28th July – 3rd August 2014
On Monday Graham arrived back in Dublin, forty-five minutes early, thanks to a stiff Atlantic tailwind pushing the Aer Lingus flight briskly eastwards. Not bad, but since this flight thus arrives at Dublin at 0450, this means an hour or so waiting at the airport for the first 747 Airlink bus into the city.
The weather is very Northern Europe – rainy and grey. Still, there’s enough time for a coffee and a scone before boarding the bus, for the short trip into Dublin, past the tax headquarters of Yahoo Inc.
It’s a short wait at the Busaras Terminal before another service whisks a group of passengers out to Dublin Port and the Irish Ferries Terminal. A quick check-in, then finally off to secure a place on the fast ferry to Holyhead.
The ferry ploughs out into a calm Irish sea, soon overtaking the slower ferries and making into a clearing sky. The sun is out by the time the extreme northern tip of Anglesey emerges above the horizon, with the South Stack Lighthouse silhouetted against the horizon.
Soon the ship is hove to in Holyhead’s busy little harbour, and a bus takes passengers to a little terminal. There I greet our good friends and hosts Elizabeth and Martin – and – lurking behind a little door, the rest of the Sabretoothed Chickens! We’re a united team once more.
A Home from Home
A drive back to Llanfairfechan, and soon we’re among the warm comforts of home – great friends, lovely food, familiar sights, the BBC’s enthusiastic coverage of the Commonwealth games. We take a walk out on a sun-baked Bangor Pier, admire the views across the Menai Strait, watch the sun set on a far horizon. The best recovery from the jet lag of a transatlantic flight is a little rest and lots of fresh air.
On Tuesday the mountain behind the house is smothered in a wet blanket of cloud, so it’s enjoyed inside, with cups of tea, but the sun breaks through in the afternoon and the boys stroll along the beach, knocking over piles of pebbles, making footprints in the sand and collecting razor shells.
Steam and Snowdonia
On Wednesday, a special and very Welsh excursion is planned. After breakfast a picnic is packed and we all drive to Caernarfon. In the grey shadow of the mighty castle, lies the tiny but well tended northern terminus of the Welsh Highland Railway. This narrow gauge line crosses Snowdonia, linking Caernarfon with Porthmadog across the peninsula to the south.
The train, hauled by a lovingly tended steam locomotive, climbs out of Caernarfon and soon the coastal landscape gives way to green gorse clad mountains, interspersed with rocky crags and the occasional glint of a mountain stream. Snowdon itself is briefly visible through it’s semi-permanent shroud. A tea service rattles along the aisle, a moderate number of travellers admire the pleasant gradients and enjoy the merest whiff of coal-steam.
Before we know it, we are at our destination: halfway along the line, just as the train has crossed the summit and is comfortably winding down southern slop of the range, it must call at Beddgelert. Beddgelert is a sweet mountain village – a crossroads built on the confluence of two rivers, the Glasyn and the Colwyn. A local myth holds that the village is the site of the grave of Gelert, a faithful hound to a local king, who was wrongly slain when the king mistakenly assumed that the dog had turned on his infant son, only to learn the blood thus spilled belonged to a wolf which Gelert had killed in the child’s defence… Too late, the king realised his error, thereafter honouring his companion with marked grave.
The veracity of the legend notwithstanding, Beddgelert is a pleasant mountain stop, its several dark stone hotels, well-stocked shops and brimming cafes indicative of a steady stream of tourists. We enjoy a picnic in a corner of a freshly-mown meadow by a stone-riffled stream, and walk back through the village enjoying the churchyard and an ice cream on the way back to the station. Our journey home is undertaken in a restored 1850s passenger coach, a door for each compartment.
While we wait for Martin to collect us, we stroll along Caernarfon’s quayside, where children are dangling baited lines for crabs, and their parents enjoy some late afternoon sunshine. Dinner is fish and chips and mushy peas on the terrace in the lovely light of the summer evening.
Stonewalls and creaming gulls
On Thursday the seaside holiday theme continues with an afternoon spent in Conwy, enjoying the warm sun on the quayside of this ancient town as people enjoy an old-fashioned sort of a holiday. The seagulls cry, the tide slides out, the castle walls frown over the whitewashed streets. A pair of workers add another plank to the hull of the century-old Morecambe Bay Prawner Helen II, continuing a painstaking restoration.
Our time in north Wales draws to a close with a sumptuous dinner of Welsh lamb, capping a wonderfully relaxing week in the fresh air between mountain and sea.
Oldham: A town discovered, and friendship renewed
It’s back to the big smoke on Friday. In the drizzle, we flag down the ‘request stop’ train at Llanfarifechan Station, and clamber aboard. Changing at Lladudno Junction, we are whisked along to Manchester’s Piccadilly station.
Barely have we stepped off the train when we are greeted with a cheery hello by an old friend, Suzanne, who brings her son Kieran to greet our travelling band. Suzanne and Graham met years back on the backpacker trail in the vast deserts of central Australia – a place so far removed from the red brick and steel of central Manchester. But over a drink it’s like time has barely passed. We’ve all got young ones in tow, and the place for them in the city is the Museum of Science and Industry, spread over several buildings a mere tram stop or two from the city centre. By the time the four boys have had their fill of lasers, mirrors and home-made robots, the rain has cleared, and it bathes our journey out to Oldham.
Suzanne is building a life for herself and Kieran in this former industrial mill town, having trotted the globe and returned to her roots. In her home we munched on bacon butties, sipped endless cups of tea, and the boys caught up on more than a few episodes of Octonauts.
On the Saturday we visited the Oldham library, where the boys created an animation and Prunella and I enjoyed a nostalgic game of Space Invaders on a Commodore 64 in the Gallery Oldham’s “Revolution in the Bedroom” exhibition. A stroll home via Tescos, and we find ourselves among new faces – some of Suzanne’s friends have come around to share a feast of BBQ chicken and a splash of wine. The weather turns grey, but the clouds don’t cast a shadow over proceedings.
Sunday sees Graham pitching in to help Suzanne’s Mum put together some flat-pack cupboards in her new home not far away. Prunella, Suzanne and our tribe of boys head out to the park. In the evening, the boys are outside again, building a campsite in the back yard, and giving the trampoline a through workout.
It’s a great time, a chance to catch up, and a rest. On to London next week, days rushing past as we count down to the homeward leg.