I’m quite fond of big adventures and physical challenges, so when my best friend suggested I joined a trip to Borneo to climb Mt. Kinabalu, I immediately said yes. The whole travel group had been quite busy planning this adventure when it dawned on us: we had to train.
It might seem obvious, right? No matter how popular the hike is, Mt. Kinabalu is still over 4000m tall and not an easy fit. Determined to get fitter and ready for our epic climb, I managed to convince my friend to venture into Snowdonia, Wales, and climb Mt. Snowden – aka the tallest peak in Wales.
I love Wales. It’s a corner of the UK that I only discovered very recently and that has enamoured every single cell of my body. Compared to the uncontrollable wilderness of Scotland and rolling hills of Southern England (I haven’t been to the North, yet), Wales almost feels like that teenage sister that no one quite understands but loves unconditionally. The countryside feels raw and explosive, the villages are beautiful and everyone I’ve met there or from there has been a blast.
Excited to come back to such a wonderful area of the world, I planned the trip like I usually do – with loads of room for surprises.
Discovering Lake Vrynwy
We chose to stay in a hotel in Lake Vrynwy, picked for its spectacular views, proximity to the main road and the spa facilities. I had not read on this particular lake, so what I found upon arrival delighted me and my friend beyond any expectations.
Lake Vrynwy is an artificial lake. It was built in the late 19th century to provide fresh water to the blossoming city of Liverpool, drowning the village of Llanwddyn in the process. After it was finished, it became a hunting and fishing playground for the Victorians although now it’s one of the largest artificial nature reservoirs in Europe.
The dam is beautifully designed, and to the untrained eye (or poorly read tourist), it would seem like it was built to complement the fairy-tale tower overlooking the lake. The tower is, in fact, the straining tower – where the fresh water enters the aqueduct to be served to the nearing cities. It’s off-limits to the public, but makes for dreamy pictures and sparks the imagination of any writer.
We didn’t spend that much time in the area, as we only had a weekend and we wanted to visit Snowdonia. However, we did do a short hike over the hills that absolutely took our breath away.
Conquering Mt Snowdon
Much of Wales’ countryside can be loosely related to the legend of King Arthur and his antics. Snowdon is no different. Locally known as Yr Wyddfa, the legend tells it is the tomb of Rhita Gawr (killer of kings) after being killed by Arthur.
In more recent history, Mt. Snowdon was heavily mined throughout the ages. It is no longer an active mining site, but it welcomes hundreds of visitors wanting to reach the roof of Wales. Recent statistics have estimated of 300.000 hikers make the journey to the peak each year, and this can continue to rise as the location and “3 Peak Challenge” become more popular.
Hiking up to the peak was a lot more extenuating than I expected it to be. We took one of the easiest routes – the PyG and Miner’s Track loop – and still felt the burn as we inched our way to the top.
Snowdonia is infamous for its uncontrollable weather. It’s true. By the time we reached the peak, we’d been ambushed by suffocating sun, sideways rain, hail and, of course, dense fog. We hardly got to enjoy the views as hunger and cold were driving us down to the base, however (and this is a big however), this was the best thing I’ve done so far in 2019.
I heartily encourage anyone thinking about this to take the plunge despite the bad weather and the queues to the summit. Knowing you’re at the top of a mountain is simply the best feeling ever, especially if you do so with friends.
A word of caution: don’t forget your layers and your water, and get there as early as you can!
Pit-stop at Shrewsbury
With sore legs and happy hearts, our road trip ended in Shrewsbury, back in England.
I have to be honest, I had very little expectations from Shrewsbury. I guess that having mostly visited towns nearing London, I’m not fussed when it comes to English towns and villages. Here’s my official apology to Shrewsbury, because it is a gorgeous place.
Shrewsbury is mostly known as the birthplace of Charles Darwin, and while it could be fun following his childhood footsteps in a self-guided tour, I particularly loved the local museum.
The area was inhabited since before the Romans invaded England and this tiny museum has done a fantastic job collecting remains from the colonies that were established. The town also celebrates its medieval architecture and the nightlife and public spaces are absolutely gorgeous.
Coming back home
I’m Spanish, so the UK and its countries shouldn’t really feel like home. Nonetheless, I have spent all of my adult life here so in a sense, it is.
As work commitments become more pressing and my freedom to just pack and leave diminishes, I’ve learned to appreciate local (my local) beauty. Short trips around the UK have taught me how wonderful this country is – even if the politics are heartbreaking.
Avid travellers and tourists can often fall into the trap of underestimating their birthplace or place of residence. I urge you not to make this mistake. Love your town. Love your country and its history, the folklore, nature… And if you find something cool, make sure you share.