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Published: July 25th 2015
The castle and boat harbour.
Thursday 23 July 2015
Weather watching in Britain must be the most popular past time. It is certainly the favourite conversation piece. The last day or two has proved this to be true. A brief glance out of the window gave promise of a fine day. Our host offered to provide an early breakfast so we could get on the road for our much anticipated visit to Mt Snowdon, the highest mountain in England and Wales.
The forty minute drive to Llanberis, our starting point, was uneventful except for the few spots of rain forecast to fall at 10:00 am. How good are the UK Meteorologists? We hope they are not that good because there is another shower forecast at 4:00 pm. We arrive at destination, park in a large carpark controlled by the nearby hotel, and join the crowds heading for the ticket office. The smell of coal smoke in the air gives an indication that all systems are go for today. Such is the popularity of this tourist attraction that the earliest available trip is 3:30 pm by steam or 4:00 pm by diesel. What a choice, steam of course. Our ascent of Mt Snowdon is by
Town with gate and city wall.
train, not the strenuous walk.
There are about four hours to fill in before we need to prepare for our mountain experience. Fortunately our parking pass is good for all day and we can leave and return many times. We decided to drive the twelve kilometres to Caernarfon and visit this historic castle town. The Queen and Prince Charles visited in 1969 for a special event so it must be worth a visit. Slate was obviously a profitable stone for the area. The large quarries that scar the sides of nearby mountains show how much slate has been quarried over the past 150-200 years. Unfortunately every building is this same slate-grey colour. In cloudy weather everything looks grim. We walk the town, take photos of the castle, watch a bridge rotate to let a boat out of the harbour, and find cafe for a coffee. As we leave the town the sun comes out and everything looks much better. The Welsh language is alive and well here. We listen in amazement as little children demonstrate their mastery of this very complicated language.
Back at Llanberis we have time for a tea and then head to the railway station
Slate mine overlooking the town.
for some train watching. The smell of coal smoke permeates everything. Perhaps the smell will still be in our clothes when we arrive back in NZ. This is steam travel and it is all part of the atmosphere. Some tour members beg to differ. Our seat numbers are B1 and B2 in Train 2. We'll be climbing the mountain with a companion steam train. These little engines have been making the journey for over a hundred years using a cog rail to haul themselves to the top.
With a high pitched toot we're off. The panting of the engine and the noise of the cogs gripping the centre rail will be with us for the next hour. Amazing how easy it seems for this little engine to push us up the steep gradient. We catch up with Train1 whenever we pass the downhill trains and at Halfway, where the engines take on more water. After each stop their hill starts are perfect. The scenery is spectacular. On one side there are wide U shaped valleys leading to rounded peaks. On the other sheer drops to the valley floor hundreds of metres below where cars and buses look like little
Our train getting ready for its ascent of Mt Snowdon.
ants scurrying along. The sight of Train 1 on the skyline crossing one narrow ridge is memorable.
As we near the summit we climb into thick, wet, cloud. It is 4:30 pm. Pity because we miss views that would be spectacular. There are many people taking the energetic route up the mountain. They emerge like ghosts through the cloud, touch the summit marker, and retrace their steps back to Llanberis. There is a cold damp wind blowing and the hot chocolate looks inviting. A delightful young worker with a strong Welsh accent and a big smile, cheerfully informs us they have a water problem so there are no hot drinks. We have a great chat with this young woman with smiles and laughter. She tells us some customers are not so understanding. Such is life.
Time to head back. Miss the train you have to walk. The trip back is just as spectacular but quieter. This time the engine is working as a brake. There are still trains coming up so we make regular stops. Those walking down are making good progress. We wonder about those still climbing up at such a late hour. We talk to fellow
Train No 1 leading the way.
travellers, one is repeating a journey made several years ago. Then it was very cloudy and he didn't see the summit. Perhaps he'll have to come again another time. It seems to us it is hard to pick a perfect day.
Back at the start we walked to the car, breathed in some fresh air and headed for our hotel. Tonight we tried the restaurant called "Home Cooking". Each night there is a long queue. Tonight we went straight in. After our plate of slow cooked Welsh lamb we can understand why there is always a queue. This is our last night in Llandudno where we have enjoyed ourselves in spite of the weather. The shops and restaurants have been doing a roaring trade, not so the beach activity businesses. Perhaps there'll be a late summer flush.
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