Chapter four: In which we discover a silent brooding lake, walk an ancient path, think about ghosts and get a sugar rush.
From the village of Llanbedr the road winds through forests and hills for five miles gradually narrowing. This isn’t the place for a campervan and the one reverse manoeuver to let a car pass was not great fun, there are too many huge lumps of slate hidden behind the bracken and moss. But finally we arrive at a field where it says we can park beside the black brooding Llyn (Lake) Cwm Bychan.
Silence. We are alone. The sky is grey but then a band of sun tracks across the mountains like a theatre follow-spot. We lace our walking boots and look at the map book which is useless. Maybe in the height of summer this car park is full of happy tourists and the way is clear but which gate leads to the Roman Steps?
We explore and find a grassy track which gradually climbs through trees and lichen carpeted slate walls. The landscape is exceptionally beautiful and lush green but soon we leave the trees behind and tramp through heather and bleached clump grass. The colours are the palette of Harris Tweed or a Farrow and Ball paint chart. Chroma hovering near zero.
The Roman Steps are not Roman but medieval, a packhorse trade route between Bala and Harlech across the inhospitable boggy mountain of Rinog Fawr. We love this sense of history, to walk where others have journeyed for centuries. Our plan is to see the steps and then return but we want to walk more and we climb higher and higher. We have a strong sense, somewhere deep inside and unused in everyday modern life, that nature should be respected in these parts and we are glad of our stout walking boots and our waterproofs tucked in our rucksack – just in case.
After walking for an hour we sit on a cluster of large rocks and consider the view. We have brought a block of Kendal Mint Cake, a sugary confection that tastes like toothpaste if you eat it in the city but has a sublime flavour if munched on a mountainside after an uphill walk.
We have come to the Roman Steps and Rhinog Fawr because my mother walked them when she was a long distance walker and she always remembered their beauty and we ate the Kendal Mint cake because every Christmas when I was a child my Dad got a bar in his festive stocking. Just a friendly wave to others who couldn’t be with us but are in our hearts.
Having eaten, and drunk our water and contemplated going higher and then rejected the idea as we have no sandwiches and there is an hour till lunchtime, we begin to think about going down. We hear voices and five minutes later see a small group of mountain bikers with their cycles on their shoulders walking down the steps. They look slightly embarrassed as they walk past us. This is not the place for even the most ‘technical’ of mountain bike challenges.
We get up to walk down the mountain and they are nowhere to be seen, maybe they have taken another path or maybe the ghosts of ancient travellers have devoured whole their spokes and lycra… anyway we have the track to ourselves and the silence is welcome.
On our way down we see that someone has made a makeshift cairn on top of a gatepost so we add a stone and think of Barbara Hepworth sculptures, then we look across the valley at the farmhouse. There are no electric lines to the house and it’s doubtful a gas pipe would be laid through this terrain. We wonder if someone still lives there? We would usually have made up stories about the folk who live in this isolated spot but today we walk in companionable silence back to the campervan and then drive very slowly along five miles of winding, narrow track to find a pub for lunch.