‘Mountain, forest, desert or sea?’ I always have a problem answering that travel question. Truth is, a part of me wants to sample a bite of each. But ask me, ‘mountain range or lowlands’ and my answer trips right off the tongue – mountains every time.
Whether driving, walking, riding or even flying over, there is something majestic about navigating mountainous regions. All those lovely winding roads, not knowing what is around the corner, what magnificent view will befall you next, lots of nooks and crannies that cry out to be investigated. It’s that enchanting air of mystery that makes my toes tingle with excitement and intrigue.
We are blessed with many such areas in the UK: from the beautiful Derbyshire Dales to the ruggedness of Cumbria and the Lakes, to the impressive Scottish Highlands; the magic of the Black Mountains in South Wales. This week I was fortunate to visit another area which has secured its place firmly in my list of favourites.
The clouds were moving in, the air impregnated with the promise of rain as we set off on the drive from our hotel near Chester last Tuesday. By the time we crossed the border into North Wales the clouds were firmly set, plugging any promise of sunshine for the day. Then as we entered the National Park the rain began to fall. But no amount of soft rainfall could curb the sheer beauty of what we faced.
Wales’ largest national park, Snowdonia covers 823 square miles and boosts the second highest mountain in the UK. What strikes you as you drive through the region is the diversity of landscapes. Turn one corner and you come face to face with a panorama of mountain peaks, turn another and you pass a clear blue lake, surrounded by lush forest. We passed meadows heaving with bluebells, estuaries snaking inland, sheep grazing on the hillside.
Mount Snowdon itself or Eryri in Welsh (a much nicer name, I think) was our goal. Rising to the heavens, its 3,560 ft peak was hidden amongst a conglomerate of clouds, and it looked imposing and inviting at the same time. It’s not the kind of sheer cliff face mountaineering mountain, more the family stroll, meadows and waterfalls type. New born lambs skipped about next to their mothers on its flanks.
Recent health conditions prevented our completing the two hour climb to the summit however, not to be deterred, I’d placed an advance booking for my family to reach the top by diesel train. Although I have to admit that as our queue to board the train grew longer and longer, I couldn’t help but wonder whether I’d made a huge mistake. The thought of all those bodies, keenly clutching their tickets, squeezed into those very narrow carriages suddenly felt less than appealing. Right there and then we made a family pact – as soon as health permitted, we would return and climb this beast by foot.
I wasn’t wrong. To say that we were squashed in like sardines would be a polite description. Plus, being half way down the queue meant we lost out on a window seat, and with the windows firmly shut in the carriages, they quickly steamed up limiting our views of the surrounding area. Not the most pleasant hour train journey I’ve undertaken, and I was very relieved when we finally reached our destination.
Although the views were a little murky at the summit, the air was clean and fresh and you certainly got a feel for its height and dominance. I imagine the vista on a clear day would be simply stunning. We boarded the train early for the descent, securing window seats and immediately opened the windows which made the return journey much more pleasant. With clear windows and fresh air, we were able to enjoy the full variety of Snowdon’s landscape. I would highly recommend making the climb, although perhaps not using the train in peak holiday periods.
Our photos certainly don’t do it justice. Aside from the mountains, this national park has a huge amount to offer. With sandy beaches and amazing cliff top walks it’s a great haunt for walkers, cyclists and just those who a enjoy a rural holiday retreat. There’s so much space here, it’s not difficult to disappear. Our travels also took us to the very picturesque villages of Betws y Coed and Beddgelert which are not to be missed. Although we skipped most of the coastal areas due to the weather, the rain certainly didn’t dampen our enthusiasm and we all voted this the best day of our family holiday. For my part, I think I left a little piece of me back there.
This post is dedicated to fellow author Nicholas Rose, whose post on Snowdonia last year on this very blog, inspired me to take the plunge and visit. I just wish I hadn’t left it so long. You can read more about Nicholas and his work here.