We had a couple of days in Snowdonia before we put out to sea again, to continue our route north.
We got back to the boat on at the Victoria Docks in Caernarfon Friday (22nd). Ruth and Martin stayed a night with us onboard . It was lovely to have them to stay. Although it was a bit damper and colder than the last time they were with us, we were cosy aboard. On Saturday, after a hearty breakfast in an old Caernarfon pub, we set off for a walk up the paths interlacing the Dinorwic slate quarries and old oak forests above Llanberis. The ancient gnarled oak trees appeared to crawl up the hillside as we walked in the green light they cast. Black silhouettes of the searching branches and limbs wriggled 6 foot above, and parallel to the contour of the hill. An impressive wild billy goat dozed in a disused mining building. Up above the trees we could see across to the cloudy eminence that was Snowdon and its attending outriggers of Crib Goch and Clogwyn. We could also see a tiny puff of smoke from the Snowdon steam train working up the mountainside, adding a patch of grey to the soft tumbling blue cloud.
The heyday of the quarry was in the Late 19th Century it was still operating into the 1960s . Here the excavation was opencast. There is infrastructure ranging across the quarry of ramps and inclines which supported steel tracks to transport the mined stone off the hill. The inclines were all built of slate; massive and tightly packed walls supporting the little rusty tracks. Cliff faces of raw rock and man made peaks of tipped broken slate dominate this part of the mountainside. This was the second largest slate quarry in Wales, indeed in the world. The blue hue of the slate turns mauve in the damp, this colour tunes into that of the blooming heather in the distance. As we walked over the little pieces of thin broken slate on a path down from the main tracks, it tinkled like broken glass, changing sound as the size of the fragments changed. We had tea in a pub down on the road and strode back to Llanberis.
That afternoon we drove up to Capel Curig to visit our friend Denise, it was her Birthday. We had tea and birthday cake, and champagne with her and Robin her son. We all went out for a wonderful dinner in Capel Curig, just down the road from her house, extremely good food and great fun. She had us all to stay that night, we walked back in the dark and starry night, seeing our breath in the headlights of on coming cars – something Dan and I had not seen in many months!
The next day Ruth , Martin, Dan and I set off on a walk up Moel Siabod. We said cheerio to Ruth and Martin up on the hillside as they had to turn round and head back to Shropshire, at midday. It was a funny place to say goodbye. Not the usual farewell of piling into a car or boat with all the bags and boxes and packing that we usually have. Instead we were at the style on a hill side, which features in one of the Johnson’s family photos. We had such a lovely fortnight with them in Shropshire. Dan and I carried on up the bouldery shoulder of Siabod. Cloud danced over the ridge as we got to the top. It was great to be in the hills again, stomping over rock and heather. We glimpsed views into Snowdon and over to Tryfan. The cloud which burst on the summit didn’t get us too wet as we set off down the north west side back to Capel Curig. We had another night staying with Denise: warm with an open fire, wine and stories of our mutual sailing trips.
The next day Denise drove us down to Caernarfon, to Hestur. We spent a wet afternoon aboard, sorting the boat for sea and enjoying lunch aboard with Denise and her brother Ian who joined us for a visit. Our crew arrived that afternoon: John Hewlett. His parents, Lynn and Chris, drove him over to join us at Caernarfon. We had a very nice evening with them.
We caught the tide at 9 am the next morning, up the Menai Straights. It was a very bumpy sea: wind against tide. We zoomed through the “Swellies” and anchored by Menai Bridge to wait for the now (at this point on the straights) contrary tide. Then at 3 pm we carried on north. As we slipped out past Puffin Island off the north east corner of Anglesey the grey sky cleared and we sailed on a comfortable sea for the Isle of Man through a blue and sunny evening. The mountains of North Wales shone magnificently as they receded behind us. We caught sight of the distant hazy bump of the Isle of Man and had dinner before darkness fell and before the wind strengthened and the sea stirred. It was a beautiful starry night. The brisk breeze ensured we had a fairly bumpy passage. John stayed dry from the infrequent slapping waves which entertained us in the cockpit, in his waterproof all-in-one motorbike suit. A handy thing!
We arrived in Douglas at 5am on Wednesday morning. Tied up to the cranky visitors pontoon at the outside pier, we drank hot chocolate before the dawn came to life. The huge ferry which arrived shortly after we did sent a turbulent wash which tumbled us urgently, strained the lines and nearly spilt the chocolate. We had a couple of hours kip then launched out into Douglas, to a big breakfast at the nearest cafe!
For these last two weeks in August the “Classic TT” and the “Isle of Man Grand Prix” attract over 3500 motorbikes to the island annually, and quite a few boats too! The road is closed most days for racing and the streets are filled with bikes of all shapes, sizes, speeds and vintage. After our breakfast we walked up into town to see the racing.
The famous TT mountain motorbike course is a 26 mile circuit round the center of the island. It climbs up to 400 odd meters through the hills, skirting below the summit of Snaefell, the highest point on the island, and continues on through the main towns, starting in the capital: Douglas.
We heard them before we saw them as we walked up the street towards the course. When we did see them, it wasn’t for long as they screamed along the straight out of sight. One by one they flashed through the town, frighteningly fast and loud: exhilarating. We watched from the pits for a while. On lap 2 of 4, they came into refuel from the temporary gravity fed tanks, lined up in the pits like a long mobile milking parlour (operating in reverse). People in bright boiler-suits fuelled the bikes, others polished the visors of bike and helmet, then they roared off with limiters popping and impatient till they crossed the white line and fled.
The second race that day we saw from Barrdan Bridge, a mile or so from Douglas. There was a church on the corner of the course which had set up chairs in the grounds, looking over the road. The hall was serving tea and cake. Spectators, mostly clad in leathers, sat on the wooden church chairs and sedately watched the speed. The bikes cranked over on the corner, the riders nearly touching the road with their knees, pierced the afternoon and were gone, in few second intervals. After the racing the tanoy radio which issued race details and music, played the national anthem. It all seemed quite old fashioned. We wandered back into town.
The next day there was no racing so we decided to explore the island : by train. The boom time for the Isle of Mann was at the turn of the century. Douglas was a popular holiday destination as a great sea side resort. The promenade along the front was built up with grand hotels, some still operating today. Along the 2 mile stretch, horse drawn trams were installed to transport the tourists. These are still in use. Beautiful big horses ply the front daily, taking holidaymakers and delighted little children from one end to the other. Each of the horses have their names on their harnesses, we saw Mark, Ian, Philip and Rocky at work. The conductor gave me a polo mint to feed to Rocky, how many of those they must eat each day?! We saw one of them having a break and getting a walk on the beach. It was a lovely sight, the big horse with his big fluffy feet silhouetted against the sea.
We didn’t take a ride with the horses, instead we rode on the ” Electric Railway”. I was thinking maybe some sort of super speed hover-train… No, of course it was a victorian creature, not far removed from a steam locomotive ( operating in the south of the island). It shook along the little narrow gauge line like a boat in a breeze. The wooden carriage was indeed very boat like, wooden and painted panels, glass sky lights. We trundled on to Laxey. From here we “changed for Snaefell” and took similar little train up the hill, the highest point of the island. We had a view ( which didn’t look likely as it was grey when we left the boat) and tea here before slipping back down hill.
John left us here as he had a ferry to catch at 4 pm back to the mainland. Leafy Laxey “station” was another funny place to say a goodbye, removed from boat and home. Dan and I carried on for a walk up the hill behind Laxey. We stopped by the Lady Isabella: the worlds largest working waterwheel, a whopping 72 foot high. It is magnificently painted white and red and kept lazily turning. It was built to pump out a mine up the hill from it. We walked on and round a route by footpath and through fields and lanes, passing the megalithic King Orry’s grave. We took the train back to Douglas and enjoyed a pint at the Terminus pub when we disembarked.
Over the next couple of days we managed to catch the last bike race and spend a bit of time getting to know Douglas and several of its pubs and cafes before slipping out to sea again on Sunday afternoon. The yacht harbour is tidal and locked. There is a road bridge which needs to be lifted to let boats in and out, so that was fun. We caught the 13.15 lift and proceeded on up the coast. It was a glorious afternoon, sunny and almost warm.
We left the Isle of man and set out NW to the Mull of Galloway. I was thinking a lot about people who had plied these waters before, as I often do. Crossing the atlantic the “trade route” was often on my mind and before that the sailors who ventured out in search and discovery. Here though I kept thinking of the Vikings. The Vikings made it of course all over these waters, but somehow the Isle of Man itself seemed to make them more tangible, imaginable? Perhaps it is that many of the place names on the island still bare such nordic sounds and impressions : Snaefell, Ballasalla, Maughold, Ouyr. These words suggest something of the north. The Isle of Man is an interesting place. It seems to take from each of the nations it neighbours: Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales, and celebrate aspects of each while still having its very own and unique identity and place.
We went like a rocket up the coast despite the now weedy bottom of the boat ( lots of growth after the 2 weeks in Caernarfon ). We were doing 6 and 7 knots through the water and 8 plus over ground. The cloud came in from the north west like a curtain and we were enveloped by grey, soon to be wet. There was a strong tide running, the waves were turbulent. After 6 hours We tucked in behind the point of the Mull of Galloway and immediately were in a calm and tranquil bay. We anchored off East Tarbet just before dark, and just before another rain shower. We ate soup and custard and jumped into bed, lovely to be on anchor again, and in a calm bay.
The next day we walked up to the 1830 Stevenson lighthouse on the headland and saw the green shiny Kelvin engines which powered the fog horn there. Then (motor)- sailed up the coast to the beautiful tiny old harbour of Portpatrick, in time for a drink in the Crown Hotel. Back inScotland after nearly 2 years!