We just wrapped up our midterm break which was from August 3rd-6th, and I was one of the many students who decided to use this time for some extra traveling. Dylan, James, and I wanted to see a more rural part of the UK by bike. On Saturday morning, we stuffed our backpacks, grabbed our bikes, and boarded a train for northern Wales. Once we arrived in Bangor, James and Dylan immediately started the 17-mile bike ride to our Airbnb, while Drew and I hopped on a bus to find someone who would rent us bikes for the next few days.
Biking in northern Wales is an incredible experience. The towns are the perfect distance apart, with it usually taking no more than an hour to get from one to another. The rolling hills are peppered with jagged cliffs, old shale buildings, and many herds of sheep. Sheep really are everywhere in Wales; when you’re biking at 40+ mph and see a sheep crossing sign, there’s a very good chance you’ll find yourself staring down a sheep in the middle the road just around the corner.
The next day, we set off for the main attraction of this trip: a hike to the top of Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales at 3,560ft. There are several ways to reach the summit, and we chose a route called Watkin’s path. It has the highest elevation gain and is described as the “most demanding” hike to the summit. However, it is also considered the most beautiful. Hopefully the images I attached manage to convey some of the incredible atmosphere.
Unfortunately, it was a heavily overcast day. So, as we climbed into the clouds, our visibility plummeted. The last portion is also when the trail becomes steepest, and we found ourselves moving in a dream-like haze as we crawled, nearly blind, up the final 700 feet to the summit. With no way to discern how far we were from the top or how quickly we were making progress, I could feel our enthusiasm evaporating into the mist surrounding us. I will admit that I was just about to suggest turning around when we quite literally bumped into the visitor’s center.
Yeah, there’s a visitor’s center at the top of Snowdon, and it might be the most surreal part of the entire experience. We heard a faint sound of laughter, and then the looming shape of a building started to become visible in the fog. After having spent the entire hike seeing very few people, it was jarring to stumble into a packed building complete with a gift shop and café. Drew is still bummed that he didn’t buy an Oggie, which is a local pastry dish filled with potatoes, leeks, and beef. Apparently, the top of Snowdon is one of a select few locations that sells them.
The visitor’s center exists because, of the many ways up the mountain, one of them is the Snowdon Mountain Railway. It is a tiny passenger train that has carried people to and from the summit since 1896. From studying the people around us who were noticeably less soaked than ourselves and were drinking bottles of pale ale, it became apparent that most people only hike one way (at most) and take the train in the other direction. Of course, we had to go back for our bikes, so a train to the opposite side of the mountain wasn’t an option. We re-entered the mist and cautiously made our way down. It had taken us about three hours to reach the summit, and it took us roughly two to descend. With our legs already on the brink of exhaustion, we clambered back onto our bikes for the 13-mile ride home.
We spent our last two days in Wales nursing our very sore legs back to health and making shorter bike trips into nearby areas. Despite being very demanding, this trip was some of the most fun I’ve had in a long time, and it was a great change of pace from the classroom. I started writing this post while on the train back to Cambridge, but as of now we have settled into our dorm rooms where we will live for the rest of the program. Here’s to the next chapter, and thanks for reading!