Friday, August 23, 2013

Castles and Mountains

On our second full day in Wales, we headed out to visit a castle. Else and I decided to stick to the seats we'd had on the way from the airport - back seat of Terry's car. And we essentially decided that the best way we could help the group was by being easy. Well, except for slowing people down with taking so many photographs.

Caernarfon Castle and lots of flags

We decided to just sit back and enjoy. There was enough disagreement (I don't mean anything unpleasant) about which way to go, what to eat, when to eat, etc., etc. that we just decided to stay out of most of it. Easier for six people to talk through an issue than for eight.

More castle

Occasionally we didn't agree with the decision, but we rarely said so. What more could you ask for from traveling companions? Not that we never expressed an opinion, but we were prepared to go along.

Even more castle

We had planned to go to Mt. Snowdon - taking the little train up and some walking down and others (me!) still on the train. We discovered it was best to make advance reservations - and the weather near Snowdon seemed iffy - so we bought tickets for the next day. We flip-flopped our schedule and went to our first castle - Caernarfon - there would be quite a few more during the trip. Edward I built castles at every estuary and Wales has a lot of estuaries - so they are technically English castles, not Welsh.

View from the castle

The castle was built around 1300 and it's claim to fame is its "murder holes" - those slits for arrows you often see in castles. Here they were designed to accommodate six arrows at a time. Don't you love it when innovation is put to figuring out better ways to kill people?

Another view from the castle

It's impressive

Great Britain doesn't have as many playground per square inch as Paris, but they have some in some pretty cool locations.

This would have had my imagination
working as a kid!

Of course I kept taking photos of windows and doors.


And a bit of the American Southwest

And last but not least, never stop looking up.


We then headed off to Portmeirion - where my guidebook says "Italy meets Disney on the Welsh Coast." 

A bit of Portmeirion

Portmeirion was conceived by an architect, Sir Clough William-Ellis, and begun in 1926 (this is NOT old Wales). He declared it finished in 1976, when he was 90. His goal was to show that a beautiful spot could be developed without being ruined.

Beautiful spot

That, I guess, is really a matter of opinion. There were certainly times when we felt like laughing - actually I think some of us did laugh.

Don't even ask, but certainly worth a laugh

Some of you may recognize it. It's where they shot the cult TV series The Prisoner. Never saw it. It was also the site of another TV series, Cold Feet. Never heard of it.


But more than anything else, the place has hydrangeas. Rows and rows of hydrangeas - the majority of them are blue. Though certainly not in keeping with the natural setting, they are rather spectacular in their abundance.


We had our first plein air writing that day. There were lots of places during our stay where Terry wanted us to write. It often ended up being problematic - and sometimes didn't happen - because of weather or lack of time (those narrow roads can take a while, particularly if you take a wrong turn or lose the car in front of you).

Estuary at low tide

I found myself loving the low tide estuaries. I've got a lot of photos of them! And when we got back to Bala? The White Lion, of course.

Else and Terry with White Lion wifi

The next day we headed to Mt. Snowdon - the highest point in Wales (there are sixty higher points in Scotland). We had our tickets, but the weather was worse at the top than the day before.

Should have been a good sign, right?

A little train took us to the top as the weather got worse and worse. But we saw quite a few people climbing and some of them in totally inappropriate clothing. Along with children and dogs.

 Photo from the little train

Heather from the train

We got to the top and the weather was just awful - rain and really strong winds. Luckily there is a visitor's center. It's not quite at the top - there are steps to take you to the highest point. I didn't go because there is really nothing to hang on to and the wind and rain and my knees seemed a bad combination.

Train in the rain

And Phyllis' poncho almost became a parasail! Despite the weather, five of our group decided to walk down. For a big portion of the walk they couldn't see anything through the clouds. But they had all brought good rain gear. By the time they made it down the mountain, it was to sunshine.

View from the train

Else, Maureen and I took the train down and had a lot of extra time as we waited for the walkers.  A short distance away was another castle - small this time and completely different from Caernarfon.

Lots of moss on the way to the castle

I expect Merlin to come walking down this path -
it's his area in Wales

I hope I've got the right name for this castle - Dolbadarn Castle. Just one keep left - the rest just foundation.

Dolbadarn Castle

It was built around 1200 and it looks at lakes and Snowdon and, now, a slate mine.

View of the slate mine

View of the lake from the ruins

This was one of those places where you can really feel the wildness and loneliness of the location. And it was one of those places where I like to stand and imagine myself in someone else's footsteps - some 13th century footsteps.

Steps to the keep

Someone was kept prisoner here for a long time - 20 years? - and I can't remember who it was, so there was really no point in mentioning this. I hope he got the view!

Another view from castle

The British Isles are full of rock walls - usually of the local stone. We saw lots of walls with their caps topped off in slate like this.

Low slate wall

The hiking party returned - tired and with some sore knees and toes which lasted for a few days (I'm so happy I didn't try it!) - and pretty much dried off.

Everest climbers "base" pub

We then headed for a pub to do some writing - yes, with ale for some of us. Mt. Snowdon had been used by Sir Edmund Hilary's team that was the first to climb Mt. Everest. It made a good training mountain because of the very sudden weather changes (and it has harder ways to climb than those our group took).

Boots belonging to the Everest climbers

They stayed at this pub while they trained and there were momentoes of their stay and climb all over the place. The boots hanging from the ceiling, their signatures carved into the ceiling, maps, picks, etc.

Rebecca writing

Rebecca was making her fifth?, I think, trip to Wales. She feels as though she is at home there. She feels a real connection. It was great having her along because she speaks quite a bit of Welsh (she'd say only a little, but she was able to explain tons of stuff to the rest of us). I should add that she would have been great to have along even if she hadn't spoken Welsh.

Window in the room where we wrote

It was a cozy place to write (not that I wrote anything worth repeating). Our practice was to have three of us read an excerpt from a book we were reading or a poem and then we would do free-writes from those prompts. The poetry of Welsh poet Gerard Manly Hopkins was a favorite - he was heavily inspired to ecstasy by the Welsh landscape. 

Else writing

Then Terry would read something and give a more detailed assignment around it - often related to the place we'd been or to some Welsh folklore. Some of the group can write some pretty impressive stuff right away. Some of us - me - have to cogitate for a lot longer - just essentially takes notes, pose questions, and go back to it later.

View from the pub

Maybe someone from the group can remind me of the name of the pub - I'm drawing a blank. Phyllis was very disciplined about taking notes all day long. I had been in the habit of putting little bits of information and memories in a little notebook, but for some reason I almost gave it up in Wales - something about not being alone, I guess.

Swallow Falls

We stopped for dinner in Betws-y-Coed (Rebecca taught us how to pronounce it) and then we went to the waterfall across the street. It was a really beautiful spot - and the sound of a waterfall is always mesmorising - so we stayed quite a while just drinking it in.

Further down the falls

We really did have to drag ourselves away. No one wanted to drive those narrow roads after dark.

Above the falls

And if you look up, the sky in Wales is usually putting on a show.

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