Actual Events Solo backpacking stories Stories Summer Abroad Travel UK

Betws-y-Coed and Snowdonia National Park, Wales

I left the girl from Musli and her creepy British colleague at the guesthouse and walked back to the train station with just the things in my bag and a vague plan to head north see more of Wales.

I asked the woman at the ticket counter for a suggestion where to go, and she recommended Betws-y-Coed, the hub of Snowdonia National Park. The name with the hyphens made it sound unmistakably Welsh, and I had literally no other idea where to go, so I was eager to take her suggestion. She also mentioned it’s a nice place for outdoor lovers, mountains, pretty, plenty of places to spend the night. So I bought the expensive ticket (close to 50 GBP) and listened closely as she walked me through the itinerary of train changes.

I arrived in Betws-y-Coed close to 5pm in the pouring rain. There was just enough time for me to get from the station to tourist information before it closed. Or as it was closing is more like it. I was lucky the woman about to close the office was willing (although not happy) to book me a room and send me in the right direction before closing up for the evening.  The town isn’t set up in a way that’s friendly for backpackers to wander the streets to find an empty room as the main road is wrapped around the steep mountainside.

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The main road (or the mainest road I saw) heading from my hostel into a residential looking area

I walked to the hostel within 30 minutes and arrived thoroughly soaked through.

After cleaning up a bit, the rain let up a little and I ventured out again to the nearest restaurant. It was a grill place with long picnic tables under dripping umbrellas. It was packed with people and impossible for me to tell who was sitting together and what seat was free – very intimidating to walk into to all alone! I remember sitting at the end of a table, ordering whatever was cheapest, and feeling very awkward for being in such a crowded and lively place all alone.

I vaguely remember meeting a woman with short white hair who was from Colorado. She didn’t smile much, for an American. We talked about traveling and she said she likes light colored beers.

After dinner I took advantage of the rain clearing up and the long summer daylight hours and went for a walk. I was amused to find an old wooden church with a Bible in Welsh, a herd of sheep, and a trashcan labeled in Welsh!

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Shaggy sheep
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Welsh rubbish bin
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Welsh Bible (with the Apocrypha too I think)

Back at the hostel there was a group of 3 or 4 college age guys from California on a backpacking trip. We chatted about itineraries and our impressions of the UK. They said I was “ballsy” for travelling alone.

The next morning I planned to hike Mount Snowdon – the highest peak in Wales. But I could not put my contact lenses in right! I took them out and put them back in several times, but still my vision was all wonky. (I figured out by the end of the day that I had  the wrong lens in the wrong eye.) Anyway, I hoped my eyes would adjust as it was too late to change plans and I was enthusiastic to conquer the mountain, so I headed out.

I took a bus up the windy mountain road to the trail head. During the bus ride up the windy mountain road to the trail head, I was completely mesmerized by the scenery. It was breathtaking even on that cloudy day. Everything was so gray and rocky, and green, and with streams of water flowing  in the valleys between the mountains. Plus sheep and goats!

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View from the bus stop by the trail head

A sign posted at the trail head read warned about the dangers of hiking in bad weather, steep ledges, slippery rocks, that kind of thing, and finally a reminder that there’s no café at the top of the mountain. The first warnings made me a little wary as I was alone without many snacks or much water, the storm clouds were brewing, and I had never tried hiking in my Maryjane Keens before. Plus with my distorted vision, and I think it was my mom’s birthday so that would be a terrible tragedy to die or go missing on that day of all days. But it was the reminder of no café that convinced me to go because it seemed so common sense that it lightened the seriousness of all the other warnings by association. //A café?? Guffaw! These warnings are for old people from cities, not experienced young hikers like myself!//  Well, that and I was determined and lacking common sense, and I knew as I set out that I would struggle to convince myself to turn back before reaching the top unless I was half dead.

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I thought this was a picture of the trail, but now I see it’s actually a teeny waterfall ;)

I headed down the trail, wondering how stupid I was for embarking as the dark clouds moved above me. There was a group close ahead going at about the same pace, and I was doing my best to avoid catching up to them, but alas, it was impossible. I turned a corner and the two youngest from their party, boys about 9 or 10 years old, were waiting beside a boulder for me. They immediately accosted me with friendly questions about who I am and where I’m from and why I’m hiking alone. They walked me to the rest of their party – together five guys: The young boy and his friend, the boy’s father, the father’s client, and the client’s friend. The father was a part time caretaker for his client, who had short term memory loss from a head injury during a car accident.

It’s funny to think back on because at the time I was so afraid of people. I don’t know if this fear was rooted in social awkwardness, or if it was a fear of what a “bad guy” could do to me…probably it was social awkwardness because I only recently (like a few months ago) tuned into how common rape is (thanks to Netflix documentaries) and if I had truly been afraid of being raped and cut to pieces by a psychopath then I probably never would have gone on such a big trip alone to begin with.

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Castle ruins
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A pretty lake. You can’t see from the picture but it was really windy that day!

Now I imagine my 20 year old self planning to face that mountain all alone and I shudder to imagine how dangerous that could’ve been. What the heck was I thinking? This odd group of guys was such a gift to be pulled into. I went the whole way up and down the mountain with them, past goats, castle ruins, and clear lakes. The client and his friend smoked some of the way up the mountain, and I still struggled to keep up with them (that’s something I’ll never understand). There were loads of people at the top, lots of litter, and tons of SLUGS! (Still somewhat fresh from dry Arizona, I could not get enough of seeing slugs.) It was too cloudy to see Ireland from the top that day, but I was so happy I made it all the way up, and I loved the cloudy, moist atmosphere, so I hardly missed the view.

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Ireland was in that direction
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Slugs and litter. The guys I hiked with were asking, “Why are you taking a picture of that??”
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Waiting for my turn to go up to the very top

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