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25 April, 2008

Mynydd & dale

Planning my weekend last night, it occurred to me that my mental map of the Snowdonia National Park is fundamentally different to my perception of the English Lake District and Yorkshire Dales.

Apart from specific locations, I think of Snowdonia in terms of its peaks & mountain ridges but only have a rough idea of how its valleys are orientated & interlinked. In total contrast, my mental map(s) of the Northern English national parks are based on valleys, and I have a less clear idea about the relative locations of specific hills.

For example, I think of Cwm Idwal as being close to the Llanberis Pass, as it's just the other side of the Glyders. On foot, anyway – I wouldn't like to have to cycle from one to the other, via Capel Curig or Bethesda.

In a couple of hours, I'll be heading off to the Duddon Valley in the Lakes. In my mind, that's quite a remote location, but I see on the map that it's only separated from Coniston by one ridge (an entirely manageable walk, which I might well do tomorrow) and is only two ridges away from Wasdale, which in turn I normally consider about as accessible as the moon, by bike.

I suspect that's a result of how I've encountered them. My knowledge of Snowdonia developed in my teens and whilst at University, when I was reliant on transport from my mother and various walking groups; I frequently determined routes we took on the hills, but rarely the roads we followed to get to the hills. Those visits were also invariably day trips; I think I've only camped in Snowdonia once.

Conversely, the majority of my visits to the Lakes have been to camp with friends, so valleys have been at least as significant to us as peaks. The majority of my visits to the Dales have been by bike, so again valleys have been important (and hills frequently to be avoided!) and navigation on roads has been far more relevant than on footpaths.

I suppose it's merely an idle observation, but it's also a fundamental aspect of my 'world-view'. One consequence is that I think of Snowdonia as a spiky, fairly bleak area, because I've mainly been aware of the uninhabited uplands, whereas I consider my local national parks to be working landscapes, because I've encountered the villages, farms and people.

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