It would be fair to say that at the top of Snowdon there is a lot of cloud. It's not really surprising, to be honest, seeing as it is the highest mountain in Wales, and Wales is not a place particularly associated with long dry summers, hosepipe bans, or droughts. However, wedged begrudgingly in the foothills of Snowdon is a camp-site. It is on here that the contents of the clouds empty themselves on a seemingly endless basis, mainly onto a collection of wind-blown campers and hikers, all huddled in thin frames of nylon.
I try to drown myself in the shower, but I don’t have enough pocket change, and have to emerge, travel shampoo-cum-shower-gel still crusting my hair, ignoring the leers of the pierced boys outside the gents, my knickers dripping from where I dropped them in the sink. Not that it makes any particular difference to my general state of dress. Nothing dries here, as the pathetic line of socks on the one working hand-dryer proves. The whole camp-site carried the odour of mildew and socks.
The website said that the camp-site borders a lake. Whilst this may have been true whilst the photographs on the website were being taken, since then, the heavens appear to have continually opened. The camp-site is currently not so much lake-side, as lake-in. It is so flooded that it would not be an exaggeration to say that the Welsh tourist board should describe it as the “Venice of the West.” We could have been punted from one side of the field to the other by Fair-Isle-sweatered Welshmen in the kayaks they keep for the school parties. Not that any school parties appear to have braved this place for some time. A couple of odd caravans, a shivering pair of honeymooners, and the one other family, kitted out with top of the range wellies and Boden anoraks, who left after a day, their shining new four by four not able to get out of the mud fast enough.
My family didn't leave. We stick it out, waiting for the weather to clear. We visit a power station, staring bleakly at the families dressed in clean (clean!) clothes that weren't designed by Mr Wolfskin or Mr Gore-tex. We sit for hours in tea shops festooned with the muck of ages, curled around teapots and week-old rock cakes, steaming gently, in short, visit every attraction we can find, thankful for the warmth and the gift shop, where we linger for hours, eyeing dinosaur pencil toppers and sticks of rock etched with ‘a gift from Snowdonia’. My books’ pages crinkle at night, the warmth of our shared breath and the damp on the tent walls conspiring to curl the covers and wrinkle the dust jackets.
And then, finally, the clouds clear just enough that we can Climb Snowdon.
We get lost, of course. We have to crawl across the edge of a precipice, my new-found vertigo kicking in with a vengeance; my brother needs the loo, my mother looks like she wants to cry. It cannot be this hard to climb a bloody mountain. The clouds draw in again, boulders looming out at us, startlingly close. We trudge on. The wind picks up. The map flaps wetly at us, a limp sign of surrender. We stop for brief rest breaks huddled around a Frusli bar, too out of breath and cold to talk.
And then, suddenly, just when we think all hope is lost, we hit land. The visitor centre, leering glassily down at us, lights beaming out into the mist, full of shell-shocked looking walkers and the smug lot that Came Up on the Train. It’s not quite the top. But we can see it, it’s there, a lump of dark granite and a tarnished plaque to which we haul our weary way up. It should not be a cause of such jubilation, but the sight of it instils such joy that I want to clasp the whole stone, chewing gum and all, to my fractious Gor-texed bosom and weep. I buy a postcard instead, and quietly enjoy a “-rom Sno-” quarter of rock as we debate whether to take the train down or not.
We don’t. My family’s never been very good at learning from their mistakes.