Posts Tagged ‘Wales’

August 22, 23, 2016: Originally I had thought to use Wales’ narrow gauge steam railways as transport, sleeping in Porthmadog and day tripping to the Italianate village of Portmeirion. Then it occurred to me that using a narrow gauge carriage for transport of luggage, on an August weekend, was not one of my better ideas. Plan B was to day trip by narrow gauge from Conwy, but the timetables would have left me only a short time in Portmeirion. Next trip, maybe. Instead I used Conwy as a base for Beaumaris Castle on Anglesey, Bodnant Gardens and Llandudno.
Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate with my plans for Anglesey. When I woke up and saw the rain, I nearly canceled my visit, but there was always the chance, this being the UK, that the weather would clear up. I took a bus to Bangor, and a second on to Beaumaris via what I believe was the Menai bridge. The bridge was completed in 1826, and I was amused to notice that the driver took his bus through the narrow archway very, very slowly, with only centimeters of clearance to either side. He didn’t have a lot of clearance on some of the roads – maybe lanes would be a better word – once on the island.

I reached Beaumaris, I drank coffee in a cafe opposite the castle, I bought my entrance ticket, still rain, in fact heavier rain. But while I watched the introductory video the day cleared enough for me to walk through the castle and half way round the battlements without recourse to my umbrella (which might not have withstood the wind). Beaumaris was designed as the perfect defensive castle, and though never finished (Edward turned his attention north and the money dried up), photos taken from the air show it to be exactly that, with moat, double defensive walls, and towers. Unfortunately, it is not so obvious on the ground, and after seeing Conwy on this trip, and Caernarfon on earlier trips, I found Beaumaris not worth the trek, although I did rather like the red Welsh dragon emerging from the ground inside. Afterwards, I ate lunch in the Bull’s Head, which had been recommended (whitebait and deviled kidneys, quite good).

My plans for Anglesey had included a visit to Plas Newydd, but this would have required a fifteen to twenty minute trek from and to the bus stop, and it looked like there was going to be more rain, so instead I went back to Conwy, wrote a blog post over coffee, and walked the walls. Skipping Plas Newydd, along with missing Lulworth Cove in Dorset, was one time when having a car would have made a difference.

In complete contrast, the next day featured bright sun. I was able to take a bus (although not one of the Arriva buses covered by the day pass I had just bought) right to the gates of Bodnant Gardens. The absolute best time to visit Bodnant is when the laburnum arcade is in flower, but there was still plenty to see. The site was big, and it was quite a trek to the Far End, mostly through trees and alongside a stream. Some of the trees were remarkable, including the tallest yew and the tallest redwood in the UK. The flowers were back near the entrance, on terraces and round lily ponds below the house, which was not open for visits.

Another bus took me from Bodnant Gardens to the center of Llandudno, on a peninsula north of Conwy. I have distant memories of visiting Llandudno back when I was a child, and I wanted another look at the Great Orme, the massive limestone headland at its far end. A lot of other people also wanted to have a look at it, and the line for the Victorian Tramway, with just one small carriage, was long. I could have ridden the new cable cars, but I have a decreasing tolerance for heights and felt safer on solid ground. Besides, the tram was more fun. The best views of Llandudno’s sweeping half-circle of sand were from the halfway point, where we changed trams, and the tourist clutter at the top was disappointing. If I had felt more energetic, or it had been earlier in the day, I might have walked down, taking in the Bronze Age copper mine on the way, but I didn’t, and it wasn’t, and I rode the tram both ways. The Ormes (there is a lesser one on the eastern side of the bay) are covered with short grass and are good places for hikers and picnickers. I even saw gorse and heather on the way up.

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August 20-24, 2016: From Shrewsbury I rejoined the Birmingham to Holyhead train to reach Conwy, on the north coast of Wales. The rails ran quite close to the shore in places, and I enjoyed the views. My B&B was just uphill from the small, on-request station, and the whole town was easily walkable. The B&B, the Gwynfryn, run by friendly hosts busy expanding their operation into a former chapel, was a little frou-frou for my taste, with cute decorations on every available surface and trailing draperies at the window. (I don’t necessarily count the extra pillows and bedspreads, I seem to be always removing those.)
Back when the Welsh were periodically fighting to remain independent of the English, Edward I built a number of castles to keep them quiet. Conwy has not only retained its castle, roofless and floorless but otherwise impressive and in quite good condition, but an almost complete circuit of protective walls around the town center. Visiting the castle costs money, but walking the walls is free. I did both, although while I walked the castle’s battlements, I only went up one of the towers, as the wind was trying to blow me off and I didn’t feel secure enough to take photos, which required two hands. I did see enough to appreciate the castle’s strategic position.

After the castle I visited Conwy’s two house museums. The National Trust property was small and rather bare, but Plas Mawr was big and well decorated. The elaborate Tudor plasterwork had been renovated, and painted in the original colors. Ornate chests flanked four poster beds, a good sized kitchen was next to a scullery with game hanging from the ceiling, and the main bedroom even had its own toilet in a small closet.
Three bridges cross the river Conwy right below the castle: the railway bridge, the modern road bridge (currently partly hidden while renovations are in process), and between the two, Telford’s 1826 suspension bridge, anchored actually into the castle walls at one end. Admission to the NT house included admission to the toll keeper’s cottage at the far end, and I got to walk the bridge as well. I was surprised to learn that the position (and the accompanying cottage) had been auctioned off every three years. The winner got to keep the tolls, and apparently made enough money, and enough of a reputation as a reliable worker, to move on to other things, as records showed continual changeover.

My splurge meal in Conwy was at Watson’s Bistro, just up the street. This turned out to be an excellent choice, for both service and food. I had made an Open Table reservation, as I was eating there on a Saturday night, but the reservation had not made it into the Bistro’s system. Fortunately, my reservation was early, at 7:30. I ate my main course at one table, reserved for 8:30, and my dessert at another, vacated at 8:00. Meanwhile, several couples were turned away. The main course, tender lamb shank with potatoes and vegetables, was delicious, but too much meat given I wanted room for dessert, an excellent Welsh cheese board, complete with descriptions. The house port was quite drinkable and went well with the cheese. My other meals in Conwy were not memorable.

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