In which a week-long trip to Wales is more or less summarised:
We arrived over on the Saturday, having got up early for the ferry. Leaving Dublin was, as always, fascinating; you can see bits of the city you never otherwise do. The crossing was calm and steady and almost completely foggy; I can't judge distances well at sea and in fog, but I'd guess visibility was well under 100m. Coming into Holyhead, it was still foggy.
Holyhead is a grim little town. I don't know what they do to it, but it feels like Trainspotters was shot there. Nevertheless, we were very amused, on the way out of the port, to be passed by a car with a huge window decal for Ensiferum, the same very obscure metal band whose tshirt I was wearing.
We drove down as far as Caernarfon, and stopped to get some groceries and poke around a bit. We were standing in a parking garage staring at the ticket machine (pay in advance, coins only, of which we had none at that stage) when a woman leaving the car park leaned out the window and said, "Would you like a ticket? There's about an hour on it." A very nice welcome to Wales. Poking around a bit revealed several bookshops, one of which was second-hand, vast, and specialising in books about outdoor adventure and exploration. Their all-books-£1-6-for-£5 was an excellent selection; I managed to only hand over £3. We scouted the castle, and parking for it, got the groceries, and also some lunch in a fairly ordinary Chinese, and headed on toward the Lleyn.
Navigation got a little bit interesting after we passed Clynnog Fawr. The instructions said to look for Gryn Goch, a village which is more a short row of houses, and then for a left about half a mile after, just after a safety barrier. We spotted what looked like a likely left, and tried it, but it rapidly went into a near vertical ascent, and left us at the top of a cul-de-sac of the kind which made turning interesting. sabayone
is very good at these things, though, and managed it with a minimum of effort.
The next left - which was, indeed, after a clearly visible safety barrier - turned out to be the correct one, and we found the cottage. Trydden Hywel is lovely
. There's the old cottage, of which the walls are the best end of a metre thick, which contains the sitting room, and the two bedrooms, and then the kitchen and bathroom are in lean-to extensions. It is far and away the best equipped self-catering place I've ever stayed in; there has as yet been no kitchen implement I've wanted and not found, there are cookery books, plant and bird books, guide books, maps, a beginner's guide to Welsh, a host of novels, cd player, dvd player, flatscreen tv with an impressive array of channels, a pair of bincoculars, and even a stack of boardgames, cds, and dvds to match nearly any possible taste.
After we'd established where everything was, we walked back down to Clynnog Fawr to get some other odds and ends. There are footpaths all the way, which fascinates me; this is a very rural road, and yet there's provision for pedestrians along all of it. CF itself is a small village, with a rather impressive church, and we're told by the guidebook, a dolmen, though we haven't seen that yet. There's one shop, attached to petrol station.
On the way down, we saw what looked like a bird of prey hovering and gliding down nearer the sea. We've since worked out that it was a buzzard, and they're rather common around here; we've seen the same one again and at least two more.
On Sunday morning, we roused ourselves from the very comfortable bed, briefly visited a Sunday market in Pwlheli, which wasn't all that, and toddled off to Beddgelert to start a 10km walk, marked as "Easy" in the Collins ramblers book. The route over was impressively mountainous; twists and turns and the chance to casually look over a roadside wall and down on the back of a soaring buzzard. There are some very fine ruins up there as well.
Beddgelert is a very touristy village, but with good reason; it's very pretty indeed. The walk, on the map, went down the river, through a gorge, around into an old mining valley, up to the head of that, down the next valley to a lake, and back around to the starting point. It did that in reality as well, but failed to mention that the haul up the old mining valley - Cym Bychan - was a long, long upward slog over occasionally boggy terrain, and that the descent to the lake on other side was very steep. In fact, the guidebook says it isn't particularly steep. I'd love to see their definition of 'steep', and possibly also of 'easy', because we were both knackered after it. It was an excellent walk, though, and immensely varied, and the views, particularly down over the lake, Llyn Dinas, were fantastic.
We debated driving home to eat, and also the possibility of eating there. In the end, we looked for and found a table in a very odd little bistro/antique shop, where most of the specials menu consisted of game. I had pigeon, sabayone
had pheasant, and it was all excellent. Homeward, then, via Carnarfon rather than the mountain road.
On Monday, we walked down to the local beach, a few kilometres along it, and back up to the house, which was a lengthier ramble than expected, but also very pleasing. We took it easy for the rest of the evening, cooking, eating outside, and watching an impressive sunset over the sea.
[The above was written on Tuesday morning, I think. It's now Saturday evening, and we're back in Ireland. I shall attempt to reconstruct what we else did, although the order in which things were done is getting fuzzy.]
We went to the Wednesday market in Pwlheli, which was better by a considerable amount than the Sunday one, and acquired goods for dinner, and went to a small fishmonger's/deli, in which we got red mullet and anchovies. The mullets ended up being fried, and they were superb.
We drove down to the end of the Lleyn peninsula, being mostly unimpressed by it on the way, and then very pleased with the village nearly right at the end, Aberdaeron, which has a sheltered beach (well covered in stranded jellyfish, which we stepped around), and then being stunned on the way back by the view from the village of Rhiw, from which you can see all the way back up the peninsula, and into Snowdonia for good measure.
There was a massive storm one of the nights, which left trees and branches down all over, and brought the owner of the cottage up in the morning to check if we a) had power, and b) hadn't had a tree come down on us or the car. We'd been inside the metre-thick walls, and hadn't thought it was all that bad. Apparently, there were thousands of places up and down the coast left without power, and we saw trees down all over the place over the next two days.
We visited Chester, wherein I was very pleased by the walls and by the second gallery level of the streets in the older parts of town, while at the same time bemoaning the effect whereby, due to chains of shops, every town in England is now effectively the same. There is a very good old-style sweet shop opposite the cathedral, though, which was well worth the investigation.
We also did a drive up Llanberis Pass, and back through Beddgelert, Tremadog, and back up to the cottage. Llanberis runs past Snowdon on the "far side", from our point of view, so we circled the mountain, even if we didn't as much as consider climbing it. It does appear to attract bad weather; there was almost always an area of rain and heavy cloud in about a six, seven mile radius centred on the mountain itself. This does give rise to some fabulous waterfalls coming down the sides of steep glacial valleys, though.
And we visited Caernarfon castle, which I recommend to everyone, as long as you can handle lots of steps. For the first time ever, I got the museum effect from a castle - the one where I run out of attention span, and have to leave and go do something else, because the cool-stuff-to-look-at buffer is full.
North Wales does not appear to do good pubs. There were pubs, certainly, but they had a distinct impression of having learned how to be pubs from a book, or possibly a correspondence course. A randomly chosen pub in Chester was superior to every pub we saw in Wales. This seems, having done some reading, to be due to the principle of sobriety being a strong one in the Nonconformist religious traditions of the area.
There's also evidence to suggest that the reaction to rock in Wales has historically been to take a pick to it, on an industrial scale, and Wales is made of rock. There isn't a single valley that hasn't signs of slate quarrying, copper mining, lead or tin mining, or other extraction of stuff from the ground.
It was an excellent trip. We were trying to pick out the best bits today on the way home, and kept coming up with more and more new ones.