Post: This item, From out of the Past, is in three unconnected parts, and actually appears in Charlie’s Book Four on Page 131, but for me it summarises beautifully the love of cycling that both Charlie and I were able to enjoy earlier in the last century !
It makes it sound as though I am very old, and in some ways I suppose I am, but at heart I am still an adolescent enjoying life awheel and exploring everywhere. Parts 2 and 3 will appear in the next two weeks.
We humans are creatures of moods. They pass across our life like some stray wisps of mist that foretell the coming of night on the mountain tops. Sometimes we brush them aside like the wind disperses the mist; sometimes we cause them to stay a little-while until the next mood captures our fancy. Our moods are mists on the mountains. We cannot capture a mist, bringing it to our mountain from afar; we must push our heads into the sky and wait. We have stormy days, when the mists of our mood drive past in quick succession, the one pushing the other off till night comes down. We have clear days too, when the blue of our skies is faultless and barren, as the brazen weariness of an Indian summer sky. But sometimes we have English days of summer breezes and straying wisps that we can hold.
I am hold of a mood, a mist obscuring the present, and bringing up the past. The past, that is always better than the future or the present because it is distorted like the mist distorts the mountains. Grandeur is assumed by little things, and big things loom in a high horizon. I have much to draw upon, though my road-mind can only swing about in ten years of time. Much can happen in a less space of time than that.
Those things that happened came marching out in the order of their happening like a long procession, but they are now memories, and are held in ordered sequence no more. They wander back and forth at will, bumping about in their fat circlet of ten years like a small boat on a long anchor-rope. The past works like that in the mind, and after all, the future is only a procession waiting to be released in the same way. The present is in process of release, but the present lacks the cohesion of the future and the freedom of the past. It is an everlasting Now that crawls a second at a time, leaves nothing behind and reaches no finality. It is really immovable, in that it never had a start and has no journey’s end. I don’t like it; I want to feel something more tangible. In the future there lies something that now seems reachable amongst lots of unreachable things, so the future has the merit of clean, undamaged prospects. We can dream ahead.
But the past has a concrete base. What lies there belongs to me, to ransack and play about with at will. Some shattered unreachable from the one-time future lies there, but there are a lot of things I did reach. I can’t destroy the past, neither can I hide it away, except from you. It is not a region of regrets like many pasts are, neither is it a land of never-never, bloated, puffed into magnificence by constant incursions into it. They are assumptive, these memories of mine, but they have at least the merit of a grain of truth.
* * * * * * * * * * *
There was an Easter spent at Nant Gwynant. I remember one of the chaps who’s misfortune compels him to spend a third of his life in semi-somnolence at a bank. On Easter Saturday morning the office desk chained him, so he must needs ‘sprint the rapid miles’ to make Gwynant that night. In one of those very occasional bursts of fellow-feeling, I had promised to guide him to our camp-site, which he did not know, so we arranged to meet at Pen-y-Gwryd at 11.30pm.
The day was lovely. I got away alone that afternoon; there are times when you feel like being alone for a while, and this was one of them. I was on the bike; I think I had tea Rhyd Ddu, near the Snowdon Ranger; I know I crossed that magnificent little pass called Bwlch Gylfyn or Gyfelin. There is a lake on the summit with an island in the middle that tradition asserts posesses moveable qualities, hence the name ‘Llyn Rywarchen’ which means ‘Lake of the Floating Sod’. The lake isn’t striking, but there is a striking view of Snowdon from there, a finely contoured peak, and worthy of its title ‘Y Wyddfa’. From that lake, looking in the other direction – down the pass – there is a line of crags called Craig-y-Bere on the north side and overlooking the road. They cannot be above 1500 ft high, but they hang over the pass as if tottering.
Strangely enough, you hardly descend ten feet before they seem suddenly to have flopped back and lost all their grandeur. The bottom of Bwlch Gylfyn is marred woefully by quarrying; the first village is a long, dismal, stone-built place called Nanttle, and when I went through, the road to Caernarvon had no attraction to speak of, except a rare following wind and a gently contoured highway. That is the fault of taking the Bwlch Gylfyn road; you come from a fine bit of Snowdonia and immediately descend into a country that is neither mountain or plain or even hilly. It falls flat when you have just bloated yourself, so to speak, on beauty. About two miles short of Caernarvon I turned along a lane to get to the Caernarvon-Beddgelert road about one and a half miles out of the first named place. The wind, coming from the south-east, brought rain, real Welsh rain, and turning towards Beddgelert, I came up against it, rain and wind and those swinging contours that make you ‘flog it’ up-wind. Night didn’t creep up, it jumped down as though it had been waiting on the mountains. The loveliness of a Spring day had changed into a wild night as in Winter, February, or early March.
It was just then, on the first mile with that trying foursome that so often links together against the cyclist, that my mood changed suddenly enough to startle me. Though I have really set out with the intention of describing it, I find that I can’t do it proper justice. Maybe it’s a relic of primitive animalism in me that the conditions awoke. Put it down as an absolute carelessness of anything, and couple it with savage joy; the savage joy of a wild thing. That wind smote me hard with its needle-stings of rain, till my face might have smarted had I been capable of feeling. I was incapable of feeling even the tough tug when the black road bent upwards; just stamping the pedals down as they came up. Bettus Garmon, stretched in a long line of dim lights along each side of the road, crept back till an upward tilt and a tearing of the wind at my cape forced me to dismount. On that walk a noise came through the wind like an incessant chatter, and only some distance beyond where the wind had itself alone and whistled across a vast blank, did I realise the chattering sound had been the stream where it crosses under the road at Bettus Garmon. Then I became conscious of a kind of dark spaciousness on the right, and I found it was Llyn Cwellyn. There was a space of interior satisfaction at that, though why, I don’t know, because I didn’t much care if I never made my destination so long as the wind whipped me hard all the time.
I had got over that long start up which preludes a longer slant down into Beddgelert when a motor-car shot a pair of dragon’s eyes at me, and kept me fascinated till I could have run full tilt into them, but the instinct of human safety in me is stronger than the foolish fascination that lures ‘daddy-long-legs’ to the cruel candle flame, and I curved aside, inches clear of the purring shape that passed. That brought me down to the bed-rock fact that my lamp was out. How long I had travelled lightless I didn’t know: I couldn’t even be sure I’d lit the lamp at all ! In Beddgelert a few cyclists slouched under the porch of a hotel; a light or two shone without attraction; I crossed the bridge and made up Nant Gwynant. The wind had lulled in the sheltered village, but in Gwynant it came up dead behind, and I soon passed Llyn-y-Dinas and climbed the little lane to the camp-site. The boys were at supper, dry and comfortable, and pulled wry faces when I peeped in, drenched. “Gimme a drink”, I said, asked the time (11pm) and bidding a “goodnight”, received a groan of sympathy in return as I turned back down the lane to keep my tryst.
Perhaps you have travelled up a deep valley in the black depth of a cloud-capped night, when the rain is falling and a cold breeze shakes the unseen trees above you. You feel chilly little shivers at the gusts that come on the open places till the gradual, relentless gradient warms you up. Down below, at the valley bottom you had arched trees over your head, not seen, but rather felt – a suggestion of inclosure and vague scents that come off the wet leaves, and rustlings in the dark mingled with the even fall of rain. As you ascend you sense a change – you have become aware that the trees arch one side only, and a freer play of rainy wind, has come from the other side. The valley is below you now; you are climbing higher above it all the time, and you try to remember what lies below and across, lake and rocks and mountainside, as you have seen it by day. Then you cast away a memory half-formed; the lake, the rocks, the wild farther slope have no immediate existence; they are of an age you have passed or have yet to meet. Below you is the wind and nothing more. You get back from your thoughts of Day, back to your rightful place in Night. To your ears comes a sound – a noise – a clamour – and then the dying of it. You have passed a stream that shouts, deep in its own ravine. The trees have gone; the streams go rushing by more frequently; the road takes on a steeper tilt; the wind comes up stronger, colder, and the rain has a drive with it. The sound of water that came and went at frequent intervals dies with the last thin trickle, and you have the wind and the rain, and a leveller road…… you reach the summit.
Thus I came to Pen-y-Gwryd at 11.30 on a wild Easter Saturday night. At Pen-y-Gwryd there is a vastness around; the threshold of things great…… a little plateau below the great bulk of Snowdonia, where three roads branch their various ways; where man has set a small hotel and a few contemptible sheds. I was sheltered, but far above on Lliwedd and Crib Goch the everlasting roar of the wind sounded like ceaseless breakers on a distant shore, pounding, pounding, in a timeless existence. Nothing more – not even the faintest silhouette of a peak, not the stir of life nor the flicker of a lamp other than my own sulky glimmer too weak to reach the floor. Staring into Night, and with thoughts such as attune themselves to a mood borne in Night, I passed the midnight hour unnoticed. Then came the realisation that my friend had not appeared; I went back into the drizzle and pushed against the wind down the open emptiness of Cwm Pen-y-Gwryd, venturing further towards Capel Curig. That way he must come. Then a light wavering ahead, drawing closer – a faint, bulky silhouette, and a shout of welcome. My friend was with me……… the spell was broken.