Two Tales of Wales (Part Two)

Knumpty Van
This image may not match the tale – but when you read it, it shouldn’t be a surprise why there aren’t any photos.

As referenced in Part One, there follows a cautionary tale from our very early days of motorhoming – where Inexperience, Ignorance and Idiocy are expertly blended and seasoned with a good pinch of Jeopardy – to bring you yet another Satnav-induced Knumpty adventure . . .

From the coastal solidity of the A493, which runs along the southern edge of the inspiringly beautiful Mawddach estuary, and in search of a local campsite for the night, we were encouraged by our trusty Satnav onto a minor road which not only led us inland and upwards but which quickly began to narrow between high, dry stone walls.

This ‘road’ became steeper and narrower the further we progressed – and offered no option to turn around – so we trundled gamely on, passing just one isolated farm where, with hindsight, we should have decided to seize the day and turn back. However, the flickering flame of our pioneering spirit burnt still bright in our newly Knumptied hearts, so we pressed on, with the van’s widest point – the exterior mirrors – soon clipping the dry-stone walls on both sides. It was on one of these narrow stretches, through paying more than careful attention to said mirrors, that I caught sight of a curiously incongruous (and alarming) image – we were being tailed by a police car.

Thankfully we had met no other traffic so far and with the police car now trailing in our wake, we reached a patch of firm-looking grass onto which we pulled to let him pass. As he drew level, windows were mutually wound down to exchange pleasantries. Set against a stunning backdrop featuring an early-February, late-afternoon sunset shimmering on the estuary which lay several crisp, clear miles below us, the incongruity of our situation surfaced in the face of the smiling policeman as he politely enquired if this was “our preferred route, sir?”

Now gently whimpering in a passable imitation of Stan Laurel, we did our very English best to express our interest in the police officers’ local knowledge of the area; our grateful astonishment at their timely arrival and the overwhelming sense of reassurance this had brought to our otherwise isolated (and, well yes, idiotic) predicament.

Our two Officers of The Law seemed to be quietly amused at our situation, expressing surprise and (what we decided later must have been) admiration at our stoic stupidity, as we’d clearly managed to get so far and the worst of the route was now behind us. With a cheery wave, they therefore passed by ahead of us, suggesting rather pointedly that if we didn’t emerge in thirty minutes they’d be happy to call out Mountain Rescue.

Well. It’s safe to say that neither of us could remember being as scared as we became in that thirty minutes after we waved them off. Although our onward route had widened ever-so- slightly, it had also become tortuously steep and a section had clearly been washed with an overflowing mountain stream – now sheening under the lowering sun into a slick of black-ice which stretched between high-verge-with-dry-stone-wall on the driver’s side and soft-verge-with-gully for the passenger to contemplate on theirs. And just for good measure, there also lay malevolently amidships of this darkening sheen, a huge pothole of van-swallowing proportions.

So. Everything to go for then. With a beautiful Welsh dusk threatening to fall; a plummeting temperature and our only source of help now disappeared over the brow of the next hill, we attempted a first, cautiously low-speed approach onto the ice- slick which, of course, was all set to repel us with its increasingly frictionless surface.

From our tentative and nominally advanced position, we then experienced – with chassis creaking and van contents gently shaking as if in fear – a slow-motion, excruciating, inexorable, bowel-relaxing slide backwards down the ice-slick, our progress being only marginally slowed through frantically spinning wheels and slipping clutch.

As if to add insult to our already injured pride, as we regained dry tarmac and continue rolling backwards, we managed somehow to steer the offside wheels onto the ever-rising grass verge, tipping the whole van slowly sideways to an impossible angle as we inch – creaking on the brakes – further back downhill. Thankfully our offside rear wheel rolled up against a rock which impeded any further backward progress and we came to a silent stop, our pressured whistling breaths uncannily reminiscent of the sound of airbrakes echoing around the cab.

Realising that the van could now thankfully go no further back down the hill, we risked abandoning the cab (yes, alright, still in our ‘travelling’ slippers) and disembarked to assess the situation at ground level. From here, it became abundantly clear that our only solution lay onwards; that reversing to anywhere was an impossibility and the inevitable requirement for forward motion was going to necessitate a jolly good run-up.

Right then. Repeat after me: We’re very brave. We’re very brave. We may look pale and still have our slippers on – but we are actually Very Brave Indeed. Gritting teeth and revving like a drag-racer, we spewed mud, verge, sheep-dung, diesel fumes and a few strangulated expletives into the gloaming – all the while forgetting to admire the magnificent view and low-streaming rays of the setting sun (nor take any damn photographs!) Wheels spun, engine roared and we inched painfully forwards again, off the verge and somehow, through brute ignorance and horsepower, we managed to get all four tyres back onto tarmac, where the handbrake held us poised and creaking as we girded ourselves for our second attempt at the lethal-looking ice-sheet-and-pothole combo which lay ahead.

With screaming revs, alliterative slight-sideways-slithery-skidding and a toe-curling sense of slow-motion we hurtled up the short stretch of dry road and onto the ice where – just as our critical forward momentum began to decay beneath us – our wheels passed either side of the pothole and reached dry tarmac on the other side of the ice! With red faces and regained friction, we cheered ourselves onward beyond our nemesis and up towards the brow of the hill, where we were greeted around the next bend by one of our friendly Welsh constables, casually leaning over an open gate. From here, he was clearly pleased to be able to comment wryly on the smell of burning clutch which “seemed to be prevalent up here at this time of year.”

We exchanged further relieved pleasantries and copious thanks before we rather sheepishly allowed ourselves to be escorted off the mountain (thankfully without the ignominy of blue lights) back down to the coastal A-road – from which we should never have departed in the first place.

Strong sweet tea was brewed in the next lay-by we encountered, supped with all the savour and panache of a champagne-cocktail, as the crisp winter sun signed itself off through the windscreen. Off went the Satnav, out came the maps and back we trekked around the estuary to the welcoming bosom of Barmouth where (just for good measure) we enjoyed a satisfyingly close call with a surprisingly low railway bridge as our Grand Finale.

Finally, and with great relief we parked up for the night on a deserted, gloriously flat, ice-free promenade – where we promptly steadied our frayed nerves through the unmitigated consumption of our entire on-board duty-free allowance for the rest of the trip.

Thank you, Wales. You’re always a lot of fun.

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