Coastlines, Gold Mines, Mountain Climbs and happy times in Wales
04.09.2007 10 °C
We were lucky enough to be able to pack our drenched tent between showers this morning before driving to Stratford-upon-Avon. We are not sure what the difference between 'upon' and 'on' (as in Walton-on-Thames) therefore we developed the theory that 'upon' means town is divided by the water course, and 'on' is that town sits on one bank. Parking in the centre of town we wondered the quaint streets with umbrella's in hand and were shocked by the photo's taken recently of the flooding and surprised at how well the town has recovered.
As tourists it is our duty to clutter the streets, buy items at twice there value, support the tea house industry and have a cheesy photo of us standing in front of famous people's birthplaces. Outside Shakespeare's birthplace we hoped to feel the literary vibe, but remember he was only a baby at this point so we gained no additional creative inspiration. Opposite his first home we discussed the value of purchasing and packing a leather bound Oxford limited edition of his complete works before looking at the price tag. Outcome, we still have space for other souvenirs and will return to hunt for a second hand copy instead.
Strolling past the Avon lock (NT) and canal we ducked into a traditional soft toy shop then made our way back to the car for a long drive into Wales. Navigating around Cardiff we assessed the closest campsite which proved to be too dingy (which says quite a lot) and therefore continued onwards to the Gower Peninsula. In retrospect the decision was perfect for us as we sat on the windy hilltop campsite in Oxwich Bay surrounded by the stunning views across the Bristol Channel to England.
After a night being battered by fresh winds we awoke feeling free of the burden to enter the bustle of a city. Quite the contrary, we were some of the small few who chose to walk the hills behind Rhossli Beach early in the morning. With clear views across the farming district and out to Worms Head we enjoyed hot chocolate and vegemite & cheese sandwiches sheltered in a rocky outcrop near the beacon (193m).
Joining a 70+ year old couple for the scramble back down hill (hope we are that good after our 50th wedding anniversary) we crossed onto the wide flat expanse of sand to investigate the few remains of the shipwreck Helvetia (1887). It was at this point that Camilla had a feeling of connection with the place given that her maiden name is Gower. GO GOWER POWER!
Climbing back up from the beach onto the jagged cliffs we ventured out to Worms Head and watched a pair of grey seals frolicking in the cold sea below. Returning across the land spit we found an alcove amongst the cliffs for a few pages of LOTR and took our leave when the wind whipped up around us. The Gower coastline and peninsula (NT) has been a real pleasure to visit and explore, just the outdoor medicine we needed.
Overnight there was heavy rain making the act of packing the tent all that more enjoyable. Leaving the Gower Peninsula behind we turned north to visit Aberdulais Falls (NT) where there is the remains of industry spanning more than 400 years. Harnessing the power of the waterfall and river a great tin plate factory was the last production facility in situ. We learnt a great deal (everything we now know) about tin manufacture and Wales prominence internationally. Admiring one of Europe's largest waterwheels still in operation we became mesmerised by the sloshing and lapping of water while deep below where we stood a huge turbine was converting the channelled water into electricity. Next stop, 10 feet across the path for tea and welsh cakes (aka drop scones), then a second helping before moving on.
Dinefwr Park (NT) and castle car park was the next elaborate venue for our culinary delights with a quick pesto and red salmon spaghetti (one of the best yet) before visiting the house. After enjoying the small number of rooms open to the public we stood at the back gate watching a herd of white cattle grazing and a number of spotted deer at the edge of the woods (sound strenuous?)
Having now visited a number of houses and castles we decided to shake it up a bit and headed directly underground at the Celtic, Roman and Victorian Dolaucothi Gold Mines. Ginger (aka Steve), our red headed guide, kept us shaking the narrow underground passages with laughter whilst relaying sad stories of the difficulties experienced by the workers. Luckily we had a volunteer 7 year old boy (the age most boys started work in the mine) in the group to help with demonstrations.
After leaning over an 80ft vertical exit shaft where the quartz was thrown then carted outside Camilla became the victim of the next demonstration. Requested to step onto a wooden trap door nearby her task was to jump on the count of 3 as hard as she could. With perfect effect and timing she lifted her foot and tapped her toe with a cheeky grin. Encouraged by all she reluctantly stamped as hard as she could the second time which gave the desired effect. Every cavern and passageway thundered then echoed. When asked how deep we estimated the hollow below to be, all the guesses exceeded 80ft similar to the adjacent hole. The group gasped when Ginger explained that Camilla was standing above a sheer drop of approximately 80 millimetres.
Relieved to be out in the fresh air we decended into the valley learning more of the local geology before commencing our search for huge amounts of our own welsh gold. After a total of 10 minutes of panning we realised why this mine went bankrupt numerous times, and why welsh gold is the most expensive in the world.
In the afternoon we drove to Aberystwyth on the Atlantic coast. Although the clouds threatened to break we braved the cold wind to explore the castle ruins and watch the seaside town slip into evening as the funicular made repeated climbs up the mountain behind.
Nearing exhaustion and taking stock of our soaking tent, 3 continuous weeks of sleeping on the ground and long, needing to charge camera equipment and the driving rain we found a lovely 600 year old farm house B&B. Yawn, snore...
Driving north we came to Porthmadog where we took a quick break for a walk to the info centre and admire the Welsh Highland Railway Station. After reading the weather report we decided to see the Bourne Ultimatum (great). As the afternoon came to an end we unfortunately were turned away from a number of B&B's (not because of how we smelt thankyou), in particular a georgous one nestled under Mount Snowdon in the National Park. After almost 2 1/2 hours we found ourselves back where we started having completed a loop around Snowdonia. Concerned with the dark clouds and light rain we gave in to the call of common sense and pitched in the waning light.
Although the clouds hadn't cleared it was possible for us to pack the tent without getting too wet and drive into the seaside walled town of Caernarfon. Our tourist activities commenced with Camilla leading us on a historic walk around the walled sections of the village and harbour. During our walk we learnt of the development of the town, trading community life and most importantly that at The Black Boy Inn a room, a bottle of gin and a lady for the night "to help with the washing of sailor clothes" used to cost 4&6.
With perfect timing Camilla had us arrive at Caernarfon Castle just as the huge doors opened. We explored this semi ruinous structure, still classified as a Royal property in service completely alone. Letting our imaginations run wild we ran around like arches, guards and royalty until more sane visitors arrived.
Determined not to have a repeat of the night before where we found ourselves homeless we drove directly (do not pass go, do not collect 200 dollars) to Plas-y-Coed, the cute B&B in the National Park. Greated with open arms and a sympathetic smile Cory, our host and owner, made us feel right at home. After unpacking we drove off to the postcard picture perfect little town of Beddgelert for a Sunday roast beef lunch (with all the trimmings). Lyn's Cafe was full of locals and their families, obviously a great location to wash down a big roast with a cold glass of milk.
Stuffed to the brim we took a walk along the swollen river in a slight drizzle to Gelert's grave (NT). Gelert's death was one of the great tragedies in the aristocratic family of the area. One day his master went hunting and could not find his trusty canine companion anywhere. When he returned from the hunt he could not find his son either and instead came across Gelert covered in blood next to the stained sheets of his sons cot. Enraged, he drove his sword through Gelerts chest where the poor animal let out his final howl. At the sound of his dying yelp he was answered by the scream of his masters son in the next room laying beside the savaged body of a wild wolf. Distraught by his mistake the master buried Gelert in a place of honour and never went hunting again. The town is now named after the faithful brave hound.
We enjoyed a light meal in the garden back at the B&B for dinner where Steve received a gift from above just before his first loving mouthfull. Fortunately his enormous head was just big enough to absorb the enormous poop a plane sized seagull delivered. After the bombing a bath was in order and for the rest of the evening we amused ourselves with LOTR and tea by the fire.
Siting at breakfast early'ish' on this fine Monday morning Camilla explained to Steve with no detail spared how determined she was to make today a "Sunday". This would entail sitting by the fire, reading, drinking tea, long bath, snoozing, more tea and then being served dinner before bed. At what precise point in time it was decided that we would climb Mount Snowdon, the highest peak in Wales, is impossible to say. "Sunday" has been officially postponed on account of good weather.
Like all good climbs we started at the bottom, trudged through ankle deep mud, dodged mountain sheep, clambered across stiles (fence ladders), enjoyed fabulous views and finally made it to the top. At 1085m Mt Snowdon commands breathtaking views of the numerous lakes, valleys and coastline of Snowdonia as well as the puffing cogwheel mountain steam railway.
The feeling of accomplishment on summiting was great, yet a little difficult to bask the serenity of the surrounds with the hundreds of others, in partcular those who cheated and caught the train half way up. With a windchill factor near zero the countryside below had a crisp clean and dramatic feel unlike other regions we have visited, brilliant.
Our path down took us across a jagged ridge and finaly stopped, or so we thought, at the Wr-wyddfa steam railway station. Although tired Steve is capable of mustering unknown quantities of childish excitement at the prospect of seeing another steam engine pull alongside. The excitement was short lived when we both realised after that we had only just missed the last bus for over 1 1/2 hours. Onwards we strode, another 2.5 miles (approx. 2.5 gazillion kilometres) back to our refuge in the valley. At least the day ended like a Sunday for Camilla with dinner at the Snowdonia Hotel (Chicken Kiev and Steak & Ale Pie), a hot bath and tea by the fire.
After another big hot breakfast we chatted to Cory about her amazing travels throughout the world. Our travels recommenced with a scenic drive through northern Wales to Erddig House (NT). Some of the notable points of interest include the 18th century out buildings still in near working order such as the laundry, bakehouse, sawmill, smithy and joiners shop. The residing family held their servants in high esteem attributing great works of art and depicting their loyalty and hard work through poetry. Camilla has been admiring the same china mug in ALL NT souvenir shops and finally let herself indulge with the purchase of a beautiful tea mug. As the evening approached we pitched our very own stately home down wind of a cattle stable complete with amorous bull.