Saturday, May 26, 2007

Wales - Day 4

Where are Days 2 and 3 I hear you ask ?

Well they were Saturday and Sunday and I spent the time around the house and garden with bro and sis-in-law and bro and I even managed to get in a game of golf at the very scenic Machynlleth Golf Club.

On the Monday they had things to do and so I set off bright and early to do my tourist thaang. My slow progress down the lane towards the roadside gate was watched with great interest by the grazing cows and sheep........and this cute lambie.

I'd been along the lane the previous day and had befriended the cows - in a purely platonic fashion I hasten to add. I'd petted a few heads and put up with a few licks (you're making up your own jokes now I'm sure) and so as I drove slowly along, trying to avoid the potholes and animal excrement, several of the cows followed behind the car giving me a brief insight into the world of Mr. Piper of Hamelin.

My ultimate destination was to be Portmeirion as I'd always wanted to visit the bizarre but picturesque Italianate village of architectural follies created by the wonderfully named Sir Clough Williams-Ellis over a period of 50 years from 1925. But more of that later.

My initial destination was anywhere offering a hearty breakfast and looking at my map, I decided to try the nearby town of Dolgellau. This took me up the A487 and once again I was taken with the houses and entire villages seemingly built on the side of the hills.

I wouldn't class this collection of houses as a village but as you may see if you click on the photo, there was a cemetery just below the tree line and it took the theme of burying bodies on top of one another to new heights...if you'll pardon the pun.

In this land of hills and valleys, you can't escape them even in death, it seems.

I didn't see a church or other religious building but that became common on my travels around Wales. I often came upon a cemetery with no building of any sort near it.

The A487 was yet another scenic road that climbed up the hills and sped down the valleys and kept my camera busy. It seemed that there was some view to capture digitally around every proverbial corner - and there are plenty of corners in mid Wales I can tell you. Oh I just did.

Half way twixt Machynlleth and Dolgellau, the road climbs steeply and this was the view on the left. Admittedly there is little of any interest in the photo and usually this makes for a dull image.

I just liked the view down to the road below and the white van added scale to the scene. Ireland may be famous for it's 'forty shades of green' but mid Wales must run it a close second.

The only grumble and moan I have to make about the area is that there are precious few places along the roads where you can safely pull over in order to enjoy the views and take some photos.

I guess this is true for the UK as a whole and I understand that on this small island we're lucky enough to even have the road system we have - but with my tourist cap firmly on my head here, I would like places to pull over and stop for a while when the views are like this. Someone please see to it.

I was fortunate as I was being a tourist in mid May when schools were still in session and those not in school were working to support those who were..............mostly. This meant that the roads were blessedly bereft of cars (driven by little old ladies taking their cats out for a bit of a treat) , bikes (ridden by young kamakazi yobs with more tatoos than brain cells) and the dreaded caravans (pulled by underpowered cars driven by geriatric retirees who now think 30 miles an hour is quite fast enough thank you).

Can you imagine living in the house or farm in this photo ? Wonderful. You could crank up the surround sound until Mr. Davies in the next valley complained of the strange humming sounds.

For a city dweller, this would be utopia - although I suspect running out of basic grocery items would be a royal pain in the butt.........and I can't imagine any satellite in orbit would be able to beam my beloved sport and movie channels to me.

The road went higher still and I almost missed the best view of all. Being a conscientious driver I regularly check my rear view mirror and was I glad I did on this occasion as the view behind me was stunning even by the standards already set. The bar had just been raised.

It had the lot; a clear blue sky, mountains rising majestically from the crystal clear waters of a lake, strategically placed trees to break up the lush green fields and even a glimpse of 'modern man' in the shape of the road I'd driven up to get to this point.

It was worthy of a jigsaw box lid or that of a box of chocolates fit for Mamma Gump.

All thoughts of breakfast were put to one side (of my rumbling stomach) and I sat on the roadside wall enjoying this view for some time.

It was just so perfect. I was about 5 miles from a bustling town and yet here was a scene so tranquil, so serene, that I felt I was the only person for miles around.

The view the other way wasn't bad either........and here it is.

Different I grant you, but picturesque in it's own way. I waited for the car by the way - again for scale - and I had to wait quite a while too.

So onwards (and upwards) and breakfast in Dolgellau and I was ready for it. Yummy.

A couple of miles outside of the town, I took the A496 West towards the charming seaside town of Barmouth.

I'd been to Barmouth several times as Sue, my sis-in-law came from there and I was my brother's best man at their wedding there way back in 1876 or some such year. He's my older brother of course !! Much older.

Fortified by my enormous feast of sausage, bacon, egg, beans, toast, tomato and mushrooms (apologies to my long suffering cardiologist), I climbed the steps near the harbour which took me up the hill/mountain behind the town and afforded me this fine view.

Once again many of the houses are nestled cozily into the hillside and the road below wends it's scenic way towards the harbour and the vast sandy beach beyond.

The famous railway line (on the left) runs for 2 miles from Fairbourne on the other side of the estuary to Barmouth and has been in operation since 1895.

I was taking this photo and glanced at my watch and realised my free parking period was almost up and my car was off in the distance by the harbour. I never did make it back in time but once again I think I benefited from it being a weekday in mid May and so any traffic wardens were in hibernation or just didn't care.

The harbour was quite busy though with other tourists milling about and as it was now lunchtime, several were sitting on benches tucking into various sandwiches they'd brought with them or fish and chips bought locally. This attracted the usual scavaging flying rats but this little fella caught my attention as he, or she, made no attempt to get scraps for itself.

It just stood on the harbour wall and watched all the action going on around it.

The body stayed rock solid and only it's head moved from side to side as something of interest caught it's attention.

I liked it but it made me nervous as it was right beside my parked car - in fact I took this photo through the passenger window. I'd had to clear it's colleagues droppings on the bodywork enough times to not want to get any fresh dollops on this trip. I drove slowly away with thoughts of Alfred Hitchcock on my mind .

A few miles north of Barmouth, still on the A496, I came to the sweeping beach that is Tremadog Bay, an inlet of the much larger Cardigan Bay. There may be no roads down to this beach but all I know is that every time I've driven past, this beautiful expanse of clean sand has always been devoid of humanity. It cries out for kids with buckets and spades but maybe they are all indoors with their Xbox 360's or Playstation 3's. It's their loss.

There are, however, several caravan parks around this area which while not being uniquely British, are a regular feature of our seaside life rarely found abroad.

I guess they'd be like an American trailer park transported to the seaside. You have dozens or even hundreds of static caravans clustered together to form 'the park' and these caravans, unlike the ones towed by the geriatric retirees I mentioned earlier, are just like US travel trailers with all mod cons, as they say. A home from home.

Just a few miles further on, I came to the town of Harlech, made famous by it's men (oh do's not in THAT sence) and for the first time, decided to take the road leading up to it's castle.

Unlike most of it's ilk, Harlech Castle is clearly visible from the main road and on previous visits to the area, I'd been happy enough to have glanced up at it on the way past. This time I wanted a closer look and so I followed the signs and soon found that taking a photo would require some luck and the cooperation of other drivers - by basically staying off the road behind me.

The road leading to the castle was almost single track and I fleetingly glimpsed great views of it but wasn't able to stop.

I turned around and gave it another try and decided that if I was quick and luck was on my side, I could slam on the brakes at this particular vantage point, nip out and take some quick pics and get back in the car before anyone else came along. If they did, my no claims bonus would be seriously threatened and my 3 week old baby would be mangled beyond redemption.

Well luck was with me on this occasion and this is the result. No mangled car but a fairly decent closeup of Harlech Castle in all it's glory and some visitors thoughtfully climbed up onto one of it's towers to give scale. Bless.

I drove back down onto the A496 and here is the view of the castle you get if you just drive past and don't take the road less travelled.

It's still pretty impressive and maybe some other time I'll actually go inside the castle !

But time was getting on and I was now worried that I'd not left myself enough of it to see all of Portmeirion village. I'd got a leaflet about the village and it said it closed at 5:30pm and by now it was 2:30pm and I had a ways to go yet.

I didn't help my cause by getting slightly lost and had to go across a bay via a toll road which cost me all of 60p (about $1) to make up time.

Finally I was on the A487 heading West towards Porthmadog and saw the signs for Portmeirion.
I left the main road and took a private one leading down to the village. There was ample parking and so I left the car and with enough camera equipment around my neck to make me feel like the classic US tourist from the 1960's, I headed off to the ticket both and paid my £6.80 and literally entered another world.

It was everything I'd hoped for and more. The weather couldn't have been better and in fact it was almost too hot because there was a lot of steep walking to be done to see all of the village and the gardens around it.

I know a lot of arriving visitors don't know of the connection between The Village and the old tv cult series called The Prisoner, but they certainly should do by the time they leave. There is even a souvenir shop devoted entirely to merchandise to do with the show.

I was totally enchanted and having watched the tv series myself, I had the odd sensation that I'd been to Portmeirion before. It was like being on a Hollywood set or on a Universal Studios tour. But these houses and shops were the real thing. No false frontages here. This was solid stone and real wood. And the colours ! Wow it was an explosion in a paint factory.

Sir Williams-Ellis must've been smoking something and it wasn't tobacco.

Anyway read about the place at your leisure using the link above (or Google it) but here are some of the many photos I took - and given that everywhere you looked there was something to photograph, I've done well to only post these few.

My favourite image is the last one.......partly because I had the view in my mind before getting there and also because it took so long and it took such an effort to get high up into the gardens to take it.

This was the view most commonly used in books and brochures about Portmeirion and I wanted it for myself.

I found out that the 5:30pm closing only related to the shops in the village and the rest of the place was open for much longer. I spent about 3 hours there and was exhausted by the time I returned to the car..........tired but happy.

I drove straight back to Aberangell and 'home' and that night I slept as soon as my head hit the pillow. Fresh air, lots of walking and advancing years will do that for you.

And of course there was more to do the next day.....................


Chris James said...

Thanks for posting the photos. They made my day.

Daphne said...

I've been visiting that part of Wales for many years, usually staying in beautiful Bala en route to Tenby in Pembrokeshire. I know that road in your photos well, and the view of the lake - it's gorgeous and I'm always surprised by how small the sheep on the other side of the valley look. I'm definitely interested in your brother and sister-in-law's place - it looks lovely, both for self-catering or for b and b, and the countryside around there is wonderful. I'll add their website to my favourites.

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