CREATIVE Peter Goulding

NWR Issue 121

Never Never Land: Peter Goulding on Climbing the Slate Quarries of Snowdonia

Lee and I walk out of the campsite and down the hill, past small sheepfields towards the village, a row of terrace houses reaches up. The slope of the road is hard on our shins. My boots go clump-clump-clump; it sounds like a marching soldier.

The rain taps on our hoods, but it’s not enough to trouble our alpine-grade waterproofs. Lee’s jacket can scrunch down to the size of a wizened apple, and mine is made of some siliconised space-age hydro-carbon which looks strangely crispy. The right colours too: grey of slate with orange zips like rusty machinery.
We walk down Ceunant Street, a terrace of quarrymen’s cottages. There is a tall, well-built chapel on the right, with high narrow windows and grey stone: as severe as Methodism but with none of the humility. This chapel was built by the Welsh-speaking villagers, some of them the quarrymen. It sits higher on the hill than the Anglican church in Llanberis: St Padarn's was built by the Assheton-Smiths, the English- speaking quarry owners, who made sure the tower was higher than the chapel’s.

The road flattens out, Ceunant Street goes to Capel Coch. This comes out on to High Street just next to Joe Brown’s, a gear shop owned by the famous climber. He still lives somewhere on the hill behind us, and he likes to be left alone.

Lee and I walk over to the Spar and buy our lunches for the day. For me a bag of bread-rolls, pack of bananas, cheese slices, salami. We both get pork pies, factory made with a purple and pink label on their cel- lophane wrapper. These ones are pretty good. Lee rates them as ‘the best factory-made pork pie ever’. He trained to be a butcher years ago, straight out of college.

In the queue, the girl behind the counter speaks in Welsh to the old man before me. I love to hear the flow of the language, the trickle of the sounds. It’s a nice feeling to see people talking to each other and enjoy- ing hearing them chat, without knowing what they are saying. When I step up she doesn’t even try to speak Welsh with me, straight away says, ‘Hello. Do you need a carrier bag?’ I don’t know how she knows I don’t speak Welsh. It’s probably obvious.

High Street is wet, the pavements shiny; water drips off the scaffolding up around the chip shop that burned down last year. The houses and shops are built in narrow tall terraces, three storeys high, big clusters of chimneys for multiple Victorian fireplaces against the chill damp. The houses are built of slate or rubblestone, but they have been rendered and then painted. Towards the middle of the village they are white, pale yellow, or mint-green, but at the far end of High Street is Pete’s Eats, the climbers’ cafe, painted in daring Mediterranean shades of indigo and terracotta.

There are quite a few people up and down High Street, despite the rain. Grannies wear Marks & Spencer macs which are such good quality that they have lasted long enough to become old-fashioned looking. Builders are in jeans and branded hooded tops which will end their days covered in cement dust and silicon. Climbers are obvious because they wear bright waterproofs in the same shade as Pete’s Eats’ paintwork. They’ll be wandering between the five or six different gear shops, be- fore dropping money into the local economy for tea, cake and all-day breakfasts...

Peter Goulding won this summer’s New Welsh Writing Awards 2019 Rheidol Prize for Writing with a Welsh Theme or Setting for ‘On Slate’, from which this is an extract. Look out for Peter’s book, Slatehead: The Punks Who Climbed the Slate and Made it Great, published on our Welsh Rarebyte imprint next year, and our animated trailer for the book

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