Manchester is one of the best locations in the country for the outdoors. Wales and the Lake District are less than two hours away, the Peak District less than an hour, and Scotland a manageable distance rather than a major expedition.
I don’t like cities but like where Manchester is situated. There are several good trips you can undertake in a day without too much difficulty: you can walk at Kentmere, Edale, and the Eigeau area below the Welsh Carneddau. I once went to Eigeau feeling like the character in Herman Melville’s book Moby Dick:
Call me Ishmael. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats of – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.
Call me James. I’ve never felt any particular love for the sea, and I get sick on boats, but I know how Ishmael was feeling. Mountains are a fine way to drive off the spleen and the temptation to knock off an innocent person’s hat. Several days or a week or two in the hills is the staple diet but a quick snack is also worthwhile.
I can get to Cwm Eigeau in about an hour twenty minutes, slightly less time than it takes for Kentmere. It’s a fine area easily overlooked, before you get to Betwys Coed and the obvious attractions of Snowdonia. There’s a large and convenient parking space at the head of the valley, reached after a drive down a long remote track which makes you think of Scotland. Then a path on the right leads across gently rolling hills with views to the Conwy estuary and the sea. Very pleasant.
I was interested in having dinner and sleeping in the hills as much as walking and photography. The point was to be there and breathe clean air, in peace and quiet, so I wouldn’t get into trouble with hats and other people in the street.
The track passes into a pretty valley with a river at the bottom which has good places for a tent. My route was down the valley and a climb up the hillside at the end, to sleep on the plateau below Foel Grach. It's what I’d done two years previously, enjoying a lovely evening then sunbathing the next morning after breakfast. This time however the wind picked up, the sunlight had gone, and I decided to camp at Llyn Dulyn in the valley. A small back packing tent was at the outlet of the lake and a few minutes later I saw another tent with a man and his son sitting beside a stove. I spoke with them briefly and they’d come down from the top that day where it was as windy as the valley. If it got worse, I'd be in trouble.
I heaved off my rucksack and pulled out my tent for the night, enjoying soup and a potato meal left over from the night before. Carrying heavy food is of no consequence if it’s just for one night and I’d got sick of an inedible baguette diet in the Pyrenees. When I got back from Wales, I decided I'll do this again with more luxurious fare: a slice of cheese, piece of fruit, as nice a meal as I can think of as a pleasurable part of the trip. I’ve never done that before. I’m stoic and frugal with what I carry and eat but, as with my Pyrenees trip, this means you suffer.
After I’d eaten I gazed up at the starry sky, thought about light pollution, and how a short drive gets you away from it. As with all connection with nature – earth under our feet, the burble of streams – we are bereft of stars.
My pitch was insecure but adequate, I felt, for the night. In fact - the wind became strong, tearing up the pegs and battering my three season tent so I had to climb out into the night to fasten it down, then found it difficult to sleep. The next morning I found one of the pegs had been whipped into the air twenty feet away to land beside the lake which must have been the pinging sound I'd heard as it struck the rocks.
The sky was full of pleasant sunshine, but over breakfast the light disappeared and was replaced with grey. I set off to climb the plateau then the Carneddau, but the skies continued to darken and the wind was ferocious. If I’d camped there I would have been compelled to retreat down at two or three in the morning. My tent, lightweight as it is, is not suitable for high winds. I wandered the plateau a considering my plan for the day, but a mass of black sky moved closer and I realised it was getting worse. Not too bad if you're stoic and want to bag a peak (I never do as such) but it wasn’t pleasant.
I decided to retreat the way I’d come, not bothered that I’d only walked for a few hours. I’d slept and photographed in the hills for a reasonable time outdoors. I wanted to be there, which doesn't necessarily mean a big walk.
I tried to find a curry lunch in Llandudno but there was no such facility, so had chips and mushy peas before driving back to the city. A nice little break. I’ll need another, no doubt, when I'm tempted to knock off a stranger’s hat.