Wales & a bit of Scotland
The Magic Dragon
Of dragons, wizards and Romans
7th to 13th August, 2019

After a week in the UK, we felt like we were settling in. Penrhyn was becoming more familiar and the roads around it started to link up. Having see more trains than I had any right to expect, it was time to explore further afield and get some exercise.

We had local maps to hand, and picked a trail above Beddgelert as a likely choice. Driving up through the same gorge we'd ridden the day before on the train gave a different perspective. The tight corners and narrow bridges were challenging to the uninitiated. Drivers in the UK are well-practised at stopping in just the right places and we followed their example to let traffic through.
“It wrote of a hill, a fort, and dragons foretelling the downfall of enemies."
Beddgelert is an old village with a fantastic history. Gelert was apparently, to my surprise, a beloved dog, killed mistakenly by his master. Beddgelert means, "Gelert's Grave" but the town is much older than the story, so...

Nearby, the old copper mine of Sygun gave jobs to many, but in tough conditions. I'm a caver, but the entrance, when I saw it, did not look inviting. In the mountain called Moel yr Ogof above the town, was a cave where Welsh hero Owain Glyndwr hid from the rampaging British, about the year 1400. We didn't see the cave itself, but it must have been pretty grim.
As usual, finding a park was a problem, but that delay meant there was time for the train to arrive. Tolerant as usual, A sorted the parking while I jogged up to the station to see it go by. Beddgelert was a nice wee village but was, as usual, very full of tourists. Like us.

The hill we'd chosen to climb looked steep. Same as everything, it wasn't bad once we'd started up. We got a nice view of Beddgelert and the valleys. A group of school kids, dressed in matching red ponchos, trudged down past us. One mouthed, "Help me" as she went past. She still had a humorous gleam in her eye, despite being muddy and tired. The hill had been badly burned off recently, but the heather was flowering and new green coming through. We had a good walk along the ridge and down past the old mine.

Going back even further and into mythology, I'd been reading Mary Stewart's "The Crystal Cave" which followed the tale of Merlin. It wrote of a hill, a fort, and dragons foretelling the downfall of enemies. In the valley below us we could see that very hill, with the sun shining on slender trees that grew around it, bending a little in the wind. We walked back to the village on a quiet lane, snuck past the other tourists and escaped.
Glaslyn & Mt Snowdon
Next day was "the big day". The weather so far had defied all forecasted rain and been quite nice. This day was supposed to be the pick of the week. For once the weather office was right, and the sun shone. As usual, the parking at Pen-y-Pass was full, so we drove back to a junction and walked from there. It added a half-hour's walk each way, but what the hell. We were in the hills and the weather was lovely.

The route we'd chosen was the Miner's Track, as it was the most straightforward. Dire warnings had been written about the other option called the Pyg Track, so we stayed sensible. The Miner's Track was actually a road, paved with huge blocks of stone for much of the way. The main lake, Lld Llydaw, had a ruined mine on its shores, that crumbled imposingly.

We only went as far as Glaslyn, the upper lake, before stopping for lunch. Above us we could see an endless stream of walkers zig-zagging up to the pass under Snowdon itself. Our first reaction was to run screaming from the building. Snowdonia is a small area in a very crowded country, and this particular bump the main destination. After a couple of sandwiches we cut up onto the Pyg Track and had a nice wander back along it, then down to Pen-y-Pass and beyond to the car. The day out totalled maybe six hour's walking and left us feeling very happy. Everything went well, aside from my new hiking boots, which had started falling apart after only a few days use.
The next day was our last, and it was supposed to bucket down. Of course it didn't, and since A wanted to relax and read, I decided to chase trains one last time. I think she secretly likes trains too, because she came along after very little coaxing. That's the story I'm telling myself.

Just down from Beddgelert was a stretch of line just out of the gorge that was a good place to wait. We were treated to the train going past, cranking along. I didn't realise until we walked back along the meandering path to the car, that we had time to follow it all the way up to Rhyd Ddu.
The wind was blowing strongly through the exposed pass, with only occasional spits of rain. Our nice new camera takes good video footage, but the operator is a bit of a muppet, so I won't be sharing the clips.

It was sad to be leaving Penrhyn. We had seen a small part of the area, and liked it a lot. There was even a nice place for sale just below the Ffestiniog line we'd liked the look of. Upon research, we'd found it was on the historic places list and had a price tag of about one million Pounds. Even Oliver Cromwell had stayed there. That bloke did get around.
We had a flight booked out of Edinburgh and wanted to drive the rest of the way north, without rushing. I used to live and work out of Keighley in Yorkshire in the nineties, but it had not been a good time of my life. I was a quiet Kiwi lad, but had a job working on construction sites and living out of pubs. My workmate beat up anyone who looked at him sideways, before drinking himself unconscious and pissing the bed. I had also learned too much about the internal politics and personalities around some British cavers. I therefore had trepidation about going back, but needed to see the place again. A chance to reset, perhaps.

My grandparents were from Burnley, and driving through it was enough reminder as to why they left. We had our first pub meal in Cross Hills and went on to Keighley. The weather had been rotten all the way north. The closely-packed, soot-stained sandstone houses, industrial sites and dreary landscape brought it all back. I had based myself out of Goose Eye, near Keighley. It had been an old rag mill village as part of the cotton industry.
I went into the Turkey Inn, to see if the landlord was still there. He wasn't, but the guy behind the bar knew him and said he was well. Goose Eye had a lot of charm, even in the rain, and I was reminded of many things. Nevertheless, as we made our way out of town back to Squirrel Wood and our evening rest, I couldn't help feeling very low and dislocated. Sometimes it's best to not go back.

Squirrel Wood campsite had a few cabins and ours was the fancy one. It looked like another shepherd's hut and set the standard for compact living.
Uncertain Eyes
“... after a few hours I began to feel its presence. It didn't seemed to be sure
whether it liked us in it or not."
Our last place of rest was Orchard Cottage, near Carlisle. I wanted to drive up through the Dales and see some of the places I went caving. We only stopped twice. Once at a roadside cafe to enjoy the grumpy waitress and once in Ingleton. The cafe above Inglesport outdoor shop would have been a better place for coffee, but I'd forgotten about it. The weather was still rubbish, so we left.

That was the theme of the whole drive north. Through Ambleside, the lake was very high and the rain still came down. We drove (slowly) through it, avoiding sodden tourists wandering about in a stupor. Keswick was similar, but we were on a mission to get A some new shoes for travel, so looked through the many outdoor stores there. No luck.

In keeping with the theme of "old" we had our last two nights in Orchard Cottage. It's on AirBnB and I'd recommend it. Our host left some amazing baking for us. The cottage was rebuilt in 1739 I think, from a much older style of building with a steep roof of unformed timber and wood peg construction. The whole cottage had been really well set up, but after a few hours I began to feel its presence. It didn't seemed to be sure whether it liked us in it or not.

Orchard Cottage
Welcome fire, maybe

The Wall
There it is
Once again, the next day’s weather forecast spoke of heavy rain in the Lakes, so we explored north of Carlisle, to Hadrian's Wall at Birdoswald. That is where some of the most-intact sections remain. There was a placed you could go in and spend money, but it just looked like another pile of rocks, so we had a coffee and went for a walk instead.

A path took us east following the wall, then dropped down off a terrace and over the swollen river, to a green field. The original Roman abutments sat in the middle of it. The river's course had moved away, right across the valley in the intervening two millennia, and only the bridge footings and original wall remained. The stones were worn down and grass-grown. The tops of them had hourglass-shaped holes cut in, where big iron keys had been hammered to hold everything together.

The iron had been salvaged in the Middle Ages by a smithy that was built on the same site. The keyholes were still plain to see and showed the engineering prowess that Rome had.
Our final day was taken driving up through the Scottish Lowlands and to Edinburgh. Love those Scottish hills. The soft summer colours showed purple and green in the sunshine. Unlike Wales, Scotland was much more broad and empty. We had no time to stop and explore, but we're coming back for sure.

In Edinburgh, I messed up navigation completely and we had to follow our noses and local advice to get where we needed to be. We had friends here and were staying with them. If only we could find the place. It was near a Mini Storage company, but there turned out to be more than one of those.
Eventually, bags and car deposited, we took a tram into the city and I had my first experience of the Edinburgh festival. I imagine you're getting very tired of me using this phrase, but it was heaving with tourists.

We had a lovely evening catching up with our friends and caught a flight the next morning, to Trondheim. So, we're going back to a foreign language and driving on the wrong side of the road. The UK had been a great break for us, and it was time to head into the unknown. But not yet. Trondheim was where we'd been living for the last two and a half years, so it was very much known!
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