Right Stand by people here comes a big post. I will also make it a page, so it doesn’t get lost in all the other rubbish that I let rip on here. As you may be aware I have been on holiday. Yes that’s right. A holiday after eleven years of working I decided enough was enough and that a holiday was needed. Some where I could get away and not have contact with the outside world and I certainly chose the right location, although my facebook was on.
Snowdonia National Park was where I was going to base myself for the next five days in a lovely hotel called the Grapes. I had no network on my phone while in the hotel, or if truth be told when I was out and about. Apart from, the top of Snowdon did give a very good 3G reception 1000m above sea level.
So I set off at about 10.00 after my morning run, and plugged my Brothers TOMTOM in, to see which direction it would guide me. The IQ route said Wrexham and then the A498 and after two hours, where most of it was winding country roads I had arrived my hotel before check in. So time for the first activity of the holiday. Thats right, one my favorite past times… Castle spotting.
Off I drove past my hotel and onward to a small village which I have fallen in love with. If and when I retire I am going to live in this sleepy suburb. On the way to my destination I suddenly discovered what people meant about the roads in Wales and I might as well say my piece about it here. I love them. 60 m.p.h along rolling bendy narrow roads I spent a lot of my time getting lost on purpose, just so I could ride the rollercoaster that was the A Roads of this peaceful pleasant area. They were also smooth, not pot hole or rough, they were a real joy to navigate and lets face it, navigation is easy in Wales. You only have two roads to choose from, the one towards Porthmadog and the other to Ffestiniog.
Anyway I was speeding toward Harlech for one reason and one reason only and that was the Castle. And it did not disappoint. It appeared as I came round the bend, looking down, like it was surveying the village. It was wonderful and is now one of my top five. The History is simple. Edward the I built it, then lost it four years later which even he has to admit it was a little bit careless. “Edward, you are a fool, how can you lose a big castle. You better not misplace Carnofen especially now I have the Kitchen the way I like it” Just like women not to understand Edward thought. In fact he had not lost it, more had it taken away from him by the Welsh uprising. The day was cold and dark, and one of his generals came rushing in “Sire the peasants are revolting” The general said. “I know I can smell them from here” Edward said sniggering. Before he knew it the Castle that had taken 7 years and had cost £8,000 (£3,000,000 in today’s money) had been snatched by the Welsh just after 4 years of completion. “Well you don’t have to worry about the leaky roof now Sire” his servant uttered as they packed up.
The Castle was only in the Welsh hands for a number years, but it was where Owain Glyndŵr held court decided to move in. The English soon regained control. The rest of the Castles troubled history saw it involved in the War of the Roses and as a hide out for Charles I during the Civil war.
The rest of this peaceful village was a joy to walk around, and is well worth a look. If you are going to relax, then you could do no better than walk down to the stunning beach, which is masked by impressive sand dunes where you navigate through the golf course to land on the golden sands and tranquil sounds of the Irish Sea.
The day was completed by me settling in to my hotel, which as I have said above was great. Wonderful pub food, and friendly staff. A real warm welcome, where the manager would ask you about your day. I got into a little routine, of returning back to my room and feasting on the complimentary biscuits and drinking the tea that never quite taste like it should. Then I would slowly make my way down to select my tea from the vast menu, and retire to the privacy of my room. I would then take a bath to soak my legs and find myself falling asleep at 9pm, ready for the next day.
Oh boy, and what a day. The weather was sunny, the sky was clear. The BBC had informed me that it would remain like that, as did the Snowdon weather site. So of I set towards Snowdon. This is a great drive, for two reason. The scenery and the roads. I drove through Betwsy Coed, which I would later return to have a look, and unless you are starting a walk there, then I really would not bother. On my way to Snowdon, I had to stop off and start taking pictures of lakes and mountains being reflected in the water, and as I approached the start of my walk I had to make a quick decision to do Miners or Pyg track. I chose Pyg.
I thought overall without sounding boastful that the walk/climb was mild. I had been told it was challenging, and I was expecting to be pushed to my limited walking experience. But I wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong my heart was pumping and my legs had more of a workout than they do when I go running, but overall I found it to be a nice climb. I’m not for minute suggesting it was a stroll in the park but it’s not worth a 5 on the difficulty rating where 1 is easy and 5 is hard.
The way up and way down was glorious, and as with all summit climbs, the Mountain plays tricks on you. Just when you think you can see the path ahead, or the summit, the trail twist and snakes in a different direction. But with Snowdon, you could always see her icy snow-covered top. You would say hello to your fellow walkers, ask them if they had done it before, and if like me, would great them again on the way down. The sign in the car park suggested 6 hours, I did it up and down minus the sit down on the summit in about three and half.
I’m very glad I did it and enjoyed the walk and climb. Also liked seeing people running up it, and walking there dogs. The school Children who were climbing in font of me didn’t all make it. The teacher claimed that they went back to the bus. I don’t want to point fingers, but it was a long way down.
After Snowdon, I drove and went down towards the Keep I saw on my way to Snowdon. This was the 2nd castle I had on my list. Dolwyddelan Castle is just a dwarf compared to the others, but plays a large significance on Welsh history. I parked my car and walked up to the start of the path and saw a sign “Please pay at Farm House” I walked toward the house and saw nobody about, then from inside a stout woman pointed towards a door around the side of the house. Within a few minutes she unbolted several locks (Not that there was any one around) and instructed me that the castle was up that path and pointed to a field. ‘What about the pay’ I enquired. ‘No pay today, as it’s St Davids Day’ I rushed up the slope to the castle to be thankful that David had planted all those Leeks and Daffodils and got made into a Saint as even for a Castle lover like me, £3.80 is a bit much for a stone tower.
I drove onwards to Ffestiniog power station, which is part of the first hydro-electric stations. Here I walked for a bit and stood to look at the Narrow gage tracks, and decided that at 6pm I was a little tired and food and sleep was in order.
This was a busy day. My plan was to drive far and work my way back towards the hotel. Instead I got so excited by seeing the Ffestiniog railway, with the train being stoked up I had to get out and watch it set on its way. By which point I thought the sun won’t be out for ever let’s go to the film set. So off I set from Porthmadog to Portmerrion. Now for those not in the know, I only know of this place, not because of the crazy man Ellis who designed and built it in the 1920’s and led the project till it had finished in the 1950’s or for its super importance as a site that no one can touch or do anything to without permission from the UK government, that includes Ellis himself.
The whole village was built to prove that towns could be built to look beautiful and to function, but the reason why I know it, is due to a big white balloon that prevented Number 2 from escaping. I am referring to the hit 60’s show ‘The Prisoner” Now as I walked around this populated village which Ellis describes as miniature… Everything is scaled down I found it rather creepy. Not sure if that was because of the ‘Prisoner’ of if the village gave of that vibe and that is why the producers picked it.
The woodlands that surround and mask the village are spectacular, quiet and peaceful they carry the same erriness as the fabrication they circle. Within the woods is a ghost garden that if excuse the English was hunting, and as the path down was more or less a tunnel that had been carved through the trees and hedges, to an overgrown area. Along the wood was also a sheltered space called ‘Dog cemetery’ where graves stones stood proud above the graves of loved dogs. This did nothing to calm the nerves but instead heightened the strangeness and peculiarity that this small area of Wales held.
I really do recommend anyone going to see this village. The whole thing is locked away and for those who live her, security gates are the norm, luckily they are not subjected to the £8.00 entry fee, but I feel it was worth it as I was absorbed into the surroundings and strange tranquility of the place.
Next on the list was another castle, and again luckily the cost did not burden my pockets, as the ticket booth was not open, but the gates to the castle were. This was still a nice castle to look at, but after the English invasion was over the castle was left to fall apart. The idyllic setting was yet agin on a mound over looking the sea at the edge of the town. The Town is called Criccieth, and there is not much else to do apart the castle, so I hastily drove to the final stop, a copper mine.
This was a self guided tour, and you would not believe how creeped out I was as I walked the steps of history. The plastic moulding of men in fixed positions did not help, nor did the voices from hidden speakers and lets not get started when all the lights went out to show you how dark it would have been. But the sites of the underground lakes and caverns were spectacular, and the mountain walk afterwards was a good strong climb to amazing views. This got me energised and I wandered off to walk up Snowdon again. This time I only made it half way due to fading light and I’m no fool when it comes to climbing mountains in the dark. The path I chose was the Watkins path which Lloyd George opened on a rock in front of 2000 people.
After this I decided enough was enough and it was back to the hotel for me.
Cader Idris and Barmouth
Now without upsetting people, which I know will happen, but this mountain which is said to be the 2nd most visited, is truly amazing. I loved it. The climb up was not harder or easier than Snowdon, but seemed to use more energy. The end result was also more rewarding. The height of Cader Idris stands at just under 900 meters so is in no means a dwarf, but Snowdon some what has the lime light for one reason and that is its height. You get to the top of Snowdon and you have wonderful views of the other mountain ranges. You get to the top of Cader Idris and you see hills, valleys, Barmouth and its bridge. Plus the last half a mile to the summit is so rewarding it’s untrue. I wanted to shout while I was at the top, but there was an older gentleman eating his lunch.
This summit also played on the mind, as you could never fully see your goal till the last moment, so just when youthought you were about to reach the top of the summit you had your eye on disappeared to reveal another mound.
Anyway who ever likes walking should do this, it is a mix of flat hill, steep crumbling rock climbing, large stone step walking and strong hiking.
This rather took the breath from me, both in the climb and the views the walk down was just as strenuous and if anything was slightly harder. It was broken up by chatting to a nice couple of Warkshire who were up for two days, and I had met in the car park where they had guided me through the walk step by step. Now we spoke about views and other walks, but I was to tired for any more walking today, so it was off to look at a train museum that ended up being a shed and was in fact closed. This was where I had to push my little car to the full, as the red petrol light illuminated telling me Marko was thirsty. This was the only time I got my brothers TOMTOM out, to direct me to the nearest station. 15 miles later Marko was watered so to speak and he had done over 400 miles on a tank. The best MPG yet.
With this I headed toward Barmouth to enjoy more sandy beaches but really to take a peak at the wonderful bridge that crosses the mouth. With that I retired to my hotel room to bath and change before my last evening in Wales.
The Last Day
This was a sad day. I didn’t want it to happen, but knew I had to leave if only because Simon had hired my room out to some one else for their holiday, and there was a small fact I could not afford it.
I knew I did not want to go back to Manchester til night fall, so what was there to do. I thought I could drive the coast road back on the A55 and take it in all my castles on the way back, but I certainly was not going to pay to go in side each one. My legs were tired from all the walking I had done and while not all of it is documented here I covered a fair few miles I can tell you. The only town I had not yet been to was that of Llanberis where the Snowdon railway starts for those lazy people who can’t be bothered to walk up, but it is also the home of Electric Mountain, the Hydro Electric power station buried deep into the hill-side. There were no tours this day, but there was a slate museum, which I took great interest in, and delight and looking at the largest UK mainland water wheel.
From here I decided to take a walk through the national park and the quarry. This was where I got lost. Walking my new hobby mixed with a quarry and Victorian engineering I was in some kind of fantasy or on a Dr Who planet. It was a deathly quiet place. The odd the bird of prey circled overhead as you paced through history that was left to decay. Old miners houses built into the hillside, the old workshops where they spilt the slate before loading into the wagon that were trucked down the incline on huge steel wires. All the buildings and inclines built from the raw material they had blasted from the hillside. In this desolate rubble, Snowdon towered above, keeping a watchful eye. For some one who was tired off walking, I managed another day of trotting around for several hours, in the quarry and the woods, trying to catch snaps of the Kingfisher but in the end finding myself taking pictures of a different bird entirely as well as Kid (goat)
The day was complete by paying a visit to another Keep, this was Dolbadarn Castle, a small but yet impressive feature on the landscape. I don’t know much of this history, but the English did not build this masterpiece.
With that, the time was getting close to six, and I was gearing up for bed. It was to the car, and the coast road for a lasting sight of the Castles of North Wales and a glimpse of my favourite bridge.
By the time I got home, I was ready for bed, I did almost drift off a few times and was glad to be home and secure. But am not happy about leaving the place I called home for a week. But some important decisions were thought about, and time will see if having a holiday is what people really need, or to be more precise what I needed.
Wales and Snowdonia Rule.