Our overnight stay at the very nice Ery Mor Hotel didn’t turn out to be quite as restful as we’d anticipated. Not that the hotel or its staff were in any way to blame for the thoughtless behaviour of the men in the room next to ours who woke us with their drunken shouting at 3.28am (and again at 5am). Judging from the conversations we overheard at breakfast, we weren’t the only ones!
As predicted, the weather had indeed taken a turn for the worse and Garth Pier, which had looked quite exquisite in the evening sunshine, was now barely visible in the mist and drizzle. Weary and forlorn, we dragged ourselves from our bed; tired or not, rain or not, we had a long day’s hiking ahead of us.
I could hear rolls of thunder immediately above my head as I showered. Outside the rain was hammering down and the thought of walking in Snowdonia was pretty depressing. The forecast was for brighter weather by mid-afternoon but we could hardly delay our start until then.
What made it even worse was that it was Saturday and I was missing my weekly parkrun at Newport. I was momentarily excited when Harri announced that there was a parkrun in Bangor, until he realised it was the right name, but wrong country (the race is in Bangor, Ireland).
Nonetheless I was determined to wear my brand new and much-coveted 100-run tee-shirt, even if it would be hidden under my waterproof for most of the day.
Not wishing to get soaked straight off, we hung around in the hotel room. Just after 10am there was a brief interlude so we grabbed our rucksacks and hit the road. Bangor looked very different this morning, wet, grey and deserted, which was a shame as today was carnival day (we skirted around the fairground attractions early in the walk).
Soon after passing the Penrhyn Estate (where Queen Victoria is said to have once slept in a one ton slate bed), we joined a cycle-way and footpath which followed an old narrow railway through the wooded Cegin Valley. The railway was built in the 1850s to transport slate from the quarry at Bethesda to Porth Penrhyn.
We’d miraculously managed to stay dry for over an hour when the torrential rain started again. At first we sheltered under trees, but before long it became obvious that the rain wasn’t going to stop anytime soon and we were just prolonging the inevitable.
The relentless rain did have one advantage – it meant we didn’t dawdle and so managed to cover several miles along the North Wales Path all the while looking for signs that the promised brighter weather was on its way.
Then disaster struck. As we’d decided to push on in the rain, Harri had been left with little choice but to continue using his five-year-old digital voice recorder and suddenly the on/off button had got stuck… on. If he couldn’t turn it off again, the batteries would quickly drain and he only had one set of spares.
The timing was terrible. We’d long left Bangor and were now heading into the mountains. It was almost certain we wouldn’t be passing a shop for the rest of the day (and anyway, buying more batteries wouldn’t really resolve the issue as they’d soon go flat if the recorder was permanently switched on). Worse, the device’s memory will not last long without batteries, meaning that previously recorded instructions could also be lost.
As we were going over (and over) our limited options, the first tiny glimmer of blue sky appeared above. A moment later, Harri finally managed to slide the on/off button to the off position. To say we were relieved is the understatement of the year. We were positively punching the (now brighter) sky.
We left the coastline just before Abergwyngregyn and headed up a narrow valley into the foothills of the Carneddau range of mountains where our route took us to the wonderful 120 feet high Aber Falls.
The well-surfaced paths providing easy access to the bottom of Aber Falls and the valley’s generally prettiness make it really popular with visitors; after hours of not seeing a soul and with the promised sunshine having now arrived, we suddenly found ourselves in the middle of a busy tourist attraction.
We crossed the Aber Goch on a nice solid wooden bridge and headed down the valley and through Coedydd Aber Nature Reserve.
Having descended one valley, we were immediately faced with a steep climb to the Bwlch y Ddeufaen pass, after which we’d descend to Llanbedwr-y-Cennin where there was a pub.
The scenery was magnificent. To our right, the magnificent Carneddau Mountains looked wonderful in the early evening sunshine; to our left (and right, and straight ahead) were miles of astoundingly well-maintained (and extremely high) dry stone walls,
Gradually the Conwy Valley came into view, and though it remained quite distant, it looked very pretty and has definitely been added to my list of places to visit. Conwy itself is an absolutely gorgeous place, with a well-preserved medieval castle, town walls and a beautiful quayside area.
We finally arrived at Ye Olde Bull which, though not the most welcoming pub of our trip, did serve a draught cider other than the ubiquitous Strongbow (these days, my measure of a good pub).
Worrying, my little toe had started bothering me. Nothing serious (yet!) but I’d taken preventative action in the form of a blister plaster.
Feeling nicely warmed (and cheered) by our drinks, we set off happily to find somewhere to camp. It should have been easy; however, this was the point when our day began to go seriously downhill (spot the synchronicity… terrible start, terrible finish).
The footpath we joined was uphill and badly overgrown. After stumbling through brambles and clambering over fallen trees, we finally emerged in the most vertical field you’ve ever seen and it was covered in sheep poo and thistles.
We trooped up, down and then finally to the very top of this green grass of nightmares – and came face to face with a barbed wire fence. Time was ticking on and this route certainly was not up to scratch; Harri studied his map and devised an alternative route. Except that too had to be aborted when we reached a construction site.
With daylight (and our options) fast running out, Harri felt the best – the only – course of action was to head for the nearby foothills as fast as we could (we were now on the opposite side of the Carneddau to earlier in the evening).
It was almost dark when Harri spotted a flattish hillock just off the narrow mountain road. It wasn’t ideal but there seemed little point in searching indefinitely. Within 15 minutes, it would be pitch dark (or ‘bible-black’ as Dylan Thomas would have said) and near impossible to erect our tent (or even see it!).
Finally, we were in our sleeping bags, listening to the blustering wind and spots of rain hitting the canvas just inches above our head. We tried hard to sleep but for no reason at all, neither of us could settle. The tent felt terribly vulnerable to the elements… then a car went past on the mountain track… then another. The track didn’t lead anywhere so why the sudden late-night traffic, we wondered nervously?
When I thought I heard footsteps outside – and Harri believed me sufficiently to get up and check – we knew we both had a severe case of things-that-go-bump-in-the-night-itis.
Eventually, after what felt like an eternity of listening to various noises (real and imagined), we fell into a fitful sleep but when Harri looked at the map in the morning he had a bit of a shock.
‘Never too old to backpack: O Fôn i Fynwy: a 364-mile walk through Wales’ by Tracy Burton is available from Amazon’s Kindle Store and other online bookstores priced at £2.99.