The weekend arrived and we were whisked away to Wales with Raphael and Lucy. It was a short three hour drive from Nottingham, along a multitude of motorways. Castles, in various states of disrepair, dotted the landscape. Our destination was Caernarfon (pronounced car-NAH-van), in the north of Wales.
We had an Air BnB booked for two nights, which was more than a little tricky to find. We drove up an abandoned looking road trying to spot our intended location. After calling the host, we were still confused as we were only able to provide “we’re next to some rubbish bins and the sea” as our location. Two driveways later we found our destination.
Our accommodation consisted of two little kit-set cabins. We were the first ever guests, so our hosts went all out to make our stay comfortable. This included a welcome basket with snacks, drinks, and homemade fruit loaf. Apart from the long walk down the driveway to the bathroom with a low slanted roof, our stay was great. The height of the bathroom roof meant that Ben could barely fit in and constantly hit his head. Despite traveling in SE Asia for three months, this was the smallest bathroom we had encountered in our travels. Who would have thought it would be in Wales?
Caernarfon was a quaint town surrounded by a massive medieval stone wall. President Trump would love it. At night the wall was lit up with an ominous glow. Our first port of call in Wales was the local fish and chip shop, where we ordered takeaways and ate them in the shadow of the wall looking out at the sea. The seagulls inched closer and closer. Despite having leftovers, Ben would not share with the screeching creatures.
Being the middle of the summer (although you wouldn’t have believed it with the weather we had) the days were very long. Each morning the sun streamed in at 5am and lazed about in the sky until after 9pm. This made it difficult to set our body clocks. We were awake each morning an hour after sunrise and were struggling to stay awake in the evenings. Going to bed while it was still light outside just didn’t seem right.
On one overcast day we headed to the slate quarry, an old abandoned quarry of (you guessed it) slate. Little houses, workstations and cable cars dotted the spectacular landscape, leaving the memory of what once was a thriving industry. The purpose of our trip to the slate quarry was recreational. Raph and Lucy are avid climbers and had brought all their gear with them. After a wander around the area and poking our noses in the caves, we stopped at a tall wall with many bolted climbing routes.
I had never been outdoor climbing before. In fact I had only ever been indoor climbing twice and both times ended up hanging half way up the wall frozen in place. Unfortunately, outdoor climbing wasn’t that much different for me. I was only intending on watching the others climb, content to sit and watch. However, Lucy continued to push me until I was wearing a harness against my will. “I’ll just stand next to the wall”, I bargained. Standing at the wall, staring up at the great mass before me, I had little drive to climb up it. But, with strength that I didn’t know I had, I pulled myself up. It only took a few hauls up the rock and I was hooked. I loved it. What I did not love was getting back down. After a traumatic childhood abseiling experience at school camp, I was more than a little afraid of “just leaning back” and walking back down the rock. I needed at least five more ropes.
A small audience of walkers had gathered around to watch me cling to the wall refusing to go either up or down. I wasn’t frozen per se, but I was nervously giggling to the point where I couldn’t move. My audience wasn’t moving either. I felt a need to give them something worth watching, but I could only smile awkwardly whilst clutching at the rocks. Eventually they wandered away, giving up on me. Thankfully my group didn’t have the same response and they eventually coaxed me down while I imitated a broken slinky falling down stairs.
Despite my unusual descent, I was very keen to try again. I climbed two more rock faces (admittedly, I didn’t get very high) and survived two more small descents. I have a long way to go before I’m a competent climber, but I’m certainly willing to try.
Ben, Lucy and Raph were much more natural on the rock. They each took turns to scramble up rock faces that I wouldn’t have believed were climbable. Then Lucy picked a particularly formidable cliff that soared way into the sky and began to climb it. I did not think it would be possible to make it to the top. As she was on lead rope, she had to repeatedly climb 5 metre stretches before being able to clip in to a bolt. This meant there was a real danger of slipping and hurting herself, especially when she was faced with a particularly steep, smooth face to negotiate. My heart was beating furiously from the ground. I could not even imagine how she was feeling. Lucy soldiered on and made it to the top, with a big cheesy grin and a fist pump. I was a nervous wreck.
The next day, we went to Snowdonia National Park and walked up to an alpine lake. Cows roamed along the pathways, disinterested in our grassy offerings. The mountains towered around us and the water glistened. It was the picture of peaceful wilderness. Had the cows started singing musicals, I would not have been surprised. It took us an hour to complete the walk around the lake.
We stopped at an aqueduct on the way back to England and watched canal boats float along way up in the sky. It was a busy afternoon, with the canal people in full motion. I suspected that traveling by canal boat down England was the equivalent of buying a camper van and driving the length of New Zealand. We’re not all that different, are we?