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Cold Mountain at Corris

Last year we spent Easter at Corris and, while sitting in the Braich Goch hotel having a number of medicinal pints, the proprietor happened to mention that they had a bunkhouse and also a beer festival next February. Sitting there relaxing in a gentle hoppy haze we decided that we would book another weekend for that and in a fit of fervour I agreed to do the organising.

I then totally forgot about this till Dave mentioned it some months later and we got an e mail from the Braich Goch checking that we were serious about the booking. At first I thought we’d never get 12 people in February to return to Corris and Cadair Idris let alone a beer festival in a village with no shops. However bit by bit the numbers built up and we ended up with ten (though admittedly I press ganged my son Tom and his girlfriend into it, he was keen on the beer bit and I swear I mentioned Cadair to him as well).

So off we went back to Wales and the hills and the sheep — whoops! – mustn’t mention sheep — remember Trefin? I went with Liz and Boh, this time we kept to the main roads and missed last year’s tour of the country lanes — with the result we got there first at 5pm and found the festival in full flow. There were about 12 varieties of real ale with exotic names and strengths and by the time the others came several hours later we had already sampled a number of them.

By now it’d started snowing, though fortunately everyone got here OK in the end. Walking out of the door of the hostel to greet a new arrival a gritter roared past and covered me in grit and very wet slush. At least that should stop me from slipping on Cadair. We also met the hostel cat who was a tabby with a delusion he was a Manx as a passing lorry had taken off his tail. Needless to say Chris soon struck up a rapport with him.

By now the festival was in full swing and the local band arrived. I forget their name but apparently they’re very big in Machynlleth and reminded me of some middle aged late punks with a demon keyboard player in a pork pie hat. It was at this stage that Dave reached for his ear plugs though the pub was heaving and it was obviously the mad night of the year in Corris (I even thought I saw Owain Glyndwr dancing in the crowd and also King Arthur, who is reputed to sleep in the nearby hills but must have been woken up by the noise).

So next morning we woke up bright and early. Tom had gone missing from his bunk and I thought he’d had enough and done a runner, but he was sleeping in the lounge as he’d found the combined snoring of our dorm a bit much for him — I’d forgotten to warn him about that as well. We looked out of the front door and saw nothing except mist in the valley and several inches of snow. So it looked like a good day for Cadair via the Minffordd path and off we went at a healthy 9am.

On the way we passed some sort of portakabin by some road works with the title “Welfare Office” in large letters on it. What was this? — a bold plan to bring welfare services to rural Wales or was it for distressed sheep — sorry said it again! — strange though as there wasn’t a house for miles.

Once we arrived at the mountain, the mist had started to clear except on the tops, and all the trees were covered in snow – which looked great. The sky was blue and the sun came out as we started climbing the infamous steps –or staircase to heaven as a rock band (Sorry Dave) once put it. The steps were very giant friendly for anyone over 8 ft with long legs but unfortunately none of us were that size. Is there an 8 foot high planner who makes a living out of planning massive steps in upland areas? The snow was starting to melt off the trees and we all got roasting, but the snow looked brilliant against the blue sky with bits of cloud rising out of the main Cwm around the lake like smoke from a waiting Welsh dragon round the corner.

As we began to climb up the south ridge we could see the lake half frozen over but I failed to get Liz to repeat her swimming in the lake feat from Brecon two years ago. When we got to the top of the first ridge there was a great view over half frozen Tal y Llyn lake with snow everywhere and fleecy clouds floating below us. The thing with Cadair is that it is really a collection of several summits and you can’t see the highest summit till you’re right on the top, so you think you may have reached the top but of course you haven’t.

You get up to 690 metres on one summit and then on to the next at 791 metres. It was at this stage that the clouds covered the tops and the snow that must have been lying there for some time turned out to be a foot deep (oh, and I forgot the wind as well). Last time I came over this one it was boiling hot! You then get to a bit of path right near the edge with a 900 foot drop to the lake at the bottom. There were footprints in the snow going right to the edge but then turning back… Was this a member of the kamikaze walking group who changed his mind at the last moment and got a lifetime ban from the group? — who knows.

So at 791 metres you comfort yourself with the thought that the highest peak is only 893 so it’s a mere 300 feet or so to go — then you hit the downhill. If we’d all carried old tin trays with us we could have tobogganed down to the bottom but as we hadn’t it was a matter of slip slide and slurp in the snow drifts down to 700 metres which made it 600 foot or so to the top. That’s not much really but you couldn’t see the top and it was uphill through a foot of snow. I’ve got a photo of part of the group disappearing up the snowy slope in the mist which looks very like Scott trying to find the South Pole having wished he hadn’t made a madras curry of the last husky (overdid the garlic too said Evans, as he disappeared in to the blizzard saying ‘I may be gone some time’).

Having inadvertently mistaken Boh for a polar bear we dragged on upwards through various snowy clad rocks rocks till we found the summit with a highly frozen trig point. (It was at this point that I was asking myself do I like hill walking or am I just a ******* masochist?) After a brief lunch in the bothy at the top with well chilled chardonnay and sarnie glace we noticed that the cloud had cleared from the summit — as it often does on Cadair — remember Kings, where it cleared and Dorothy could see as far as the sales in Barmouth? The sea still looked cold and oddly the valley to the north was snow free while the one to the south wasn’t. Last year when we came up we could see Snowdon to the north, the Brecon beacons to the south and well into England in the east. This time it wasn’t as clear though you could make out the Snowdon range.

So on to the downhill. First we had to go across a snow covered plateau and the mist came down again. This and the wind made it look very like Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow and at one stage I thought I saw a ghostly French dragoon till I realised his helmet and plumes was in fact Dave’s multi coloured woollen hat. Anyway eventually we started going steeply downhill — and downhill — and downhill — till we were sick of going steeply downhill and almost started wishing we could go uphill again. Eventually we got out of the thick snow and the views were great with the fading winter sunlight over the sea and the snow clad hills. Then down the “giant’s’” steps and to the car park and the general feeling that that it had been ‘One hell of a walk’. Also congratulations to Donna. Tom and Lisa on completing it on their first walk with the group – they’re not all like this one!

Back at the Bunkhouse it appeared that Shep the singing sheepdog and his band from Pontllanfraith Uchaf had cancelled due to lambing problems and were replaced by the heaviest metal band this side of Dinas Mawddwy. Led by Dave we then decided to try the village pub which thank goodness is still open and the very hospitable landlord fitted us in for food and quite a lot of drink — we must have given his takings a good boost. By the time we returned to the bunkhouse the party was still in full swing (King Arthur had just got barred and gone back to his cave in the mountain) but they’d run out of my favourite stout and most of us crashed out fairly quickly. After last night’s experience Tom opted to sleep with Dave and Stuart who proved snore free!

So next morning most people went off but some of us stayed for an “undulating” walk up the side of the valley from Corris to the old slate mine at the top and then on to Upper Corris and back via the teashop. On the way we passed the ‘Italian House’ where an Italian spent a lifetime building models of Italian buildings in the garden from a large variety of bricks.

This led to a keen ethical debate on the role of women between Liz and Stuart — did Mrs Italian pine away alone in the house while her chauvinist neglectful husband sublimated in his garden with his beloved bricks or did she breath a sigh of relief when he went outside and settle down to watch the telly in peace free from his endless talking about bricks? Perhaps this topic could be on the agenda at the next AGM?

Anyway that was that and for once some beer assisted idea raised in a pub had led to a great weekend.

Autumn Gold in the White Peak

Two years ago I tried to book a weekend in Haworth. It proved impossible to get through on the phone and when the warden ignored my request for self catering prices . In the end I gave up. This time I did get through and as expected every effort was made to get me to go catering and I was told the catering facilities were totally inadequate – one day I will no doubt be told there is a gas ring in a shed up the nearest hillside and two sticks to rub together to start a fire.. Anyway this time I decided to persist and we were booked in self catering at £17.95 a night.

Having said all this we went to see the Autumn colours in Monsall and Chee Dale and were not disappointed. The hostel is a great old house built by your usual Victorian Industrialist, who had made a few bob ripping minerals out the ground, with a brilliant view and surrounded by a beech wood in full Autumn golden mode. Surprisingly the 70 bed hostel was virtually full with two separate “reunion” walking groups. However their warning about the catering was correct, one sink, one small fridge and one kettle between 70 people!

We also discovered a very good pub, the Anglers Rest, down the hill in Millers Dale with real ales at £2.50 a pint, good cheap meals and very friendly staff. The pub was very quiet and they must have been glad of our trade as nearly all the group went there rather than enjoy the keg Boddingtons at the hostel. These threatened pubs are vital in country areas and traditionally got good trade from walkers so it was sad to see no one else from the hostel. Hostels always played a key part in supporting local village businesses and this will decline as hostel catering takes hold.

Anyway on to the walking – the first day was foggy and damp though it promised better things. We trudged up the Limestone Way through traditional Derbyshire mist and mud with the vague shapes of bored looking cattle. All those who’d walked Monks Dale before swore to keep clear of it and eventually we stopped for elevenses (At Anne’s steadfast request) by a charming mist shrouded stone cross watched by a misty brown cow with triplets and a rather emasculated looking bull.

Then on to Wormhill where Dorothy was disappointed to find she had missed the sales and Liz looked in vain for Charity shops. Actually Wormhill was a picturesque village and we had a good lunch stop by a monument to a man called Brindley who built the Bridgewater canal (In Manchester not Somerset)

After that we finally got to the top of Chee Dale and it stopped raining. The view was brilliant with the valley going one way to Buxton, the railway cutting through towards Chinley and the old railway in the valley that’s now a walking trail. The sides of the gorge were covered in trees in autumn colours with some clinging on to the white limestone cliffs and the sun decided to threaten to come out as well.

So we went down to walk along Chee dale, the wildest bit of the Wye gorges going down to Monsal head with only a rough path right by the river side with two sets of stepping stones and the very high rail viaducts cutting across at regular intervals. It was very, as the Victorians would say, “gothic” with a deep gorge with sheer white limestone walls and Autumn golden trees all along the top with dense vegetation on the floor alongside the river. As it had been raining it was very wet with a bit of mist in the gorge to add to the atmosphere.

The wetness also made the limestone “Monksdale” slippery with the result that Boh headbutted the floor (But fortunately did not damage to the path) and Dorothy did a “wet limestone” slip but luckily no harm done . At one stage Liz dropped her pole over the edge where it was stuck just over the river. In harmony with the gothic atmosphere brave Sir Mick and Sir Boh rescued the pole for the damsel in distress before the dragon of the gorge leapt out of the river from it’s sleep and King Arthur appeared with a risk assessment.

We then came to the stepping stones which go along the edge of the cliff face. Last time Anne and I walked here the river was in flood and the stones were covered by about 4 inches of water. Our group waded across (Carrying a dog) and you got the feeling that if you slipped you would get carried away in a roaring torrent. This time the stones were uncovered and it was a bit mortifying to see that it was only about 6 inches deep around them!

We finally got out of the gorge and up onto the railway where we stopped at Millers Dale station though we’d just missed the last train. (Well by 30 years but you lose touch with time when you’re in the gorge). After that back to the hostel by several routes and then back to the pub to eat in the evening. (Apart from Dave who subjected the kitchen to his “curry test” first)

So next day, plus Andy who turned up, we did the quick post breakfast rush down the hostel back entry and up the gorge the other side. Nothing like that to wake you up and great views from the top to Kinder, Stanage, Bretton etc. Then along the top with a view of Taddington that Anne assures has a bunkhouse that was so cold that Captain Scott used it for training for his Arctic mission.

Finally then a view of Monsal Head and back along the railway to Cressbrook where there’s a good tea stop shop where you can eat your own food, it’s a good idea. The tea stop is in the old lodging house for the child labourers at the mill and Liz was even able to have a mini spending spree there. Then back along Water Cum Jolly and Cressbrook and back to the hostel and off.

It was a good weekend but Anne and I both wrote letters of complaint about the self catering facilities.. We both got fairly unapologetic replies from YHA and mine stated that groups who went to hostels that provided catering should use it, as the self catering facilities were not suitable for groups to use. Well I suppose that was being honest about what they’ve been trying to achieve by stealth for some time. Fortunately I have a copy of the Independent Hostels Guide.

Mad, Blind or a Poet

There is a saying that if you spend the night up Cadair Idris and live you will come down the next morning “Mad, blind or a poet.” (This is a genuine quote mentioned by the tourist board)

One can imagine the walker who fell asleep on Cadair and woke up in the dark with the full moon overhead. He or she then walked down the mountain towards Dolgellau and came into a thickly wooded valley. After a while stumbling in the dark he came across a clearing in the woods. There was a bonfire with various figures gathered around it. Then a formally dressed man with druidic looking white hair approached something on a table and drew out a knife. Thinking this was some ancient Celtic sacrificial ritual the walker rushed off into the woods in utter panic and was not found till morning………

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When the Brecons Beckon

Eleven of us went in 3 cars and Dave Anne and I went the cross country route from Droitwich via Leominster which is to be much recommended as an alternative to the M5/50 route. There was little traffic and the countryside was beautiful. We stopped in a US style diner on the edge of Leominster, expecting James Dean to come leaping out of the skirting but he didn’t appear (The staff’s Herefordshire accent rather spoiled the illusion.)

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