Skip to main content

A Small Slice of Africa in Snowdonia, Wales


A South African Railways class NG G16 in Beddgelert, Wales.

The best way to describe many days in the Welsh summer is 'murky'. Simple as that. So it was, with the rain drizzling slowly down, that I embarked on a walk accompanied by a small group, from our base at Snowdon View in Plas Gwynant to Beddgelert around five miles away.

Armed with food, flasks of tea and water, an Ordnance Survey Landranger map and a compass, we set off in a direction that took us away from the main road and around to the rear of Llyn Dinas - a lake in the middle of the Snowdonia National Park.

In spite of the aforementioned murk and the slight sensation of feeling like a sponge absorbing the fine rain, the walk was exceptionally pleasant and tranquil. Only the occasional rustling of leaves on the trees disturbed the quiet. From a promontory about half way into the ramble, it felt as if we had left the modern world well and truly behind – there is no doubting that this landscape is typically Welsh.

Upon arrival in Beddgelert, a small town on the junction of two small rivers, the unmistakable sound of an steam engine whistle rang in a hushed manner around the hills. One of the group immediately quickened her pace as if a homing device in her brain had suddenly been activated.

The whistle rang out again louder and something told me that this steam engine wasn’t typically British. The woman who’d quickened her pace, was by this point breaking into a sprint and dragged us along with her, led the way towards the station of the Welsh Highland Railway.


There in front of us, resplendent in deep crimson red, stood a steam locomotive that screamed, “I’m a bit South African.” Not being the train aficionado that I used to be meant that I had to use the Internet to get the facts, but sure enough, nestled in the valleys of Snowdonia, a train that had worked* most of its life in the Eastern Cape and Natal, was waiting to take us away. 

And so, whilst on holiday in Wales, Africa once more had found me. It seems the continent is always calling me back, in ever more inventive ways.

*The locomotive itself, I am reliably informed, was built by a British company for South African Railways. More information on the locomotive can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SAR_NGG_16_Class and more information on the Welsh Highland Railway can be found here: http://www.festrail.co.uk/main.shtml. As an interesting aside, we later found that former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott was on board.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Atay Maghrebi: To Essaouira and the Atlantic

Leaving Marrakech, the landscape stays flat, except for a few distant outcrops of rock. The sensation of the inhospitality of the environment creeps up on you as the olive groves become fewer and further between and rough scrub runs away to the base of distant hills.
Eventually, the landscape starts to undulate as you pass through small towns like Sid L’Mokhtar, and, after two hours, Morocco simply runs out of land as the coach starts to plummet down to the Atlantic coastline and the peeling whitewash of Essaouira’s medina.

The morning started with the obligatory slices of sweet cake dipped into apricot jam, with a side of yoghurt and coffee. I had a chat with Merissa who was already awake and wearing sunglasses like she was nursing a hangover.
I packed up my bags and meandered my way out of the medina towards Bab Laksour to get a taxi.
Having learned the lesson last year that taxi metres are always mysteriously broken in Marrakech, I readied myself for a battle with the driver who…

Atay Maghrebi: Out of the Dark and into Jemaa El-Fnaa

The night time offers a wealth of opportunity and intrigue in almost any country, but when I'm somewhere where my understanding of the language extends to just a handful of phrases and disconnected words, I find it all the more enthralling. Marrakech genuinely quickens the pulse and widens the eyes by night, with the famous Jemaa El-Fnaa as its wildly arrhythmic beating heart.

After a day of perfectly idle wandering and preparing for my journey to Essaouira, I sat up on the roof terrace, ordered atay, read the ending of Alex Garland’s The Beach and waited for sunset.

During this time, a Dutch woman and a Belgian man sat near to me and started to talk about a range of subjects. Most of their discussion was centred around the regular banalities of two travellers who don’t know each other well and clearly don’t have a great deal in common.
Shortly before sunset, the Belgian man caught my attention as he started to regale his newfound friend with quotes from the Quran taken both ou…

From a Crooked Rib by Nuruddin Farah

I stumbled across Nuruddin Farah’s novels when searching for something written by a Somali author. Perhaps due to the conflict that has raged for years in Somalia, it is very difficult to find much from Somali writers published in English.
From a Crooked Rib was published in 1970 and tells the story of Ebla, a young, orphaned, illiterate nomadic girl, who runs away from her encampment. She takes the decision to leave upon learning of her Grandfather’s intention to marry her off to an older man within their Jes (a group of families living in an encampment together).
She firstly escapes to a town, Belet Amin, where she finds her cousin and his pregnant wife. She also finds a guide and confidante in a character known only as the widow. Things seem settled until, yet again, Ebla finds her freedom compromised by a male character – this time her cousin, whose wife and child Ebla has been nursing.
In her haste she leaves Belet Amin with the widow’s nephew, bound for Mogadishu – still called