Tag Archives: beach

Travel: August 17 & 18, 2018: Swansea Beach and Browsing Bristol

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August 17

Friday was another rest day. It was my last in Wales, so we ran a few errands, ending up in yet a few more bookstores, since I had nearly finished the book that I had brought with me and knew that I had three plane flights between me and home.

I went out to the beach that night on my own, just to enjoy being near the water while I could be.

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View towards the Mumbles

August 18

The next day we took a bus out of the country to Bristol, England. I had a cheap jumper flight from Bristol to Dublin, where I was going to spend the night in the airport before flying to Charlotte, NC.

The night before our trip, I had discovered that Bristol is home to a cat café, You&Meow, so that was where we headed first, using the phone for directions. We managed to get ourselves let in without an appointment and enjoyed delicious drinks while the cats played and stalked and lounged around the room. One of the younger kittens really seemed intrigued by our shoes. The rule of the cat café is that you can’t pick up any of the cats; the cats have to come to you or be resting comfortably when you approach them. The atmosphere of the café resembles that of a spa.

 

After that, we let ourselves loose in the city. While in the city, I had my eyes peeled. Bristol is Banksy’s hometown, but I didn’t spot any of his work in the wild, not that I recognized. We found the aquarium and the amusements of Anchor Square, but we decided that we didn’t want to pay the aquarium entrance fee.

The city hosts a series of locks and canals and, you probably know by now, I enjoy being near the water. I got to ogle tall ships at dock here too. I had heard rumor that visitors could climb into the rigging on the SS Great Britain, but we were already a ways from the bus station, on the wrong side of the lock to reach her, and didn’t want to wander too far. We turned back inland when our path seemed to dead-end.

 

After wandering a ways and picking up takeaway for lunch, we ended up at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery because museum entry is free in the UK.

We whiled away the rest of our time in its exhibits: Egyptian artifacts, dinosaurs fossils, rocks and gemstones, pottery from around the world but especially from Bristol, paintings including La Belle Dame sans Merci, taxidermy including a tiger shot by King George V and a Tasmanian tiger too, and a Romani caravan built in 1900 and in use until maybe 1953. And yes, there is a Banksy piece in the hall.

I don’t have a lot of photos from inside the museum, although photography is allowed.  I was too busy ogling the collection and reading the plaques.

 

Bristol is another city I should have researched more before visiting. On the bus to the airport I started spotting old, crumbling castles, and looking at maps, I spy things sites that I think would have been interesting to see.

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This is the trail more or less that my sister and I took across Great Britain.  I couldn’t get GoogleMaps to let me include our Irish travels in the same map.  That map is here.

And speaking of doing better research, I should have read the fine print for RyanAir. My jumper flight ticket was fairly inexpensive, but then I ended up having to paying a fee because I missed the email reminder that I had to check in online to avoid a £55 airport check-in fee, and I was struggling to get my phone or the airport computers to connect to wi-fi to be able to check in online while in the airport, so I missed the window to check in online at all. Learn from my mistakes.

I had also assumed that once I got to Dublin I would be able to check in and pass through security and get to my gate and wait out the night there. I foolishly didn’t realize that airports close overnight, even though flights get into the airport late. I had had a reservation for a bed in a hostel in Dublin that I decided to cancel because I didn’t want to have to deal while sleep deprived with the stress of getting to the hostel (you might remember that my sister and I struggled a little to find the right way to get to Dublin from the airport) then getting to the airport on time the next morning.

I think I was foolish.  I think I ought to have kept the reservation.  But there’s no turning back the clock after a thing is done, and my worst fears might have come true had I kept it.

As it was I couldn’t check in at the airport until the next morning, so I stayed in the lobby. Only one convenience store was open to get anything to eat or drink. I slept a little bit on the bench of a fancier restaurant in the airport lobby. It was not dark. It was not quiet.  I didn’t sleep well. I hardly slept.

After checking in, there was another hour or so wait until security was open, so I could not immediately go through that line either.

I made it back to the US though, safe and sound, and on the plane that I had intended to be on. I landed just before a torrential, summer rainstorm that sparked this odd rainbow that barely bridged the highway.  What is was promising, I’m not sure, but it seemed significant, and I took its photo for the friend who was driving me back home.

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And that’s it, all. I’m home now, back in the US, and not sure what my next adventure might be.

What have been some of your greatest adventures?  Where should I go next?

All photographs are mine.  Click to see them larger.  Map created using GoogleMaps.

Travel: August 14, 2018: The Cost of Touring Tenby

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We were underprepared for the tourism economy of Tenby.

We took a bus from Swansea to Carmarthen and the train from Carmarthen to Tenby.  We followed other tourists up Warren Street into White Lion Street and to its conclusion at the sea.

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We had come with the intention to leave Tenby for Caldey Island. After getting coffees because the morning was chilly and gray and we had woken fairly early, we found the Caldey Island Shop down a narrow alley off of Tudor Square. We asked about tickets there, but the tickets onto the ferry for Caldey Island were more expensive than we had anticipated.

The Cistercian monks of Caldey Island are said to produce the best chocolate in all of Wales. We found some of their chocolate in the Caldey Island Shop in Tenby.  My sister and I both brought home bars and thought it very good chocolate.  We passed on tickets to the ferry though.

Our main plans thwarted, we ended up spending a good deal of time wandering the streets inside the old city walls (east of the Five Arches, so we really only explored a small portion of Tenby), ducking into bookstores, art galleries, quirky shops, and tourist shops.

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Image made with GoogleMaps

The same alley as Caldey Island Shop boasted an old fashioned sign that just read books. The bookstore that that sign marked, Cofion, was too disorganized, its books stacked higgledy-piggledy and floor to ceiling, for me to dare to venture inside. I have had too many stacks of books collapse on top of me for me to find such an environment relaxing. But we ventured into other of the city’s bookshops including Tenby Bookshop, and admired many of the children’s books and bookish gift displays.  We stopped in the art gallery of John Cahill and his friends.

We also hunted for a sweatshirt to keep my sister warm.

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St. Catherine’s Island and Castle Beach

We wandered up to the remnants of the castle, a gate and a tower on a hilltop. We climbed Bridge St, passed through the gate, but found that way to the tower blocked by the Tenby Museum and Art Gallery, which had an entrance fee too, so we turned around again to continue wandering.

Eventually our wandering brought us down to the beach, as all good wanders should do.

We’d arrived at low tide so were able to cross to the tidal island of St. Catherine’s. To climb the steps onto the island and enter the fort cost another fee. So I played around in the caves and the natural bridge beneath the island for a little, though the largest cave at the time we were nearby was flocked with children on a tour, so I stayed in the smaller of the caves.

We found a set of stairs from the beach that did lead up to the top of Castle Hill, so we were able to reach the solitary tower that remains of the castle and walk on the heights above the beaches where there was an asphalt walking path that looped a small park.  The path follows the original curtain walls.

We found the lifeboat station, and entrance to that was free, so we went inside there for a moment to admire their lifeboat and read the placards.

The pastel houses and narrow alleys and medieval walls and certainly the sea were beautiful, but it was a city in which we should have planned to spend more money. Too little was free. A good deal of that onus is on us for not doing the research ahead of time.

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Crackwell St. and the steeple of St. Mary’s Church

Then it was nearing time already to catch the train back east, though I found time to briefly follow a path a little ways past the Tenby Golf Club that claimed to lead to “South Beach;” I didn’t have time to find the beach.

We’d bought return tickets in Swansea that morning. When we arrived in Carmarthen however, we’d missed the last bus back to Swansea, and Carmarthen was all shut up for the night when we arrived. We talked to a bus driver in Carmarthen when one arrived, explained our situation, and that driver very kindly helped us out. We needed new tickets, but we eventually did get home. We were taken to Tycroes. We were at that point trusting the drivers to get us home. We were let off on at a stop not far above the company offices and directly across from a public footpath. Our first bus driver talked to our next, who was just setting out. We were retrieved and brought back to Swansea.

The confusion left us tired and exhausted, but I am so glad there were kind adults who took pity upon two weary travelers on a foreign adventure. Otherwise I really don’t know what we would have done.

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Made with GoogleMaps.  We took no suggested route, back to Swansea especially, so I pretended that we drove to convince GoogleMaps to let me map a more roundabout route and have made it as near as possible to the routes I think the buses and trains drove.

All photographs are mine. Several can be enlarged if you click on them.

Travel: August 13, 2018: Battling the Dragon of Rhossili

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The next day we were off to one of the most highly rated beaches in Wales: Rhossili.

Our bus (about an hour either way) took us along narrow roads lined with hedges and through some adorable small towns where sheep grazed freely on the roadsides. There were even some free-grazing sheep on the green town square in Reynoldston.

Right around the time that we reached Rhossili, the weather cleared.  Now that we were going home to Swansea every day, we could plan our outings a bit more by the predicted weather than just by the itinerary.  We got a great beach day!

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But we never actually went down to the beach, though the sweep of golden sand was stunning from up top of the cliffs. We were too distracted by the challenge of Worm’s Head.

We finally had good weather on a day that we intended to climb a mountain! If anything, it was maybe even a little hot.

Worm’s Head is a series of tidal islands accessible for 2.5 hours on either side of low tide. The islands look vaguely like a dragon rising out of the sea.

The islands are reached by a walk along the clifftops, which descends steeply along first stone steps, then a well-worn dirt track before the grassy slope ends abruptly in a short ledge maybe 2-4 feet high, dropping to the jagged rocks and tidal pools that form the temporary land bridge known as the Causeway.

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Early in our trek across the Causeway, we heard one father warn his children not to get distracted. My sister took up the motto, and I tried to keep up with her.  There’s no path across the Causeway.  It seemed best to watch others’ paths and imitate them if they seemed successful.  Some of the rocks were narrow and sharp.  Some of the tide pools were deep.  This is a walk that requires good footwear.  I did alright in my trekking shoes and my sister managed in her flat-soled sneakers.  I have fewer photos of the Causeway because we were hurrying but also because I was nervous about balancing and dropping the camera.  I was glad to have a cord that kept it around my neck, but if I fell, that would not protect the camera.  We passed a foundered anchor, maybe from the nearby wreck of the Helvetia that lies on the beach.

It took us nearer to a half hour to cross the land bridge. We scrambled up a short cliff and onto the Inner Head, where we sat down and enjoyed our lunch overlooking the land bridge, Rhossili Bay on one side with its sweep of golden sand and the crashing waves of (I think) the Bristol Channel (it’s hard to say where one water feature becomes another).

I decided to set out to explore towards the farther end of the peninsula while my sister again waited for me.

I found a narrow dirt path through the bracken to the left of the head, which curved around the seaward side of the landmass, and eventually let out into short-cropped grass.

I didn’t make it out to the Outer Head, but instead climbed the backside of the Inner Head, gaining the altitude up a steep incline, which was despite being steep, a fairly easy climb.

I opted to take the shorter way down, which was little more than a goat’s trail. While we had been lunching, we’d watched several hikers take this way to the top of the Inner Head. I think in retrospect, that path might have been easier going up than down.

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My sister while she waited spotted our only semi-aquatic or aquatic mammal of the trip: a sea lion who bobbed fairly far below us in the bay.

I took her by my easier trail around the backside of the Inner Head to see the end of the peninsula and the Devil’s Bridge (an odd name that I am only discovering now for a land bridge that looks from a distance like its bridge forms a heart).

We didn’t climb the head again, but I wanted her to see the far end of the peninsula.

We climbed then back across the Causeway, with a little more urgency this time, and hiked back along the clifftops towards the town and the bus stop. We did get to marvel at a hovering bird of prey. I eyed the Vile, a medieval system of agriculture involving long, narrow divisions of the fields, about which I had read, and about which I was curious for the setup of one of the towns in my WIP.

The area around Rhossili is a treasure trove of history for someone who knows how to look and what to look for.

There is also on the walk from Rhossili to Worm’s Head the remnants an Iron Age fort called Old Castle Camp. The fort looks more like unnatural rises and falls in the fairly flat ground, and I think we actually passed it without a thought, remaining on the more prominent, kept, gravel path.

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You can see the Vile fairly well in this view from Google Maps.  I used the coordinates from Ancient Monuments to locate Old Castle Camp, the red marker.

St. Mary’s Church still has elements of the original Norman construction from the late 12th century. We passed it on the way into town, and it isn’t far from the bus stop, so with a little time to spare, maybe I should have stepped away to explore.  Instead we chatted with another pair of young women waiting for the bus, a native Welshwoman who reveled in the sunshine and her friend from Australia.  We connected over our Harry Potter merchandise.

Then there’s the wreck of the Helvetia on the beach at Rhossili that I already mentioned. She wrecked in 1887.

Back in Swansea, we went to the Pub by the Pond, one of the favorite haunts of the Swansea University students, if only because there is an entrance to the pub directly from campus. We drank ciders and ate our meals out on the back deck beneath a willow overlooking the pond, known more formally as Singleton Boating Lake. I smiled to sea dragon boats beside the swan boats. We could have done without the falling willow flowers, but the view was fantastic, and the walk back to the dormitory for the night after having a drink was difficult to beat.

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All photos are mine.  Those without a frame can be viewed more largely by clicking upon them.

Travel: August 12, 2018: Retraced Steps Around Swansea Bay

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It’s been almost a year, and I haven’t finished typing up my British adventures for you!  Though a lot has gotten in the way, I haven’t forgotten.  These may not have as many details in them as they might have done a year ago, but I can still share photos and recommendations with you all, and I hope you’ll still enjoy them.  I hope you aren’t too upset by the delay, and I hope you can enjoy these despite the passed time.

As we come up on the anniversary of my travels, my hope is to keep up an alternating pattern for a little bit, one week a travel blog and the next a book review.  I have 4 more travel blog posts after this, so I think even alternating, we should be back to all books all the time (or most of the time) by September’s end.

If you’re just joining us, you can find the earlier posts about this UK adventure here.

And while I’m doing some housekeeping, check out my newest page!  I’m selling my used books, and I still have another 2 and a half boxes of books to post, so keep an eye on that shop.  There’s more fantasy in this next box.

After traversing Ireland and northern Wales, Swansea University, where my sister was earning her master’s degree, became our home base for the rest of our travels. The first day in southern Wales, we decided to spend the around Swansea Bay, especially as the day’s forecast was a bit gloomy.

The day began with a tour of the campus itself and all the hidden gardens and gems that my sister had discovered in her months there. The main office buildings of the campus were once part of Singleton Abbey, the 19th century estate of the Vivian family, but the majority of the campus is housed in modern buildings, of which I didn’t take any pictures.

We went through a corner of the next-door Singleton Park to reach the road, and just across from the road, just across from the University, is the beach.

We walked along the boardwalk back into town to catch the bus to Mumbles.

More or less, we followed my sister and mother’s earlier path through the small town of Oystermouth so that I could experience all of the places about which they had been raving for months.  My mother was particularly enamored of the Mumbles area, where they stayed when my sister first came to Wales.  We first ate lunch at a pub called The White Rose in sight of Oystermouth Castle. The White Rose has been on that site since 1856, though the mock-Tudor style building is from the early 1900s.

After a relaxing lunch, we went up the short hill to Oystermouth Castle, a fairly well-preserved castle—there are even stone fireplaces and chimneys still intact.  I’ve been in a few ruined castles and monasteries and forts and estates that are called castles, but this was by far the most impressive, I think, in any country.  With a castle on the site since 1106, the oldest of the remaining stone structures is from the 12th century, but the majority of the stone structures that remain were constructed by the de Braose family in the 13th century. The castle was briefly the primary residence of the lords of the Gower in the late 13th century.  The de Braose connection was especially interesting to me as Count Falkes de Braose is a prominent figure in Stephen Lawhead’s Hood, which I was rereading prior to my trip to Wales in anticipation of perhaps stumbling upon some of the book’s locations.  (Falkes himself is fictional as far as I can tell, but the family is obviously not, and they were eminent in southern Wales.)

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Armed with a free-to-borrow map from the gift shop and informational office, we gave ourselves a tour.

We wandered the outer walls and then through the remaining residential structures, including several basement rooms and the second story 14th century chapel with its remaining tracery windows. The chapel’s design is attributed to the Alina, daughter of the last de Braose to be lord of the Gower.  She became Lady John de Mowbray, fled by boat to Devon following her husband’s unsuccessful rebellion against Edward II, survived imprisonment in the Tower of London, and then succeeded in securing the Gower for herself and her heirs.  She’s a pretty awesome, 14th century lady!

Oystermouth Castle definitely offers some of the best views of the seaside town.

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There were a few exhibits too about the castle’s history.

Leaving the castle, we carried on down Mumbles Road towards the tip of the peninsula, pausing to explore art galleries along the way. Most were closed (it was a Sunday), but I know we climbed all the floors and explored the crannies of Gower Gallery and Picture Framing, and I ogled the paintings visible through the windows of others.  Gower Gallery is neat for its eclectic, busy collection of British art in all sorts of mediums, some of it quite inexpensive too.

We left the street at the parking lot for the pier.  The road blocks at the pier were all decorated for the Festival of Stitch, adding an extra bit of fun to the seaside scenery.

At the end of the pedestrian road, which housed a few shops and restaurants, we found the stairs to the beach that was exposed by the low tide. I had been too long from any beach to keep away.  I like a great deal about the city and area that I have come to call home, but one of its features that I most dislike is that it is at least 4 hours’ drive to the ocean.  The Mumbles (the tidal islands themselves) separate Swansea Bay and Bracelet Bay, both bays visible from the beach.  I went out along the sand and then the stones to explore the rocky outcroppings of the nearest tidal island at the beach’s end and its crannies that are sometimes underwater. I didn’t make it all the way out to the lighthouse, choosing to keep in sight of my sister, who waited, like a saint, on the stairs above the sand.

I’ll admit that though the draw is supposed to be the long, Victorian pier, I was far more interested in being near the water than above it.  We walked back along the boardwalk, me soaking up as much of the seaside as I could do.  Before we left for Swansea, we made sure to stop for some of Joe’s vanilla ice cream. Joe’s didn’t live up to the hype for me, but it was good ice cream.

Our adventures over, we visited Swansea’s Tesco Superstore and had a quiet night in the dorm, getting in an earlier night in preparation for the next day’s adventure.

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Image created using Google Maps. We didn’t take a car, but I was better able to manipulate the route pretending that we did. This should be a fairly accurate route map, though not exact.

All photos are mine.  Most will be more impressive if you click on them.

Travel: June 27, 2016 Lake Norman State Park, Wet and Wild

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This time I’m traveling a little bit closer to home. To North Carolina. To Lake Norman State Park, a park built around the state’s largest man-made lake, and a point almost exactly halfway between my home and my sister’s new home. Not too far at all off of Route 77, the trip takes you through the town of Troutman, North Carolina, which has a downtown corner I wouldn’t mind stopping to admire one time.

A quick drive down State Park Road deadends at the park gate, but the road continues on and winds through the forest down to a welcome center, with information, facilities for those in need, an air-conditioned lobby, a shaded porch with rocking chairs overlooking the lake, and canoe and pedal boat rentals.

My sister and I had planned on a beach day. We piled into a car together and continued on down the road till we saw signs pointing us towards swimming. There’s plenty of parking behind the shelter—where are more bathrooms and outdoor showers to rinse off the sand. Five dollars would have gotten us all day access to the waters—and had we paid it or had rented a boat (also only five dollars per hour) those would have been the only fee the park asked of us—but we’d intended to lay on the sand.

Within maybe fifteen minutes of sitting down in the warm, yellow sand and admiring the view out over the lake waters to the far shore, we were all sent off of the beach and away from the roll of thunder.

IMG_0409We lay down in the grass at the top of the hill overlooking the lake for a bit, but with not sure how long the ban would last, we decided to head back to the welcome center and find some trails.

We did. We hiked around Park Lake, a little more pond-sized lake connected by channels and creeks to the larger body of water downstream.

We followed a sign for a heron shelter, which was really more of picnic area, then back into the woods, sort of chasing a small dam and viewing platform visible from the welcome center side of the lake. Then we struck out the other direction, setting our sights on a bridge visible from there. I’m not sure that the trail that we followed wasn’t a deer run, but we made it to the bridge, which turned out to be one we’d earlier driven over, much wider and a bit less picturesque than I’d thought, though the view over the lake on either side was a good one.

We went to the welcome center, and I asked what trail we should most enjoy before leaving. So armed with expert, local knowledge, we headed back towards the swimming area, turning just a bit before onto Shortleaf Drive, to find the trail hugging the edge of the lake.

IMG_0411We weren’t long on the trail before it started to rain, and not long after, the rain became torrential with wind howling for a while through the trees overhead, thunder booming in the sky, white caps on the lake, and waves crashing against the shore.

IMG_0414It was honestly kind of thrilling.

IMG_0416IMG_0418And then we were wet. Very wet. And for a while the displeasure of sopping clothes clinging to me and the one cold trickle of rainwater running all the way along my spine won out, and story research was my mantra, but then we moved past being able to become any wetter, and the trails looked more like something that I’d expect to find in an Amazonian rainforest than central North Carolina, with deep puddles marking the trail, dense greenery keeping us from going too far to dodge the puddles, and the occasional trickle of water and mud coming down the hill along the trail. And we were never overheated, dehydrated, or sunburnt.

We met a doe on the lonesome trail who must have let us get within maybe three feet before she dashed away. For a while we kept back maybe four feet and watched her, but when it seemed clear that she didn’t intend to leave, and we didn’t intend to turn back the other way, we moved off to the other side of the trail and forward, and she did eventually bound a yard or so farther into the woods.

I like to think that she came back to the bush she had been stripping before we rounded the corner. She didn’t go all that far from us.

When we could—when we found it, my sister and I fully agreed to take the short cut path (which made the hike 3.2 miles instead of five) back to the car. I didn’t get at all out of breath till those last few yards of the hill to the parking lot.

We laid down towels on the seats, drove back to the welcome center to change and dry off a bit, then opened up the trunk of her car and ate our picnic dinner there. By the time we were done, the rain had abated and steam was curling off of the blacktop, we were a bit drier, the roads were hopefully a little safer (though I found some more torrential downpours on my trip north), and our bellies were full.

Pictures by me.  In the words of Patrick Rothfuss, “Click to embiggen.”

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