Note; in spoken Welsh “dd” is pronounced th and “ll” is pronounced as a sort of hissing l. I make an L shape with tongue and lips and blow through it!
My Father died in 2001 after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, as he originated from Llan Ffestiniog, in North Wales Dianne and I decided to have a week-long holiday based in his home village, Llan Ffestiniog, using BBM69 our 1937 Ruby. We asked Alec and Maureen Fairbrother if they would like to accompany us in their AEW to give moral, and technical, support and they jumped at the chance.
We left Lincoln at 7,30am on Monday the 17th of June and headed for Waltham-on- the-Wold, to pick up Alec and Maureen, we then set off for Wales. Our first break was in Tesco’s car park in Uttoxeter for a picnic and comfort stop. We had planned to stop after around one hundred and twenty miles or so and B and B in Whitchurch but the cars were going so well we carried on to Llangollen, arriving at 2,30pm and booking in for the night in the Bridge Inn.
Llangollen is a very picturesque town deep in a valley with the river Dee running through it. We had a look around the town and had a drink at the Mill Inn on a deck over the river, looking down onto the rapids, it was warm and very relaxing. That evening we had another look around the town and had dinner, again overlooking the river.
On Tuesday we set off at around 10,am and headed for Balla, Alec had done all the leading up to Balla so after a look around the town I led the way over the Migneint to Llan. We were snug in the Ruby but Alec and Maureen were glad of their double thick fleeces when the wind bit on the high passes. We arrived in Llan at around 1,00pm and unloaded the cars. We had booked accommodation in the guest house called Morannedd, next door to Dad’s old home, Bryn Hir. The views brought back memories of my childhood holidays in the 40s and 50s. Three mountains dominate the views from Llan, Moelwyn and the two Manods, big and small, as usual the tops were shrouded in cloud, “just like Table Mountain” said Maureen!
We then set off for the Manod Slate Quarry, this is a working quarry high on the side of Manod Mawr, Big Manod. This is the quarry that was used during the Second World War to hide art treasures from London. The road is steep, around 1 in 4, and quite demanding in our little cars, we met a Land Rover taking workers back to town, they looked suitably impressed to meet us and gave us plenty of room, pulling off the single track. We were boiling by the time we had reached the top, plenty of water about to top up with though. Once again it was cold in the wind at the top, but very impressive in a stark and wild way. Maureen could not get over the thousands of tons of slate debris heaped up around the quarry; she was to see a lot more during the week.
A visit to Blaenau Ffestiniog followed, this is a real slate town, it is built on it, of it and round it, one of the main attractions in the town is the slate quarry, Lleckwedd which is now a tourist attraction. While topping up on fuel we noticed an old car in the garage, it turned out to be an Armstrong Sidley and for sale. After a short run out and an evening meal in the Pengwearn Arms in Llan we walked back to Morannedd and bed, this was to become standard for the rest of the week.
Wednesday dawned with the promise of a fine day and we set off for Port Meirion fortified with a Full English Breakfast. Clough Williams-Ellis, the designer, has worked an Italianate miracle on the hillside between Porthmadog and Penrhyndeudraeth and we saw it at it’s best with the cool breeze tempered by the morning sun. We had coffee and a cake sitting outside a café and the wild birds were so tame they fed sitting on Alec’s hand. We took a short walk down the hill and we were on the beach, miles of golden sands with only the odd walker on them. Walking back up the hill gave the impression of being in a jungle with a mix of roses and exotic plants from all over the world.
Cricieth was next, to visit a friend of Hugh Watson, luckily she runs an antique shop and a few more 78 records have been added to our collections including Tchaikovsky’s symphony No. 5 in E minor, 12 sides and a lot of winding up! Having a cup of coffee on the front we were delighted to see another Austin Seven drive by, they spotted our cars and parked nearby. We set off in pursuit and found Allan Heeley with UG3176; He was also on holiday in the area. We indulged in our usual A7 banter and compared experiences of A7 holidays past and present. That evening we found a house called Cae’r Blaidd that I remembered as a Victorian family mansion, but is now a guest house, having asked for a brochure we were invited in and shown round by the owners, Bob and Vicky Field. The house is very grand with lots of panelling and period charm. Bob and Vicky are experienced climbers as the pictures on the wall demonstrate, lots of cliff hanging. We were made very welcome despite the late hour, 9pm and, considering the setting, their rates were very reasonable.
On Thursday morning we set of for Blaenau Ffestiniog and a trip down into the Llechwedd Slate Caverns, Dad completed an apprenticeship as a fitter in the quarry before joining the Royal Air Force in 1930, his first posting was to China to learn English. After the train journey into the mountain we walked through 10 caverns showing how the Victorian miners worked their 12 hours blasting lumps of slate out of the ground to roof the world, the commentary was in a wonderful, deep, resonant Welsh voice.
We lunched in an old time pub and then set of over the hills to Betws-y-Coed and a chance visit to an antique fair, Maureen can sniff them out anywhere. The fair gave us the opportunity to obtain more 78 records, Benny Goodman this time. Betws also boasts a motor museum so of we went, only one Austin Seven and that was a Gordon England. They should have had a Chummy but that was out on the road at the time. Swallow Falls were our next stop to view the river plunging into the gorge, very impressive, what used to be free now costs a £1 though. Back to Llan over the hills, mostly grass and sheep with some wind thrown in for good luck.
Friday dawned wet and misty so we set of for Porthmadog to catch the Ffestiniog mountain railway to Blaenau for a change, as it happened the weather brightened up and we had good views over the wild Welsh countryside. One thing we learned, the Welsh are not enthusiastic back gardeners! Blaenau was in a grey mood, all slate grey that is, so after lunch we caught the train back to Porthmadog and a little look around the shops, more 78 records. Next stop was the seaside town of Borth-y-Gest, the day turned cool so we did not stay long. On the way back to Llan we had a look at the Trawsfynydd nuclear power station, the last electricity was produced in 1993, the station is being decommissioned at the moment.
We set off early on Saturday for Tan-y-Bwlch station on the Ffestiniog railway. We had heard that the Devon Crash Box and Vintage car Club were meeting there having set off from Porthmadog at 9.15am, this turned out to be a bit misleading and the bulk of the cars did not turn up until about 11.00am. Twenty five or so cars turned up most of them post war and more upmarket than ours, we were very well received though and we were made welcome with a free cup of coffee and subsidised food in the station café. At 1,00pm we set off for Llanberis and the train to the top of Snowdon and had a pleasant run through Gerreg, Nantmore and Beddgelert on the way. We stopped at a lay-by overlooking Llyn Gwynant and had an impromptu lunch from food we found in the cars, we always carry fig rolls when out and about in the Ruby. When we turned onto the A4086 we climbed up the Pass of Llanberis, it reminded Dianne of Buttertubs Pass on the Coast to Coast!
We caught the 3.30pm train to the summit after a bit of sun bathing at the station, an hour later, and in cloud, we were at the top, and it was freezing. Alec and I climbed the last 50 feet or so to the top cairn, it was bitterly cold and windy, people were struggling up on all fours. At the top I phoned Hugh Watson to say “hello” but was cut off after a few seconds, it really was wild. Alec and I both attempted to take a photograph; we will have to await the results. We headed back to the summit café and a warm cup of tea. The day ended with the run back to Llan through Porthmadog.
Sunday passed with me out of action with a bad head so Alec and Maureen set of in search of more car boot sales on the coast. They found one in Porthmadog and Alec found a treasure he has been after for ages, what luck. They then visited Harlech and returned via Barmouth, Llanelltyd and Trawsfynydd. That was our last full day in Wales and on Monday we returned to Lincolnshire.
Having read the story so far I realise I haven’t mentioned the cars much, that is because they both ran for the 600 miles or so with no problems. We did add petrol, oil and water but that was all. Both cars had an oil change before the holiday and are as well maintained as we can make them. I do believe in greasing often to keep the joints in good condition, I also carry a good range of spares and tools. We did avoid busy roads and by pulling off to the side and letting the build up of traffic by we avoided being a nuisance to working drivers.
Driving in the mountains did mean that I had to use second and third quite a bit and first occasionally, but only for short periods, Alec managed better due to lighter body and more power, his car that is. Driving was a pleasure for the whole week, the roads, and the other cars on them, are so much better now than they were in the 60’s, when we first drove the Ruby in the 60’s we were really in the way.
The cars drew an enormous amount of interest whenever we stopped, even if only for a cup of tea in the hills. We must have had hundreds of photographs taken of us over the week. Being in Austin Sevens really enhanced the holiday for all of us.