Snowdon Mountain Railway

 

1. In Turner's Footsteps
2. Rack Engines
3. Spring Ascent
4. The High Ridge

 

Four: The High Ridge

 

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Our train, pausing
lonely in the mist
at the Rocky
Valley halt.
At the platform, the driver shut down the long-suffering Hunslet.  Once the echoes of engine died away, no man-made noise intruded on the high ridge.  As the guard made his way along the car to unlock our doors, we found ourselves talking in whispers if at all, our voices stilled by the omnipresent muttering of the wind. Snowdon's winds rise in the far west, out over the bay of Cardigan and the Irish Sea beyond.  Chasing their way ashore at Porthmadog or the Llyn peninsula, they gust relentlessly up the flanks of Snowdonia's high ranges, cooling and condensing as they go.  Now, on Yr Wyddfa itself, they came to us as great, fast-moving sheets of mist.  Fog and wind together made around us a landscape of whispers and sighs, a world of wind in which sound more than sight was the essential, defining element.

 

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Llanberis Pass, 1500 feet below.
Freed from the carriage, we first huddled like sheep in its lee, a little stunned perhaps by the omnipresent wind.  After taking a moment to catch our breath, several of us set out tentatively to explore the ridge.  No one wandered far, for the mist made it hard to keep one's bearings, and I think we all subconsciously feared becoming lost if we strayed too far from the train.  I soon demonstrated to myself just how sound a policy that was.  Striding forward from the carriage, I spied a slope in the ground, a seemingly gentle drop down and away. Walking on to see what lay behind this fold of earth, I suddenly froze in my footsteps.  What I had taken for a gentle slope was actually a sheer ledge: beyond it lay thin air, and an almost unbroken descent to the floor of the Llanberis pass 1500 feet below.  Pushing and prodding, the wind was chivvying me forward towards the drop; I found myself digging in my boots and carefully checking my footing.  I had stopped well short of the edge, but even so, common sense suggested a few precautionary steps further back from the brink.   Having found my footing and settled my nerves, I spent a long moment contemplating the drop-- a mesmerizing sight.  Mist sailed out and over the void, leaving a clear view down to the distant valley floor.  The fog formed a roof over the entire scene, inverting the ordinary laws of perspective: looking up, one saw only cottony mist; looking down, space and vast depth.   

       

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Stones and fog:
the loneliness and
mystery of
Snowdon.
Turning away at last, I began to make my way back towards the train.  Near the ledge and off to the right, a small knob of rock and stone reared up from the spine of the ridge, its crest and sides covered with tumbled boulders.   As the wind whipped over this garden of stone, the fog played games with the rocks, first hiding the stones and then suddenly revealing them again.  As I watched, the hair rose a bit on the back of my neck.  The swirling fog seemed to give and take, to hide and reveal, according to wild laws of its own.  It was all too easy to imagine that when the mist parted again, there would be standing a dewin, a wizard, or some other figure our of Celtic myth.  Fanciful to be sure-- but in the mists of Yr Wyddfa, one gained a sense of how such legends had come to be.

  


With a voice muted by the wind, the guard began calling us to return to the carriage the ride home.   Reluctantly Samantha and I turned away from the loneliness and the mystery of Snowdon's high ridge, and settled into our warm compartment.  The driver released the brakes, and the protesting cogs began ratcheting us down the mountain.  It was the afternoon of our last day and our last railway in Wales--the first step on our long road home. 

 


 

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All materials, images, text and presentation copyright 1998 Erik Gray Ledbetter.  See Terms of Use.