Pursued by magicians, mushy peas and charitable instincts, we have difficulty reaching Wales
22nd July, 2003
You can create your own model of Snowdonia.
Take a large plate of thick, shiny mushy peas, and swirl in puddles of brown gravy. Now add, in the centre,
a pile of mashed potatoes, cut and flattened with your fork. Add some happy rosy-cheeked farmer figurines, if you have them.
There it is. Yr Wyddfa, the Horseshoe. Green valleys, rough-edged lakes, mountains stretched out in a long slumber.
Now, without warning, sneak up on your plate with a high pressure water hose, and blast it.
Stark rockfaces and long vistas suddenly dissolve into a blurring mist of water, greenish vegetable matter and angry, angry,
little red-faced men.
North Wales. It's a romantic place. But don't let your guard down. And bring an anorak.
Evil Druids, Platform 14
The Romans decided to conquer Wales in order to stamp out the druidic cult based in Anglesey. They
accused it of practising foul magics, raising mists to confuse their armies, and spreading discontent among
the people of Britain.
Virgin trains struggle to keep that tradition alive.
Sure, there are timetables, but as soon as you set off from Euston
station you discover that these are a cruel deceit.
You can book a seat from London to Bangor, timed at four hours,
and then witness the train company, with slow, Machievellian cruelty, rip your plan, and your
dignity, to bits.
The seat reservation evaporates. The train is rescheduled. The so-called
express must visit stations you've never heard of. The train will stop without reason for hours, and then,
with no warning, you are asked to change to another train, that left two minutes ago, on the other side
of an unknown station, from platform 14, when there is no platform 14...
We had come to march to the top of Snowdon, the highest mountain in England and Wales, in aid
of a Nepalese charity called Crossflow.
The event was run by my friend Bec. I've always been impressed and a little shamed by people like Bec. She had managed
to cajole thirty people to come, complete with sponsorships, to a wet weekend in Wales,
and organise accomodation, transport, food, and beer. Her family even prepared a barbecue
for us afterwards. I'm lucky if I can organise both my legs to move in the same direction first thing in the morning.
So, despite the worst that the wizards of Virgin trains could hurl at us, by 10.30am we were
ready to go. A mixed group, most of whom had never met. We'd had similar experiences in our new
role as charity collectors. There are two phases to collecting sponsorship money.
The first is a bright announcement: "I'm walking for charity!" This is followed by a crashing
stampede as everyone fights to escape out the door.
The second phase involves hunting
people down, fixing them with a psychotic glare and rasping, "It's for the children".
That works like a charm. It's even better if you lovingly stroke the keen edge of an axe as you stare
Old Stone, Green Hedges
Good spirits on the climb. Will admitted to having opted out of the London Marathon. The other
boys therefore tried to bouy his sprits by challenging him to races when he wasn't looking,
up and down the mountain. Ben defended
his choice of Adidas tennis shoes for hill climbing as they allowed him to glide across the top of the rocks.
John demonstrated that, despite all the jokes, that it is impossible for a young man to
chase sheep, by chasing sheep. The sheep allowed him to come within five feet, gave him a
contemptuous glance, and then darted away.
He should have bought them dinner first.
Bec's mother had worked all night to make a Crossflow Snowdon banner. Yen volunteered
to carry it all the way to the top, where he would unfurl it with pride. Unfortunately we didn't consider
to effect of forty knot winds, and for a moment it looked like Yen would be first to the pub, having paraglided
all the way.
The Druid of Cwellyn Arms
It should be simple. You have A) Gone up the mountain, B) Come down the mountain, and C) Now
you want to go to the pub. But Wales had one last enchantment for us.
"It's just another half mile". We should have known she was lying. From the cruel glint in her eye.
From the way she tossed her mane of yellow hair before turning to stalk away. From the cruel,
dominating laugh. From the fact that we were in North Wales, and just pawns in a game of sorcery
we could not understand.
Further down the road - another mile - we met a Liverpudlian. They like a joke, the scousers,
and this one was clearly in on the plot. "Oh, yes, you're just two minutes away." He walked
quickly on. We could have jumped on him and beaten the truth from him - but we were lost in the spell,
doomed to wander forever in the Celtic mist.
At last, after another half-mile or two, our goal: the local pub. We had endured
the worst that Wales could throw at us. The landlord looked at our walking gear, heard our tourist accents
and smiled though thin lips. We were ready for a final magic trick.
"Londoners." he said. "I hate London. It stinks."
"A pint is now three pounds."
Top of Snowdon
Hat & Spoon