22 July 2021

World War II defences in the area

My favourite historic period is the Iron Age. When I saw a public walk advertised, by my usual organisation the Carneddau landscape partnership, which would go into detail about local Second World War defences, I hesitated a bit. World War II; that is quite a lot later than the Iron Age! But I figured anything that makes you better understand the landscape is interesting. And pretty much everything gets more interesting if you know more about it. So I registered. This time I made sure I brought a hat! It was predicted to be the hottest day of the year…

Once again I biked to Ogwen cottage. This time I didn't have to bike any further. I parked up, but I didn't see any of the people I know would be leading this trip. But I saw a few blokes sitting on a wall, who looked like they might be other participants in this event. And they were! And I decided to sit in the shade and wait for the thing to really take off. I ended up chatting with an extended family that was clearly also here for the WWII walk. And after a while I saw Kathy, the archaeologist I head seen both in the online lecture and during the walk up Carnedd Dafydd. And even later, Abbie the conservationist appeared, in the company of a bloke in World War II attire. It looked like the leading team was complete! And I already felt bad for the bloke in period costume. It looked uncomfortably hot…

After a while we set off. The name of the bloke in the WWII outfit was Morgan, and he was going to do almost all of the talking. An we set off down the old road. Soon we encountered old tank barriers. I knew about these! And they stand out quite a lot. But Morgan knew a lot of detail about how they would be used, and why they were put there, and all such things. He also pointed out a cylindrical bit of concrete that turned out to have been a base for a mortar. That would have been more efficient against a tank than the type of rifle he was carrying over his shoulder! I was enjoying this already.

Talking about the base for the mortar

He also pointed out little home guard outposts. They looked quite like the kind of wind shelter you find on local mountaintops; just ring-shaped structures in dry stone. The idea was that you just would have a home guard person in there with the gun. They blend into the landscape, and anyone approaching might not notice you before you notice them. And a bloke with a gun can't do much against a tank, but I suppose the idea was that tanks couldn't get past the barrier anyway, so maybe the outposts were either for an enemy travelling by other means, or for in case people would come out of their tanks.

Morgan in his outpost; notice the role of blocky tank barriers in the background

He also pointed out metal structures that were used for creating barbed wire barriers; he said that in the 40s, there would have been barbed wire all across the valley. Then we walked further down the valley. And now that he had been pointing out the cylindrical structures and the outposts, we saw them everywhere.

We later also had a more theoretical discussion about how the Brits like to paint themselves as plucky and invincible, but that it had been a close call. Victory wasn't inevitable at all! And it mustn't have felt inevitable at the time, either. Morgan was convinced it was mainly a Nazi oil problem that led to an allied victory.

After the discussion, we went up the driveway of the farm at the top of the valley. That is not a public footpath, so I head never been there before! The walk had permission. It was great to see the valley from an unusual angle. And by a beautiful tree we sat down for lunch. I was peckish!

On our way to the lunch spot

I didn't only eat; I also found out that one of the other participants was also Dutch. He ran the nearby youth hostel. This was a difficult time for him, evidently! But it was nice to have a chat in Dutch. The group was, as expected, mainly Welsh, so we had a nice trilingual thing going there. I pointed out to him I was having a biscuit sandwich! I liked his face when I told him that.

I also asked Kathy the archaeologist if she know anything about the strange path between Llyn Ogwen and Capel Curig. It looked like an old tramway! And it has always puzzled me. It really didn't look like an old drove road; it is straight as a line, avoids any steep bits, and is quite wide. So someone really made an effort there! But why was that worth it? What is so important to be transported from Capel Curig to Llyn Ogwen that it is worth that effort? But she didn't know either. Oh well!

After lunch we reluctantly left the shadow of the tree. We were all baking, and Morgan suffered the most! But we still had more to see. After some negotiating of soggy terrain, and some clambering, we got to a dry stone wall that had been modified to provide shot holes. And from there we went further up to a pillbox. I had never known it was there! It was in excellent nick. And we were all glad to be able to pop inside. It was cool in there! After I had my turn, I made my way down to the river, and dangled my legs in. That was nice. By then the trip got a bit slow; one of the men struggled a bit with the physically demanding bits of the walk. At some point I saw him on the hand of the Dutch men. As during the Carnedd Dafydd walk, the stronger participants helped the struggling ones!

The A5 looked at from below; notice the two lumps on the rock above it. These are again outposts for the home guard!

The home guard scrambling up the hill

The pillbox

After the pillbox we were almost there. We made our way back to the road, which had lots of more outposts looming over it, and which also had fastenings for a barrier chain. But that was the end of the walk. We had overrun by at least an hour! And several of us were quite keen to get out of the sun. Especially Morgan. There was a little bit more happening, as the family I spoke of earlier had a history of finding Second World War relics, and they had brought some to show Morgan. He was impressed! And he willingly posed for a picture with the kids. That was really nice. But then I said goodbye to everyone and headed back to my bike. Time to get home; time to cool down!

Amazing views of the river just below the pillbox

I couldn't resist a picture of the bridge from below

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