For a short while we had taken up the invite to go along on the “BT” walking club days out. This was courtesy of our friendship with Keith and Pat. Generally the clubs previous walks were relatively low level and tended to be no more than eight miles, however every year the club arranged a weekend trip away and on this occasion the destination was to be Llandudno. The reason for this choice was the relatively close proximity to Snowdon.
After a night’s kip and breakfast the coach arrived to pick up every one, however only approximately half of the party were to climb Snowdon, the rest were to take a tour of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch and Anglesey. As Shirley could pronounce Snowdon and struggled a little with the alternative she agreed to come along, well I apparently nagged her, so our party would consist of nine (quite the largest group of people that I’ve ever walked with). When the coach dropped us off at Llanberis knowing my enthusiasm for adventure you’d have thought that I’d have been keen to set off. The mere fact that the drop off point was right outside the railway station meant that if I had a chance of catching a glimpse of the narrow gauge steam engines I would take it. Using the excuse of checking the timetable I managed a tantalising long-range view from the platform end into the steam shed.
We were lucky; the weather was fine as we started our ascent up the tarmac road that led from the station. The gradient was reasonably steep and soon had a few of the party puffing and panting better than the steam engines that use the adjacent line. Once the initial pull was out of the way and the proper path was reached, which incidentally was roughly the same gradient as the railway, nice and easy progress was made. After approximately a third of the climbing we came across the rather inaptly named “half way hut”. As well as picking up a Mars bar and grabbing a quick cuppa Keith and I spent quite a while reading the poster which detailed the winners of the annual Snowdon mountain fell race. We couldn’t believe it, the record for the ten-mile return trip was only one hour. To put this into perspective it had taken us that length of time to get this far.
Easy progress continued to be made, however only at the pace of the slowest in the group. As a result of this Chris, Richard and Georgina decided to go ahead and meet us in the summit café. What I really wanted to do was reach the top, obtain a view and take a few pictures of the old steam engines. However, so far en route although we’d managed plenty of decent views all we had seen of the railway were a few distant views of the 1980’s diesels that share the duties with the steam engines. By the time 3’000 foot was reached things took a turn for the worst. Cloud had moved in and engulfed the summit and any chance of a view from the top now looked unlikely. It was quite an odd feeling plodding away uphill in the clouds all the time following the railway line and not knowing how much further we would have to go. Then all of a sudden out of the murk loomed the untidy concrete structure of the station and the pub. Would our first stop be the pub or the trig point? Off course we all made our way up the last few feet of jumbled rock and had our picture taken by the trig point. We may have missed the opportunity of a view from the summit, however there was no way that we’d miss our chance of a pint in the highest pub in the country.
Feeling suitably refreshed the topic of conversation turned to our return walk. Shirl had proved her point and done enough, so Shirl, Pat and Liz decided to pay the extortionate train fare and travel back down the easy way. They were lucky; there were just two seats spare on the next train and only one on the one that followed. Having said goodbye it was our turn to brace the elements in the cold wind and swirling clouds. Just before we left the warmth of the pub an influx of people trudged in. It was clear that a train had arrived and so the sight of 1896 built No4 “Snowdon” simmering away in the clouds was not only most welcome, but also seemed quite out of context to say the least. The mere fact that this locomotive was 3’500 feet up on a mountaintop was enough to confuse my senses. Quick and easy progress was made downhill and we were fortunate enough to have a cracking line side view of this Victorian relic emerging from the clouds and chugging downhill (no, I didn’t mean Keith). I would go as far as saying that this was the most amazing location that I’d ever seen a steam engine in. Now that most of the excitement was behind us my main objective was to see how far down the hill we could get before the two trains carrying our other halves passed us. As a result of this tactic we didn’t stop for the promised cuppa at the half way hut, but blazed the trail towards Llanberis.
Both trains did in fact pass us, however I hadn’t yet finished with my train spotting for the day. Arrival for every one else at the railway station meant chance for a drink and quick snack, whereas for me it signalled (get the pun) one last opportunity to bunk the shed. I took this with both hands and was rewarded with twenty minutes of wandering around the compact shed intact with four simmering steam engines and at least another four in various state of repair. It was like something out of another age.
Back in the pub at night Shirley confessed to having climbed Snowdon simply so that she could relate to my enthusiasm and so that I didn’t say “you aught to have been there to see….” too many times. The general mood in the pub was somewhat subdued and this could be explained by the fact that most of the party were well and truly knackered. What I had really enjoyed was two fold. Not only a first class walk, but also an opportunity to see steam at work in a mountain environment. Just a brilliant day.
"After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, which is the most horrible thing in the world."
--Oscar Wilde on Absinthe