I love driving through the mountains and the road we had chosen just ‘happened’ to go via the Pass of Llanberis, between the Glyderau and the Snowdon massif. I was in my element and may have squealed quietly from time to time. The landscape is awesome… in the true sense of the word, and with still, clear lakes mirroring the bluest skies, it is as close to heaven as you can imagine.
Had we not been on a mission, with a definite destination in view, we might, for once, have stopped to visit the castle that overlooks the Pass… if only because there is no charge for entry and for the view across the lakes. Since 1230, the castle has sat on its rocky outcrop above the lake, guarding the Pass. Then, as now, the route into this part of Wales passed at its feet and the road would have been easily controlled or blockaded. It also made an effective prison. Owain ap Gruffydd, was imprisoned for twenty years on the castle’s upper floors by his younger brother Llywelyn in the mid-13th century. He might have found the castle restrictive, but I think I would be perfectly happy with the location at least… though I would want to get out and walk.
Which is why we stopped, finding one of the few parking spaces available on a summer Sunday afternoon. The number of vehicles crammed into every conceivable space along the road is a testament to how much this landscape calls to the heart… and to the feet. The odd thing is, though, that you see few people, even so. It is as if the landscape is too vast for the small lives of Man and swallows them quickly as soon as foot touches grass or stone.
The lakeside at Llyn Padarn had been understandably crowded. There are walks through archaeological trails, a lakeside train line left over from the slate mining, nature walks through Coed Allt Wen, a rare and ancient oak woodland and wild swimming in the cold waters of the two-mile long lake where motors are not permitted. If nature doesn’t float your proverbial boat and power is your thing, then there is also a bus trip around the inside of a mountain, Mynydd Gwefru, the largest man-made cavern in Europe, and part of a hydro-electric plant.
We prefer to stand still long enough to feel the earth’s own power… and Llanberis Pass is an easy place to do so. The towering crags make grey castles of their own, their ramparts outlined against the blue of the sky and ice-carved with faces and forms that guard the pass with an inner life.
We did not wander far from the road. Where we had parked, most of the hills rise steeply over slate shale once you leave the green banks of the stream and the cotton grass behind. It was far too hot and too late to start climbing, and we had our sights set on another goal… as well as having no real idea of where we were going to spend the night.
Talking to the locals usually brings good answers to such question, but the only locals we met were intent on afternoon tea…and would not have understood our desire for any more comfort that the green earth and cold stream could provide. They have a point.
But then, they carry their duvets and supplies with them and are well-equipped for their mountains. They are a tad wary, though, of strangers… until they realise that you are harmless and will pint nothing more than a camera at them… then they relax and show the peaceful bliss of those who would not wish themselves anywhere else.
I could understand that too. And we were leaving this glory for what? As usual, we were heading for a grave-site. One picture and a hunch had decided our direction. The map was imprecise,showing it to be somewhere near a small village just beyond Betws y Coed… but it was bound to be signposted. How hard could it be to find, after all?…