A journey through Wales today stopping at small towns and other places of interest.
Lunch in Dolgellau arriving at the Hotel around 4pm.
Nice rooms. Dave & Wendy got a four-poster bed.
Pretty tired after the journey, so we had a Fish’n'Chips supper in the pub attached to the hotel (some of the best I’ve tasted) and an early night.
Everyone else has found the beds really comfortable. To me, it’s more like rough-cast concrete! Oh well… Get over it!
Starting our whistle-stop tour around North Wales today. The weather forecast was disgraceful, but somehow, we managed always to leave the car with no rain falling (no sun shining either!).
First stop: Llanberis and the Snowdon Mountain Railway. No point in taking the trip 3500 ft up the mountain; visibility on Snowdon looked like “hands-in-front-of-your-face”. The station was interesting, though.
On then to Caernarfon Castle. Since the 1200’s it has guarded the approaches to the Menai Straits and helped the English keep hairy-arsed Welshmen under control. We sacked and burned it a few times but, annoyingly, the English just repaired it.
For hundreds of years, it has been the location for the Investiture of Prince of Wales (the English Monarch’s eldest son), the most recent being Charles in July 1969.
The dais has been preserved as have other artefacts of the ceremony, on show in various places.
We then traveled on to Beddgelert, the legendary grave of Prince Llewellyn’s faithful hound killed by Llewellyn because of an error of judgment. This legend is told to, and known by, almost every child who attended primary school in Wales.
It’s a pretty little village and the riverside walk to the grave is charming (even better in the sunshine - oh well!).
The scenic route back to the hotel for a bit of R&R before dinner.
Dave & Wendy arrived safely yesterday and after intensive questioning by Border Control (because they do look most suspicious characters) were admitted. We arrived home around 1:30pm and settled in.
We went out for a late lunch/early dinner at a local Harvester restaurant and then for a stroll around Cosmeston Country Park. After so many hours of travel... an early night.
First thing Thursday morning we went into Cardiff for breakfast at Wally’s Deli. Wally’s is something of a Cardiff institution, opened in the back streets when Wally, a Polish Jew, escaped from the Nazis to Wales. It’s now located in one of Cardiff’s iconic arcades.
Now run by his sons, it’s a treasure trove, a place to find foods and spices almost unavailable outside London.
We then strolled around the city, taking a look at the Principality (Millennium) Stadium. Just off a side street, hidden by a modern entrance, I’d remembered there had once been a row of Early Victorian houses, part of the original pre-coal era town. And, surprise, they’re still there. It is near the place the 1849 cholera outbreak killed around 350 people. (They've been cleaned up a lot and turned into small business offices!).
We walked through the Victorian Covered Market and into the original parish church of St John’s Parish. We’re hoping to return there on the weekend for a Male Voice Choir concert.
The original church dates back to the 12th Century and has been destroyed several times by floods and fire and rebuilt and finally abandoned in the 1600’s. The parish was restored in the mid-Victorian times by the Marquis of Bute and the church restored.
We took a quick look at Cardiff Castle (we’re going back to a banquet and, on another day, to a medieval jousting reenactment if the weather is kind on the day).
Back home for a little R & R.
Instead of lunch, a new experience for us too, afternoon tea at the Cardiff Mansion House.
Created by a wealthy Victorian, James Howell, who founded the city’s first large department store, it was acquired by the city in 1912 and is now the Official Residence of the Lord Mayor of Cardiff. Although the Lord Mayor hasn’t lived there since the mid 1990’s, it’s still used for official engagements such as welcoming visiting ambassadors, citizenship ceremonies and investitures (didn’t know that before today!) It has also been the “hotel” for such as Nelson Mandela, Catherine Zeta Jones and Prince Charles (didn’t know that either!).
After a generous supply of sandwiches and pastries, we were given a detailed, and genuinely entertaining house tour.
We finished with a very short visit to the Bay area (a bit cold and overcast - Wonderful Welsh Weather!) and then we settled in at home for some TV & movie watching.
Another busy day today.
After breakfast at home, we visited the Welsh Folk Museum in St Fagans, just outside Cardiff.
St Fagans Elizabethan Manor House is near the site of the English Civil War battle of St Fagans. In what would have been the Manor’s parklands, the National Museum of Wales has been, for about the last 75 years, taking down iconic or historic buildings from around Wales, brick-by-brick, and rebuilding them to create an open air museum spanning 700 years from early Tudor times to the 1950’s.
Rows of shops, working-men’s institutes, pubs, bakeries and village schools all form a part of the site.
One of the most surprising buildings is the 12th Century St Teilo’s church from West Wales which from the outside is pleasant, but unexceptional. However, the interior has been restored to its 1530’s appearance, with murals depicting Bible stories to help “story-telling” to the illiterate parishioners.
The manor house was closed for refurbishment, but its formal lakes and garden were open. Such a shame the sun didn’t put in an appearance.
We made a short diversion on the way home to Llandâf Cathedral, seat of the Archbishop of Wales. It is also the resting place of St Teilo and home to an internationally renowned sculpture of Christ by Epstein, created as part of the restoration following WWII bombing.
An afternoon at home was followed by a visit to our son’s “Welsh Street Food Takeover” at the Thornhill Church Centre, to the north of Cardiff. Their first event in this suburb, with several food-trader friends, was incredibly well supported. They’ll be back there soon.
Back home for a little TV, dozing in a chair and to bed for around 11pm.
A quiet day at home today, recovering from the gruelling schedule we’d set our guests.
In the evening we re-visited St John’s Church in Central Cardiff for a Male Voice Choir concert by the Cardiff Arms Park Choir and their guests, the Hereford Police Choir.
Not exactly the Treorchy or Morriston Orpheus, by any means (but they’re 200+ voices!), but two very good choirs that performed a good selection of traditional and modern Welsh, English and American music.
Visited the Royal Mint this morning - another “something new” for us. A guided tour and a myriad of surprising facts. For example, they mint 90 million items every WEEK, and work with dozens of countries worldwide, minting the coinage for Thailand, New Zealand, Bosnia and dozens of others. They also mint all the UK’s gongs (Royal Honours & Knighthoods) and made all the 2012 Olympic medals. Wales to the World, or what!
No photography inside the production area (security) and, given there was a chest containing £1,000,000 in coins (tightly covered in perspex) on display, no surprises there!
The exhibition area was large and well organised. There was a presentation of The Mint’s history which spans nearly 1000 years and shows its move from the Tower of London, to Tower Hill and then, in 1968, its move to Wales.
There were many old and historic coins on display and a set of Olympic Medals amongst so many other things.
So much to see. Go there!
Afternoon R&R at home, and then we went to a Banquet in Cardiff Castle. Not something to do if you’re local? Yes it is. Good food, great fun and entertainment. A great night out.
We started with a tour of some of the rooms.
The 3rd Marquis of Bute was once the World’s richest man, making around the modern equivalent of £3,000,000,000 (£3-billion) a YEAR. He gave architect, William Burges, unlimited time and funds to refurbish the Castle. Burges took him at his word and used gold leaf, commissioned artworks and expensive woods and other materials as if they were as common as muck!
After the tour, we were welcomed to the undercroft dining room with a glass of mead and a song. The evening continued in a similar vein. Courses of food, accompanied by harp or piano music and between courses singers with outstanding voices singing traditional Welsh songs.
Some audience participation (not too much and never embarrassing) was also included.
A really great evening.
Across to the north west coast today.
Porthmadog is the place we usually stay in North Wales, but there are no decent hotels - we use holiday apartments. I asked the SatNav to plot a “scenic route”. It has a sense of the macabre! We followed some mountain roads, not quite wide enough for two fat sheep to walk abreast. On a misty cloudy day we had a great view of the clouds - from the inside! We made it through and arrived safely in Porthmadog.
It’s the terminus for the Blaenau Ffestiniog Railway and the Welsh Highland Railway - narrow gauge (1’ 11”) both a great ride through the countryside. We passed as the seating wouldn’t have played nicely with Dave’s knees.
Pretty, quirky, charming and surprising all at the same time. Walks through The Village, along the coast and through the (un-signposted) woods.
After a long day, dinner at the hotel.
A gap in the log? We’ve been taking some time to recharge our batteries.
Friday (30 June) was the return journey from North Wales, long and pretty so we ended the day with a meal in front of the TV.
Saturday (1 July) the sun came out - an opportunity to sit in the garden, read books and generally chill.
Sunday (2 July) the sun was still out so we walked across the Bay Barrage to find a coffee in the Norwegian Church café, stroll around, explore the Pierhead Building and take the Water Taxi back to Penarth. Sunday evening we watched the Sherlock episode “The Hound of Baskerville” (S02E02) in preparation for Monday. Sherlock is a BBC Cymru/Wales production, shot entirely in Wales (with the exception of some London B-Roll as it’s supposed to be set there).
The Baskerville episode is set on Dartmoor (Devon) but the filming took place in the Vale of Glamorgan. The Inn in which he and Watson stayed is actually “The Bush at St Hilary”, our dinner venue for Monday.
Monday (3 July) The Bush first opened its door in 1541 and has been a “hostelry” of some sort ever since. It’s not widely known (people who know keep it to themselves - it’s already too popular). Good food, cask ales, friendly service and, in winter, a log fire. Perfect.
A stroll after dinner to view the Church (similar dates) and Village Cross before returning home.
A fascinating fortnight for us, looking at our homeland through tourist eyes.
We travelled to Llancaiach Fawr for lunch. Never been there for lunch before but, what the heck, live dangerously! It was excellent. Served starters and desserts with a Carvery for main course. Well cooked meats, generously carved, a great selection of vegs (cauliflower cheese - my favourite) and really tasty gravy.
We then toured the house, something we’ve done before and I’ve visited most often with 30+ school kids. Just as good as ever.
For most of the tour we were an exclusive party of four. The “servants”, as usual, stayed totally in character (1645ad), speaking only Olde English and gave really detailed explanations of their jobs, their Master’s life (he’s away at the Civil War, supporting the King) and the going ons at the Mansion House.
Returning home for just after 4:30pm, the Sun came out, so we settled in the garden to watch the World and birds go by.
After all we were fed at lunch, a quiet evening with a light meal seemed the best idea.
We’re not travelling far this time. Dave & Wendy are, all the way from North Mankato, Minnesota to spend some time with us in Wales.
They’re arriving at Cardiff Airport (via Paris) on Wednesday, 21st June. It’s going to be fun writing about and photographing things so familiar to us - we’ll probably find out how much we’ve taken for granted on our own doorstep!