Scotland Part 2

Day 15: March 27, 2018

We slept until 6:00 am then got up and ate a quick breakfast. I’ve been having some weird dreams recently. Last night we were driving across rivers and then we had to go in a spiral through all these rivers. It was all very odd, but was likely a reflection of the ford experience in Wales.

We booked the ferry the day before to Orkney Islands. It was quite expensive for us to get there with a car so we hoped it would be worth it. We arrived early and checked in the car then waited for about an hour and a half to be loaded onto the ferry from Scrabster to Stromness. We went to the upper deck and sat in some comfy chairs. It was not very busy and the ferry was quite fancy by our standards. We explored the restaurant and gift shop. We ate some snacks and then we arrived in Stromness. We drove straight off the ferry to Skara Brae. In 1850 a severe storm uncovered a stone-built Neolithic or New Stone Age settlement at Skara Brae dated between 3100-2500 BC. We got out and were almost blown over by the wind. We went to the visitor center and watched a short film. Then we walked through an exhibition explaining what they had found at the site.

Outside into the rain we went! We started in a replica of one of the homes found at Skara Brae. It was very interesting to walk through. There was a dresser at the back wall made of stone, beds set up with stone partitions, a hearth in the middle, shelves built into the stone wall and holes in the ground for food storage.

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Inside the replica house at Skara Brae.

From there we walked out to the actual houses. They had little stones along the walk with the years of historic events. We passed Stonehenge, and the Egyptian pyramids back until 3100 BC with the houses at Skara Brae. We were able to walk around above and look in.

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Inside the actual home from 5,000 years ago.

The houses were interconnected through hallways that were covered. There were no roofs on them except for hut 7 which had a glass roof placed on to protect it in the 1970s, but it actually created an environment that was destroying the stones. In 2005, it was decided to cover the glass roof with grass. The conditions in that location were quite harsh as we were experiencing.

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The outside of the homes.

There was a small shed there showing pictures of how the settlement may have looked. A very knowledgeable guide gave us some interesting facts. The roofs were likely covered with the previous year’s crops rather than being stone. The walls were not thick enough to support a stone roof. It is unknown how many people would have lived in this settlement.

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Depiction of what the settlement may have looked like 5,000 years ago.

Many of the houses had small rooms behind the dresser which you could only enter from the left. There is believed to be some significance as all the homes had this, but it is unknown the purpose.

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Room that could only be entered from the left.

From there, we drove to the Ring of Brodgar which was a bit of a walk from the car. It probably wasn’t too far, but it seemed to be a very long walk because it was so rainy and windy. The Ring of Brodgar is believed to have been a ceremonial meeting place 4,000-4,500 years ago. There was a fence around it for reconstruction so the view wasn’t that great and it was very muddy.

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The best picture I took of Ring of Brodgar.

We went back to the car and had cheese, sausage and crackers for lunch. Then on to the Standing Rocks of Stenness which is a stone circle raised about 5,000 years ago. It is assumed to be for ceremony and ritual. We were able to walk right up to them. They were sitting in a field with some sheep.

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Standing Rocks of Stenness

From there we went to Maeshowe which can only be visited with a guided tour. We booked a tour in the visitor centre, but had to wait 45 minutes for the next one. We dried off and had a tea. We were the only ones on the 2:00 tour. There was a short bus ride to the site and then about a five minute walk to Maeshowe.

Maeshowe is a chambered tomb built approximately 5,000 years ago. From the outside it looks like a hilly, grass-covered mound. Inside it was much warmer and drier. Sadly we were unable to take any pictures inside. The walls were 10 feet wide which meant that cement was not needed to hold the structure up. The stones used were also the full length of the tomb which made them very stable. Some people believe the stones were moved using rolling logs, however, there are not many trees on Orkney. Another theory is the use of a bed of seaweed the rock could be slid on. Stone masons still use this technique today. The soil surrounding would have aided with the construction. They would have built the slope as they put on each stone allowing the stones to be slid up the slope and into place.

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The tomb was built to store bones only. Bodies would have been left to have the flesh removed. The middle of the tomb is an open space so it is believed it was used for funerals and visiting ancestors. There were three chambers for bones and then the passage we walked through to get inside. As people started burying bodies, the cairn was no longer used. It was sealed for 3,000 years until 1150 when some Vikings looking for shelter from a storm bashed in the roof to get inside. They threw out the bones so nothing was found inside. They did leave runes etched into the walls in various places. Our guide translated some and they were exactly what you would imagine a Viking would say and also simple things similar to “Merai wuz here”. One had written up the stone and you could tell he was quite tall based on where the writing ends.

Click here for more information:  Maeshowe

The tombs were covered again until the 1870s when archaeologists brought tourists and covered the roof. The walk back to the bus was the worst. You couldn’t look up or the rain would stab your eyes. We had some extra time so we drove out to Yesnaby. We didn’t find the rock from the pictures, but did find a nice coastline. It was still killer windy though.

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Danny getting blown by the wind at Yesnaby.

We drove back to the ferry and had a calm ride back. We stopped for supper in Thurso at Y Not. We had a fancy haggis which kind of tasted like mushy meatloaf, pork belly and tenderloin with apple gravy, a potato and apple mix and blood pudding with mango. It was all very different, but delicious. Back to our place to do laundry and rest.

Day 16: March 28, 2018

Sleep in! We had a nice breakfast and Danny researched train tickets to get to Beaumont Hamel, a monument where his great uncle’s names are inscribed. The cost of the tickets ended up being super expensive. We think it is likely because he would have been travelling on Good Friday.

We drove to Wick for a tour of the Old Pulteney Distillery. It was a rather small distillery. They produce around 2,000 casks a year. They had two stills used like distillation towers to boil the alcohol out.

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Danny in front of a still.

Then the alcohol moves to a condenser: copper pipes with a stream of water cooling them outside. The casks used to store the alcohol were made of oak and were mostly old bourbon casks from the USA. They also had some sherry casks from Spain. We were able to see the warehousing as well. To be a true Scottish whiskey, it must be aged a minimum of three years. We were then able to taste two of their whiskeys. The first one burned, but the second one tasted watery.

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Casks in the warehouse.

We left there and got some ice cream. Our first of the trip! We drove back to our place and had smoked cod, potatoes and cabbage for supper. We re-watched Nailed It on Netflix. If you haven’t watched it yet you should. Danny was almost in tears from laughing a couple of times.

Day 17: March 29, 2018

Up at 6 am for a quick breakfast. We had to throw out some of the spare food we had because we wouldn’t be able to take it on the plane. It feels awful throwing food out. We drove down through Inverness to Loch Ness. We went through the visitor centre where they gave the background on the Loch Ness monster. They showed how the sightings could be mistaken for different things like birds, waves or sticks. I thought it was interesting.

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Loch Ness

We drove a bit further along the lake to Urquhart Castle. We ate leftovers for lunch in the car and then went inside. There was a film explaining the history of the castle. The first defences could date from around AD 580 and the first castle was built in the 1220s.

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View towards Urquhart Castle

In the 1300s, the castle became a strategic fortress in the Wars of Independence. During the 1400s, many of the buildings were destroyed during the 150 years of battle between the MacDonald Lords and the Crown. The Crown finally destroyed most of the castle to prevent the MacDonalds from using it. It definitely was not as impressive as the Welsh castles as it was mostly destroyed.

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Inside Urquhart Castle

We headed back to Inverness airport where we had to wait for a bit to drop our bags. For supper we had nachos and haggis. Not together. I’ve decided I quite like haggis.

We arrived in London and found a bus to the hotel, but we had to go back to the terminal to get some cash for the bus. The hotel was quite basic. Your typical cheaper hotel.

Day 18: March 30, 2018

Danny and I had a full English breakfast in the hotel for a full $45 CAD. We ate as much as we could to try to tide us over until lunch time, but then both felt awful. Danny went for a run and I went to the lobby and typed for this blog. The power in the hotel went out eventually so I gave up and went back to the room. When it was back on we watched an Africa special of Top Gear. Finally we went to the Travelodge next door for supper. We had planned on venturing further, but it was raining quite hard all day. The day was quite boring and I was feeling very annoyed by the end. We had wanted a rest day, but I just felt impatient. Maybe because the hotel wasn’t as homey?

Day 19: March 31, 2018

We went to the Travelodge for breakfast as we found out it was cheaper there. They had croissants and Nutella which we put together and was AMAZING. We started our walk to the airport, which was much easier than Google Maps made it look. Air Baltic check in wasn’t open yet so we sat in the main area. I walked around while Danny played Risk. We played a round of rummy and sat around. A friend FaceTimed me and we chatted for a bit until it was time for Danny and I to go check in. We dropped our bags and went through security. Danny had to put his liquids in a smaller bag and my bag got pulled aside for me not bringing the iPad out of my carry on. Every airport is different so it’s really hard to know what to do.

We went to Nando’s for supper. You had to order at the bar and get your own utensils and beverages. Ir reminded me of Australia with the lack of service. I always find it odd, but it’s just a different way of doing things. We sat in the main area waiting for our gate to show on the board. I was getting really bored. A couple of days of not doing anything and then just sitting in the airport all day was not fun. Our gate finally showed up and we walked to the gate. I slept a bit on the flight to Riga. We hadn’t originally planned to stop in Riga, but the cheapest flight had a 19 hour layover there so we thought: “Why not?”. We went through customs in Riga and then looked for a spot to lay down. Part of the plan with the layover was to get out of paying for a hotel by sleeping in the airport. Good idea, bad in practice. All the comfy benches were taken so we went to metal benches behind the stairs and laid down for the night.

A night and day in Riga, Latvia then on to Kiev, Ukraine.

M

Scotland Part 1

Day 11: March 23, 2018

We woke up for another full day of driving. We had a really good time at Llanfair Clydogau. It was very nice to have our own space that felt homey. The seven hour drive to Fintry, just north of Glasgow, was uneventful. We stopped and ate sandwiches for lunch and got groceries for the next couple of days. Sometimes it feels we spend more time grocery shopping than anything else. We’ve gotten better at planning our meals so that we don’t have to shop as much. Trying to think of easy meals other than sandwiches for lunch has proven a bit difficult.

We had planned a detour up to a castle, but with already a full day of driving we opted out. The roads in Scotland seem to have more potholes than the near perfectly smooth roads of Wales. The fields here don’t have rock walls though which makes observing the landscape much easier.

We arrived at our Airbnb in the Fintry and were pretty excited. The outside looked like a fancy estate house, but when we walked in we were pretty disappointed. The whole place just felt dirty and really needs a deep clean. There were splatters on the kitchen cupboards, stains on the living room floor and a drip pan for the grey water on the toilet. It made me feel gross being there. We have stayed at our fair share of gross places, but I was really hoping to avoid them with the Airbnbs. Lesson learned: always look at the cleanliness rating and if it’s not a five star, don’t book it.

Day 12: March 24, 2018

We had a bit of a sleep in and a fancy breakfast of bacon and eggs. Danny had to do the cooking because going into the kitchen made me want to gag. I know I’m a bit OCD about cleanliness, but I can usually handle most places. We packed a lunch and headed into Edinburgh. The drive made Danny pretty stressed out. We had no idea where to park so we had to drive around aimlessly for a bit. We found a place to park and paid for a very expensive hour.

We walked to Stockbridge and then along the Water of Leith to Dean Gardens. We went up to Dean Village, which is a former village northwest of Edinburgh. We didn’t really see much so we walked back down the river and to the car.

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Water of Leith

On the walk we saw a potential parking spot that we wouldn’t have to pay for. We drove there and looked around. We decided we could get away with parking there so walked up to Princes Street Gardens and ate our wraps for lunch.

Lunch Time in Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh

We walked up to Edinburgh Castle, but it looked too busy for us to want to go in. We walked down the Royal Mile and looked in the shops at the wool and cashmere wares. We stopped for a chai latte, hot chocolate and some treats at a café.

Edinburgh Castle

We walked up the street to Real Mary King’s Close where we had booked a tour. We were able to go through three different closes (narrow, steep alleyways off the Royal Mile) from the 1600s. The closes were normally named after a memorable occupant of one of the apartments on the close. Mary King was a widow whose husband had given her his right to vote and his title as merchant.

The housing off the Royal Mile was about 10 stories high. When the Town Chambers were built they closed the housing to fill some of the closes with cement to act as a foundation for the new building. The closes are now beneath the buildings, but were never originally underground.

The tour gave you a better idea of how people would have lived during that time and gave examples of actual people who had lived there. One room we walked through would have had fifteen people calling it home. They would have had straw on the ground as mattresses and one communal bucket in the corner that was emptied into the street twice a day by the youngest member of the family. Luckily I was not born in this time as I was the youngest member in my family for a very long time. Cows lived in the closes and all their excrement was also thrown into the street.

We walked into one room that showed a family’s experience with the plague. Pneumonic plague caused you to cough and puke until you had internal bleeding causing external bruising. This is where the term “Black Death” comes from. Bubonic plague resulted in boils that when they popped would leak inside you and infect you internally. Doctors would have to drain the boils then cauterize them with a hot poker. The plague doctors wore long beaked masks and robes thinking the plague was spread by smell. They would stuff the beaks with mosses and spices. While their belief was incorrect, their attire still protected them.

Plague Doctor’s Attire (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plague_doctor_costume)

There was also a room preserved from the 1700s which still had the original plaster. The plaster used horse hairs which you could see poking out on the roof. There was original flower stamping on the walls that would have been used in place of wallpaper which would have been too expensive. We very much enjoyed the tour. We walked back to the car and drove back to Fintry.

Day 13: March 25, 2018

We woke up fairly early to get out of the Airbnb as soon as possible. We drove north to Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park. On the drive we listened to the two versions of the song “Loch Lomond” that Danny had on his iPod. This one is my favourite:

We stopped at Luss for a view of the lake. There was no one around and the sun was still coming up. We walked out on the dock, but then it started raining so we headed back to the car.

View of Loch Lomond from Luss

We drove to Firkin Point which was pretty firkin’ boring, but had washrooms. We took a little drive up to Glen Croe which was supposed to have a very nice view, but the rain and clouds hid the view from us. Soldiers inscribed “Rest and Be Thankful” onto a stone here on the military road in the 1740s.

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Rest and Be Thankful

Next we stopped at Falloch Falls which was nice.

Danny and I at Falloch Falls

We drove from Glen Coe to Fort William and stopped a couple of times for some pictures.

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View of Glen Coe

We passed Eilean Donan Castle and got some pictures, but didn’t go inside as it looked busy. You may be sensing the theme that we don’t enjoy crowds.

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Eilean Donan Castle

We crossed the Skye Bridge from Kyle of Lochalsh and drove down the road to Torrin, population of approximately 100. We found our Airbnb and the host came out from drywalling to chat and show us the place. We walked in and I thanked the lord that it was clean. The host had quite a funny personality. He told us a story of how a couple of days before he had to wake up one of the guys staying at his place to help with calving. Apparently the guy was covered by the end. Our host was waiting for the bad review on Airbnb. We told him that it would be quite an experience and to wake us if there was another calf coming.

He suggested some walks around town so off we went up a hill in town through a random field. The view was amazing with mountains behind, town beside and ocean ahead.

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View of Torrin

We headed down and walked along the beach where we were told there was a loop back to our place. We reached a house at the end of the beach so we turned up a field and then ended up having to go back the way we came or we would have walked through people’s yards. We aren’t sure if that is just the way here or if we aren’t good at following paths.

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Beach at Torrin
Day 14: March 26, 2018

We left fairly early so that we could see as much of the Isle of Skye as possible. We drove up the west side of the north coast to Uig. To get to theFairy Glen we had to herd some sheep off the road.

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Sheep on the Road to the Fairy Glen

We walked up a hill and there were more hills with terraces and we took some pictures there.

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Road to the Fairy Glen

We walked up a bit farther and there was a ring of rocks forming a spiral with some coins in the middle.

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Fairy Glen

We walked around and up a ridge with the sun still coming up. We barely spoke as we walked around because it was so much to take in. We both commented that it felt very spiritual there. The place reminded me of a Cree story that I was told. We walked to a little creek and sat down for a bit looking out over the glen.

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Fairy Glen

As most people know, I left my job at the end of last year and took some extra time off. I signed up for some courses as part of an Indigenous Community Relations certificate offered by the Faculty of Extension at the University of Alberta. The courses started with me wanting to learn more about Indigenous culture, but really became a personal journey. I have never considered myself spiritual. I grew up with no organized religion in my life and very much rejected the idea of religion. The first couple of courses the instructors talked about the Indigenous tie to spirituality and the difference between religion and spirituality. As I attended the courses I was able to define spirituality for me. For me, it is not linked to a god or religion, but to my inner self. I recently finished reading The Alchemist which talks about following omens to your Personal Journey. It stresses the importance of listening to your heart or your heart will stop talking to you. As I was sitting there in the Fairy Glen, I thought about the Cree story told to me, the courses I had taken, and The Alchemist and it made me feel like I was on the right path of my Personal Journey wherever that may go.

We drove up to the Duntulm sea viewpoint and ran out to Duntulm Castle, but it was fenced off due to instability.

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Duntulm Castle

Then we drove on to Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls viewpoint. It had a nice view out to the ocean. At this point we both really had to pee. One thing about Wales and Scotland, there are not toilets at the rest stops.

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Mealt Falls

We stopped at Lealt Falls where about four tourist vans stopped and people started flooding out.

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View to the Ocean from Lealt Falls

Then on to Old Man of Storr (Bodach an Stòir) which is a very recognizable Scottish landmark according to Danny. We were a bit disappointed by the amount of people there. We like to feel like we have the place to ourselves when we are hiking. It was a good hike up and the view was quite amazing.

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We found public toilets in Portree on our drive back down and stopped there for lunch as well. Then we got back on the road to Thurso.

We ran into a bit of trouble finding the Airbnb as we thought it was closer to Thurso. We both got a bit frustrated. We got a call back from the host who clarified the directions for us. We had an entire house that was quite old, but clean. Yay.

More Scotland to come. Orkney Islands!

M

Wales Part 2

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.

Danny in the Slate Caverns

We drove through the mountains in Snowdonia and stopped a couple of times to get some good pictures.

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Snowdonia National Park

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.

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Beaumaris Castle

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.

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Caernarfon Castle

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.

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Roundhouse from the Iron Age

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.

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Tea time

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.

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The Keep of Cardiff Castle

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.

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Supper with friends

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.

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Burial Site near Llanfair Clydogau

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.

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Danny on the hike up to Snowdon

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.

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View down from the highest point we reached at Snowdon

We took the Pyg Track back which was a bit more steep, but there was a nice view into the valley below.

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View into the valley from the Pyg Track

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.

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Harlech Castle

In one of the rooms there were stone cannonballs that were from a previous siege on the castle.

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Danny stealing cannonballs

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!

M

Wales Part 1

Day 4: March 16, 2018

Danny went for a run this morning through the country side and I did some yoga in the small space we had. Danny is prepping for the Running of the Bulls in July and I’m just trying not to re-injure my back. All the sitting from driving will take its toll I’m sure.

An hour before we left my parents for the airport I decided I should have packed my running shoes. I was worried the cross over shoes I brought would cause too many blisters. We searched through boxes at my parents’ and my uncle’s, but were unable to locate them. I thought it just wasn’t meant to be. A couple of days in my cross over shoes and I decided I should have running shoes so we drove into Gloucester to a mall. We parked in a back alley not knowing if it was a spot. Our biggest trouble in towns seems to be where to park. Sometimes there doesn’t seem to be rhyme or reason: people park up on curbs, in bus stop zones, half into the street…it’s hard to know what to do. I found some shoes pretty quickly, similar to the ones that I had lost in the boxes at home. On the way back to the car we passed a parking enforcer and thought “Oh no!”. Luckily there was no ticket on our windshield, but we still haven’t confirmed if that’s how they do tickets here…

We drove on towards Brecon Beacons and on the way passed a castle. We looped back and decided to stop in. Raglan Castle was built in the 1430s. It was very exciting to walk through our first Welsh castle! I was running around like a child at recess and Danny didn’t put his camera away. You were able to imagine all of the rooms that were once there and climb up to see the where the troops would have come through the fields to storm the castle.

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Castle Raglan

We continued our drive to our Airbnb near Llanfair Clydogau (which we still cannot pronounce properly). Google Maps had very different ideas about our driving capabilities. It took us through some very small towns on single lane roads. The sides of the road are stone walls or tall hedges that act as a fence for the fields, but make it impossible to see around the bends in the roads. We drove through a very small town and less and less houses were appearing. Google said to turn left down a hill. As we started down we saw a sign that read “Ford”. Both of us turned to each other with worried looks. We drove a bit farther down the steep hill and viewed a rush of water at the bottom that we would have to cross. The Hyundai i10 has treated us pretty well, but we weren’t sure it would make it across. We started backing up and the clutch started smelling of burning. We paused for a moment and then a truck started coming from the opposite direction up the hill in front of us. Our only option was to keep going backwards up the hill. We made it back up and took a rest to cool down.

We drove back the way we came and saw a sign for Llanfair Clydogau and decided to try this road. It led us around the ford still on a single lane road. Up and up and up and up. Over the hill until we had an amazing view of the valleys below. Luckily we didn’t run into anyone else along the narrow track. The road began winding back down and we found Llanfair Clydogau. The Airbnb was just outside of town up a hill and across a stream. The place was a nice little house with farmland behind. We stayed in what was like a granny suite. There was a kitchen, living room, large bedroom and bathroom. It had everything we needed and plenty of space. We were very glad to rest after a quite adventurous drive.

Day 5: March 17, 2018

We had planned on driving to Snowdonia for the day, however, the forecast identified snow for the afternoon. We decided to get back early so we wouldn’t have to worry about driving through the snow. Danny had looked at the tires on the i10 and noticed that most cars here are built for summer. In my words, they don’t have grippy tread.

We drove down to Laugharne (which is not pronounced laf-ar-nee, it’s more like Lawn). The castle there was closed, but we got a nice view from the outside.

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Castle Laugharne

We were on the southern coast of Wales so there was a view of the Atlantic Ocean. It was very windy so we walked further into the town. We tried to walk to the grave of the famous Dylan Thomas (we didn’t know who he was, but apparently he is a poet from the 1940s, he wrote “Do not go gentle into that good night”). As we walked up, we believe we took a wrong turn because we just kept walking up and up. Finally we decided to head back down without seeing the grave. However, we did see the garage that he wrote poetry in.

From there we drove to Tenby. Again, we ran into parking trouble and only found a spot with 30 minute parking. We walked up to get a view of the castle and then down to Castle Beach. We laid on the beach for a picture and I got sandblasted in the face. Not quite the idyllic beach vacation.

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Castle Beach in Tenby

We drove north from Tenby to Newport and stopped at The Royal Oak pub for lunch. We had hot chocolate until the lunch menu was available at 12. Danny had chicken pot pie and I had cottage pie. I’ve heard British people talk about cottage pie, but didn’t know the difference between it and shepherd’s pie. Well, if you are like me, cottage pie uses beef and shepherd’s pie uses lamb.

 

Pentre Ifan Burial Chamber was our next stop. We walked between two fields with sheep all around. It is the remains of a chambered tomb for the communal burial of the dead. The tomb was created as early as 3500 BC.

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Pentre Ifan Burial Chamber

On to Castell Cilgerran. The area was once contested between the native Welsh and invading Normans who had built an earth and timber castle there in 1100. The present castle was built in the 13th and 14th centuries. We had the castle to ourselves as it was the off season.

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Knight statue within Castell Cilgerran

Next was Castell Carreg Cennen. Building originally started here in the 12th century and then was handed to Edward I in 1283. There was a bit of a hike up to the castle. As we walked up, we hid behind the rocks pretending to be storming the castle. We could see the storm coming from the castle and on our walk down it really started to snow.

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Snow at Castell Carreg Cennen

We stopped in Lampeter on the way back for groceries and then headed home before the snow really started. We had a very pleasant visitor that evening who reminded us of an orange kitty back home. He also didn’t like being picked up.

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Orange kitty at the Airbnb in Llanfair Clydogau
Day 6: March 18, 2018

Rest day! We were able to sleep in even though I fell asleep early watching a movie. There was snow outside when we woke up, but only a little covering.

We planned a bit of Slovenia and I cooked up some breakfast. We bought some Welsh bacon, but were warned that it was super salty and fatty. It took forever to fry and when we tasted it the salt was overwhelming. We rinsed it under the tap for a bit and then fried it again. It was still super salty, but more manageable.

We took a walk down into the town and watched the sheep. Wales has so many sheep. There was one weird looking one with a super deep BAAAA that was almost like a burp. We walked back home and built a little snowman. We spent the rest of the day with a movie and some internets.

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More Wales to come!

M

Southern England

Day 1: March 13, 2018

As we arrived at the airport it all felt too fast. I felt like I hadn’t prepared myself properly. The last couple of months I was so focussed on other things that I wasn’t even thinking about the trip. Then all of a sudden it was here. My parents dropped us off and we walked into the airport. I broke down in tears in front of the WestJet desk. It had finally sunk in that I wasn’t going to see my parents for another month. I don’t think that is the typical emotion seen at the departures section of the airport.

Our flight to Calgary was very non-eventful. It’s always so much shorter than I expect. We grabbed some pizza not knowing if we would get supper on the plane. We did not however, plan on not getting fed at all. Cookies or pretzels were the only option unless you pre-purchased meals. We didn’t even get a pillow or blanket. I was freezing the whole time!

Day 2: March 14, 2018

We arrived at London Gatwick and took our time getting to customs. We are usually in a rush to get to our next flight so it was nice to have a leisurely mindset. We had a good chat with the customs agent about our trip plans, grabbed our bags and went to find a restaurant to calm our starving bellies. We picked up a SIM card with unlimited data for 45 pounds not thinking about the poor exchange rate. The card ended up being 83 CAD, which I suppose is less than I was paying for my phone at home and it has unlimited everything.

We started our drive and Danny got into the groove of driving on the wrong side of the road pretty easily. He said it’s like riding a bike. We stuck to mostly the major highways until we had to turn off to head to South Downs. We stayed in a nice little Airbnb in a farming area. The place was a cabin behind one of the houses. The place was quite cozy and they had cookies so of course we thought it was fabulous. We took a walk that was supposed to be a loop, but we didn’t know when to loop. We ended up walking through some random fields to get back to our cabin. The countryside has been quite pleasant.

 

 

Day 3: March 15, 2018

We had planned a couple of things to see the night before. Danny had Googled Downton Abbey was filmed so we headed there first. We arrived at High Cliffe Castle and walked around looking for the right angle that they might have used for the show. We had convinced ourselves that it must be the angle from the back. When I Googled it again however, we realized the mistake. Downton Abbey was filmed at High Clere Castle not High Cliffe Castle. Regardless, it was quite a nice place and we enjoyed looking out to the English Channel.

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High Cliffe Castle (Downton Abbey was not filmed here)

From there we drove over to Stonehenge. We walked through the exhibition and then walked approximately two kilometres through fields to get to the stones. There was a bus you could take there, but we wanted the experience of the pilgrimage. The set up was quite smaller than I imagined, but there were ropes preventing you from walking too closely. Maybe up close they are actually bigger. It was still impressive to think how far the stones had come and the feat required to put them in place. The original site was created about 5,000 years ago and the stone circle was built around 2400 BC. A017A495-DDA3-4A45-B325-AD472031216C The stones standing up are the “sarsens” and assumed to be from 32 km away in Marlborough Downs. The stones on top are the “bluestones” and are from Preseli Hills in southwest Wales. It is believed that Stonehenge was a temple built to align with the movements of the sun.

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Stonehenge

Click here for more information: Stonehenge

We decided we still had time to check out High Clere Castle. When we got there it was closed to the public and didn’t open until March. All my Downton fantasies were ruined!

The more local roads do take a bit of getting used to. We definitely do not have roads like them in Canada. Single lane with small pull outs to pass. At one point there was tons of traffic coming the other way and we just had to wait. Everyone is quite courteous though so you do move quickly. The sides of the roads are quite high or there are stone walls so sitting on the left hand side of the car was a bit nerve wracking. I kept waiting for the mirror to be torn off.

We drove on to the Avebury henge and stone circles. It is the largest henge monument and was built between 2850 BC and 2200 BC. It acted as a ceremonial site. These stones are smaller than Stonehenge and set farther apart, but the scope of the henge is vast. We walked around the small town to view the stones. Some areas were closed off due to erosion.

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Danny standing in front of one of the Avebury stones

Click here for more information: Avebury

The drive on to our next Airbnb in Edington was non-eventful. We stopped on the way for some groceries for supper and lunches. Our place was a glamping site. It was smaller than I imagined from the pictures, but we were able to cook, sleep and use the washroom.

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Airbnb in Edington

Next we are on to Wales!

M