I travelled up to Wales by train most of yesterday. It’s a 5-hour journey from Oxford, and even just getting across Wales takes long enough. Shrewsbury is the last big town, and once you’re past that the landscape changes, repeated stretches of grassy hills, only broken up occasionally by stops at small stations. The Cambrian Coast line is known for being a scenic route, and you can almost discount time spent gazing out of the window as part of the holiday.
The train reached Barmouth, and the wide estuary of Afon Mawddach.
Eventually, the train pulled into Dyffryn, I got to the campsite and set down my bag in a large tent.
The rest of our group arrived throughout the day, some people I know very well, others I’ve known for years but never really interacted with, and another person who I only recognised from… keeping up with the news I guess. That took me by surprise.
Meals here are cooked by campers in a kitchen hut on site, dinner was copious - jacket potatoes and baked beans. I get the feeling this is going to be one of those restorative holidays; looking forward to exhausting myself with outdoor activity, eating too much, and laying around on the grass reading the Observer.
We visited Barmouth today, going back on the little coastal railway. Here’s the scene as you step out from the station, you can see St. John’s church just up the hill.
We walked a little along the promenade, it’s a seaside tourist town, but it’s not overly commercial.
There are a few ‘alternative’ independent shops, like the Ebenezer Emporium.
They sell incense, buddhist statues, and these vaguely hippie-looking bags.
Down the road from there is an abandoned hotel, the furniture was all piled up inside.
There are craft shops, antique stores, a laundrette, a co-op, a chippy, a community theatre. Solid stone houses flanked by steep and narrow streets. I ducked into a sweet shop and got a liqorice flyer. I like Barmouth.
We headed back to the station, the train schedule is not too regular, especially on a sunday.
There was a small crowd waiting to board the train going north.
Today I went up Snowdon. We were slow setting out in the morning, unsure of which routes to take, or how to split up people into different cars. On arrival at Pen-y-Pass the parking was full, so we drove on to a field just outside Nant Peris, where some guy had put up a handmade parking sign, charging each car £5 for the day. It was a bit dodgy, but the official parking was £10, and there were taxis running from Nant Peris to Pen-y-Pass, it all worked out alright.
The walk up on the miner’s path was very congested, and it got worse at the top, there was a queue for the summit itself. I was happy enough to stop at the train terminal.
There was no water fountain at the top, and I was desperately thirsty so bought an overpriced bottle of fanta (£2.50!) from the cafe. When I heard there was a cafe at the summit, I was imagining something like an old brick building which served tea and cakes. Instead, it was a Big Tourist Mountain, and I wasn’t impressed.
I saw the train chugging up and down. It was fully booked up, and at £26 the tickets were expensive enough that it didn’t make sense to take the train back down (to Llanberis) anyway.
Here’s another view from the top, the clouds stayed high and the landscape was clear.
I went back down by the pyg path, it curves around above the lakes.
It was getting late and I bounded down as quickly as I could, the path was almost empty. The others had walked back down the miner’s path, and when I arrived at Pen-y-Pass they weren’t there.
I figured they were late getting down and ate some kendal mint cake, with enough of a sugar kick to keep me alert.
There’s no mobile signal at the pass, and it took around an hour and a half before the others finally arrived. I was getting worried as it was starting to get late. Useful tip for anyone else in this situation: there’s a payphone in the youth hostel.
While driving back, neither of us had much battery charge left on our phones, and we were on the edge of having to make it back to Dyffryn in the dark without GPS directions.
In the morning, people were sitting around talking about Andrew Murray’s new book the Fall and Rise of the British Left (coming out in september). Andrew’s approach to socialism was descibed as ‘trade unions plus the decommodification of needs.’ I like that as a shorthand summary of the things we fight for: the strengthening of the labour movement, alongside social provision of housing/healthcare/transport.
In the morning, we went swimming at the beach down the road from Dyffryn. I walked barefoot over the wet sand, and it soothed my feet from yesterday. I also realised that I haven’t cut my toenails in a while… really my toenails are freakishly long, I should do something about that.
We played in the sea for a while, then rushed on to Llandanwg beach for rock pooling. It rained as we were leaving, so the sand didn’t brush off my clothes as I was changing; it stuck to my sandals and my underwear.
The rock pooling was amazing fun. Gawain has a curious interest in seaweed foraging, and he was enthusiastically hopping around the beach looking for good algae. It was fun to follow him around while he was gushing forth with all this bottled-up seaweed knowledge, he makes a good teacher.
This is a frilly seaweed, it has a kind of soft texture.
We were mainly looking for this variety, but it can only be found in limited spots on the beach, and it gets easily contaminated with sand. You want to avoid getting sand in your food.
This is the next variety of seaweed we collected, it’s not as rubbery as I was expecting.
Apparently the blobby bits also work as skin moisturiser, seaweed has so many uses!
The flaky beige stuff in this photo is a worm reef, made by sea-worms.
At one point, a crab popped up from the sand, various children had a go at trying to pick it up without getting pinched by the claws.
It’s missing a claw, maybe it lost a jousting match with another crab. Do crabs have crab duels?
Gawain also showed how to remove limpets with a swift shunt. You have to kick them from the side and take them from surprise, if you can’t dislodge them the first time around, they’ll cling tightly to the rock and nothing will move them.
I picked up a collection of shells, all knobbly and pitted, with marbled colours.
Gawain had a notion that all the good seaweed could be found near a pipe which led out into the sea.
The pipe had a rusty red gash, which made it look slightly organic, shaped by the elements just like the rocks and the shells.
It started raining heavily, and we all stopped at a pub on the way back. I went a bit dozy, weary from the beach, and happy just hanging out with friends in the warmth and the dim orange light.
We ended the day singing songs together in the big marquee.