Dragon Zoo - Londons hottest new tourist attraction in the making!

Thursday, 28 January 2010

How to find a Dragon's Egg - Dragon Zoo The Beginning

It’s amazing to think that the majority of the 6.7 billion people that live on this planet could recognise a dragon if they saw one. An animal which has never been seen by anyone with their own eyes is so readily accepted and unmistakable when seen. How can this be? It is of common opinion, especially with the sane inhabitants of earth that dragons don’t exist and never have. So where do they come from? Why do they keep appearing in our popular culture? Why do they always look the same? Dragons are legendary, fantastical creatures that have traversed the globe. They have appeared in stories from ancient Greece, China, and Europe. These animals have been so prominent in literature over the centuries. They have descended from the skies and left ancient civilisations in piles of smouldering ash. Saint George managed to capture one in Silene, converting people to Christianity with his show of power over the gigantic mystical beast. Bilbo has outsmarted one to get the treasure; Mr Potter has used spells and brooms to escape from one. But we’ve never truly seen one. So why does something that never existed continue to be so popular? How has it survived for so many years without being lost in the story books of old?

I have a theory. I think that most of the ancient civilisations probably were attacked by dragons at some point. I reckon Saint George did defend a princess from a dragon that burst out of a lake in a savage attack. What I’m saying is I think that they probably did exist. Well, actually... I know they exist.

I suppose before I continue I better tell you a little bit about myself. My name is Lucy Arnold, as I write this I am 16 years old and have just finished my final year at school. I have a nice family (most of the time) and live near Camden Town in sunny London. I only have one brother, Ben. He is surprisingly cool in all honesty. I know that you’re meant to fight with, steal from and agitate your siblings but for some reason we just get on. He’s one of my best friends which I guess is a good thing. Ben still goes to South Hampstead School but regularly helps me out with my daily chores. He’s in his last year now and is 15. My mum used to work in a library any my dad works for an architecture company (Furster or Foster & partners, something like that. He helped out with that gherkin thing in London) but both are now spending a lot of time working with me to see if we can get our project up and running. (I can’t tell you how old they are or my mum would kill me!) So that’s us, we’re pretty normal really. In fact, you never would have heard of us if it wasn’t for a weekend break we took 3 years ago.

It was my 13th birthday weekend in March and as a present my parents had bought me new pair of hiking boots and a weekend break to Snowdonia, Wales. Ben was utterly bored with the idea and had managed to wangle himself a weekend at his friend’s house instead. So it was just the three of us with dad named as the designated driver. I was very proud of my new boots at the time and had been wearing them to school all week to break them in before the walk. (It was also a great way to get my birthday present early!) I loved walking, especially in the countryside. As a rule, if the scenery is green, it’s better. So I was thoroughly excited to be doing my first ever mountain walk. None of my friends at school were into the idea at all, in fact, I had to tell them I’d asked for a new dress from New Look too just to make sure I wasn’t going to be ridiculed for my real present.

The journey there was a total non-event. For me it was reading my new magazine until I felt sick, then sleeping. Then repeating the process again! After what seemed like days (it actually only took us about 5 hours) we eventually arrived at our campsite. It wasn’t cold fortunately, but it was wet. At 6am in London the weather had been fine but true to tradition, the closer we got to Wales, the more rain we encountered.

It was getting close to midday when we set up the tent. My dad had paced around the entire field whilst mum and I waited in the car. He’d spent ten minutes looking for a space in a completely empty camp site but mum assured me it was something to do with a “dry spot”. To me, everything looked wet. The tent we have is a rival to the Millennium Dome (O2 arena or whatever it’s called nowadays). It was huge! I had my own bedroom with inflatable air bed and indoor heater. My parents had their own room with double air bed, heating and even a light stand so Dad could put his glasses on it. Once we’d claimed our place in the camp site we set off to the nearest pub for some grub. I had a huge burger, with greasy chips and a pint of coke for a birthday treat. The one of my five a day came in the form of the slice of lemon they put in the coke. (That counts right?) I remember clearing that plate before my dad had even touched his first chip! They were lenient though and didn’t tell me off which was nice. Normally I get lambasted by my parents at the dinner table for eating too quickly. I reckon if it tastes good and you eat it real fast then it should be taken as a compliment to the chef, but I never win with that argument!

In the evening we got our stuff ready for the big walk the next day. The weather was supposed to be rainy again tomorrow which wasn’t looking good, but after a 5 hour drive you can hardly turn around and drive home because of a bit of water. (Especially with a moaning daughter claiming birthday rights to make sure they wouldn’t!) I was in my bedroom readying my backpack with all the things we’re told to take on walks. I had a Twix and Mars chocolate bars, a torch, a whistle and some water. Dad had the important stuff like the laminated route map, flare gun (no joke!), satellite phone with mountain rescue on speed dial, emergency rations and even survival foil blankets. I think he feels more comfortable when he’s designing the latest sky scraper on his computer or working on his models in the garage! After packing we sat in the living room of the tent playing cards. You could hear the sound of the never ending rain hitting the canvas dome. God I love that sound. Falling asleep to that noise is really therapeutic. It’s just unfortunate that it means your next day’s walking will probably be that little bit more difficult. Oh, and it makes you need the toilet.

Before bed my parents had one last present for me, s’mores! Ben would have been really jealous. We had the little gas stove sheltered from the rain under the veranda of the tent and had some milk chocolate digestives as a substitute for the crackers. It was gorgeous. (Right now I know you’re probably reading this thinking ‘get to the dragon eggs!’ but seriously... go make some s’mores, enjoy them. Then come back and we’ll get to the dragon eggs part!) After that amazingly simple but effective last surprise it was time for sleep. I got in my sleeping bag, let some of the air out of my bed to make the mattress soft enough so my bum just touched the floor and I was set for the night. Perfect.

The sound of the zip opening on the tent door woke me up in the morning as mum and dad left the tent for the washrooms. I scrambled on some clothes and chased after them up the field to get ready as soon as possible. Surprisingly the rain had stopped and even in the dim early morning light it looked like it was going to be a clear day. We washed and changed and returned to the tent to collect our things. I’d put my hair into a pony tail and put a woolly hat on to keep my head warm. I got my boots laced up and my backpack on and was ready to go. I used the reflection in the car’s windows next to the tent to check my appearance. With the pony tail and backpack combination I thought of myself as a young Lara Croft, Tomb Raider type ready to explore lost temples and defeat mystical creatures. (I’ve done a lot of growing up in the last 3years and obviously no longer think that)

Once dad had finally finished itemising his entire backpack contents we were ready to start walking. We were camping in Nant Peris and it was mum that had decided our route for the day. We began our ascent to the top of Snowdon by using the Pyg Track. The well defined path and large number of fellow walkers sort of made a mockery of dad’s survival kit. I think judging by the beads of sweat on his brow he may have been beginning to regret packing the rather large and heavy flare gun and god knows how much other useless pap he had in that bag. It was the size of me! Despite dads early plundering pace we were making good time and the day was turning out to be a belter. The air was crisp and clear and almost tasted clean as you breathed it in. Such a difference from London. We had planned to make it to the summit and have lunch atop the mountain before making our way back down the Miners Track. However, when we noticed dad trying to sell the flare gun to a young couple walking behind us, like a captain of a sinking ship desperately trying to offload excess weight, we knew that we should probably stop for some lunch.

The area that we stopped in was really nice. Despite how clear the day was you still couldn’t make out the summit of the mountain. The thick cloud was permanently shielding our destination from view. We stopped a little way off the path about two thirds of the way up the mountain. Above us and to the right we could see the slightly more extreme mountaineers tackling the Crib Goch, a knife edge walk with mammoth life ending drops either side if you put a foot wrong. (Not for me!) We sat down and ate some sandwiches that mum had been carrying in her pack. I grabbed the Twix and ate one of the fingers, leaving one to eat as a celebration when we reached the summit. By the time I’d had some water I was ready to go again. My feet weren’t hurting, my pack wasn’t heavy and the boots were just getting warmed up. I jumped up ready to go but having noticed my dad only one mouthful into his first sandwich I gathered we weren’t going to be carrying on anytime soon.

“I’m off to explore. I won’t go far!” I shouted behind me as I skipped ahead up the path. I wasn’t the patient type who could sit around waiting for boring dads to finish their lunch.

I didn’t even notice if they’d replied. I was off to find some souvenirs for me and my friends. I never believe in gift shop presents, shelves filled with tacky cups and t-shirts with “I beat Snowdon” scrawled across the chest. I always preferred real items from the real location, something money can’t buy. I still have sand from every beach I’ve been to in little bottles on my desk. What could I get from Snowdon to take back? I suppose some rocks would be good, real pieces of mountain stone from this huge extinct volcano I was climbing. I began searching around looking for any small stones that were particularly cool in shape or colour. Nothing was particularly amazing, the Rhyolite and Dolerite rock types found on Snowdon are a dull grey, meaning a dull present! I continued my search as I carried on upwards and to the right of the path. I climbed atop of a large boulder and sat down looking at the valley below. The view was amazing, you could see the walkers some 300feet below making their way up the Miners Path and if you looked left you could see the path that we had climbed snaking its way downwards and disappearing behind a peak. It really was great to be able to sit and look at these surroundings rather than the classroom walls or the inside of London buses I usually find myself staring at. After I’d taken a picture I began to climb back down off the boulder. As I did so I accidentally slipped and landed flat on my chest knocking the wind out of me. For such a small fall it really did hurt. I lay there stunned for a few seconds thinking what an idiot I was and grateful that no one had seen me being so clumsy. As I began to get up I noticed a collection of smallish rocks in a circle underneath the boulder that I had just fallen from. These would make cool gifts! There were five in total, odd shapes and colours but nothing you’d really notice unless you were rock hunting like I was. One of them in particular looked beautiful, an odd shape with swirling bluish patterns on it. It almost looked like marble. I chucked the five small rocks in my bag which thankfully weren’t too heavy, and skipped back down to where mom and dad were just finishing up lunch.

The rest of the walk was really beautiful, the rain had stayed away and the scenery was never short of breathtaking. When we made it to the summit we had our picture taken by a nice man who had just finished the three peaks challenge. As I’d promised myself, I ate the remaining Twix finger which had been mashed up by my bag of cheap gifts, but still tasted good. Oh, and we sort of cheated and I had a coke and mum and dad had lattes in the cafe at the top. (How did that get there?) After our little escape from reality in the coffee shop we started our walk back down. The wind was starting to pick up so mum suggested to walk a bit quicker in case the weather closed in. We made our way initially back down the way we had come before splitting off to the right, away from the Pyg Track and onto the Miners Path for a sharp descent down to the lake at the bottom. It all looked wondrous to me. Waterfalls, lakes and mountains born out of volcanoes. Why didn’t Ben come? Sometimes he’s a bit of an idiot, favouring computers and movies over life, adventures and fresh air! I hope he grows out of it. I’ll just have to show him the pictures when we get back if he’s interested.
We had almost made it back to the car before the heavens opened and gave us a shower. Rather than finding this annoying dad relished the chance to try out his new waterproof trousers which some cockney salesman had made a killing on. Literally five minutes later the rain had stopped again and we were back at the car. Dad was incessant though, “if it wasn’t for those trousers I’d have a hell of a time driving back to the site soaked through” he was grinning proudly like a child so I let him have his moment. I think he was probably more proud of his water proofs than he was of making it to the summit with his wife and daughter! Oh well. I was very proud of my achievement. In my world I’d made headline news, “13 year old adventurer tackles Snowdon summit!”

The remaining nights stay was nice enough. We played more cards, dad managed to sell his flare gun to a man in the pub who worked for mountain rescue. The man, I think, had showed sympathy for dad as another clueless tourist but insisted in a cute Welsh accent, “you can never have enough of these”. With the funds from his impromptu sale dad treated us all to Burger King on the way home for lunch the next day, which made the journey for me. Not that I’m counting but it was the second burger I’d had in two days so it was a good job I’d just spent the entire day climbing a mountain!

Getting ready for school on the Monday morning was torture. I just about managed to drag myself out of bed and pull some clothes on before it was time to leave the house. I was exhausted as me and Ben stood at the bus stop before our ride into school. I had packed my bag the night before like I always did before bed. Taking the cool blue stone out for me and putting it on my desk, leaving the others in the bag for the girls. This time of the day was always a test of patience. I hated it on the mornings when mum was working and couldn’t drive us both in. Classic Fm was worth enduring for the chauffeuring! Today was going to be a challenge and there’s nothing worse than realising it at 8AM.

After the hiking I’d returned to my normal attire, my battered black sandals from Clarks that weren’t worth the polish that was put on them and my tired looking tights which no doubt had a ladder in them somewhere. The uniform was the usual, no short skirts and sensible ties. The lurid cotton jumpers were the mouldy cherry on the minging cake, everyone had to buy but no-one ever wore. My hair was in its normal pony tail and rested on my shoulder; I noticed all the split ends and shuddered. I thought mountain air and the countryside were supposed to be healthy and rejuvenating? All I felt was cold and knackered and I looked a complete state! The bus was still not planning on turning up anytime soon and I realised that Ben had been speaking to me for the last five minutes and I hadn’t heard a single word. He was looking up at me inquisitively “so?” he said, “are you going to or not?”

I just agreed with him regardless to spare his feelings, “of course I will” I replied confidently, hoping it was nothing too taxing I was signing up for. With relief he confirmed what I had assumed it probably would be about.

“Cool! If you’re player 2 all you have to do is literally press the A button like, I dunno, 300times.” Ben gestured in the air with his hands miming a controller button being bashed. He looked like a lunatic. “Once you’ve done that, and whilst I’m player 1 and steering we should definitely get the achievement. Liam showed me last night and...”

“OK! Yes fine!” I cut him off and smiled at the same time. “Just, show me tonight ok?” For once in my life I was relieved to see the filth covered school bus coming around the corner.

As expected the day at school ranked amongst one of the worst Mondays in recorded history. Well, my history anyway. The girls all smiled politely when given their rock souvenirs from Snowdon. I made up some bumf about friends forever and as long as we all had a rock; blah blah blah. It seemed to make them appreciate them a bit better. They got altogether more excited when I lied about getting the dress from New Look. (I would have to actually buy it at some point. Preferably before the next party otherwise I’d be in trouble) So I didn’t even bother showing them the pictures of the mountain or explaining rock types, I’d save that conversation to have with the geography teacher who was also a keen walker. The morning dragged and I still felt like poo. My legs were aching, me head was aching, my back was aching but my feet were fine. So I was still really happy with my boots! Lunch came and went with an undercooked plate of chips and a big serving of juice free beans which I barely touched. By the afternoon I was still aching all over and starving so I couldn’t wait to get home. Eventually home time arrived after an English lesson that even I could have taught. Baz Luhrman’s Romeo and Juliet on VHS was meant to be an English lesson? Another unplanned lesson from a teacher that must have had a busy weekend like me. If in doubt, put a video on! (and make sure its vaguely about English) At least it meant I got to switch off for the last hour.

I met Ben outside of school and we caught the bus home. He was still chatting about this damn computer game he’d obviously been glued to all weekend whilst we were away. Luckily his friend had lent him a wrestling DVD so I would have at least two hours of peace before being summoned to perfom button bashing duty.

For more on my story and Dragon Zoo check back here soon!

story by Lucy Arnold - January 2010

Check Dragon-zoo.com for the brand new proposed zoo map!

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