Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Walking in the Cradle of the Wind

Ideally we would have caught the steam train up the Dee Valley from Llangollen but it left a half hour later, so we opted for the diesel.

Time seemed precious. It was a rare, fine morning in this dismal British summer of rain and floods, and we were anxious to make the most of it by starting our walk early,

Besides, the diesel was fun, too, the aging springs of its carriage seats evoking memories of rail journeys taken as children - even if we did have to imagine the hiss of steam and smell of haycocks when the train drew up, as in Adelstrop, at Berwyn Halt and other small stations with bare platforms, where "no one left and no one came" on the short tourist line to Carrog.

And as we climbed from the village, whose houses were shifted higher in the 17th century as the river undermined their foundations, we could watch the steam train chugging into view far below, like a 00 gauge model, much as when the railway first reached Carrog in 1860.

We were to hike back to Llangollen, heaved as usual with visitors on a sunny Sunday, but for most of the 10 miles we covered we saw only two other hikers. There was no gentle introduction. Above Carrog the path rose relentlessly at the edge of a forest of oak, ash, sycamore and chestnut, horse and sweet.

Then we joined an old drove road, heading north east under blue skies and occasional dark clouds which brought a sudden chill, down to briefly touch a minor road. Then it was on past Tan-y-foel, to flank Llantysilio mountain. Behind us the mountains of Snowdonia bulked soft grey on the horizon. Along the path we picked early bilberries, as yet a little too tart and in need of ripening. Is there a fruit with more different names? In these parts they are called whinberries, whin being a word for heather.

Heather and yellow gorse made vivid splashes on Moel y Gamelin, where a lone fell runner toiled towards the summit. We contoured around it and went swinging joyfully down an intoxicating track with the shining green Dee Valley spread out beneath us.

Welsh place names usually reflect location and geography, sometimes prosaically as in Tan-y-Foel (beneath the bare mountain), sometimes lyrically as in Crud-y-Gwynt (cradle of the wind) - a house we passed on our descent.

At Llantysilio we were diverted by the church, whose chancel is roofed with arched medieval beams, where a brass plaque commemorates the times Robert Browning worshipped there, while staying nearby as a guest of Lady Martin, the celebrated former Victorian actress, Helena Faucit.

On past picnickers at Horsehoe Falls, the great curved weir built by Thomas Telford to supply the Shropshire Union canal with water. Then the canal barges carried slate. Now, still drawn by horses on this stretch, they carry tourists. We passed one on the towpath, passed too the Eisteddfod grounds where, not long before. Jose Carreras had sung arias, past a horse drawn tourist barge, back to crowded Llangollen and a pint of bitter by the raging river at the Corn Mill.

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