21-Sep-2009 -- Continued from 53°N 3W°.
We spent four weeks in the United Kingdom visiting cousins. As well, we managed to visit eight confluence sites to add to those we've visited back home in Canada and some in the United States. This is the seventh of eight visits in the UK.
Blaenau Ffestiniog is situated in the center of Snowdonia National Park in northern Wales, yet not a part of it. The boundaries of the National Park are arranged to omit the town and its huge slate waste heaps. The town was once prominent in the Welsh slate mining industry which went into decline in the early 20th Century. The town now depends on tourism. We helped out in that regard by staying in Blaenau Ffestiniog at the Isallt Guest House, a Bed and Breakfast accommodation. The large house was originally built by a local doctor. It is built of slate, of course. The house has views over the town and the surrounding Moelwyn Mountains as well as over the Ffestiniog Railway and station just below it. We spent three days here between visits with cousins. Rob, one of the B&B owners, had spent time in Canada with the British Military on the Suffield Block in Alberta, the next province to ours. He enjoyed talking about his experiences in Canada with us.
Of the three days we were to spend here, the weather looked most promising for this day as no rain was forecast. We took the short drive to Tanygrisau where we parked the car to take the steep rocky footpath up towards the confluence. Beautiful Heather and wild flowers were in bloom. Sheep grazed or rested on the mountain sides along the route. Gates and stiles were constructed to keep sheep in their appropriate areas. It seemed that some of those sheep had Mountain Goat bred into them ... we observed a couple of them jumping from rocky outcrops to land safely on grass below then wander off as if nothing was unusual about doing that.
As we walked beside Llyn Cwmorthin (a lake) the path got progressively wetter, yet there had been no rain here for a week. When we walked off the path near the chapel ruins onto what appeared to be a grassy field, we discovered that it was actually very wet and spongy - water seemed to be running down the mountain through the grass, across the path and into the lake in several areas.
The ruins of the abandoned quarrymen's row cottages were interesting to explore. What a life they must have had up there. Close to the beginning of the footpath is an abandoned and overgrown garden which at one time must have been very beautiful. It had the remains of a bridge with paths, ponds and fountains that possibly the manager or a boss had developed on his property.
After passing the first row of quarrymen's cottages, the path got steeper and rockier. We were glad to have our walking sticks with us. The area has numerous slate waste heaps. As we climbed, the clouds hanging over the mountains were closer to us. A light rain, mist or "mizzle" began to fall ... but actually, because of the strong wind, the mizzle wasn't really falling but rather being blown at us horizontally. When it was time to leave the path to find the confluence, the fog and mist were rapidly descending upon us. It was very eerie to be walking into unknown, unmarked territory, barely able to see a thing as the fog thickened around us in this area. Alan kept his eyes on the GPS while also trying not to trip over boulders or slip off slick wet rocks. I followed him. The wet grass and ground cover dampened our jeans half way up to our knees. First we'd go one way through the fog, then the other. We stopped to sit on some rocks to have our lunch then regrouped. Finally, success! At least we managed to see the edge of the lake before walking into it! We got the GPS readings and then the direction photos, managing to take some of them at a precise moment when the fog would clear just a little. The photos at the confluence aren't great, but those are the views we encountered.
We found a quicker way back through the fog to the footpath and saw that things were still clear on the path side of the rocks. Noting that the path continued and looked interesting, we decided to follow it for a while before returning to our car. It was a green grassy path which followed an old roadway along the edge of the mountain. Beautiful wild flowers, ferns and Heather bloomed amongst the rocks. Sheep rested on small grassy areas between the rocks. It was so much clearer on this side that the valley far below with the Irish Sea, ten miles off in the distance, is clearly visible.
To finish off our slate mining experience, the next day we took a ride on the Rheilfford Ffestiniog Railway, the narrow gauge track built in the 1800s specifically to take slate down the mountain from the mines to Portmadog. With light rain falling, we boarded the train in Pothmadog for the 13.5 mile trip up to Blaenau Ffestiniog then back down again on the same track. It was a busy day for the popular train as several coach loads of tourists were onboard, making 12 full cars in all. The unique Double-Fairlie (double ended) locomotive, the "Merddin Emrys", had its work cut out for it. Too much, as it turned out! The light rain made the rails slick so the train was unable to get enough traction to climb the 700 feet rise to Blaenau Ffestiniog. At the Minffordd Station, it was announced that we would be waiting for assistance. Thankfully we had interesting people in the train car with us so time passed quickly as we chatted with them. Finally a little workhorse of an engine named "Criccieth Castle" arrived on the scene, was placed behind the Double-Fairlee and away we chugged. Through villages, past farms and tranquil pastures, through forests and past streams with waterfalls, over bridges and trestles, and through a couple of tunnels chugged the little train. A Steward took orders for drinks, cakes, biscuits or confectionery. Because of the wait for the auxiliary engine, the stop in Blaenau Ffestinog was a short one. We were running an hour behind schedule. Soon we were making the return trip. It was a fun time and well worth making the trip.
To further add to our "slate" experience, we had hoped to visit the Llechwedd Slate Caverns near Blaenau Ffestiniog where visitors can travel along the 1846 miner's Tramway or descend into the Deep Mine where Llechwedd slate was first discovered. However, due to our other adventures taking longer than anticipated, we did not get there. Instead we spent our third day in Wales visiting Harlech Castle, touring Snowdonia National Park and going into Caernarfon. As we repeated so often when we found that we didn't have enough time to do everything we'd like on this four week trip, "Next Time!" At least we now had finished all the confluences along the 53rd Latitude except for the one off the eastern shore.
Now on to 51°N 0°.