I buried my hands in my trouser pockets. It was cold away from the campfire. I could have stayed by the warmth and light of the flames but I wanted some time to myself, to gaze at the hill behind our tents and my new friends chatting and laughing around the fire. There was an odd familiarity to it.
A few hours earlier I had put up my tent, my hands finding the holes for the poles automatically and tidying each item to its place inside my nylon home without my brain having to think. It had been three months since I last used this tent but I had not forgotten the routine of it.
I was cold but I was smiling. It was October and this was Wales. I was meant to be cold and layered up. I closed my eyes for an instant and listened. There was no subtle traffic, not even in the distance. There was no TV or radio. There was only the crackling of the fires, people talking and laughing all around, and behind my eyelids, light flickering unevenly. I walked back to the campfire and sat by its warmth for a while longer.
I awoke to the sound of rain falling on my tent and grinned to myself as the memories of Portugal flooded back into the forefront of my mind. I opened the zip to assess how bad the rain was. It wasn’t a downpour. I peered at the field, my fellow bloggers hidden in their tents still or wrapped in waterproof on their way to the toilet block. It was early, so I remained cocooned in my sleeping bag and went about preparing breakfast. Gradually people began to emerge from their shelter, the rain keeping none of us hiding. We hovered around our tents, greeting each other and the newcomers we hadn’t met yet. And before long, Ross and Craig from Climb Snowdon arrived at the campsite. They were accompanied by Tryfan and Nia from Mud and Routes who had kindly paid for the campsite. They were going to walk with us, chatting, snapping photos, and catching our breathe while Ross and Craig told us stories of legends and gin while leading us up Snowdon.
We geared up, climbed into cars, and drove to a parking lot at the start of the trail. Backpacks on we dutifully followed our guides on the gentle incline of the mountain. It was easy-going and words flowed between us all, people gliding through the group effortlessly. Ross stopped to tell us the story of the floating island where a young man had disappeared with the fairies long ago. We couldn’t quite see it yet but it was easy to imagine fairies living in the nooks and crannies of those hills, hidden between the rocks and long blades of grass.
We veered left at a crossroad, leaving the well trodden path for another route through old quarries and slates covered footpaths. Feet and walking poles clicked against the rock, giving rhythm to our steps. We kept ascending, the group gradually spreading between the fastest and the slowest before rejoining for breaks.
The views became wider and more spectacular. Lakes, peaks, and clouds filled our vision until our eyes met with the sea in the far off distance on one side and the endless undulation of hills on the other. I snapped photos, not quite believing I was here. I had seen documentaries on the BBC about Wales, about Snowdonia and it had looked exactly like what I was seeing. But from the comfort of my flat in London, it had never felt quite possible that those sceneries could exist in the UK. This was a land wilder than the one I know so well, were people are scarce and the weather dangerous. It was exhilarating to be here, to be climbing a mountain, and to be part of this landscape.
The path narrowed and we found ourselves scrambling to the ridge. My brain pictured the holds of a climbing wall, thinking three moves ahead, and always keeping my body balanced in a triangular shape. I was almost disappointed when I was able to make progress with my feet only. I had missed the intense focus, the narrowing of my world, and the hyper awareness of my body that climbing brings.
Up on the ridge, the weather got colder and I put on gloves as we stopped for another snack between the clouds. The wind picked up, chanting its monotone chorus into our ears, and making clouds dance around us. Sometimes all we could see were the bright colours of our waterproof gear against a world of mist. Details would catch my eyes, their shapes and textures as immersive as the wider landscape.
We walked on, other people going past us until we reached the crowded area of the café and summit. We queued for a photo at the top where I found the highest and busiest trig point I had ever seen. We relaxed and I felt again like this was not really a mountain. Having grown up in France my point of references are the Alps and the Pyrénées, their highest peaks four or three times higher than Snowdon. Finding a peak where oxygen was still plentiful and where snow didn’t linger all year round didn’t quite feel like a mountain peak. But I shook the idea from my head, remembering cycling the mountains of Spain and Portugal. I had never quite reached a height like Snowdon and yet the peaks had felt like mountains then, my legs and lungs burning as I wheeled my way up. I laughed at myself. Mountains were declared such by government bodies and geography measurements. They were not measured by exertion and personal feelings.
I crunched my teeth in a cold apple and followed the rest of the group on the path down the mountainside. We amble along large tracks, the rocks of the top and slates of the ascend long forgotten. Grass surrounded us in a show of autumn colours, Snowdon determined to put on its best coat to wave us back to the cars. Smiling, proud of ourselves, and eager to get back to the campsites for a taste of local gin, we clambered into the cars and drove back to our tents.
Chris from Snowdonia Distillery was waiting for us. Muddy boots and sweaty bodies, we all gathered into Camping With Style bell tent to listen to Chris passion for gin and Snowdonia. I had never thought much of this drink before. I’d had a few gin and tonics at friends’ houses but had never felt the need to buy one. But I had seen juniper and I had seen the gorse flowers that day. I had seen heather flowers in the past and I had walked up Snowdon, feeling the wind on my face, tasting the rain on my lips, and smelling the dampness of the air. So when Chris handed up small bottle of his Yellow Label production, it felt like drinking the essence of the mountains. The alcohol warmed my throat and hit my taste buds instantly before releasing an array of floral notes on my palate. If this was gin, then I liked gin.
Chris, Ross, Craig, and Nia eventually left us, their homes and families waiting for them. We spread out in the campsite attending to our grubby appearances and grumbling stomachs. A fire was built and brought us all back together. We sat on camping chairs or the ground, we devoured pizzas and camping stove cooked food, words shared slowly between us. We were tired and relaxed. Helen from Camping Tails emerged from her lotus tent with a treasure of booklets in her hands and began to sing, her voice sending us travelling back to the legends we had heard and a world were we didn’t need TVs and our phones. The moon shone behind the clouds and little by little we disappeared into our tents, a contented sleep waiting us all.
In the morning, rain was falling again, and the plan to run 5k was quickly abandoned. Instead we helped each other pack, we hugged goodbye with smiles on our faces and promises to see each other again. Soon there was only a handful of us left. We hopped in kayaks and went to explore the stream and lake. This was my third time in a kayak, the motion of the paddle and the boat growing familiar and known to my body. We glided on the stream, its flow calm and sheltered before venturing into the lake, its water at the mercy of the wind. My arms ached as my muscles tensed to battle the choppy waves to get back to shore. I stepped out of the boat and handed back the paddle almost reluctantly. There was nowhere to go and it was time to leave. A train was waiting to take me back home.
I stuffed my backpack with my gear, placed it into Jenni’s car, closed the passenger door, and we drove away. The mountains began to shrink as we neared the coast before flattening out completely, their presence a vivid memory into our body and mind.
I waved goodbye to Jenni, walked to the station with Daniela and Christian before parting ways with them as I hopped into my train. I found an empty seat, closed my eyes to let the memories and feelings of the week-end submerge me. And I made myself the promise to stay curious and keep exploring the countryside of my new home.
Attending bloggers (let me know if I have forgotten anyone. I hope not…) were Jenni from The Thrifty Magpies Nest, Zoe from Splodz Blogz, Tryfan and Nia from Mud and Routes (our camping sponsors), Shell from Camping With Style, Ben from The Water Boy, Catherine from Muddy Mam, Katy from Katyish, Lucy from Paddle Pedal Pace, Cristian and Daniela from Go Straight Ahead, Chelsea from Loving Life In Wellies, and Cerys from Mascara and Mud.