When I was a little boy I was fascinated by lighthouses and all I wanted to be “when I grew up” was a lighthouse keeper. Growing a bushy beard, wearing a white sweater, smoking a pipe and telling outlandish tales about hidden treasure and sea monsters to passing groups of four children or more with their dog. Sadly the vast majority of lighthouses in the UK were undergoing an automation process so lighthouse keeping was, it seemed was a dying vocation.
When I was about 10 I went on a holiday to my favourite part of Wales. On this particular visit my parents took me up to see the view over Bardsey Sound and the lighthouse on Bardsey Island from Mynnedd Mawr. It was there that we came across this curious little hut, inside of which was a man, with a powerful telescope and radio equipment.
The man explained to me that he was a Coastguard lookout and his job was to lookout for ships in distress and report on wind and sea conditions. This, I decided immediately, was what I wanted to do for a job when I grew up. Sit in a cabin and look out to sea all day while telling tales of seafaring, pirates and giant squid to passing groups of four or more children with their dogs.
Sadly these days coastguard lookouts are as rare as dodo sausages and, as government funding decreases and technology improves, coastguard lookout has become a job similar to coal miner, fax machine sales man or VHS librarian — virtually non-existent. Indeed, when a few years later I would talk to school careers advisors about a job in the coastguard they would often counter with — “Sorry I don’t have a card for that career” or “You’ll have to ask at the library” or “But you can’t swim very well” or “Have you considered a YTS (low paid apprenticeship) at the local Ford factory?” and instead I became an unemployed multiskilled generalist.
Fortunately the little hut is still there and every year when I go back to this part of Wales I like to visit. Of course the man is probably long dead and his little hut is stripped of telescope and radio equipment, replaced instead by displays of local history, wildlife and birds. But I still think about how, for that brief moment in my life, I knew what I wanted to do in adulthood. I look out to sea and try to spot a ship in distress. But of course boats don’t tend to travel through that stretch of water as much now and you get put on a list when you’re a male and talk to children….
100 years ago the coast around the Llyn Peninsula in North Wales was a hive of industry. Parts of the area was dotted with manganese mines and associated shipping docks and winch houses. It’s hard to imagine what it was like as these days it is an area of serenity and eerie beauty peppered with these industrial remains.
The winch you see in today’s picture would have brought manganse ore from the mines in buckets and then down to the waiting boat below the cliffs behind the photographer. Although the photographer, me, wasn’t born when this was a working winch and when I took the photograph, there was no ship waiting.
The building you can just see to the right was probably the office of the foreman who would have kept an eye on the winch workings incase of a problem. Now abandoned to the elements, spiders and sheep, it’s quite a draughty building now but the view hasn’t changed.
In the wooly wilds of North Wales, there is a place dear to me. A peaceful place. A place where magic awaits. A serene place where the only loud noise is the occasional jet fighter from Valley flying over head or the farmer making bales of hay.
This place is nearly unpronounceable at a campsite at the base of the large mountain. I won’t tell you where it is exactly, but regular readers will know. I don’t want the area spoilt by coach loads of people seeking peace and serenity.
Lovely isn’t it?
This is the spot. Miles from anywhere. Peaceful. Quiet. No people to bother you.
In my minds eye it is always this glorious too. Skies as blue as language in a working mans club. Grass as green as my old Hyundai Coupe. A climate as warm as toast. Beautiful. Quiet.
Why this particular view? Well during the day the sea looks so calm and serene there. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you may witness the clouds rolling in off the sea like something from an eerie movie. Shrouding everything yet still allowing parts of the landscape to peek out like cheeky little kittens.
A bit like this
But I know. I know from bitter personal experience. This place can be cold, wet and stormy. But it doesn’t stop me from remembering it as a warm welcoming place.
It is no wonder that this area is steeped in mythology and wonder. This is where Arthur had his Camelot. Nothing to do with Glastonbury or Cornwall. This is the land of the dragon. Where the isle of Avalon lies over the treacherous waters. Where few come. Where fewer remain.
Those that do, and stay the night, are treated to a display of stars bright. Of distant light from the Pembrokeshire coast cast from lighthouses across the bay. Shooting stars, dolphins basking in the light of the setting sun. All this. With naught but peace and quiet.
It is where I want to be scattered should I be cremated. It is where I would like to spend my last waking moments on the Earth.
No mobile phone signal. Nothing. Just peace and quiet.
After having carefully planned my working week to coincide with a visit to the North West to make it easier to travel to Wales, I set off from Liverpool on Thursday morning bound for Pistyll near Caernarfon to begin the third phase of the walk around the coast of Wales.
At this pace, I suspect I will have completed the walk some time in my late 80s. Probably on a mobility shopper.
Regular readers will recall that last year we ended our walk at Porth Towyn having set off from Porth Oer. Because we were starting further up the coast, it made sense to change our usual campsite to a new….untested one.
The camp site was very clean and peaceful with fantastic views across towards Nefyn (our goal for the Friday) to the South west and towards Nant Gwrtheyrn to the North East with St George’s Channel to the north.
However as we had arrived earlier than expected we decided that, though too late to start our walk properly, we could start a bit of next year’s planned walk.
This took us towards Nant Gwrtheyrn, though we did not reach there until later in the weekend. Instead we were treated to a lovely bog blocking our path, sheep, second homes and a quaint little church, St Buenos.
On the Friday, we awoke to a lovely rainbow across the bay. Little or no rain during the night but plenty of snoring from me.
This year we began where we left off and made our way across the once more sunny cliffs and dips leading towards Porth Dinllaen. Glorious views. Glorious weather.
Four hours of walking later we crossed Nefyn Golf course and reached Porth Dinllaen.
During the previous night we had espied a strange structure out in the bay. It looked like a drilling platform and part of me was concerned that the greedy oil people had set their eyes on a protected area of outstanding natural beauty.
Fortunately, this was not the case. The platform was actually for the construction of a new RNLI Lifeboat launch slipway. So it wasn’t too bad.
The construction site had an interesting staircase winding its way down the cliff side allowing access to the official coastal path bringing us out at the lovely Ty Coch Inn where we ended our second day’s walk with a delicious and rewarding pint before heading back to the campsite.
After a rather sleepless night for Nick (my snoring again!) who ended up sleeping in his car, it was agreed that completing the short trail up to the campsite would be sufficient for this years walk.
Before that we needed sustenance in the form of a hearty breakfast. On the inbound trip, I espied a brown sign directing the visitor to a place called Nant Gwrtheyrn which had a cafe.
Nant Gwrtheyrn is an old village built for quarry workers in the 1800s. If you were to follow the link above you will be able to read the history. The landscape there is a bizarre mix of post industrial archaeology and nature. There’s a church there, a cafe and a collection of stone cottages available for rent by holiday makers.
However, the cafe didn’t open for breakfast so we scuttled back to Nefyn and the continuation of our walk.
The short trail continuation took us from where we left off the day before and along a winding cliff top pathway. Again, plenty of luxury cliff top homes for the wealthy and privileged. Glorious views.
It’s places like this that make you realise that no matter how hard the average Jo works, they will never attain a picturesque view (like that in the panoramic picture below) without luck, windfall or skulduggery.
The path turned in land and took us through the village where we had earlier eaten our hearty breakfast before heading up a very steep looking hill.
Eventually the path turned into something resembling Borneo. Overgrown gorse bushes, brambles and scratchy things took their toll on our bare shins, bitey creepies made a meal on our blood, and burny heaty hot sun scorched our flesh from on high. Yet, after three hours of walking, we reached the campsite and the starting point for our continuing adventure next year.
Rain. It comes and washes away the summer dreams like a proper spoil sport.
My calculations that the time between Wimbledon and the Olympics yet before the school holidays would be a gloriously sunny time were completely out. Beyond out.
And so it came to pass that on Saturday 14th July I loaded up the car for the next leg of my annual Welsh Costal Walk with Nick. With the car laden I began the four hour journey to the north west of Wales via Betws-y-Coed.
Omens and foresight should have shown me that the weekend was to be a tricky one. When I was about an hour into my journey to my first port of call, a text arrived from my colleague to announce he was running late and would be setting off shortly. Fine, I thought, this will give me a chance to mooch about the camping shops in Betws-y-Coed and therein maybe purchase some gas canisters for the camping stove.
On my arrival the rains began. Fair enough, I thought, this is Betws-y-Coed which is renown for rain as the clouds empty their load onto the Snowdonian foot hills so a bit of precipitation is bound to occur in these here parts.
Two hours, a very expensive bacon sandwich (£4.50 for two bits of soggy bacon between cheap slices of bread) and a cup of tea (£1.50 for an egg cup with a splash of milky brown liquid) and several Radio 4 programmes later, Nick arrived and negotiations began for further travel to Porthmadoc where we could buy provisions for the break and some beer. Before following Mr Sat Nav’s directions to Aberdaron and the campsite.
A few days before departure I had placed a reservation as usual at Mynnedd Mawr Campsite only to be told “Just turn up”. So we did. And managed to get one of the last good spots for the tent. The majority of the campsite seemed to be taken up by two very large 10 men trailer tents pitched slap bang in the middle of the site. The thoughtful owners (two Jewish couples in their late fifties/early sixties) had blocked out the lovely view so I didn’t have to look at it. That was very kind of them.
The following day, glorious sunshine blessed our walk which commenced from the end of the last walk (Porth Oer) up the coast toward Porth Tywyn. A good 15 miles of coastal path. The weeks of torrential rain over the previous weeks had made the going quite boggy and our initial steps seemed thwarted but following a brief detour along the beach we were back on the trail in no time.
Glorious views were beheld. Glorious weather too.
Nick enjoying a well earned break
There are many mysterious places along that stretch of coast. For example these stairs cut into the hill side and seemingly inaccessible static caravans.
Or you would be trudging along and have to follow the path through a field of cows…
It’s such a lovely piece of coast line. But the weather there can be unpredictable. By 3pm the clouds were already gathering and the wind had picked up. On our return to the tent it was decided that it was too cold to sit outside drinking beer and that we should retire to the interior of the tent, therein to play dominoes.
I was winning, 10 rounds up, the wind brought with it rain and clouds to further darken the skies. By morning the tent had nearly taken off had it not been laden with the previous evening and early morning rain. The outlook seemed bleak. Further bad weather due.
Rain stopped play. We decamped and returned to our respective homes.
Coming soon – Holiday 2012: Part 2 Devon and Cornwall.
The first day of walking was most enjoyable. Tired by evening we dined on barbequed steak and salad. Not as straight forward as it should be. Partly because the crappy Tesco Instant Barbeque was impossible to light in the light breeze that had picked up during the day but after an hour of cooking later the still rare steaks were ready.
Wednesday’s plan was simple. Turn out of the campsite, left along Lon Uwchmynydd and turn right along the coast before heading north towards Porth Oer. Now we were entering completely virgin territory for me. The lack of accessible roads and paths in this part of the country meant that I was unfamiliar with the scenery on this part of the route.
However the mist was rolling in from the sea.
For those of you unfamiliar with this area of North Wales, the weather here is bizarre. You could be stood in blazing heat in one field and then in the neighbouring field shrouded by an eerie cloud of cool sea mist. So while walking through dramatic scenery here the bizarre mists shrouded the views of the sea. Occasionally we would enter into sloping valleys with babbling streams and haunting bleats from hidden sheep only to hear the gentle lap of waves from the sea against the shore.
Eventually we rose above the clouds by climbing Mynydd Anelog. Blazing heat seared our souls as we strode across Welsh coastal moorland. Views over to Porth Orion and Mynydd Carreg enhanced by gorse and heather covered terrain complimented by hazy blue skies.
An hour or so later, limbs aching and skin tingling with sunburn we reached Porth Oer where we dined in the beach cafe and discussed plans for the remaining day of the holiday. By evening we were both very tired and following a slightly disappointing meal at the local seafood restaurant Pen Bryn Bach opted to walk the 2.5 miles into Aberdaron for a pint returning to the campsite by walking dark lanes.
The next day was hat hunting day. Scouring the local towns and villages for a shop that sold suitable hats. Pwllheli and Abersoch provided no bounty except for beer, money and cider. A new hat seemed an impossible dream.
Friday arrived and we decamped. We drove to Porthmadoc wherein, following the successful attainment of a new hat, we gorged ourselves on a mighty cooked breakfast. Fully sated we parted our ways Nick heading back to Crosby and I returning the long way back to Leamington Spa.
6 hours drive later…I arrived. And so began the second leg of my holiday.
So following arrival at Nicks in Crosby nr Liverpool at 1am in the morning I managed to squeeze out a couple of hours sleep. My head raced with the reality that I would be in Wales later that day. Think I was more excited than Nick.
Several hours later we were on the road in separate cars heading to Aberdaron. Traffic wasn’t that bad and the weather looked promising. Stopped off at the traditional staging posts (Tesco in Caernarfon and Snowdonia Camping Stores in Dinas) arriving at the campsite shortly before 1pm.
Lunch was at the Ty Newydd – I had scampi, Nick had a burger and plans and itinerary hatched.
After a brief tour of the village, the beach and the church, a warm up walk on top of Mynnedd Rhiw and a visit to the top of Braich-y-Pwll to see the view followed.
Tuesday arrived and so commenced the walk. Turning left along the head land we followed the coastal path towards Aberdaron soaking up the views before us and testing our map reading skills to the full.
Now, I’ve been coming to the area for many years and I knew that walking the Coastal Path would provide me with new and exciting sights; I wasn’t wrong. Places I had gazed at longingly on Ordnance Survey maps were taking shape in reality: Porth Felen, Pen-Y-Cil, Bychestyn, Parwyd, Hen Borth. Glorious views, glorious weather. Strange remains of an industrial past.
But woe! I lost my hat. My time worn hat. The hat I have owned for over 8 years. Gone. No more. Even though later in the evening a brief walk back to possible places it may have been left produced no fruits meaning that I had to wear my ill fitting Hard Rock Cafe cap until such time as a proper hat could be purchased…
(An edited version of a post previously made on Livejournal in 2007. Now with pictures taken recently)
Recently I have been thinking about the sodden holidays we used to spend in my Uncle Nat’s cottage.
Uncle Nat sold the caravan in favour of a ramshackle husk of a cottage half way up a soggy Welsh mountain. This meant that instead of ending our holiday journey at Porthmadog we would travel the extra 20 or so miles to a remote and (then) little known area of North Wales called Rhiw.
My dad is very handy, DIYwise. So it came as no surprise that Nat would require his assistance when fixing up the cottage. My first journey to the cottage was on a rainy night in March with just me, my dad and Uncle Nat. My dad had a Ford Orion at this time which was a lot more comfortable than the yellow Escort of old but Nat had a lovely comfortable Volvo estate . Initially (and probably because we didn’t know any better) the route would take the same direction of the way to Porthmadog only continuing along the A497 through Criccieth, Pwllheli and Llanbedrog then a quick dash down the B4413 through Myntho and turning down the unclassified road behind the church in Botwnnog until reaching the telegraph pole with the crab on it and turning once again this time up a steep hill to the telephone box and post box which used to stand (until someone drove into them at high speed) at the bottom of the mountain driveway. The first night travelling was straight after school/work and as a result we were both very hungry by the time we got to Criccieth. So we stopped off at a fish and chip shop set back from the road and thus a new family tradition was born, Sausage, chips and Onion Gravy.
Sausage, chips and onion gravy you may think tastes the same the whole world over. It does not. I have travelled far (well at least to the tip of Cornwall and the craggy highlands of Scotland) yet no where have I ever tasted sausage chips and onion gravy as delicious as at that chippy. I defy anyone to tell me otherwise but unless you too have dined there then your opinion on such matters is moot. But since then I have tried to stop there when Aberdaron bound as a homage to the days of travelling to the cottage. Of course, traditions are meant to be forgotten and a further tradition would evolve which I will relate a bit further into this post.
Anyway, on arriving at the telephone and post box at the bottom of the drive it was clear that this would not be a caravan holiday. Far from it. For a start it was pitch black dark. Darker than dark itself. Had someone switched off the dark it would still not have been anywhere near as dark as it was that first night. The drive way was nought but a mud track and taking the Volvo up the mountain side would probably have tested the skills of even the most hardened rally driver. Even the Royal Engineers would have stood round scratching their head for a while trying to work out how to get the blasted car up the hill. My dad tried with the Orion on a future visit but was thwarted by gravity and lack of traction. Fortunately everything was not lost. With the cottage came a Land Rover (old style) so we would unload the bags into the back of the Land Rover and ascend the mountain through the pitch black using the power of 4 wheel drive. Mynnedd Rhiw really lived up to it’s Welsh name. (Mynnedd = mountain Rhiw = Steep).
Arriving at the cottage the coal fire was stoked into life to dry our sodden boots and clothes and I was introduced to the crockloft bedroom. A ladder in the living room led up to a door midway up the wall behind which was the bedroom consisting of two single beds and a very slanty “mind your head” roof in which a single frame window allowed the pitch darkness of outside to leak in. Hot drinks were consumed and the boys own adventure began with bedtime and the promise of mystery come the daylight.
Daylight battled with darkness and at 6am finally won the war. Fingers of light thumped through the little window like a hammer and woke me up. Accompanying the light came the faint sound of far off tractors and the not so far off sound of sheep bleating. I scurried down the ladder into the living room and switched on the old black and white portable TV so that I might watch some breakfast TV (either Wac-a-Day or something with Roland Rat). My disappointment at the black and white picture was soon joined by confusion as the people on the TV were talking in Welsh. I realised this was S4C (a channel my Nan used to watch regularly) but the confusion was brought about by the lack of any other channels. So remote was our location that TV signals refused to come there. Looking out of the window all I could see was grey. Grey and green. Through the grey was the black outline of the Land Rover and the occasional white blob. Closer inspection revealed these white blobs were sheep. The fog was bad but through the fog came the occasional blast of solar energy so it wasnt that bad.
After breakfast and a warming cup of tea I was allowed to go out into the mist (but not far) and explore what I could find. The neighbouring cottage had a swimming pool and the back field had a view of the slope down into the valley disappearing into the fog. Despite the outlook it was very exciting and on my return to Liverpool I told everyone and anyone that would listen about the cottage and how fantastic it was. My dad gave me a police issue whistle with the instruction that should I get lost in the fog or stuck in somewhere up the mountain then I was to blow as hard as I could on the whistle so that the Mountain Rescue could find me. I still carry that whistle on my keys. Just in case I get caught on the moors or somewhere remote.
We took several other trips to the cottage over the following years. Alternating the route through Porthmadog with a much quicker route along the A55 and the craggy North Wales coast. As the A55 route did not take us through Criccieth we would struggle to find a chip shop of equal quality. Instead it would take us past a Little Chef roadside cafe. For years I had wanted to stop at a Little Chef and our first stop was at the one just outside Conway near where the road goes through the tunnels in the mountain side. To celebrate my dad and I would always have the Early Starter Full English and to be a little bit different, a plate of maple syrup pancakes. This sustenance would put us in good stead for the continuation of the journey and heighten our spirits. Of course my Mum did not approve of greasy spoon cafes and so whenever she was with us we would be unable to dine in such salubrious surrounds, opting for sandwiches and juice at a road side table.
On future visits we were joined by Uncle Nat, Aunty Mary and their son Christopher (who, having spent a good deal of time there himself was able to show me where all the secret hidey places where and all the exciting nooks and crannies), my mum, my school chum Dominic Smith, my childhood friend Paul Midgely and my middle brother Chris. Furthermore my mum and dad would head off there for holidays with their friends Freda & Jim and Bill & Lil. So popular was the little cottage that we spent as many holidays as we could there. The cost took the form of renovations with my Dad doing what he enjoys the most – DIY.
On my third or fourth visit it became clear that the fog was low lying cloud. A trip into the nearest town, Aberdaron, revealed that while the mountain was shrouded in fog the rest of the world was enjoying glorious sunshine. That part of the Llyn Peninsula enjoys a micro climate of outstanding weather were when the rest of the UK is having piss poor weather and wearing cagools and wooly jumpers the Llyn would be walking round in shorts and tshirts enjoying the sun and the crystal clear waters of the sea. Indeed, this discovery lead to exploration of the locality by car and there upon we discovered some delightful parts of the world. Aberdaron with its tiny cafe and spectacular beach; Nefyn and Porthdinllaen with its golf course and pub on the beach; the various unspoilt beaches dotted about the coastline and Braich-y-Pwll over looking Bardsey Sound and the remote and holy Bardsey Island.
Braich-y-Pwll still to this day holds very fond memories for me. I try to take as many of my friends there as are willing to share the spectacular views, the peace and serenity of the locale. It is there that my father and I descended the unstable cliff top steps to St Mary’s Well, a natural fresh water well in the treacherous cliffside. In the well other brave tourists had cast coins of all denominations. Now to get to this well you have to be really careful. I get petrified when I go down there and I refuse to let Mrs Gnomepants go there knowing how unsure footed she is. One slip could result in certain death on the sharp and bastard rocks at the bottom of the cliff or failing that drowning in the nasty currents, swells and eddies of Bardsey Sound. Regardless, people to this day brave the journey and still, to my knowledge, cast coins into the well. On discovering the contents of this well, I am ashamed to say, my father and I fished about as best we could to raise £4 from its ice cold depths. There was still a substantial amount of coinage left there. I do not think anyone actually empties the thing as there were old pennies, shillings and farthings lurking at the bottom of the pool. Never the less we took our £4 and spent it in the cafe resturant down the lane.
Pen Bryn Bach is a fantastic restaurant. Owned by Roger, it specialises in locally caught fish. Years after the events I relate here I went there with Mrs Gnomepants and sampled their seafood mornay which is, as you know, my favourite meal ever! They used to do cream teas at lunch time but this practice seems to have ceased. But at the time of the great Well raid they did cream teas and the scones and cream were the best I have ever tasted!
Just as things were getting to be a habit, my Aunt Mary decided the prospect of having a stroke or diabetic event on top of a remote Welsh mountain was too scary for thoughts so, persuading Uncle Nat, the cottage was sold. It lay empty and nearly became derelict once more for almost 10 years after until about 1999 when somebody bought it and installed a tarmac road up to the cottage (the Land Rover having rusted away long ago). They also took down the wire fence my dad had placed around the cottage to keep the sheep out with a horrid wooden thing. They demolished the kitchen and built a new two storey thing and basically ruined the place fitting Velux windows into the crockloft and them nasty faux cast iron carriage lights on the gate posts.
Still, however, the area has a special place in my heart. I have begun my own traditions and discovered my own special places that I like to visit time after time. I try to visit when we can even if it is only for a day out from Anglesey. I hope that when I have children they too will hold the area in equal regard. I hope they too will be able to dine in Pen Bryn Bach and on Sausages Chips and Onion Gravy at the Chippy in Criccieth. But our family holidays became less of a family thing and I had nearly a ten year break from going away with my folks. Indeed, I had a break from going on holiday. It wasnt until 1998 when Mrs Gnomepants took me to Scarborough that a regular holiday period would once again arise. The following year I treated Mrs Gnomepants to the Solar Eclipse from the top of Braich-y-Pwll which inspired us to hire a cottage of our own there with Philip from Brighton and Stef from Cardiff in the summer of 2000 and again many times later breaking tradition briefly due to me going to university.
I rekindled my love for the area in 2010 when for the first time I went on my own. My fond memories clouding my judgement when it came to the weather as, following a couple of delightfully clement days, it turned nearly causing my tent to take off and glide towards the sea. I was there once more only this week, this time with old friend Nick. Nick hadn’t been to the area before and I hope that he ended up falling for the area as much as I already have. In fact, I challenge anyone to spend a week there and not fall in love with the place.
I’ve been musing and fantasising about going to Wales, I got thinking about the way my Dad used to take us to Porthmadog in the 70’s and 80’s. Instead of taking the A55 along the north coast through Conwy and then down the A470 through to Betws-y-Coed and Blaenau Ffestiniog we would scuttle down the A494 via Mold and through Denbighshire to Ruthin and Bala before gimbling down the A4212 which goes round the beautiful Llyn Celyn.
During this time my Dad drove a yellow MkI Ford Escort. It had vinyl seat coverings. Alighting from the car on a hot day would always result in cries of pain as you left the upper epidermal layer of your thighs on the black seat coverings. Regardless of this inconvenience, it seemed like we would always stop at Llyn Celyn and have our lunch while my mum told us about the village that was flooded to make the Llyn.
Lunch on such occasions nearly always consisted of cold bacon sandwiches on white bread with a thickish layer of butter or margarine. The sandwiches would be wrapped in silver or aluminium foil and they would be accompanied by a melted KitKat and a cup of warm milky coffee served from a tartan thermos flask. We would eat our lunch at the road side picnic tables and watch the rest of the holiday making public go past to their destinations. This seemed to be a traditional repast in the Gnomepants household as whenever my Auntie Joyce took us on picnics, the same fayre would be served (though more often than not accompanied by sweets and cake).
Our hearty lunch devoured, we would then continue on our route, down some twisty bendy B Road across the Snowdonian moors bypassing Blaenau and then down the A487, along the causeway (paying our 5p toll…heh) before pulling into Porthmadog itself to do the grocery shopping that would see us through the week of staying in Uncle Nat’s caravan.
In case you don’t know From Left to Right:- Me mam, our Carl (avec trainee scouser moustache), me (the little one at the front in the Paddington Bear tshirt), me dad (balding one) and our Chris (looking thin there, now he’s a bit chunky).
The caravan was near the fabled Black Rock Sands in a caravan site called Greenacres. Now it has its own swimming pools, luxury static caravans, security watch towers and special 4×4 Chelsea Tractor parking facilities, Cocaine snorting area and swinging club. Back then, in the 1970’s/80’s it was a basic caravan site with a small amusement arcade containing table top Asteroids and Space Invaders. If you wanted a swim you would nip down to the beach and paddle in the sewage outflow safe in the knowledge that nasty diseases and child snatchers hadn’t been invented. (Now you need to take a prepreswimmingpoolshowershower, a preswimmingpoolshower and a swimming poolshower before you are even allowed to look at the swimming pool, then you are required to have a postswimmingpoolshower, a postswimmingpoolshowershower and then remain in quarantine for a week incase you pass something on to one of the precious little darlings that people insist on taking on holiday). The sea was unimaginably cold. Well. I suppose you lot that live out near the flipping North Pole (robynz,zelest and think4yrself for example) would probably scoff at me saying that. But Cardigan Bay was bloody cold.
Of course, at this time nasty skin cancer causing ultraviolet rays and holes in the ozone layer hadn’t been invented and if it wasn’t for my fair complexion requiring me to wear a tshirt when I went swimming which although protected my torso, didn’t do much for the arms and legs. Added to that, I wasn’t the strongest of swimmers because I had ear problems as a child and wasn’t allowed to go in water incase I did damage to the surgery. Not that it did like. All that meant was I couldn’t swim very well until I was about 10. But I digress. Greenacres also had acres and acres of sand dunes to explore and views of the Carn Fadrun, the Snowdonian mountains and Harlech Castle.
Further along the beach cars were permitted to drive. Two things stick in my mind about this privilege, the first being my first ever “drive” of a car. When the beach was quieter my dad would take the Escort onto the beach and I would sit on his knee and turn the wheel while he operated the pedals. The second thing being that often people would park their cars on the beach then bumble off to the pub or somewhere further along the beach to enjoy themselves. This would frequently result in people forgetting to check the tidal times and hilarity would ensue when cocky holiday makers would return to find their car somewhere in the middle of Cardigan Bay. Of course you wouldn’t get that today. Pretentious wankers in their smart pristeine cars would probably have some sort of tidal early warning system hot wired into their brain. Also the “risk” of having a car on the beach would probably be too great and the council have probably stopped the practice of cars on the beach in case someone mistakes a Porche for a tube of Smarties and chokes. Or in case it incenses someone’s religious beliefs or some other PC crap.
Happy times. Irreplaceable times. These days Porthmadog is spoilt by the frightful hordes of frightful families in 4x4s and other fat arsed cars. Screaming overly spoilt and cotton wool wrapped kids, disenchanted husbands and hyper-fussy mothers who either don’t give a shit about their kids or give too much of a shit about their kids. Cafe Bars, expensive boutiques, surf shops, stinky burger bars and snooty retired pensioners trying to recapture their lost childhood in their autumn years. But I doubt kids today have as much fun as I did dicing with death and mistaking cars for tubes of smarties when I was their age. This year I would love to travel to Wales along that route described. Eat cold bacon sandwiches and drink warm milky coffee from a tartan thermos flask. I long to stand on the platform of the Ffestiniog Light Railway, inhale the steam from the trains and admire the view across Cardigan Bay. Relive part of the magic but not all. Before such practices are banned because someone might get offended or some boffin discovers that there is too much salt in cold bacon sandwiches or that holidaying in Wales is bad for the environment. Happy fond times.
Way back when, in the time of never-never. Before sinister government face recognition software trawled tagged helpfully pictures on Facebook adding your face to the giant database that “does not exist”. Before the twin towers fell. Before the millennium of anti-climax. A much anticipated event occurred. Warnings in the estoteric press and from hippies and floaty vagina types about how the world was going to end because of the event were abound. The foolish paid daft wads of cash to observe the event from the furthest point south they could get to. Boats and aircraft were chartered. My pre-wife and I headed for relative isolation equipped with tent and telescope with solar observation module attached.
The main intent was to follow the hordes to the overpriced traffic jammed Southwest to observe the total solar eclipse of 11th August 1999. Common sense, however, reigned. Travelling south with all the holiday traffic to Cornwall, the Guardian destination of choice was utter madness. However, I knew of a relatively quiet place. Not many people went there for it was relatively undiscovered. It faced south over the sea, took about the same amount of time to get to and promised to be an adventure and a half.
So it was agreed, we would head to North Wales and to Aberdaron, camp, then ascend Mynnedd Mawr to observe the eclipse.
We packed our stuff and set off in the green nasty. Long term readers will remember the green nasty as the car that was killed by fire. It was a good car. Handy for camping. It had a cassette player and a selection of cassettes were chosen for the journey. I even compiled a “eclipse” compilation. Driving over the hill and into the village with Aberdaron and the bay before me while today’s song was playing burned itself into my mind. Whenever I hear today’s song, I am there;
Brain Damaged/Eclipse by Pink Floyd
….Driving down the hill into the village….just as….”and the sun is eclipsed by the moooooooooooo-ooooooooooon” is sung.
It was quiet there. Few people about. This was, of course, before being popularised in the Guardian and other such papers as the area to go because “Cornwall is too expensive, far away and full of awful tourists like yourselves”. We pitched our tent in a relatively unpopular field and the next day ascended Mynnedd Mawr. With, it seemed, everyone else who had the same idea.
Usually that place is quiet with few visitors. We got there early with the campsite being literally at the base of the mountain and as we set up and prepared ourselves for the event more and more people arrived with the same idea. Indeed, the look of horror on other people’s faces echoed mine as it meant that I was not alone in the realisation that that part of Wales was becoming more well known than before. Coach loads of people started arriving, all up the old army track way people had parked their cars blocking the passing places and being horrible and common. I was pleased because we had got there relatively early and as a result we were able to park right at the top by the coastguard view point.
Of course, with all these young types in their flash cars there, the radio seemed to be playing in unison. Which ever station it was….was playing today’s song too. Everywhere you went that week you would drive or walk past other cars also playing the album that today’s song is from. Collective imitation? Who knows? What I do know though….it was a bloody good eclipse enhanced by the beauty of Bardsey island. Sure there were lots more people than I had expected but I understand that there was nowhere near as many people than who were trying to get into cloud covered Cornwall. And when ever I hear today’s song, I am there….on top of Mynnedd Mawr, with my telescope with solar observation module…Total eclipse of the Sun 1999…Fantastic.