I think a couple of matters need enlarging upon at this point. It is very apparent in the early accounts of how ready I was to give up and return home if it became a little bit wet, or cold, whereas I was much less likely to in later years, in spite of being much older. This is partly because the early trips were largely unplanned and goalless, but the main reason was that I was not well enough equipped, in spite of what I may have thought at the time. I used to wear thick wool boot socks over everyday nylon socks – meraklon inner socks which wick moisture away (up to a point) had not yet become available. I went out of my way to buy a pair of surplus police trousers that I saw advertised in Exchange & Mart; pure wool, very warm, very durable, windproof, but they were itchy to wear and they weighed a ton, particularly when damp. My thermal underwear was hand knitted by my wife but unfortunately it was rather heavy and bulky. An early fleece jacket by Mountain Equipment was not nearly warm and cosy enough, and the wind used to whistle through it! I was never quite warm enough in my old 3-4 season synthetic sleeping bag that was becoming past its “best by” and this was heavy and bulky, too. My first backpacking rucksack was a poor purchase, an ill-fitting, uncomfortable and unstable external-frame one with lots of clip-on nylon compartments; I only used that for two years before donating it to the local Scout troop.
The second thing that needs explaining is why I always go to North Wales. As well as the fact that I spent the first five years of my life in Rhyl after being born there in the middle of WW2, due to my father’s civil service job being transferred there, I also spent a few happy childhood holidays at Dwygyfylchi, where I would explore, alone, the valley of the Afon Gyrach, following the stream to its source, and beyond to the 2,001-foot mountain of Tal-y-fan, marvelling on the way at the array of mosses, sundews, tormentil, heath bedstraw and rushes, and at the absolute silence in the heights, punctuated only by the bleating of sheep, the trickling of water and the occasional trilling of birds. There are other criteria that are met: Snowdonia possesses a certain open wildness that satisfies my escapist urge. To me, the hills and valleys of the Lake District all seem closer together, too compressed, with farmed fields frequently in the view; I feel the Lakes are more tamed, a little bit twee. Furthermore it is a longer journey for me to get there, while Scotland, to me, is so far away it is out of the question, forget it. The Snowdonia mountains provide a range of varying terrain and scenery, where relatively unpolluted water is always available from streams and pools (though I always sterilise it), privacy and shelter for wild camping can generally be found, and for the start and finish of trips there are a reasonable number of camp sites and eating places around . I must also mention that there are lots of ferns to be seen as well, which satisfies another of my passions.
When I was a boy and my exploration of the Afon Gyrach led me to the summit of Tal-y-fan, my first mountain (I still call it that whenever I spot it), I stood and gazed at all the other mountains rolling southwards, trying to work out which one was Snowdon (I am not sure if it is actually visible from here), following which I had this recurring daydream of walking up hill and down dale all the way from Tal-y-Fan to the village of Betws-y-Coed, and then continuing on to Snowdon. Technically this is possible, but in the mind of a boy, such things as distance, and food, and shelter were glossed over. More than 30 years later in life, the desire to at least partially enact this daydream was still with me, so for the second year running I set off for North Wales determined to walk southwards from the north coast.
The plan this time was to start on a track that commenced from a lane at the back of Llanfairfechan. On the map it looked to be a less steep and more definite path than my previous year’s choice of route from Aber. The general idea was that once I reached the top of the hills, I would continue southwards until it was time to return, by the same route.
Almost from the start I was puffing my way up nasty, steep grassy slopes, taking a few stompy steps forward before halting and panting, and looking back to view what little progress I had made. (I was probably still feeling the effects of smoking, which I had given up only two years earlier.) My way up to 2,528-foot Drum was punctuated by many such stops, and the continuation up to 3,091-foot Foel Fras even more so. The achievement of my first 3,000-footer was marred a little by the fact that this convex hump covered with little rocks, and a wall running along one side of it, is a very dull summit.
Somewhere to the south of 3,038-foot Garnedd Uchaf I found a near-perfect grassy ledge for my tent , with shelter from the air stream, and a trickle of water nearby. Unfortunately, though, the weather which until now had been grey and cool, started to deteriorate. The temperature was dropping, and little showers were of frozen rain, which I saw bouncing off the rocks.
After a very cold night I rose to find the tops cloud-covered and the wind picking up. While I was getting myself ready, it started raining frozen stuff again, at which point I admitted defeat, and marched all of the way back down to Llanfairfechan, wearing every piece of the clothing I had with me.
So much for the boyhood dream. I arrived back home at 8:40 p.m. on Wednesday 3rd October, to face the derision of my sons and the scorn of my wife, who thought she had got rid of me for a week!
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