It was raining on and off the following morning when we woke. We went downstairs to breakfast, served by the wife of the man that we’d met the night before. We chatted a while enjoying a full British breakfast. After breakfast she offered to let us keep our bags in the living room downstairs after we’d checked out so that we could explore the town unburdened. Between climbing just a piece of the mountain the night before and the rain, we’d well decided not to climb Snowdon on foot, but I hadn’t quite given up hope of reaching the top, so we set out first to the station for the Snowdon Mountain Railway. We were greeted by a sign saying that they were sold out for the day, so that dream will have to wait for another visit. And next time, I will hope to have it planned a few months out so that I can get a ticket to ride the train to the top—or at least to the midway station.
Since we couldn’t go up Snowdon especially, I wanted to find the castle. That we managed to do. We walked along A4086 past the Royal Victoria Hotel until, just outside of town, we found a blue sign that I believe designated a public path. It wound through a small valley and through a bit of woods and up the hill to the foot of the castle.
The castle is little more now than a round tower keep and a scattering of low walls. Built in the 13th century by Llywelyn the Great, Llywelyn the Great’s grandson Llywelyn the Last imprisoned his brother Owain Goch ap Gruffudd in that tower (probably; there is some debate as to which castle housed Owain) in 1255 after the Battle of Bryn Derwin, at which Owain and Dafydd fought against Llywelyn for control of Gwynedd and acceptance of Norman oversight. Owain was released after 22 years. In 1282, following Llywelyn’s death, the third brother Dafydd took the throne. He tried to free Wales from the rule of Edward I, but was routed. Very briefly, he stayed at Dolbadarn in his flight. His stay was probably less than a month, after which the Normans occupied Dolbadarn. The Normans took a lot of its stone and timber to build Caernarfon Castle. Parts of the castle continued to be used into the 14th century, but by the 18th century, the castle fell out of use and into ruin.
The castle sits on the hilltop beside Llyn Peris, which is divided from Llyn Padarn by only a narrow landbridge. We didn’t much see Llyn Peris, only a glimpse of shining water below, but the views of the mountains between the clouds were beautiful and somewhat haunting.
We wandered back into town, ducking into shops, including one that sold honey, mead, and love spoons (Snowdon Honey Farm and Winery), searching out trinkets and gifts. We stopped for coffee and cake at Pantri. We wandered through the crowded shop and out into the seats that were in the adjacent backpackers’ shop. While we were there, the power went out briefly, which we overheard had not been an uncommon occurrence lately in the town. It did not diminish the town in my eyes, and I feel already like I left a small part of my heart by that lakeside town in desperate need (I hope) of a used bookstore—if only I had the courage to bring them one.
Wet and not wanting to much remain outdoors, we thought we would leave earlier than we’d thought for our next stop, Machynlleth.
To get to Machynlleth, we had to take the bus north to Caernarfon. It turned sunny on the ride. When we arrived in Caernarfon there seemed to be some kind of festival. There was bunting strung over some of the streets and fair rides and games in the square beside the castle.
We stopped for directions and then for ice cream at a brightly colored shop called Palas Caffi and awaited our bus. Some day I would like to return to Caernarfon. I would like to have a full day to explore the Norman castle. I would like to explore the city more and find a better view of the harbor, which pressed close to the castle.
In one small hilltop town, we passed a woman on horseback, who while the bus passed, pulled her horse over to talk to a friend who leaned out his car window.
We passed views of the ocean, through the narrow streets and stone buildings of Dolgellau and by Cader Idris and Tal-y-Llyn Lake, both of those last two familiar to me from Susan Cooper’s The Grey King.
The bus for Machynlleth let us out just past the clock tower.
From there we had to walk to our next bed & breakfast, but since we were early, we stopped first for dinner. We found a pizzeria manned by a Florentine chef just off the main road in the back of the courtyard for the Wynnstay Arms. It was delicious, made to order, and the conversation was good. We talked about Italy while we waited.
Fed, we continued down Heol Maengwyn. The Maenllwyd Guest House was pink house just outside of the bustle of the town in a residential area.
We settled in for a reasonably quiet night in a room at the top of the house. In our room, there was a binder of information about the area and about the bed & breakfast itself. There was a map that marked the standing stone for which the Maenllwyd Guest House was named (Maenllwyd means gray stone), so I set out for an adventure, winding my way around gardens and along the pavements of residential neighborhoods. The standing stone itself was located in the middle of a cul-de-sac with a bench beside it, not quite the mystic sight I had hoped for.
I kept wandering after finding it. Behind the street I was on rose a rugged looking hillside, and I thought there was likely a way to get to that hillside. I found one. There was a gate behind the houses with the sign that made me suspect that the hillside was public land, so I let myself in and climbed through paths in the bracken.
Somewhere on that hill, I found a ring of standing stones—a much more mystical sight. I did step into it. It seemed quiet, but I think I was projecting my thoughts of what a ring of stones is supposed to be. I was transported nowhere. I seemed to miss no more time than I spent standing and spinning in a circle to look out over the surrounding hills.
Oddly though I can’t find the photo I took from within the ring.
I kept climbing. I eventually turned around when I found a sheep, and began to question anew whether I was actually on public or private land.
(In researching, trying to figure out where I had been, I have come to think that I was on land belonging to the golf course. Maybe the ring of stones was just meant to be another obstacle to play around. Maybe it’s just atmospheric. But later in the trip I came to believe that there was a ring of stones in nearly if not every Welsh town—more likely newer installations than old. I might be very off my mark there. I would love someone to confirm or correct me.)
Back at the Maenllwyd Guest House, I showered in our private bathroom, and sat in bed watching with my sister a British puzzle-solving game show called the Crystal Maze hosted by Richard Ayoade.
I wanted to stay up late enough for it to be full-dark, past 10 PM.
We were in Wales near 2018’s Perseid meteor shower. Both the Brecon Beacons National Park in South Wales and Snowdonia National Park in North Wales are designated International Dark Sky Reserves. We intended to spend all of our nights in South Wales in Swansea, a much larger city than any of the towns were we slept in North Wales. Here in Machynlleth we were on the southern edge of Snowdonia National Park. Just after 10 PM, which was the earliest websites said I would be able to view the shower, I went out into the back garden of Maenllwyd Guest House. It was not so dark as I would have imagined or as dark as I would have hoped, but even with the back light on, bathing the garden, I was able to see the Milky Way, a feat that I have managed only a few times in my life. And in the space of about 20 minutes, I saw 5 shooting stars.