Friday, 2 December 2016

Cadair Idris - Snowdonia at its best


As I tentatively sip from a can of Idris Fiery Ginger Beer (Try me if you dare!!) sitting on a rock high in the RSPB Mawddach Vallley - Coed Garth Gell Reserve, it slowly dawns on me that rising majestically to the south is the source of this elixir.

The highest point of the six and a half mile long Cadair (sometimes spelled Cader) Idris ridge, in the middle of the range, is Pen y Gadair, which is 893 metres (2930 feet) above sea level; this is the top of the back of the Chair (from cadair, which itself derives from the latin cathedra) of Idris, who was a philosopher and poet Giant, who lived right here. Possibly this legend derives from the metaphorically great stature of King Idris ap Gwyddno of Meirionydd, who lived from 560 to 632 AD.

A pretty good story, which includes accounting for some of the boulders strewn on the slopes, said to be stones from his shoes. Anyway, this was enough to inspire Thomas Howell Williams (1842 - 1925), son of a Baptist Minister from Pembrokeshire, to found Idris & Co, soft drink manufacturer, in Camden Town, in 1873 (in 1967 the loss-making Idris was acquired by Beecham, which owned the Lucozade, Ribena and Corona soft drinks brands; then in 1987 the Beecham soft drinks business was acquired by Britvic). But even today, near the visitor centre at Minffordd, there is a ruined building said to be the original Idris laboratory.

Anyway, that's one of the reasons I suddenly feel fired to climb the mountain. Though I have another, unrelated desire, which is to test myself in preparation for the challenge I am committed to undertake to raise money for Alzheimer's Society next Spring, when I shall walk the 100 mile South Downs Way in five days.....

So, being a guest of aptly named old friend Hilly at her wonderful Rhuddallt (White Horses) on the Mawddach Estuary,

within sight of Barmouth railway bridge, I am perfectly poised to set out bright and early.  It is a glorious morning and the light is splendid.

Mist wreathes through the forest on the opposite slopes,

But it is going to be a glorious day. There is a hard frost, and as I approach Minffordd on the A 487 from Dolgellau the sky has cleared and I get a splendid view of Gau Graig at the north eastern end of the ridge. 

It is icy in the car park, and so I start well wrapped up, though within an hour my back is damp with sweat as I toil upwards in the sunlight.

The first part of the climb (which is 788 metres in total, over a distance of about four miles each way the route I take) is conveniently stepped, rising through an ancient oak woodland.

Then, having made a fairly serious error of judgement, I skirt a pine forest, making my way towards Mynydd Moel (863 metres) instead of taking the recommended trail that goes to the south of the supposedly bottomless (if you don't count Idris's bottom, which he rested here) corrie (cym) lake of Llyn Cau (which is actually 130 feet deep).

The reason I made this mistake was that from my map the path above Llyn Cau seemed fearfully steep, and I am no mountaineer. I thought the way I was going would be easier..... Sometimes we learn the hard way.....

Indeed, at first, the track was well made and, though steep, it was not scary.  

But, fairly soon, the path became a loose mess of rubble and not only was it hard going but it was increasingly steep, so it was certainly not a stroll in the park....

And looking back down, I suddenly felt slightly wobbly, my knees weakening step by step, my lungs regretting the second (I lie - it was the third that did it!) bottle of Prosecco we had opened the night before....

But I was determined, and before too long I was able to stand upright again, and to begin to enjoy the wonderful views,

And to appreciate just how steep the other way would have been (or so it seemed).....

And how perfectly glaciated Idris's Chair really is....

And, looking East and South, just how very flat the rest of Wales is (joke, Cadair Idris is only the 19th highest Welsh Mountain, even if it is the second best....)

Anyway, after about two and a half hours the summit was in sight, with a chap and his two dogs having beaten me to the Trig Point by sneaking up a different (easier?) way.  And note how the air swirls up, the updrafts like circles in a stick of rock.....

And so there I was, breathlessly clasping the Trig Point at 893 metres above the Mawddach....

But, after all that crisp morning clarity, the very top was shrouded in mist, and my views were not as crystalline as I had hoped....

Pretty damn fine though, considering what it could have been on November 30th!  This picture shows Coed Garth Gell, in the middle distance, from where I got the pictures the previous evening, and, just hidden behind the shoulder of the foothills, to the right of the buildings by the estuary, is Rhuddallt, where we are staying.

Still worried about the precipitous looks of the ridge around Llyn Cau, and the steepness of that path, I return the way I came, and stop for a rest and a picnic to take in the views.

It really is very fine.  And, with the exception of a couple of other solo wanderers (and the occasional ear-splitting roar of Tornados and Hawks flying out of RAF Valley and then round what is known as the Mach Loop

Passing below me as they turn hard left about 250 feet above the A 487 to Corris) - it is wonderfully peaceful,

If a little bleak,

And chilly.....

A couple of walkers catch me up, and tell me what I have missed by not attempting the horseshoe trail. Easier, I am told, than this track. Steep, the other says, but it's better going, and not exposed..... [I will have to come back and do it all again....] I hear how busy Snowdon would be, even at this time of year, and how this is more like a real mountain (no trains, no cafe!)  And then we part again, and they go their separate ways, leaving me to follow, keeping my eye out for the few birds there are  - Ravens, honking across the air, a sprinkling of Bramblings - too quick, or too distant, for me to frame.

And then, after six hours, weary but in one piece, I make it back to the car park. It was very hard in part, and I have been lucky with the weather, but I am glad I have done it.  It gives me confidence to know that even though I don't spend time in the gym, and I am by no means as fit as I should be, the prospect of walking the South Downs Way in five days in the spring is not an impossible task.  I will need to get in shape, but I can do it!

I get back to White Horses in time to catch the sun kissing the horizon. The perfect end to a perfect day......




Time for a can of Welsh Fire!

By the way, should you wish to sponsor me for the South Downs Way in Spring 2017, please visit my JustGiving page

Thank you!

Saturday, 19 November 2016


Somewhere, over The Rainbow.....

Will Brangwen’s beloved cathedral…..

When he saw the cathedral in the distance, dark blue lifted watchful in the sky, his heart leapt.  It was the sign in heaven, it was the Spirit hovering like a dove, like an eagle over the earth.  He turned his glowing, ecstatic face to her, his mouth opened with a strange, ecstatic grin.

‘There she is,’ he said

The ‘she’ irritated her.  Why ‘she’?  It was ‘it’.  What was the cathedral, a big building, a thing of the past, obsolete, to excite him to such a pitch?  She began to stir herself to readiness.

They passed up the steep hill, he eager as a pilgrim arriving at the shrine.  As they came near the precinct, with castle on one side and cathedral on the other his veins seemed to break into fiery blossom, he was transported.

They had passed through the gate, and the great west front was before them, with all its breadth and ornament.

‘It is a false front,’ he said, looking at the golden stone and the twin towers and loving them just the same.  In a little ecstasy he found himself in the porch, on the brink of the unrevealed.  He looked up to the lovely unfolding of the stone.  He was to pass within to the perfect womb.

Then he pushed open the door, and the great pillared gloom was before him…..  His soul leapt, soared up into the great church…..

Anna Brangwen’s feelings…..

The cathedral roused her too.  But she would never consent to the knitting of all the leaping stone in a great roof that closed her in, and beyond which was nothing, nothing, it was the ultimate confine…..

Her soul too was carried forward to the altar, to the threshold of Eternity, in reverence and fear and joy.  But ever she hung back in the transit, mistrusting the culmination of the altar…..

So that she caught at little things, which saved her from being swept forward headlong in the tide of passion that leaps on into the Infinite in a great mass…..

And it was as if she must grasp at something, as if her wings were too weak to lift her straight off the heaving motion.  So she caught sight of the wicked, of little faces carved in stone, and she stood before them arrested…..

These sly little faces peeped out of the grand tide of the cathedral like something that knew better.  They knew quite well, these little imps that retorted on man’s own illusion, that the cathedral was not absolute…..

[As an aside, this all springs to mind with Glenda Jackson's momentous portrayal of King Lear at the Old Vic.... Ms Jackson gained an Academy Award for her portrayal of Gudrun Brangwen in Ken Russell's 1969 film of Women in Love, D H Lawrence's sequel to The Rainbow. Gudrun Brangwen was the younger of Anna and Will Brangwen's two daughters.  Got it? Ed.]

Perhaps it is not surprising that there is no memorial to D H Lawrence in the Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lincoln?  After all The Rainbow was banned for eleven years following an obscenity trial in 1915.  And besides, Lawrence was born in Nottinghamshire and died in France, so not a local lad. 

Another famous Nottinghamshire chap also associated with Lincoln, was Robyn of Locksley, aka Robert Fitzooth, aka Robin Hood, though his connection was not through the Cathedral, but through the wool trade, which made Lincoln rich in the Middle Ages.  Lincoln Green, which Robin and his men chose as a uniform (with the probable exceptions of Friar Tuck – who would have worn grey – and Will Scarlett…..)  Wikipedia explains:  The dyers of Lincoln, a cloth town in the high Middle Ages, produced the cloth by dyeing it with woad (Isatis tinctoria) to give it a strong blue, then overdyeing it yellow with weld (Reseda luteola) or dyers' broom, Genista tinctoria. 

So now we know.

The most prominent literary figure commemorated in Lincoln is Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who was a Lincolnshire Poacher. A fine statue of him and his dog stands outside the Chapter House on the Cathedral’s East Green, with the poem Flower in the Crannied Wall attached:

Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you there, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower – but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.

Which just goes to show why we need Poets Laureate…..

John Ruskin (1819-1900), had this to say about the Cathedral: I have always held and am prepared against all evidence to maintain that the Cathedral of Lincoln is out and out the most precious piece of architecture in the British Isles and roughly speaking worth any two other cathedrals we have.

Not sure that the Chapters of Canterbury, Durham (thanks Michael, Ed), Ely, Liverpool (thanks Janet, Ed), Salisbury or Winchester, (to name but six of thirty-eight Grade 1 listed cathedrals) would necessarily agree with this, though it is an opinion…..

It is the third largest cathedral in Britain (in floor area) after St Paul's and York Minster, being 484 by 271 feet (148 by 83 metres) and it was the tallest building in the world (at 525 feet - 160 metres) for 238 years until the central spire collapsed in 1548.

It was built mainly in three periods: Norman (1075-1092), Early English (1191-1250 and 1256-1300).  It was badly damaged by fire in 1125, and partially destroyed by an earthquake in 1185 (though hardly touched by those in 1990 and 2008). 

The name Lincoln is believed to derive from the Iron Age Celtic Lindon, meaning pool by the hill; a reference to the Brayford pool and the hill upon which the modern city stands. These features provided good fishing, farming, transport links (via the river Witham) and defences against other tribes.  The Romans built a legionary fortress on the hill, which was known as Lindum Colonia.  They also constructed the  Fosse Dyke canal, which runs from the Brayford pool to the river Trent, which led to prosperity under the Vikings.  The Normans then built a castle and began the cathedral, though much of the current Gothic appearance was due to Bishop Hugh of Avalon, 

later St Hugh of Lincoln, who developed it after the great earthquake (and who, incidentally, had a pet swan, which hissed at people who approached the reverend Frenchman).

Following a £22 million upgrade (a mere 5% of the estimated refurbishment budget for Buckingham Palace, though still 628,570% of the cost of improving my family bathroom) Lincoln Castle is certainly worth exploring, though you may not wish to visit the Crown Court.  

Apart from the wonderful views from the medieval walls, there is a finely illegible copy of the Magna Carta in a dark crypt, and the Victorian prison, which, though sanitised and scrupulously clean,

gives you some idea of what it might be like in prison…..

[Great place to leave the kids!]

But this is all a bit prosaic!  So, I’ll end with a poem, by the very poetic Alfred Tennyson, the 1st Baron Tennyson, late of this parish…..  It’s a curious ditty, but it seems somehow fitting in this city of beautiful people, though you don't want to believe everything you may think.....

Beautiful City

Beautiful city, the centre and crater of European confusion,
O you with your passionate shriek for the rights of an equal humanity,
How often your Re-volution has proven but E-volution
Roll’d back again on itself in the tides of a civic insanity!

Oh, and by the way, for the purposes of disambiguation this piece refers to Lincoln (/ˈlɪŋkən/), a cathedral city and the county town of Lincolnshire, within the East Midlands of England.  It has nothing to do with President Lincoln, Lincoln Creams (one of the joys of my childhood, but sadly impossible to find these days), Lincoln Nebraska, Lincoln California, nor the Lincoln Continental, a motor car produced by Ford, which was one of the first personal luxury cars to enter into mass production…..


(In the Cardinal's Hat.....)