Hen Ffydd is the last station on the line, and the only station in the mountains. It sits at the base of Skinny Peak.
The hills become steeper and more forbidding the closer you get to the Daggerrock Range. First you pass through the gentle ambling Wessen Downs, and these lead to the Bloon Peaks, which just about prepare you for the inhospitable Daggerrock Mountains themselves.
There are five Peaks, all different from each other. Skinny is the most heavily populated because of Hen Ffydd, and tapers to a point that is usually shrouded in cloud. Next to it is short Gwyrddlas, whose slopes are covered in forests. Just behind Gwyrddlas are Mytten (Musril for mountain) Fach and Mytten Fawr, both imposing dark jagged heaps. Mytten Fach looks as though the very top was snapped off by an impossible giant. The last Peak is Tlws, known for its waterfalls, deep still lakes and rushing mountain streams.
Summer is a good time to see them for their individual beauty, with the added bonus that the weather is at its most reliable. In winter, of course, they are covered in snow and those crazy people who enjoy hurling themselves down cold, icy precipices on small bits of wood. In July only Mytten Fawr was capped in snow. Tlws’ waterfalls were sparkling ribbons in the bright sunshine.
Despite being the main urban area in the mountains Hen Ffydd is tiny. Maybe it was just the shock of coming straight from Rookpot, but I think both of us were expecting … more.
The station only has one line, one platform, and one wooden hut with a low roof, shutters, hanging baskets overrun with dead geraniums, and no visible opening hours. This is where the track ends; this is as far as you can go into the mountains by train. From here you hike or take your chances on what pass for roads in the jagged peaks, either by car or on one of the occasional death buses that make the trip during the summer months. On the other side of the mountains is the rest of England, but this was not the way to get to it. There were always proposals put in front of Rookpot Council on the feasibility of building a viable, reliable and safe transport system through the mountains, but the expense, planning permissions, logistics, and actual reality of attempting such a mammoth project means that nothing ever happens.
You can see all four of the other Bloon Peaks from a Here Marks the Spot on the platform, and get a good sense of their individual characters. Turn around and you face the gently rising green flanks of Skinny Peak, the Peak with the most villages on it. Hen Ffydd itself is all uphill from the station: no flat bits to be seen. The main street, for want of a better word, is wide enough for two cars to scrape by, and it is laid with almost-black cobbles that glitter when hit by direct sunlight. The buildings are square, squat and stolid; a lot of them look as though they have been hewn from massive boulders. The different coloured roof tiles, shutters and doors must be a welcome warmth in the winter when everything is cold and grey. In summer they complement the splashes of colour of the flowers and butterflies in the meadows between the Peaks. The shutters are thrown open and geraniums and posies shine brightly in the window boxes. Old signs hang over the door of any building offering any kind of trade: the village shop has one with a painted basket, the butcher’s next door has ominous looking cleaver, the souvenir shop a jester’s head, the baker’s a loaf etc etc.
At the crossroads at the end of the street was the oldest-looking building: a heap of rockery and aged crooked timbers, with a faded dark shape on its creaking sign that could once have been a four-legged winged dragon – and the only reason I could even guess at that was because the red writing over the door announced that the building is called The Dragon.
“That’s the pub,” announced Felix, from the guide book. “The only pub in the village,” he added, in a poor attempt at a Welsh accent.
“And where’s our B&B?”
“It’s called The Last Rest, and it’s down – up – Cheesepig Run.”
“You are making that up!”
“Nope. It was named after a pig escaped from the abattoir’s van with a large amount of cheese.”
“The pig stole some cheese?”
“Sounds like it. Do pigs eat cheese?”
“Let’s find the place first, then we can ask.”
Finding places in Hen Ffydd is not difficult. There are about five streets a car could get down before they became narrow alleyways which then lead to open mountainside. Cheesepig Run was one of the wider avenues, and it seemed to mainly consist of B&Bs.
The Last Rest had green-blue tiles, shutters and front door, all newly painted, and fragrant bluebells in the window boxes. It was, appropriately I suppose, the last B&B on the street that ended abruptly in a large heap of loose scree.
“The Last Rest sounds like a funeral home,” sad Felix.
“I assume that’s not what they were going for.” I knocked on the door.
An old woman who was smaller than me answered. Her snowy hair was arranged in a tight, neat topknot on the crown of her head. Dark grey eyes were sunken in folds of deep wrinkles. She beamed up at us and grabbed at Felix’s backpack, hoisting it over her shoulders as though it was full of feathers. If she did run a funeral home, it was a very cheerful one.
“You’re from Rookpot, yes? Just got in? Found us OK?”
“Yes, thank you,” said Felix, clearly not sure whether he should try and reclaim his backpack.
“Trains OK? They should be OK at this time of year. Winter really messes with ‘em. They can’t cope with our snows. My name’s Bea, Bea Proke. We spoke on the phone, didn’t we? You’re Felix. So you must be Mabel. I had an Aunt Mabel.”
I get that a lot.
We signed in, paid our deposit, and Bea Proke insisted on showing us to our rooms up a flight of stairs that turned sharply at ninety degrees halfway up. Felix insisted on taking his backpack back. Bea continued chattering throughout all of this, and it was a bit of a relief when she closed the door and left me alone in my room.
It was nice enough: small, floral, clean, with a wash basin but no ensuite. The window overlooked the lower slopes of Hen Ffydd and the countryside beyond. I could see the railway line, and wished a steam train would puff into view to complete the scene.
Felix and I met in the lounge on the ground floor that is next to the cramped dining room, and has doors out to the small back garden. The lounge is crowded with threadbare armchairs and small sofas. Watercolours depicting various mountain scenes cover the faded pink wallpaper. The one bookcase is crammed with guides, maps and books other travellers have left here over the years.
“Did you ask about the pig?”
Felix was studying his Walking and Wine in the Bloon Peaks, and did not look up. “You have to work up to these things.”
I sat next to him on a sofa. “Found something for tomorrow?”
“There’s a trek across the valley to Gwyrddlas – that’s where the vineyards are. We can get wine and honey, have lunch, see what’s there. Shouldn’t be too taxing.”
“Sounds good. Are there any gourmet delights in Hen Ffydd we can try tonight?”
“No Michelin stars that they boast about, but there is a place that claims it has the best beer and sausages in the whole of Farynshire.”
By Mabel Govitt (with special permission from Ammaceadda)