2006-01-09 : Journey to Cymru – the gripping conclusion !
No amount of slacking off describing this Wales trip can equal the other Wales trip, which I still haven't gotten around to writing up (and something tells me I might not, by this stage… but maybe if I have a slow news week… yeah right !). But regardless, time to press onward !
Christmas Day we awoke to the sound of the most obnoxious rooster in human history. I don't suppose he knew it was Christmas (roosters being largely Agnostic), but there's no excuse for rousing people early into weather like that ! Cold as a witch's tit, it was. Lots of nice atmospheric fog around, and overall quite an idyllic morning. I was feeling marginally worse for wear, and availed myself of a Christmas Berocca – Berocca being something which Adam had never seen before. Imagine making it through 20 years without having Berocca !?
Following a nice big greasy breakfast we piled into the bus and went a-drivin' through the rugged and awesome area known as Snowdonia. Snowdonia's the region named for the tallest mountain in Wales, Snowdon (which I climbed in my last trip to Wales, in summer). Today was not to prove quite so energetic, although we did park up near a lake and go for a bit of a wander up a hillside track.
Various people dipped out at various points up the hillside – I elected to not bust my hungover arse at that time of day, and instead made a couple of Christmas phonecalls. Wandering back down to the bus, people seemed content to photograph me with the pink foam, and after soaking up the appropriate amount of atmosphere we set off in our little yellow bus again.
Adam, whilst driving offered us our options of what to do next: “We can either go to the place on Anglesey where they have the really really long place name… or… we can NOT go there”. Faced with that armada of options we voted unanimously, and within a short time found ourselves in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. And no, I have no intention of trying to explain how to pronounce that. Apparently most of the year round the place is heaving with tour buses – odd, considering there's virtually nothing in the town apart from a really really long name on a sign (and it's got 4 L's in a row in one spot – crazy !). On Christmas Day however there was nary a soul in sight in that car park, aside from a learner driver getting a lesson from his uncle/dad/granddad/somebody).
Photo opportunitiy dispensed with, we headed over to Conwy (pronounced “Conway” – see, I can handle that one !) to check out another castle ruin. You'd be forgiven for wondering if Wales is all bloody castles, but let's face it, what's open on Christmas Day ? Conwy Castle was build by Edward I as part of the “iron ring” – a series of castles built to remind the Welsh who was in charge, and designed to be easily defendable by a smallish number of soldiers. For example, all of the wall towers are hollow, and the arrangement to cross from one section of wall to the next was by way of a plank. That way, if a section of wall got taken, it was easily isolated from the rest of the wall by kicking the planks away.
That aside, it was another excellent thing to see, and we spent a fair bit of time wandering around looking at the quite intact wall & soaking up the atmosphere.
Conwy's also home to the smallest house in the UK. No kidding, it was tiny. That's about all you can say about it.
Having dealt with all that frivolity it was time to return to the farmhouse for Christmas Lunch, courtesy of our amazing hostess Linda. It wasn't quite the same as being able to spend Christmas at home with friends & family, but it really was the next best thing. There was a really great vibe amongst our group, and the secret santa thing we all did really capped off a very special & memorable day's feast.
Day 4 we rose nice & early (probably a little too early for some people) and set off on our way back to sunny London. We stopped in a town called Llangollen, which – randomly – had quite an impressive taxidermy shop. Sadly, they were closed for boxing day, so I was unable to go buy a stuffed owl.
We were however able to climb up a nearby hill to look at… you guessed it, another ruined castle ! This one was called Dinas Bran, and was another Welsh castle – this one built in the 1260s. It was a proper bastard of a walk, but the view was inspiring from the top.
On the way back to London we also stopped off at Stratford upon Avon (watch out, that link has really tedious backing music), the famous birthplace of William Shakespeare, and also one of the most heavily touristed places in England. I was a little bit over the whole thing – partially because it seemed a bit crass going into something as commercial and saturated as that after seeing the beauty of Wales and the majesty of those castles… but also because Shakespeare gave me no end of grief at high school; my year 12 oral presentation on Hamlet being one of the modern age's least significant speeches. We saw Shakespeare's birthplace, then hiked across to see his burial place, only to find that the church was closed that day. Yee haa.
Back on the bus, and we were back in London by about 6:30. It was pretty hard saying goodbye to the crew in honesty – as I've opined several times in this piece, it was a great trip and they were a cool group of people, and I've no doubt I'll be seeing a lot of them again.
As a closing note, it seems that the bit of pink foam has become Adam's personal tour mascot, and was taken up to Scotland for his Hogmanay tour – he sent me a picture of the foam with himself & co-guide Disco Dave from the Nevis Ranges in Scotland. They all look very happy together.