Scottish Highlands Part 3

Part  3     At the Edge of the Cairngorms

 We were camped just outside Ecclefechan, in August 1931.  Under Mrs McCall’s hospitable roof we had lingered out the last remnant of daylight.  A cyclist from near Lanark had beguiled us long with deeply interesting talk of his own romantic Lowlands.  In darkness we had found a campsite in a field at the edge of the village.

During breakfast we consulted our pockets and pooled our resources.  I had come away from Mrs McCall’s with just a shilling; now Jo turned out twenty-seven shillings and fourpence, which did not seem such unbounded wealth, especially if the prospective remittance at Fort William did not materialise.  Jo had also brought a pound each of butter and bacon and a few dainties – the only ones we appeared likely to get.  To add to our embarrassment, we were charged two shillings for the site.  We departed far more angry at the over-charge than we were concerned at our poverty.  Lightly enough we faced the strong wind which promised us a difficult passage all day.

Trouble was lagging at our heels, and eleven miles from Beattock caught us up.  With a great sigh my rear tyre sank to the rim.  A great hole the size of my fist spelled ruination to it.  At a road-side counsel we gleaned the information that a garage lay two miles ahead, so off I went on Jo’s bicycle with the exchequer sitting already too lightly in my hip pocket.  I was out of luck; the sterile Scots Sabbath was on the place.  Returning to Jo, who sat patiently waiting beside the ruin, we debated afresh.  There was a sporting chance at Beattock, if only we could limp the distance.  Jo discovered a large piece of canvas in her kit, and this we stitched on the old cover, mended the puncture and slowly proceeded.  The bulge was painfully apparent ere we had gone far.  At length we reached a tiny cycle shop with the very tyre we required in the window, but the people refused to serve us.  It was the Sabbath; the Sabbath must not be broken.  No matter how desperate the straits, how urgent the need, your true Scot will not disturb his delicate sense of religion, nor endanger his soul by thought or deed.  At Beattock a garage-man had less compunction.  Ten minutes later we were jovially pushing forward up the windy glen of the Elvan Water, a new tyre below me, and in pocket only eighteen shillings and ninepence separating us from a tinker’s existence.

A slow dour fight over the water-shed and through Abingdon led us into Clydesdale, and as evening approached, Lanark, my campsite of last night, was regained.  Soon after Lanark, Jo fell lame with knee trouble, a legacy of two day’s struggle against long odds.  A valiant attempt to keep up the pace petered out, stabbing knives seemed to tear at one knee, and it soon became clear that she could travel little farther and that little, slowly.  To add to this we ran into a black part of Lanark industrialism, coal, iron and brickworks.  It was irritating country inasmuch as we were often led into believing we had made open country by a growing spaciousness of fields and estates, when the climbing of a ridge would reveal a skyline of pits and chimneys.  The people themselves were no more than half savage, shouting suggestive remarks and laughing offensively at Jo’s shorts.  A girl may walk through the Wigan coal-field clad in the scantiest summer clothes, but there is no embarrassment caused, but here the men hailed us, the women screamed abuse, and the children set up catcalls.  The limit was reached when they began to throw sticks and stones.  Meanwhile Jo’s knee became almost unbearable.  At a point near Newmains, where a single colliery stands amid green fields, we found a farm where the people were very kindly, allowing us a pitch where-ever we wished, and afterwards engaging us in converse for a long time.

Monday morning was nothing to enthuse about.  We awoke to rain, a raging wind dead east, and as cold as any February day.  The rain stopped later, but black galleons of cloud raced in succession across the bare width of sky, promising nothing but the likelihood of bad weather.  There was not the shadow of a mountain nor the green livery of a wood to relieve the low horizon – drenched ricks of hay, a thin, wind-beaten hedge – that was all.  Jo’s knee was stiff and an early recurrence of the pain was feared.  The scenery alternated between colliery and green fields, and once, on the edge of a big town – Airdrie – we crossed the harsh highway between Glasgow and Edinburgh.  Riding carefully, walking the long hills that began to appear, the stiffness gradually wore out of Jo’s knee, and in ten miles she was riding in fair comfort.  The threat of rain passed off, and with it the brutality out of the wind, leaving a naggy headwind with a glorious broken sky.  Our hearts were lifted at a view of the broad Vale of Forth with Stirling crowded below, and behind the graceful Ochil hills.  Far away to the west the Highlands stood, those fine Trossachs peaks, Ben Ledi, Ben Vorlich, Ben Venue, barely scraped by the layered clouds – a thrilling gateway to the wild Beyond.

We reached St. Ninians and had to go to Bannockburn, to the stone where the Bruce raised the standard of a united Scotland, there sending the English Henry flying back.  There is a high flagstaff with a standard unchallenged, a little hut at one side where picture postcards are sold, and a man tells the tale of that gruesome affair – for a consideration.  We saw him eye us over, and so, five hundred and seventeen years later, came a second English flight!

I like old, historic places like Stirling, because they make me dream on the uneasy past, and I become thankful that I live in modern times when the chances of torture and sudden death lie only along the highway.  In Jo and I there are no illusions about the ‘good old days’.  Heroics are fine – on paper, read in a snug armchair; we are all for the present when one’s opinions are only silently suppressed, one’s politics, blood red though they be, are ignored, and religion need not interfere with one’s love of wholesome worldly pleasures.  The most a man may lose with his tongue is his job, and that needn’t cause bitter tears to flow.  Stirling was the distributing centre for raiding parties as well as the bone of contention ‘twixt Highland and Lowland.  The gibbets never lacked their gruesome, swinging loads; the sanitary arrangements were left to themselves in the streets; the common folk were under the heel of a feudal system that enslaved them mind and body to the whim of the Laird.  Stirling was building itself up in blood and misery for the days when curious tourists could pry around and pay credulous coin to hear history moulded to suit their delicate senses.

Jo went shopping.  The peculiar feminine delight of alternating from shop to shop, pausing in uncertain contemplation of half a dozen variations of one desirable delicacy is beyond my accounting.  I should have rushed into the first shop and concluded the business in a couple of minutes.  I am told that all this philandering about is for motives of economy, but when I recalled the purchase of four twopenny  postcards for tenpence halfpenny I was told I did not understand.  I don’t.

Bridge of Allan was dull.  With a mind full of Banks of Allan Water and Miller’s Lovely Daughter, with whom I had sorrowed for many a long year, my dream was found to be shattered.  Most fond illusions break thus.

This is the land of battlefields.  There was Bannockburn, and Stirling Brig, where Wallace defeated the English in 1297, and a little way along the Perth road we passed close by Sheriffmuir where the Earl of Mar met Argyle in the rising of 1715.  There was a battle, a sort of comic opera engagement, in which both sides got badly scarred.  Some wit has improved the occasion with rhyme:

‘Some say that we wan,

Some say that they wan,

Some say that non wan at a’ man,

But one thing is sure,

At Sheriffmuir

A battle there was that was fought man’

At Gleneagles, nearer to Perth, international battles of golf are fought nowadays.  The going was hard to Perth, a nagging wind and rolling road, with ever glimpses of the blue Highlands westwards.  At the summit of a final ridge we overlooked the winding kinks of the River Tay, Perth below, and the tidal sands eastward towards Dundee.

We saw little of the clean, nicely built town.  A small shop supplied our stores; a supper bar lined us for a further few miles, which was the Blairgowrie road, first by the broad Tay on whose surface floated gaily a high proportion of Perth’s younger populace.  The sun was setting; behind the mountains the colours were sprayed from deep red through infinite shadings to gold, and into the pale blue of a clear sky.  The mountains were in indigo contour.  The wind had fallen.

Jo’s knee began to crook again, and so, eight miles out of Perth a turfy hollow by a stream screened from the chilly night winds of these northern latitudes attracted our attention.  There we pitched.  There was a wholesome smell above the primus stoves at supper time.  Stewed plums and custard; coffee and rolls.  Conversation.

The Lairig Ghru was now a practical impossibility, for even now we should have been camping in the jaws of the pass, at least forty-five miles further on, with the highest road in Britain between.  Obviously something else would have to be planned, shorter, less arduous.  In any case Jo’s knee would not stand the tremendous strain of hours of struggling across the debris and scree of that high remote pass, which splits the heart of the great Cairngorms.  We turned in, deciding to let the morrow take care of itself.

We had decided to re-model our mode and, by getting away early, camp earlier in the evening, enjoying a more leisured sunset hour.  At 6am we startled the sleepy cattle by the stream, and loud in brief ablutions, hurried towards breakfast.

Very shortly we came to Bridge of Isla where the road runs beneath a great hedge of beech trees, a hundred feet high, a third of a mile long, and planted in 1745, a memorable planting in such a time of uprooting.  Approaching Blairgowrie we were struck by the number of encampments, tinker, bastard gypsy, and individual tents and caravans.  Raspberries are cultivated extensively here, and we saw many at work among the rows of succulent berries.  At a stream men stood bare-legged, scrubbing barrels out.  The neat little town of Blairgowrie gave us entrance to the glen of Ardle Water.  The sun shone, a gentle zephyr replaced the high wind, and all the promise was of a golden day.  Jo’s quick eyes spotted wild raspberries growing along the hedges much as our English blackberries do.  For an hour we worked along a hundred yards of hedge, in our enthusiasm crossing a derelict fence, to berries that never grew wild.  With only five shillings left, we packed our panniers with the nucleus of a good meal.  Pink jelly oozed through the bags, our hands were stained for days, and when, a little higher up the glen Jo complained of tummy ache, I learned why we had collected so many berries for one meal.

The scenery became grander as the road climbed higher, with a wooded ravine below and glimpses of rapid waters.  At Bridge of Cally in six miles the Ardle stream bent westwards with the Pitlochry road, and we entered Glen Shee, a barren depression along which the river chattered on its stony course.  By the hamlet of Persie we had riverside lunch, nineteen miles behind us, thanks to our three pounds of raspberries steadily dripping themselves away.  With the typical uncertainty of the Highland climate there came a gust of wind, grey mists blew over the peaks and crept down the glen, gradually obliterating the landscape.  A touring cyclist, dawdling along, joined us in a hurried dive into capes, and with us struggled along the tilted road.  The rain passed, but the mist held fast, hiding the high peaks about us.  Our new companion, a Londoner with three weeks ahead of him, a last fling ere he got married, he confided, caused heartaches to my partner who was silent for some time in rapt visualisation of what we could do with such a holiday.  With unseen mountains edging closer, we passed the Spittal of Glenshee at 1,118ft, climbed higher and harder into a cold northerly wind, mile upon mile until, in a final upward convulsion round the Devils Elbow we reached the summit of Cairnwell pass.  This is the highest main road in Britain, 2,200ft.  For twenty miles we had been climbing, for twenty miles the scene had been changing from the green beauty of the glens to the grey mists swirling over brown and black wilds.

On Cairnwell summit the northerly wind screamed in our faces and on it came sleet, cold as a winter gale.  The vaporous abyss of Glen Clunie yawned below, yet in spite of the fierce down-grade we pedalled hard to hold our own.  For a few brief moments the mists broke, and far ahead, through the ragged frame, we caught a glimpse of great mountains and the white streak of a snow-filled Cairngorm corrie.  The vision of moments, the treasured memory of years!

The teeth chattered with genuine cold all the way down the wide desolation of Glen Clunie.  There is an old Wade bridge by the new road, spanning a river in spate; lower down Clunie Castle stood in a thin belt of trees like a tall man half naked.  The rain ceased, the wind died away, the road became dry, and we entered Braemar in the Dee valley, ‘Royal Deeside’ some say.

Scottish Holidays007           Braemar is the kind of place that breeds snobbery; amongst very expensive things in very select shops are a few very cheap things like the magnificent viewcards at a penny each.  After the purchase of our humble necessities we dashed our ship of economy upon that stall, until only a wreck was left to us.  There was a magnificent limousine outside a hotel.  Presently there emerged from the place a vast bundle of furs which moved with infinite poise infinitely slowly to the waiting car. A very servile chauffeur arranged a luxurious pile of cushions and humbly placed my lady amidst them.

This opulent parasite must have become aware of our contemptuous grin for we were given a haughty stare calculated to freeze us.  The stare went wrong; we had to laugh at her.  Jo suggested we kidnap her and force her to cross the Cairngorms afoot with us, sharing for food the remains of the raspberries which still shed their lifeblood steadily.  She would have reached the Great Glen a better woman for it.

The Lairig Ghru was out of the question of course, and except for turning back, only one practical course remained if we would make for Fort William – a long trek through the moors of Geldie Burn and Glen Feshie to Kingussie.  We calculated the distance to be about thirty-three miles of which only twelve or so are rideable, leaving a central distance of twenty-one miles to walk, scramble, get over as best we could.  Too much of a conjecture for our London friend who said goodbye and fled down the Dee valley in search of the luxuries of life.  We had our kit, the time was 5pm, and we had laid in stores for the night – iron rations for two nights if need be.  There were two shillings left.  A hundred miles away, at Fort William, was the possibility of a remittance.  Failing that, well, we would have nearly four hundred miles to go……  And both of us were quite unconcerned.

To the Linn of Dee our road ran through thin belts of pine amongst which the timid deer flitted nervously; across the river the mists brushed the pine-tops of Glen Quoich.  In spate, the Linn of Dee was almost terrifying, boiling under the bridge and flinging its white foam into a sheer sided chasm.  Thereafter the bridle road emerged into the wide moorland basin where the Tilt and the Geldie Burn join the peaty Dee.  White bridge crosses the Dee in a setting of austere wildness, magnetic to the mountain lover.  At this point the narrow defile of Glen Dee comes down from the heart of Cairngorm – the Lairig Ghru itself stretched into the twilight mists.  Jo was affected; I was saddened.  A thought cherished for years, three attempts, and twice so near – she found it very hard to leave – for how many years?

In the gathering darkness the road was not worth riding.  We passed a ruined clachan, grimly set above the chattering Geldie.  The track was interminable, running level in a monotonous wilderness.  Grey tongues of mist curled; nights shadows hung overhead, hesitating to fall; and the light mountain rain fell steadily.  We sought a camping place but bog, rock, and gullies where peaty water spouted was all we could find.

Desperately weary, we reached a footbridge over the stony burn, and there, at 1,650ft we found enough hummocky grass to pitch our tents.  At midnight there was still grey light, but in half an hour, when we turned in, black night had closed and even the noisy stream half a yard away was invisible

Scottish Highlands Part 2

But the next morning I was literally chased away by clouds of ferocious midges.  I became a fugitive as surely as were I a fleeing Jacobite of the unruly ’45.  The weather too, had changed with the shifting of the wind from east to south-west, bringing a mist to the mountains and a stifling dampness to the glens.

The road down the western side of Loch Fyne was in a shocking condition.  Repairs were in hand – the beginnings of a movement for better roads that has since become widespread.  Beauty, however, was not lacking, nor romance either, where Dundarave, the ‘Castle of the Two Oars’, on its rocky point, made a picturesque feudal relic of the departed MacNeills, and again where the road made a crook round Loch Shira, and the damp mists rolled up Shira Glen, a home of the dubious MacGregor, Rob Roy – on the rare occasions when he was at home.  And picturesque Inveraray, tiny capital of huge Argyll, where once the Campbells dispensed a kind of irregular justice, vacillating betwixt the English George and the Scottish Jamie or Charlie.  The justice of the Campbell Court was least in doubt when a Campbell happened to be right.  Now that those rough clan days are no more than an oft-told tale, Inveraray has rebuilt itself, taken on a quaint odour mingling with the powerful odour of its staple industry, the fishing, and yet keeps the consciousness of its own lovely surrounds as a bait for the siller [sic] of the tourist.

Below Inveraray, in the brackish growth of the Lochside, six or seven cannons pointed useless muzzles toward the sea.  Rusted, with fangs of them happily drawn, they were still a grim reminder of the panic days beginning 1714.  I can’t recall how many miles I rode down to Lochgilphead, mostly by the shore, once inland over a lovely little glen, and once round an elbow of the inlet called Lochgair.  Again, I lunched on a grassy mound by Otter Ferry, with a superb view seaward down the widening waters.  Another great sweep round Loch Gilp brought me to Lochgilphead where I ought to have bought supplies, but didn’t, and went on, with not a crust, along the Oban road, beside the Crinan Canal which makes the great arm of Kintyre into an island.  In six miles I turned off to the hamlet of Kilmichael where my road at once became grass-grown and climbed steadily into a mountain region cradling little Loch Leathan.  The hills were half out of their mists, and the sun shone at intervals, so that there was beguiling beauty there, heightened by wandering Highland cattle.  There was a startling likeness to the framed prints of Highland scenes common on our English walls.

The track dwindled, became a mere path by a cascading burn, with a loch called Ederline gleaming through trees, and just as I was wondering if my map-reading had gone awry, and to what wild adventure I was rushing, I came to a road – and Loch Awe.

When I think to describe the twenty-four miles I covered by the shore of Loch Awe, my head becomes bewildered and nothing clear comes from it, but such a succession of pictures as to take me back to a delightful mental ramble all along that loveable stretch of white road.  I hesitate at the writing, as I hesitated so many times at Fincharn Castle, Innis Channel, a dozen surprises, until my inattention to the very bad road led to a tyre burst.  In the mending of it I discovered a very real hunger, with empty saddlebag and never a shop in miles.  I climbed a long hill behind a man who wore the kilt of his clan and carried a scythe on his shoulder.  On the summit the head of Loch Awe lay below, a fine assembly of peaks, close on a dozen over 3,000ft, dominated by Ben Cruachan, whose head was buried in a single white cloud.  I forgot the hunger tumbling down to Cladich fork-road, where better sense prevailed only after a mental struggle.  The forward road would have led me into the heart of Cruachan, but I must needs turn southwards towards a rendezvous with Jo.  I climbed hard, feeling the warning knocks of hunger all the way.  The descent that followed wound down a moorland pass with the young river Aray growing in sound, down into Glen Aray and bewitching woodlands which reached magnificence in the grounds of Inveraray Castle. Never had I seen fir and pine of such girth, such spreading stateliness.

It was past eight – seven hours since my last meal – when I reached Inverarary again, and all the shops were closed.  There are side doors to every shop, however, so I went nothing short in the packing.  But I was past my tea, unable to eat, though not feeling too strong.  Back round the head of Loch Fyne, by Dundarave at sunset to Cairndow, this time continuing along the lochside, steadily climbing, steadily loosing the power in my legs.  At the summit I was nigh completely whacked, with nine hours and sixty-five Highland miles behind my lunch at Otter Ferry.

Night was upon me.  The darkening silver of Loch Fyne placidly fading into distance below; the shadowy outline of the Loch Awe giants barely visible.

I turned into a rift in the hills and descended fiercely at a careless speed, heedless of the awful surface, heedless of anything.  Hell’s Glen.

Hell’s Glen is a savage place of rock and crag and a wild desolation about it.  I pitched my tent hurriedly by a roaring burn that came in a leap from a tottering corrie.  A ledge of rocky earth tilted steeply was my bed.  During supper a little wind grew into half a gale that fitfully whined and howled up the glen, shaking the little tent like a leaf.  What a place!  Beneath a gash in the cliffs; a rushing stream below, desolation without a tree or habitation; the howling wind buffeting and mingling with the chatter of water.  A place that might grip the imagination and let that imagination people it with other-worldly things.  But I was tired and went to sleep.

A very strong westerly wind brushed the mists across the cliffs of Hell’s Glen.  The tortuous road bumped me down its defile, awe-inspiring in the daylight, utterly deserted, to its confluence with the steep glen that runs down to Lochgoilhead.  Here the road made a double hairpin through a wood scene of great beauty.  The road up Glen Goil was no better in surface, a walk uphill for the most of an hour, if one includes the many stops to look back towards the woods and uprearing crags.  Then I was suddenly back at the ‘Rest and Be Thankful’ stone, with a hundred mile circuit behind that was hard to leave.

By Loch Long I lunched while the Cobbler peak was pushing its splintered head through the mist.  There was sunshine all the way down the lakeside; a summit view down the narrow fiord before I branched to Garelochhead.  The ‘promenade road’, seven miles along Garelochside to Helensburgh was not striking, except in the large numbers of steamers anchored, silent and deserted in this backwater of the Clyde – out of a job like me.  Now the other bank of the Clyde by Dumbarton to Erskine Ferry again.

There is a ‘recommended’ route to Carlisle avoiding Glasgow, by way of Paisley, Clarkston, East Kilbride and Strathaven, a string of small places, and in following the route I went wrong, coming to my senses in a village on a plateau called Eaglesham, so I provisioned for the night and plunged into a network of lanes which got me to Strathaven at dusk, a ‘down-in-the-dale’ sort of place liberally plastered with signs ‘Carlisle 79’, which reminded me that England was only seventy miles away, and the Highlands definitely behind.  Anyway, with only four shillings to my credit I could not have stayed on much longer.  Tomorrow’s rendezvous with Jo was only fifty miles away, so I should have camped at the first opportunity had not a local cyclist whirled me away with ready talk on his lips and braggatio in his tone.  Amused, a little interested, I rode with him through half a dozen grimy Lanark coalfield villages, on another blind crazy way, while darkness came with neither in possession of a lamp.  I rebelled at last in the glen of the infant Clyde, just below Lanark town, where lay nothing but fruit farms and occasional collieries, said good-night, and was given a campsite at the nearest farm.

These estates are very big, and their main products are peas, beans, black-berries and raspberries, cultivated in the open, whilst in huge glass-houses tomatoes are grown on the grand scale.  The farmer employs three or four permanent men, and in the picking season augments his labour with youths and girls recruited at low wage-rates from the slums of Glasgow and its satellites.  At this farm were about twelve boys and eight girls, each sex housed in separate army huts, spacious enough but very dirty.  A ragged crew, treated, it seemed, not as human beings, but as some inferior type of animal; this treatment being reflected in the foul language freely used by the females.  The boys came to talk to me, and I was interested in their outlook and work, but felt very uncomfortable as they persisted in a tone of humiliation and ‘respect’.  This to an unemployed foundry-man!

Another change took place in the weather that night.  Much rain fell, while the wind veered, blowing hard from the north-east.  My comfortable breakfast was jarred by the thought of Jo, who even then must have been fighting the wind for hours, on a hilly road, 128 miles long.  What rare pluck, what enthusiasm, to start in the small hours and face the wind and rain, the better to get a start with me!  Few men would do it, let alone a woman.

With a large, complimentary bag of tomatoes, I turned into Lanark.  The wind was behind; the fine, sweeping highway under the shadow of Tinto was a ribbon of ease.  A lashing storm of rain was my first since last Saturday.  Beattock Summit was child’s play, and soon after noon I found myself within a few miles of Beattock.  A lane up the hillside called Greenall Stairs crossed a fine section of limestone scenery  to the Devil’s Beef Tub on the Edinburgh road.  This deep fissure or pit is a single example of the Yorkshire Buttertubs.  There the wind blew fierce and cold, but put a fine effect of cloud and sun sweeping over the moorland peaks towards St Mary’s Loch.  I trysted for Jo at the very same spot in Moffat where I had checked and fed our Albert Mather the day he broke the Liverpool-Edinburgh record all but five years before.

Jo was an hour overdue; I rode out to meet her, but met instead her sister and beau loaded on a motor-cycle camping trip.  Jo was a long, long way behind, struggling against the wind.  I swept the 18 miles south to Ecclefechan, waited there until 7pm then went to Mrs McCall’s.  Anyone in northern cycling circles will know Mrs McCall.  In her cottage is a vast table groaning with fare.  Her variety of Scotch cakes and pasties is endless, and the price is absurdly low.  A favourite rendezvous for Glasgow lads, but just a bit too far from Aberdeen without a meal en-route!  It is said that the roads from Aberdeen to Ecclefechan are strewn with cyclists fallen by the wayside.

Thither came Jo, at last, utterly tired.

 

 

Scottish Highlands Part 1

Post:  This is Charlie’s personal account of 17 days in the Highlands.  In those days one’s annual holiday only extended to one week, which was all his beloved, Jo, was entitled to have.  As Charlie was unemployed and on the Dole, he had a week to try out Scotland on his own, returning to Ecclefechan to meet up with her in the evening of his second Saturday, before returning to the Highlands.  Charlie and his readers (you and I) benefited from the discretion of the Trade Union official in Bolton who took Charlie aside – earlier in the year – and explained that with a ‘Vacant Card’ he could travel the country and sign on at the local unemployment exchanges once a week on the basis that he was looking for work!  And it worked !

And a little known fact, never before revealed by me, earlier in that year of 1931 Charlie undertook a three day tour of Lincolnshire on his brother’s motorcycle.  I think Charlie must have been encouraged or nagged to pass a motor bike test (if indeed he needed a licence in those days) because his father had a small motorbike. He certainly had a motorbike licence when I knew him because I persuaded Charlie to buy a three wheel Reliant van, (which could be driven on a motorbike licence provided the reversing gear was blanked off) when he was in his late fifties and commuting to Trafford Park and back every day to work was becoming a chore too far.  Why he went to Lincolnshire we will never know, possibly job seeking.              Part  1      Days in the Highlands

 

 

Scottish Holidays001 In the many weathers year of 1931 my whole position was more than usually precarious.  I was on the register as “totally unemployed”, and along with most of my fellows I made some efforts to find work.  That is, until I became convinced that seeking a job at that period was a waste of time.  By that time a belated Spring had made her appearance full of the bright blush of her apologies.  With my camping kit and a little ingenious arranging I turned the whole summer into a series of delightful, prolonged weekends, which made unemployment a poem of freedom and pleasure.  I had no false sense of “shame”, and little worry; I was physically and mentally fit, ready for any job that might be offered, and here was a chance to get something out of life.  Never was time wasted.

But I became ambitious to extend my activities.  The snag was my inevitable appearance twice weekly at the Labour Exchange.  My trade union secretary paved the way.  For the purpose of “seeking work” in other districts a ‘Vacant Card’, to be stamped at the Exchanges on my route, was forthcoming, and as a prelude, I spent a week in the North-East.  This was followed by twelve days in the Home Counties, then, as Jo’s holidays approached we fell to discussing ways and means of carrying my ‘search for work’ into Scotland.  The upshot was that I arranged to start a week earlier and meet secretly across the border, on the first day of Jo’s holiday.

Leaning over bridges is a pleasant sport of mine on hot days.  Great measures of ease, and contemplation that leads to all sorts of thought fall to one’s mind in this way.  The Devils Bridge at Kirkby Lonsdale accommodated me in one of its alcoves.  Sunday tea-time; Jo had turned homeward after we had spent a sultry weekend at Kingsdale, and I had become slave to my own fancy for a week.  Time passed, gallons of swift water rushed beneath the grey arches, other alcoves emptied, filled, emptied again.  Figments from my wandering mind swirled into vision, were borne swiftly away on the surface, were replaced at once.  Time flies in this way.  Besides, I was living cheaply.  I was saving money.  This was quite in accordance, for in my pocket lightly rested all the money I had in the world……… one pound six shillings and fourpence.

I tore myself away from my niche regretfully, for I was leaving behind a sound source of economy.

On that splendid evening I made my way over Shap summit and on the branch road to Orton found a green patch and a clear spring, the first essentials of a camp-site.  There I had wandered by chance; chance would have to lead me to other places!

A broiling sun beat down the whole of the next day.  Sometime during the afternoon I spent a period scrubbing tar off hopeless hands and cursing the Dumfries County Council industriously.  Why must tar be sprayed only during hot weather – why must I have a puncture at the crucial moment!

From Dumfries a lovely road climbs through rich country into the hills, historic ground of the ‘Killing Times’.  Almost every local churchyard has its Covenanters graves, usually with some harrowing description or crude rhyme chiselled on the stones.  Allowing for the rough methods of that period, these iron-bound Puritans got little worse than they deserved.  Their accounts of their hounding from place to place make thrilling reading, no less harsh were the troops of “Geordie” than they had been, ruling from kirk and castle, with bible and sword, the bible, as always, providing the best of excuses for the wielding of the sword.  One wonders that human beings can be so hard in such a land of beauty, as that glen from Dunscore to Moniaive, the bubbling Cairn-water always at hand.  The hint of ‘grey Galloway’ crept in beyond Moniaive when the road tilted and lost its tarry gloss for the rough tan of a moorland pass.  The summit thrilled me – my first near view of the Galloway Highlands.  Swelling moorlands with rocky peaks, and a shapely range of mountains holding the horizon.

A mile further on I pitched camp by a stream, and anon there came a shepherd to talk to me in the rich Lowland accent.  “Ye are in the parish of Dal-ry”, said he, “County of Kirkcoobrie, and yonder, behind the fine peaks, I was born and bred.  Right under the brow of Merrick”.

“The fine peaks” of Kells were purple just then, before the flushing sky of sunset.  He and I seemed quite alone in Galloway.  No sound or movement disturbed the colour, only the chatter of the stream there.  My informant loved his hills.  They were personal, and Merrick, his sire, was also his Lord.  “Are they not the beautiful ones?” he asked, and I had to agree.  I was offered eggs, milk, paraffin, anything, and the good man was concerned that company I had none.  “Ye are all on your own-alone” he often repeated, and with a final shake of the head, gave me a “guid-nicht”.  For a short time I stood on the bridge with a cigarette, contemplating the fading wonder of twilight over the Kells, then, with my shorts for a pillow, I curled up in the sleeping bag.

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Kirkcudbright gave me a shocking road surface and wonderful scenery to Carsphairn.  A lonely road by moor and stream, with sometimes a deep gorge, always with tantalising views.  After Carsphairn I glimpsed Loch Doon, a long mirror of water with a magnificent bulk of mountains behind, the crowning heights of the Western Lowlands, Merrick.  The valley of the Doon Water may once have surpassed; now it is ruined by the Ayrshire Coalfields, and a hard, tiresome road climbs ridge after ridge to Ayr and the coast.

Robbie Burns is vehemently claimed by Ayr.  I renounce all claims.  After the “Tam-o’ Shanter” Inn and the Auld Brig I lost interest.  It is a holiday resort.  The coast road northward, along the Firth of Clyde profoundly disappointed me.  For some distance it was not along the sea-edge, but through dune-country and at the edge of sprawling industrialism.  About Irvine were many huge camps in dirty fields, untidy scatterings and crowdings of a variety of tents from the big marquee carrying the stains of strenuous summers to the sack-cloth makeshifts of wandering tramps.  Amongst them sported girls with flimsy attire of colours hostile to the environs, young chaps in flannels and shirts probably a virgin shade before the camp, now of a shade commiserate with the ground; hordes of youngsters to whom the camp was the fine excuse for a long summer unwashed, and more sedate groups of elders sunning themselves.

At Ardrossan Docks the Arran steamer was in, and only my slender pocket, now hardly worth a pound sterling, deterred me from boarding her.  Thence the seashore, with faint tracings of the mountains of Arran high above the hazy horizon.  A swim, and tea half-dressed among the dunes.

I met the cyclist at the drinking fountain in Largs.  His bike was loaded with camping kit; his face had the tan of long days awheel.  In conversation we discovered a kindred spirit.  Now he was homeward bound to Greenock only for the purpose of ‘signing on’.  Three months ago the slump caught him up, since when he had contrived to live exclusively on the road, returning only to sign the register.  Up to now the weather had constantly played him false; now that a heatwave had come along he had heard that a foreman in his shipyard was on the lookout for him.  He was bitter.  He would slip away unseen on the morrow, the Highlands were grander than the Clyde shipyards; time enough for work when Scotland’s short summer broke down.  He had the skill of trapping rabbits, tickling trout, and preparing food where many would starve.  We parted on good terms.

The sun went down as I rode along the Clyde coast, and the mist lifted off the sea, revealing the peaks of Arran, fantastic summits rearing three thousand feet above the water.  From Inverkip I climbed up a steep lane till the Firth was stretched below with jumbled mountains on three sides and wedged among them the narrow entrances to long sea lochs.  There was lowland Cumbrae laid in the sky-white water, Bute behind, the magnificent ranges of mountainous Arran to the westward, and far behind, delicately etched, the lower hills of Kintyre.  In a search for a campsite I climbed the glen of the Kip to where two bridges cross the gorge, one ancient and parapet-less, designated “Roman”.  This provided me with enough space for my tent on its very edge, hard, solid ground too.

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‘Business’ compelled me to visit Greenock next morning [Collect his Dole money]. I will gloss over the ride along Clydeside to Erskine Ferry, along dockland with a nightmare of railway lines, potholes, narrow places where the copious traffic stream is blocked, then suddenly released to rush madly around.  Perhaps the Rock of Dumbarton commanding the northern side of this great river, a Scottish Gibraltar of other days, relieves a dull scene.

I had tea by Loch Lomond.  The scene captivated me.  For the first time I was in the Highlands, and, expecting little from Loch Lomondside, I was delighted.  Especially with the magnetic jumble of peaks towards the head.  The whole evening was crowded with beauty.  I just strayed along, half bewitched, down to Arrochar at the head of Loch Long, along with wild Glen Croe, where the fantastic rocks of the ‘Cobbler’ overhang, and the quiet road winds round little promontories of rock, and the stream makes green pools and small, rushing linns.  At the end, the road is jerked up to the ‘Rest and Be Thankful’ stone, erected by General Wade’s troops.  By building roads through the Highlands the English Government, in the surest way, broke the power of the Clans, removing for ever the danger of recurrence of the rebellions which almost set on fire the first half of the eighteenth century.  A wild swoop down Glen Kinglas took me to Cairndow on Loch Fyne, and four miles round the head of it, on a lovely pitch where the air had the tang of the sea in it, I set my camp.

The great warrior Clan McMidge sorely troubled me.  All travellers to Scotland speak in awe and fear of them, and I share it.  On Loch Fyne they were a pest, thriving on the Essence of Lavender I had paid a shilling for, in the hope that it would keep them off.

After supper I strolled far down the Loch, and the peaceful beauty of it beguiled me.  The tide was out; there was still a streak of day lingering far down the waters.  Surely nowhere can one find greater camping places than those freely scattered along the sea-lochs of the Western Highlands!

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Three Welsh Nocturnals Part Three

Here is the ride of April 24-25, 1926.

During the last run, Tom and I had tried to get the Seveners to support a proposed all-nighter, said ride to be somewhere about Betws-y-coed, but a strange apathy seized them, and vague references to certain unavoidable appointments were made.  Notwithstanding this, we were determined on the ride, which we said would be a ‘strainer’ for Meriden, three weeks hence.  Our meeting place was Mrs Littler’s, Frodsham at 7pm for supper.  The intervening 26 miles were covered in the leisured style demanded for such occasions, the two of us reaching Frodsham at the appointed time.  Joe was there, too, not to join us, but gaze upon the alleged beauty of one Maid Marion, to whom he hopes to press his suit.  Joe’s flirtations are many and always terminate suspiciously abruptly.

It had gone 8pm when Tom and I left Joe making eyes and sped along the darkening Chester road.  Efforts to obtain bitter chocolate, an excellent stimulus, failed everywhere, so that we had to make a dash to the City of Legions before closing time.  We managed it.  Then, not really knowing where we were going, we crossed the Dee bridge and turned our wheels towards Holywell.  Saltney and its dismal flats were put behind, and in growing moonlight we passed through quiet Hawarden and by moonlit meadows and parklands steadily forged our way to Northop, and at length fled down to Holywell.  After that we struck a barren stretch, up and down with a long line of telegraph poles always in front, but even the worst has an end, and that was reached when a glaring disc announced that we were about to descend a ‘Shell Famous Hill’.  We stopped for a snack before descending, for a cold-looking mist overhung the lowlands.  A cyclist went blinding past, fled out of night, then we heard a curious crack, and a minute later he came back to us with a broken chain.  He had no brake; how on earth he managed to stop I don’t know, but by his bombastic talk we soon formed opinions of him – as a cyclist at any rate.  As he only lived a few hundred yards away we didn’t need to help him.

From the foot of the ‘Shell’ hill we had a short run through agricultural country to the tiny city of St Asaph.  With hardly a pause we were out and in the country again.  At half past midnight, half light and warm, and I was wide awake, a surprise to me for I anticipated a bad night – I had been working all morning.  Soon the country became level, again, almost monotonous, and we reached the site of a great camp.  Eight years ago the countryside here was teeming with khaki-clad figures; there on the left was a town, a wooden town that housed them.  I had the privilege of visiting this huge camp ten years ago, though, as I was only 12 years of age, the only things I can remember clearly are rows and rows, endless rows of identical wooden huts, wooden post offices, wooden libraries, wooden canteens, even wooden roadways, a continual mud bath (I had to clean my shoes in those days) and the constantly recurring khaki of the inhabitants.  Before the end of the long rough fields and tottering remains of the timber houses was reached, the slender spire of Bodelwyddan marble church emerged from the half-light of the evening, and as we drew nearer to it, the great contrast it provided to the depopulated ramshackles there on the left that 8 years ago housed men, struck me forcibly.

In the neat little churchyard, looking out towards the remnants of the camp are rows of little wooden crosses, the burial places of Dominion soldiers who fell victim to the influenza epidemic which, in 1917 swept through the camp like a plague and carried off so many men.  How many more, trained at the camp, went out, and now lie on foreign soil ?  The war to end war, the hope of those who fought – and died……. what would they think now ?  Now on the very eve of the greatest struggle in industrial history, when their comrades are about to fight again – for the right to live in decency.  Despite all the pious resolutions, despite all the promises, despite all the hopes, we are heading for another great catastrophe.  And the verse:

 

“If ye break faith with us who died,

We shall not sleep, tho’ poppies grow

In Flanders fields…..”

is proving to be nothing more than one more hollow sham.  What would the dead army of Britain say to their comrades who fought and lived – to fight to live ?  “Fight on !”  Such thoughts are bound to come to the man who thinks, when he passes such a symbol of ugly war as Kinmel Camp, and comes upon the pure white symbol of peace, as represented by the Marble Church of Bodelwyddan, at a time when the rest of the world sleeps.

A perfect road, though level and dismal enough carried us over the marshlands of Morfa Rhuddlan to Abergele, where we had decided to try the road to Llanrwst, which neither of us knew.  Tom went in front while I adjusted my lamp, and before I followed I was treated to a series of double-bass snores, extremely loud and trumpety, issuing from one of the upper windows in the quiet street.  I’ll never forget Abergele at 1.15am if only for that !  After a level run in park-like country, the road got on its hind legs, and we had to shank it for a mile or so, into an upland plain, which we crossed on a switchback road and found ourselves running down into a valley flanked by hills not very high, but continuous enough to give us the idea that the only outlet would be ‘over the top’.  We felt the old glamour returning of cycling on unknown roads in unknown country, the glamour that so marks the first tour and is never quite regained.  We wondered what lay round the next bend – over the hill, where this lane or that lane led to; in our pockets was the complete answer embodied in a map, but just then we wanted no map; we would find out for ourselves and keep ourselves on the tip-toe of expectation.  Down the side of a wooded hill we sped, in and out, round and round, through a veritable pass until we found ourselves beside the stony Elwy, where a stone-built village lies across a stone bridge.  I hear that Llanfair Talhaiarn is an interesting little place, but 2am in the morning is no time to scrounge in and out of a narrow-streeted village, is it ?  The road was good and level, winding below the hillside, so, having been imbibed all night with a very energetic feeling, we ‘slipped it’, coming at length to Llangernyw, which village was kind enough to supply us with water on tap and stone steps to recline on whilst we ate our ration.

To judge by the row we made one way and another its perhaps all to the good that we went when we did.  Then, as we were peacefully blinding along, the very devil loomed up from a field on the right, a big black body with waving arms and clawlike hands stretched out in silhouette as if to grab us.  Our hearts leapt in terror.  A second timorous glance revealed a dead tree – our flickering eyes supplied the rest !  A gradual climb now came which got us down more than once, but surely enough the country on each side was opening out, until we reached the summit from whence we got a peculiarly fine view of ranges of misty peaks across the deep gap into which we started to descend, and which resolved itself into the Conway Valley.

As we pounced downhill the misty peaks dropped behind the lower heights on the western side of the valley which, in the dim light, made a glorious picture.  Rather recklessly we plunged into Llanrwst, promptly getting mixed up and playing ring-o’-roses round what does for the village hall.  After a glance at Inigo Jones’ bridge, we blinded along the Llanrwst side of the river to Betws-y-coed where, at the Waterloo Bridge, a powerful electric light robed the woods, the river Conway, and a pretty little cascade in golden glamour.  Childs play was made of the drag up to the Swallow Falls, where, by the hotel, we discovered another tap over a tub of clear water, whilst behind the wall was a bath should we want it.  We didn’t !  Here also was a natural lamp-bracket, just in the right place, a towel rock (natural) and a natural mirror (water).  We had soap and a towel with us and the proverbial half-comb with most of the railings missing, so, in plain lingo, we were ‘quids in’.  We had a jolly good tub, then, fit to enter a palace, we shinned over the turnstile and went down to take the customary peep at Swallow Falls.

Riding again, we soon came in sight of Moel Siabod, in my eyes like an old friend greeting us once more.  Some call this a dull mountain on the Capel Curig side, but I love Moel Siabod, and would hail it as I would our old friends Snowdon, Trifan, Arenig and Cader Idris.  As a matter of fact all these grey old mountains of the Wonderland of Wales are old friends to me.  Very soon, we stood at the familiar fork-roads at Capel Curig; the time was 4.30am.

Should we make for Beddgelert or Bangor, was the problem, but we favoured Beddgelert, as providing the better homeward route.  So we passed the twin Llyn Mymbyr which gave a perfect reflection of the mountain sides, and headed up the wild Gwryd Valley, with the first streaks of dawn crossing the eastern sky and the dusky outline of Snowdon away in front.  Pen-y-Gwryd was an impressive spot when we got there at 5am.  Above us towered the graceful form of Eryre, partly snow-clad, above a semi-circle of great, silent cliffs; above the long, broken screes; above the chaos of earth and rock that supports it.  A tousled, sleepy head peered down at us from a hotel window, and Tom, just to let him know we had seen him, shouted a cheery good morning, to which came a sleepy answer and the head withdrew.  Simultaneously I started to munch an iron ration in the shape of a crust as we started towards Beddgelert.  Iron ration is the right phrase for it, for I had a great tussle with that crust.

They say a crust is a good thing to eat whilst cycling, and I heard of chaps who put up long rides on a crust, but all I can say is that they don’t know what a good feed is !  A taste of real Wales again fell to us on that long descent to Beddgelert.  The soft light of early morning between dawn and sunrise put a wonderful freshness into the greenery of Gwynant and toned the great cliffs and boulder slopes of Snowdon down to something above mere grandeur.  Ever and anon we would stop that we might take in the views more fully, pay fuller homage to the Queen Peak and this loveliest of Welsh valleys.  Llyn Gwynant formed a most perfect mirror, reproducing topsy-turvy, in minute detail, every overhanging rock, every branch and leaf, every blade of grass – in colour.  The scenery was a continually moving panorama of mountain views and woodland and water scenes, holding us spellbound at every turn, making us gasp in sheer delight at being there at such an hour.  Everything was familiar to us, for we oft had passed along this Valley of Waters, but everything was new…. old but new.  Llyn-y-Dinas was another great mirror, lapping the roadway, and doubling the lakesides perfectly.

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We entered glorious little Beddgelert, stopping there on the bridge for a moment before pushing on into the Pass of Aberglaslyn – and Pont Aberglaslyn.  Aberglaslyn at 6am, just before the sun tinged the mountain tops with his golden light, just when the life of the woods was stirring and singing the joys of the new day accompanied by the musical chatter of the river.  That was Aberglaslyn at its best.  I fancy the first effects of our hard-riding was becoming felt just then, for Tom swore he saw a man hewing trees down by the dozen with amazing energy – and when I was shown, I saw the same thing.  Of course, it was a fantasy aided by vapour rising from the ground.  I saw the trees shaking and the cliffs bobbing up and down, and wondered at it all in a dull uncomprehending way until Tom, in a distant voice, said that we had best get along.  Then as I started to ride, my sleepiness dropped off like a cloak.  Riding along the edge of the Glaslyn marsh, we beheld many natural glories, and from the War Memorial at Garreg the most magnificent view of Snowdonia I have ever seen was laid before us.  The great peaks, from sea level, looked higher than ever, and the great ridges culminating in the central peak were touched with silvery bars of snow, whilst on the right of us stood the splendid peaks of Cricht, and rugged Moelwyn Mawr, just below which the route we had decided to take, lay.

Once again the superb attraction of Ffestiniog proved too strong for us.  On that steep, narrow pass from Garreg to Tan-y-Bwlch, I started to feel the ride again, and ere the tiny hamlet of Rhyd was reached I yearned for a mattress and a pillows.  Superb mountain views rewarded us, and from Rhyd, where a gap occurs in the hills on the right, we saw the coastline from Penrhyndeudraeth southward with the profile of Harlech and its sheer rock standing out.  Again luck was with us, for we found a little waterfall and a bucket.  Another wash, and another temporary relief from sleepiness.  Passing through stony, tiny Bwlch-y-Maen, (which means Pass of the Stone), we got a beautiful view down into the Vale of Ffestiniog, then descended to Llyn Mair.  If anyone asked which was the most gorgeously pretty lake, irrespective of size in Wales, I think I should answer Llyn Mair.  I cannot recall a more charming picture than that which Llyn Mair presented that morning with its amazingly clear reflections.  The descent through woods to Tan-y-Bwlch was as in a fairy-land; Spring was at her best, and in the Vale of Maentwrog the freshness of everything green struck me – that is, everything except myself.  On the climb to Ffestiniog I went to pieces, and fairly shouted with relief when Tom punctured.  I dragged myself into Ffestiniog to order breakfast, but had to knock Mrs Jones up; Tom arrived just as I sank into the armchair.  It was 8am and a rapid calculation showed that since 5pm last night we had placed 130 miles of road behind us.

I made a poor show at breakfast, and even when Jennie, pretty and sly as ever, came down, I paid little heed – so I must have been in a bad way !  In a sleepy way I became aware that my leg was being pulled, but I was past caring about it; I’ll get my own back next time.  After I had managed to drag my bones into the parlour, Jennie gave us a selection or two on the organ, and what with one thing and another it got 11am before we made a move to go.  There was well over a hundred miles to go, and a strong headwind to face, so we had something before us.  We started after the usual lingering farewell at the usual brave pace uphill and got off round the corner – as usual.  The long climb, half walking, knocked the sleepiness away from me, and I began to sit up and take notice.  It was a beautiful morning, clear and breezy, and the dear old line of peaks stood clear and sharp above the winding Vale of Meantwrog which stretched out green below us to the coast.  Rhaiadr Cwms steady road greeted us as we neared Pont-ar-afon-Garn, and to renew acquaintances we peered over the stone wall at the cliffs and the ‘Cataract in the Hollow’.

From Pont-ar-afon-Garn the going was easier, but we struck the ‘newly repaired’ portion, and for four miles spent a lively time alternating between sharp stones and deep ruts.  Especially after we had topped the breezy summit and seen the bulky form of Arenig grow larger in front and the Ffestiniog mountains drop behind the summit ridge, we experienced the vilest stretch of road in Wales – and that is saying a lot.  From Rhyd-y-Fen we left the worst behind finding it positively smooth going over the rocky outcrop in comparison.   From Capel Celyn we romped down to Fron Goch and Bala from where the Corwen road bore us on its glossy hide uphill to Bethel.  I ‘conked’ again on that grind uphill, and the eleven miles to Corwen were more like a hundred and eleven.  Near here, on the Holyhead road, Tom went on to Llangollen to order lunch while I had a rest and a snack, improving afterwards.  The Dee valley is very beautiful, but when the road is one long string of motorists, it loses much of its attraction, so I hailed Llangollen, and, incidentally ‘Bronant’ with delight at 3pm.  During lunch and the usual ‘chatting up’ after, I was nodding, and would surely have gone to sleep if I had been left to my own devices.  As it was it got to 4.30pm before we got away.

It was very hard against the wind, but by pacing each other we got along fairly well; moreover I felt myself gradually improving.  The setts of Wrexham are enough, however, to rouse anybody.  We parted at Chester, Tom taking the Northwich road and I the Warrington road.  Now I was in better form, having gained the proverbial second wind and did good time to Frodsham where I stopped for tea at 7.45pm.  I could not help but reflect on the things that had passed since we were here 24 hours ago and the huge circle we had undertaken.  At 8.30 I was back on the road, in my old form, still against the wind, and on familiar roads reached home at 10.30pm.

In September 1922, I had a three day tour of 230 miles, and the following Easter, a four day tour of 290 miles.  On this all-night ride of 29 hours (which includes at least seven hours in cafes at Ffestiniog, Llangollen and Frodsham), we covered about 245 miles, 155 of which were in Wales.  But more than mere mileage was the inference one can draw from this ride.  No doubt I was in a bad condition, owing to the lack of sleep, but that could be minimised by better preparation or a morning free.  It has opened the door to greater things.  We have proved the possibility of reaching Snowdonia and returning in a night and a day, we have visited Beddgelert and Ffestiniog, hitherto undreamed of – so why not farther ?  Why not the peak of Snowdon itself, why not the circuit of Snowdon, why not the fascinating regions of Dyfy and Dyssinni, nay, even the Aberystwyth country is not beyond our reach !

So has gone down three of our Welsh nocturnals; the rest I will describe in some further article, for a continuous description of the similar kind of ride is apt to get monotonous, especially from a pen like mine !                                                      December 1926

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.

Some Welsh Nocturnals003

 

 

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.

Some Welsh Nocturnals002

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.

Derbyshire Dales002

 

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.

Derbyshire Dales003

 

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.