Celtic Illumination, part 94, on yer bike!
It would be fair to say that as Snowden was, and probably still is, the most popular mountain in North Wales, it was one we spent an awful lot of time on. I think there were, or are, six main routes up Snowdon and that does not include the train. The routes vary in difficulty but we had to know each route backwards. Think about it. People would not be expected to return to their accommodation until evening time. Give them an hour extra before calling us and sure if it was in summer with lovely light evenings great, well, for us at least. Normally it would be dark, mid-winter probably snowing or with rain coming in sideways. We had to be very familiar with these routes so that we could cover them at speed, in all sorts of weather and at any time of the night or day.
Tom Taylor declared one morning that he was taking the Novices up Snowdon and he wasn’t going to use the train. Tom, the deputy team leader or should I say Tom Taylor MBE, was not just the fittest fellow on the team, I think he was the fittest fellow in the world. We drove to the café at Pen-Y-Pas and parked up. Now without a doubt we were military, but we had our own rank system within the team, we never wore anything that showed who we were. Initially, when you joined the team, you would be wearing RAF kit and could be spotted, but as time passed you generally replaced the RAF kit with better civilian kit that you would buy. We were not ashamed of being in the air force, but if we made a mistake we didn’t want to be tagged as air force. Didn’t want to bring the old firm into disrepute.
Tom allowed us to use the facilities at the café and then lined us up, military style. He made sure that our rucksacks were being carried properly on our backs and that any extra equipment we carried, such as a stretcher and two hundred metre long ropes, were attached securely. We couldn’t believe it, but lined up as instructed. Tom wasn’t being military flavoured; he was not screaming and shouting, he was a very softly spoken Scot. “Turn to the right,” we turned and then, he said. “By the left, quick march!” And we moved off, quite naturally. Tom was alongside the three of us in single file and as we began to move, he announced that we were about to quicken the pace. “Double time!” he said, and we immediately began moving faster, almost jogging, but we all stayed together. It was early in the morning so there were not a lot of people around.
We stopped when we reached the summit of Snowdon and I promise you I cannot remember a time when I felt fitter. For some reason the jog up was perfect, the sound of our boots falling, in time, our breathing was perfectly regulated. It was just a fantastic feeling. We hung around for a bit because from the summit of Snowdon if there was a call out somewhere we could get to it pretty quickly.
Snowdon is a very dangerous place. The main path to the summit is wide and starts off rather flat, but the weather is a big factor and can change very, very, quickly indeed. We would have a bicycle race around the Snowdon horseshoe once a year for charity. Teams of three people with one bicycle would enter; a certain amount of fancy dress was encouraged. It was organised by and for the local mountain rescue community. Apart from ourselves there were another couple of teams about in North Wales and the charity bike race was a good social get together.
All three members would have to be on the bicycle as it crossed the start line, then jump off and dismantle the bike to two wheels and a frame. Each member took one piece and off you went. The Snowdon horseshoe is a fantastic day out, and if you are lucky enough to get good weather you will be rewarded with wonderful views. You will even get a decent bit of a thrill when you come to traverse the world famous Crib Goch, a knife edge of a ridge with over one thousand feet fall on one side and a very steep rock face on the other.
As I have already said there is a train that runs to the summit of Snowdon and a café at the top. One day we were informed that the Prince of Wales, Prince Charles himself was going to visit the café. We were told that we would have a base camp at Llanberis from where we would go and position ourselves along his route and provide assistance to any member of his party, if they required it.
As the date drew closer we were told that Prince Charles would be flown in a helicopter half way up the mountain where he would alight, alongside the train track, and walk the remainder of the route to the café. Jack was spending overtime on the maps. I however noticed that I had pulled a twenty four hour guard duty on Valley. My guard duty was on a Sunday, Prince Charles was visiting Snowdon the following day, the Monday. Jack had said that he wanted every member of the team to be ‘on the hill.’
I explained my predicament to Jack and suggested that if he left me a land rover I would drive out first thing Monday morning. I would have been awake for twenty four hours, so what use I would have been to anyone? I’m not sure, but Jack was determined to get as many men as possible on the hill. A day or two later Jack informed me that he had sorted some transport out, Louis Henry was getting it for me but I was not to go to Snowdon. I was to go to base camp in Llanberis and cook the meal for the troops. I was the duty cook.
Sounded like a plan to me, so I promised Jack that I would not let him down. If you promise your team leader something you would never renege on it. When Louis Henry told me that he had acquired a brand new RAF bike for me and wanted to know if I wanted to collect it at the guard room, or at the mountain rescue section, I realised that I was well and truly snookered.
Valley to Llanberis is about twenty seven or twenty eight miles. I was so lucky that on the Monday morning it promised to be a lovely day, and it was. I can’t remember how long it took me but I do remember that it was a very enjoyable bike ride. The Menai Strait looked wonderful and it was very pleasurable to actually enjoy the scenery for once. I couldn’t hang around, for I knew that not only did I have to get there, but I would have to prepare a cooked meal for twenty five hungry men and if it wasn’t up to scratch I would be going for a swim, whether I liked it or not.