The 14(-8) Peaks

August 13th– This shall ever be remembered as a day of great victory in the battle against the Welsh Weather. On a tip from Elise we red rover-ed it to Llanddwyn Island in Angelsey for a day at the most beautiful beach in Wales. Granted, it was so windy and cold I ended up wearing 2 jackets and gloves during our time there, but it was SUNNY! On the horizon, the shimmering sea met the blue outlines of the mountains of Snowdonia. I couldn’t help gazing at their lovely contours, but nevertheless I was glad to have a safe distance between myself and these mountains, that had lured me and then betrayed me time after time. And the clouds and rain that engulfed them reminded me of their treachery and made me all the more thankful for the glorious rays we were currently savouring.

The pursuit of sunshine brought us to Llanddwyn Island

The pursuit of sunshine brought us to Llanddwyn Island

It really is one of the most amazing places on the planet. You’ve got beach & mountains, forests & meadows, sea & sunshine, rolling hills & steep cliffs. I figure once global warming gets worse and it’s actually warm enough to swim in the sea, it will be virtually perfect. (Just kidding, you environmental wacos, I’m against climate change, too.) LLanddwyn Island is also called “Lover’s Island” though it doesn’t seem a very apt name considering the story behind it. Basically the engagement of this 5th Century Welsh princess to her lover went wrong (there’s various versions) and so she spent the rest of her life as a hermit on Llanddwyn Island. Happily ever after? Not quite.

But at least we enjoyed a happily ever day.

 

August 14th – Today we didn’t even give the mountains a second glace. (We saw they were covered in clouds at first glance.) So, with a vague recollection of a hill-top castle I’d see from the pier in Bangor, we set off to Penrhyn Castle. After a good hours march, mainly walking along a main road with buses whizzing by, we were about to give up hope of finding the castle when, at last, we arrived at an imposing gate in the wall. We made a day of exploring the castle and its extensive grounds, and even discovered a photography exhibit on abandoned manor houses in Wales, each of which I immediately wanted to track down and explore. Although I love visiting National Trust houses, I always find myself drawn to the closed doors and forbidden staircases. All of the roped-off rooms you can just peer into, only whet my appetite to rummage around in drawers and do some proper exploring. Perhaps I’m just hoping for the wardrobe to Narnia or the discovery of a secret passageway.

 

The real tragedy of Penrhyn Castle, though, is that it was funded by slaves on sugar plantations in Jamaica and underpaid Welsh slate miners. Let’s face it, most luxurious and extravagant items only exist because of vast inequalities in the world. It’s easy to scold those who built castles on riches from slave labour, but how many of us are perpetuate injustice (and perhaps even modern day slavery) because of our desire for inexpensive clothes and coffee? Few of us would knowingly do this, but often we prefer consumer ignorance. Besides, the lives of West Africans working in coco plantations seem so far removed from the bright lights and sleek adverts of the café downtown. And yet they’re integrally connected.

 

August 15th– When we woke up and Dan suggested we head to the Carneddau mountain range I thought he surely must be joking. But, I had to admit, the clouds seemed less protective of the mountains today, and you could even see a few peaks. So, Red Rover got us to Bethesda (where we saw Penrhyn Slate Quarry– the world’s largest and still in operation) and we began our ascent. We spied Bangor below, and Penrhyn castle, and the sea.

It was a gorgeous day and I even shed my winter coat for a while. We saw wild horses and ridiculously woolly sheep high up on the steep slopes. As we got to the third peak, the clouds got lower and lower until we were amongst them and it began to rain. But miraculously, the rain only lasted about 10 mins, and then the clouds, discouraged at our victories, dispersed. Once we were on the mountain ridge, the going was fairly easy and we managed to do 6 3000ft + peaks. The descent took us down a cliff heavily laden with heather. The path was treacherous, steep with loose rocks, but we didn’t mind going slowly because the view was so breathtaking. Our love affair with Snowdonia was renewed… but tragically we’d be leaving the next day.

The Pizzos vs. the Welsh Weather

August 10th– Our summer holiday officially begins!  We’re all set to spend 6 days walking & camping in Snowdonia, including climbing the 14 highest peaks in Wales. And, surprise, surprise – it’s raining! Nonetheless, kitted out in our waterproofs we courageously hit the trail – or should I say waterfall? Soon we’re sopping wet and virtually the only people on the trail, but we’re optimistic for sunshine. (Oh, how naïve we were!) The harsh wind drives the rain against our faces like needles. Thousands of tiny rushing waterfalls have appeared across the mountainside, efficiently delivering gallons of water to the basin bellow… the same basin where we plan to pitch our tent that night. In the end, the swampish campsites and our soggy toes convince us to take an escape route and hitch hike it back to Beddgelert. I can practically hear the wood-burning stove and tumble dryer beckoning us back to the house. Angharad’s not home so we’re locked out of the house, but we enjoy a candlelit dinner in the infamous pod. Pizzos 0 – Weather 1.

August 11th–  Dan wakes up ranting and raving about British weather. I definitely agree we should boycott the weather. It’s still raining and the forecast is not looking good. We’re both gripped with terrible indecisiveness. In the end, since our Wales plans involve being in the outdoors non-stop and it looks like it may rain non-stop, we reluctantly decide for Haddenham. Pizzos 0 – Weather 2.

Catching a bus to the train station in Bangor we’re advised to buy “Red Rover” passes, completely unaware what a momentous purchase it will turn out to be.

As the bus winds through the majestic Welsh mountains, we feel unable to say good-bye. It’s all ending much too soon, like a teenage summer romance. And to really twist the knife in our hearts, the clouds begin to part to reveal a dancing sun. By the time we reach Bangor and realize it’ll cost £100 to get home, all yesterday’s mountain misery is forgotten. We’re gagging to get back. Only now we’ve got our roller suitcase with us, not exactly a mountaineer’s BFF.

Suddenly I remember Angharad’s friends Elise & Hefan live in Bangor… maybe we can stash our suitcase w/them! Next thing I know, Elise picks us up, nonchalantly says they’ve an empty house we can stay at, takes us there to drop off extra luggage, and then drives us back to the mountains. What a super-star! Pizzos 1 – Weather 2.

Of course, the closer we get to the mountains the worse the weather becomes. This time my boots stayed dry… for the first 15 minutes, at which point I step in a bog.  After a fairly short hike we decide to set up camp because hovering on the horizon ahead are low clouds and our arch enemy, Mr. Rain, who arrives on the scene right after we withdraw to the shelter of our HUBBA HUBBA tent. (Yes, our tent is really called that.) Pizzos 2 – Weather 2.

August 12th – What should awake us in the morning but the lovely pitter-pater of rain drops on our tent. Thankfully the rain stopped and we enjoyed a steep scramble up a nearby hill whose spectacular views once again convinced us that regardless of the weather, we would climb the 14 peaks as planned. And then the deluge began again and down the mountain we marched. Red rover got us back to Bangor (& sunshine) and we went off to explore the city. Pizzos 2 – Weather 3.

Not so surprisingly, it started to rain again just as we were due to begin our picnic on the pier. The rain nearly drove us to throw ourselves into the Menai straight below, but a covered gazebo at the end of the pier was our salvation. And after lunch the sun came out in all it’s glory and a flock of colourful sail boats came down along the river, as if to personally encourage us in our battle against the Welsh weather.

Pizzos 3 – Weather 3.

A Wale of a time

Our holiday in Wales didn’t go according to plan in the slightest. But it was still fabulous. Big G provided spectacularly. So much to say but first I’ll whet your appetite with some pics!
Beddgelert Rocks. Reason #1 - Authentic Italian gelato!

Beddgelert Rocks. Reason #1 - Authentic Italian gelato!

Beach or mountains? How about both!

Beach or mountains? How about both!

 

Once global warming gets worse & the temperatures rise, this will be heaven
Once global warming gets worse & the temperatures rise, this will be heaven
J u m p

J u m p

 

The castle bog plants will protect us from the Welsh weather down to their last leaf

The castle bog plants will protect us from the Welsh weather down to their last leaf

 

 

In the mountains at last!

 

Dizzying descent down a vertical carpet of heather

Welsh musings

Even though we’d already been in Wales a week and a half, I experienced culture shock upon our arrival at the Eisteddfod in Cardiff. Practically everyone spoke Welsh & all the signs were in Welsh (thankfully there were stick figures as well, but Dan doubted his stick figure interpretation skills after 2 girls walked in on him showering). I suppose all the Welsh shouldn’t be that surprising since the Eisteddfod is a festival that celebrates Welsh culture & language, except for the fact that 79% of the Welsh population don’t speak Welsh. But I’ll leave it to Ali G to properly introduce you to Wales:

At Y Gorlan, a cafe open 24-7 to provide spiritual & physical food to festival goers, we got to flip burgers, chat w/drunk students and “pimp my pot noodle.” We also got to explore Cardiff, one area of which totally reminded me of DC… until I spied a 2000 year old castle. We also went to a Cerys Matthews gig, where some drunk lads taught me an old Welsh hymn.

Spiritually, Wales is seeped in religious history and culture, but faith has little impact on daily living. All across Wales there are empty and dilapidated chapels, and those still open have only a handful of elderly attendees. The last big revivals in Wales took place in the early 1900s and to accommodate burgeoning congregations hundreds of chapels were built. But then a lack of discipleship, the devastation of WWI and the rise of secularization meant Christianity in Wales became more about morality and rules. And so, sick of legalism and hypocrisy, the teens of the 70s left church en masse, and few have returned.

Hearing this anaylsis from Rhys, our wonderful host, made me think of the situation in my home country. The large sector of Christians in the US concerned primarily with rules and a narrow spectrum of moral issues (since when were poverty and war no longer moral issues?) reminds me of the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. I don’t see the postmodern generation buying into it, and I can’t say I blame them.

In the land of lambs, leeks and daffodils

Yes, that’s right, we’re in Wales. No, we’re not wale riding, Wales the country. (Geography lesson: The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as Britain or the UK, consists of 4 separate countries – England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.) Leeks and daffodils are both Welsh emblems and there’s even a £1 coin with a leek on it to represent Wales.

Wales has been under British control since 1283 and since then the “Prince of Wales” has been English. There have also been many attempts throughout history to Anglicize the Welsh, especially discouraging them from speaking Welsh. But the language and the culture have survived, and in 1967 the Welsh language was finally legally made on-par with English. However only 21% of the population of Wales speaks or reads Welsh.

Most people know Charlotte Church is Welsh, but Shirley Bassey also grew up in Wales and the Maniac Street Preachers and Stereophonics are also Welsh. More Welsh claims to fame: Laura Ashley was Welsh, as was the person who invented the + and = symbols. There’s also a Welsh community in Patagonia, Argentina. And there’s evidence that the Welsh discovered North America in the 1100s. Yes, really.

So, what are we doing in this amazing country? Well, we’re with 3 other teammates (the other 1/2 of the team is in Amsterdam) working alongside local churches, praying and providing practical assistance. Right now we’re in Beddgalert, the village our housemate Angharad grew up in. It’s in Snowdonia, has charming stone houses, a river with a fun bridge jump and we’ve had legit summer weather. Plus Angharad’s dad’s house is an interior designer’s dream. It’s really funky and hip. Tonight we’re sleeping in the “pod” in his garden and tomorrow we’re climbing Snowdon! Yipee! Or should I say: Bendigedig!