A letter to my mother.
13 – 7 – 86
I know you like getting letters, so here is one.
Got up fairly late today, well it is Sunday, and went down to Porthmadog on the Ffestiniog Railway. Lots of shops open here (Blaenau) and in Porthmadog on Sundays, shopping no problem. Very misty here this morning, well, not misty, more cloudy, the tops of the hills were lost but once down by the coast it was fairly clear.
The scenery here is very grey, the hills are covered with tons of slate, waste from the mines (we still have to go down one). On the train up last Saturday we went through green hills and forests, all very picturesque then into a two mile long tunnel to emerge in an utterly grey and desolate landscape, nothing but slate.
On Sunday – last Sunday we strolled around the town here, on Monday we went down to Porthmadog by bus to look around & see the sea & came back by train.
On Tuesday we went by bus to Caernarfon Castle & spent most of the time climbing up & down the towers. Wednesday we went in the other direction to Tywyn to see the Talyllyn Railway & rode up & down on that, stopping off on the way home to visit Barmouth & see the sea again.
On Thursday we went up to Llandudno. Went up to the summit of the Great Orme by the cable hauled tramway, a great view from the top & came down by the cable cabin lift – the longest in the U.K. Linda was a bit nervous about that, but once up there it was o.k.
Friday we went to the Conwy Valley Railway Museum at Betws-y-Coed. The buffet there does the best sausage, egg & chips I’ve ever tasted.
Saturday & back to Porthmadog to find the beach (the town is built around the harbour) which is about a mile walk – once we got to the sand it was into the sea – great.
The house we are in is three up two down, large sitting room – small kitchen/diner, two bedrooms & bathroom, it’s a mile or so from the railway station (BR & Ffestiniog) but there is a bus stop only 200 yds from the house with hourly service to Porthmadog – Caernarfon & Bangor, so getting about is no problem. And still we’ve got to do Snowdon, Harlech, the slate mines and Aberystwyth.
The water here is beautifully soft, you only have to show soap to it and you’ve got lather coming out of your ears, but the water has a definite brown hue to it – the loo always looks as if it’s just been peed in!
And the Welsh! I never realised just how widespread the Welsh language is, apart from at the railway station, Welsh is all you hear – at times we feel quite foreign. Coming back on the bus yesterday – everybody was chatting to everybody else – in Welsh – and we sat there unable to understand a word of it.
After a week here I think we’re just about getting the hang of pronouncing names like,
As an interesting aside, there isn’t much dogshit on the pavements around here, but there is quite a lot of sheepshit, the sheep wander down off of the hills & walk & shit all round the town!
See you Saturday – or Sunday.
After my father died and during the process of clearing what had been our parents’ house, we (their children) found a little cache of postcards and letters that we had sent to our parents over the years and which had obviously been squirreled safely away. I collected a handful that I had written and sent and brought them home with me as keepsakes. Among them was this letter, reproduced above, that I wrote while on holiday in North Wales with my then girlfriend, Linda. I’ve written it out with the same punctuation, capitalisation and spelling that I used in 1986 and I think I got all the Welsh place names right!
As I was transcribing the letter, I was looking on the internet – which didn’t exist in 1986 – to see if places like the Conwy Valley railway museum and the Great Orme cable car – note that I’d called it a cabin lift – were still going concerns. Happily, both of those examples are, although I noted that in 2021 Storm Arwen did its best to do away with the cable car by wrecking the roofs of the stations at either end.
We had rented a holiday house in Blaenau Ffestiniog for two weeks, gluttons for punishment or what? I remember that we had also bought fortnight travel passes, good for trains and buses in North Wales. The internet didn’t exist in 1986, how had we booked this holiday? It must have been by dint of good old fashioned letter writing, responding to advertisements and the like. Is that all a lost art now?
I had underestimated how far the house was from the railway station, a mile or so as I wrote, and it certainly was a mile or so. A mile isn’t that far really, but the two of us were loaded with suitcases and bags. Trying to be the gentleman, I had offered to carry Linda’s suitcase too. It seemed like five miles, but we eventually reached the house and fell into a disorganised heap.
After that it was all plain sailing, trains here, buses there, from Caernarfon to Harlech, Barmouth and to the top of Snowdon and of course, visiting as many as possible of the narrow gauge railways that North Wales is famous for.
In the days after those documented, if only sketchily in my letter, we visited amongst other places, Aberystwyth and rode the Vale of Rheidol line up to Devil’s Bridge, then we went to Llanberis for the Llanberis Lake Railway and the Snowdon Mountain Railway.
I don’t think we ever did visit a slate mine although we did go to the National Slate Museum, also in Llanberis but we certainly got our money’s worth out of the travel passes. My only regret is that we didn’t visit Portmeirion, the village famous for prisoners and strange white bouncing balls. Ah well, next time…
One of the railways we visited, the Great Little Trains of Wales as they were branded (I just Googled that, they still are collectively branded as such) was the Welsh Highland Railway. Originally opened in the early 1920s, this railway ran from Dinas not far from Caernarfon to Porthmadog. The venture wasn’t very successful, and the railway fell into liquidation in the late 1930s and parts of it were requisitioned for the war effort. When we visited on a rather misty day, the line was as I recall, about a quarter of a mile in length and there were grand plans to rebuild and reopen the line, all of which have now been realised and more as the line now runs into Caernarfon.
As intimated above, we did go up to the top of Mount Snowdon, on the train of course. We set off from the station at Llanberis and climbed up into the clouds. I’d already been up Snowdon twice before in my schooldays, walking up both times and I’d seen the view from the top. When we arrived at Summit Station the visibility was about ten feet.
I’ve appended below some scans of photos I took at the time. It’s strange, looking back to 1986, that’s over half my lifetime away, the people in the photos seem like completely different people who may as well have been on another world.
3 thoughts on “A letter from North Wales.”
I enjoyed that, thanks. We visited the Great Orme in October 2017 and I don’t think that the tramway or the cable car was going, (much to my disappointment). Perhaps it was too late in the day or the weather was against it (sad face).
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Do you still have those swimming trunks? 🙂
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Alas, or maybe, thank goodness, no. 😄