Sunday, 20 January 2013

Memories of a Blizzard on the Welsh Coast

We don’t often get arctic weather on the Welsh Coast.  But the recent cold snap has brought back a flurry of memories of the great blizzard of January 1982.

I was working on the Llŷn peninsula supervising a group of youngsters doing conservation work on a youth training scheme.  That morning we were working near my home, Tan yr Ardd, about half a mile from our work base at Plas yn Rhiw.  

Not long after we’d started work, we noticed fine snowflakes drifting on the stiffening easterly breeze.  By lunchtime, the snow started to get heavier and we retreated to the cottage.

As we ate our sandwiches and chatted, I turned the radio on and was surprised to hear that roads were being closed.  It didn't seem that bad at the cottage, but even so, I decided to call it a day and take my three trainees home. 

As soon as we reached the road where my van was parked, the full force of the blizzard hit us.  The air was full of thick spindrift, driven by gale force winds which made it impossible to breathe or even open your eyes.  We staggered into the van and drove off down the snow-covered road.  Within a hundred yards we ploughed into drift as high as the bonnet and came to an abrupt halt.

We had no choice but to fight our way back on foot through the snowstorm to the cottage – one of the most exhausting experiences I've ever endured.  I remember thinking how easy it would be to get lost and die in such conditions.

I lit a fire and then headed off alone to my neighbour’s house to find to my relief that the phones were still working.  I got messages to my trainees’ families that they were safe and staying at Tan yr Ardd.

The storm raged all night.  Fine snow blew in through tiny gaps in the door and windows, creating small drifts inside the house.  At about 10 o’clock, the flimsy ceiling collapsed under the weight of snow, which had blown into the attic from under the slates.  This covered the floor and furniture with yet more cold damp snow, making it one of the most miserable nights I've ever known.

The next morning, we emerged to a changed world of monstrous drifts.  Most of the lanes had been completely filled with snow from hedge-top to hedge-top.  We found the van buried in snow, with only its roof showing, then walked in a four mile circuit through the fields around the trainees’ houses. 
The Rectory at Rhiw, near where the van was buried in a drift
I’ll never forget approaching one house at Pencaerau which was completely hidden by a huge drift.  Alan, the trainee that lived there, had to climb up it until he was almost level with the roof and then slide down the other side to get to the front door.

It stayed cold for the next fortnight, which I spent walking around Llŷn, fetching food for my elderly neighbours.   It was a very strange time.  The whole of Llŷn was cut off and people walked everywhere.  The fields became pedestrian highways and, here and there, people could be seen chatting in groups comparing stories of the storm.  Dozens of people such as postmen and travelling salesmen had to be put up by locals and there was no such thing as ‘last orders’ at the pubs.

It took five days for the diggers to reach Aberdaron and my van was eventually extracted from its icy temporary grave ten days after the storm. 

I doubt I’ll ever see conditions like it again on the Welsh coast.  But every time we get a bit of snow, my mind goes back to those unforgettable two weeks in Llŷn in 1982.

To take a look at what conditions were like, click here.

No comments:

Post a Comment