Originally I thought to visit Plas Newydd the next day, but checking the website it was closed, then thinking of Snowdon I looked for a weather forecast and it was set to be a brilliant day. The cost of the trip up Snowdon, especially by one of the original 1863 Steam Trains is quite high, and I had no intention of paying to have a view of some clouds and rain.
I would have like to have travelled towards Snowdonia during the day, but once again decided on an early start as I had been told on numerous occasions that the roads round Snowdon were very narrow, and felt we were still in the ‘holiday season’ when all those older couples who want to catch a bit of good weather have taken to the roads the instant the schools are back. But I found the roads were easily big enough for us, and there was lots of off street parking available.
It was still dark when I started Thebus after my 'pre-flight’ checks, as we crossed the Menai Straits and began to approach Snowdonia the sun was just beginning to tint the clouds pink as it rose behind the mountains, so although it would have taken a poor photo, plus I didn’t want to stop, the view was memorable with the darkened misty blue of its jagged rocky outline thrown into relief against the lightening sky
As we drew nearer and the dawn broke I could see Snowdon with a cloud wreathing its summit and wondered if had booked onto the ‘Early Bird’ trip the clouds would have moved, or whether the view would have been mainly of fog. The 9am trip is a bit cheaper and does go up in the more modern coaches which apparently have better viewing windows, but pulled by a diesel engine.
I had elected to travel on the 'Snowdon Lily' Victorian style coach. I assume this was named when the railway was first built in the late nineteenth century and middle class Victorians who seem to have been fascinated with plants would have come in search of the rare Snowdon Lily, found only on the slopes of this mountain. Its name in Welsh, brwynddail y mynydd translates as ‘rush leaves of the mountain’. Apparently for most of the year, the plant is only visible as long, curving, stiff, grass-like leaves, often protruding through cushions of other plants.
The latin name is of the Snowdon Lily is Gagea serotina. Gagea being a large genus of spring flowers of the Liliaceae family, named after Sir Thomas Gage the English naturalist; serotina meaning ‘late-flowering’ though in fact the purple veined white flowers borne at the end of long stalks appear from late June. I wonder if this type of flower was the original “lilies of the field” mentioned in the bible.
Non of this information is from personal experience as the plant is extremely rare with an estimated one hundred bulbs or less left. It is a relict from the Ice Age, seemingly developing in isolation, and remaining only on a few inaccessible ledges where grazing sheep cannot reach. And those who know mountain sheep will realise how very inaccessible those ledges would have to be.
I know these are mountain goats rather than sheep, but just have a look at this photo which is doing the rounds of the internet
Side view of Gagea serotina flower showing purple veins
The Snowdon Lily coach I travelled up in is a faithful copy of the first Snowdon Mountain Tramroad & Hotels Co Ltd 1896 observation carriages, and built on an original chassis and bogey of 1896, the single coach is pushed up the rack and pinion track by one of the three working steam locomotives all dating from 1896,
The line was first opened at Easter in 1896 and in anticipation of this Colonel Sir Francis Marindin from the Board of Trade made an unofficial inspection of the line which included a demonstration of the automatic brakes. He was satisfied with the line but recommended wind speeds be monitored and the trains stopped if it was too strong
Prior to the opening a train was run with a locomotive and two coaches, but at the final section the train hit a boulder fallen from the side of a cutting and several wheels were derailed but the workmen on board simply rerailed the carriage and continued to the top, and the Easter opening continued as planned
However on the opening day two trains were dispatched to the summit, and on the first return trip, possibly due to the weight of the train it lost the track and ran out of control, derailed and fell down the mountain, with the loss of one passenger who died from loss of blood after jumping out of the carriage. A miscommunication meant that the second downward train then hit the carriages of the first, with fortunately no further fatalities, so I was hoping for a less eventful journey on my inaugural trip.
Before the three thirty journey I had a short look round the town and visited the narrow gauge railway which plies the old slate mine rail lines running parallel to the shore opposite the town, but as it was such turning out to be such a lovely day, and I had been struck by the beauty of Lake Padarn at the foot of Snowdonia, who’s waters now rippled and glinted in the autumn sunshine, I had determined to take a trip on a 1945 pleasure craft which plied the waters on the hour, giving views out over the lake and towards the mountains, and in the event I was pleased with my choice
The little craft had seating for far more than the dozen or so onboard, and as we gently passed the forest on one side, and the town on the other the rather stiff breeze was a welcome relief from the gradually increasing heat of the sun. In fact the breeze was so stiff, that when I had stopped on my way to the jetty for a photo opportunity of the mountains beyond the causeway I had a job holding the camera still.
Our Skipper gave an interesting commentary on the lake and surrounds. It is apparently around two miles long, and was originally larger but years of slate spoil have reduced its size. It is nearly one hundred feet deep and home to the rare Arctic Char.
After a most enjoyable trip round the lake taking in the stunning scenery I headed off to check Phoebe, and cook myself some lunch after my disastrous all-day breakfast of yesterday - two small rashers of bacon, and though quite nice tasting although obviously cooked some time before, two wrinkled sausages seemingly composed of fat and bread, a slice of black pudding so dried out on the top I had to cut it off, chips, home-cooked but with the grey discolouration on the potatoes not cut out, an egg fried at the same time as the bacon, and some mushrooms which I should think had been cooked several days before and kept warm since, which with the grease wiped off could have usefully been used to patch leather shoes. This accompanied by the flimsiest paper napkin I had ever seen and a very small pot of tea came in at just shy of ten pounds. I don’t like the idea of travelling in a motorhome and not buying things locally, but after that I decided to cook the rather nice looking slice of sirloin I had with me, and that together with some french beans and a salad made a most acceptable meal to sustain me for the highlight of the day.
I arrived in plenty of time as my ticket had been booked online the evening before over the internet, and was the last available seat on any of the steam train runs. The staff in the booking office were all most pleasant and friendly, which made enjoyable start for the journey. Our train was idling by the platform and occasionally letting off steam, the smell of the brownish grey smoke taking me back to the fifties when every house would have had a coal fire and nearly all the trains were steam.
The Snowdon Lily arrived and unloaded and it was our turn to get on. All the seats are allocated and hoping mine was a window seat I was pleased to find it was, many of the seats in the light airy observation carriage being one single seat against the window.
With much puffing and clunking we started off, and were soon into a stiff incline going up through short stunted mountain oaks and ashes with mossy boles, then out onto the open mountainside. The views were fantastic, the journey exhilarating and all in all it was a wonderful trip. I had felt a bit unsure as the total including parking for the station was not far off fifty pound, but I can honestly say it was worth every penny, and I wouldn’t want to eat five fried breakfasts instead! I would go again if I was in North Wales and the weather was even clearer - unlikely unless it was a clear sharp day, and the trains don’t run in the winter months
When we arrived at the top there was that bit of cloud trapped round the top, but I was on a high so decided to see if I could make it up the last few steps to the top, and I did, though in my excitement I had forgotten about the problems of getting back down the steep high steps. But I made it back within the half hour allowed at the top before the return journey which was equally stunning, but slightly quicker particularly as we were not held up at the passing points as the last journey of the day had arrived at the summit before we left.