Day 4

I woke up and found sand in my sleeping bag. The rain continued throughout the night. I have decided to bring out my cold-weather clothes: thermals and a fleece.

warm_clothes

I left some seaweed and wet underpants in the tent, it’s getting a bit whiffy.

I waited around camp for the others to wake up, eventually I got a lift to Harlech. I stuck around for a few hours in a cafe before others arrived and I moved on to wander around the town.

I considered going into Harlech castle, it cost £4.40 (with NUS card) and it was a few hours until it closed. Decided it was enough to see the castle from outside.

harlech_castle

There’s a statue of the ‘two kings’ outside the castle, which reminds me that Harlech is one of the locations menioned in the Mabinogion.

I walked down from there to a local swimming pool/sports centre across the railway. The public toilets up the hill were closed and… there are toilets in the pool viewing gallery!

From there I went south to see the abandoned Ardudwy Theatre.

ardudwy_theatre_1

This theatre was built in 1973, in a fine brutalist style. The curved concrete blends with the old stones of Ardudwy College, and it’s topped off with copper fins.

ardudwy_theatre_2

The building needed significant maintainance, it was considered unsafe and finally closed last year. A notice on the fence warns of “major structural defects” and “risk of falling masonry.”

There’s also an abandoned hotel further up, but I didn’t go as far as to see that.

ardudwy_theatre_3

In the sheltered archway there are left-over posters announcing showings of Pacific Rim and Monsters University - the big films of 2013.

film_notices

Adjacent to this is the old Ardudwy College, the plants in the courtyard are breaking out of their beds to grow over the stonework. The whole area is being quietly reclaimed by nature.

ardudwy_college

It’s also a testament to the social importance of the town that it was host to this large modern theatre. I’m curious about how the theatre came to be built, where it fits in the movement for Welsh cultural renaissance, and I feel like there’s a story here. Of all the ruins in Harlech, this place interests me more than the castle.

I walked from there up a path running up the rocks into a wooded area. There was a cave, I tentatively crept inside until I caught the smell of stale pee. This is one site I will leave unexplored.

cave

At the top the path opens out to a viewpoint, walk out across some rocks and you can see over the town, the beach, and the railway.

harlech_landscape

There was also a decorative wooden throne, not sure what it’s for or what it represents. I had a sit in the big chair.

harlech_throne

I got back to Dyffryn and had an early night. I’m developing some sort of nasal infection, there’s a painful ache between my sinuses and the roof of my mouth.

Day 5

Today I was on duty, stayed at the campsite and took the opportunity to sweep the tent, wash clothes (including damp/sandy underpants), shave, shower, charge my phone, write up this journal entry in my notebook.

I did go to visit a neolithic burial chamber in Dyffryn.

burial_chamber

If you look at the map, the area inland from here is dotted with prehistoric sites. These are things I should have noticed and prepared for before arriving. If I come back next year, I’ll do a bit more research on what there is up in the hills and how much of it is within walking distance of a bus route/train stop.

Back at camp, I started preparing dinner with the others. I made these dips, to go with a curry.

dips

The curry was tasty, and without the chicken it was totally vegan.

curry

Here’s our duty team, dutifully serving dinner.

serving_dinner

And it was topped off with dessert, chocolate-covered cake with ice cream and sprinkles. 😋

dessert

Tomorrow is the last full day, I’m looking forward to going up the roman steps, and might go back to Harlech for a walk down the world’s steepest street.

Day 6

It was slow going up the roman steps, what I’d thought of as a 1-2 hour excursion gradually extended into the afternoon. We stopped at the base of the steps for lunch, Ben had his spider book out and found some spiders’ web in the rocks by a stream.

ben_spiders_stream

Futher up, we stopped at another stream. Here’s Ben again, resting on the stone bridge.

ben_bridge

The path follows an old trade route, it’s probably the easiest way to cross the mountains when going directly eastwards out of Harlech.

roman_steps_landscape_1

Bilberries appear beside the path towards the peak of the pass. These berries taste alright.

bilberry_1 bilberry_2 bilberry_3

The berry juice causes vivid and persistent red stains, making it perfect for ‘First Aid special effects.’

bilberry_4

I learned a little about enclosures here; there are walls which cross the landscape in un-natural ways. For example, there’s a wall which cuts across a mountain and runs straight into the lake.

llyn_cwm_bychan

These straight walls are signs of enclosure, where land was divided into neat parcels. There are other walls which wind organically around the landscape, and these predate the process of enclosure.

I love how this distinction shows up the way people relate to the land. Before enclosure, the walls were built in negotiation with both the terrain and the social environment, that’s what makes them jagged and wonky. After enclosure, the walls were drawn out ‘from above’, and the interests of landowners truly over-ruled the physical geography.

Here’s me at the top of the pass.

roman_steps_landscape_2

At that point, I cut the walk short, said goodbye to Gawain and the others, and rushed down the mountain to catch a lift over to Harlech. I could have stayed up on the steps all day, and maybe that’s what I should have done, but I was set on visiting one last thing… an ancient manor house called y lasynys fawr.

y_lasynys_fawr

The house was inhabited by a bard called Ellis Wynne. He was from a landowning family, and the house was passed down in the family from the 17th Century through to around 1998. It was rented out, and fell into disrepair, the roof collapsed, some rooms were abandoned as the occupants retreated into the remaining livable sections of the building. When the tenants moved out, the house was put up for sale by Lord Harlech.

Given the historical importance of Ellis Wynne, there was an interest in preserving the house as an object of national heritage. It was bought by a community organisation with money from the lottery fund. The community group went about restoring the building, but the building work didn’t meet an appropriate standard of historical accuracy, and so the protected/heritage status of the building is contested. It comes back to a question of the legitimacy of restoration. Is it better to preserve a ruin or rebuild as you think it would have looked?

The house is dug into a hill, all the way into the bedrock, and the walls are thick. It’s a sturdy structure. On the top floor you see the old roof beams framed and held up by newer construction.

wooden_beams

This is the point of an earlier extension, where two roof beams cross and they’re held in place by a plank.

beam_joins

The house had some fairly sophisticated systems, such as a buttery room, which had drainage holes for the milk. It drains out to an under-floor passage which leads out to the front of the house. There was also a mechanical gear system connected to an axle outside the house for… churning milk?

butter_drainage

Ellis Wynne had some odd ideas. In ‘Visions of the Sleeping Bard’ Gweldigaethau y Bardd Cwsg (1703) he concludes that

Britain is the greatest of countries and the main adversary of the hordes of Hell.

from an info book on Wynne’s work, given to me by the woman showing me around the house.

She started off addressing me in welsh, and I had to admit that I couldn’t understand her. It was just a one-off interaction but her attitude stuck with me, that postition to treat welsh as the default language of conversation.

Some of the ancient Welsh courts were held around here, and they were at some point integrated into Harlech castle. This area was where decision-making power was concentrated. These villages are also in welsh-speaking areas, although it wasn’t until today that I’d heard welsh spoken in public.

I got back to camp, had fish pie for dinner.

Day 7

I woke up, packed my things quickly, did one last sweep of the tent, and said goodbye to other campers who were leaving by car.

bag_packed

I got on board the 10:41 train from Dyffryn.

Went back past Barmouth, rewinding the journey down the cambrian coast. Past Newtown, I caught sight of some amazing brick towers, if I come back this way again it might be worth stopping there.

I changed at Wolverhampton, the station is being renovated and upgraded for HS2. There are billboards up around the place saying how fast the connection to London will be.

wolverhampton_station

And a few hours later, I was back in Oxford.

EDIT: I noticed that Curious Under the Stars is back on Radio 4 with a new series. I’m looking forward to catching up on the goings-on of my current favourite Welsh fantasy soap opera.