Things Were Different Back Then...
13th May 2011
My Dad sent me this yesterday. It's a word for word copy of his diary, written aged 14, in 1952, of a solo bike trip from Nottingham to North Wales. Apart from the fact that he was cycling massive distances, solo, at the age of 14, the language struck me as beyond most 14 year-old's today. I also wonder how many 14 year old's keep such detailed diaries? A really interesting read.
After leaving familiar landscapes behind, I decided that at last I had commenced my long-anticipated journey.
It was very strange with so great a weight slung abaft, after I had, previously, only had experience of light-weight cycling, but after about 20 miles I adjusted my riding to suit.
Very little of interest appeared up to Utoxeter, which town, I am afraid to say, took me three and a half hours to reach, a mere snail’s pace compared with my usual. However, consoling myself on my extra burden, I continued.
A steady climb presented itself before me, but there were no difficult parts; how glad I was of my Benelux gears.
On reaching the main road at Stone I was frequently passed in both directions by large lorries, the lights from whose headlights was very welcome. Then I detected some trouble in my back light, but after pulling it to pieces a few times it gave up against my opposition and, I believe, presented no further trouble
Stone was deserted apart from the occasional policeman and drunken reveller wending his way home, and I disregarded the speed limits quite regularly. I was, I believe, the sole outside witness of a ‘to-do’ between two speeding cars, one receiving a puncture, much to my delight. It was the first crash I had ever seen.
About a mile onwards, I branched off the Birmingham to Manchester road and laboured up a long, dark, eerie tunnel of trees, through which ran the road and I. Soon I was out on open road again. At a signpost I partook of a little refreshment. At once, all around me became a hive of activity; about a dozen cars provided illumination for my meal, and a late coach provided the spectators. A few walkers enquired if I was “alright?” On further enquiry it turned out that one had once worked in Nottingham.
Resuming my way, I sped past Woore, towards Audlem. A couple of crazy coach drivers came flying towards me, missing me by less than I care to remember. I saw a lot of what I took to be birds flitting about. Later I realised they were bats. Twice, a rabbit acted as pacemaker for me as I chased it along the King’s highway with visions of roast rabbit, boiled rabbit, fried rabbit and Welsh rarebit. To my disappointment I failed to catch any. I went hungry (‘cept for a few dozen sandwiches) until I arrived.
Audlem was a dead town, not a sign of life presenting itself during my stay to regale myself. The following stretch of road, to Whitchurch, and then that succeeding it, proved to be the most uninteresting of my ride. However, at Ruabon, dawn broke very slowly, and the scenery gradually improved with it – or rather the road was not so uninteresting, for before, there was no scenery to be seen. The Vale of Llangollen was very beautiful in the half-light of dawn, but even at that early hour I was the centre of interest to the many cyclists who passed on their way to work. I suppose to them I was “just another of those mad English cyclists”.
Llangollen (pronounced Thlangothlen) was deserted. I foolishly had entertained thoughts of a cup of hot tea, but alas I got none! There I joined the A5 which took me up a severe gradient. Half way up this I decided to get a cup of coffee myself, whereupon I did. No, there was no road-side cafe, not even a friendly motorist offering me one. I just sat on the wall in the drizzling rain and boiled one on a little meths stove. I scalded my tongue awfully, but despite that, the twigs, the cinders and the numerous beetles which had committed suicide in it, it really was delicious! Of course, the road had to become the route for most of the vehicles in the vicinity, and of course I was once more the unwilling, red-faced centre of attraction.
Carefully wendin’ my weary way onwards, I passed Corwen feeling in need of sustenance once again. It being only 7am I had to stay in need. Eh dear! How little do the hotel, restaurant, cafe and roadhouse owners realise what sorrow they drive into a cyclist’s heart! Oh, for an all-night cafe. No, there was none.
Plodding on, the hamlet of Cerig-y-Druidion was sighted. Proceeding at full steam I jammed on my anchors joyously when I saw a house well off the road which claimed to cater for members of the CTC, NCU etc. Etc. Not belonging to any of these did not deter me in the least as I dripped to the door, asking admittance. The proprietoress greeted me with cries of consternation, and sat me in front of a huge fire and dried most of my clothes, giving me a warm towel. Before I could say “Jack Robinson”, or even get properly dry, or even say that all I wanted was a cup of tea, she had shepherded me, barefoot, into the next room, where were four elderly cyclists, all as fit as fiddles making inroads into a tremendous breakfast. I learned that they had B & B’d it. Before me was placed a boiled egg, a pile of bread and butter, my own pot of tea, sugar, water, milk, some toast, marmalade and salt. I made a few feeble noises which no-one heard, saying that I only wanted a cup of tea, ‘cos I wasn’t very rich, but then decided to make the best of a good job and tuck in.
I departed, dry, full and happy, all for the moderate, or rather small, sum of 2/6. It was a very welcome rest. A few miles further on, I sent a telegram home saying “Nearly there, wet, safe”. The time was 9:45. At Pentrevoelas I struck off on the B4407, a rough track which led me into one of the wildest parts of Wales. After leaving behind the quaint village of Ysptty Ifan (I pronounce it ‘Is pity Ivan’ – I’m not sure whether that’s right or not) I saw not a soul for about forty miles, my one occupation being to shout “Boo” to the mountain sheep, who were not in the least concerned..... I struck off on the B4591 to (lake) Bala where I was once more impressed by its tremendous size.
I had to pay two tolls, which left me less 2d! Then came a familiar sight, the Cob at Portmadoc. Now the horse smells his stable. Portmadoc barely saw me as I “flew” past Moel-y-gest, up the rough track by Wern Bridge, and so to Pentrip. I was greeted by a cow, Miss Williams and a very heavy squall of rain.
Setting up camp.
The time being about 3:15, I decided to brave the elements, and to search out a suitable place for my camp. I got to know more about Black Rock and district than I had ever done before! At last, I decided on a lovely spot in the bracken on a hill side, sheltered from the prevailing winds. Much to the amazement of Miss Bessie, I commenced to pitch camp. She thought that, because it was raining, I was going to sleep indoors!!!! However, it soon cleared up and a beautiful evening presented itself. I went to ask the farmer below if I could pitch my tent on what I believed to be his property. (I had already taken the liberty of doing so!) He almost blew up when I asked him, and babbled incoherently. At last, I made sense of his words, that, if I didn’t move quickly, the whole of the Welsh police force would swoop down on me, and I would be clapped in jail and would have to pay some fabulous sum of money as compensation to the owner of the land, who did not allow any campers on his land. At last, after making exhaustive enquiries as to where I might pitch my tent, and learning that the prices ranged from five to fifteen shillings per tent per week, I decided to camp on the Misses Williams’ land. I did find a spot at the top of the small field, which proved satisfactory, and commanded a view of the whole of Tremadoc bay North of Black Rock. So there I downed myself.
When I returned to ‘Pentrip’ I found Lutys returned, and also a dinner on the table, the only thing I had eaten since 9:30 that morning. The time was 8pm!!
I retired early that night, after a supper of biscuits and a drink of cocoa made on my stove.
To my surprise, I slept really well that night, and, arising early, I cooked a delicious meal of spaghetti, fried egg, bacon and meat. It really was nice. Hoping to find a few mushrooms, I arose, and, on arriving at the farm-house, learnt that it was 10:45am. You could have knocked me down with a feather! There was I, thinking it was about 7 o’clock, and it was that time. So, up I went to the tent, to tidy up, and, as it was a lovely morning, I brailed up the walls to let some fresh air in. Then I walked to Criccieth with Lutys and purchased my wants, which were few. On returning, I decided on dinner, for it was then about half past one. I had a modest preparation of beans on toast, and, (I now realise my folly) invited the man that the misses Williams hire permanently to help with the farm – for a cup of coffee. That helped away a third of a pint of milk. He said it was very good. I should think it was, too! A third of a pint of milk, three spoons of sugar, and some coffee. Why, it would have cost him 6d in a cafe!
That afternoon I cleaned my bike thoroughly – for it needed it after the punishment it had received the previous two days. Then I mooned about, ‘helped’ to milk the cows, and got in the way generally. Once again I vainly searched for the elusive mushroom, but retired after about an hour. Rabbits abounded all over the place, and I should think I sat for at least half an hour outside one’s front door, sheath knife ready. Once, seeing a rabbit in a field far below, about 100 feet or more away, I hurled my knife. I would love to know, who was more surprised, the rabbit or I, when it stuck in the ground about 6 inches away! I gave that up as a bad job too, and at last retired to my tent. I had a salad supper, of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, and bread, finishing up with the inevitable cocoa and biscuits. Tucking myself up cosily in my down sleeping bag, I slept almost the whole night through, during which period it rained heavily and continuously, but I suffered no discomfort beyond the end of my sleeping bag becoming wet, although I thought it to be waterproof.
The following morn dawned bright and clear, at least, I think it did, ‘cos I didn’t wake up ‘til quarter past 11!! Isn’t that proof enough that campers don’t lead a hard life? Almost immediately I started to make breakfast. After regaling myself with delicious Heinz tomato soup, some bread, biscuits and an apple, I felt that a cup of tea would be welcome. It wasn’t. At least, the grey stuff that trickled out of the teapot spout wasn’t welcome. It tasted worse than it looked, and that’s saying something!! I used it as grass fertiliser. Never again did I try to make? tea?
Traipsing down the rough cart track on my way to Criccieth, I purchase my wants, which were many, and returned along the beach. When I was about quarter of a mile from Criccieth and over a mile from Black Rock, I observed what I took to be a canoe far out to sea. Later, I looked at it, and it had drifted in much further. So I waited, and it turned out to be a huge piece of driftwood, over 6 feet high, and about 1 foot 6 inches across by 1 foot the other way. It weighed about half a cwt when I started, and about 10 when I finally got it to Pentrip. Miss Theresa couldn’t even lift it! I thought it might do for firewood, but they said they would use it for a gate post. It seems little to think of it now, but then it was a different matter.
I learnt that Lutys were intending to ascend Moel-y-Gest that afternoon (892 feet high). They didn’t mind me accompanying them, but, as they had finished their dinner and were ready to go when I got back, they went about half an hour before me. I ate my dinner leisurely – it consisted of egg, bacon, sausage, cheese and tomato, also fried bread, and the usual cup of coffee; again my kind heart taking pity on Walter, the hired man, and giving him another 6d cup of coffee. He was (supposed to be) cutting the hay in the field I was camping in (I was on an already-cleared spot) with a sickle. He would not use a scythe as he said it got blunt too quickly! He cut a few square yards in the week I was there!
I started in pursuit of the Lutys about 60 minutes after they had departed and was surprised to see them only about half way up the mountain. I took a short cut through private fields, over private walls, through private farmsteads, through gorse, bracken, heather and rock, until I at last reached the top about 1 minute after them!
I do think that Moel-y-Gest must rank among some of the best Welsh viewpoints! The whole of Tremadoc Bay, even Bardsey Island can be seen clearly, while Snowdon and the ‘Rivals’ can be seen inland. We saw, through Mr Luty’s binoculars, the Snowdon railway, and a train ascending to a station. It was very windy, a little too windy for Mark, who was almost blown over.
The descent was executed by the younger ones by taking flying leaps down the mountain side, at the risk of arms, legs and neck. Mr Luty warned us not to risk our necks, or we would fall. How amusing when he fell. (He called it ‘glissading’.) You could tell what soil he had fallen on just by walking behind him. He was the only casualty.
Arriving back at Pentrip, we had tea- I in my tent, and then played on the beach until supper, when I wrote letters before having... yes, cocoa and biscuits once again. I thought of having biscuits and cocoa, but was afraid that the change might upset my delicate constitution.
And so to bed – comfy bed.
A day at the sea-side
For once, the only time during my week’s holiday, I awoke early – about five-o-clock, I should think, but promptly turned in once more to renew my slumbers, waking for the second and final time about 10:30.
Breakfast consisted of fried bread and tomatoes, with one or two beans I had rescued when cleaning out my billy cans last night. I commenced to make a cup of cocoa, but, just as the milk was boiling, decided against it and had a drink of water instead.
After tidying up my tent, I ran down to ‘Pentrip’ to be invited by Lutys to go with them to Abersoch, a small town or village about 20 miles to the north-west of Criccieth, an invitation that I was not hesitant in accepting.
Picking up Eileen Miller in Criccieth, we stopped at Phwelli, in the centre of what seemed to be a car park. Lutys went off to buy some dinner while I stayed in and ‘looked after the car’. Well, one-by-one, the adjoining cars went away, until finally, the car and I were the only occupants of what turned out to be the town square. A harassed constable questioned me as to the whereabouts of the driver, whereupon I assured him that he would be back shortly, whereupon he assured me that he had better be, as the town’s carnival was to be held that day, and that the main procession would be passing by (straight through the car) in about 10 minutes. After about 9 minutes and 30 seconds, the Lutys and the carnival came round the corner. They got to the car first and drove furiously away, and turned to see a barrel of a man socking a big drum just where our car had been a few seconds earlier. Phew!
At last Abersoch was reached, and we spread ourselves under the shade of a boat (it was high and dry on the beach) and amused ourselves according to our tastes. On enquiry, it turned out that all the boats were hired, except the 10 shilling per hour motor boats, the loan of which Mr Luty hastily declined.
The sea was cold, but we soon warmed up by performing aquabatics with a blown up motor tyre loaned by Mr Luty.
I swam to a boat about quarter of a mile out to sea, and hastened back, to learn that Mr Luty had been yelling at me to come back. I did not hear him.
At last we returned, leaving the car at Criccieth, and, as the younger ones were tired, caught the train back. Mr Luty had had to take the car to a garage for some minor repair, and we waited hopefully, thinking he might catch the train. It was late arriving, and late departing, but he did not catch it, arriving some half an hour later by shanks pony.
I went and played on the headland a bit after my tea, and then retired rather early, reading until it was dark, and then by the light of a candle.
Out at sea
Awaking at 8:30, and rising at 9:30, I dabbled in the dew searching for mushrooms, and eventually found one dropped by some careless picker who had not slept well the previous night, and got up before me. I fried this with some slices of potato, cut very thinly, and enjoyed it thoroughly.
I had to buy some meths for my stove as I had run out of it, so purposed to go to Criccieth about mid-day. This I did, accompanied by Lutys. Mr Luty and Mark went out in a canoe, Joy in another, and I in yet another. Our small flotilla bounced over the waves, half-way to Black Rock, back again, half-way there, back again, round Criccieth Castle rock, grounded on the beach. Pushed off. Back again. Round again. Into a cave. Explore it. Back again. By this time the hour was up, so in we went, thoroughly satisfied.
After a sandwich dinner, Mr and Mrs Luty went to collect the car, and Joy, Mark and I walked back along the beach. Joy lost her cardigan on the way and retraced her steps in a vain attempt to recover it. We had been walking up to our knees in the sea most of the time, so no doubt by now it has been washed up on some foreign shore south of the equator. We found Millers and Whites on the beach when we arrived, and, after I had had some tea, I joined them after a brief bathe.
We found that crabs abounded in a little creek, whereupon I chased a few out and displayed them to the assembly. They shrank away as if they had been leprous, so I put them in a private pool where they promptly buried themselves in the sand.
Whilst Joy, Mark and Eileen were playing on the beach, and the grown-ups were having the readings, I explored the vicinity at the back of Pentrip, past the railway line. It abounded with wild life, but I saw little of it, only heard it.
Returning to my tent, I ascertained the amount of my riches. Result: One shilling and one bent halfpenny. With this I had to journey 180 miles the following day. Miss Williams nobly came to my rescue and made me some cheese sandwiches to sustain me on my journey.
I dined once again of fried potatoes, and a little bacon, finishing up the last of my milk in a drink of cocoa. I dropped off at about 9:30, my latest yet.
This, my last morning, I awoke early! Yes, early. And what is more, my flabbergasted reader, I got up early!
The previous night, I had packed most of my kit, leaving only the essentials, such as tent, groundsheet and sleeping bag unpacked. These were soon stowed away, so I went down to ‘Pentrip’ to fetch a few of my clothes which were being dryed but found no-one about. (The time was 8:15.) So, I got everything as complete as possible, (sandwiches in a handy position), and then knocked again. Still no answer; but Mr Luty heard me from his bedroom and let me in, whereupon I stowed the clothes away and prepared for off.
Everyone watched me go. I heard a car’s radio on the beach strike nine by Big Ben and I was off. Speeding down the rough road to the beach level, a back-brake block departed company, rendering my back brake ineffective during the whole journey.
The main Portmadoc-Criccieth road was reached, and I bore right at Wern Bridge, later taking the left turn for Tremadoc. I felt fine, and managed a good pace, through lovely scenery, up the Pass of Aberglaslyn past the famous bridge, always steadily climbing, to Beddgelert. From this village a nasty gradient presented itself for about 6 miles, but I was fresh and enjoyed it, and the beautiful views to the left.
I took here my first and only photograph of the holiday (it did not come out). Once at the summit, an undulating road sped by, as I averaged a fair 30mph over the Nant Gwyrhyd to Capel Curig, where the A5, the main London-Holyhead route joined. The Swallow Falls, Bettwys-y-Coed, the N Wales Forestry University, all passed quickly and another climb, by the River Conway, being navigated amidst a steady stream of cars. It was Bank holiday Saturday. At this summit, having come all of 40 miles, I rested for a minute for a drink and a sandwich. Once more refreshed, I journeyed down the uninteresting stretch to Cerrig-Y-Druidon, where I had been made so welcome the previous Monday.
Past Corwen, the River Dee was joined and once more I stopped to alleviate the growing pangs of hunger, on a little bridge on a side road, high above its turbulent waters. A car swung in after me, and stopped a few yards higher up the lane, the two elderly occupants obviously regaling themselves the same as I. After a few minutes, the lady approached me, and asked whether I would like some nice fresh lettuce, and I, replying in the affirmative, was supplied with a huge bundle, in a damp tea towel, “freshly gathered from the garden this morning. Would you like a tomatoe too?” Oh dear, how often I regretted my polite refusal of that tomatoe. Ah well, we all make mistakes. But the lettuce was lovely, and kept me well-fuelled for many miles.
After thanking the couple, I continued my path, passing through Llangollen, and through its pass, leaving the A5 and reaching Ruabon.
I was getting rather tired by this time, and the road was subsequently dull – at least, so it seemed after the scenic grandeur of the magnificent mountains behind me. Ahead of me I saw another cyclist, about my age, plodding an equally weary way onward, so I caught him up, and, after exchanging formalities, I learnt that he had come from Bangor, and was going to Rotherham, near Sheffield, a distance slightly less than mine. He had also been camping and had started out at 7am that day. We journeyed together for about 15 miles, the, suddenly, I heard a loud report, and noticed a 4 inch slit in his HP tyre. Mending it was absolutely out of the question, so he decided to walk to Whitchurch, and try to catch a train home. He had only 11 shillings in his pocket, so he had little hope. I had only 1 shilling and a ha’penny left.
I bravely resisted the temptation to spend it until Audlem, where, having run out of sandwiches and drink, I purchased a Walls fourpenny strawberry and vanilla ice, (plus 2 wafers) and a quarter pound of sweets, seven and a half pence. One penny left, about 70 miles to go. I cast all doubts as to my reaching home safely to the wind – it was a very strong one, blowing directly in my face.
Dusk was drawing in now, and I amused myself by gazing at the blood red sun, wondering how long it would be before it plunged below the horizon. It was about half an hour.
Once more Uttoxeter saw me pass in darkness, or semi-ditto, and I grimly heaved my mount up the gentle gradient of Hilton, where the road resolved itself to a flat, windswept plain, destined to reduce my heart and legs to despair. It did not achieve its destiny, however, for, at Etwall, a small cafe was open, where I bought a penny packet of chewing gum. This revived my jaded spirits not a little, and I flew on at about 8 mph once again.
Derby was passed, but I received few disinterested stares from its inhabitants, and, at last, I felt as if it were no longer an impossibility to reach home that week. However, I did not manage it, for I did not reach home that week at all. This is how it came about: The day was Saturday. The time was almost midnight when I was ruminating. And, when I walked in, it was 12:30 am; it was next week. Such is life!
However, it was an experience, and I might say a very enjoyable one. But the next time I go, I will take a companion. It really gets quite lonely towards the end.
This was transcribed to my computer on May 12 2011 from the original hand-written diary I wrote at the time. I have copied exactly as written complete with mis-spellings, grammatical errors and the somewhat archaic language.