Mountain Walking: Lake District Compared To Wales Wednesday June 2, 2010

It’s like returning sadly from holiday to face the daily grind, though with a difference: you start pining to be back there but in this case you can, and start planning accordingly. I’ve had three recent trips to Wales, the last of three days as opposed to two which makes a big difference. Two days and one night isn’t long enough to immerse yourself in the hills and forget the rest of life, when it involves a drive of two or three hours there and back. With the wonderful early summer weather we’ve been having, I left on Sunday for a Welsh beach afternoon and an overnight stay on a camp site, a moderate walk in the Rhinogs with a camp in the hills, and another moderate walk finishing with a few more hours on the beach. And, significantly, on my drive down through the Dolweddlyn area I noted how great the hills looked from the road, and researched the area a little on my return. It will probably be my next trip.

Hill walking is a priority of my leisure time, when the weather is satisfactory. For me, that means sunshine. I don’t really enjoy grey and gloomy days in the hills; it’s like the difference between a boring monochrome painting on your wall and a beautiful varied composition. The joyful experience of being there is the thing, but I only want to be there when it looks nice: when it’s aesthetically rewarding.

I used to pine for the Lake District, and on one occasion decided on a spontaneous day trip in the middle of a dreary winter even though the skies were grey. I took a few photographs of Rydal Water and enjoyed how it captured one aspect or mood of the scenery, visited the pleasant village of Grasmere and the second hand bookshop in particular. I just wanted to be there, even without walking. It refreshed me a little, but more as a reminder of the place I liked than a satisfactory occasion.

I’ve walked Snowdon four or five times and currently have little interest in such a busy mountain, with train loads being ferried up and down the hillside and the monstrous cafe at the top. Snowdon is the worst British peak for this, for large crowds even along the more challenging route of Crib Goch. I’ve been over the Moelwyns several times and enjoy the views across to Snowdon from their far greater quiet, and down into the green Nantgwynant valley. In the last trips I returned to the Arans for my second time, explored the Carneddau from Llyn Eigiau, and then the Rhinogs.

I’m still negotiating Wales, considering it, and starting to pine for it. Several times I’ve gazed down from the Moelwyns and compared Nantgwynant to Borrowdale, as someone suggested in a magazine. The Lake District’s Borrowdale is famously pretty, and it was intended as a surprising notion. It doesn’t quite look or feel the same and should be viewed on its own terms, but I understand the process of comparison. If mountain walking were planned like the courses of a meal I wonder if a few years in Wales would be the ideal beginning, culminating in the discovery of the Lakes: sweet following savoury. In my case it’s the other way round and making a comparison is inevitable. I’ve felt vaguely disappointed, a little unsatisfied, gazing from the Moelwyns. Tryfan is a very popular mountain; I don’t particularly like it but the surrounding area of the Glyders and Devil’s Kitchen are prime spots of Wales. Another writer said they are like the punks of Snowdonia: rough, unkempt, and brooding. You get a good impression of this not when you walk the area but from the view across to it you get from the Carneddau, especially when you see drifts of mist and fog swirling and sleeping in the hollows. It looks primeval, and that’s not something I would say about any part of the Lakes.

A few years ago I walked the Nantgwynant area for three of four days, then drove down to Dolgellau. It was my first walking excursion beyond Snowdonia, choosing Cadair Idris as the most promising climb further south. I was searching hungrily for something similar to the Lakes, and enjoyed the rear of the mountain with views across to the Arans thinking it was close to what I wanted – but only for a thirty or forty minute part of the route. My feeling was, and there’s some truth in this, the more southerly you go the less interesting the hills become. Thus the most spectacular part of Britain is the highlands of Scotland, compared to the rolling fields of Sussex and Dorset or the rocky shapes of the West Country.

I used to pine for what Griff Rhys Jones in the Mountain television series called the “pocket paradise” nature of the Lakes, the great beauty packed into its compact area. I’ve also had periods when I quite frequently enjoyed curries at favourite venues but found, eventually, I developed a memory for the taste that once established diminished the pleasure of the food. Even a break of many months didn’t change that. Maybe a year or two might, and while I think in a fundamental respect the Lake District is superior to Wales (it’s prettier) I need a change, and to discover and ponder on what Wales has to offer. It’s quieter. It’s less touristy and developed. Some of the coastal areas are great. Parts of it are relatively wild, with only vague tracks or none to follow. I’m pining for Wales.

Wales Photographs

Wales Book

Comment

  1. James my name is Robby Silk and I am amateur photographer and writer who has just started their own website. I really like your photography and how you combine it with your own words. Do you have any advice for someone getting started? If you do I would like to hear what you have to say.

    Robby Silk · Jun 3, 06:22 PM · §

  2. It’s a big subject with no clear landmarks or routes.

    Personally, I’m quite bored with the usual genre of mountain writing that merely describes a walking trip in one way or another: either a route description or an account of the day. What you see me do at my web site (recently) is rather different, interjecting and mixing with psychology, emotion, philosophy, and literary references, which blend into interesting narrative. You need to have this facility at your fingertips – you can’t construct it with any process of research, as such.

    For this genre of photography/writing (mountain walking), you need a technical ability and aesthetic feel for the former combined with literary/intellectual experience.

    Useful books in this regard are those by Robert McFarlane and Rebecca Solnit for mountains and others by Peter Berger, Willem Flusser, Susan Sontag, Roland Barthes and Mary Price for the semantics of photography. Also check out the ideas of Henri Cartier-Bresson – there’s a great book called Henri Cartier-Bresson and the Artless Art, by Jean-Pierre Montier.

    And it has to be a topic you really care about – one of the points made in another useful book, On Being A Photographer by Hurn and Jay.

    Finally, Robert Adams in Beauty in Photography borrows these criteria from novelist William James:

    What is the artist trying to do?

    Does he do it?

    Was it worth doing?

    I think it’s significant that these points come from a novelist and critic. Writer Geoff Dyer has occasionally said (I’ve read 3 of his books and been to two of his talks, one as part of my Photography MA), that photographers are not very intelligent. He meant it provocatively and not as a blanket generalisation. There’s some truth in this, if you look at the headhunting, story chasing, glamour-making fabrications of much photographic activity.

    James Lomax · Jun 13, 03:53 PM · §

 
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