On May 25th, 2016 I set out on a WestJet flight from Toronto to Gatwick Airport UK. After the long flight I was grateful to see the green fields of rural England and only partly cloudy skies! Since my plane was 2 hours late, I had to run through the airport, train station, tube station and Euston train station to catch my train to Bangor Wales with 3 minutes to spare! Out of breath and exhausted, I relaxed and enjoyed the ride from London to Chester and then to Bangor. From there it was only a short town bus ride to Bethesda, Gwynedd.
The UK in the springtime is so green and lush. The train took me NorthWest through Milton Keynes Central & Crewe before arriving in Chester, UK, where I switched trains to get on the Arriva line to Wales. Here in North Wales, the train passengers primarily spoke Welsh, both young and old, families and young adults. It was nice to hear the old language. The tracks now ran parallel to the Irish Sea and the River Dee, with water on one side and mountains starting to loom on the other. A beached ship caught my eye as the train sped past. I would have loved to explore it, for the graffiti alone not to mention the arcade games frozen in time inside! Behold the Duke of Lancaster, moored in Llanerch-y-Mor! I also spotted Conwy Castle from the train, it was built in the 13th century as an estuary fortress, which has been remarkably preserved.
I arrive in Bangor and depart the train. I walk through the town and stop for groceries (local beer and cheeses, primarily) before catching the 67 bus out of town. The bus is full of commuters and day trippers, back from a day of shopping in the town. I ask the driver if he’s going to Bethesda. He replies, ‘I’ll go anywhere you want me to, love.’ The bus winds around the harbour, down narrow roads out of the town. Cars veered, slowed and reversed to avoid us. Up hills and through villages, the 20 minute ride was quite enjoyable. The mountains are ahead as we drive through the village of Tregarth, nestled North of Snowdonia.
In Bethesda, I get off the bus, hike up the straps of my rucksack and look for a place to eat. Planning on take-away fish and chips, my eye catches a shop sign that reads the “Pay As You Feel Cafe“. I squint at the window to see if they are open and see a smiling face waving back at me, plate of food in hand. He greets me at the door and says ‘You look like you might be hungry’.
I was, and happily went inside to join a dozen Bethesda residents sharing a home cooked meal together. After nearly 24 hours of travelling, I had arrived and was being welcomed into a community. It felt wonderful. The menu at the Pay As You Feel Cafe included multiple courses and dessert. Like our Food Not Bombs, the meals are made with food that would otherwise be discarded, and the meals are provided to the community on a pay what you can basis. This is part of a larger network of cafes called the Real Junk Food Project. I had plenty to eat and enjoyed chatting with many of the staff, volunteers and patrons. I immediately befriended the fine folks running the Bethesda Pay As You Feel Cafe/Caffi Cyfrannu i Rannu. These wonderful people are doing amazing things for their community and their kindness and friendship was much appreciated. I enjoyed the food and company so much, that I decided to come back again for dinner the next day.
I borrowed a phone to call my host Gwyn at the bunkhouse who had offered to pick me up from the village. He arrived and we threw my rucksack in the back with the dog. I nearly climbed into the drivers seat, forgetting already to keep to the left. We leave the village and head into the mountains. On arriving I immediately start taking photos of the spectacular Dyffryn Ogwen. Tyn-y-Maes / Ogwen Valley Bunkhouse: My home for the next 2 nights. Turns out I had the bunkhouse all to myself, as the groups weren’t coming until the weekend. This included my own private kitchen, living room, bathroom and choice of 15 beds! I chose the bunk with the view of the mountains and sheep.
I loved being on the farm. The dog Floss was so playful, we hit it off right away, playing fetch as Gwyn showed me around the acre property. Hens on the farm mean fresh eggs for breakfast! Gwyn let me peek inside the henhouse where a proud mama hen was nestled with her chicks. There was also an old white hen in the yard, who was being picked on by the rooster. He was a bully and she did not have the strength for his antics. She was in distress and on her last days during my visit. I am glad to have captured her spirit in my photos, poor dear.
I head down the road to take some photos of the valley. The sheep are skittish and run as I approach. The baby lambs are playful and curious, but inevitably run and hide under their parents. They are so cute, I just want to squeeze one. The mist rolls in over the mountains of tNant Ffrancon Pass, Dyffryn Ogwen. This is a beautiful place, but not easy living, as primarily a slate miner or mountain sheep farmer community, with unemployment being around 20%. “At its peak in the early 20th century, over 20,000 people lived in the valley, but this has now declined to around 6500. Three-quarters of inhabitants are able to speak Welsh. According to the Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation, all wards in the valley are amongst the poorest 10% in Wales, with one ward among the poorest 3%.” – Wikipedia. Personally, looking around the valley and breathing in the clean mountain air, I feel these people are rich in other ways than money.
Not too tired from my long journey yet, I decide to climb up the hill behind the house to get a better view of the valley as the sun goes down.
There are some very dramatic views of the tNant Ffrancon Pass during the golden hour. Dyffryn Ogwen is a steep-sided glacial valley dropping to Bethesda between the Glyderau and the Carneddau ranges. The River Ogwen (Afon Ogwen in Welsh) flows in the middle, dividing the mountain ranges. The valley is bathed in a warm glow of the setting sun around 9pm. I only make it about halfway up the valley edge before I stop to perch on a rock and admire my surroundings. Here I sit, soaking up the sunshine, filled with excitement and wonder! I have my whole trip ahead of me. I hear the rushing water of the partially underground stream, that is audible and visible in places. It’s flowing right below my feet and in some spots you could fall in if you weren’t careful and other parts are completely buried. There are sheep all the way up the hillside, including some wayward ones hidden in the forest.
You can see my bunkhouse far below at the edge of the treeline. I sit and watch the sunset until the midges become unbearable.
Wales is a magical place. Sheep, lambs, sunshine, mountains, streams, fresh air, ahh. I slowly pick my steps back down the hill. Descending, I admire the flowers. Back near the farm, I explore the waterfall and search for fairies, which in a place like this, doesn’t seem too far-fetched. The water flows all the way down from the top of the mountains, the stream is the Afon Bearthen. It is being harnessed for hydro power further up the mountainside, to the dismay of local residents whose water supply quality is affected by the development. The sun is setting, time for a beer and a good night sleep, needed to prepare for my first full day in Wales, when I will scramble up a mountain!
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