A Tale and a Tail

Friday, December 10, 2004 Road Junkies 0 Comments

ADVENTURES IN ENGLAND AND WALES, Chapter 10:  IN WHICH OUR SKEPTICISM IS STIRRED

Day 10:  Betws-y-Coed, Wales & Snowdonia National Park.  We left Betws-y-Coed and drove west toward Mount Snowdon. Taking the A4086 out of Capel Curig, we paused to snap some photos near the National Mountain Center at Plas y Brenin, where mountaineering and other sports are taught.
Dolbadarn Castle area residents
As ever, sheep were grazing even high on the rocky cliffs. In Llanberis, we considered visiting the Welsh Slate Museum but decided to hike up to Dolbadarn Castle in the Padarn Park near the museum instead. We hiked to the top of a nearby hill where we saw sheep up close.
Dolbadarn Castle
Nearby, we drove up a road toward the top of Mount Snowdon, the tallest in Great Britain. The road dead ended on the lower reaches of a stable where a woman and child were driving out the gate at the end of the road. She kindly allowed us to turn around in the stable area and then closed the gate behind us.  Midway back down the road we stopped at a place with signs indicating it was a tea room. On this cold day, tea sounded enticing.  The entrance door was locked, however, and we were about to get back into the car when a man and his dog walked up.

Wearing a rugby shirt with a woolen scarf wound around his neck, he sported close-cropped graying hair and wire-rim eyeglasses. “You’re lucky you weren’t clamped!” he yelled. “This is a private road. Only mountain rescue vehicles are allowed up here. The camera nabbed a photo of your plate, and you’ll get a ticket in the post.”

Finally he asked what we wanted and where we were from. We told him we had wanted to get a cup of tea but that if we were there illegally we’d be glad to leave. He invited us to come in and see the house and tea room.  He was the essence of eccentricity as he showed us around the cottage which he claimed had been in his family for centuries. His hyperactive mind and his conversation flitted madly from one topic to another: 

 - the sincerity and generosity of the northern Welsh people (“the real Welsh,” he emphasized)
 - how foolishly the English and Americans are to throw money at every problem
 - how arrogant not to recognize the national desires of other peoples 
 - his family’s centuries-old history in Wales (“We have deeds signed by Edward I.”)
 - the castle (Dolgellau) that the English stole from his family
 - that you can stay with a northern Welsh family in their home for £2.50 a night but they’d be insulted if you offered them the money
 - the many famous people who have visited his tea room—mentioning Prince Charles, Anthony Hopkins, and a musical group called Status Quo (“They all stop here.”)

In the midst of all his rantings and ramblings, when we arrived in the kitchen, he began frenetically washing dishes, still talking a mile a minute. His conversation was peppered with contradictions. After telling us we might have had our car clamped, then he said the police never come up there. After telling us he had lived there on a nearby mountain for 47 years (and he couldn’t have been much older), he said that he had lived in New York. His entire conversation was characterized by these kinds of inconsistencies.
Pen-y-Ceunant Isaf Tea House

In giving us a tour of the cottage, he said that one room was furnished with 17th century antiques, the next with 18th century antiques, all of which had been in his family since they had been built. In a room being used for storage, he lifted a cloth on a hutch-type piece of furniture an told us that it had been imported from Connecticut in 1810. Next to it was a large, old book, which he told us was a family bible from the 18th century. When we made the expected exclamations over it, he said, “Oh, we have another that’s much older.”

Before the tour ended, he led us into a room where he displayed brochures of various types. He picked up one for the tea room and one for herbal remedies concocted by his family. As he handed them to us, he urged, “Don’t lose this, and next time you’re coming over get in touch with me. Unfortunately I won’t remember you, but I’ll help you find a good place to stay.” Walking back into the kitchen, he reminded us at least three more times, “Don’t lose that!”

Finally we grabbed an opportunity to take our leave when he took a good breath to move on to yet another topic. “Sorry I can’t offer you some tea,” he said when we told him we were leaving, “but here’s a good local scone for you. Everything is donated. It’s all free.” He reached into a basket and pulled out a couple of scones wrapped together in plastic wrap and handed it to Ken. “Share these with the wife, now,” he said. “And be good to the wife. Always be good to the wife.”

When we both assured him that Ken is always good to the wife, he asked if we had any children. We replied that we had not and asked if he had any. “No!” he exclaimed. “I hate children. Can’t tolerate them.” Ken asked him how his centuries-old family would continue to flourish in the Welsh mountains, and he stated that he was the last of the line.

Even his faithful dog didn’t appear to believe all the tales he was spinning but he was quite entertaining. He never gave us his name—real or make-believe. Needless to say, we found no camera at the gate to photograph our license plate as we left.

T’yn Llwyn Woods
Returning to the Betws-y-Coed area, we took a hike on a forest trail in the T’yn Llwyn Woods, part of Snowdonia National Park, where we enjoyed a picnic. 


Swallow Falls
Since this was our last day in the Snowdonia area, we also visited a couple of popular waterfalls. Swallow Falls, not far from Betws-y-Coed, is the highest continuous waterfall in Wales and a very popular spot with visitors.  At the turn of the 20th century, local officials harnessed the power of Swallow Falls to generate electricity for Betws-y-Coed.  After the cost of equipment installation was recovered through visitor fees to the falls, the local council retained the fees, and the residents of Betws enjoyed the lowest electricity rates in the country.  Unfortunately that ended after a 1974 reorganization of the local government.

Conwy Falls

Located in a gorge of the River Conwy, nearby Conwy Falls plunges 50 feet into a deep pool below.  Like Swallow Falls, the Conwy cascade was accessible by way of a natural path through the adjacent woodlands.  Several proposals mounted to construct hydroelectric generating plant at the falls have been rejected.
Church of St. Michael

Finally, we couldn’t leave Betws without a visit to the 14th century Church of St. Michael, the oldest building in the village. Located on the banks of the River Conwy, the church provided the origin of the town's name Betws, meaning prayer-house.  As when it was built, the church is accessible only by foot.

Bridge to St Michael's Church
Sapper’s Bridge, a suspension footbridge, was built in the 1930's to replace a previous wooden bridge that had been swept away in a flood of the River Conwy. On the bridge we met a scrappy little guy who has seen his share of trouble in life but still was friendly enough to welcome us to his neighborhood and spend some time with us.
Feline welcome committee of one
After a bit of grocery shopping in Betws, it was back to the hotel for dinner in the room and our last night in Wales before heading back to London tomorrow for our flight home to Atlanta.

Snowdonia hike

At Swallow Falls