I don’t think these pictures need many words… Though please excuse the glass reflections – most were taken through train windows!
Day 7 was awesome. I don’t even know what else to say about it. IT. WAS. AWESOME.
Why? Well, after our foiled attempt to pre-buy tickets for the Snowdon Mountain Railway when we were in Llanberis, this was the day we decided to go do it. The weather forecast was perfect and we had nothing else in the itinerary… Except I realised we could probably go for a spin down the Llyn Peninsular too – which had never been in the itinerary – forming a pre-Llanberis detour!
The Llyn Peninsular is just below Anglesea and Holyhead, and while it doesn’t have too many landmarks to visit, it is incredibly pretty. First stop though, was Dinas Dinlle where a hill fort once looked out over the pebble beach.
We roamed the peninsular, stopping at beaches and generally enjoying the scenery.
Then at the end of the peninsular is an island that was once a pilgrimage site for Christians that, for a while, was considered equal to visiting Rome in terms of getting off lightly on your sinning! We didn’t go to the island, but we did enjoy a delicious cream tea in Aberdaron just opposite it.
Now, because the Snowdon Mountain Railway was just so good, I’m going to separate out those pics for another post (or this would turn into a scroll-fest!). At 1085 metres, Mt Snowdon has killer views!
Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Once we were done staring at all the pretty on the Llyn Peninsular, we went back to Llanberis and that was great in itself, because the lake and the mountains around it make it the definition of picturesque. Oh, and there’s a giant Excalibur sticking out of a rock beside the lake because of a (tenuous) link to that legend.
Seeing the lake from the other side to where the railway took us was fantastic. Particularly in the sunshine which, with dappling clouds, made the mountains look amazing. (Yes, I’m running out of superlatives for this post…)
We had a bit of a wait before we got our mountain train so I revisited the dragons in the gift shop and took pics of the service just coming back down from the peak! Some are steam engines and some aren’t (ours wasn’t) and they’re all different. Train geekout!!!!!
So then we went up the mountain, past sheep (to a certain height) and hikers (all the way up – it’s a big hiking area) and other trains. Our train was 90% a tour group who were having a jolly time singing and chatting away. I’ll admit was a bit obsessed with trying to photograph everything we saw. Even the sheep.
We stopped for a bit at the summit and wandered around, before doing the return journey and getting to get the other side of the carriage so we’d see everything! Twas worth it.
Then there was time spent adopting a dragon whose name is “Swordwing”, though I decided he should be called “Adain Cleddyf” which is sword wing in Welsh. For short I just call him Cleddyf (sword).
Finally we did a scenic drive back to Caernarfon through more peaks and lakes. So satisfying for the eyeballs.
Funny thing was there’d been a food festival on in Caerarfon all day so we knew we might have trouble finding parking and dinner when we got back… well. Not only did Claudia spend the night quite some distance from us, but we tried six restaurants before we found one that had space! And that was late too.
But what a day. Soooo much pretty!
We had the most beautiful sunshine this day – a lovely change after the rain – and it meant that, whatever else we got up to, we wanted to pop back across to Anglesea. Great thing about a relaxed itinerary is having the space to revisit, I think!
But first, we had breakfast at our very funky B&B which sat just inside the city walls (literally 20 metres from one of the “gates”). Then we wandered out into the old town within the wall and, with a few shops to look at on the way, we ended up at Caernarfon Castle.
I liked the castle. You could go into underground rooms or up along the walls and the big open space in the middle was grassy and full of information about what once would have been in this corner or that. There is also a military museum there and, before we were done, a choir turned up and used the wonderful acoustics to do a bit of singing! My travel buddy walked the walls a bit, but I was too chicken.
Across from the castle, we poked about in one of the tourist shops and hilariously we both decided not to buy something there, on the assumption all tourist shops would have the same stuff (they certainly did in Scotland). It actually took us a week to find another shop with the same things!
So then we retrieved Claudia from the harbour parking and headed out to Anglesea again. This time, we decided to make a small detour on getting to the island and see probably the most famous place in Wales… the one with the crazy long station name. In truth, the town’s name was long enough!
Then we were back up to Holyhead and the lighthouse. I also went for a wander on the headland, looking for a cairn, but the signs never tell you how far they are from the starting point so I gave up. *Sigh* Still, we visited the cairn we’d overlooked on the previous visit, at the last of four beaches we saw in the sparkling light!
I’m glad we went back to the islands in the sunshine, because it is really very pretty.
And we finished our day with one of the best meals of the whole trip, back in Caernarfon. It was great to be in a restaurant where most of the patrons were Welsh and speaking Welsh!
Welsh is one of those languages that looks like you should be able to pronounce it if you’re an English speaker. Except things aren’t that simple. So, if you’re interested, here are some basics as explained by someone who isn’t a phonetician, or a linguist, or a Welsh speaker!
For this example let’s use the name of the place my friend and I first stayed in Wales: Llandudno.
You see a lot of double ‘L’s in Welsh. It sounds like a cross between ‘kl’ and ‘sh’, so the first part is something like “hlan”. A “U” is roughly the same sound as an “i” so the middle bit is “did”. The end is how it’s written, so it’s “no”. Emphasis is usually on the second last syllable so all together Llandudno is said something like “hlan-DID-no”.
One word for reduce (as in reduce speed) is arafach. The only tricky bits here are the “F” is a “v” and the “CH” is like in the word “loch”.
A few more for your enjoyment. In post I mentioned our visit to Blaenau Ffestiniog and the Llechwedd Slate Caverns there. Aah yes. So the only tricky bit in Blaenau Ffestiniog is actually the “FF” which is just “f”. The double differentiates it from a single “F” which, as mentioned above, is a “v” sound. So it is essentially “BLAIN-ow fes-TIN-iyog”.
In Llechwedd, the “LL” and “CH” are as discussed above and it’s only the “DD” you need to know about; it is a “th” sound like in “the”. The “W”s can be tricky but not here; it’s just as you’d expect.
You will see “TH” in Welsh too – like in llath which means yards – and has a sound like in “think”. So llath is “hlath”.
If all this has bent your brain a bit, just keep in mind that Welsh is very consistent. How a sound is in one word is generally how it is everywhere else (for example a “C” is always said like in “cat”)… I think “W” and “Y” are the only exceptions really, but I might stop there!
I came away from visiting Wales, seriously wanting to learn Welsh!
Day 4 it rained. It blew. It rained more. It was utterly freezing. But we had a car, so we kept to the itinerary we’d scoped out and took Claudia for a run past Conwy Castle and out to Anglesea and Holyhead.
Conwy Castle is impressive even through a rain blurred windscreen. Hell of a castle! But I think we were both even more impressed by the city walls. It was too cold and wet to even really get out of the car, but we determined to come back another day and check it out (pic will be in another post).
Then we went across the Menai Straight to the island of Anglesea with the intention of finding some cairns and chambered tombs. Except they weren’t well signposted and in the wet and on tiny country lanes, it just really turned into a bit of a driving tour. Same thing in Holyhead, which is another island joined by bridges and where the Ireland ferries set out from. But we did – well, I did – get out of the car and take some pics in Holyhead harbour and we both got out and had a peek at the Southstack Lighthouse.
We also ventured into a pub at Red Wharf Bay where the sea was smacking into the harbour walls! In a twist of fate, the one beach where I ventured out of the car, actually has a great cairn next to it which we didn’t notice… not that I think we’d have attempted it in that weather!
Thankfully it had mostly stopped raining by the time we reached Beaumaris Castle. It was nice to stroll around the outside of the castle, but we didn’t feel a great need to go inside. In fact, I was disappointed by how small it was as every pic I’d seen of it made it look bigger. Still, Conwy tends to make other castles look small so…
So what does one do in Llandudno? Let’s see… there’s the beach promenade, the performing arts centre, the pier, the mountain tramway, the cable car and a Bronze Age copper mine. Not bad for a sea-side resort town! It also has a link to Alice in Wonderland which it… well, I think the word is “embraces”. Dotted around the town are sculptures of each major character and at least one cafe is Alice themed.
We didn’t see all the sights, but we started with a lovely morning stroll along the very, very, very long pier.
After that we drove up Great Orme, which is one of the two imposing bits of rock (the other being Little Orme) that flank the bay. Queue the geology geek in me!
We stopped on the way to the summit to see the Bronze Age copper mine. It was impressive. I didn’t go into the tunnels, but my friend enjoyed them and the scale of it is kind of mindblowing. The discovery of the workings is recent, as it was filled it with workings from later mines on the site and only uncovered in the end 1980s. Interestingly it was worked in the Bronze Age, then by the Romans later and on and off from the late 1600s. That’s a lot of copper (well, malachite which is a pretty green stone and a copper ore).
The views from the top of Great Orme are spectacular, even on a grey day, and there is a lovely church about half way up.
Then, just to turn it into a mine themed day, we drove some very pretty roads (partly because we missed a turn!) to Blaenau Ffestiniog’s “slate mountain”. The Llechwedd Slate Caves was one of the largest slate mines in Wales and responsible for slate roofing all around the world. It’s now a quarry and tourist spot with zip-lines, underground trampolining (hmm…) and tours of some of the workings both below and above ground.
No photo is going to capture the scale of this place. Mountains clad in cast-off slate are a thing to behold. Why was the slate dumped out over the sides of the mountains? Because only 10% of what was mined was good enough for roofing slate. They chucked the rest out! Which is why it is now being quarried for other slate uses. (In fact all through Wales we were served our dinner on slate place mats and coasters!)
We did the Quarry Explorer and, because it was a quiet day, got a whole lorry to ourselves. Our spines then got realigned as we bounced, swung and jolted our way over the incredibly rough terrain with sheer drops on at least one side! Terrifying fun.
So I mentioned it was a Bank Holiday when we hit the UK. Well, this may have stopped us seeing falconry in Chester, but it did mean we had an excellent intro in our first proper Wales stop at Llandudno. They have a “Transportation Festival” (think buses, trucks and all manner of vehicles) and a “Victorian Extravaganza” (fun fair, parade of steam powered vehicles and people in Victorian gear) on that weekend and we caught the last few hours of it. Very cool.
Though we were a bit perplexed about the endless stream of bikes sporting Evel Kneival look-alikes. The interwebs tell me this was a charity fundraiser and we saw them on their way home after a weekend circle of Wales! Sadly I have no picture of them… just lots of steam powered vehicles…
And a ferris wheel we got to see dismantled the following day while we ate breakfast!
Llandudno was our base for three days, so the day we arrived was just the taster. One of the best things about our stay there, was the hotel which had sea views that were awesome. Nothing like bay windows and the sound of the ocean, whether it’s raining or shining.