Well, where to start? It’s been a very long time since I could sit down and update the site. We have done a lot in the six months since then. First we went to Wales in March. I won’t go into detail here but it involved hiring a car and driving around pretty much all of Wales. We had a great time and saw lots of castles.
OK. I will go into detail then.
It was great having a car and well worth the (considerable) expense, but it proved to be a little stressful driving through London. I took a wrong turn once and ended up on the M40, miles from where I wanted to be.
First stop after a couple of hours driving was Chepstow. We arrived at the castle at 10am but it wasn’t open. We took a quick walk around the otside. It certainly was big but the litter didn’t impress us much so we drove on to Tintern Abbey. This was much nicer and well worth the entrance fee.
We then headed for Raglan Castle, stopping for lunch in a pleasant town called Monmouth. Raglan proved to be a good ruined castle with a nice moat filled with goldfish. It is big and has lots of tunnels and plenty of those mysterious pits you find in so many castles.
On the way to Llanthony Priory we stopped at the Skirrid Mountain Inn for a drink at Wales’s supposed oldest pub. The sun was shining, a horse was grazing over the road and birds were building nests in the tree above. It was lovely. An idyllic scene if you will.
The road to Hay-On-Way was the narrowest road I have driven on. For most of its length it was just wide enough for one car, which meant slow going and frequent reversing. The ruins of Llanthony Priory would have been impressive if we hadn’t just come from Tintern Abbey. It is conncected to an expensive hotel and I thought the people drinking beer on the lawns detracted from its loveliness.
The tiny road wound up into the Black Mountains. It reminded me of Postman Pat; how his van takes up the whole of the country road and drives over those arched stone bridges. It really was like that.
We arrived in Hay-on-Wye at about 4pm. We went for a short walk around the town. The place is quite pleasing but there’s not much to see on a Sunday afternoon. It is actually a little surreal with most of the shops being 2nd hand bookstores and the half-ruined castle itself a bookshop. Our lodgings were basic but comfortable although our money-saving plan to eat instant noodles was almost thwarted when we discovered there was no kettle. We were forced to use hot tap water. Which isn’t as hot as you think it is… But hey, it was cheap, and full of noodly goodness.
to be continued…
Our first stop today was Elan Valley Reservoirs (Lakes). This turned out to be a lot better than I expected. Next to one of the huge man-made lakes was a beautiful little church. It was called Nantgwgllt Church and was a chapel of ease for the Parish of Cwndauddwr. It was a little way up a hill surrounded by trees and I expected it to be locked but to my delight I found it open. Inside was a beautifully simple church. No stained glass, no impressive (read: gaudy) statues, just a plain altar and pews. It had a lovely beamed roof. I signed the visitors book (check it out next time you’re in the Parish of Cwndauddwr) and we headed north to the English border town of Clun.
Clun has a (very) ruined little castle with nice views over the town. It wasn’t that impressive having seen such places as Raglan and Tantalon but it was free which made it almost unique.
We spent the afternoon looking for a couple of farms that my grandfather worked at. We drove around the tiny village of Pitchford but couldn’t find the ‘Pitchford Farm’ we were looking for. We had better luck in the lovely village of Condover. We stopped at the general store to buy a drink and ask if they knew of Norton Farm. She did. While we were talking another lady came in and joined the conversation. It was eventually decided that we should go and ask Bill who had been in the village longer than anyone. We met Bill Smith (real name) and had a very interesting chat about his relatives in Australia among other things such as how 400 acres in Condover would be two farms as opposed to a paddock in Australia. He told us where to find the farm and we drove out to take some photos.
We headed into Shrewsbury to discover the ‘Quest’ had been shut down. We stayed in a lovely B & B in the Abbey Foregate called Glyndene. If you are ever in Shrewsbury, stay there. They made us feel like guests in their home (which we were) and, strangely, the decor was nice too.
It felt like we spent more time in the car than out of it today. After a morning in Shrewsbury we headed for Lake Vyrnwy which didn’t detain us for long before we drove through a spectacular mountain road to Bala.
Next we came to Betws-y-coed. This is a lovely little village surrounded by mountains of Snowdonia National Park. We didn’t stop for long but this is a place I would like to come back to for a few days. Very pretty.
We finally arrived in Conwy at 4pm only to discover that was when the castle shuts. We took rooms for the night at The Town House. In the fading light we walked around the town walls which give a good view of the little town and big castle.
This morning we went to Conwy Castle. We were there when it opened so we had the whole massive castle to ourselves for a while.
Then we drove to Bangor to see Penrhyn Castle. As we got there an hour before opening time we drove across the Menai Bridge to see Beaumaris Castle. This was a great castle with lots of dank tunnels and a lovely little chapel with a stunning accoustic.
Penryn Castle is amazing. It is not a real castle but a fake one built in the 19th century. It is simply incredible. It is HUGE and filled with beautiful carving and letters from royalty. Go there.
We then drove to the lakeside village of Llanberis at the foot of Mt Snowdon. From here we caught the little Snowden Mountain Railway up the mountain. Unfortunately it doesn’t run all the way to the summit until May but we got most of the way up. We were s-l-o-w-l-y pushed up the hill by a little steam train. Although the weather wasn’t that clear the views were still spectacular. And it was COLD! By the time we got back to the bottom it was 4pm which meant that almost everything in Wales was shut. So we decided to stay in Caernarfon and see its castle in the morning.
The B&B we stayed at was really weird. The owner never asked our names or told us hers. When we asked if we could have another towel as there was only one large towel in our room, she said she didn’t give out large towels. She asked for payment in advance and the breakfast was bad; microwaved bacon and cold tomatoes!?!? The town of Caernarfon was rather bleak and unfriendly as well. It was very Welsh and we rarely heard English spoken. For a town with one of the biggest and most important castles in Wales it looked rather depressed, poor and unfriendly. My advice is: see the castle but don’t stay there whatever you do.
We headed for St Davids. On the way we stopped at the bizarre town of Portmeirion. It was built by Clough Williams-Ellis, apparently “to demonstrate how a naturally beautiful place could be developed without defiling it.” Whether he succeeded is debateable but it was quite surreal. All the buildings were Italianate and I think I spent most of the time walking around with a puzzled look on my face. It is basically a hotel now. I’m not sure if it was worth the high admission fee but I imagine it would be quite nice if it wasn’t raining.
Our next stop was around the bay at Harlech to see the castle. It was raining quite steadily now but it added to the atmosphere and I liked Harlech very much. We spent the rest of the day driving to St Davids. We passed the nice little town of Machynlleth and stopped briefly in Aberystwyth. We booked our B&B for St Davids in the pretty fishing town of Fishguard. It was then that the sun came out and the drive along the A487 from Fishguard to St Davids was very relaxing. After several attempts we found our B&B.
We spent the morning in St Davids. It is Britains smallest ‘city’ on account of it being a village with a cathedral. The cathedral is lovely. Hidden in a valley it is quite large but simple in its design without any huge stained glass. Its Lady Chapel would be very nice for concerts, although I don’t know what kind of audience you would get.
Today was the long drive back to London. We had intended to stop in Swansea but after driving confusedly around the city we couldn’t find anywhere to leave the car so we drove on towards Cardiff. North of Cardiff is the town of Caerphilly with its sprawling castle. Like most, the castle is a ruin but it has an interesting leaning tower, possibly due to it being built on marshland.
Castell Coch is a strange fairy-tale castle. A fortification was built following the Norman Conquest and a castle stood on the site until about 1316. In the 19th century John Patrick Crichton Stuart, third marquis of Bute engaged the eccentric genius, William Burges, to create a castle from the ruins.
Then we went to Cardiff. It was late afternoon so we only had time to see the keep of Cardiff Castle. Not much to see really.
That is a VERY brief account of our week in Wales. I think it would be useful to go everywhere twice so you know which bits you have to see and which bits you can safely miss. Still we had a good time and saw lots of castles. Which is the main thing.
Stay tuned for Italy…