Saturday, June 02, 2007

Wales - Day 7

Thursday, my last full day in Wales and I spent most of it in a castle.

It's like that there......castles everywhere. Castles to spare.

I left Aberangell and headed north on the A470 to Dolgellau. In fact I stayed on the A470 all the way up to the north coast as my destination was Conwy. But I needed personal fuel for the trip and went back to the same cafe in Dolgellau that I'd been to on Monday.

It was one of those occasions when what I wanted to say, didn't come out right. I just meant that when I'd left the cafe on Monday, it never entered my mind that I'd be back in Dolgellau wanting breakfast again given my touring plans. What came out of my mouth was "hello, I ate here on Monday and I never thought I'd be back here again".

Opps. Even though I tried to talk my way out of it, I'm sure the cook was told to add something 'extra' to my breakfast. My egg did seem a bit more runny than last time !!

Afterwards, my drive north took me the other way up the steep Bwlch Oerddwrs pass that I'd been on the previous day and I was pleased to see that my fence post 'flower' was still in place. It's needs it's own webcam so I can keep an eye on it. See to it, someone.

At noon I approached Conwy on the north Welsh coast and once again I found a castle that was not only impressive but was totally visible from the main road.

With no town map to hand, I just drove on over this bridge and as I went past the castle, the road split two ways. One clearly went into the town centre and the other, the one to the left and the one I took, went under a part of the castle walls and immediately became so narrow that vehicles had to take turns to pass through the stone arch.

Even large cars risked losing their wing mirrors but my little Clio was fine.

Once through the arch, I noticed a bowling green on the left which was in the shadows of the castle and there was a small road next to it where several cars were already parked. There were no signs that you had to pay to park on this road and so I found a spot and once settled, I couldn't believe the view out the passenger window.

This was the photo I took from inside the car and I'd have been happy enough to have driven off at that point as I'd no intention of going up into the castle anyway.

I'm not a great one for going into castles as mostly there is not much left to see and we ARE sort of blessed with loads of them in this country so I've seen my fair share.

I set off to walk back up to the split in the road and go into the town. After only a few yards I heard a noise and looked to my right and saw there was a train passing along the side of the castle. How clever of them to build a castle so close to a railway line as this must have been so handy when the royals fancied a trip down south. A nice relaxing start to a Crusades trip maybe. Always good to get to The Holy Land all refreshed and ready for a good scrap.

Seriously though, it was cool to see this mix of old and new. It was a first for me, that's for sure.
The structures added for the railway line weren't totally in balance with the castle walls but only 600 years of weathering can do that.

I walked on up the road back through the arch - having to time it so a car wasn't passing through as there wasn't room for us both.

Just before taking the fork into town , I went down to the harbour. On the way, I passed this building that I initially thought was a pub.

It turned out to be a place for finding out about family crests and coats of armour and all that good stuff. The huge SALE sign kinda spoiled the view in this photo but come on, how often do you see a full suit of armour outside of a museum ? I'll photoshop the SALE sign out later.

There wasn't a great deal to see along the waterfront - apart from great views looking back up at the castle. I walked out over the road bridge that I'd come in on as I wanted to check out a foot bridge that led to the castle.

When I found that it didn't lead into the castle and that the 'jobs worth' toll collector wouldn't even left me stand on it to take a photo without crossing his palm with silver, I left him to it.

I got back to the fork and headed down the narrow road to town. Even without the wall and the castle, Conwy was a neat little place with clean streets and not too much in the way of tourist tat. As with every town I'd been to in Wales, there were no obvious fast food outlets at all and they were the better for it.

I did sucomb to an ice cream, however, as the sun was out and it was getting quite warm - and I'd walked a fair distance already. I picked soft scoop which the purists would moan about but which I always prefer over other types. They did have rum and raisin flavour and I WAS tempted but stuck to my original choice and walked around the streets happy with my decision.

As seems the way with most castle towns, Conway had steep streets going off in all directions and with it being a walled town, every so often a street would have an arch crossing it - although not many as narrow as this one.

Again only one vehicle could pass through it at a time and this was the perfect urban speed control solution.

Who needs those awful 'sleeping policemen' or speed cameras when all you need is a narrow archway. Brilliant.

Ice cream devoured and wanting a change of scenery, I went back up to the castle and had a look at the displays and information brochures inside the entrance complex. I suddenly decided to pay and go inside the castle as it looked quite complete as opposed to an outer shell with little or nothing still remaining inside.

There are plenty of web sites with better photographs of Conwy Castle than I was able to get but I'll include a few here - I took about 50 as, after all, I WAS there and it was incredibly picturesque.

It was built by Edward 1, King of England, between 1283 and 1287 and as work only went on during March to October each year ( labourers were a lazy bunch and had a good union even back then ), that was amazingly fast by any standards. It has 8 towers and the 4 which look back into Wales, so to speak, have extra towers added to the top of the already tall ones as you can see in this photo. I don't know the reason for this design feature - maybe the lookouts needed more height when keeping a watchful eye out for tourists....sorry, fearsome warriors........approaching from the land side.

All were accessible and I climbed every one even though there were over 100 winding steps to their open tops. The views were spectacular and it was fun to see heads and bodies popping up on the tops of ajacient towers.

I think most people, and there weren't many of them this day, were satisfied with getting to the top of just one tower as after all, they were pretty much all the same. Muggins, on the other hand, spurred on by having actually handed over pension money and feeling the need to photograph everything from every possible angle, went up the lot. If it was above ground level, I was up it.

I did make myself useful by taking photos of other tourists. When I see couples taking photos of each other or trying to set up their tiny digital cameras without a tripod to get them both in the picture, I always offer to take the photo for them.

I have much more success doing this when I actually have my own camera gear with me as then they don't think I'm an opportunist thief who would more likely run off with their camera than take a photo of them with it.

If only they knew that age and health prevent me from running anywhere these days. I guess I could cunningly stroll away with their precious camera but I'm sure even a couple with crutches and a walker could catch me within a few seconds.

Not that I would do so anyway. But hypothetically speaking..................

Located on the coast, the castle was a haven for birds, mostly seagulls. They were everywhere

but not in numbers sufficient to be a concern. I never had to worry about being dumped on from a great height when I WAS at a great height.

This much smaller bird was posing on a part of the ruins near me so I snapped it.

No idea, so don't ask. Not an albatross or a bald eagle but I'm out of ideas after that.

When I'd had my fill of the 4 taller towers on the landward (is there such a word ??) end of the castle, I moved along the battlements to look at the views over the town. This is the view of that same street I walked along earlier and you can see the narrow arch which forms part of the town wall.

You'll have to enlarge it of course.

By now I almost had the place to myself - and as I was up on one of the most complete medieval castles in the country, I was thrilled to not have to share it with anyone else.

I'd paid good money after all and wasn't used to sharing.

But I was aware that a certain wi-fi router was due to be delivered to my brother's house today and I needed to be back if it had arrived.

For once I blessed the invention of the cell phone and just for the hell of it, and to test out the bypass stitches once again, I climbed up to the top of a tower and did an ET. I have to admit that I was more than slightly thrilled to be told the router was not being delivered until the next day ( so much for all the promises, pain of death and so on ) and so I was free to stay longer and drive back at my leisure. Well we had a table booked at The Brigands Inn for 7:45 but it was only 2pm by this time.

I took one last shot from the far end of the battlements looking down on the A470, on the left, that I'd come in on.

The foot path or bridge to the right of the A470 is the one I'd wanted to go along earlier but was told it didn't lead into the castle.

Looking down on it, I'm puzzled where it DOES lead to in that case. I think I was told a porky.

After well over an hour I'd had enough and left the castle. I went back through the narrow road arch to get back to the car and was delighted to see that several games of bowls were taking place on the green between my car and the castle.

Crown green bowls or just bowls is another of the activities I used to associate with pre death experiences. Past life images flashing before your eyes, tax man knocking at the door, doctor telling you everything will be fine........... and playing bowls. All classic signs that you're on the way out.

But since buying a place in Florida and, ok getting on in years myself, I've had a rethink about such games. I love the bocce games we play in Florida and now quite fancy having a go at this more popular grass variant sometime.

I can't imagine many more scenic locations for playing bowls.

I drove around Conwy to see more of the town and the walls and then as time was getting on, I decided to go back to Aberangell.

Rather than head back down the A470 again, I checked the map and took the B5106 to Betws-y-coed as it ran parallel to the A470 so wouldn't take any longer but looked like it would give better views of the River Conwy.

It was a delightful little road and did offer wonderful views across the fields to the river.

I stopped at one point as there was a small pull off area and took this photo to remind me of the scene.

Then I drove on to Betws-y-coed and when I reached the junction with the A5 and saw a sign for the Swallow Falls, I took a slight detour as I'd heard they were well worth a visit.

I've since read that they are, quote "spectacular, among the 5 most visited tourist sites in Wales". Well that's an almost criminal statement and does Wales a great disservice. I wouldn't even class it among the 5 best tourist sites in that part of the junction with the A5.

I slid a pound coin into a slot, went through the turnstile and walked a few paces to see these Swallow Falls. There are 2 viewing areas and the lower one is apt to get you covered in a light spray from the falls. Neither show anything worth paying £1 for, in my opinion. Yes I took photos, many photos. Hey I'd paid £1 and wanted some memory of the occasion.........even if it was just to remind me that not all guide books and online sites are truthful.

I won't bore anyone with any of the photos I took as, really, they aren't worth your time. I've seen better, much better......even in mid Wales.

So I got back to Aberangell in time to change and shower ( or shower and change............ ) and head off with bro and sis-in-law for a lovely meal to thank them for putting up with me for the previous week.

My time in mid Wales had been a complete revelation. I'd been several times before but never to tour like this. Either it's been cold, wet and miserable or I'd not been in the right mood or all of those - but I never had particularly good thoughts about the country. That's all changed forever and thanks to whatever fading memory cells I still have, plus over 600 photos and about 30 mins of video (and this blog), I hope I can 'revisit' it often without leaving the house.

Of course it's only a 3 hour drive to Aberangell, so I might just go back before long and I strongly encourage YOU to get there too.

Just beware of police speed traps near Corris. And lots of sheep poop, and cow pats, and bird droppings, and.......................

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