Ménard came to north Wales to walk and sketch in summer 1879, and is one of those travellers who records in great detail the place where they stay, telling us who looked after them, and what was on the menu, as well as regaling us with stories of noisy sheepdogs and wet beds. And so the letter that he wrote to his friends affords us a glimpse of life at a legendary inn in the late nineteenth century.
Image by Hefin Owen (Pen-y-Gwryd Hotel in Snowdonia.) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Ménard arrives on 11th August by train via Ruabon, Rhyl, and Llandudno junction, but only feels that he is really in Wales once he gets near Betws y Coed, where he is surrounded by rocks. On the 12km journey to the Pen-y-Gwryd hotel he is by turns enchanted by the sounds of water and wind and shocked at the hordes of tourists. Swallow Falls is a frenzy of modern tourism: a fourmilière [literally an ant-hill] of tourists, both men and women, he specifies, clad in walking shoes. Finally hotel owners Mr and Mrs Owen and their daughter Anny welcome the travellers to Pen y Gwryd. Ménard remembers the hard-working Anny well from his previous visit in 1876, when he had nicknamed her ‘la bonne’ [servant]. Of course, communicating with the staff would have been tricky for him, as they only speak Welsh: ‘Là on ne parle que la langue celtique: il est rare que les paysans et la classe pauvre sachent un mot d’Anglais’ [Only the Celtic language is spoken there, and it is rare for peasants and the poorer classes to know any English].
On retiring for the night Ménard discovers that his bed is wet! Having then settled down to sleep in the dining room with the door open to the outside world affording him a view of the almost new moon, he is awoken by some sheepdogs at 1am! However, his disturbed night only enhances his appreciation of the landscape, day-break and the morning breeze, and sets him up for a morning’s solitary sketching. Later he climbs Snowdon with his travel companion, the Revd. E…., and as they had forgotten to eat, he tells us what he managed to buy from the huts at the summit: cheese, ginger beer, bread. They return to Pen y Gwryd where dinner is served at 7pm at just one table for up to twenty tourists of both sexes, he notes, all discussing their day over a menu of: soup, mutton, beef, sometimes duck, rarely chicken, puddings and tarts, cheese. The water and beer are excellent, he adds, which is a good job, because while wine is available, it costs a fortune: ‘il est à un prix fou’!
His days are spent in the same way: walking, climbing and sketching, and he notes that he sticks two or three of his pictures in the hotel’s visitors’ book. One day the effect of the light is so special that he arrives back late for dinner and misses the soup. Lunch, fortunately, is whenever and whatever you choose. On his last day, as if to reflect his sadness at leaving, the weather turns, and the heavens open, as his train speeds back over the border, with these wonderful sketches and anecdotes safe in his bags.
‘Snowdon, Nord du Pays de Galles : Lettre narrative illustrèe d’un Touriste, 1879′ by J Menard, with pen and ink sketches. Cardiff MS 3.402.