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Notes of family excursions in north Wales

by James Orchard Halliwell- Phillipps


It is curious, or, rather, perhaps it is not curious. What I mean is that it is not curious that at first sight, where grandeur is wanting in scenery, beauty should not be immediately appreciated; but it is curious that nearly all of us, especially of those who

have seen some of the grander natural monuments of the world, should despise the more beautiful allocations of nature when they are upon a somewhat diminutive scale. So say some,—" it is all very well, but Wales will not do after Switzerland." You might just as well throw Pope behind the fire, because Pope won't do after Shakespeare. Comparisons, as a wise man once said, are odorous. There is really but little to compare, each is so different and so agreeable in its kind. We do not see the grandeur of Switzerland in any part of Wales, it is true; but we see beauty, in its kind, developed in great variety, and of a style yielding perhaps more constant delight than in any part of the Continent. The Vale of the Conway is inferior, as a whole, to the Valley of the Rhine; but it has beauties of its own that would be sought for in vain on the banks of that noble river. Thus, for example, as to the far-famed Seven Mountains, one need not travel far in Wales without meeting with spot upon spot far more striking and beautiful. And the fame may be said in regard to many of the vaunted attractions of the Continent. But, as was just observed, comparisons are odorous; and North Wales should be studied for itself and by itself.

If, then, we would desire to appreciate Wales as it deserves to be appreciated, let us in the first place banish from our minds a desire to have our senses astonished by mere exhibitions of magnitude. Let us try to believe that the American was retorting truthfully when, in reply to the alleged superiority of Mont Blanc, he asserted that there were mountains near New York so high that they became quite offensive in summer. With some, nothing will pass unless it is of some enormous height, width, or depth. The larger a mountain is, the more deserving of our sympathy; until, by-and-bye, no mountains in the world will be sufficiently high to enable our tourists to create a sensation by ascending them, or even to gratify their morbid love of excitement by overcoming the difficulties attendant on the task. As a kind of gymnastic exercise the passion is all very well; and the men who can accomplish such feats may so fit themselves for nobler and more useful actions; but let not the votaries of glaciers throw cold water, I mean ice, on the humbler followers of the lesser beauties of nature, those who are contented with the ascent of trumpery hillocks barely three or four thousand feet high, and who are simple enough to fancy that they can discover beauties in lakes, albeit these may not be inland seas, in waterfalls something smaller than those of Niagara, and in mountains even so insignificant as those of the Eryri.

The late Albert Smith, in one of his novels, has thus graphically described the effects resulting from the yearning after what may be termed the exciting grandeur of nature:—" A man sees Niagara for the first time, and shouts with rapture, or is speechless with admiration. The next day he thinks it simply a very fine fall. The next week it does not appear to tumble half so grandly as it did; and he wishes the water would come down in another fashion. Unless, like a fire-work, it alters its effects every minute, he wearies of it. And yet it is as grand as ever;—the same volume is pouring forth, — the same iris of brilliant light encompasses it,—it sparkles and flashes as of old. But he measures the sensation only by the first effect it produced; and unless it can, in itself, exceed this by some new and utter convulsion of its nature, it is no more worth regarding." The effects of Niagara falls depend on their magnitude. Those of many an insignificant streamlet, such as are those at Nant Mill, make a more charming picture, and one of more enduring power of giving pleasure. Bear something of these considerations in mind; let not the want of great magnitude prevent a calm and just observation; and the charms of North Wales will grow upon us day by day, ever yielding new combinations to surprise and delight.

There is yet another consideration, a very practical one, why some of us should be content to devote our summer holidays to ramble through the

many beautiful localities of our native land. It is because, if they are not so content, they must stay at home. It is not given to all to have purses long enough, or to be so free from engagements, as to enable them to pass a vacation in Norway or Switzerland; nor, in company with children, would it be always desirable or agreeable to do so. Now, gentle reader, I am what it is the fashion now-adays to call paterfamilias; and with a family party, eight in number, find that money goes quite fast enough even when we are content to ensconce ourselves for the summer at a moderate distance from home in quiet lodgings, selecting places whence we can ever and anon have a good tramp over the hills and far away, breathing semi-mountain air, content to dine in gipsy fashion by the side of a rivulet, or of a lake, even of one which would be thought a pond at the Antipodes. So then let us have a summer on the northern coast of North Wales; and as soon as we have explored one locality, let us take the rail to the next. It will be hard if we cannot find something worth seeing between Chester and Carnarvon, aye and something worth noting too, notwithstanding that this part of the country is so much frequented and annually visited by thousands of tourists, not a few of whom are bent on taking notes and printing them. A book is a book, &c. I won't complete the line, or there may arise an illnatured remark of small flattery to the penner of these pages. Suffice it to say, we, and the "we " include a daughter not yet twelve, are bent on walking excursions over hill and dale, through forest and flood, such as are to be met with anywhere within twenty miles of the railway line stretching from Chester to Carnarvon. I mention the age of the youngest of the party who joined in these excursions, as some guide to others as to the want of difficulty attending them. At the same time, some routes are described which should not be too rashly undertaken in all weathers, or without due care. Lives are often placed in jeopardy by underrating dangers, and there are few places in which they


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