This Easter holiday you might wish you were here, but Snowdonia is just not the same right now.
From castles to Cader Idris and Coed y Brenin, all attractions are closed. There will be no queuing for ice-cream or crabbing on the quay in Barmouth. We’ll miss the cheery whistle from Fairbourne steam railway and even the regular rattle of trains over Barmouth Bridge is now a rare sound.
Of course the weather is lovely just because everyone needs to stay at home. Here at Graig Wen, we appreciate what an enormous privilege it is to be in such a beautiful place. There’s just myself and John here, busy with maintenance jobs outside, doing our best to answering anxious email enquiries and of course, enjoying the birdsong and beauty of nature’s spring calendar.
We glimpse the postman and neighbours but that’s about it. We miss seeing campers wander over to breathe in the morning view across the Mawddach Estuary, take a photo or do some yoga. Our super sociable cat is bored of only us for company and has taken to chasing slow worms.
We are finding new routines instead of serving breakfast, cleaning and looking after guests.
On Thursdays we stand on the terrace and clap for NHS and key workers. We especially think of those guests we are finding out work on the frontline against COVID 19. We don’t see anyone else clapping but we know there are lots of others in our scattered community doing the same.
Once a week, we leave home and drive around the Mawddach Estuary to shop in Dolgellau, drop essential supplies to Mum’s doorstep in Talybont and wave at John’s Dad through the window of his care home in Barmouth – our only way of communicating with him.
The drive is longer than usual as the big iron gates have been closed across the toll bridge at Penmaenpool for a few weeks now. Red and white tape flutters in the warm breeze barring access to all parking spots along the Mawddach Trail. Public toilets are locked, leaving delivery drivers to take their chances.
Homemade banners on boards and bedsheets are slung on road signs and rocks urging visitors to “Go Home, COVID 19” – some in friendlier terms than others.
The few vehicles on the roads are mainly delivery vans, ambulances, police cars and tractors. The only houses with empty drives are the shut holiday homes and hotels. We see the occasional couple sauntering in the sunshine, lone cyclists, runners and walkers, or people tackling their increasingly well-tended and blooming gardens.
In Barmouth, car parks usually circled by frustrated day trippers waiting for someone to leave the beach, are big empty stretches of tarmac glistening in the sunshine. The beach is deserted.
Usually busy bed-making, owners of Barmouth seafront B&Bs can be seen pulling up a sun chair for a rare chance to enjoy their own sea view. Hopefully counting their blessings, likely lamenting their bank balance.
Every café and shop in Barmouth is closed except for the chemist and supermarkets. The waltzers stopped waltzing weeks ago. In Dolgellau, a few people queue awkwardly outside supermarkets. In our rural community, the supermarket aisles are often the place you bump into friends and neighbours for a gossip. No longer. In Boots, familiar faces are seen struggling under sweaty plastic aprons, gloves and steamed up visors. The animal supplies warehouse has become a drive thru for sheep, horse and cattle supplies. The tiny hole in the wall pet shop provides the only open outpost of Dolgellau’s independent shops. Iron gates bar the entrance to cake paradise at T.H. Roberts, with hand written signs on the window advertising takeouts. All is dark and still inside.
It’s shocking and sad to see it this way for the Easter holidays and a huge hit for everyone who relies on the tourism economy here. However we have to say the last weekend before lockdown, when such crowds headed here and cleared shops, was very stressful for us, our staff and our local community.
So for all the reasons we know, we thank all of you who are staying at home to save lives this Easter. Snowdonia will be here when it’s safe to return and there will be a big welcome in the hillsides.