January In The Welsh Mountains

Below is set out the travels of early January 1926, I think.  It has been saved as a draft and never published.  My sincere apologies.

New Year with the ‘We.R.7’

The hills are shadows, and they flow
From form to form, and nothing stands;
They melt like mists, the solid lands,
Like clouds they shape themselves and go.


It was a time of storm, of rain, of cold winds, of mists, of early darkness, of heavy roads.  It was a time of laughter, of festivities, a time when care is thrown to the winds, when the reins of restraint are relaxed a little – a time of good cheer.  It was – New Year!

For the second time, the ‘We.R.7’ had decided to make Ffestiniog their centre.  The party had increased from the three of last New Year to the six – Blackberry Joe declining to come along.  And the arrangement was just, ‘Ffestiniog, New Year’s Night’.

There was one whom we shall call John – our social big-wig, who knows more about forfeits, jazz, pianos and girls than all the rest of us put together.  He danced the old Year out and started towards our destination ere the New Year was two hours old.  I believe he arrived on all fours, though I won’t say any more.  There were four who went together from Chester (where they met up), Tom, Billberry, Fred and the inimitable Young Fred, choosing the hardest way, facing rude Boreas until they were ready to emulate the old soldiers in the song, and ‘simply fade away’ ere they reached their goal.  I fared no better, starting last – and  arriving last as usual!

At half past nine I left home, and soon discovered that I was off-colour.  By noon I had only reached Frodsham, where I found a busy household at Mrs Littler’s.  There was to be free fare for all who cared to go along to that hospitable establishment, and I was sorely tempted to stay awhile.  Joe was to come, though the free party was not the only attraction.  There was a ‘sweet young thing’, name of Marion – ‘Maid Marion’ we called her – who had more than a passing interest in Blackberry Joe, and as the interest was mutual, Joe was to be her Robin Hood for that party.  When I was there the inimitable Marion was busy hanging mistletoe up, no doubt to give Joe a start.  But mistletoe will do for others what it will do for Joseph……..

The afternoon was wild and sombre, a headwind ‘gnawed’ at me, and I felt in ill mood.  From Chester I crawled through the lanes to Caergwrle, walked for miles up to Bwlchgwyn, and arrived with the darkness at the ‘Crown’ at Llandegla.

For the rest, it is a bit of a repeat of what I have written before in these pages – wind and rain down to Corwen – a ding-dong to Bala, where I would fain have given up the ghost for that night, and an irresolute pace towards Arenig.  But not irresolute for long.  Over Arenig the wind moans and sighs, the clouds descend to the moorlands and night is filled with wandering mists – the hills are shadows…. a road wavers….. darts to the top of a ridge…. tumbles down again….. and winds over a heaving bogland fifteen hundred feet high.  A chattering stream rings eerily up there…. the sheep are wandering ghosts.  On the blackest, wildest night there is a glamour over Arenig.  You are a lonely figure – and a tiny one too up on Arenig, and you struggle until you are tired in every nerve; you are wet and sore and tired – but you keep on and win through in time.  That is not the end.  Yours is retrospect.  Sometimes you will re-live that lonely adventure.  Perhaps you will smile and say “What a ride!”  But you will be glad – glad!

Then, at Ffestiniog, a welcome and a jocund company awaited me.  And what a difference these things make!  One cannot forget these things – and that well earned supper party….

The Vale of Ffestiniog

Although I have toured in all four lands that go to make our British Isles; though I’ve seen the more famous of England’s beauty spots, in the Lakes, on the Border, in Yorkshire, in the Peak and Dales of Derbyshire, in the evergreen Midlands, in Somerset and Devon, in Scotland, Ireland and Wales, I have yet to see that which appeals to me more than the Vale of Ffestiniog.  Valleys I’ve traversed that for sheer beauty outclass it – I make no claims for it – I put it on no scenic pedestal above others – I can name many of its sister valleys which may be as beautiful – Lledr, Gwynant, Mawddach, Dysynni, Dee, Rheidol – some of the north Devon combs are far more exquisite, the glens of Antrim and Wicklow, Avoca, Clare, Killarney are indisputably prettier, but not yet in Britain have I found anything quite like the Vale of Ffestiniog.

It is beautiful.  Faithfully it reflects every phase, every detail of the changing seasons; never does it appear just the same twice, though it possesses, in my eyes at least, the priceless quality of becoming more beautiful with each succeeding visit.  Were it not for fear of boring you, I should never tire of describing its beauty, even with the certain knowledge that my descriptions are miserable by comparison.

There is a strange magnetic influence about the Vale of Ffestiniog too.  I have ridden the hundred miles that separate me from it with no other primary object than to stand on the road from Arenig and survey its charms.  Why should I ?   I cannot say!……

The Initiation of Young Fred

So it came that on this second morning of January we all went down to a certain viewpoint from where all the Vale can be seen – open to the sea, and from where the mountains that bound it show their skyward profiles like the open teeth of some impossible monster.  It was a usual January day if not a typical one, drizzly and misty.  We looked on a bank of grey mist that admitted nothing, and the Vale of Ffestiniog was left for us to picture it in our imagination, pictures that we could not see.  We saw it through memory’s glasses, but how could we hope to do it justice?

It was apparent from the first that Young Fred was ‘marked’.  If only because he was a comparatively new recruit to the ‘We.R.7’, he was marked, for New Year is the initiation time for new candidates, when they are subjected to scrutiny, manhandled, and finally, (should they prove suitable), admitted to our ranks with honour.  Walter, the hero of the Llanberis all-nighter at the 1926 Whitsun, was our first candidate, and now Fred – but he was marked in more aspects than one.  He had openly said:  “You can’t fool me!” and that was sufficient.  Then he had made a bid for fame and bouquets by setting the pace on the Holyhead road on the run out, a point that could not be over-looked without some distinction, so he was promised at least a bouquet.

That morning we went through Cynfal Ravine, one of the ‘lions’ of the neighbourhood, but though the dripping woods and creeper-draped rocks made the walk pleasant enough, the river was running low, and the falls had lost much of their majesty.  Back at Mrs William’s we had what is called a ‘Sunday Dinner’ tete-a-tete, cross examining Young Fred pitilessly.  There would be something doing tonight, for all the arrangements were in the capable hands of Hindley Fred, who even now was giving our young hero a harassing time.  Poor Young Fred!

We all went off to Cymerau Falls that afternoon, but though it was still drizzling they, like those falls in Cwm Cynfal, were suffering from want of water, and in this case they depended on their volume for their beauty.  The rest of our party went away with the object of assailing Bwlch-y-Maen to visit  gorgeous little Llyn Mair, and I decided to scout downriver in search of another waterfall marked on the map.  It was still drizzling and the mists still hung like a grey canopy, whilst my path made a fair representation of the river itself.  That wandered away, so I took a route of my own, a boggy hillside and great boulders, for a long way until I came to the falls, more a series of small cascades, certainly not impressive.  I tried to cross the river, but as usual I slipped in nearly middle deep.  Thereafter it didn’t matter where I went, and just for spite I walked most of the way back in the river itself.  So, in mist and early darkness, I rambled back to our quarters, to dry feet and a cosy parlour, where I was soon joined by my comrades.  The harassing of Young Fred had reached such a pitch that he, in a mental muddle, had mistaken a horse for a cow!

We had a merry evening at the piano in Mrs Jones (another cyclist’s B & B).  John is a musician and a composer into the bargain with the result that a number of clever, if not very poetical stanza’s set to popular music came into being.  The way the chorus’s were taken up was a credit despite the fact that it was Sunday night and a parson was in the next room.  Village life on Sunday night’s is very little different now than it was in the last century – they still regard the Sabbath in the old dreary puritan way – a day for prayer and meditation, and for the exclusion of honest enjoyment, so Mrs Jones lifted her hands in horror when the strains of ‘Ukulele Baby’ floated through the partition, Fred giving us the chorus in a still small voice that had never been intended to break forth into song.  I didn’t blame Mrs Jones for being horrified, I said, for I felt a bit ghastly myself.  The rest agreed heartily, and by common consent Fred was promptly howled down.

A village belle, with the name of Gwendoline came to see the ‘fighting’, and seemed quite upset to find only a peaceful party whiling away the time in an innocent sing-song.  Gwendoline was introduced, and Young Fred fell immediately in love with her.  I doubt whether the affection was mutual, but by the skilful handling of Fred the Twister he was persuaded that she had only come to see him and let him take her to a farm (where she had an errand).  So when she went Fred was literally shoved out of the door after her.  He returned almost immediately with a forlorn sort of appearance, and dolefully remarked “She’s run up t’road!”  His wan face and sorrowful appearance sent us all into hysterics.  She’d run away from him!

The innocent sing-song continued; the street resounded with songs the street had never resounded to before; the gay, swinging lilt of jazz echoed and re-echoed over the sober, misty mountain peaks.  Mrs Jones was still horrified, and the parson – as he went out he looked in and smiled.  “Enjoying yourselves”, he said!  I am changing my opinions now regarding parsons.

After supper, when everyone was in a good humour, and even Fred had begun to fret less over his snub, all was ready for the presentation.  We called Mr and Mrs Williams and all the rest of the Williams’ into the room, then we started.  Acting on precedent I made a short speech, touching on our brief, but already pleasant relations with this rising young speedman; our little holiday, on which he was showing his superior physical strength and his amazing natural history knowledge, which, it was his boast, was all derived from cigarette pictures, and in which, in spite of over-whelming evidence to the contrary, he asserted convincingly that what is generally known as the genus ‘Horse’ was really the genus ‘Cow’; but above all his heroic defiance of the elements on the Holyhead road.  We had once, I averred, honoured a fellow cyclist for less a show than he had made on the very same road, so it was only fitting that we should do something to show our admiration and appreciation of such an outstanding fellow.  Therefore, I called upon Mr Fred Marsh (of Hindley) to make a presentation, to honour him with the highest award of the ‘We.R.7’.

There was a lull while Hindley Fred rose with due ceremony and placed the envied trophy round our hero’s neck.  This was an old fruit tin which had been rescued from the place where old fruit tins are usually consigned, and attached to a piece of string.  Young Fred took it like a sport, became the bashful hero, blushing like a turkey, and in response to cries of “Speech, speech”, he stammered out a thanks and appreciation, enlarging on his determination to try and show his worthiness to such a trophy.  We drank a toast (of tea) to him and sang “For he’s a jolly good fellow”, Fred joining in with gusto, his apology for a voice soaring far above the rest.  The evening concluding with a volleying cross-examination of his cigarette-card knowledge, then we hied us off to bed, where spasmodic chuckles could be heard far into the night.