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.
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.
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.