Tuesday 13 October 2020

Wales: Caernarfon, and the hills beyond

IMG_20201005_161108_790 Words written as usual in arrears, though not too far behind. Due partly to Covid, partly due to pressure of work, and partly the way the world goes, I have too much holiday again, but this time I actually decided to take some of it, so spend (most of) a week in Wales. With no clear plans in mind but some intent to look at the "Welsh Three Thousanders" I booked Sunday and Monday night at least in the Angelsey Arms at Caernarfon. We had dropped off E at Magdalen on Sunday, preceded by a Saturday overnight at the Eastgate which is now Well Ponced Up. Rather than drive through the North coast, which had rumours of travel restrictions due to Coivd, I went through mid-Wales - well, Welshpool and Tremadog - arriving around 7 pm. 

The pub turned out indeed to be on the sea front and backs onto the town walls, with the castle nearby, and the narrow streets just passable; fortunately, the world is quieter in October than the summer. Alas as I restarted the car to move it somewhat it threw the wobbly of infamous memory and complained about "ESP" again, but started on the second go. Hmmpf: after the last set of troubles, I could really do without this again, especially on holiday. So, after a little look around, and a drink, I spent a quiet evening and a somewhat worried but quite peaceful night. Forgive me for going on about this; this post will turn into something about the hills, in a little while. You may prefer to skip ahead to Tuesday.

Note: GPS tracks contain geolocated pix.


Breakfast; there are a few others about; as is my wont I linger and have two cups of coffee and browse the wub; their wifi works downstairs but not in my room; perhaps that's a good thing. I've moved my stuff up into my room, and there's only my bike and a few bits in the car; I decide to stop avoiding the problem and try starting it; it does, on the third go. So... again, I should not avoid the problem; Google points me to a not-very-distant Citroen garage, Elim, on Anglesey; and I drive there. Alas they can't look at it today, pleading new-plate season, but may be able to run diagnostics tomorrow; so taking my bike from the car, putting walking boots in my bag, I cycle off to nearby Llangefni for a cafe and, if memory serves, to wait out some rain. This didn't work perfectly, so I set out. I didn't have lights, the grey cloud made light conditions poor, cars drive quickly, and I was somewhat worried about safety. GPS track. I intended to follow Google - see the route on Wednesday - but failed, so ended up on the "alternative" route that was actually nicer, if hillier. Cafe in Menai Bridge, and over the bridge, and then back to Caernarfon; but this part mostly goes on cycle tracks though you have to be attentive to it shifting sides and so on; towards the end, there's a dismantled railway which was lovely, even in the wet.

Back at the AA for coffee and internet catch-up; afternoon a windy but dry walk along the sea front over the river over the pedestrian swing-bridge. I make no effort to tourist the town or the castle; that's not my intent; I am merely here.


I manage to start somewhat later than I'd planned, past 11, due to more malingering over breakfast waiting for some bands of rain to pass. Oh, and I had to go back after a km or so because, having changed into longs, I'd forgotten my money. Not that I needed it, a phone was fine. GPS track for the day. The forecast tells me that the weather will slowly improve over the day, and indeed it did. I cycle inland to Llanberis, following Google map route, with my lights on I am invulnerable. ~45 mins, ~100 m height gain, fine, not entirely dry. I'd forgotten how bleak the place can feel in anything other than sunshine. I'd also forgotten quite where Pete's Eats is, but I got there. A large mug of tea and a cheese toasty is good. Which same cheese toasty turned out to be all my food for the day after breakfast; a mistake. At times, some sun through yonder window: how pleasant. Head on up, past the ruined castle, and grind up the pass, past Dinases Cromlech and Mot. Ah, old times. To Pen-y-Pass, ~360 m, that wasn't so bad (I see that Strava calls it a cat 3 climb. I took 25 mins... the record is just under 10). Have some tea in the YHA, which is rather quiet and, in it's Covid-safe state, not desperately welcoming.


The cloud is on the peaks but it seems plausible to attempt Crib Goch, or at least give it a go; though I'm somewhat late in the day due to my late start. But I'm hardly familiar with the paths, so it will be good for that. Start off along the Pyg track, which goes around the shoulder, and is very well if roughly paved; reach the "col" overlooking the lakes, then branch off R up towards CG in good shape and moving reasonably quickly. Up ahead something looms, disappearing into the clouds, and a couple of signs warn me of the terrors of CG. The way is clear enough, until I get to the scrambly bits, where it becomes somewhat obscure, but I stick to the ridge mostly, though sometimes avoiding the northern side as it is windy that way. However, at just short of 850 m, I decided to turn around. By that point I was in cloud; I'd just been hailed on; and I was doubtful I had time to get to the top of CG let alone Snowden, and I don't know any way of getting off CG other than continuing to S. So, down, getting only a bit lost in the process. Back to the bike.

Now out of the cloud there is some lovely sun, shining off the rain-washed road, which slants down towards Beddgelert, and I can just freewheel down; lovely. At Beddgelert at 5:30 and a slight flaw appears in my careful planning: I'd neglected to check my assumption that P-P to B to Caernarfon was all down hill, and it isn't: B is at ~40 m, and there's a ~200 m hill in the way, and some rolling stuff past that. Courage, onwards! And I do go on. The countryside is lovely although I'm a little too empty to appreciate it; back, with the last of the light, not much before 7.

Dinner is burger and bacon and cheese with chips, which was a little on the large side for me, even in my hungry state; I could have done quite well without either bacon or cheese. Watch the Giro, there's an hours worth available, the same thing at different times on different channels, so I don't have to rush my dinner.

Car: half-way down CG I get a phone call; they have looked at the car and don't find anything wrong. Hmm. anyway, I'll pick it up tomorrow. At some point, I've booked two more nights: Tues and Weds, leaving the end of the week undecided.


More decent weather, for the time of year. Again a lingering breakfast; tonight is my last booked night, should I reserve another? Should I plan to get out my sleeping bag and trek out somewhere? I put off the decision and cycle off, this time largely in the sun, and do a better job of finding the cycle path. I even sit outside with coffee and cake in a cafe on Angelsey. At the garage all is smiles, they've "cleared the fault register" though I'm unsure why that is helpful, and don't charge me, since they couldn't tell me what is wrong; and so I'm off. And indeed, it works. I decide to go look at the Cneifion Arete which I read about because someone fell badly on it recently; also, it's off Ogwen which I haven't been to on this trip. And so, off, packing (after a little thought) my helmet but also harness and a couple of slings and a little cord, in case I need to ab off. Ogwen requires coins, so I go a little further and park by the lake, walk back, and then up; again the path is good, as I suppose it has to be given the volume of footfall during the summer. Up to the lake, with the slabs beyond, and about halfway down the little island, a wall, a gate, and just past it the path up; which is now very thin. 


I probably go up too high; there's a sort of grassy section, then a rocky section, and perhaps I should have traversed across at the top of the grassy bit, because now I have to traverse across, losing ~30 m in the process, but there is again a faint path so I'm not alone in this,  And then I get into the nameless cwm, and contrary to what I expected I can unambiguously see the arete and its scree, which is a great relief as finding the bloody route is always the hard part. Wx and rock is dry and not windy.


But how hard is it? From below it looks pretty damn steep, and if I didn't know it was but a scramble (albeit grade 3) I would be really rather doubtful. But things always look harder from below. Starting right from the very bottom looks tricky, so I start from a little way R, before moving a little left. The route description, as usual, is totally useless. I think I wimped out on the L of the slightly-tricky chimney which is part of the first pitch but I'm unsure. After that I kept pretty strictly to the ridge line, far more so that the heather-clad wimp-outs you'll see in the route pix of the page I linked to. It is very good. It is steep, but not absurdly so and there are frequent rests if you want them; the rock is very good (though not quite 100% sound so you do need to test holds); the holds are good, and sometimes small. I think it is usually escapable on the L onto grass, if you ever get worried.


So you might want to know: well how hard is it, really? Always a difficult question, because it depends on how hard you are. You'll want to be comfortable high up without ropes, obvs. There are no technical difficulties that I could see, so climbing at my 4b (I once did 5b you know, but that was decades ago) was fine, in stiff walking boots.

And so, onto the top. GPS track. It runs from about 680 m to about 780 m. Above that the continuation to Glyder Fawr is also scrambly, but easy. GF itself is somewhat surreal, nearly in cloud, a little like Skiddaw in a way, with fields of stones, but with weird little "castles" of sticking-up ?slate? From there I'm a little unsure of how to get down; fortunately the answer is a pretty clear path, and the cloud doesn't get in the way, so down I go. Down into cwm Idwal with views up into the Devil's Kitchen where I think Howard took us long years ago on a rainy day pu a route under a chockstone, yummy. And so, back.


But, alas, back at the car it decides to be iffy again: it will start, but second time, and again with warnings. Oh, sigh.

Back to the AA, have what I intend to be a light dinner of sides: garlic bread, chips and onion rings. But it is quite large, I should have omitted one. But I manfully get through it. Pondering, especially this mornings "should I book another night", I decide that all in all I really ought to take the car home, and not risk it getting stuck somewhere in the wilds. Annoying in a way, but a relief to make the decision.


Not very exciting: I drove home. After another long breakfast, and a rueful glance at some blue sky - but it was still cloudy inland, thank heavens - I loaded up the car and with a feeling of dread tried to start it; failed; tried again; and it did, but with warnings. And in that state, home we went. I went via North Wales, since I didn't intend to stop; and in order to avoid turning the engine off I trundled along at 55, or following whatever lorry went my way, which seems to reduce fuel consumption markedly. To complete the story-of-the-car: I drove home, dumped out my stuff, drove to St Ives, and left it there, taking the busway back to Cambridge and walked home from town.