Man, how good am I at updating? Four days? Sorry for the flood of information boys and girls, but this one must be blogged about quickly before I forget all the details.
So yes, this past weekend was my first UBES trip to Snowdonia National Park in North Wales. The weather was typically Welsh - rainy, windy, cold - save for our hike on the second day, so my pictures are sorely remiss. Or at least fewer in number than the trip deserved, because I had a fantastic time through all the rain, mud, wind, wet socks, cheese and relish sandwiches, and sleeping in my jeans.
On Friday night we met at the Student Union, and after waiting around for a spell (there were major transportation issues because one of the mini-bus drivers had fallen ill so about 10 people couldn't come), they put all our stuff in a van and organized us into car loads. I drove up with some lovely folks - it was a five hour drive so wouldn't have been good if they weren't lovely - through what I can only assume was lovely countryside. It wasn't until about 7:30 or 8:00 PM that we set out so the drive was dark, but I was still greatly pleased to be driving through the Midlands, Birmingham, Wolverhampton (spelled W'hampton on roadsigns making it sound like an 80's hip-hop group), and stopping in Telford at a Services. This is something we certainly don't have in Canada. Just behind the gas station (perfectly acceptable) is this pavilion sort of thing with about four restaurants (I say that, more like a burger king, convenience store, and cafe) surrounding a big seating area (kind of like a food court but a bit nicer). I was told too that this was not a particularly big Services either. I guess it's not really that exciting, but it's different and I love the little differences.
We drove on to our accommodation, a bunkhouse just outside of Beddgelert in the middle of Snowdonia National Park, unpacking and crossing windy streets in the dark. Inside was two levels of bunk with foam mattresses laid across. We all claimed our spots and then got to chatting. Some of the UBES exec weren't too pleased that we were up chatting till half-one (more differences!), but we were doing so with some of the other higher-ups in the club so it was all good. Then it was to a fitful night of coughing and snoring all around us and getting up at half-seven for plain porridge with raisins (sultanas!) and blearily kitting ourselves up for the first day.
I was beguiled into doing the "medium-level" trip by one of the people we had befriended earlier in the week and the night before. Well, not quite beguiled, but wanting to keep up with people we knew and thinking that "medium" meant medium I decided to go with some rather more experienced people up a hill called Tryfan. Well, I mean, rather. I was definitely the shmo of the group, and even though I felt terrible for holding everyone else up I had a good time, and was pretty proud of myself for making it up. They didn't end up going all the way to the top because it was far too windy to scramble up the last bit of sheer rock, but other people in my group of about ten got some pretty rad pictures near the top. The views were absolutely stunning. As far as the eye could see were peaks and valleys clad in the heartiest greens, browns, oranges, reds, and yellows, streaked with the greys and whites of paths and streams, and dotted with the blues, reds, and blacks of other hikers. The pictures I was able to take on the way down on the other side of a rock wall (who climbs up a rather steep hill and erects a stone wall? I ask you this) do not do it justice. It was a grey day but the colours were still brilliant, perhaps as an effect of being so happy to be up there. On the way down, after a very cold and blustery lunch of sandwiches, fruit, cakes, and what have you, all the paths had become streams (basically the whole thing was waterlogged) we climbed down beside a lake and withstood, with great fun, the windiest wind I have ever been in. The group all held hands and was able to lean into the wind at an angle no person could sustain without the help of a gale-force. When that calmed a little we started our steep but short and sweet descent back down to the parking lot (car park!). It was a little too sheer for my liking, or my ability, so I kept slipping into knee-deep mud and twisting my ankles all about, but I made it down in one piece in my own sweet time. We were done about an hour before our rides (people climbing another hill) could come shuttle us back to the bunkhouse so we sheltered in a cafe an even smaller town than the one we were staying in. It was then back to the bunkhouse for a change of clothes, a brief lie down and warm up in our sleeping bags, and dinner of vegetable stew and rice. After chatting and cajoling about, it was then to the pub in the town for more chatting and cajoling about, with people falling asleep in their chairs from about 7:30 onwards. That night I slept the most soundly I have in weeks, and the daylight savings fall back made for an extra wonderful hour of the dreamless.
Day two I made the very correct decision to go on what became known as the pub walk. It was the least intense of the three walks that day and was billed to be ending in the pub in Beddgelert. It started out as a charming walk along a bubbling river sort of affair, again with stunning views and colours. After about maybe half an hour of that, we got into a more forresty sort of area, and then up to the shrubbery and grasses that grace most of the hills. A slowish and not-so-steep ascent was much easier on the aching legs, arms, everything from the day before. After spotting some sheep (who had left evidence of their presence ALL OVER EVERYTHING) and taking some cheesy pictures we had another blustery lunch at what was to be our summit for the day. We started heading down the wrong side of the hill (our map-holder was reading the compass backwards), quickly righted ourselves, but were still unable to find our path on the other side. Instead of going back the way we came we decided to just head down the shrubbery in the direction of the town we wanted to be in, which we could see quite clearly. This didn't seem too foolhardy, I actually found the shrubs to have better traction than the muddy and slippery paths, until we came across some tree-ish bush sort of things that we had to jungle our way through. There was of course no path through the growth, so we scrambled and slid our way down a stream through the foliage, all aiming towards a path we thought we saw at the end of it. After emerging through the "forest" we saw a wall and a stile, and were on the path we had been looking for from the beginning, though it seemingly started halfway down the hill rather than at the top where it was supposed to. After another short but sweet and steep clamber down we walked into the town (about 2 minutes from the base of the hill), passing the most iconographic old Welsh man on the way. I wish could have taken a picture of him cause he just so incredibly so. You know, the tartan cap, wellies, windbreaker, I think he was holding a shovel of sorts. Just the perfect end to a fantastic day, of fantastic weather actually, in Wales. We then found ourselves a pub, and I had a very Bill Bryson experience: the cup of tea and the "oh lovely" that he raves about is so very true. It may not be coffee, but there is nothing sweeter or more restorative than a cup of tea after being outside and being cold.
That night Ariana, Adriana, Beatrice, and I headed back with Scot in his nicely iPod-ed car for another five hour drive. Not painful at all with the company of good people and good music. He showed us around some of the more scenic areas of the Bristol Downs and Wills Hall at Stoke Bishop (the far away halls of residence), then after picking up our stuff at the union, so incredibly kindly gave us a ride home. We were honestly thinking of taking a cab for what would normally be a 10-minute walk, so he saved us a lot of grief. It was then to a warm shower and falling asleep quickly and deeply to conclude the glorious weekend in Snowdonia.
Aching and Smiling,
Your friend Lina