The first time I heard about Snakes and Ladders was about two years ago. All of my male friends went for a stag do to Wales, and I wasn’t allowed to join for the fear that my idea of fun would be different to theirs. (They ended up cycling in the rain naked, with an inflatable sheep gaffer taped to the groom’s back, so maybe they were right…) The weather for their trip was bad, and they ended up doing “Snakes and Ladders and Tunnels”, and amazing, otherworldly pictures populated Andy’s instagram feed. I was green with envy. The place looked incredible.
Now, if you’re a slate enthusiast, you probably know where it is. If you’re not, I’m not telling you how to find it. For the determined ones there is enough information on the web, but I feel like the magic of Snakes and Ladders has to be protected. A little bit of secrecy makes it more special.
To begin with, you step over a metal gate which informs you about trespassing. Through the first tunnel, dug like all the others in a wall of dark slate by the last century’s miners, you enter a different world. One of tranquility, mystery and adventure, where catching a glimpse of some Tolkienian creature wouldn’t be out of place.
There is some tremendous awe in the sleek, sparsely bolted (or not bolted at all) slate walls. On the day when my friend Liz took me there, the drizzling rain made climbing impossible, but I kept staring at the rock, imagining being suspended on the endless slabs. I can’t wait to climb slate.
Snakes and Ladders is precisely something that climbers do when it’s raining. The deserted quarries that once were the beating heart of Welsh economy, now provide an unusual playground filled with treacherous traps. (Well, you can pretend that to make it even more fun. Snakes and Ladders will make you feel like a child lost in a magical world, where make-believe is suddenly something appropriate again.)
There are deep, dark and wet tunnels that you enter in one area, only to emerge somewhere else entirely. There is a rusted chain, thick as my waist, hanging on a blank wall; and don’t look at what it’s attached with. (Either solo it, or, as we did because of the hail, pitch it with three draws). There are abseils into deep boreholes with little lakes at the bottom; there is The Jungle of The Lost World and there is Mordor. And then, there are the ladders. Rusty, creaky, not to be trusted ladders that over a hundred years ago were a part of miners’ regular work routine.
You have to see it to believe it. Take a helmet, some basic gear and a 60 metre rope. Don’t forget your imagination. Snakes and Ladders and Tunnels whisper to a creative mind.
A big thank you to Liz for sharing the secret with me.
PS. The fairies’ picture (above and right) is by Andy. I didn’t find them. Fairies are hard to find.