Day 7: March 19, 2018
Early morning drive up to Snowdonia National Park. We had planned to do the Titan zip line, but it was canceled due to the weather. Instead we booked the Slate Caverns zip line. There was about an hour training to teach us how to use clickets and the trolley. The clickets used a magnet to open and close. We were then released into the course by ourselves. You got to crawl along the cavern walls, cross rope bridges and walk a tight rope. It took about 2.5 hours in total, which put us a bit behind our schedule for getting home before it was dark.
We drove through the mountains in Snowdonia and stopped a couple of times to get some good pictures.
We then drove across to the island of Anglesey to Beaumaris. We went to the castle there which was built in 1295 and would have cost about $12.5 million CAD in today’s money. King Edward I built this castle along with quite a few other in Wales to cement his conquest there. Beaumaris was the last of a ring of castles, but was never completed due to the need for money for the war in Scotland.
We got some nice views of Snowdonia across the Menai Strait as we were leaving Beaumaris. We drove down to Caernarfon Castle which was built in 1283 again by Edward I. It was also never completely finished.
There were some interesting stories about Edward I and how he tried to have the Welsh accept him as their ruler. He used the Welsh legend of Macsen and Elen. Macsen was a Roman governor who dreamed of a beautiful maiden in a far-off land. He eventually travelled to Wales where he meets Elen, the daughter of a Caernarfon chieftain. Macsen marries Elen and he rules the land. Edward uses this legend to relate to himself, a foreign ruler who is accepted by the people.
Edward I also had a fascination with King Arthur. He had around table as was used by King Arthur. Geoffrey of Monmouth, a Welsh writer, wrote the first major biography of King Arthur so Edward tried to use this to his advantage. The legends stated that King Arthur would rise again to rule which Edward didn’t like. He had Arthur and Guinevere buried to show they were not coming back and that he was the true ruler.
We were a bit late leaving and ended up driving back in the dark. The i10 does not have the best headlights and the curvy roads didn’t make it a very fun drive. We stopped in Aberystwyth for fish and chips and then picked up some groceries. We headed back home and got in quite late.
Day 8: March 20, 2018
Sleep in day! Eggs and gammon for breakfast and then drove to Cardiff. We started the day at St. Fagans which was suggested by a friend from Cardiff. It was a village with historical buildings that you could walk around (similar to the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village outside of Edmonton). We very much enjoyed seeing all the different places. There was a farmstead from the Iron Age that you could walk into. It was very spacious inside.
A set of buildings that I really enjoyed was the Houses through the Decades. They were row houses that were built for mine workers styled in furnishings from 1805, 1855, 1925, 1955 and 1985.
We went to the second level above a set of shops and found a tea room playing some enchanting music from the 1920s. I got very excited about this. That is the time period I believe I was meant for! We started to leave and I told Danny we had to go back and have tea there. We got the Welsh brew which was delicious and toast with rarebit (a sauce of melted cheese). I was not a fan of the rarebit.
We made our way back to the car and drove to our friend’s place. She was gracious enough to let us park in her drive while we walked around Cardiff. We walked to Cardiff Castle and browsed around there. One of the most interesting parts was “The Keep” which was built by Norman invaders around 1081. It was originally wooden, but replaced by the present stone version in the 1130s.
From there we headed for Cardiff Bay. Along the way we passed some vendors, one of whom was selling Welsh cake and shortbread. I had previously smelled a candle that was Welsh cake scented. It smelled delicious so I was looking forward to tasting it. It was very yummy!
We walked around the bay for a bit and then walked back along the river. We sat in the playground across from our friend’s until she got home. She fed us some delicious lemon cake and then we chatted. Another friend arrived and we went down the street to a very lush Thai place. It did not disappoint. We enjoyed catching up with them, discussing travel plans and reminiscing about our trip to Africa. We drove back home for the night and went to sleep right away.
Day 9: March 21, 2018
The plan was to drive up to Snowdonia again to see more castles, but after two long days with lots of driving we decided to take another rest day. I think all the castles were starting to blur together too. We had some breakfast and then started planning. I worked on Scotland and Danny worked on Slovenia. The internet was not working very well so we were getting a bit frustrated. We decided to have some lunch and then go for a drive. We went up the hill we had mistakenly gone to our first day in Wales. We were hoping to hike to get a better view, but there were fences blocking us in every direction. We did find a sign that indicated a burial site beside where we were parked. It was from 2300-800 BC. We walked up the hill and there was a rock with a circular ditch around. There seems to be so much history around.
We drove back down to Lampeter and sat in a coffee shop to get some better wifi. We finished our planning and then I updated our expenses spreadsheet. We’ve been spending less on food than we had assumed because we’ve been cooking ourselves. The car was more expensive than we were planning and I can’t remember if I had included the cost of gas. Oops.
Day 10: March 22, 2018
Another early morning drive up to Snowdonia. Our Airbnb host had lent us a map and showed us exactly where to park to do the hike up to Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales. It was very windy when we arrived at the car park. We took the Miner’s Trail up that was supposed to be a bit easier, but an extra kilometre.
It was a nice easy walk around two lakes then we weren’t sure where to go. There was no real visible trail. Two other sets of people were also trying to figure it out. We all eventually just started climbing and found the trail. It was very steep going up and very windy. Gusts would come up and if you were off balance you could easily trip. We reached a point with some snow and stopped for a break. We went up a bit farther, but the snow was covering the path. The snow was very slippery and the wind made it even more scary. We decided that it was time to turn back.
We took the Pyg Track back which was a bit more steep, but there was a nice view into the valley below.
We made it back to the car two hours early because we didn’t climb all the way to the summit. Finally ahead of schedule! We decided we had time to do one more castle.
After eating our lunch of sandwiches we drove to Harlech Castle. It was built in 1283 again by Edward I. At peak there were 950 men working on the castle: 227 masons, 115 quarries, 30 smiths, 22 carpenters and 546 labourers. Walking through the castle we had the place to ourselves. We walked up some of the towers and you could see out to the coast.
In one of the rooms there were stone cannonballs that were from a previous siege on the castle.
When we left the castle we decided to drive up a 20% grade road to get a better view of the castle. The road didn’t have many places to turn around and the road kept narrowing. We met a car coming down and had to roll down into this little drive for them to get passed. We finally were able to turn around and drive back down. There was no view of the castle from there due to the high stone walls so our scary experience did not pan out.
The rolling hills, narrow roads, stone houses, fields of sheep and enchanting castles of Wales did not disappoint. The Welsh we met were very proud of their heritage and they have made their language a priority. We heard lots of people speaking Welsh, although we were told only about 20% actually speak it. Their road signs do show both Welsh and English.
Scotland is next!