Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Tramping and Glamping for a weekend in Wales

Enough of this inner-city London lifestyle of foodie snobbery and hipster diversions! It was high time go back to basics and get some fresh country air – and I must admit the prospect of wearing the same clothes and barely bathing for two days was kinda enticing (I can’t lie - I’m a closet grot)

To mark two impending 30th birthdays we decided a weekend of verdant walks in the great outdoors was in order. Not to do things by halves – e.g. a leisurely car tour of the Cotswalds or a B&B in Dorset, for example – we squashed six adults and a pile of untested camping equipment and hard liquor into a VW Touran (only slightly bigger than a VW Golf) and hightailed it to Northern Wales to hike the country’s tallest mountain. The Friday night journey was six-odd hours with a Burger King pit stop. Yep. Hardcore or WHAT.

So we arrived at the world’s most back-to-basics and environmentally-friendly campsite (translation: no lighting, no powered sites; no radios or cars after 11pm and DEFINITELY NO NOISE AFTER MIDNIGHT) just before midnight. Consequently, we pitched tents in drizzling darkness, and hoped to god we hadn’t unwittingly set up camp in a swamp or near a hornet’s nest. (“Hey guys! Let’s camp over here in this huge empty space… Hang on, why hasn’t anyone else camped over here…?”). It was pretty exciting wondering what we’d wake up to find the next morning.

My expectations were pretty much blown to smithereens. The Llyn Gwynant campsite is nestled between the banks of a freshwater lake that’s like glass on a fine morning, and a lush green mountain range peppered with craggy rocks. For the princely sum of £9 a night you can wake up to this little patch of heaven and, most conveniently, meander through some country lanes to the base of Mt Snowdon (there are about 10 hiking routes stretching around the mountain).

You know when you look up a mountain and you see real live clouds gathered in patchy formations? I never knew what it was like to actually walk through one. Turns out, it’s COLD, WINDY AND WET. The weather was pretty woeful for the majority of our walk which, from door to door, clocked in at nearly 7 hours and 25km. The old faithful Coogi cardigan did a stellar job – being the epitome of style and substance, as always – but I finished up soaked to the skin, and all of us swimming in our shoes thanks to an ill-advised “short cut” through a swampy field on the way home.

It’s impossible to be grumpy when you’ve literally and figuratively conquered a mountain. Ok, so I nearly got a bit grumpy when I was overtaken in the vertical scrambling stakes by a family of four kids (Dad: "Kids, are we having fun?" Kids:"YES!!!!"), and a dog with three legs, and there was this weird guy who ran up and down the mountain three times that day (he said he was “training for Mont Blanc” – he wasn't talking about the fountain pen), but we did it, and noone through a hissy fit or slipped over in their inappropriate footwear.

I wish we’d had more time to explore the quaint little village of Beddgelert, a few minutes’ drive from the camping ground. We demolished a bag of local fudge over some jars at the Tanronnen Inn, and the ice cream shop came highly recommended by some locals. By the time we got into deep and meaningfuls with Roger who ran the general store and adjacent B&B (he and his wife are selling the lot - it's time to retire) I was plotting a way to fund a country retreat in Snowdonia – sure, my UK visa runs out in July next year, but where there’s a will there’s a way…

Highlight of the looooooooong drive back to London was the fish ‘n’ chips picnic we had in Abersthwyth, a university town and holiday resort on the west coast. Lunch came courtesy of the Dolphin Restaurant which, in my opinion, represented a perfect amalgamation of an old school chip shop and a New York diner – big, generous booths, no frills menu, and an assumption that everyone wants their chips drowned in salt and vinegar. The mushy peas worked a teat on the battered cod, and the stunning coastal vista swept away any indigestion before the next six hours in the car. All in all, a remarkable weekend and all-too-short taste of Wales' unspoilt drawcards.

Street Car: Sign up as a member for self-service pay-as-you-go car hire around London
Llyn Gwynant campsite: Nantgwynant, North Wales. £9 per night with your own tent.
Argos : Seriously, you can get kitted out with a tent, camping mattress, and most basic camping equipment for under £50.
Tanronnen Inn, Beddgelert, Gwynedd
Dolphin Restaurant, Great Dark Street, Abersthwyth

1 comment:

  1. Sweet review, Meg!! This is going to be really helpful for us!

    How many people does your tent fit?