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What’s that about then ?

Kas entered the 2015 Snowdonia Marathon. It’s not in our nature to split up for events like this – we prefer to have a weekend away and call it a mini-holiday, if only so that the Gardner Family Holiday Rules (1) apply. This, therefore, obliged us to go and have a long weekend in Snowdonia.

(1) The main rule that applies is the one about having ice cream every day.

Friday Night

Well, it was a Friday night, wasn’t it ? A Friday night that heralded the start of the kids’ half term break too, thus meaning that seemingly every single person who ever lived was in their car and attempting to get somewhere else.

We started off on our usual route north, up the M1 and M6 and stopped at the services on the M6 Toll to grab something to eat. From here things went a bit wrong. We’d heard somewhere along the way that the top of the M6 was a mess, so we decided to bypass it by heading up the A41 through Whitchurch and joining the A55 near Chester. This part proved to be very slow, as it’s single track, it was dark, and the road is heavily used by lorries and farm vehicles, even at night. At least we were actually moving though.

The A55 was OK until we started getting near Llandudno, at which point we joined the back of a massive queue. Kas managed to successfully re-route us through the middle of Conwy, which allowed us to bypass a couple of junctions on the A55, and hence allowed us to skip past about 5 miles of queue. When we got back onto the main road the traffic wasn’t too bad, and we soon picked up speed and got to our required junction – the road down to Llanberis. We were staying at the Padarn Hotel in central Llanberis. Car parking was a bit of a joke, partly because they accept dinner guests who aren’t staying at the hotel, but we eventually just abandoned the car and got into our room. It was late and Kas had to be up quite early in the morning. If they needed the car moving they could come and ask us. The room was quite basic (especially the bathroom) but fairly spacious. It wasn’t very warm though, apparently because October in Snowdonia isn’t really counted as winter. It wasn’t warm enough to sit comfortably in the room, even with a jumper on. Ho hum ! We’re here now, and there’s nowhere else in town we could go, especially seeing as we’d already paid to stay here.

Saturday Morning. The Race is On.

Saturday greeted us with wet weather. “Il pleut des chats et des chiens” as they say in France.

Kas had to be over the road at the Electric Mountain Visitor Centre quite early to get herself registered. We all went over with her and mooched about a bit while she did the doings. The start was a couple of hundred metres away on the main road, but the weather wasn’t fit for any significant amount of standing around outside, so we spent a while milling around and we shot around the back to grab the webcam geocache in the rear garden ( Mole says “Stick ’em up” 2 ). This is a venerable old beast set up in 2005, and one of only a handful of webcam caches left in the UK. It took us a couple of goes to get ourselves into shot, but we did get into shot. One of the reasons it took a while is that the iPhone screen isn’t quite so sensitive as it ought to be when it’s covered in water.

Once it got round to a sensible time we decided to just leave Kas in the Visitor Centre and head off. The kids were getting decidedly bored.

We chose to walk the half a mile or so over to the National Slate Museum, where we were treated to a selection of fine-grained-foliated-homogeneous-metamorphic-rock-based experiences including historical films, pictorial displays, bits of old equipment and a demonstration of the fine art of making roof tiles, all of which was quite interesting and was significantly enhanced by being mainly indoors. There was also a cafe. It had cake.

By the time we were finished the weather had cleared a bit and it wasn’t actually raining any more.

From here we crossed back into Llanberis and then walked up the hill to the Ceunant Mawr Waterfall, which is the site of an Earthcache as well as being photogenic. The only downside is that you have to cross over the lines of the Snowdon Mountain Railway to get to the viewing point. It’s not that the tracks are massively busy, but there isn’t a lot of room on the viewing platform should you just happen to get stuck there when a train is coming down (or going up).

By this time Kas had been going long enough to have made a decent attempt at it, so we returned to the town centre to go and play spot-the-missus. We walked up and down a bit wondering whether she’d finished yet and where she’d be, and eventually we managed to exchange texts and determine she’d finished ages ago and was mooching about wondering where we were. We ended up meeting halfway up the main street. She’d finished in a pretty impressive time.

Saturday Afternoon

After we’d met up with Kas we did the usual short period of going to our room while Kas got all cleaned up, and then wondered what else we could do on a Saturday afternoon. I was up for a bit of geocaching. The girls didn’t want to, but promised faithfully that they wouldn’t bug Kas, but would leave her alone for a rest and would play on their iPads for a couple of hours.

So off I set back in the general direction of the National Slate Museum again in search of a few caches slightly further up the hillsides. I got to do a bit of challenging walking over some rough ground and generally enjoyed the caching. The weather had improved somewhat by this point too. In no particular order, the caches I found on this stretch were :

After the second one I encountered three familiar figures walking towards me – the girls had forced Kas to go out for a walk. They followed me up to the site of the third cache before deciding that was enough and going back to the hotel again.

The last one was a bit of a pain in the proverbial. It was a three-stage multi, with most of the stages over around by the National Slate Museum, and then a pointer back to the middle of town, where I had to find something based on a hint I couldn’t really understand, which lead me to a final location a good bit further up the street. By the time I got there it was basically dark, after all it was late October.

Once I got back it was getting fairly late and Kas had about had enough, so we walked along the main street and ate at Pete’s Eats, which apparently has a good reputation in the parts. It was basic but good.

Sunday Morning, Up We Go!

Sunday morning greeted us with weather that could be described as a bit iffy. It wasn’t as bad as Saturday, meaning that you could stand outside without any imminent danger of being drowned, but it was grey and quite cold.

Anyway, there was no way Kas was going to walk up Snowdon the day after a marathon, and nor, I suspect, was Izzy, so we’d got some tickets to go up on the train. Buying tickets was problematic as a result of them seemingly have limited windows for selling advance tickets, and hence it being non-trivial to get them. I walked over before we’d had breakfast but then had to return again later, as for some reason they weren’t able to sell me tickets for a train two hours in the future. I can’t remember the excuse.

The train is a good way to get up to the top if you’re not up to the walk, although it’s a bit expensive. One downside (if you’ll pardon the pun) is that you have to tie yourself to a particular return journey too, because there’s not enough of a service to allow everyone to just stack up for the last train, if you see what I mean. As a result, you get a fixed amount of time at the top, and it isn’t very long bearing in mind how busy everything is up there.

When we got to the top we were greeted with a bit of a white-out. There are a couple of caches at the top, which we duly found. One of them is an earthcache which (we suspect) would be a lot more fun and educational if we could actually have seen some of the surrounding scenery. As it happened, from the trig point on the top you could barely see your way back to the train station, all of 15 yards away. The top was in a cloud, in case you hadn’t guessed. One of them is a virtual, which required the seeking out of some information from inside the cafe, which was most welcome. The YOSM had also been up there at some point in the past. The caches at the top were :

After doing the caches and getting cold and damp, we retired inside, along with seemingly the entire population of Wales. There were lots of people milling around who looked like they’d walked up, and had got very wet and cold doing so. There was a kind of steam floating around in the air and a vaguely unpleasant musty smell.

After a few minutes of deciding we didn’t want to queue there for hot food, we grabbed some snacks and drinks and had a chat about what to do. Ami fancied the walk down, and I did too. I think Kas probably would have too but Izzy wasn’t up for it, so Kas volunteered to take Izzy down on the train so that me and Ami could have the opportunity to try walking down. We figured that a few hundred metres down we’d drop out of the bottom of the cloud and all would be sweetness and light again. The walk down into Llanberis is the longest route, but it’s also the best surfaced, easiest to follow, and has the gentlest gradients. Time estimates seemed to be around 2 hours to get down.

So Ami and me set off to walk down, having first made sure Kas had all the train tickets, so she could offer the spare returns to someone who had walked up but didn’t fancy walking back down again. The top really was very murky and we couldn’t see very far, but the signposting is good and there were plenty of other people going the same way, so we figured it would be fine. It’s not like there were any advisory signs warning people not to attempt the walk. Sure enough, after 10 minutes and one quite steep little scramble over loose rocks, the air started to clear and the route down became very obvious. Our mood picked up a little here and we turned into the proverbial happy wanderers as we picked our way down the gently sloping rocky pathway back to Llanberis. At one point a little train came past us that we think had Kas and Izzy on it, but it was in the murky bit and I don’t think they saw us. Harumph ! Never mind.

One thing that did strike me as odd though, was the number of people who were walking up the mountain while we were walking down. Bear in mind this was the end of October and anyone walking up was almost certainly not going to be able to get a train back down, it seemed quite dangerous. It was well into the afternoon when Ami and me left the top, and it took us nearly two and a half hours to get back to the village, but all the way down we were passing people who looked like they were making an attempt on going all the way up, and were asking us what the path was like and how much further they’d got left to go. I don’t think I ever quite said to any of them “you won’t make it up and down before darkness” as surely they must know they were too late to get to the top, but I was surprised at the number. I was also surprised by the number of people walking up in shorts and trainers and apparently not carrying either food or waterproof clothing. Me and Ami had a couple of drinks each and some chocolate bars at least. Some of the people beginning their ascent didn’t have any bags, so obviously didn’t have anything with them.

When we got back to the bottom, Kas and Izzy were crashed out in the hotel waiting for us to get back.

Sunday Afternoon – The Island

We’d still got a couple of hours of daylight left and it was a bit early for giving up, but none of us fancied walking really, so we decided we’d drive 20 minutes or so and go for a quick gawp at the island of Anglesey and the famous Menai Suspension Bridge. Google satellite view indicated an abundance of parking nearby, so it looked a prime target for a bit of late afternoon gawping. We parked up on the mainland side and legged it all the way across to the island and back, making sure we grabbed a cache on the way over (Bridging the gap (GC20BDQ)).

And that was about it for our Sunday, aside from a quick and quite functional meal in the hotel bar.

Monday Morning, Time to Do a Runner

We were in no particular hurry to get back home because it was half-term, so the kids were off school for the week. We therefore deemed Monday also to be officially a holiday, as far as the consumption of ice cream is concerned. After breakfast at the hotel and a loose bit of planning we set off by driving east from Llanberis and up over some mountainous bits. The views were quite good. I think it was the first time all weekend that we could actually see the summit of Snowdon from down below.

After a couple of photo stops and associated geocaches, we found ourselves heading towards the A5 in the general direction of Betws-y-Coed, where we made a stop to allow for consumption of coffee and cake. We also did a bit of souvenir shopping (at least, the kids did) before we then headed back up the A5 in the direction we’d just come so that we could visit the Swallow Falls. It was pretty busy there but impressive enough to have been worth the visit, as the photos attest.

I Suppose We Ought to Go Home Then

We drove down to Lake Bala for a wee stop and a final bit of admiring the scenery before heading off on a wild drive over the hills in search of a single geocache within the boundaries of Powys. You wouldn’t have thought it would be difficult, what with Powys taking up an area half the size of Wales, but it was surprisingly difficult. All the ones on the edge that I thought were in turned out to be, in fact, out. So we had to drive right into the heart of the county to find one. Powys is probably the least urbanised place I’ve been to in Britain. It’s big, and there’s not much there.

So for the sake of general interest, the caches we found on Monday were :

We got back to civilisation (or back to major roads at least) somewhere near Shrewsbury and then had a very easy drive back around the motorways to get home again. The house was where we’d left it, which is always a bonus.