There is a ‘missing link’ in this story of a tour, and that link is yesterday, Saturday. No, I was not in bed all day; on the contrary, with the two London cyclists, I spent the better part of it in a wild, hare-brained, but successful climb on the Cwm Glas – Crib Goch crags of Snowdon, under the vilest conditions imaginable. But that story remains for another time !
[See “The Narrow Way that leads to Paradise” – Ed] [Please don’t panic, I will put the said chapter in next weeks release. I am always happy to oblige – Ed]
For the first time this tour I got up late. 11am. In fact we were all late, and had breakfast together at 11.30am. It got 1pm before we were all ready for the road, and after Bill had taken photographs, my uncle rolled away on his motorbike towards Caernarvon and Bill, Jack and I set our faces eastwards. The weather was very like yesterday, rain came in spasms, the mountains were cloaked, and a high wind was blowing behind us. We soon reached Nant Peris and the jaws of the Pass, up which I have climbed on five occasions, and twice descended. Having plenty of time we walked up the Pass, stopping near Pont-y-Cromlech to pay our homage to that wild recess high above the screes, high up in the mists, Cwm Glas, the exalted tit-bit of yesterday’s adventure. At the summit of Llanberis Pass is the Gorphwysfa Hotel (the resting place) called in English Pen-y-Pass, an hotel which, in the latter part of the last century, with Pen-y-Gwryd and Ogwen Cottage, rivalled Wastdale Head hotel in Lakeland as the home from home of cragsmen. There at the end of the year and at Easter were to be found men who had achieved fame as Alpine climbers, and a glance at the old visitors books will reveal more than one interesting signature and the tale of some adventurous climb. They had their poets too, just as we ‘Seven’ have ours, and songs were written and sung, as the one below:
“When the winds from Cwm Idwal, Cwm Llyddaw, Cwm Glas,
Come welcoming over the scree;
Come home mountain friends, to your Rest on the Pass,
Come back mountain climber to me.”
You know, I have a great admiration for climbers, and only wish I could do more of it. A sharp dip round an elbow of Gyder Fawr brought us to Pen-y-Gwryd, a well known spot to me, for I recorded this as the 11th time I had stood there. The way of my companions from London was not my way, so, after a long chat we separated, promising not to lose touch with each other.
Inside my cape, with a rain-laden gale behind, I fled down the shallow Mymbyr Valley, by the twin lakes to Capel Curig and Bettws-y-Coed, where the sun was shining and no evidence of rain was anywhere to be seen. Bettws-y-Coed was several times its normal size, being crowded out with all classes of traffic, the charabanc predominating. I had dinner in a quiet backwater across Pont-y-Pair. It was more of an in-between meal, for it was half past three, and I in an economical mood, calculated on saving a meal. Even as Snowdonia had been wet and misty, so now Bettws-y-Coed was sunny and clear, and on the climb up Dinas Hill I enjoyed those ever-green views, the Lledr Valley, with Moel Siabod at the head, cloud-capped, and the hollow in which lies Bettws.
After the climb to Pentrefoelas, the Holyhead road loses all its beauty for a time, and one has to be content with rather drab moors and hordes of speeding motors, until, nearing Corwen, a rather pretty valley is entered. But a few miles beyond Corwen, in the valley of the Dee, the Holyhead road becomes a symbol of beauty, and if you have a mind to peep here and there over the wall you will find wonderful river and hill scenery. Many a time I sat on the wall for a long time at once, and I joined a rambling lane for a mile or so. With such erratic progress, it is no wonder therefore, that the shades of evening were falling when I reached Llangollen and was welcomed in at ‘Bronant’. Supper was a real bust-up, aided by two Southport lads on the first night of a tour. One of them was 6ft 6inches tall, and only 17 years old. His chief concern was finding a bed long enough ! A motorcyclist and son shared my room, and I learned that he was an antiquarian of some repute, a chap who revels in old castles and Roman remains, and, unlike many of his kind, was interesting. We talked far into the night.
So this is my last day of ‘This Freedom!”. I had arranged with Mr Kay, the antiquarian, to visit Plas Newydd, but whilst I was visiting the local barber’s shop, he disappeared, and as I could not find him, I went up to Plas Newydd alone. The ‘New Hall’ is a timber mansion built in the 18th century, and stands in beautifully kept grounds. It is remarkable for the collection of carved oak and other articles of interest which it contains. It is not ill called the ‘quaintest of carved oak miniment chests’, as it is covered inside and out with the weirdest and most grotesque figures. There is an oak palisade round the garden, and the doors are richly carved, whilst the black-oak porch is supported by bedposts of the time of Charles I. Inside, the oaken work is still more beautiful and fanciful, the light in the rooms being softened by stained-glass windows. In this room is some fine panelling, in that the walls are covered by embossed leather of the 16th century, here a bunch of flowers are carved; there is a scorpion or a mermaid or a lion depicted in oak, every room is crowded with carvings, besides holding many art treasures, pottery, curiosities of all kinds, and articles of historical interest. On the lawn in front stands a remodelled Druidical circle, brought from the near Berwyns.
Plas Newydd was built by those two curiosities, the Ladies of Llangollen, and here they spent the latter halves of their long lives. They were quaint, familiar characters in the town, public benefactors, and had many of the most famous people of the time visit them. The credit for this collection of old oak goes to them, for it was the custom of every visitor to the house to bring a gift, preferably of carved oak. Wordsworth once paid them a call, but offended them by alluding to Plas Newydd in a sonnet as a ‘low roof’d cot’. They said they could make better poetry themselves. The caretaker showed me over the hall, and there in the grounds I spent a very enjoyable hour. When I got back to Mrs Williams’ I learned that Mr Kay had gone to Plas Newydd in search of me. Anyway, before I left I saw him, and we exchanged addresses. He lives at Colnbrook, Bucks.
I made a start with a high wind behind me and a temperature hovering round heat-wave level again. I pottered along the main road through Ruabon to Wrexham, turning aside for a few yards to have another peep at the fine steeple of the parish church. From Gresford Hill I had a fine view over the Cheshire plain which is broken by the wooded ridges of the Peckforton Hills and the isolated rock that is crowned by Beeston Castle; at the foot of the hill I stopped again to look at the old timbered mill at Rossett. So, along to Chester, and the Warrington road – and Mrs Littler’s at Frodsham. No one was in, and at Sutton Turnbridge I was not wanted. At another place where I tried to get tea they had no coal. Turning into the lanes, I met with no luck, though I raked Preston-on-the-Hill, Hatton and Stretton out, so I fled to Warrington and on to Winwick, where I had my last meal of the tour in the flowery garden of Honeysuckle Cottage.
In ten more miles I was at Atherton and completing the ten day circuit, then the same old hill to Four Lane Ends, and the same old tram lines brought me back to the end of ‘This Freedom’.
It was strange returning to the heavy atmosphere, and finding everything just as drab and monotonous as ever. Again it was dinner at precisely 12.30 instead of between 11 and 3pm; tea at 5.30 instead of between 4 and 8pm; and again I find myself at morning in the same old room and with the same old brick and mortar outlook. I had slept at seven different places and fed at 26; I had travelled in 17 different counties, Lancashire, Cheshire, Shropshire, Hereford, Gloucester, Somerset, Devon, Cornwall, Glamorgan, Brecknock, Radnor, Cardigan, Montgomery, Merioneth, Carnarvon, Denbigh and Flint, and in them eight Cathedral cities. Vivid yet in my memory are the days spent; now I see the old towns, Salop, Ludlow, and Hereford, the Highlands of Gloucestershire, and the limestone Mendips, ancient Wells and Glastonbury, the two glorious coasts of Devon, its lanes, its nooks, and its villages, the rural charms of Somerset, the well-hidden collieries of Glamorgan, that night run of breathless beauty in the Wye Valley, the unfading beauty of North Wales, that adventurous escapade on Snowdon, and, greatest of all perhaps, the people I met. I am happy to have friends like those Llanbradach miners who were on the threshold of starvation, in the midst of a lock-out that is driving them to the wall, yet who made me so welcome and gave me a share at their already meagre table, because I was a cyclist, they are cyclists, and we, therefore, are linked in the Brotherhood that stretches beyond mere acquaintanceship. Again the London cyclists with whom I spent that hectic Saturday, are real chums, and you will find that we have since met in a weekend ride [‘The Reunion’]. For less that £5, these ten days have been spent in as thoroughly enjoyable and variable a way, as they possibly could.
It speaks well for my little ‘Grubb’ bicycle when I affirm that I covered the whole 880 miles without making the tiniest adjustment or even pumping up the tyres. Neither did it get even a drop of oil or a clean up – or any attention whatever.