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Date: 14/03/17

Down In The Basin, Up In The Clouds

It being the Easter weekend, I was looking forward to not having to go anywhere until at least late Monday morning.

Then, on Thursday evening, I got a text from my sister-in-law. This instructed me to be ready to go out by 11am on Friday, as she and my brother were going to "take u out for some fresh air".

That's my Friday lie-in knackered then, I thought. Then I started to wonder: why that time of day? And why "fresh air"? I put two and two together, and thought of writing on a piece of paper the one-word answer I'd come up with from this process, so that I could show it to them when we got where I thought we were going.

So, just after eleven off the four of us (the package also included my sister-in-law's bachelor brother) set out. When we turned southwards onto the A483, I felt my powers of prediction being vindicated, but I couldn't figure out why we were going this particular way to it.

Turning off the A483 at Ruabon and heading west, I felt even surer of my ground. But then we turned off the A539 at Abernant and headed down the track towards the Llangollen Canal basin. "Ah", I thought, "Perhaps they've got a boat trip in mind?".

Photo of a canal boat

I'd been on one of the canal boats here before, as we went across the world-renowned Pontcysyllte Aqueduct one puthery, gnat-laden July evening in 2000. For all its wonderousness, I stayed resolutely inside the cabin as we crossed. It's not heights as such that I have a problem with; it's edges. I can be thirteen floors up an office block and look out of the window with no more than slight anxiety. If, however, you put me ten feet up on a ledge, that's a different matter; the human lemming in me would start to take over.

But - somewhat to my relief - we were only there to have a cup of coffee. That done, having managed to just about evade a coach-load of old gabbies from Wolverhampton, and having watched someone trying to do what appeared to be a thirty-seven-point turn in one of the boats, we set off again.

There was one other possible destination which could have thrown my crystal-ball exercise out of whack, but as we passed through Llangollen on the northern side of the river, a journey on the Llangollen Railway was now out of the picture as well. We headed on up, past the ancient Valle Crucis Abbey (with its by now obligatory caravan park) to the Horseshoe Pass.

"Have you ever been taken up the Horseshoe Pass, missus? Don't knock it until you've tried it!" (With apologies to Ken Dodd).

Those trying this most spectacular route today included a number of that breed of fanatical masochists known as 'cyclists'. There they were, struggling personfully up the long gradients in such a way that, had you stuck a pencil up their arses, they could have re-invented the Spirograph.

Their destination (apart from the coronary unit at Wrexham Maelor Hospital, of course) was likely to be the same as I suspected ours to be. Sure enough, once off the Pass itself, we turned off into a car park. This belonged to the one word I would have written on that piece of paper:

Ponderosa.

The Ponderosa has been a landmark in the area for decades, and its café, gift shop (The Shop In The Clouds), bed & breakfast and attendant services have been run for the last thirty-odd of those by the Clemence family, the business now being in the capable (ex-goalkeeping) hands of Simon Clemence. Here are a few shots I took after we had mosied around the shop and enjoyed a very good lunch (baked potato with melted cheese topping and salad).

The main entrance:

Photo of the entrance of a café in the mountains

Looking eastward at Bryn Yr Odyn:

Photo across a small car park towards a large hill

Looking westwards towards the old Moel Y Faen Quarries:

Photo across a small car park towards the spoil heaps of an old slate quarry

And, finally, looking a bit further north. Note the measures taken for personal comfort by the owner of the motorbike nearest to us:

Photo across a small car park towards the spoil heaps of an old slate quarry. Includes motorbike with a sheepskin seat-cover

A few heavy showers had passed over while we were eating, but it was down to a gentle (and not particularly cold) drizzle by the time we headed homewards.

It does you good to get out...