I first wrote a version of this for my blog in December 2015, after returning to Wales from an ice climbing trip in Canada. I've edited and added to the original, and given everything going on at the moment, I thought it fits the mood, or at least, my mood, well.
Entering Betws y Coed, I drive across Thomas Telford's Waterloo Bridge - ornate iron spanning the angry Afon Conway. North Wales is in the grip of rain. It's a few days before Christmas, and the town has swaying threads of colourful lights; a green, red, blue blur through my wet windscreen. Wrapped against the cold and rain, people walk along the pavement avoiding puddles rippled by the wind. On my left, Caffi Caban y Pair - damp hewn stone with small white framed windows and a red neon coffee sign. It's impossible not to imagine myself sat warm and comfortable in-front of flickering flames. A sleety squall hits the van, shocking me from my reverie. The wet pavement, the gritty road, glitter-sprayed windows, imitation snow-sprayed windows, umbrellas, Gore-Tex jackets – they all run with rain.
I drive past the Swallow Falls Hotel and Cobden's Falls Hotel. The Afon Llugwy on my left is insistent - churning brown rages creamy white and the saturated moss on the bank glows green. Plas y Brenin, the national mountaineering centre, looks deserted, almost post-apocalyptic and the open road beyond, is strafed with clouds of spray blowing from Llynnau Mymbyr's surface. I turn at the Pen y Gwryd hotel and drive over Pen y Pass. Buffeted by the wind, coasting down the Llanberis Pass; Scimitar Ridge, Dinas Cromlech, Carreg Wastad, Clogwyn y Grochan, they are all up there somewhere, somewhere amongst the dark and the rain and the cloud. Craig Ddu, almost roadside, I remember as a tightly wrapped frozen present back on Christmas Day, 2010, when Tim Neill, Ray Wood and I climbed a route called Terminator. Today it's a waterfall.
On Christmas Day, I run from the centre of Waunfawr. Up through the sodden fields of grass, marsh and turnips. The cows stand shank deep in mud. Towards Moel Eilio, I jog a river that was once a road, and I stumble through a lake that used to be a track. Moel Eilio is a rain thrashed whaleback amongst cloud. The fir trees bordering the track bow in the wind. The wind catches slate edges and whistles. A wood pigeon lifts from the firs; belly mauve and puffed, wings clattering. Reaching the metal gate on the exposed Bwlch y Groes, the gale, plays a digeridoo through the galvanized bars. Two in the afternoon, Christmas Day was done.
Boxing Day was wetter still. After three attempts and two flooded roads, I arrive at Ynys Ettwys - Hetty's Island - how apt the name given to the Climbers Club Hut in the Llanberis Pass. I drive over the humpback bridge, below Afon Nant Peris is in full flow. No dipper, no heron, no grey wagtail. I park on washed away gravel beneath fizzling electric cables. Sheep huddle under the hut windows.
Later, I reverse the journey from a few days earlier, before turning left at Capel Curig. The weather report that morning had said the December rainfall for Capel Curig had been over 1,000mm. Travelling along Ogwen Valley, past the grey Rhyolite of Tryfan North Ridge and the un-lit Ogwen Cottage outdoor centre. Past creaking Scots pine, over the bridge that hides another bridge and onto the Nant Ffrancon. The van's headlights penetrate the dark, lighting the stone wall, brown water sprays through its cracks. I could be the last person left alive on this drowning landscape. Not another car, a raven or dog walker. Nant Ffrancon is a perfect example of a glaciated valley, wide and semi-circular, but today it's a full gutter. The valley base, its marshy fields, the small roads bordered by standing slate fingers and its hedges are gasping for air. I indicate before pulling into a layby and take a minute to look out across the floods. At some time in the future, this water will end up in the sea and the land will breathe again. But not yet. And for the time, all I can do, is sit and dream of dry.
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