sweet, and I pottered about in the ecstasy of one who has long days of untrammelled freedom before him.

When I returned I got news of a fresh terror abounding in the district.  When Tom and Fred had got up they had discovered a perfectly accoutred regiment of tiny beings at Swedish drill beneath the pillows.  Of course, being so thick-skinned, neither of them had been aware of the ravages of these latest “Red Banditti”.  So despite the view from the bedroom and the colossal breakfast we ate, I don’t think we shall ever feel inclined to give the Mallwyd tribe another chance.

At long last we were ready again, and sped down to Dinas Mawddwy, from where we entered a valley where the air was stifling, and where the gradient soon brought us down to shanks.  How we sweated on that long climb out of Cwm Cerist !; once again all superfluous clothing came off, and again Joe led the way, until (from a distance) he would pass for a clumsy chorus girl, Eton cropped.  Once we stopped to watch a sheep dog manoeuvring the sheep down to the farm, and safely driving every one down, without touching one.  At length we reached the head of Cwm Cerist, 1,178 ft, and stood at the entrance to Bwlch Oerddrus, the “Pass of the Cold Door”.  The view behind was of great lumps of earth rising one behind the other, and remarkably deep, narrow valleys separating each.  In wet seasons each ravine has its stream and each stream is a succession of waterfalls and cascades many of which are very fine.  Cold Door Pass was that morning more like Oven Door Pass, and a lengthy rest was made coupled with numerous excursions to the nearest stream.

On the Dogellau side a fresh view was laid before us.  Ahead was an area of tumbled mountain-land dominated by the broken and serried precipices of Cader Idris, the topmost point of which falls short by 73 feet of the coveted 3,000 mark; its most prominent abutments at this angle being Mynydd Moel, and a little northward, Mynydd-y-Gader, which shows a fine precipice in the ‘Giants Nose’.  North of the Giants Nose was the depression of the Mawddach between Dolgellau and Barmouth, beyond which extended the uncountable humps of Llawr Llech and the Ardudwy land, the principal heights being Diphwys, Y Llethr and the Merioneth Y-Gam.  The dull prevailing atmosphere did not spoil the distant visibility.

The descent to Cross Foxes was taken at hair raising speed over patches of stones that made one wince and punished the tyres severely.  Here we held a conference, for now our plans ended, and after much deliberation, turned our wheels uphill, and for two miles called for cold water bandages and perpetual shower baths, until we reached the tiny, weedy Llyn Bach.  ‘Twas said that one day Idris, the Giant, was juggling with chunks of rock, when three of them fell into this lake’, and to flavour the story three stones are pointed out in the water.  This gives rise to the old name, Llyn Tragraienyn which, I think, means “Lake of the Three Pebbles”.

The view that greeted us as we rounded the bend at the summit was magnificent.  On each were reared a line of cliffs, grey cliffs, serrated with a thousand gullies and chimneys down the left hand of which the road wormed its way like a long white snake.

“Splintered, contorted and riven

As though from the topmost crown

Some giant plougher his share had driven

In a hundred furrows clean down”.

The screes and precipices of Cader Idris on the right, Craig-y-Llam on the left, and away at the bottom of the Pass gleamed the waters of Tal-y-Llyn beneath the shadows of the Red Crag.  We stopped many times on the descent of Tal-y-Llyn Pass, for many new beauties were constantly coming into sight, and the condition of the road called for extra care.  The surface steadily grew worse until, when Minffordd was reached at the foot of the Pass, Tom punctured, an occurrence that the rest of us hailed with delight.  Across, a broiling stream cascaded down the mountainside to form a fine fall in an exquisite setting of van-coloured trees.  We sat watching a curlew wheeling and settling, we saw a cuckoo (the first?) but did not hear it, and later identified several herons.  Then we crashed over a stony surface to Tal-y-Llyn.  One continually hears this called Tal-y-Llyn Lake, a gross mistake, for, as it literally means ‘Point of the Lake’, what is the use of the extra word ‘lake’?  Obviously the name is a misfit, and I wonder what the real name is – surely it had a Cymric appellation with a definite meaning !  Now we got the view in the opposite direction (from the lake) with the road a slender thread running into the jaws of the Pass.  We had barely left the lake, and were careering downhill when my rear tyre, with a loud protest, expired, and an examination of the cover revealed a companion gash to the one sustained near Bala.  They are too near each other to be healthy for the tyre, but I made the best job I could of it whilst the rest went off to order lunch at Llanfihangel-y-Pennant.

Easter Tour 1926 Part 2002

 

I rode warily at first, almost fearfully, until I came to the smoother, grass-grown track which runs along the northern hillside, then as my fear wore off my speed increased until soon I was crashing along as carelessly as ever.  From where one looks down on the grey village of Abergynolwyn, the road bends to the right and runs, accompanied by the vivacious river Dyssini, through a lovely little pass which was ablaze with golden gorse and bracken.  This road, the ‘Discovery’ of Ben and I last July, is far superior to the main road for scenery, and is smoother, though green and gated.

I had a wash in the river, a cooling luxury not in any way spoiled by the towel, which had remained rolled up in my bag since Cynwyd and could hardly be expected to be dry, whilst my own soap, having been used up, had been supplemented by some unlatherable stuff we had ‘won’ at Mallwyd.  So to the cross-roads and along the forgotten lane that ends at Llanfihangel-y-Pennant.  The Temperance Hotel was still there, and what was more, lunch was waiting, so without delay we tucked in.  Succeeding relays were shifted with growing gusto until the poor housekeeper positively despaired of us.  A rumour went round that a lorry had been sent for fresh supplies !  Llanfihangel-y-Pennant has a population below the number of letters in the name, consists of a tiny church, a Temperance Hotel and about three cottages.  It is situated in a hollow at the western end of Cader Idris, and so far as vehicles are concerned, is only accessible from the narrow, steep, gated lane from Afon Dysinni.  That Easter Saturday it was a captivating little spot, intensely green, whilst the gardens were a riot of apple blossom and flowers, and its whole keynote was a wonderful peace and quietness.

Returning to the cross-roads (Pont Ystumaner), we rode by winding sunken lanes to the foot of the famous ‘Craig-yr-Aderyn’, Bird Rock, which, a huge mass of sheer rock, overhangs the road.  The name is true to a letter, for it is the haunt of hundreds of birds who nest in the almost inaccessible cracks and ledges.  This bold crag forms a landmark for miles around.  Then our way lay across the river and along the north side of the valley where we struck a good road and made a hot pace to Llanegryn.  From the fork roads, looking back, we got a magnificent view down the Dyssini valley to Bird Rock and Cader beyond.  Here again we conferred over our next move until Tom suggested climbing Snowdon on the morrow; we fell for that, and decided to make for a point within striking distance.  Came a hard struggle for two miles against a sea breeze until we suddenly came on the coast.  The Sea !  And what a sea it is here, too !

The ceaseless roar of the breakers on the shore, the gently-swelling, sun reflecting waters stretching as far as the eye could see to the dim horizon.  To the north, the Lleyn Peninsula was hidden in a low mist, from which the mountain peaks of western Carnarvon rose like peaked islands from the water, a dozen or more stretched out in a long line.  It was idyllic to sit upon the wall and watch the curling waves break in a perfect line of foam on the golden sands below, to watch the ‘white horses’ ride on the water and to feel the salt breeze beat on one’s face.  Then to potter along the cliffs through quaint fishing villages like Llangelynin and Llwyngwril.  It was just beyond here that we spotted a stream containing a good pool, so off came our footwear and our shirts, and once more we sought the cool water and latherless soap and wet towels.  From the road at this point the principal Shire-Carnarvon peaks were visible including Snowdon – who could mistake Snowdon ?  At Fairbourne, at the bar of the Mawddach, Billy continued our sequence of tyre trouble by puncturing, so while he repaired it, we raided a nearby fruitshop.  After that we dilly-dallied behind a herd of cows which crowded the road, escaping (us, not the cows!) to the railway station, from which we crossed the long bridge over the estuary.  If the railway company have planted an ugly viaduct across the Mawddach, they have provided one with a glorious viewpoint down this incomparable river.  At the tollgate we were asked if we had ridden on the path, and on admitting it, the keeper waxed furious, so we suggested going back and walking across, which did not seem to strike him as being particularly bright, so we left him at that.

Barmouth held us just long enough to get some postcards, then we pushed on, for it was 5pm and we had developed a first-class hunger.  I knew of a place at Dyffryn, five miles away, where they catered for hungers like we had.  ‘Pushed’ is hardly the word for it; they simply blinded, led by Billy and Tom (Billy avows he is a potterer), and I took things easily, anticipating that tea would be ready when I got there, but my plans fell through and I had to wait after all.  Dyffryn is sandwiched between Llanddwywe and Llanenddwyn, the three making one long straggling street on each side of the road.  An inherent feature in Welsh folks, young and old alike, is the way they stare at every passer-by, especially cyclists.  Probably, however, we were something worth staring at, though I can never tell whether it is in admiration or derision; shorts and alpacas, sleeves rolled up, a nice sunburn, and perpetual smiles are perhaps indicative of stares.

Easter Tour 1926 Part 2003 We had a long, long wait, during what time our hunger deepened to a great yearning, but when tea was ‘up’ it was worth waiting for.  Once again the good lady trooped to and fro with fresh supplies until we got ashamed of asking for more, and she said “I wish I had an appetite like yours !”.  It was making for 7pm when we remounted and pottered along the straggling street, poking pithy pars at all the lassies (and getting still more pithy replies).  Tom and Joe had returned to ‘fixed’ and demonstrated to us on the many hills the superiority of the cog, but on the many downs we left them far behind.  After the climb to Llanbedr, we got a surprise view of the sweeping bay of Harlech, and with the castle in dusky outline at the end, and the beautiful, darkening sea with its everlasting voice.  We lit our lamps at Harlech, then swept on, at what time Joe cast his saucer eyes and melted the heart of every flapper in the town (he said so, anyway !).  Came a long descent by a tree-shaded bank and on a terrible surface which we just had to crash over in the dark.

Five oil lamps of the ‘bobby dodger’ type give far more smoke than light.  The surface grew steadily worse to Eisingrug, our pace being reduced to 6 mph, but after that a magnificent surface lured us to higher speed, then dropped us again into a rubble-heap.  We nearly went wrong at the fork-roads beyond Talsarnau, taking the Ffestiniog turn, but scenting something wrong we soon regained the right road.  Joe said that I turned towards Ffestiniog instinctively – I think he is pointing to certain weekend jaunts and Jennie (of whom more elsewhere), but if that is so, he is mistaken.  After being rattled to bits crossing the embankment and bridge over the Dwyryd, (we had to pay for it in the shape of a toll), we rolled into Penrhyndeudraeth.  Here again at the cross-roads my bicycle swerved towards Ffestiniog, and I believe that it would have bounded over the intervening seven miles if I had let it !

While Billy and I sat waiting in Penrhyn etc, a youth passed us, staggering with a heavy parcel which I proffered to carry for a halfpenny.  He mustn’t have been a humorist for he burst into a torrent of oaths, both in English and Welsh.  He probably wanted to make sure that we understood him.  If ever I get wild I don’t think I shall resort to Welsh swear words – they aren’t half so expressive as English !  When Tom and Joe went blinding past it was the last we saw of them until Beddgelert (eight miles).  Billy and I pottered up the big hill across the Ffestiniog toy railway line, and along the flats of Traeth Mawr to Garreg, where we found that Fred was missing and had a long wait for him.  He had been troubled by a brake that went on alright but wouldn’t go off.  The night was pitch dark – made darker by the overshadowing mountains, and what with the surface, our factory-chimney lamps, and a drizzle that had set in, we had a right merry time.  The experience of this road at New Year stood me in good stead, so I knew what to expect in the way of looming cliffs and hairpin bends, whilst we never dreamed of meeting a motor vehicle.  Strange though it may seem, but it is a fact that except for just in Chester and Bala, we did not meet the average of one motor vehicle per mile, whilst from Llanwchllyn to Mallwyd on the previous day, a distance of 16 miles, we saw one solitary motor car.  This is a decisive answer to the parrot cry of over-crowded roads which oozes from our newspapers from time to time.

Well, the surface went better and the rain harder, and we came to Pont Aberglaslyn, that beauty spot which is too oft-quoted for me to mention here.  Besides it was left to our imagination, for we saw little enough in the intense darkness.  In the Pass the rain came down in torrents and soaked us, so our capes went on, then in a few moments we reached Beddgelert.  Tom and Joe were waiting – they had secured lodgings at Llewellyn’s cottage, so we were soon stabling the bikes.  We found Beddgelert crowded with cyclists and climbers, and during a walk round, met, for the third time, our Bolton friends.

Either they have learned sense at Llewellyn’s cottage or they had got wind of our coming, for at supper we got a massive loaf to cut as we pleased.  We had a good supper !  Then we saw the sight of our lives – the storm.

As we sat chatting, we heard the distant rolling of thunder coming nearer and saw intermittent flashes of lightening.  We had to sleep elsewhere, Tom and Fred in one house, and Joe, Billy and I in another, so the people came to lead us to our respective quarters.  One had a flashlamp, so we promptly dubbed her ‘Florence Nightingale’ (the Lady with the Lamp).  On our way a brilliant sheet of lightening came which lit the mountains south of us, defining the contours and showing a cloud-spread sky, followed by a deafening roar of thunder.  By a stroke of luck I won the toss for the single room which overlooked the two rivers and Beddgelert village.  The storm was veering round so as to face my window, and for a long time we stood watching it until it seemed to be dying away, and they left me.

I had just put the candle out and was adjusting the window when a blinding flash of lightening came, immediately followed by a loud rending sound as if some gigantic hand was enclosing in its grasp and crushing to matchwood, a great wooden building, so near as to seem in the next field.  In the momentary glare of the lightening I saw a line – a cluster of rugged peaks, every house in Beddgelert, the winding rivers, the fields, the trees, the roads, even the mountain tracks.  In that brief moment the most complete and vivid picture of Beddgelert had engraved itself indelibly on my mind.  I am not afraid of the elements – indeed I enjoy a thunderstorm, but that terrific flash which showed me the awful power of it, sent me reeling from the window.  Following it came a terrific explosion that deafened me and shook the house like a jelly.  People were afraid, I had heard them shouting and running about outside, and as for me, well I got in bed and waited for the next which I fully expected to bring the house down.  The worst was over, however, and gradually the thunder grew more distant until the oblivion of sleep hid the last of it from me.

 

A Renascense of Wonder – Easter Touring

Part one:    Over the Hills and Far Away

There were the inseparable five out, beside two out-and-homers and at Chester we met together at 9am.  Good Friday.  The holiday spirit was with us.  Bill’s infectious laugh rang out constantly, and Fred’s jokes came out every minute’ we pedalled down the Wrexham road with a speed that betokened of impatience to fling ourselves clear of modern highways and conventions.  What a perfect morning it was, too!; the sun was strong and all superfluous clothing was thrown off, whilst water was in constant demand, surely a herald of summer?  At Rossett we bade adieu to the highways, climbing out of the Vale of Gresford, and passing one or two outpost collieries at Cefn-y-Bedd, again ascending to Ffrith, where we decided to go through Nant-y-Ffrith instead of the Glaslyn road to Bwlch Gwyn.  This route from Rossett to Llandegla and Corwen is a pet route of ours, a little-known ‘back door’ into Wales, and for scenery, the superior way.  Need I say that our choice of Nant-y-Ffrith was justified?  Spring abounded in the dell; the hard, hot graft of hoisting the bikes over stiles and on the stony path was forgotten in the ecstasy of everything around.  Here a yellow carpet of primrose, the golden glory of gorse, the tender greenery of new leaves and bursting buds, the moss-grown rocks, and near the head of the valley one looked across a little field of clustered daffodils into the Ffrith, and stood on the tiny bridge that has made ‘incomparable’ Pont Aberglaslyn comparable.  Then the drive lined with the loveliest of fir and pine, the high village of Bwlch Gwyn, with its extensive views of the Cheshire plain, and the four miles of moorlands to the upland Vale of Llandegla, and not least to lunch at Ypento.  Before we left we ran into four Bolton CTC-ites, starting thus a strange sequence of meetings.

As we had no definite plans for our tour, we had now to decide on our next move, so to avoid the motors which invade the main roads in hordes at Easter, we joined the Corwen road.  At the Llangollen-Ruthin road the two out-and-homers left us, and on freewheels, we swooped along the switchback 10 miles at evens.  A few yards of the Holyhead road led us to quieter, if rougher ways.  As the heat was intense and we all felt the need for a wash, we joined the footpath leading from Cynwyd to the waterfall.  The fall, which only exists at rainy times, had run dry, but beneath it we found a deep pool of crystal water.  With our shirts, shoes and stockings stripped off, we paddled away to our heart’s content, and to see the linen decked on the rock, one would think that a washing day was in progress.  Ain’t that lovely? (as Billy was wont to exclaim).  Then back to Cynwyd, and a potter, punctuated by several stops for water, down the Vale of Edeyrnion, the beauty of which is very controversial, though for my part I regard it as a gem of the Dee.  From Llandrillo (where they supply ‘crystal water’ on tap) to Llandderfel by a steep bank of rock-slopes amongst which has grown a luxurious foliage, then along the south side of the Vale of Penllyn, another beautiful reach of the Dee, just where it flows out of Bala lake.  I sustained a rather bad gash in my rear tyre, which was a new one, but after all, the bigger punctures are, the easier they are found, and soon we were blithely proceeding again.  On Bala bridge Joe punctured.  What nicer place could one wish for a puncture (if it is someone else’s), than this point where the Dee leaves the lake, and you get a full-length view of the shimmering waters and its encircling hills, with just a touch of grandeur added by the rocky peak of Aron Mawddwy, standing like a saw-edge away to the west.  Billy and Tom and I went to order tea in Bala, discovering there a veritable mare’s nest of cyclists and motorists.  Our favourite place, the ‘Bull Bach’ was overcrowded, so we had to dig ourselves into another place.  Here began the oft-told tale of the trail of famine and desolation, began here the incessant cry for “more”, a cry that, I believe, echoes yet in the ears of many caterers.

Bala town held no charms for us; the sun was sinking, and we should have to put up a bit of hard-riding if we wanted to cross Bwlch-y-Groes before dark.  The Pass of the Cross is no place with a cycle on a moonless night.  The road that undulates along the north shore of Llyn Tegid is very pretty, affording fine views of the Western Berwyns across the lake, but it is where one turns away from the main road and runs through Llanwchllyn (‘Church at end of Lake’) that the best panorama is laid before one.  To the north a wild upland hollow leads into the zig-zag of mountain peaks dominated by bulky Arenig Fawr, and westward the bold contour of Rhinog and Rhobell are only exceeded by striking Aran Mawddwy which lifted its 2,970 ft saw-edge into a sky that was just changing from blue to grey.  Before us was an extraordinary jumble of rough highlands, neither mountain or moorland, and somewhere in there lay the road to Bwlch-y-Groes.  Our speed petered out ignominiously when grey-built Llanwchllyn was passed, and the first of the long (8 miles) series of walks and grinds uphill started.

As we mounted higher, the mountain views opened out until below us like a huge sheet of glass, lay Llyn Tegid, and around, the splendid profiles of a dozen rocky peaks.  For mile after mile we climbed, each mile harder than the last, gradually reducing us to the consistency of butter, and looking for water with the fervidness of a desert wanderer.  Clothing came off gradually to the very last point of decency – but still, we were the only people up there, so what mattered ?  Once when I was in front, a cyclist caught up to me, and we rode and walked together for some time.  He was one of the Manchester District Association CTC and told me that one of his friends had broken his [handle]bars a few miles back, so he was off for some new ones.  I thought it a rather futile mission.  The surface became consistent with the nature of the road, gates appeared, then above the last lone farm of Ty-Isaf, past the last belt of wind-swept trees, the road launched onto a precipice.  On the left rose a wall of crags, sheer from the road for a hundred feet or more, on the right the road crumbled over the edge of the cliff, and one might stand and look down on Ty-Isaf, and think what a skid on one of the loose stones would mean.  Night was coming on apace, the hush of twilight had fallen, across the valley, at the head of a wild cwm rose the dusky cliffs of Aran; in front the darkening moors rose in waves with the brown-white road just discernible here and there.  Awed by the silence brooding over all, and by the immense impression of height, we pushed on, tramping over one moorland ridge to be confronted by yet another, until the road tilted gently down.  The photograph below, taken by me on the Bwlch-y-Groes in 1956 shows three intrepid RSF members on the said track – now regrettably a tarmac road – namely Vic Ginger at the front, H H Willis behind and bringing up the rear my very good friend John Barrow, attending the RSF Easter Meet with me.  I should say that Vic Ginger, who lived in Wrexham, was a real character, and without his help the RSF would have struggled to erect a memorial stone to ‘Wayfarer’ on the well known Berwyn crossing ‘Over the Top’.  Please search the Vic Ginger correspondence on this website and you will see what I mean by a real character.

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The summit of Bwlch-y-Groes: seventeen hundred and ninety feet above sea level; and what of it?  It is the highest road pass in Wales, and feels the highest, too; one feels on the roof of the world, moorlands dark and dim, rolling wave upon wave into the dusk; here and there a crag, here and there a low precipice, and above all a great solitude – ‘And all the air a solemn stillness holds’ – Wild?  Yes, wild and magnificent, a reward beyond all measure for the eight mile of uphill toil.

Around the next bend I stopped again and let the others go on.  Here was a grass-grown road branching away into the dusky waves of moorland, a lone finger post pointing towards Lake Vrnwy, and, harsh note, a gaudy tin disc announced ‘Impracticable for Motors’.  So, my curiosity aroused, I made a mental vow that ere long I’ll go over that road.  In front the road descended at an alarming gradient down the mountainside, whilst across the valley a line of crags rose for hundreds of feet.  Shall I tell of the nerve-racking descent on freewheel with only a front calliper?  The ‘road’ drops about a thousand feet in a mile, but it has, on the whole, a surprisingly good surface, so by walking on the steepest pitches (1 in 4.5), I found it rideable.  The others, who were better braked, rode it all, though at the best of times it is a risky job.  A slip on the outside edge would send one to eternity.  Of course I am the ‘chicken’ when it comes to taking risks of any sort, and, therefore, I was last.  When I reached the bottom, where the road makes a fearful hairpin bend, there was all the party, with the exception of Fred, helping Joe to find a puncture.  So I went on to catch Fred and proceed with him to Dinas Mawddwy, where we could find diggings for the night, but lo!, round the next bend there was Fred seeking diligently for a puncture.  Although he avowed that he had heard it go down, we could find no perforation, so we put it back and pumped it up, and it troubled us no more.  The reason is not hard to find.  So hot had the rim become through hard braking, that the solution at the tube joints had softened and let the air out.  On cooling it had automatically sealed again.  The same thing occurred with Joe too, and is, in fact, by no means uncommon.

Easter Tour 1926 Part 1001

 

 

Fred and I carried on.  The night was dark, more so because we were in a deep valley, the stars were clouded over, we could not see the clouds but we felt them, we felt the hot, heavy atmosphere as of a brooding storm.  The road was fast and very narrow and winding, and though our flickering oil lamps were but poor light we sped along.  Who says one cannot see anything in the dark?  A bit of woodland, heavily scented, a farmstead or cottage looming up through the night, the dark, bulky mountains just visible on the skyline, a bridge, and the gurgling of a stream, perhaps the glimpse of a cataract in a lonely burn, and ever below, just in front, the yellow glimmer of the oil lamps.  The road surface would entice us to increase our speed, then a lighter patch, showing faintly would rush on us, we would flounder over a patch of stones – then smoothness, silence again.  Once the ring of a cycle bell was followed by a hurrying figure “Hallo, got the handlebars?” we queried.  “Yes, Good night”, and he was gone, heading for Bwlch-y-Groes.  From Llanymawddwy to Aber Cowarch the romantic run continued, then we walked a hill and hailed the lighted streets of Dinas Mawddwy just as heavy rain drops began to fall.

What a time we had then, searching for lodgings !  Nearly all Dinas Mawddwy had gone to a local Eisteddfodd, but patiently we worked the CTC places up, enlisting the aid of the local grocer and general store-keeper.  He was an enterprising chap, was the Dinas Mawddwy grocer, for he stipulated that in payment for his aid, we should just mention, “casual like”, that he had sent us.  The rest of the party came up then, and we set to, in a combined effort.  Where they had not gone to the Eisteddfodd, they were full up, though I fancy they had got the wire that we were coming, and had consequently decided to boycott us.  One old lady was positively terrified !  When we had been to every house in Dinas, it dawned on us that the time was getting late, so off we blinded to Mallwyd, the next village (2 miles) and incidentally the last for 12 miles (Machynlleth).  The listed cottage there, our ‘white hope’, struck us as being just the place, so, summoning to mind all the dodges and bluffs of our tribe, we put our fortunes to the touch.  It came off, and soon we were seated inside waiting for supper, five ravenous wolves, hidden by five saintly, innocent exteriors.

We only intended having a bite at supper time, but – well, one thing leads to another !  Two bedrooms accommodated us, viz: Tom and Fred, one room; Bill, Joe and I in the next, Bill occupying the ‘single’.  Why all the explanation ?  Well, when all had gone quiet, except for a resonant snore from Joe, Bill rose in mighty wrath and pointed to several blisters.  In sympathy I rose too, and soon the two of us were in full cry amid the bedclothes, singing “A Hunting We will Go!”  It was a long exciting chase, over the sheets, under the pillow and round the bedposts, and such was the fury of the hunt that dire threats came from the next room and Joe ceased his snoring to dreamily enquire the trouble.  After that we found peace, and with it came the oblivion of slumber.

 

The We.R.7 Cycling Club – The History

THE ‘WE ARE SEVEN’ CYCLING CLUB

As the doings of this aptly, though curiously named ‘Club’ figure pretty prominently in the following pages, it goes without saying that it shall have an introduction of some kind.  The name, to begin with, is wrong, for the occasions when the ‘We Are Seven’ are few and far between; the usual turn-out being four to six, although it has been one to nine.  Again, to speak in the legal sense, we are not a Club, but a party of cyclists who, through a similarity of ideas, and a happy blend of humour have been drawn together from the ranks of the greatest of all clubs, the CTC.  Our title which was happily and accidentally given on an occasion when we were seven, caught on, so to speak, and now it adorns the visitors book in many places as far apart as Devon and Scotland, Wales and Yorkshire, Northumberland and Warwick and the Lakes and Derbyshire.

The regular ‘Severners’ are five, the others being just ‘occasionals’, so I think it would be best if I introduced the five, bringing each one in as I met them.

It was during my first year with the CTC (1923), when two of us were touring at Easter in Wales, that I first met Tom.  Although I had been a bicycle rider for many years, this was only my second tour, and I was only just awakening to the real delights of cycling.  My bicycle was an old crock of a roadster, converted by means of dropped handlebars and fixed cog to something approaching the lightweight stage, my companions was, if that was possible, even more of a crock, and as tourists, both of us were in the chrysalis stage.  But we were full of enthusiasm, and that is a thing that will overcome many natural and mechanical barriers.  It had rained nearly all of the preceding two days, and the more it rained, the more enjoyable it became; which goes to prove that already we had found the cyclists’ spirit.  On the second night we got a particularly adventurous dose of mountain mist and rain on a road beneath Snowdon that none of us knew, a road that was all uphill and narrow with a wall at one side that seemed to overlook precipitous slopes, and a hillside on the other, chock full of boulders and looming cliffs, whilst now and then the road would bridge some rocky gully at the bottom of which some swollen torrent would roar.  But eventually we got down to Bettws-y-Coed, and stopped at a place that I know of.  And therein was Tom, a lone cyclist from Manchester, and a CTC ite.  The badge was our introduction; Tom joined us, taking our photographs and promising to send us some prints.  At Chester my companion left for home, and as Tom and I had an extra day, we pottered off to Whitchurch.  The next days run, home through the Cheshire lanes, sealed our friendship, we started to meet now and then, until it became every weekend.

It was the famous Meriden Memorial weekend, May, 1924, when on the customary rush home, Tom and I fell in with two merry, hard-riding Hindley cyclists, and rode with them for many a mile, forming an attachment that, found that day, was lost, picked up again, and continued until we became the We Are Seven CC.  Of which more anon.

For over two years Tom and I rode together, almost solely together, gradually widening our cycling activities, and varying them.  Every Sunday would see us exploring the labyrinth of Cheshire bylanes or the Derbyshire Dales, the north and east or making ambitious forays into Wales, every Sunday we became more and more enthusiastic; cycling gradually captured us entirely, making us worshippers of the Open Road and un-swerving devotees of cycling and the lightweight machine.

Then, in the winter of 1924/5 I met Joe at night school.  Joe was wild and untamed as a cyclist.  His first ride with me was an evening spin near home, and as far as speed was concerned, ‘he put it across me’.  The next was a Saturday afternoon ride in Cheshire.  Again he left me far behind.  Then he came on a Sunday run.

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We had to meet Tom at Rowsley Bridge near Bakewell at 11am.  It was a scorching day in May – or was it June?, 1925; Joe started at his usual ‘evens’ but I, who was getting wise to him, let him go, and pottered at my own sweet pace.  Before we met Tom, Joe was feeling the ride, and before the afternoon was out, he was ‘conked’.  But he came out again and again, and gradually discovered the wisdom of steady riding – or at least he improved a lot, though even yet he is noted for blinding and then going to sleep by the wayside.

Quite accidentally I fell in with Fred at a Cheshire tea place, and invited him to join my club run on the following Sunday.  He did so, then, with his pal Billy, joined the CTC.  I saw Fred now and then on a Club run, but it was not until the club went through the Allied Press works at Manchester in February, 1926, when Billy, Tom and Joe and I met each other, that we arranged anything between us.  We five merged together as a company concern, joined by two others from Hindley, Walter, Fred’s brother, and Norman.  For some weeks we all seven rode together, until the latter two became interested in the other sex, with the usual result.  So we were the original five, and I think that we shall ever remain ‘We Are Five’.  I hope so.  That is the story of the foundation of the merriest, breeziest, most enthusiastic troupe of cyclists extant, the ‘We Are Seven’ Cycling Club.

We have our own individual characteristics, of course, but the whole blend together in a way too rarely found in five different persons from three different towns.  To outline each would, of course, be a tedious and somewhat uninteresting thing to the reader, but I propose to survey the main peculiarities and leave the reader to find the rest out in the following pages.

Tom, like us all, is a philosopher so far as weather and trouble are concerned.  The motto ‘let it rain’ goes with the optimistic though oft discouraged ‘It ain’t goin’ to rain no more’, and many a time he has ‘gone through with it’ under weather conditions for hours on end, that would scare off any but the hardiest in a few minutes.  He calls himself a potterer, but you should hear what we sometimes call him !

Unconsciously enough, he once said that he goes fast downhill and doesn’t go slow up them !  Bylanes are his favourite roads, and his pet abhorations are caves and rocky mountains.  Tom is a super-tourist, and can claim about 4 tours and 20 weekend jaunts in 1926.

“Give it to Joe!”, was the catch-phrase made famous when Bolton Wanderers were in Cup winning mood in 1925; the phrase may be applied equally well to our Joe.  For garrulous, gastronomical reasons, Joe received the title ‘Blackberry Joe’ a long time ago, and the nickname has stuck to him ever since.  As for riding, a main road where he can blind and a grassy border where he can sleep constitute the idyllic.  His feeding is the wonder of us all – where does he put it ?  Once he was told by a feminine admirer that so far as looks are concerned, the rest of us haven’t a look in, and ever since he has not allowed us to forget it !  Though the lass who told him that had probably not seen me (?), there is no doubt that he exercises some influence on them, for his love affairs are many and abrupt, and his ‘googly’ eyes always receive an answer.  Joe shares Tom’s dislike of the rocks above and below the surface.

In ‘Billberry’ from Hindley near Wigan, you have a volume of character, most of it being beneath the surface.  The first impression one gains of him is that he is the cyclist all over, merry, healthy and strong.  He possess the infectious, irresistible laugh, he rarely gets ruffled, has the bluff Lancashire trait of being outspoken – and one cannot take exception to him, he is so frank.  Of course he is a great feeder, and a great rider too, though with Tom, he avows his attachment to a gentle potter (I’ve seen ‘em).  Bill is a leader.  Only him would have dared to climb the waterfall in Alum Pot first, under the impression that it had never been climbed before, and only he could have led the rest so well in the intricacies of the subterranean river course.  He tackles at once barriers that others would think twice before doing, and makes the way easy for those who follow.  He is a great thinker, too, is Billy; the appeals of Nature stir him to thoughts that are genius.

WeR7004      If you notice a quiet, inoffensive lad with us, that is Fred, and beware of him.  To him, the manoeuvring of words is a fine art brought about mostly at my expense.  At one moment he is suspiciously quiet, the next he seizes on a remark you may have made, and literally tears it to shreds, turning it into a joke at your expense.  His practical jokes are roaringly funny except for the victim.  Fred, in short provides two thirds of the humour on our runs, and if absent is perhaps the most missed of all of us.  I have never seen him in anything but a good temper, and he never tires, being probably the best rider among us.  Side pursuits of his are shooting, angling and nature study, whilst he likes rock climbing and cave-work.

For my part I am in a false position.  They call me Lord High Feeder or Glutton, but in reality I possess a lady-like appetite, and have ridden enormous distances on practically nothing.  Of course they have to have someone to pull to pieces, and I suppose I am most fitted for their ridicule.  If, for instance, I have a mild flirtation, they at once accuse me of being a heartless lady-killer, urge me to ‘do the right thing’ (whatever that may be !), and chip me unmercifully.  On the other hand, Joe, who is noted for it, gets off scot free.  My main aversion is the main road, and my best rides are always in the lanes or on rough tracks, whilst, except for cycling I can think of nothing better than underground exploration and mountain climbing.

So with that I will give over trying to explain what the ‘We Are Seven’ CC is, and, for fear of future trouble, I’ll not give any more characters, but leave it all to the tours and runs I hope to sketch in this book.

November 4, 1926

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In Festive Mood Part Three

John went further than that.  We went shopping that morning for whist prizes.  For the ladies, a lovely pair of silken garters, for the gents, a good tie – with a secret condition attached that must only be known after the event – that the winning gent must put the garters in their right place on the winning lady.  Chocolates, cigarettes and an ample supply of port wine completed our list.  As an extra attraction, J.T, our recruit must, according to the flexible rules of the ‘We.R.7’ undergo his initiation at the party, and it was the job of Tom and I, as ‘president’ and ‘secretary’ to make a speech for the occasion.  This we prepared.  These proceedings were kept a close secret from the unsuspecting ‘recruit’.

The snow of last night had changed to sleet, and a thaw had set in, so a second visit to Aira Force revealed a great change.  King Frost had lost his grip entirely, and the glittering, glassy beauty of yesterday had become a wild rush of water, through the far-flung spray of which little rainbows formed and broke in the weakling sun.

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After lunch we set off to pay a visit to Kepple Cove, a mountain tarn under the bulwarks of Helvellyn.  About two months before, on the same night as the disastrous Fleetwood flood, a cloudburst had descended on Helvellyn, and Kepple Cove Tarn, which had acted as a reservoir for the copper works a mile below, burst its dam with calamitous results to the little village.  Mine host had caught a goodly share of the stream which flooded the house to the ceiling of the first floor, and had left a sorry case for them to repair.  John insisted that the piano had been a heavy sufferer.  We followed the track of the deluge, noting the tremendous masses of rock that had been carried by the water.  The copper mines and works had not suffered, being too high, but we subjected them to a thorough investigation.  Kepple Cove tarn was but a tiny pool with stream issuing from a great rent in the dam; ahead the snow-covered mountain, rose up to Striding Edge, clear in a pale sky, and down the valley we could see Ullswater, and Place Fell in fine proportions, behind.

I was minded to try another way back along the far side of the valley, and receiving no support, ventured alone.  Difficulties cropped up; the snow was deep and hid pitfalls and boulders, whilst sometimes I could hear mountain becks running underneath the snow.  The sunset displayed colours of amazing beauty, and ere, saturated to the knees, we reached Glenridding, the sky had assumed a tender green, the like of which we had not seen before.

In Festive Mood004Back ‘home’ the stage was set, and already people were coming in.  Changing into more comfortable, drier, things, we were introduced to everyone in turn, and could not help but commend our hostesses on their choice.  The youthful flower of Patterdale, both sexes, was gathered, with a careful equilibrium between youth and maid…..

The whist drive was got under way.  Only once before had I taken part in a whist drive, a professional affair, and that time I gathered the personal opinions of many people, who seemed to regard me as the one who had spoiled their chances, and said so.  They had obviously come for the prize, not for the game, and as I was merely a novice, I clung to a single table with pathetic loneliness, my score card mounting laboriously upward in one’s and two’s, and I became sadder at each move. I had a roomful of enemies ere that whist drive ended, but I had one enemy supreme.  She was an oldish lady who had seen many a stern struggle in the world of whist, many an encounter with luckless partners, and she came to my table flushed with a brilliant first half.  As my partner she met her Waterloo.  As usual I made a false slip and received a terrible glare of wrath, but at the second slip (which lost us the game) she denounced me in withering tones, whereupon I retorted a biting sarcasm to the best of my ability.  The next game she played on the same table, and that game I enjoyed, because I won, and left her there, a living bundle of fury.

But this drive was a pleasant jaunt of twelve games played by twenty-four novices, and the first prize ladies was won by a winsome young woman (married).  The gents was taken by mine host, a man of forty years or so, but, as later proved, he was a ‘sport’, relinquishing his ‘condition’ to J.T.

Dinner was a gorgeous affair, worthy of a first-rate banquet, then, with headgear (paper) and spirits of approved party humour, we settled down to sing-songs, on the sing or forfeit system.  Some sang, some tried to sing, some paid a forfeit.  Of those who tried to sing it can be said that their attempts were honest and genuine, and unwittingly they provided to the general amusement.  Next came the time-honoured games which are far better played and not explained, though it seemed strange to me to see Tom, for instance, the quiet, hard-riding cyclist, disappear into the parlour with a village belle, and stay rather a long time…..  Tom, to whom girls were taboo, who would rather do a mid-winter century, or would drop dead with fright if forced to run the gauntlet of a party of girls.  There was a game that concluded with each man a girl on his knee, and by the worst stroke of fate, I was compelled to provide seating accommodation for the hostess’s maiden aunt, a straight-laced, Victorian lady of seventy summers at least.  My interest in that game ebbed away; during a period “in the dark”, she turned and murmured in a stage-whisper “I’m not married yet” !  Happily she went to bed early.  The young married woman was the liveliest present, and her husband entered into the spirit of the thing. In a game of forfeits, every man had a step on the stairs – winding stairs with excellent corners on the landings, and the girls were passed along from one to the other.  There was a stoppage in the shufflings, and a voice floated down in the dark: “Has my wife not got off that top step yet”?  A little later, the same voice: “Who is this”?..  (answer) “Your wife”.  To which:- “is that all – pass her on”!

These games are definitely ‘soft stuff’, the kind we usually spurn, but given the atmosphere of a party of young folks in the festive season, then they help in the night’s diversity, for they are innocent enough.

During the disposal of cakes and port-wine, the whist presents were handed out, and J.T, our recruit, was given the honour of fulfilling the whist conditions, which was done amid applause.  The speech was made regarding JT’s  initiation, he was made a ‘member’ of the ‘We.R.7’ and awarded the trophy – two bones, remnant of a past dining, which were then placed round his neck with due ceremony.  Ports were drunk, and to the tune of ‘For he’s a jolly good fellow’, Jack made his bow.

The night wore into morning, yet the fun grew apace.  Port wine was liberal, though its worst effect was no more than a sleepiness in the small hours.  Finally, the village boys, headed by a burly farm lad, gave us ‘Bill Barman and his Ullswater Hounds’, the local reply to ‘D’ye ken John Peel’, and with an Auld Lang Syne the party broke up at 6am.

We went to bed, which was really worse than useless, for we were up again in under three hours for our last breakfast.  As we prepared to take our leave some of last night’s party arrived, and photographs were taken outside, setting a permanent seal to the party that Patterdale will talk of for many years to come.

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The morning was gloomy; we were decidedly off colour for cycling, and a night frost had made Kirkstone Pass one long sheet of ice.  At Kendal we had lunch with the Braithwaites, where the Bolton District Association [of the CTC] had held its New Year festivities, and there we learned of the untimely death of our old clubmate ‘Albert’ Mather.  Poor old Albert – a record holder on the Liverpool-Edinburgh road – only a week ago he had been with us to a Christmas party at Bilberry’s in Hindley.  I had been on some good rides with him, and found him the real sort….  the news put a mournful conclusion to the best New Year we had upheld.

Fog was encountered from Milnthorpe, and as we drew into Lancashire, it went worse, so that we were glad of the rest tea time afforded us at Barton.  At Walton-le-Dale our party split up, and two hours later the nightmare journey ended, to go down in memory to be spoken of in the uncertain future by Lancastrians and the inhabitants of a lovely Lakeland valley.

Editors note:  I attach a picture of Albert Mather taken from Charlie’s photograph album, a picture taken shortly after be broke the Liverpool – Edinburgh record in September 1926.  On New Year’s Day, 1927, Albert died after a collision with a car near Preston. In Festive Mood005