Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Holiday 5

We drove over to Llanberis to see if what it offered matched the tourist publicity. It certainly did. The village sits surrounded by mountains, next to a lake along the valley floor. At the southern end of Llyn Peris is not one but two complete narrow gague rail systems. On the West side of the main road the Snowdon Mountain railway terminus is sited. It began life in 1894, and has expanded tastefully to include new facilites for visitors, a film intepretation centre, a restaurant and tourist shop, all liveried the same as the station. Of the three trains we saw running, one was diesel and two were steam powered, pushing a carriage for about fifty people at a time up to the summit. At present the trip only goes as far as the half way station. The summit station is undergoing a much publicised rebuild, so there is no place for people to get out and walk around at the top.
We walked up the summit path that runs alongside the railway line, but turned back when the weather began to look threatening, on the ' quit while you're ahead' principle. On the return leg, the heavens began to open just as we reached the 18th century cottage of Pen Ceunant which has been restored with period furniture and is run as an extraordinary tearoom, with tables in three small front room parlours, serving just tea (normal or a herb home-brew). You can eat your own sandwiches, enter with muddy boots, bring in your dog and be welcomed by Steffan, who lives there with his aged mother and collection of Kyffin Williams drawings and prints. A truly uplifting experience of a 'Welsh welcome', adding to the sense of there being something very special about this small corner of the world.
On the opposite side of the road from the mountain railwway station runs the Llanberis Lakeside railway. It runs from there around the east side of the lake, past the National Slate Museum. It has a blue locomotive called Tomas Bach! The rail track on this side of the lake would at one time have served the transport of slate from the quarries down towards Port Dinorwic in the Menai Straights. The quarries closed down just weeks after Prince Charles was invested as Prince of Wales down the road in Caernarfon in 1969. What a disaster for the local economy with several hundred people put out of work. However, the desire of a few to triumph over adversity, led to the preservation of the industrial buildings of the site and its gradual transformation into a world class museum of which Wales can be justly proud. Even more so because, like other National Museum sites in Wales, entrance is free, by Senedd policy. We spent the remainder of a wet afternoon marvelling at what had be achieved in this powerhouse fo slate mining, so much so that we didn't have time to visit the Dinorwick hydo electric interpretation centre just down the road, celebrating one of the earliest developments of hydro-electric power.
Whether you visit St Fagans or the artistic, cultural and archaeological treasures of the Cathays Park site in Cardiff, or the National Library in Aber, or Llanberis, it's impossible not to be impressed by high quality of presentation and intepretation, let alone the priceless value of our national treasures. You feel you ought to pay something as you feel indebted by what you've learned, but 'free' is a deep political and spiritual statement.
These are the stories of our land and peoples, to be learned and transmitted. They make us who and what we are, whether we know it, or like it, or not. It's not that they're priceless in any emotional or monetary sense, but that our Welsh government believes such heritage cannot be commoditised and traded with. It is for sharing, for mutual benefit.
There are inevitably positive economic spin-offs from such a policy. Llanberis looks reasonably prosperous as a result of its regeneration through cultural tourism, and that's infinitely better than being a desolate backwater, like some of the South Wales Valleys, post-mining. In a way, making history and heritage free and 'open source' (like the emergent strain of computer software and design) is the best way to counter the ill-effects of industrial innovation and enterprise, led by the few for the benefit of the few, exploiting the many without a care for their welfare or future.

Bishop Tom Butler is interviewed on World at One and is in attacking mode - nothing personal, but again exposing the inconsistencies in the GAFCON understanding of authority, questioning how it can work without consultation or agreement from existing Bishops on the ground. The 'S' word he does not use. But that's what it amounts to.

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