Easter Tour 1926 Part Three

Part Three:   Around Snowden

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

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

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

Easter Tour 1926 Part 3004


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

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

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

Easter Tour 1926 Part 3005


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

I love a high hill,

With its granite scars:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Easter Tour 1926 Part 4009


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

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

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

Easter Tour 1926 Part 4010


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


Easter Tour 1926 Part Two

Part Two:  The Two Voices

“Two voices are there, one is of the Sea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Splintered, contorted and riven

As though from the topmost crown

Some giant plougher his share had driven

In a hundred furrows clean down”.

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

Easter Tour 1926 Part 2002


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Renascense of Wonder – Easter Touring

Part one:    Over the Hills and Far Away

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

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

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

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


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

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

Easter Tour 1926 Part 1001



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

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

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


The We.R.7 Cycling Club – The History


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 4, 1926


In Festive Mood Part Three

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

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

In Festive Mood012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Festive Mood010

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

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

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

In Festive Mood Part Two

In Festive Mood002

Post:  I cannot let this moment pass without an explanation for the illustration of the summit of Kirkstone Pass shown above.  In those days, the ‘Cycling’ weekly paper used to run a monthly competition for the best story of the month to be published by ‘Cycling’.  I am pleased to tell you that at some time in the following year Charlie won one of those monthly prizes, which was a Patterson print of Kirkstone Pass printed on board, and which I possess and reproduce below.  Charlie has cleverly altered the drawing so that the figures have passed round the corner and only the footsteps and wheeltracks remain.  When Charlie’s article won its prize, he must have decided to write it up in his journal for 1928, copy Patterson’s picture but changing it slightly, add two other illustrations of his own and put the whole thing to bed.  I have always said that Charlie was very gifted.  And I am right.

In Festive Mood003

At breakfast the next morning we decided to go skating.  Three had purchased skates on the outward run, anticipating the ice, and Jack and I were offered a pair each by mine host.  So fitted, a general move was made up the mountainside to a little tarn about a thousand feet above, which was frozen quite hard.  This was wonderfully placed in a clearing in pine forest, sheltered and rocky.  We donned our skates.  None of us had ever worn skates before, so after the first five minutes we got together to make resolutions and to feel our separate ‘bumps’.  A thin bar of steel like the back of a knife is no support, especially when cycling shoes gave play to ankles that ought to have been strapped up in heavy boots.  We resolved that skates ought to be like smoothing irons for comfort.  It was also universally agreed that ice was too slippery, for as soon as we touched the surface our legs always shot from under us.  We went back to our mishaps with that hard gleam in each of our eyes that speaks determination.

We persevered.  Soon it became evident that we were born figure-skaters.  Weird and wonderful figures we made quite involuntarily, assuming many positions.  I watched Tom cross that ice in poses I never dreamed he could have twisted himself into; Fred W. displayed a genius for going backwards, though he always concluded on his neck.  He said that was an essential part of the performance.  Jack had an attractive style of his own which consisted of throwing up one leg then the other in wild abandon like a Red Indian dance of war, but sometimes he would forget himself in his enthusiasm and throw both his legs up at the same time, then he would come down with such a thwack as to send tremors through the ice.  H.F. was what I like to call a lazy skater.  Whenever I took notice of him he was sat down, travelling at a fast rate.  At first I wondered how he could get that speed from a sitting position, but I watched him and found that he started on his feet, then sank down all at once as though he had suddenly tired of the whole business.  My suggestion that he strap his skates to the double seat of his knickers and so make the most of them caused a general collapse.  For my part I tried every conceivable position including a glide on my nose, and the only kind of skating I could not master was on my feet.  I worked on the thesis that if I must fall I would fall as comfortably as possible, spending much time in pursuance of this desirable end and achieving some little success.

Two other things besides skates, just as necessary.  I shall bring next time, a bottle of good embrocation and a large roll of sticking plaster.  Our enthusiasm over-come at  length by the call of hunger, we gave up skating, seeking a way home down the white-fringed Grizedale Beck.

A real New Year dinner awaited us.  Turkey, plum pudding – a veritable array of good things under which the table groaned.  They were certainly doing us well !  During the lazy interlude following it was suggested that we go up to Aira Force, the prettiest waterfall in Lakeland, so we got out our machines, and, groaning under the influence of the dinner, slowly wended along to the Matterdale branch road, half-way up Ullswater, where the path for the waterfall starts.  Crossing snowy fields and glittering woodlands to Aira Force.  What a picture – a silent, motionless waterfall !  All silver bars and ropes of glittering diamonds, great, rounded slabs of pure glass, with, deep in this sparkling palace, just a thin trickle of water.  Words fail to paint the picture as we saw it, Aira Force in the grip of ice!  The same frosted beauty held the woods – the fields – the mountains – everywhere except in the choppy waters of the Lake.  Of all the lakes, Ullswater never freezes.

While the bright beauty of the heart of winter was in such evidence, the tragic side was near us too.  For quite a long time we stood watching a robin which kept hopping closer to us.  A cold winter is a hard time for the birds.  We watched until it seemed to be appealing for a morsel to save it from starvation.  A very pretty bird, but forlorn, it seemed, and from pity I turned to sorrow – none of us had the tiniest crumb of food with us.  All the way back to Glenridding I felt kind of miserable because we had to leave that bird hopping about in the snow, vainly searching for the morsel that might mean the difference between life and death.  There is a human parallel, even here, “In England, now, …….”

When we got back, the two defaulters had arrived, having been held up at Kendal the previous night.  Our party was now made into ‘We.R.7”  John Leigh is the lad for making a party go, a pianist of the first order either on popular dance stuff or classical, and an organiser to boot.  Jack (J.T.), the other, is a sport – our ‘nominee’ for ‘membership’ of which more anon.

We all went down to Patterdale and across the end of the lake, walking a mile or so along the opposite side, where we found a sheltered bluff.  There we sat, singing songs while the dusk slowly gathered over the waters of Ullswater, pale-ing the glimmering snow, and then the mountains grew fantastic and hazy.  However can I describe the glories of Lakeland in winter !

After tea snow began to fall heavily, at which hopes ran high that we might be ‘marooned’ ere Tuesday.  In that was the excuse for a prolongation of our short holiday.

John got away on the piano, and soon established himself with the two maidens, who, by this time, had fully emerged form their shell.  We tried a bit of dancing too, but dancing on a carpet is the direct antithesis to skating, so we decided to play games.  You know the kind of games.  As there were only two girls to seven of us, the games were very one-sided, and as they were nearly all organised by John they were mostly ‘one-man’ as well.  At any rate, John came in fairly prominently.  This lasted until the enterprising John bade fair to become the sole male player, when we gently withdrew him, and a sing-song replaced the farce.  At 2am we settled down in complete darkness to a period of ‘table-rapping’ by ‘spirit’ signs, also organised by the sprightly John.  Mistletoe-in-the-dark was the logical outcome of this, and here John had no more than his due portion of the game.  At half-past three we broke up and dispersed – to bed.


          Part  2                         THE  GREAT  PARTY


“This is a notable couple and have met

But for some secret knavery”.                             The Tanner of Tyburn

“Why sleep they not when others are at rest?”            -With apologies to Byrom

We lingered under the warm enclosure of the bedclothes.  A cold grey morning after a late night makes one appreciate the seductive qualities of a good bed, and the beds of mine hostess are beyond reproach.  Chuckling from the direction of John’s bed was followed by the rapid flight of six pillows, for peace is the keynote of morning restfulness, but John had germinated an idea.  When it came to us, he had it worked out, complete to a detail, watertight, certain of success.  He out-lined his brainstorm over breakfast.  We would have a party.  Call every young inhabitant for miles around, open out with a whist drive, then a first class dinner and sing-songs, games and what-not.  We asked the girls to gather the village up and bring its best attractions in at, say, 7.30pm.  We were only just in time, as they were going to organise a village dance in the schoolroom in our honour, but John’s idea was better, they agreed.

In Festive Mood January 1928

In Festive Mood001 It was a happy idea that decided the ‘We.R.7’ rendezvous for their New Year holiday.  A cycle-tour at New Year has many apparent disadvantages, but the ‘We.R.7’ had found the advantages far in excess.  They always do.  Two New Years had been spent at Ffestiniog, which place, though owing its quiet beauty to its wild position, can become outlandish beyond possibility in a day’s ride.  Rain and wind had twice combined their mighty forces, without success, to keep Ffestiniog beyond our reach, though our condition of arrival had both times been precarious.  A freak day, or snow would leave Ffestiniog absolutely inaccessible, for except from the coast the roads all cross the mountains, and are often blocked for weeks at once in winter.  Ispytty Ifan sent a heavy, third class lane to 1590 ft, hard after a day against the wind; Cwm Penmachno reaches the same height, but was harder still, and from Bala the seventeen miles road over Arenig was a ‘teaser’.  Mists, gradient, and a shocking surface tells a tale at the end of a hundred winter miles.  That surface since then has been changed to smooth tarmac, and nobody who remembers the nightmare at night in mist, will grudge the change.

We wanted a change, so Patterdale or Ullswater was suggested, and we agreed that Patterdale would fill the bill.  Kirkstone Pass was the only way, except for a detour of thirty miles or more by way of Penrith, but Kirkstone’s 1476 ft was little to worry about – a spice would be added by the crossing.  Besides, at least one pass is the qualification for the outward run.  The CTC handbook gave us Mrs Blacklock’s at Glenridding, a mile beyond Patterdale: we wrote for board for seven – three nights, and the reply assured us of ‘the good time coming’.  We were split up into three parties, three to make a full-day run, two to get off at noon, and Jack and I on the tandem expected ‘fetching’ our destination in a fast afternoon ride.  We two were just then in the heyday of our tandem activities.

That very few envied Jack and I when we steered away at 2.30pm that bleak last day of the Old Year was plain to see.  News was in the papers of great snowstorms that isolated the southern half of Britain that week, and dismal jimmies fluently prophesied ten-feet drifts in Lakeland.  These things troubled us not at all – we meant to cross Kirkstone if it was the remotest possibility.  On Belmont moors icy roads made us gang warily; a snowstorm raging on the summits was left behind as we descended to Abbey Village, and then, with clear roads, we raced coming darkness to Scotforth for tea.

A dark highway, a fast-moving tandem, and a good light – what is more thrilling?  With a strong wind behind and the pedals circling without apparent energy (we rode the tandem ‘fixed’) we took in belt upon belt of approaching roads, and reached Kendal in four cycling hours from home, at 7.30.  We had twenty mountainous miles, and high hopes of being in for supper.  For six miles to the Troutbeck lane beyond Staveley the road is pimply but along the little lane the ‘collar work’ really commences.  We ‘shanked’ a great deal up to the snowline.  As this lane was not by any means new to me I thought I knew it, but we took a wrong turn, swept down a long snow-strewn incline, walked up another, and entered a fairyland of snowy pines.  We eventually reached a fine hall surrounded by subsidiary buildings, and were put right by a chef who came out resplendent in white with a French accent and a strong aroma of whisky.  So back we sped through the pines and down and up to our turning.  At length came the true descent with bulky white ghosts of mountains growing round until we reached the pretty little church and bridge at Troutbeck, where starts the ascent of Kirkstone Pass.

The moon came out.  If ever I enjoyed a cold frosty night it was surely this magnificent New Year’s Eve over Kirkstone Pass.  The road was fairly clear of the snow that lay in drifts along each side and shone in the moonlight on the mountains.  Pictures of alpine grandeur rolled away in the blue – the deep, lovely blue of perfect night in mid-winter.  The silence of the world impressed us……..  we became aware that the end of another year was there, in the cold gleam of that night’s moon.  We had struggled through a year of passionate outbursts…… winter had shown us its wildest…… spring had roared – slashed her way through the tender shoots of Nature ……summer was a fitful dream of little spells of sunshine and long weeks of cloud, rain, gales and floods….. autumn had died at the birth of her, winter had entered at the death of summer.  But with scarcely two hours to live, 1927 wore the calm robes of queenly beauty.  We had weathered a wild year gladly – with a smile, but that brilliant Old Year moon brought a tear somehow.  The happiest retrospection holds a little pang that can hurt.

We were scarcely conscious of the summit until the snowy gorge of Stockgill opened out at our feet.  Yes there was Kirkstone Inn, unlighted, the hour must be late.  Jack had a watch.  The time was 10.15.  Patterdale lay six miles away down the Pass; our destination seven miles, the summit was clear of snow.  Just then the lamp went out – a refill was necessary, but I waived it.  There was a moon and not a policeman or indeed, a human being about.  Seven miles was less than half an hour! With our customary recklessness we plunged down the moonlit gap.  Ere the first bend Jack tried a rear brake from his handlebar, and stopped the back wheel immediately.  I felt the back of the tandem convulse, slide sideways, then jerking the front wheel to correct the skid, ran along the snow-choked gutter.  Ice !  The bend was rushing up to meet us when I steered into the snow again, for there was our only hope of checking.  The rear brake was tried again and sighed with combined relief when the machine slowed a little.  On the bend a drift had piled itself across the road. We cut through that drift like a launch in water, encountered a dreadful spell of ice again, and then the road became dry, shining in front like a grey ribbon; we sped down there with whirlwind velocity, reached Brothers Water, reedy in the silvery light, and in the wandering lane to Patterdale almost ran amok in a crowd of people on the road.  At that Jack refused to break the law another minute, and we charged the lamp again.

So magnetised by the beauty of the night were we that we failed to recognise Glenridding, riding along blissfully unaware till Aira Force, three miles beyond, was reached.  We did not regret that point: to ride back was a delight.  The moon tracked a silver way across the lake…. Ullswater….. the mountains sharp-prowed above, softer in distance, met that infinite blue.  We concluded our ride as 1927 had one unforgettable hour to live.

Three had arrived, Tom and the Wigan lads, which left two not accounted for.  We wondered if they had yet crossed Kirkstone…. they did not arrive that night.  The time-honoured custom of letting New Year in was performed according to local rites by the two dark members, Tom and Hindley Fred (hereafter H.F.), an enjoyable procedure to judge from the noise under the front door, where mistletoe was hanging.  There were two girls at home, the right type for such an occasion, and, as they later proved, game for anything.  There were toasts, we settled down and the girls gave us a sing-song.

At 3 am we went to bed.

*         *         *         *         *         *         *         *         *         *         *         *

Across the Dales February 1930

Across the Dales001 Upper Ribblesdale was in angry mood.  The mountains were cleaved into ridges by grey mist-banks, borne on the cold easterly winds; the trees, deprived long since of their clothing of leaves stood alone or in open groups, naked and miserable; the brown moors even seemed to sulk at the day, and here and there terraced limestone, dirty grey, ran with water.  There were hamlets that huddled as if sheltering each other, but with scant success, and isolated farms that pressed their stone sides against the wind and the rain.  The road was hard; interminable little hills ascended to points where the free wind swept across unhampered, and where the rain it bore along in a horizontal track stung like a whip.

I have seen Ribblesdale like a gem in summer, all gleaming under warm skies and kindly sunshine.  The moorlands, brown as they always are, have been alive with living beings like the virtuous curlew and the hoarse grouse; lambs have skipped and dozed and bleated with thin throats, and their black-faced parents have foraged the coarse, spare grass with undisturbed tranquillity.  In summer time the riverside fields have yielded their lot – hay and wheat, and where triumph from the encroaching moorland has been greater, other crops have flourished.  The trees too, even those isolated survivors in windy spaces, have held leaves to show the world they live, and round about the farms men and women, with noise and bustle and many a shout have plied their endless fight against nature.  Little winds from west and south have helped us up the dale, and we have greeted the country folks with a smile or a ‘good day’.

Across the Dales002 This day on the threshold of February made us wonder if summer could ever come here again.  Perhaps it was that human folk had given up their losing fight and gone away to the warmer plains for ever.  We had no place there, the wind seemed to cry, but we continued just the same, for man can defy the elements and push himself against their will.  He loved to do it sometimes; in the creeping, tortured road beneath us he had set a permanent seal to his defiance; down below, in the dale, his road was strips of metal on which his vehicles ran with speed that defied the very easterly gales.  We met a burly farmer down the road, and knew then that Man only rested behind stone walls.  Spring and the bleating, frolic-some lambkin would come again; the sparse fields would nourish growing things that spelt life to man and beast, and the bustling and day-long toil would come with the sun.

There were places in these hills that never heard the wind, that knew no light but the occasional candle of the timid humans who knew their sufferance was only in hours what ages had built and ages did not destroy.  Now, when Winter ruled above, there was no place for man; only swirling water that did not stay, and darkness that never moved.  There were vast places where light or man would never go, and in them beauty grew unknown…….fated never to be seen.

Can it be wondered then, that as we slowly pressed our way to Ribble Head, the elements and these thoughts occupied our minds.  We had been out at morning, and had faced those elements all the day except for a rest at Worston near Clitheroe.  Dusk overtook us at Ribble Head, where we turned for Hawes, along a metalled road that was abandoned to the night.  A good, metalled road, yet deserted as the windy fell tops themselves.  Man had graded it carefully, lest his road across those hills should not bear its worth, but his winding tilts were devilish hard that day, and we were glad to walk long stretches of it.  There was snow near the summit and the cold rain held sleet.  We passed the fork-road where through the mist a single finger-post pointed ‘Dent’ towards the northward wastes, then in a little while a window gleamed its light and we sought shelter and tea there, at the ‘Inn’ on Newby Head.

A hundred years had brought two changes there.  We had tea at an old, misused sideboard in a large room.  In the open hearth a peat fire burned but did not spread its warmth to us; the floor was flagged and sand-sprinkled; the roof (or ceiling rather), was supported by massive beams of oak; food lay on the bare table – the remains of a meal; and three young children crawled on the dilapidated rug that constituted the only floor covering or ran up and down the sanded floor with iron-shod clogs.  The two men-folks were busy giving each other haircuts all the hour we were there, while the woman; middle aged wife of one, sat sewing clothing that would long have passed out of ken in town.  The two changes – a Ribble bus company timetable, and a fine wireless set that gleamed new in such a careless, ancient room.  There, at 1,400ft, miles from the nearest village and isolated by gale-swept moorlands, we heard the sports results from throughout Britain, the weather report from Manchester, and the news bulletin relayed from London.

We went out from that big room cold, but the outer void was colder.  It was black, welded into a frozen whole, in which the Nor’easter played unhampered.  For a space we could not pierce the black because our acetylene lamps had frozen; the first blue flame announced our success at last, but we had only shifted the zone of activity – we almost cried with frost-bitten fingers.  Our haste to get down to the sheltered valley, five miles down the night received a jolt when brakes too easily jammed the wheels, which slid quickly off the perpendicular.  The road had become a sheet of black ice.  Two miles below the wind growled to a silence and the road was again wet.  Rain began.  The steep end of Hawes with windows pale through curtained light assured us we had come to rock bottom at the head of Wensleydale.  We only required that assurance of Hawes, and we left the bulk of its one main street behind with less than a glance.  We crossed the dale to Hardraw.  The Buttertubs Pass begins its ascent at Hardraw (you can hear the roar of the Force from the buttressed road); I had crossed the pass once, on a broiling Bank Holiday weekend, when crawling cars crossed too and people covered the moors almost like maggots on choice Limburger after long isolation, but not so admirably camouflaged as the insects are.  We expected nothing moving on the pass, except the northeaster, and its sleet, and we were right.  The gradient is easiest from Hardraw, but at a thousand feet we reached snow.  A sludge at first till the Pass proper, then the snow deepened, hung on our feet, jammed our wheels.  The going got hard at 1,500ft, for the Nor’easter was gusty with frozen sleet slashing at us, and the deepening drifts under-wheel.  A mist came down or else we climbed up to it, and our lights came back at us.  The road then was buried with nothing to tell its boundary from the moorland bog, but the faint track of a cart that had crossed hours before.  We were lucky, for that was our only guide to the summit.  Our slow plod was rewarded with a final drift three or four feet deep through which we almost swam to the cart track, faint but still faithfully present on the other side.  That was the summit at 1,726ft.

The descent began, hardly easier, but for a time sheltered.  I could smoke a cigarette at last!  The snow underfoot got us in the legs which became heavy, wearied.  On the right a grey gaping Nothing kept us to our solitary cart tracks; on the left the tousled white of the bank must be eyed with suspicion.  Once, in a flash of memory I recognised a landmark that had seated a motoring party at tea one August afternoon, and to test my memory I found a loose piece of independent rock and threw it into a snow cornice.  It sped through, awakening a hollow cataclysm of noise in the depths of the hill.  “One of the Buttertubs”, I said to Fred, who grimaced and suggested a closer attention to the friendly cart tracks.  The cart tracks certainly saved us from complications.  Half a mile further down the road shook itself clear of snow and slid down like a precipice to the Swaledale road at Thwaite, just above Muker.  Four miles, four hours!

The next three miles climbing round Kisdon Fell put the finishing touch to us.  We admit quite frankly that we were ‘knocked’.  Cathole Inn at Keld was hailed with relief.  It was built with the one purpose to receive us on that Saturday night.  The dales-folk knew their business; cyclists often arrive like we did, starved, tired, wet, and no questions are asked – requirements are known.  There was a fire in the front room, deep armchairs, books, and from the blackened roof-beams huge bacons were swinging, the table was very old and heavy, and on one snug end of it a festive supper was laid.  Various food and good, with strong coffee to stimulate yawning reaction; the food was home produce or stored for this very night – for us, we felt.  The dalesfolk make you feel like that.

With half an hour to midnight we went to bed.  Up above, on Buttertubs, the nor’easter was driving sleet into the drift.  A grey mist possessed the wilds; the tracks of a single farm cart lumbered over the pass……… maybe now they were buried under the new snow.  At the undefined roadside slender cornices of snow hung over silent pits to launch the wandering sheep into oblivion.  We went to sleep………

The bedroom window abutted over the road.  Fields of wearied green beyond, and moorland fellsides hugging them within narrow limits; the sky was grey and cold like the mist had been last night, and the nor’easter was still blowing, not so hard, perhaps, but the wind was only resting and in a few hours would renew his power – perhaps with rain or snow – or sleet.  February was here now.  Yesterday had still been the first month of the year, but today was a definite stride ahead.  Old people and weaklings dread the month, for February kills, but Spring is cradled too, and lower in the dales the snowdrop – the crocus too if the month is kindly – will push through the winter earth.  There was a stride forward in that grey Sunday morning, for February had entered the dales.

The ‘Cathole’ did us well.  Breakfast was the result of years of close study as to the basic needs of cyclists about to cross Tan Hill.  Not that Tan Hill is such a terror to face; it is hard – any mountain crossing must be hard, and it is long, but we knew that deep snow lay on the way – untrodden, maybe, and the breakfast fare laid for our assimilation was calculated to help us, to fortify us.  The threat in the sky came to pass at that breakfast table; rain settled down, and capes and sou’westers came out.  We faced the mountains again after the merest introduction to the infant Swale, bawling along on its deep-set course down to gentler meads.

Progress at first was not severe, for after the stony road had taken one leap out of Swaledale head, it settled down to a gentle tilt along a moorland depression – Stonesdale – to the snowline.  The snowline was definite; one minute the road was clear, the rest we floundered across a drift, and thereafter the Cathole breakfast proved its worth.  There are some old ruins at Ladgill; we missed the road and found the ruins, for no friendly cart tracks, not even single footsteps, had left their marks on virgin snow.  We found a ditch too, with a stream underneath, and the water was cold to the feet.  The road regained, our pace settled down to a long slog, with many a stop to scrape the stuffed snow from between the mudguards and the wheel, or to debate which was road in the unbroken expanse of white.  The rain ceased.  Then ahead a black speck showing against the snowy folds of moorland resolved itself into Tan Hill Inn, the highest in England (1,732ft) and we reached the fork road just beside it.  From this point we anticipated a long series of swoops to the Vale of Eden, but the snow was the best scotch of the day.  Riding was a farce, unless it was done for fun down the steeper parts, for heavy drifts across the road always concluded in a hectic skid.  Snow is soft; often it received us hands first in wild dives, but it is never conducive to speed unless skis are used.  We didn’t carry skis, but shall do so next time!  A wild descent round an elbow called Taylor Rigg placed us in lower, clearer climes, but the road wriggled uphill again almost to its original altitude.  Views were blotted by the grey mist that hung two hundred yards ahead, waiting for night to call it nearer.  Just above Barras the road became visible underneath a thinner coating, and we slipped down to freedom in an exhilarating glide.  Kirkby Stephen at 2.30pm, five hours, 14 miles.  We thought we had done well !

We had lunch in Kirkby Stephen, and changed our stockings, our only contribution to a dryer existence, for the rest of our clothing would have to ‘dry’ on.  At half past three we toiled up the long climb on the Sedbergh road.  After that we drifted; the nor’easter had regained its old power, but now pushed us from dead behind; the road was all falling down a winding stream-fed dale with billowy fells bright with snow-tops, couchant on each side.  It was beautiful.  At Cautley the spectacular waterfall, Cautley Spout, lying back in a ravine, was a glassy line of spate, then we drifted through Sedburgh, and sat back waiting, it seemed, for village after village to be ‘lapped’ back, and for familiar scenes as lovely as ever to unroll themselves and roll up again behind till we came again.  The final stage of Lunesdale was by lamplight, we climbed up through Lancaster to tea at Scotforth.  Contrast?  Morning miles; 14 in five hours: afternoon; 43 in two and a half hours !

The going continued good, and Preston receded to Walton-le-Dale.  At Bamber Bridge Fred forked off for his Wigan; I endured many thousands of setts towards Bolton in company with a Manchester lad who was ‘all out’.  The kind of fellow who rides a ‘stripped’ machine and gears up to 85.  He had done Blackpool the previous afternoon in half the time we had crossed the hills from Newby Head to Keld.  I crawled with him for many miles enduring his talk of a speed he could not then even strive for, and at length, as my way turned from his, I decided that he would never see the Dales by his own power.  Blackpool, perhaps, but………………….


Behind the Ranges October 1929

Post:  This October 1929 story of Charlie’s has an unexpected 1956 update!  (I couldn’t have put all this in Charlie’s books because they are about him, but on this website I can include other relevant items, so here goes).  The four people standing before you at Easter 1956 just below the summit of Moel Sych (2,713ft), are left to right, Fred Dunster, H.H. Willis, myself David Warner, aged 16, and ‘Bart’ a gentleman with the surname Bartholomew.  We were all attending the very first – inaugural – RSF Easter Meet, and the photograph was taken by Fred Dunster’s time delay camera on his tripod.  I should explain that this mountain is a peculiar shape, in that the space to the right of this summit is a pretty sheer fall of well over a 1000ft down to a small lake Llyn Lluncaws. Charlie has had other adventures on this mountain at other times, including one where his wife-to-be nearly slid over the edge, complete with bike, a very frightening moment. This incident is described in full in an article dated 1932, repeated in Charlie’s book Volume Two, ‘Further Adventures’, page 101.  In this day and age Charlie would be described as foolhardy for tackling this crossing in the weather prevailing, especially as there was no mountain rescue teams in their times.  Maybe he was lucky to only just contract pneumonia and get over it six weeks later!

Behind the Ranges took place on the weekend of 5/6th of October, 1929.  The weather across those two days is described by Charlie in his diary in one word, ‘Deluge’.  It also involved a total mileage of 170 miles over the two days, and his companion would have been one of the We.R 7.  One other historical point, Fred Dunster later became the Rough Stuff Fellowship Secretary, serving the Club for some years.

Moel Sych Summit 1955001



Behind the Ranges001


Llanrhaiadr-yn-Mochnant !  To you, my reader, just another of those atrocious Welsh names perhaps, a name heard or read sometime, somewhere, and forgotten; a name unknown to the heedless world; a place unseen except to an occasional wanderer or a traveller straying beyond his latitude.   But to a comrade and I a place of substance, a reality deep in the heart of the mountains; a place not easy of access; to our dreams – and now to our memories – a place of “laughter and inn-fires”.  Reader, look behind the ranges and behold – Llanrhaiadr-yn-Mochnant !

It so happened one fitful Saturday morning early in October, that I turned my wheel against the wind towards those distant inn-fires and the joys of comradeship that I should find at Llanrhaiadr.  There was a hard tussle, a battle royal across the plains to Chester; a battle broken only by a stop for lunch at a quaint Cheshire home-stead.  Though skies gloomed Nature was in a gay mood, for in the park of Eaton Hall Autumn had traced a gorgeous pattern.  Man too, had done a share; the Golden Gates glittered with a new gilding and all the lesser gates were newly silvered.  Life was there – a grey squirrel lurking for prey, red squirrels, gorgeously plumed pheasants, and, of course, prolific bunnies scuttling away on every side at my approach.  I cheated the wind by seeking the shelter of the border hills to Cefn-y-Bedd, and gave way to the temptation of footpaths – in Nant-y-Ffrith.

Nant-y-Ffrith is always beautiful.  In a land of exquisite valleys none ever seem to be quite like Nant-y-Ffrith.  Summer lingers late there, and all the green livery of summer was there that gloomy Saturday afternoon; only along the topmost ridges Autumn had started to tinge the green.  A month yet ere this even-hued seclusion would be turned into a riot of living colour.  While I still lingered there the drowsy sky filled up and rain began to fall.  Head to a wind-driven torrent, I crossed the open moor from Bwlch Gwyn, and descending into the Llandegla ‘basin’, I sought shelter and tea at homely Ypento.  There I fretted an hour and a half away, waiting till I cared to wait no longer.  The rain had settled in.

I crossed the Horseshoe Pass.  There was a mist up there and drenching rain and with it a wildness that overawed me – a lonely desolation on the erstwhile busy Horseshoe Pass !  During the descent a not uncommon, but no less undesirable incident occurred.  My brakes failed to grip the wet rims as I was approaching the double loop of the ‘horseshoe’:  I grimly watched the front wheel splice the water on the road with increasing impetus, and the steeply cambered bend rush upon me.  My fingers strained at both cables, until, on the very bend itself the brake blocks creaked complainingly and froze to the rim – the wheels locked, and in a skid I swung round the bend and found myself gliding easily round the second twist.  The nick of time !  Thence all was well.  The mist was above now, and the mountain slopes were revealed aglow with effusive dyes.  Down in the Vale it was dusk and Llangollen was lamplit and snugly wet with people hurrying along the streets or stood in groups in sheltered places…..  I left Llangollen, facing precipitous ‘Aullt-y-Body’ with, ever before me, the picture of ‘laughter and inn-fires’ at Llanrhaiadr-yn-Mochnant, still far behind the ranges…….

As I tramped the long steep lane I wondered if all this was worth the while, and cursed myself for the doubt in me.  The pall of darkness descended; I lit my little oil lamp and laughed at its impotent flicker – laughed at it and wondered why I hadn’t got a better lamp – laughed as I struggled on through filth and ooze, or as I stumbled over a stony outcrop, and wondered again – why I laughed !  Near the ragged drawn-out summit a belt of leafless trees screamed in the wind, and there, in hazy silhouette, I saw a horseman stopped still, weird and unreal.  What an experience that was – the steep road and driving rain, the screaming trees, the cloudy darkness, the silhouetted rider.  As I stood there taking it all in, the horseman moved and then with a clatter of hoofs he passed me and I was alone again, tramping, tramping……… tramping.

For just a short time I was able to essay a ride – more of a skid and a jolt – until the road tilted downwards so steeply that I dismounted again.  I knew Allt-y-Body of old !  Down I ran, down till the hazy lights of the Vale of Ceiriog shone below through the rain, down again till the houses – the lights – the warm glow of the wet main street  of Glyn Ceiriog, and people again and……. the road, the dark, wet, silent road once more.

It was a good road along the upper Glyn Valley, hedged by the shadows of mountains, edged by trees, by rocks, and crossed by streams that babbled in the night.  Up and down and sinuously round bends it ran, past occasional farmsteads and through one or two dimly shining hamlets, each sheltering its little knot of chatting men who shouted a musical “Cymric” Good Night! to me as I passed.  There was comfort to me in each of the courteous calls !  In the narrow depths of that valley the wind was but a low murmur sounding from the pines above, and travel was easy and loaded with glamour.  Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog was dimly lit from the diamond windows of its two inns that face each other across the village square, marked the end of the road, and in one of those inns I rested and refreshed myself – not in the ‘flowing bowl’.  I talked with the company, a grizzled group of mountain men who were playing dominoes for pints of beer and laconically passing the days-old news around.  There was one lank individual with a weathered face and muscle in every movement of his six-foot body who told me he had tramped the Berwyns for thirty years, who knew their highland whims and every treacherous yard of them.  The Berwyns were his; in the telling of tales he displayed a love, a passionate love for those upland wastes with all their many-headed moods, and I admired that love, envied him of it !  It must be a great thing to know and to love with understanding, such things as that broad ribbon of mountain peaks, the Berwyns.

Once again the shrouding uselessness of the cape, and this time the last of the ranges; the last, the hardest, crossed by a lane that really was no more than a track at times, a heap of stones here – a morass there – a puzzle-in-the-dark  with the snare of the great invisible Berwyns as a trap to the unwary.  It was a trap of steep falls and branching lanes that led to the cold heart of them.  The Berwyns heart is cold, even with the lives of men who love them.  Wild….. a grim land of mists and steeps and echoing nothingness…..

There came a long, steep climb with but the absurd glimmer of a little oil lamp to light a yellow pin-patch of the grey blankness that swirled around.  I felt myself breaking up like an old ship near the summit, for, as later events proved, I was in none too fit a condition, but I pulled myself together as I thought of the last five miles and the end of the road…..”laughter……  and inn-fires”.  At the summit I mounted, and in a reckless mood probably born of weariness, I plunged out of the grey into the black mouth of a sunken lane diverging on the left.  Trusting to intuition (an untrustworthy sense at best), and to some knowledge of this country, I crashed along over loose stones which more than once threw me into an alarming skid in the slime that followed.  Once the evil glimmer of water ahead made my heart leap, but in a twinkling I was beyond it with nothing more than a cold douche over my already saturated feet.  Many other lanes converging into this one, once made me fear that I had gone wrong, a dread thought in the exhausted condition I was in and with a mountainous nowhere on all sides, but I received an exiting assurance when the road dropped away like a chasm below me, and jamming both brakes I jumped away from the saddle.  Well enough I know that descent !

And so came a last steep fall to a little lighted street – Llanrhaiadr-yn-Mochnant.  I was not disappointed; welcome blazed in the lights of the inn, and soon I was enjoying a scrub, shaking the dirt and the damp of four ranges from me.  Even while I was so employed, in came my comrade as wet as I had been, with a story as adventurous as mine – an afternoon’s hard ride, and – the ranges.  He spoke with a voice that burned enthusiasm as fuel and glowed with love for a game he had chosen as his.  Like the mountain man of the inn at Llanarmon a great love was his…… and he was not alone in it.  That night , as never before, I had felt the love of it, and even in weariness, the joys of it.

Then down to company…….. comradeship…….. laughter…..and inn-fires !

*         *         *         *         *         *         *         *         *         *         *         *

It was still raining when we awoke next morning; it was still raining at breakfast, and when we left the friendly shelter of the inn it was raining still.  Over the bulky mountains the rain-clouds hung and the sky was cold and grey.  Our chosen route climbed constantly, with the swollen Rhaiadr stream chattering below and the slow fires of Autumn burning overall.  We agreed that everything was lovely.  In four miles the road ended at a farm, in a complete cul-de-sac, and there we viewed Pistyll Rhaiadr, “The Spout of the Cataract”, thundering in spate.  I will leave it to John ‘Ceiriog’ Hughes, the Glyn Valley poet of a hundred years ago to describe it in his own Cymric tongue.  The translation is George Borrow’s:

“Foaming and frothing from mountainous height

Roaring like thunder the Rhyadr falls;

Though its silvery splendour the eye may delight,

Its fury the heart of the bravest appals”.

Our chosen way was a hard way, and seemed a grim way too – over the highest Berwyn.  The outlook was repelling, a constant downpour, dense mist above, and steaming hillsides – but Autumn was there in all its beauty, and the tangled bracken seemed to leap in tongues of still flame to meet the curling clouds.

A ‘short cut’ soon led us into difficulties; a promising path that ended in dripping bracken, and the subsequent performances ere we reached the true track involved climbing walls, crossing a swollen stream and clambering up a steep slope.  Our feet were drenched by then, but that, we soliloquised, was inevitable sooner or later.  The track was good and we enjoyed a long walk uphill with the russet and gold of the bracken on each hand, and the valley behind, with Pistyll Rhaiadr a fleck of white shining through the rain.  But the track ended with dramatic suddenness, and threw us away from Autumn into a land of bog and brown grass and outcropping rock, a desolate scene as grand in its barrenness as the valley behind in its loveliness.  Not the least sign remained to show us the track, and wide bog-areas, sluggish, slimy streams, and tough tangly heather gave us a foretaste of that to come.  We struggled up to a ridge, and found ourselves gazing on a dark little lake bounded by reeds on three sides, and on the far side by scree – below the mist-capped crags of Moel Sych, Berwyns highest peak.  Picture it if you can, reader: picture we two, the only things in that wild region, gazing in awed stupification at all around us, solitudes seeming infinite in grey mists on looming heights, and silence weirdly profound below the dull roar of the wind on the crags above.

Mutely we moved on, skirting the tarn (Llyn Llyncaws) and peering anxiously at the crags – looking for the green ledge that would mark our path.  We knew it was there, somewhere, and we had to go that way – the only way a bicycle could be taken across Cader Berwyn.  We detected it, a faint zig-zag of green on the sombre grey, from the top of the scree to the ridge.  Only a year ago we had traversed it, after a wearying search and an endless trail over long bog-slopes.  This time we meant to make no mistake; we struck out boldly up the scree in a direct climb.  We soon   discovered that there was no easy way…… a thousand feet of sheer desperation on that scree !  From yielding sod and slimy bog-holes, rock and shale cropped out, became the crowning difficulty, and the scramble became a struggle, the struggle a crawl, till oft-times we mounted on hands and knees inches at a time, with the bikes somehow across our backs.  I grit my teeth now – as I did then – when I think of it, the times we slipped and cut our knees or barked our shins till we ignored the pain in the general exhaustion, or in the greater pain of a collapse beneath the bikes.  Our fingers often tore up fugitive sods wedged in the crevices as we grasped them in the effort to save ourselves, and the cumber-some bikes often added to our confusion by bringing us down heavily, whilst all the time the untiring rain streamed over us.  We reached the ledge, and that was little better – infinitely more dangerous, we thought, as we warily skirted the crags and listened to loosened shale bounding down from rock to rock into the welter of mist below.

At last the ridge – the summit !  At two thousand six hundred feet we stood and watched the grey vapours now below steaming up as from a great cauldron, occasionally parting for a moment to give us a glimpse of the cliffs and dark lake below the scree.  That was all we saw, but we were impressed more there than with all the impressing scenes on that memorable weekend.

Obviously it was foolish to delay:  we were wet through and the cold wind chilled us to the bone.  Ahead now were brown wastes bounded by mists, swept by the wind, and trackless except for treacherous sheep-trails that wandered everywhere and led nowhere.  We had profited by a bitter experience of such on those bleak moors, and so, unconcerned by the blankness around, we pushed our way into a wind that sent warning spasms of cold running through us like the striking of fever in the body.  We came to a tiny stream and followed it closely, watching it gain in volume, until, to our delight, we struck a track – rough, but how infinitely easier than the miles of pitted bog behind !

Suddenly the curtain lifted, and the vast stage lay set before us – a splendid prospect of moors above moors, mountains behind mountains, red and purple and gold shining, smiling in the rain.  That was not all.  The rain ceased, the track improved, and soon our stream took us into a fertile valley with farms, fields and woods – and then sunshine, warm, beautiful sunshine.  From the desolate to the sublime !  We rattled down that track, through gates, a farmyard, across a ploughed field, over a water-splash to a road, a sunken, muddy lane, but a road – down to Llandrillo in the sweet Vale of Edeyrnion, and to the Corwen road.  We had barely reached a favourite house at Cynwyd for a late lunch when the grey ousted the blue, and the rain came down again.

There followed a bathroom scene in which towels, cold water, and massage did much to still the involuntary shivering which still racked our limbs – legacy of exhaustion and Berwyn !  The healing influence of a cosy room, a fire and tea-dinner worked wonders.  Time sped by until……….

The road again and the constant douche of rain again; the wind dead behind, making the thirty-three hilly miles to Chester comparative child’s play.  With the shining wet streets behind we pursued a lamp-lit course back to the quaint Cheshire homestead for tea.

Now a gale was blowing – and still the rain.  On the homeward side of Warrington the wind blew one of us clean of his bike, providing us with many a thrill ere a turn of the road gave us its assistance.  At Winwick we separated, my comrade for his Wigan coalfields and I for my home in the Town of Cotton.

Thus ended our search behind the Ranges.  We won through in spite of weather conditions that were fiendish, conditions that laid me low for many weeks following, for I had started with a shadow overhanging.  They called us the “dammedest fools” at home, and maybe you, my reader, will endorse the verdict.  We don’t deny they may be right, but you cannot know – they cannot know – who do not love the hills.  They may kill us, these wilds, but we shall love them.  They lash us with their fury, yet how our hearts do yearn for their very fury !  They have bound my friend and I in a tie of comradeship that took each of us through so much to meet at the hospitable inn – and to face together hell itself across Cader Berwyn.  Others had started – but just we two had faced the worst and found the best.

Reader, go across the ranges and forget not the almost forgotten name…..  Llanrhaiadr-yn-Mochnant !

[Charlie was certainly right about a ‘shadow overhanging’, he contracted pneumonia after this weekend effort, and was off his bike for seven weeks.]  

From out of the Past (Part three)

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


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

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

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

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

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

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