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Friday, July 15, 2016

A Love Letter To The British Countryside: Beddgelert, Wales

I was going to publish this post Friday three weeks ago, but then the Brexit happened and I was feeling all the feels and writing a lighthearted post about my trip to Wales just didn’t feel right. I have always wanted to live in the UK for at least a few years and so I naturally worry what the Brexit will mean for both my future and the future of Europe as a whole. Not that I get to complain – my plight is nothing in comparison to the uncertainty that those that have already built a life in the UK must be feeling. But while I’m not pessimistic enough to believe that the Brexit is going to lead Britain to its ultimate doom and hope that the country will not become some sort of of closed-off enclave that will allow zero immigration in the future, I think no one can deny that many things are uncertain right now.

One thing I don’t feel uncertain about, though, is that the British countryside is still one of the most beautiful places on earth – and so I wanted to share yet another Welsh adventure with you all!

Rain & A Change Of Plans

Our original plan for our second day in Wales had been to go on a proper mountain hike, but when the weather forecast promised heavy rains and uncomfortable temperatures on seemingly every mountain top in proximity, we thought better of it and decided to go on a more leisurely walk in Beddgelert instead. Beddgelert is a small village right in the heart of Snowdonia National Park and often hailed one of the most beautiful (man-made) places in the region. I was looking forward to seeing lots of adorable countryside cottages and getting a closer look at the mountains that we had only seen from afar until then and despite the gloomy sky that greeted us in the morning, we were positive that we were going to have a great day.

It took us about an hour and a half to get to Beddgelert from Betws-Y-Coed by bus, but it was time well-spent: We got our first proper glimpse of Snowdonia through the windows of that bus - the only other passengers brave hikers on the way to Snowdon, the highest mountain in England and Wales - and while it was hard to make out the shapes of the mountains in the fog that was crowding the valleys, the promise of what lay behind the covers of rain was enough to make my heart race with excitement. Even along one of the main roads in Snowdonia, the landscape looked lonesome and forelorn, yet impossibly striking because of this solitude and I had to remind myself that I was still in Great Britain, barely a two hour flight away from home, and not some remote and far-off place that required days to get to.

We had looked up a few different paths online, but felt unsure of their suitability because of the rain and so we headed to the local tourism office as soon as we arrived in Beddgelert to get some advice. In my experience, tourism offices tend to be a bit of a hit and miss affair, but everytime we went into one in Wales, we were met by enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff who were eager to help us out and so, equipped with a walking recommendation by the friendly older gentleman working at the office, we soon found ourselves on the way to a nearby hamlet called Rhyd Ddu.

A Love Letter To The British Countryside

I have proclaimed my love for the British countryside many times already, but I don’t think I will ever tire of saying that I cannot imagine ever finding another place on earth that I find quite as perfect. Everytime I travel across the channel, I am beyond amazed just how exquisite the landscape is. Whether it’s the islands of Scotland, the rolling hills of England or the rugged mountains of Wales: The landscape in Great Britain is grand and wild, yet humble and accessible, and never fails to spark my imagination.

Growing up as an avid reader, many of the novels that shaped my childhood and teenage years and in extension the person I am today, took place in the British countryside and so everytime I visit I cannot help, but to think of the Famous Five spending their summers at the Cornish coast, Elizabeth Bennet walking to Netherfield or Harry, Ron and Hermione hunting for Horcruxes. Despite the influence that humans have undoubtedly had on the landscape, the British countryside seems to have retained an air of wilderness that I haven’t encountered in many other places in Europe – really, only Norway and Iceland come to mind – and I have found that to be especially true in the pristine and untouched mountains of Snowdonia.

Our walk lead us through a beautiful valley framed by towering mountains that would have looked impressive any day, but in the rain the landscape seemed to exude an atmosphere that felt especially mysterious and made us feel as if we had stepped into the setting of a fantasy novel. I wouldn’t have been surprised if we had suddenly spotted an elf behind one of the trees or seen a group of trolls huddled around a fire, but the train whistle that occasionally blew in the distance did its best to remind me that it was only my mind that had drifted away to Middle Earth, while my feet were still firmly in our modern day world.

The grazing sheep dotting the fields along our path were unfaced by the rain that seemed to grow more torrential by the minute, but we soon found it hard to look farther ahead than one hundred feet and realized that we head greatly underestimated the Welsh climate while packing for our trip. There’s a Norwegian saying that goes something along the lines of „There’s no bad weather, just bad clothes.“ and how I naively assumed that traveling to Wales without a proper pair of rain pants would be a good idea is beyond me. With little areas of forest being our only temporary shelter, our clothes were quickly completely trenched and our teeth chattering as a consequence and I would be lying if I said that this didn’t affect the experience in the least. Nonetheless, the landscape grew increasinly scenic and picturesque.

Despite the rain, the walk was very easy: There were barely any ascents and the path was well-paved and obviously looked after and on a sunny day I think it would be great option for families with little children or people that want to get closer to nature, but don’t fancy traipsing through mud and over rocks in order to do so. Here's a link to a walking description, in case you want to go on this walk yourself!

When we arrived in Rhyd Ddu, we were ecstatic to find a cozy tea room where we could warm up for a bit. The tea room was located on the ground floor of a little B & B and quite possibly the cutest and most homey eatery I have ever come across – I wish I had pictures to show you! With the chef hailing from the Netherlands, we had a hard time narrowing down just which Dutch pancakes we wanted to eat before settling on classing Poffertjes, washed down with large mugs of tea, and eventually catching the bus back to Beddgelert.

The Tale of Gelert The Dog

By the time we had arrived in Beddgelert again, the rain had started to calm down a little bit and so we took a short stroll to Gelert’s Grave, Beddgelert’s main attraction. According to local legend, Gelert had been the loyal hunting dog of a nobleman and been unjustly accused and put to death for murdering his master’s infant son, when he had actually saved the boy from a wild wolf. These days, Beddgelert is said to be named after Gelert and whether you choose to believe in this story or not, the walk along the river to his supposed grave is a lovely one. And trying to circumvent the puddles of water and mud that had inevitably formed because of the rain, we marveled at the old oak trees that lined the river’s shore and the quaint little houses that to me just seem to be a quintessential part of a British countryside village.

Because we were still wet and cold and had grown somewhat desperate for dry clothes, we decided to take an earlier bus back to Betws-Y-Coed, though, and while I wish we could have seen more of the village itself, we were glad that we at least had the opportunity to see a bit of the surrounding countryside despite of the rain. There are a few interesting paths of different levels of difficulty in the area – Mud and Routes is an amazing resource for walks and hikes all over Wales – and so I would love to go back to Beddgelert to see more of this corner of Snowdonia one day – preferably without the rain, though!

Epic Views at Pen-Y-Pass

Because there is no direct bus service from Beddgelert to Betws-Y-Coed, we had to change buses at Pen-Y-Pass, a mountain pass where a few iconic Snowdon hiking routes begin. The road from Beddgelert to Pen-Y-Pass was easily one of the most stunning drives I had ever been on: As the road made its way up into the mountains slowly and the true dimensions of the mountains became apparent, the landscape looked positively high alpine and became increasingly rocky and desolate. In the distance, we could occasionally spot little cottages and fields dotted with sheep and above all, the mighty Snowdon massive was looming over the valley. The presence of Snowdon felt menacing, yet strangely comforting at the same time and it wasn’t hard to see why Sir Edmund Hillary had chosen this part of the world to prepare for his ascent of Mount Everest.

We had some time to kill at Pen-Y-Pass before our next bus arrived and since it had finally stopped raining, the fog laying over the valleys had begun to lift and given way to some seriously mind-blowing views. We had wanted to return a few days later to do a Snowdon hike ourselves, but the soles of my walking boots broke the very next day and since we were unable to get them fixed, we had to cancel our original plans. Looking back at these pictures feels a little bittersweet therefore, but in retrospect I feel very grateful that we were at least able to spend some time admiring the incredible vistas from this viewpoint.

Travel doesn't always go to plan, but that doesn't mean you can't have a good time anyway. But, just in case, always pack those rain pants! ;)

Have you been to Snowdonia before? What were your impressions?


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