For a city, Manchester is one of the best locations in the country for the outdoors. Wales and the Lake District are less than two hours away, the Peak District less than an hour, and Scotland is a manageable distance rather than a major expedition. Because of this (it must be so) there’s an abundance of outdoor shops here: Ellis Brigham, Cotswold, North Face, Snow and Rock, Milletts, Blacks, and about two years ago Go Outdoors opened another branch in Manchester which is contrary to UK economic gloom. I don’t like Manchester but I do like where it’s situated.
There are several good trips you can undertake in a day without too much difficulty: you can walk at Kentmere, Edale, and the Eigeau area below the Welsh Carneddau. I went to Eigeau recently which was my first camping trip since the Pyrenees. I felt rather like the character in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick:
Call me Ishmael. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats of – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.
Indeed. Call me James. I’ve never felt any particular love for the sea, and I get sick on boats, but I know how Ishmael was feeling. Mountains are a fine way to drive off the spleen and the temptation to knock off an innocent person’s hat. Several days or a week or two in the hills is the staple diet but a quick snack is also worthwhile. I can get to Cwm Eigeau in about an hour twenty minutes, slightly less time than it takes to get to Kentmere. Here’s the view you get towards the sea:
It’s a fine area which is easily overlooked, before you get to Betwys Coed and then the obvious attractions of Snowdonia. There’s a large and convenient parking area at the head of the valley, reached after a drive down a long remote track which can make you think of Scotland. Then the path on the right hand side leads across gently rolling hills with views back to the Conwy estuary and the sea. Very pleasant. This is my second such trip and I was interested in having dinner and sleeping in the hills as much as walking. The point was to be there and breathe clean air, in peace and quiet, so I wouldn’t get into trouble with hats and other people in the street.
The track passes into a pretty valley with a river at the bottom which offers good places for pitching a tent. My route however was down into the valley and then a climb up the hillside at the end, to sleep on the plateau below Foel Grach. This is what I’d done two years previously, enjoying a lovely evening and then sunbathing the next morning after breakfast before setting off. This time however the wind had picked up, the sunlight had gone, and I decided to camp at Llyn Dulyn in the valley. A small back packing tent was at the outlet of the lake and a few minutes later I saw another tent with a man and his young son sitting beside a stove. I spoke with them briefly and they’d come down from the top that day where it was as windy as the valley: not more so, and it wasn’t too bad, but if it got worse I could be in trouble.
I heaved off my rucksack and pulled out my trusty Tarptent for the night, enjoying soup and a potato based meal left over from the night before. Carrying heavy food is of no consequence if it’s just for one night and I’d got rather sick of my inedible baguette diet in the Pyrenees. When I got back, and discussed this trip with my Mum, I decided I will do this again with even more luxurious fare: a slice of cheese, a piece of fruit, and basically as nice a meal as I can think of as a pleasurable component of the trip. I’ve never done that before; I’m always stoic and frugal with what I carry and eat but – as with my Pyrenees trip – this means you suffer.
After I’d eaten I gazed up at the star studded sky and reflected on the regrettable fact of light pollution and how just a short drive gets you away from it. As with all connection with nature – earth under our feet, the burble of streams – we are also bereft of stars.
My pitch was insecure but adequate, I felt, for the night. In fact the wind became very strong, tearing up the pegs and battering my three season tent so I had to climb out into the night to fasten it down again, and then found it difficult to sleep. The next morning I found one of the pegs had been whipped into the air twenty feet away to land beside the lake which must have been – I realised – the pinging sound I had heard as it struck the rocks. The sky was full of milky sunshine which was pleasant, but over leisurely breakfast the light disappeared and was replaced by British grey. I set off to climb up to the plateau and then the Carneddau, but the skies continued to darken and the wind at the top was ferocious: if I’d camped there I would been compelled to retreat down again at two or three in the morning; my tent, lightweight as it is, is not suitable for high winds.
I wandered the plateau a little considering my plan for the day, but then a mass of black sky moved closer and I realised it was only going to get worse. It wasn’t too bad if you were being stoic and wanted to bag a peak (bah humbug) but it wasn’t pleasant, as such.
I decided therefore to retreat back down the way I’d come, not bothered that I’d only walked for a few hours in total. The point was, I’d slept in the hills which makes for a reasonable period of time outdoors. I wanted to be there, which didn’t necessarily mean walking there for any length of time.
I tried to find a curry lunch in Llandudno but there seems no such facility, so I had chips and mushy peas instead before driving back to the city. A nice little break. I’ll need another, no doubt, when I feel tempted to knock off a stranger’s hat.