I sit in the breakfast room of the Prince Llewelyn Hotel, shovelling in as much fry-up as I can manage. At the far end of the room people have written various missives on the wall, like last will and testaments, before they set off to climb Mount Snowdon, just a few miles down the road from here in Beddgelert. It’s only a small mountain, I think to myself, how hard can it be? Giristroula and I climbed Mount Olympus, home of the gods, two years ago and we survived to tell the tale. What are all these ridiculously histrionic sentiments, as if they’re setting off to cross the Antarctic? Nevertheless, I cram in as many carbs as I can get. The Polish waitress loads us up with packed sandwiches in tinfoil before she waves us off with a cheerful sense of finality as we leave to tackle Snowdon ourselves. I’m treble socked.
We stop first at the local souvenir shop and buy a water proof map. The powerfully built, deep-voiced owner, smelling terrifically of horse manure, selling his boxes of fudge and dainty little Welsh dolls with his great spade-like hands recommends the best routes for us. We choose the Pyg Path, a fairly tough one, he tells us, but where we’ll get the best views. We have an enormous walk to begin with merely to reach the path up Snowdon from where we’ve been able to leave the rental car. The roadsides are packed with all the other climbers’ cars. The cars are covered in Welsh mud and grit. ‘Clean Me!’, ‘I Wish My Wife Was This Dirty!’ written on the back windows by someone’s finger. Giristroula tilts her head and reads these messages as if they might hold some important information. We get onto the Pyg Path. Not many have chosen this route, it seems. The early bit is quiet and fairly easy-going. We get a good view of the Llyn Llydaw lake that will stay with us on our left, deep and blue, for most of the climb. The path remains rocky but steady and the weather good until around halfway when suddenly clouds descend on us and the air turns a cold pearl-grey. The summit disappears from view and the path becomes zig-zagged and harder and, while not many people are climbing up, there are a lot coming down. It gets crowded with people who have taken the train up. A large group of Hassidic Jews, descending very unsteadily in heavy suits with their hats and ringlets, trudge past us on the path.
The last part of the climb is actually quite a tough scramble over loose scree, but we reach the summit and feel pleased with ourselves, sneering at the passengers arriving on the 120 year old mountain railway. Though, of course, the railway is a terrific act of Victorian construction. The only rack and pinion rail line still running in Britain: steam locomotives puffing out great gouts of steam, pushing the wooden carriages up the clenched iron teeth of the rails to the top of the mountain every half hour. We stand at the peak of Snowdon and take in the view and trace back the route we’ve climbed. The valley behind us is where Carry On Up The Khyber was filmed – Snowdon substituting for the Khyber pass – and I point out the spot far below where Private Widdle had his underpants removed by a huge Indian Burpa. Total blank face from the Greek.
There’s not much else to do up here in the clouds really but visit the café at the mountain top. It’s teaming with people inside, but we managed to get a seat. Giristroula rises for a couple of seconds to drop something in the bin, and a family of four squeeze into her seat, with the fat father’s buttocks nudging me out too. The father sweating like his clingfilm-wrapped cheese sandwiches. We glare at the family, tied and hooded in their colourful waterproofs, but they won’t look up from their food. Eventually Giristroula snaps and a perfect scene of hot Greek temper versus priggish British petulance plays out in the cafe forecourt.
“Happy with your seat?” Giristroula fumes.
“Yes thank you,” the mother replies not look up from her nibbled sandwich.
“Well…you know…that was sarcasm.” says Giristroula.
“Yes. Thank you,” the mother again dead-responds, picking a crumb off her skirt, a millisecond snippy smile to herself. The dismissive “thank you” hanging in the air like the tone of a doorbell ding-dong.
We leave, defeated by decorum.
“You should be ashamed of yourself!” Giristroula late volleys back over her shoulder as we go. “In front of your children as well…”
I nudge her, grumbling, out of the doors and we are back out into the grey Snowdon air. We start to look for a way down. Having been annoyed by the numbers travelling down the path as we climbed up, we decide to take a different route to get back down ourselves to the base of the mountain, and so start following what we think is the Watkin Path. We are on our own again. As we descend, the sun reappears bathing the valley in sunshine. Caught in this light the views are really something incredible. Something you can only gawp at. Smile to each other about. Stood like imbeciles, wordlessly dumb in wonder. Wales ripples and rolls and spits and curves away for mile after endless mile around us. Wind-carved rocks, weather-bleached greens and yellows.
Absent mindedly we soon fall away from the path and in a short time find ourselves on sheer rock and having to actually climb, looking for foot holds and straining to pull ourselves up on high ridges in the now blazing bulls-eye heat. We feel anxious, with no one else around and with only more treacherous rolling apexes ahead. But we reassure ourselves by pointing out yellow spots that we take to be a marker of an official climbing route.
“Look here’s one,” I say as we propel ourselves forward over another high Snowdonian crest. Giristroula spots another in a ludicrous position through some jagged crag and we faithful follow these yellow spots on and on until slowly we realise they are not route markers at all. They are simply crusty lichen etched on the rocks.
I feel nothing but relief when, after sliding down turfy slopes on our backsides past momentarily non-chewing quizzical-looking sheep, we are finally able to get down onto a plateau and then reach a decent bit of path again, and then as it levels out we are at last finally able to make it back over Llyn Llydaw’s bridge, back onto safe ground, and back towards the car. The roadside is empty now. The other climbers have all driven off home. Giristroula and I feeling relived and a bit foolish, head back to the old mossy stone Beddgelert town ourselves and the Polish waitress, still speculatively waiting our return at the Prince Llewellyn hotel. We sit for a while, alone in the dark Breakfast Room underneath the wall of climber’s messages, breathing heavily to ourselves. Pleased to have got back here in one piece. Snowdon conquered.