By P.S. Gifford
It was on a chillingly cold and crisp October early morning several years ago that our peculiar tale began. Although perhaps there is a valid argument to be had for it actually beginning the moment we decided to spend the night in such a place, back in California. Sarah, my wife, and I awoke simultaneously, huddled in an embrace. The moonlight shimmered hauntingly through faded lace curtains of our antiquated hotel room. Our sleeping quarters for the night was ominously located in the converted attic of a building that had been originally constructed in the early part of the 16th century. Whereas for the last hundred or so years it had served as an inn and public house, and later on as a bed and breakfast hotel, serving weary tourists and traveling tradesmen, its original function was of a far more spiritual nature, a nunnery. My family, with our curious and slightly eccentric sensibilities considered the property to be both fascinating and hauntingly ethereal.
We lay there for several moments examining the low beams painted with the traditional black. I begin to envision all the remarkable events that must have occurred within these four walls. We could sense the history associated with the place. The bed itself, a four poster, was in itself an antique, and it crossed my mind if anyone had actually died in it. I quickly dismissed the morbid thought before it had time to fester. We were after all on vacation, I gently caressed my wife’s shoulder, and she smiled lovingly at me. We both gazed at our son, Jonathan, who was ten at the time, still sound asleep in his bed positioned at the foot of ours.
The Inn came by the name the ‘Black Buoy inn’ all those decades ago. There are many theories as to how it got its colorful name ‘Black Boy Inn’; from a nickname for Charles II used by Royalist plotters, to a black buoy found in the harbor. The Welsh name for this street it lies upon is ‘Stryd Pedwar a Chwech’, means “Four and Six Street” – rumored to be the amount a sailor would pay for lodgings, a bottle of gin and company for the night.
The building it self is contained within the impressive and mighty castle walls of Caernarfon, as indeed is the entire town. Construction of the castle began in the year 1283. Upon my arrival there the previous afternoon I had run my fingers gently over the ancient stones feeling every nook. I imagined as my fingers rummaged how many folks over the hundreds of years since its construction had also done the same
I put my arm tighter around Sarah lost in a blissful daydream
“So, today is the day we take the train up to the peak of Snowdon!” I chirped enthusiastically.
“Snowdon?” my wife replied rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
“Yes Snowdon, it is the highest mountain peek within the United Kingdom reaching up to an impressive three-thousand five-hundred and sixty feet. It is the oldest running railway system in the world. It is also one of the steepest tracks if memory serves.” I informed her remembering the description almost word for word from my trusted travel guide.
Sarah sighed in vague recognition.
Despite the sun beginning to rise and our chatter, Jonathan was still fast asleep. Sea air often has this effect upon one particularly combined with a residual of jet lag.
I pulled myself of the groaning four poster bed onto the faded red carpet…The floorboards creaking ominously beneath my weight. I yawned lazily as I switched on the tea maker.
Twenty minutes later, at a remarkable 6:30, on the surprisingly clear morning we were poised in our rental car ready to commence the drive to llanberris. Llanberris is where, again according to my travel guide, the station sits picturesquely. I knew it was early, I am invariably early for everything. I am far more relaxed leaving with plenty of time for any margin of error that might arise. I am not known as the best navigator and besides I reasoned if we get there early enough I was fairly sure we could find a little cafe to enjoy a steaming mug of tea and a bacon sandwich set in the foothills of some of the most splendid scenery anywhere in the world.
As we pulled into the deserted station I looked at my watch-7:15. The first train was not scheduled until 9:00. I parked the car, Sarah and Jonathan were watching me intently keenly awaiting on what gems of wisdom, or further travel guide posts, I was about to inflict upon them.
“Okay Giffords!” I said as cheerfully as I could muster. “How about we spend an hour or two exploring the immediate area…Surely by then this sleepy town would start coming to life, and can you imagine how hungry we will be for breakfast?”
We climbed out of the car, and made our way over to the station. It appeared to have been lost in time. Yet we were in for a delightful surprise for as we peered at the station we were greeted with an amazing smell…Steam. Steam was still the power of choice for climbing the steep ascension, many of the trains themselves dating to the late nineteenth century. Suddenly we saw the cause of the steam, a lovely engine in a deep hue of red slowly pulling into the station. I could not resist taking a closer peek.
“Look at that!” I cried as I enthusiastically jumped over the fence, Jonathan with vigor but Sarah with admitted reluctance. After a few moments we spied the engineer, dutifully pumping coal into the old boiler.
“Look at his clothes,” I remarked, “precisely as one would have expected from a hundred years ago. A shabby gray woolen coat donned over a pair of faded blue slacks. We must get a photograph!”
I read out loud the name proudly displayed on the front of the red engine, “Evan’s glory.”
As I was considering the glorious possibilities as to who Evan might have been we were greeted with an unexpected cry.
I looked up and straight into the blue eyes of a beaming gray haired bearded man.
“Come aboard” he echoed as he surely noted my puzzled gaze. His voice, although deep and bellowing, still had resounding warmth to it.
Not believing our good fortune luck I hastily corralled the family into the only carriage behind the engine and positioned ourselves into the well worn wooden seats. Within a matter of moments a whistle was blown and bellows of steam began to fill the morning air. Then the engine began to move.
As we shunted slowly out of the station I took in a deep breath of the splendidly fragranced air. In my humble opinion one of the great delights is that inexplicable array of aromas delicately balanced to create that early morning mountain air. I greedily inhaled once more, pulling my jacket a little tighter around me.
Jonathan was now starting to fully awaken and Sarah and I watched on with delight as his young eyes and ears devoured the sights and sounds presented to him. I could see his young imagination was being thrown into overdrive as memories were being deeply etched. Memories I knew from my childhood experiences with my family that would endure a lifetime…
Grasping my wife’s hand snugly I laid my head back and simply enjoyed the glorious, magical moment. It appeared to me that we were the only passengers, as we were sitting in the only carriage, and in front of us was only the engine shunting and puffing nobly along. On either side of us were an array of ancient walls and long houses. The houses were showing their age, and it was plainly obvious no-one had called them home for decades. Dotted the green countryside in every direction I studied were an abundance of sheep frolicking gaily as they grazed. Idyllic I mused to myself. The contented peaceful expression on Sarah’s face revealed that she had similar sentiments.
The train as it climbed almost felt as if was drifting back in time. The higher we went, the scenery got a little bleaker and less remnants of former house and walls were evident.
It took almost two hours for us to finally arrive at the peak. Despite the day being clear and bright down below a heavy mist was shrouded over the peak. We clambered out of our carriage into the crisp clean mountain air. Visibility was alas non existent.
Right there just below the peak was a gift shop along with a small cafeteria and I was momentarily hopeful. As we walked eagerly up to it the thought of a steaming hot mug of tea and bacon sandwich once again played merrily in my head. Unfortunately we discovered that it was not going to open for another three quarters of an hour. We decided to climb to the very highest peak and sit and simply sit there enjoying the moment. The intense quiet was remarkable. We daydreamed the time away in blissful joy, as if all our troubles had evaporated. However our magical moment and solitude was suddenly interrupted as a second train had descended the mountain. We got up and made our way back down to the station, as we watched the more modern locomotive pull in. I looked about for ‘Evans Glory’ yet it was, surprisingly, no where to be seen.
“Must have gone back down the mountain,” I told my wife and son, who were evidently trying to locate it also. “Funny though as I didn’t hear it, did you?”
They shook their heads in agreement, yet I could tell they were not convinced.
As we continued to watch on about a dozen folks clambered out of the carriage…this train was a diesel and the clean mountain air was momentarily obscured by the distinct smell of burning fuel.
“They must be the worker’s in the gift shop and cafeteria,” I said as we made our way over to them.
A tall stocky young man looked up at us with a startled expression on his face.
“You must have started out bloody early to climb to the peak at such an early hour,” he said with a lovely strong welsh accent, the words seeming almost musical.
I too now was startled.
“Oh no! We came up on the vintage steam train Evans Glory, we have been here almost an hour.”
The stranger’s eyes opened to an alarming size and we could discern hat a look of horror was overcoming him….
“Evans Glory you say?” The words now seeming as cold as the mountain air “But that’s impossible, for you see Evans Glory was one of the first engines to make it to the top, over a hundred years ago. It was tragic though on its descent it lost its brakes, sped off the tracks smashing into a thousand pieces. Everyone on board was killed…”
P.S. Well, okay only ninety per cent of this story is true- The rest was slightly embellished.