Over breakfast this morning we had a chat about the day’s route. We were already 20 miles behind schedule – we should have spent last night in Bettws-y-Coed. We were in no form to make it up so we scrapped the day’s plans and decided to go through Nant Ffrancon to Beddgelert instead of the Vale of Conway route originally planned. Starting at 10am we ran across to Penmaenmawr, and, riding through the town, took to the coast. Although a trifle spoiled by quarrying, the mountain scenery here is fine, the huge bulk of Penmaenmawr mountain descending sheer for 1,500ft to the sea. The hilltops were clothed in mist and long distance views became impossible.
Rounding the head we slid along to Llanfairfechan, and on towards Aber. The mountains receded and gave way to pleasant green slopes and wooded roadsides. After three miles we reached Aber, and a discussion took place as to the advisability of reviewing the falls. The proposal failed at 2-1 against and we carried on. At Penrhyn we lingered awhile amid luscious woodland scenery. We rode through Bangor to Glen Adda, where we turned uphill to Upper Bangor, and later arrived at the Menai Straits.
Leaving our bikes, we walked along the beautiful toll bridge, Telford’s famous suspension bridge. What a fine view is to be had from this spot! The old village of Menai, close to the water, the straits with their wooded banks and the open sea beyond form a grand picture. A mile or so from the bridge is the famous village of the very long name shortened to Llanfair PG. After a sojourn on the bridge we tore ourselves away and proceeded back to Bangor by a hilly lane road. On the road from Bangor to Bethesda a terrific row took place between me and the others. They told me that if the mist hung over Nant Ffrancon they weren’t going that way – they didn’t want to get wet. I asked which way they would go, Llanberis being the only other way and that was higher and more likely to be cloaked in mist.
The only other alternative meant going back to Conway. They replied that that was better than getting wet, so I became defiant and told them to go. I was going over Nant Ffrancon. Anyway the mist on the pass had dispersed, and as lunch was of more importance just then we found a good lunch place at 1pm. At 2pm we were on the road again, climbing easily along a fine surface. The great quarries of Penrhyn, biting deep into the sides of Bronllwydd, lifted in giant steps until they were lost in the mist. Soon they were out of sight and we were running into a beautiful, wooded valley, the Vale of Beavers. Steep precipitous slopes took the place of wooded land, the road became a trifle steeper, and rocks and boulders, thrown down by the screes lined the roadside in desolate profusion. The whole scene was wild and desolate, grim, cloudy, and the sharp flanks of Carnedd Dafydd, and Moel Perfedd were covered by the treacherous mist, and yet…. how grand! What midgets we were! how ridiculously small and unimportant we seemed towards those great, grim mountains! In the midst of all this a yellow ‘Shell Motor Spirits’ sign screamed ’Summit of Nant Ffrancon Pass, 1,000ft’. We were amazed to know that we had climbed a thousand feet, and we unanimously declared that this was the finest graded road we had yet ridden over.
The placid waters of Llyn Ogwen lay at our feet but we had eyes for the mountains just then, and leaving our bikes we took a rough track which after a mile or so led us to the shores of Llyn Idwal. This is the gloomiest, blackest lake I have seen. It simply screams of tragedy – the tragedy of its name implies this, for was it not Idwal, the son of an early Welsh King, thrown from the cliffs into the Llyn? Beyond the lake, a huge cleft, three hundred yards deep and three hundred high, is split in the rock. This defile is known the world over as the Devils Kitchen, the Black Hole, or in Welsh, Twll Ddu. Here, fifteen climbers have been killed in trying to ascend the ‘chimney’, amongst them one of Britain’s finest Alpine climbers. Now a little cross, erected beneath the frowning precipice, marks the fatal rocks. All this, however, I have taken from various other sources because we didn’t know where the gully was, although it must have been within sight. Instead we decided that it must be those cliffs on the left side of Glyder Fawr, and so a combined effort was made to scale the west flank.
We were soon in the mist, which, although we could not see it, soon wet us through. One of our party, being older and more sensible decided to go back, and although he pleaded with us to give it up, we wouldn’t. We had become fascinated with the lure of the mountains and we wanted to climb higher and higher until we reached the topmost peak. Gee! but it was worth it! Up rocky shelves we climbed, across shale and loose stones. There was only one thing that worried me. My companion had not done this sort of thing before, and he made slips that sent a shudder through me.
In one place the loose stones ended on the edge of a cliff 50ft high, and while we were crossing we could hear the stones bounding over the edge. Now the going was easier and we soon stood in a vast amphitheatre with cliffs all round, lined in mist. “Somewhere up there is the peak of Glyder Fawr”, we said as we stood there, two little spots amid the solitude of the mountains. We had climbed 2,800ft out of 3,262ft, and it seemed a shame to give it up now – but we were not equipped for the game so sorrowfully we turned round to return. What a view! Below us two little glimmering sheets of water represented Llyns Idwal and Ogwen, whilst between we could just discern Llyn Bouchllwydd. Looking straight ahead we commanded a superb view of Nant Ffrancon, Anglesey and the dim outline of the Irish coast. Only the mountains on three sides being clothed in mist spoiled one of the finest views in Great Britain.
As the time was getting on we had to turn back and taking a direct way we did famously until a line of precipices brought us to a sudden stop. We might have been lost had not an experienced man been nearby at the time and he showed us a way down in a river bed. There was enough river however, to give us a good splashing. An exciting time followed in getting down, once I disturbed a bird in its nest and its sudden exit nearly terminated our tour and added another to the long list of accidents. After a hundred and fifty feet and an hour of thrills we reached Llyn Idwal.
Our ‘rescuer’ informed us that we had descended the Idwal staircase, a creditable performance. Accompanying us on our way back to our friend, he explained about all the peaks around us. I was for trying the Devils Kitchen but he told me it was too late in the day to risk it. Our touring friend was talking to some motorists who seemed relieved to see us – they told us we were lucky and gave us a drink of tea and a sandwich – the real kind of motorists. The descent to Capel Curig was uneventful, and going up to Pen-y-Gwryd we caught a momentary glimpse of Snowdon as the cap of cloud lifted. The beautiful Vale of Gwynant was ‘rushed’ and I led them over two miles of footpaths, a dozen stiles and some terrible hills to a farmhouse recommended to me at Easter. They were full up, and before we had gone far I came in for a heap of chinwag. Anyway, we got in a pretty little cottage just entering Beddgelert where the old lady didn’t understand much English. ‘On’y ‘t short words’. After a walk to Gelert’s Grave we got back to supper and bed.
44 miles, 9.5 hours