Wales for ever or long live Wales, however you translate the local language, it has a certain tingle about it, or maybe because my father was Welsh it’s hiding in the genes ready to burst out with euphoria whenever I’m there. After many trips with Ken to Spain, Scotland, Greece and the Lakes going ‘home’ to Wales was a long time coming. The farmers campsite at Capel Curing was an old friend. In years gone by we had spent many happy days there. In 2017, the facilities were much improved from our earlier stays, but the atmosphere was unchanged. Memories of past times flashed back, such as when we found a hole in my wife’s tent where an animal had chewed through the inner compartment to get out our loaf. We had assumed it was a rat but the farmer insisted that it was a squirrel. And another time when a sudden gust of wind had lifted Ken’s tent up into the air and deposited it in the adjacent river where it drifted downstream like an abandoned coracle. – all good fun!
Whilst strolling along the river we had noticed a small bird flying into a hole in a riverside tree, so we stood and watched it flying off and returning to its nest with food for a while and enjoyed the sheer pleasure of the natural world.
Returning to the campsite, we managed to cook our dinner in spite of a rather breezy evening and then headed off for a walk into the town for some liquid refreshment. In previous visits we had enjoyed all three of the pubs in town but in 2017 we were very upset to find that their number had been reduced to two. The much loved Cobden’s Hotel was boarded up and under offer for sale. The hotel had been renamed Cobden’s after its owner, a famous cricketer who in 1890 had saved his Cambridge University team from defeat by Oxford University by bowling out the last three batsmen for only 2 runs. We were very fond of the place in spite of its rather run down appearance. I recalled that one time whilst supping at the bar with Ken and Colin I had commented that on a landscape painting of Snowdon massif from Capel, the peaks of Lliweyth and Crib Goch were too far apart. I was immediately reprimanded by a lady at the bar as she claimed to be the artist of the work. Another time we were leaving the bar after a pleasant evening restoring our strength with a few pints after a hard day on the hills and as we exited through the front door, a cloud of bats burst out of the eves of the Hotel and headed off into the night. I later discovered that these were Pipistrells, the smallest variety of all the British bats. So, on our first evening we had a choice of the Tyn Y Coed or the Bryn Tyrch pubs. The former being larger and livelier was our selection and stayed that way throughout the week.
So while we supped a few tasty real ales in the bar, we had a good old chat about what would be the most fruitful plan for our first full day in Snowdonia.
There were a couple of fixed ides for the week, one being meeting up with Ken’s brother Peter at the Llanberis slate quarries for some sport climbing. The other was the opportunity to meet my son Martin and wife Gil who were going to be staying in Betws y Coed later in the week for a long weekend. So, Monday May 16thwas our first full day in Wales. The weather looked rather cloudy with a potential for rain In former times our breakfast stop was the Snowdon Café above the A5 on the way towards Ogwen, but the owner ‘Brummie’ had retired after many years of sterling service and the café was closed. Subsequently, we used to go to the Pinnacle stores café at the road junction where you turn off to visit Plas y Brenin the outdoor training centre or go into the Ogwen valley. Unfortunately that café was also closed. Luckily for us, the Moel Siabod café at the old petrol station was open and serving tasty grub. After a full Welsh breakfast, we drove off and headed in Ogwen valley. There we parked up at Williams Farm quite close to the foot of Tryfan. We knocked at the farmhouse door to pay our £2 parking fee and headed up the footpath the lead along the south side of Tryfan and up on to Glyder Fach.so we decided that a walk up onto the Glyders would be a good plan.
Looking up towards the top of the Glyders, the clouds hopefully seemed to be lifting but it was still raining slightly so we togged up with our wet weather gear as we ascended the trail. It was a steady climb as the angle was initially not too steep. We crossed the sheep cropped grassy slopes until arriving at the scree slopes of Glyder Fach where the angle steepened and we gently perspired under our wet weather layers.
The grey clouds did seem to be lifting off the tops as we rose higher and were even starting to break up a bit giving us a glimpse of the pale blue sky. Although the screes were mainly large broken blocks, they were well consolidated by the thousands of boots that had trodden them before and good for walking on. We were soon near to the topmost point.The well known feature of the Castell y Gwynt or Castle of the Winds soon greeted up as we took a short rest at the top. With the lifting clouds, the views around were as stunning as usual and we simply enjoyed the pleasure of being out there on our own with no other persons in sight and with just the soothing sounds of the winds caressing the surrounding grey volcanic rocks. Before long, the nearby summit of Glyder Fawr beckoned to us and we set off across the high plateau to the west.Passing the Castell we followed the well trodden trail towards the other Glyder and were well pleased the rain had stopped and the views were clear ahead.
We passed over Glyder Fach and headed down into the Cym below which gave us our first sight of the Idwal valley below. Down there was our route back to the A5 road.
Descending into the Devils Kitchen on the steep steps was hard work as the step’s risers were just a little too large for complete comfort and we had our usual moans about their construction. I suppose that is a bit unfair really, as before the path repairs by the National Park authorities the eroded screes were suicidal.
Down into the valley, we followed the path to the edge of Llyn Idwal and strolled along the ‘beach’ towards the gate at the north end of the Llyn. Looking back we could see our traverse route above in the clear skies. A short stroll followed down the pavemented trail and we soon arrived at Ogwen Cottage and the nearby café where a welcome mug of tea provided a well earned refreshment and a fortification for the long 4 mile walk back to Williams’s farm and our car.
Back at the campsite, as we both enjoy cooking we combined tactics and stoves to prepare our dinner. We were pretty well kitted out, Ken with his trusty Trangia and me with my old gas stove. So we soon had our tea brewed and dinner cooking. From past experiences we had developed our ‘all in stews’ to a fine art and our meat and several veg & pulses combination was soon prepared and eaten. A few brews in the Tyn Y Coed finished off our first mountain day nicely.
Our plans for Tuesday were again formed by looking out of the tent at the day’s weather. Glancing towards the ablutions block we could see that it was a bit murky and looking up towards the top of Moel Siabod, the clouds seemed to be below the 3000 feet level. We decided that another mountain day would probably fit the bill and agreed that Moel Siabod should be our target and although the top was below 3000 feet, the views from the summit can be spectacular.
Crossing the river near the Tyn Y Coed, we were ascending through verdant wooded slopes, initially on a metalled road and later on a well trodden footpath. On an earlier ascent of Moel Siabod we had taken the ridge route to the western side of the mountain but this time we decided on a more central attack. We were following a minor trail which lead into a steep gulley. This was obviously not a popular ascent route as the path was quite heavily vegetated. I guess this was a bad decision as we had to scrabble up loose grot, gripping tufts to prevent us slipping back down again.
Anyway, nothing ventured nothing gained they say and after a half hour of scrabbling we pulled out onto the summit ridge, very close to the top. Looking quite mucky we managed to raise a smile at the sight of the summit windbreak where we were going to eat our sandwiches. A couple of guys had beaten us to it having travelled up the ‘normal’ path from the Plas y Brenin eastern direction.
They left after a brief chat with us and we sat down in the shelter for lunch.
The shelter only provided semi functional protection from a stiff breeze so we didn’t hang about too long after munching our sarnies. Unfortunately for us, the ‘spectacular’ views didn’t materialise so we set off down following the route taken by our erstwhile companions.
It didn’t take us too long to descend and we were soon crossing the bridge over the Afon to pop into the pub for refreshment. The clouds were still brushing the top of Moel Siabod as we left for the short walk back to the campsite and preparations for dinner.
After dinner it was back to the pub for the evening and our usual discussion about what our plans were for the following day. As I have mentioned earlier, Ken’s brother Peter and his mate Chris were coming out to Wales for the day and so we were hopeful that when we were going to meet up with them at the slate quarries in Llanberis that the weather would be a bit kinder and allow us some climbing on the hard sport routes, Slate tends to be frictionless at the best of times, but in the rain, most routes would be out of the question for mere mortals.
As luck would have it, when we looked out of the tent on Wednesday morning, the skies were clear and the clouds had disappeared from the top of Moel Siabod.
After an all day breakfast in Capel Curig we headed off past Plas Y Brenin and down the Llanberis pass to the slate quarries. We parked up by the bus stop where I had been many years before with Geoffrey. As I recall we did ‘Gnat attack’ and a couple of E3s. I was seconding on those free trad climbs.
Once we arrived at th slate quarry, we met up with Ken's brother and his mate Chris. I don’t think I had seen Peter since our trip to Kalymnos, where he showed us how to climb 6bs, so I expected him to demo some exciting moves on the slate. I’d not met his mate Chris before but we instantly struck up a conversation about manufacturing industries of which we were both part of.
I hadn’t been on any sport climbs at the quarries before but was willing to give them a crack. The steep slabs were bolted up with quite a few lines, most of which were graded 6as or 6bs.
As expected, Peter seemed to romp up the hardest lines and Ken wasn’t far behind his younger brother.
Access to the quarries is rather hairy as they rise in tiers and are connected by steep slate scree which requires careful crossing to avoid a drop back down to the previous level.
As in other sport climbing areas, the top of each line has an arrangement for lowering off normally double bolted with carabiners for redundant security.
The quarries still have some of the old buildings use by the quarry men, like the one shown above but these are mostly derelict and unsuitable for habitation, although they could pass muster for an overnight bivvy I suppose.
For somebody raised on the principles of unaided free climbing with all it’s required skills of finding a feasible line, seeking and arranging protection and the associated risks to life and limb entailed with falling off, I suppose the popularity of climbing walls and sport climbing seems a bit artificial.
Sport climbing on quarried rocks, created by human hands I guess is the most artificial of climbing styles but it is still fun and one step beyond indoor climbing walls.
The old slate quarries do have a certain charm, particularly after many years of dereliction with nature trying to take control again in the formerly barren wilderness of rock.
Both Ken and I had honed our climbing skills and muscular development on old sandstone quarries in Lancashire and Cheshire so I suppose it would be hypocritical to criticise the pioneers of the new sport climbing fraternity. In those days though, more purist free climbing ethics were strongly promoted in the climbing society so the excessive use of aid points and fixed protection were definitely frowned upon.
Before the days of sport climbing, many routes were put up on the steep walls of Dinorwig but as spikes and cracks were very seldom found, it became accepted to use expansion bolts for occasional protection points and that was a short step from bolting up the whole line of the route. I guess that was when popular rock climbing changed to a sport from being an adventure.
Thursday dawned clear and bright so after breakfast we decided to return to Ogwen and to visit the Idwal slabs. We’d been there many times before and had done all the routes on the slabs a few times, if not on the suicide wall area. In fact, the first traditional rock climbs I had done were there in the centre of the slabs and were named “Faith, Hope & Charity” when my work colleague Dave Spence introduced me to what became my lifetime favourite outdoor pursuit.
The route we agreed to do was the classic traditional “Tennis shoe” graded severe and located at the left hand side of the slabs where at higher levels, it overlooks the aforementioned Suicide Wall.
The rock is well polished on the slabs as it has been ascended by many generations of climbers, so a dry day makes the climbing more positive and less slippery. Not a bad thing when you’ve been away from trad climbing for a while.
It was very quiet at the slabs so there was no need to queue for the route. Ken led off up the first pitch whilst I enjoyed the fine weather and peaceful atmosphere at the base of the climb.
It was great, being on a mountainside crag again and we soon arrived at the top of the first pitch after enjoying the seeking and placing of runners and we sat on the belay ledge enjoying the uninterrupted views. The route is blessed with comfy stances so we took our time between the pitches
After lunch at the top we dropped down the gully by suicide wall and headed back to the car.
As I mentioned earlier, my son Martin and his wife Gil were staying in Betwys so after a few calls we arranged for them to join us in Capel for dinner at the Tyn y Coed. Martin had been in Snowdonia a lot as a child when we used to camp at Blyn y Nant in Llanberis Pass but he didn’t remember too much about it. They had been to Llanberis town during the day and had then taken the tourist track up Snowdon. I think they had enjoyed their trek as the weather was fine and the views from the summit spectacular.
Friday was our last day apart from a few hours packing up on Saturday morning. We decided to go down to Tremadog and do some more free climbing.
After a brew in Eric Jones’s café we headed for the cliffs and roped up below “Yogi” VS 4b. The rocks were dry and clean but the vegetation around the crag seemed much deeper than we knew from past visits, so maybe the area is not as popular as it used to be.
We soon climbed our first route and looked around for another. There were a few other climbers around so we had to try and find a free line. We decided to do “Obereron” and Ken soon lead off up the slabby route. The line was well protected and Ken soon romped up it. It was great to get some trad climbing in, it brought back a lot of memories of past times on these same cliffs.
So after climbing the two trad routes at Tremadog our fun week of outdoor sport was nearly over.
Back in Capel Curig we stopped at the Tyn y Coed for a well earned refreshment and sat outside in the sun in the pub’s garden admiring the view. The clouds were hovering over Moel Siabod again in spite of the blazing sun and we recalled our earlier visit to the top where there it was totally surrounded by thick grey clouds denying us of one of the best views in Snowdonia. That was a shame but we had been there before on clear days in summer and winter and could easily visualise what we would have seen of the Snowdon horseshoe, Tryfan, the Glyders and the Carneddau.
At the campsite we cooked up our last dinner, tidied up our gear for the mornings departure and headed back up to the Tyn Y Coed for a final few ales. It was very busy in the pub being the weekend and hordes of likeminded people had packed out the bars. After queueing up to get served at the bar for a while, we managed to cram ourselves into a corner and settled down to sip our beers and while away a pleasant evening.
We had enjoyed a great week at Capel Curig and all the surrounding hills and crags and we hadn’t even include our usual rest day. Being back in Snowdonia was a real joy. A lot of material things had changed since our last visit but the hills were still the same and long may they remain so.