Tag Archives: Swansea

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 15 & 16, 2018: Gardens on Foot, and Mountains on Horseback

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August 15

That Wednesday was mostly a rest day. My sister slept in, and I went that morning to walk through Singleton Park and the Swansea Botanical Gardens on my own. The park is huge, and it would have been easy to get lost. I stayed on the paths. I don’t have many photos, just a few of the gardens in riotous color.

All this was free to enter, free to wander. I spoke briefly with a gardener who found me on the paths in the Botanical Garden, but frankly, I was having a difficult time understanding him through the accent. I’d brought a book. I sat on a bench overlooking the campus below a sweep of lawn and just behind the campus’ buildings a glimmer of the sea. No photo captured it well enough to take. The paths wandered over hills, between woods and across fields, and around a shaded pond.  I stumbled upon the seemingly misplaced Swiss Cottage, built in 1826, but the old building was looking a little worn.

August 16

Thursday, though, it was time to check something else off of my bucket list. We were going pony trekking in the Brecon Beacons! I’d queried several area stables by email, but only heard back from the Ellesmere Riding Centre in Llangorse. We set up an appointment by email, and my contact there was always kind and accommodating, even though we were still finalizing as late as August 13. I was really excited.

We took the bus from Swansea through the Brecon Beacons National Park up to the small town of Brecon.  Our route took us between the Black Mountain and Fforest Fawr regions of the park.

In Brecon, we found the taxi rank from the directions that I was given by my contact in Ellesmere. Finding a taxi took a little longer than I thought it would do. We ought to have scheduled ahead of time or have found a taxi company’s number beforehand.

But a kind driver hurried us to the stable and knew just how to get there.

There’d been a transcription error between the emails and Ellesmere’s handwritten appointment book, and they had thought that we were scheduled for the day before! There was a further error in my phone number, so though they had tried to contact us, they hadn’t reached us.  I panicked a little, I don’t mind saying, but the guides there helped us into helmets, and my sister and I (we both have years of experience horseback, though it had been more than a decade since for her) helped to quickly tack up two more horses for the group that was about to head out, though neither of us actually ended up riding the horses that we tacked.

My sister rode a big bay cob-cross named Captain who looked like he deserved the name, a proper police horse. I rode a little bit daintier, bay mare named Thistle. Thistle was still so much more horse and more horse-power than I have gotten used to riding with my little 13 hh pony that I’ll admit I was a little intimated when I realized quickly that Thistle was more immune to my cues than was my mare, both my requests to slow down and my requests not to graze on the verge, and that I was out of practice being forceful.

But I was never in any danger as much as Thistle had more “go” than my mare and was constantly going faster and wanting to ride nearer the front of the herd.

I personally struggled far more than I expected to do giving over control to such a large horse.

I think I needed to have trusted these horses more than I did.  I’m used to riding meaning that I have to make decisions and sometimes fight to be minded.  I wasn’t making decisions in this group, and the horses knew the route and each other far better than I did.  If Thistle felt comfortable right up behind another horse, I should have trusted her to know which horses wouldn’t want her there.

That’s a good lesson for me to bring to any future trekking trips.  And for you to bring to any of yours too.

Most of the riders in our group were younger children there with their two moms. We all talked a little as we rode through the streets of Llangorse and then onto country roads that wended between fields and farmland, often shaded by trees, and from there onto a narrow bracken-lined path along the slope of Mynydd Troed.  From Mynydd Troed, we had a view across the valley towards Pen y Fan, southern Wales’ highest mountain.  Then we turned back downhill, joining again with more country lanes, most of these framed by hedgerows, and ultimately back onto the roads of Llangorse.

The horses never spooked. Not when we encountered an obstacle in the form of large machines clearing the trees from the road. Not at passing cars. Not at dogs barking from behind their fences.

At one point the saddle of one of the younger riders slipped sideways, and the horse—all the horses—just stopped while we fixed it and got her back up and on with a tighter girth. At one point Captain went into a few strides of canter to catch up with the herd; no one raced to join him. My sister said that his canter was actually much more comfortable than his trot, and it wasn’t that much faster. Our ride was walk and trot.

I didn’t ask at the farm and should have done whether or not we were allowed to bring cameras. I left my bags at the stable and my phone and camera with them so I was unprepared when we stopped near the peak of our ride to take photos. (Ordinarily, I always carry a phone with me while riding, never knowing when I might be stranded in a field and need help, and I would remind others what a blessing that tech can be, but having several adults with us who had more knowledge of the area and who would not in panic dial 911 instead of 999 made me feel safe enough to go without.)

I did find our route I think on Google Map’s street views, so I can give you some taste of the green vistas that we enjoyed from horseback.

I was fairly sure that I had found the right route when I had taken these screen captures in September 2018, but now writing this in July 2019, I’m just less sure, so I’m afraid I don’t have a map for a you, or a way to look for other screens to capture.

By the time we returned to Brecon (the taxi driver from before had given us a card with the number to call, so we were easily able to get a ride back), most of Brecon was closed and the bus was not too long in coming. We had time to duck into a nearby Morrison’s for a few end of the day supplies.

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Back in Swansea we got fast food takeaway and ate in Castle Square before wandering up to the castle ruins.  What’s left of Swansea Castle is greatly dwarfed by the surrounding modern buildings, and there isn’t a lot left.  Compared to nearby Oystermouth, it isn’t very impressive, but it is very neat to see a castle so much surrounded by modern structures.

Then it was back to the university campus for the night.

Most photos mine, except those that are screen captures from Google Maps, which are clearly labeled.  Most can be viewed more largely by clicking 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.