Courtney and I have been friends for four years now, and our friendship thrives on our differences. She’s nearly six feet tall, and I’m scraping in at 5’1″. She loves parties and lights and noise and bustle, and I love to be absolutely alone and hear silence ringing in my ears. And yet, despite all of this, on the Venn Diagram of our ideal holiday spots, there was one overlapping point: a cabin at the foot of a snowy mountain. And what do you know, but right on this island, there is (at least one) such place. So we surfed on to Airbnb and found the perfect spot for our January holiday: a cabin at the foot of Mount Snowdon in Snowdonia National Park, North Wales.
We are true city slickers, appalled at having to wait 15 minutes for the next bus and always expecting a corner shop nearby to be open. But we are not complete fools, and though we were enchanted by our train ride further into the mountains of North Wales, we knew that there wouldn’t be shops open on a Sunday in the village where we were staying. So after we disembarked the train in Bangor (the nearest rail point to where we were going), we did what good city girls do: we hit up the Asda. We gathered supplies and immediately headed to the water.
When we found a mountain climbing out of the water, it felt like we could breathe again. And probably, we could, because the air isn’t as pollution-drenched as in London. But also, we hadn’t seen anything yet. So we ate our Asda food and enjoyed the scenery, and as it started to drizzle, we decided to try to find the bus that would take us to the village of Llanberis on the edge of Snowdonia National Park. But as luck would have it, we were not in London, and we missed the bus by two minutes. The next one did not come in fifteen minutes. No, no. The last one of the day was due in two and a half hours. So we did what good city girls do, and we explored the High Street (apparently the longest in Wales). It was Sunday, so it was deserted, and we dreamt of writing an indie, atmospheric film with a soundtrack crafted by Dermot Kennedy. We climbed to the top of a cemetery at the edge of town to see the sun set, and then we found our bus and rode down the winding roads in the darkness to Llanberis.
When we got to Llanberis, we had very specific instructions to help us to find our cabin in the dark. And I, the experienced camper (I camped all of the time til I was, say, 9 years old. Surely some of those skills stuck?), unveiled the torch that I had packed. But it was just strong enough to reflect some eyeballs back at me, and praying that they were just sheep (Wales, right?), we turned on the torches on our phones and picked our way up the hill and through all of the gates that took us to our cabin home.
Let me just say, the cabin was breathtaking. There was a tiny kitchen, a cosy living room with a wood-burning stove, a bed tucked next to windows, and a giant shower. But also, there was darkness. So much darkness. Not a light to be seen, and by the full moon, I could see dark sheds and barns and mountains looming. And that’s not to mention the thumps and scrapes that we could hear. Beautiful, creepy mountain cabin. We watched a funny movie before bed and banned ourselves from mentioning any of the horrific stories we’d heard about moments just like this.
But in the morning, I woke up to the most beautiful scene. I left Courtney sleeping and threw my coat and boots on over my pyjamas, unpacked my ~37 cameras (read: three), and went to explore.
We were surrounded by mountains. Beautiful, sloping, care-worn mountains. There was a brook running through the property, gurgling along, and so many birds singing. In January.
When Courtney and I went out to explore the town, we discovered two things. Firstly, the eyes reflected in the torchlight were sheep. Sheep roamed freely over the drive that took us to the cabin. They also just roamed freely, full stop. They had taken over a playground, and the following day, we found them in a rubbish yard below the train tracks. Secondly, we saw that the hill we’d been climbing was actually part of the ascent of Mount Snowdon itself, which was why we’d been so out-of-breath the night before.
I loved the town of Llanberis. It reminded me of the mountain towns my grandparents used to take me to as I was growing up, except that all of the people spoke Welsh to each other and only switched to English when we showed up. I spent several weeks in the Valleys of South Wales in 2012, but I didn’t remember so many Welsh speakers back then. And thus I proceeded to whisper excitedly to Courtney, “That’s Welsh!” every time I heard it.
Another amazing part of Wales is that there are so many castles that they aren’t exactly precious. So when we hiked over to Dobaldarn Castle, there was just a sign that basically said, “Don’t be a fool,” and other than that, it was just us. We roamed around at will and got knocked over by gale-force winds (We’d read that there were high winds, but I had never before actually been picked up by the wind. But let me tell you, folks, it’s real.) just as the only other person for miles climbed the hill to the castle. Classic.
The other real gem of Llanberis, aside from the breathtaking scenery and Welsh-speakers, was Pete’s Eats. It was a local cafe below a hostel, and everyone went there from tradies to old ladies to hipsters (although we were the only discernable tourists). I got a cheeseburger for £3.45. That’s basically the same as a side of three chips in London. Shocking. And amazing. So amazing, in fact, that we went both days we were in Llanberis.
We were in Llanberis on the off-season, and we’d love to see it again in its prime. There’s a train that takes you straight to the top of Mount Snowdon (which we didn’t actually see the peak of, despite staying right on it), although I’d like to give the hike a go. And there are so many cafes and ice cream shops that weren’t open, and they all deserve a tasting and fair assessment from me. But despite all of that, the two nights that we spent in Llanberis were just what two city-girls needed.
Still, I think Courtney would have gone crazy had we stayed another day.
I made two videos of our time in Wales. The first is my take on it, complete with an ~amazing~ Instagram filter. The second is our 100% Factual Guide to the Wild, the most recent in our series of 100% Factual Guides.