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The Trip to Bala Lake that never was.

Characters: Sylvia, Arthur, three children: Nicola, Tansy and Isobel. And the dog, Skipper. Other characters will appear later.

In August 1970, we, the family, set off for a camping holiday in North Wales.

We camped on some flat land just at the foot of Harlech castle with the sand dunes to one side and the sea over the other side of the dunes.

We had got there in our very first car, a Ford Prefect. A long journey from Wickford, Essex.

The car was loaded so that every single space was filled. The car was in a bad state and I, Arthur, the driver, expected it to fall to pieces at any time.

One day, the plan was to travel inland to see Bala Lake. So we had to start really early.

Harlech to Bala Map

The route. From Harlech on the A496, through Talsarnau to join A487 at Maentwrog.

Then on A470 to Trawsfynydd where we turned east on 4212 to Bala.

All went well and some miles before we reached before the long northwards loop round the end of Llyn Celyn we faced a long upward incline. That was not a good thing at all because we had found that on such inclines, especially those that are long rather than steep, there happened a sudden stoppage of the engine. A mysterious fault. It appeared that we had run out of petrol despite starting with plenty of fuel. Afterwards I found that on such a slope the carburettor float would jam and then the fuel inlet didn’t work. At least that has been my assumption.

the hill on way to Bala

The long slope ahead. In 1970 that road was nothing like as it is shown in this Google image.

And the car had only four gears – first, second, third and reverse. There was no synchromesh and to change down on a hill from second to first was difficult to do without stopping the car, changing gear and then restarting. So experience led to starting the hill in first gear and then a huge line of cars would build up behind because we went so very slowly.

On this occasion, near the bottom of the hill, we saw a small car stopped by the roadside. I think it was a small Fiat. The occupants were a couple with two young children, a boy and a girl. So before starting upwards I stopped our car to see whether we could assist them. It seems that they had run out of water in the radiator but had some spare supplies. They thanked us for stopping to help but said they would be OK.

So off we went slowly up the slope.

Near the top, our car suddenly stopped. And in no way would it restart. The fuel gauge was checked and it appeared that we had not run out of petrol. A complete mystery. Perhaps the fuel gauge had jammed?

Sylvia and the girls got out and waited by a bank while I fiddled about not really knowing what I was doing. It was my very first car.

Then we saw the Fiat coming up the hill. They saw us there and stopped to see if this time they could help us. Kindness leads to kindness.

Their young children got out and all the children played and the men folk fiddled with “things” in the engine compartment of our Ford. We decided that it must be shortage of fuel. The other couple said they would drive on to Bala, buy us a can of petrol and return with it.

All this took quite some time and then the other young children and our children were getting along fine with each other. Then their children asked to stay with us until their parents returned with the petrol. That seemed OK, so they set off.

We continued playing by the road side and sat on a bank and Nicola told marvellous stories. We found some things for a snack and shared these out. And the time went on and the time went on.

We began to get rather worried. It wasn’t very far to Bala and this couple should have returned by now. Their children weren’t worried which was a very good thing. Soon it was into the afternoon and still no sign of the parents. We began to have serious doubts. Had these kids been abandoned? Had the parents had a serious accident and the authorities had no knowledge that their children were with a strange family (names unknown)? Should I leave Sylvia and all the children and walk on to Bala? What to do when it got dark?

There was hardly any vehicles on the road and all was very remote. Then a car came up the slope and the driver stopped to see what we were doing there. The driver, a man, got out and we said that we seemed to have run out of fuel and then explained about the other couple and their children.

He said that he always carried a can of petrol in his car and offered to sell the petrol to us. We accepted this offer and the petrol was poured into the tank of our Ford. The engine was turned over several times and it started. Glory be! Perhaps the problem was with the mechanical fuel pump that was operated by the engine and that long slow drive had not pumped enough fuel.

The man drove on saying that he would report our problem to the police in Bala.

H to Bala bank by the road

The bank by the roadside where we stopped. Looking back down the slope.

Now what should we do? All pile into the car and drive on hoping that if the other couple were coming to us we would see them on the road? But then if we got to Bala we might miss them in the town and then when they returned to that roadside spot they would find that their children and us had gone. Would we be accused of kidnapping?

Decision made. I would drive on looking out for that Fiat coming towards me. Sylvia would stay with our car and all the children.

I went on and about two or three miles ahead I saw the Fiat by the roadside. There was another car with it. Oh what a sad tale I heard. They had got this far when their tyre was too flat to safely drive any further. Their spare wheel was for some reason in their home garage back in Chester. The man walked on into Bala to find a public phone. He phoned his neighbours who got the spare wheel and drove from Chester with it. However it turned out to be the wrong wheel and would fit not on the Fiat.

The neighbour drove all the way back to Chester and returned with the correct wheel and they were just about to fit it on. I helped and then we all drove back to find Sylvia and the kids.

By now it was rather late into the afternoon and so we abandoned all ideas of going on and started off back to Harlech.

Thus this incident is well remember as the trip to Bala that didn’t get there.

We never exchanged names and we often wondered whether that other family got back home safely.

And what kind neighbours they had.

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Harlech to Bala Map

The green cross is where I found the other couple. By the side of Llyn Celyn.

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