A precipice of slate shimmered as the mirrored surface rippled, circling out to every corner after the stone broke the surface. Deep in the reflection was the pinnacle, stretching far above. And far below lay who knows what. Sixty feet deep said the board, diving club only. Just one of the hidden crannies around the slate museum. It seems a long time ago. The copper mine too, for it is hard to remember that wet morning, those dripping caverns.
For two weeks are all but gone; time to reflect, to pack up the memories with the rest of the detritus that has to fit into the car. Dalgellau, there was another hidden gem, found by accident. Sure we parked the car by the stone circle and had taken the first path out of town. But we were late back, after a second trip, facing arrival back at Base Camp as night was beginning to hide the peaks and ridges of the horizon, the colours leached away after another day in the sun.
So instead of taking the high road we found a parking place, and some pizza, chips too. And that was when we began to look around, to wander streets not built for motorised transport. If I’d come across Dalgellau on a Tuscan hilltop, with carafes of Chianti Classico on every table, it would not have been out of place. But instead it was in the heart of Welsh hill country, and pretty good it looked there too.
We had indeed returned to Barmouth, by bike, on that track. Having spent most of the day we might be allowed now to use the other name, for I like Abermaw. That maw lies as the estuary of the Afon Mawddach runs beneath the viaduct and mingles with the salted water. Like its women, apparently, are the rivers of Wales, being short and turbulent, exceedingly beautiful, especially in their youth. Two otters drifted as the current met the rising tide that day, taking to the far bank, several miles up river. But we didn’t manage to get to the other side of Cadair Idris, to the waters of the Afon Dyfi, just to make sure. And that’s a pity.
For I’d like to have called in to Machynlleth, which we’ve passed through before, or indeed stopped at Mold as we’ve done before. I never did find a pint of Brains Black, but if I’d made those stops I reckon one or two kind folk could have pointed me in the right direction. We did get to Angelsey, and as I lay on a beach, expiring in the sun, I read, in Marine Quarterly, that the word yacht, a strange word yacht, comes from the Dutch, jaghte. And I thought of another from those magic days in that library, and wished I’d been better organised.
Przewalskis horses, there was another of those moments, and instantly I was 500 miles to the north, and The Prodigal, with Wolfie. But they don’t have snow leopards in the highlands, as they do at Colwyn Bay, or chimps with those views from the top of their pole out to sea – there will be some shots to back up these claims, soon. The only other attraction at the Bay, at least until the waterfront works are done and that old pier made safe, was the Bay Bookshop, which is a common theme in these parts. Beaumaris drew me in, as did Barmouth. I only managed one at Colwyn Bay, but really every town should have a secondhand bookshop, which is why packing the car may be just that bit harder.
The beaches had their moments too. Just outside Moefle I watched as hebridean islands materialised above, long chain, occasionally linked, deep sea lochs, and my mind wandered as The Urchins played at the distant water’s edge whilst wisps of cloud drifted slowly, shape-changing. Just offshore a lighthouse stood erect on an isle, looking strangely bereft of the usual white coat. Back at Abermaw it was a scene from Ice Cold in Alex, that long trudge across endless sands, frazzled. But it was at Dinas Dinnle that we found the best swimming, just enough slope to create some small waves in the calm, enough for the pebbles to call out as they turned. Lie back and float, oh it’s hard work watching Boy Urchin practise his butterfly, then he too mastered the art of the float, spread-eagled.
The final away day was the choice of The Urchins, both in agreement, after nagging incessantly for a visit to one of those woodland parks with activities, in, ahem, Bethel. So they built dens, shot arrows, pedalled karts and had hair braided, well one or other did. There was a rollercoaster and mama went too, a river ride and a barefoot walk. There may have been ice cream. Take a book, urged the guide book. Who am I to disagree?
Aside from the trams and trains and the easy way to gain height, we walked too, on the Miners’ Track from Mallorys, finding a spot on the mountain off that well-beaten path, and views down below, and far beyond, and up to that ragged edge, and the peak where there will ever be a queue like Lenin’s tomb, or Lourdes; once round and out.
Barmouth won again, the ice cream competition this time. Knickerbockers’, pistachio, beat the rest, and we tried hard, we really did, sampling here, there and most places, sometime back again just to make sure. It’s tough you know, keeping your cool when the mercury rises high.
Base Camp may not have had the atmosphere of our usual continental sites, or any atmosphere at all at times, though it did have an indoor pool, with variable rules. But outside on the hills and on the beaches, on the bike trails and in the book shops, we could have been anywhere. For alien languages were all around, and smiles too, and if the Dyfi lives up to the Mawddach, whoever met the women to match the rivers was absolutely right.