Tag Archives: Wales

Travel: August 11, 2018: A Trail Less Traveled

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After breakfast of toast and beans with a view of Maenllwyd Guest House’s garden, we set off early to make the bus back north a little ways to the trailhead for the Minffordd Path up Cader Idris.

We left before any of the attractions of Machynlleth were open.

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Rain was predicted for later in the afternoon, but I was determined to make it up one of the mountains that I’d come to this country intending to climb. Since Snowdon had defeated me, I wasn’t going to let rain keep me from Cader Idris’ slopes. I am glad my sister loves me.

We had a welcome—a very welcome—surprise climbing onto the bus. We happened to hit a day when all travel with the TrawsCymru buses was free. I don’t know why it was free. A holiday weekend, I think. But we were blessed; this happened to be the day that we needed to travel the farthest by bus. But this first leg was just a short hop, 18 minutes north.

There’s little at this bus stop. There is the Gwesty Minffordd Hotel. There’s a car park at bit off the road, where there are toilets. There is a welcome center with a café a little ways past the car park. There’s no town.

The driver—I wish I’d gotten his name; I think I recognized from our travel on TrawsCymru the day before—kept the doors opened when we disembarked to make sure that we knew where we were going, kindly ensuring that we had proper directions to the trail.

Waving goodbye, we set off.

I was maybe a bit distracted by anticipation. I don’t remember seeing the trail map. I remember seeing the stairs.

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The first twenty minutes or so of the trail was a steep climb, mostly up stairs, to get above the treeline. A stream, Nant Cadair, cascades down the mountain beside the trail, sometimes quite close.

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I stepped just off of the path to get this shot onto a rock shelf.

Once above the treeline, the path evens out, the going gets easier, and the views get better. Above the trees, you get tantalizing views of the valley below.

 

 

At one point, the path dissects, one route going left and the other right. The sign was in Welsh, and we weren’t sure which route led most swiftly to the top. We lingered a moment for the group behind us to catch up and asked if they knew. They didn’t either. We decided to part ways with that group, so one of us would be right.

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We went right. We were wrong.

Ours was the longer route to the peak of Cader Idris, climbing first to the peak of Mynydd Moel.

The way up Mynydd Moel continued to be fairly easy, and though it became clear not too far along our route that we had chosen the way that would not lead us to the mountain lake, where I thought we might stop and enjoy lunch, we continued. We had Mynydd Moel all morning almost to ourselves. We maybe met another five hikers, all coming down from the peak; they must truly have gotten an early start.

 

 

We stopped and ate our lunch on a stone wall that the trail dissected. My sister decided to sit and enjoy the peace while I saw a style not far up the trail that looked a very attainable goal, and I thought from our vantage point then could have been the peak. It was not.

 

 

Over the style, a short way along a sheep track through the heather and bracken, a second valley opened up on the other side of this crest of Mynydd Moel’s.

 

 

 

 

The main trail continued along the mountain’s spine, and had the rain not been forthcoming, and my sister not waiting patiently, I might have continued along it, because without a week’s worth of clothes and necessities on my back, the climb was much easier. And I wanted to reach a peak.

But I turned around.

I was satisfied.

I’d explored.

And I’d explored alone.

Retrospectively, being on the less-walked trail let us set the pace. It was a serene experience to stand on that mountaintop and hear nothing but the wind and the insects and the peace.

If I go again, I’d like to see the lake. I’d like to see the peak of one or both mountains.

But I would not trade the experience that I had.

The climb down from Mynydd Moel was far easier than the climb up.

All in all, we were up and down the mountain in about two hours—though we didn’t reach the peak—either peak.

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That dark blue line tracking to the right shows our route. I climbed just over that hatched black line, which is the fence, then along that dotted black path a ways before turning around. I think we came in from that white spine off of the yellow road.   Looking at this map, I climbed 420 meters or 1377 ft above sea level, which is still only half of either mountains’ heights.  Topographical map found via Walking Englishman via GPSVisualizer. His own journey upwards was much more complete, and the pictures are excellent. Click the map for the link.

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Looking at his route, I can see we really only did a short section of the full loop of the two mountain peaks.

We stopped to catch our breath and drink water and chat with a couple with their dog at the café.

We trekked back to the road.

Then we realized that there didn’t appear to be any bus stop on the south-going side of the road.

And we panicked a little.

The people at the café were tremendously kind, using their cells to help us determine the bus schedule.

There is a road sign across from the Gwesty Minffordd Hotel. That is the bus stop. It is unmarked, but the bus drivers must know to look for weary hikers.

We sat in the grass while the rain began and waited for the bus for what seemed a very long time and was probably forty minutes or so (buses only come by every 90 minutes, for any future adventurers).

Once on the bus, our route took us south. We switched from the TrawsCymru T2 to the T1 in Aberystwyth, taking the layover time to wander the streets, mostly Terrace Road, near the bus stands and find some dinner.

Mostly, this was a dinner quest, since we’d had trail snacks for lunch, and we didn’t end up being particularly adventurous, opting for KFC to eat as daintily as possible on the bus, an easy and quick takeaway meal and filling after a morning’s hike.  I’m only discovering now that we were only two or three blocks from stumbling upon the ocean!  I’ve said it before in these blogs, and I’ll say it again; research every stop and look at maps beforehand.

The second bus took us to Carmarthen, and from there switched onto a train, which took us to Swansea.

We arrived at Swansea in the dark and the rain, but we had been sitting all day, and from here, my sister knew her way. We walked either 15 minutes to the main city bus station or the 45 minutes to her dorm room.  Honestly, I was tired; I don’t remember much of this leg of the trip.

For all that, this was probably one of my favorite experiences on this trip.

And in just about three days, we crossed all of Wales North-to-South (it can be done in less time than we did of course), starting from Holyhead, down through Snowdonia National Park, and then down along the west coast to Swansea Bay.  Google Maps doesn’t allow me to input more than one route on public transport at a time, so I can’t give you the several days’ complete picture (or not without—and perhaps I may—tracing it myself onto a map that I print).

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Made with Google Maps.  We followed the blue and green lines, roughly a 4 hour journey (once we got on the bus) from Dôl Idris Car Park to Swansea, probably more with our layover in Aberystwyth.

All photos are mine.  Most can be viewed almost full screen if you click on them.  The maps are otherwise attributed in their captions.

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Travel: August 10, 2018: Rain Clearing to Shooting Stars

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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.

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Map created using Google Maps. Our route is the blue and green not the white.

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.

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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.

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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.

All photos are mine.  Most can be viewed almost full screen if you click on them.  The maps are otherwise attributed in their captions.

Travel: August 9, 2018: We Reach Wales

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Hey! You probably thought that I forgot that I was supposed to be writing these travelogues for you. Well, I didn’t, and I am sorry that they have been so scarce. Today, we’re going to Wales, so hop on nearly every form of public transportation (as I proudly told a surveyor on my journey back to the US), and journey with me.

We were up very early the next morning to walk back into town to catch a pre-booked bus to get to the port. Our shuttle boarded on O’Connell Street around 7:15, and our ticket warned us to be early to the bus stop (though I don’t actually think that was as necessary as they made it seem). We were taken along the river to the check-in, then boarded on another shuttle, which took us directly onto the ferry, we were unloaded, and conducted upstairs to a plush lounge with seats facing the front of the boat, lots of tables both at the windows and further into the center of the boat, a bar, televisions, a movie room, arcade games. It didn’t feel all that much like a boat. But I found us seats near the front where I could at least pretend to be standing at the bow and watching the sunrise and looking out for land. I’ll admit that I fell asleep for a good deal of the crossing. I read through some of it. I went wandering at one point trying to find a way to get to the sea-air, but without success.

 

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Route map courtesy of the Stena Line webpage

We docked in Holyhead in North Wales, went quickly through security, and crossed the bridge into the city to find lunch.

My sister took the crossing less well than I did.

I didn’t feel hardly any motion from the boat, even watching the horizon ahead. I could tell that we were moving forward at times, and I could see the boat turn once or twice, but I felt any movement far less jarringly than on any bus or train or plane.

Lunch acquired, sandwiches and coffees, we mostly played the waiting game. We were expected in Llanberis that night, and to get to the town, we had to take a train to Bangor and then a bus from there to Llanberis. The port and the train station are within the same building so finding the station was easy as was finding help with the schedule and the best route and the best lunch if only we’d asked sooner.

The train to Bangor got us there with lots of time to spare between arrival and departure. I wandered the city a little. Retrospectively, I wish I had looked at a map. I went up Holyhead Road and got so far as College Road before turning around then went down Farrar Road to High Street. I missed most of the sights. Y’all, learn from me. Consult maps. Use map apps. Know some of the sights before arriving. I hadn’t planned for a long layover in this city and knew practically nothing about it other than that it was the spot we needed to change modes of transportation.

We waited for a while at the bus stand, reading mostly, though I met a nice Welshman there and we talked for a little bit about Wales and Welsh before his bus arrived. I perhaps made the mistake of mentioning that I’d tried to learn a little of the language before arriving from Duolingo, and of course, confronted with the problem of speaking, my practiced phrases fled me, but he took me through the sounds of the nearby Llanfairpwllgwyngyll so that I’d have that as party trick.

The bus ride took us up on (I think; please correct me if I am wrong) Elidir Fawr at one point, negotiating narrow and windy mountain roads, and at one point having to wait for an oncoming car to back up to be able to continue forward—which certainly made me forgive the driver for running late to Bangor. The bus route isn’t the most direct route between the towns, but the views of Llanberis and Llyn Padarn from atop the mountain were worth it.

 

The bus dropped us not too far from our bed & breakfast, Idan House, on the north-end of High Street. We actually saw it from the bus and got off a few stops earlier than the Llanberis stop to save some walking.

We checked in with a nice, older man, who showed us to our bedroom at the top of the house. The view was amazing. We could see Llyn Padarn and Elidir Fawr rising behind it, the lakeshore not but a block or so away.

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With our bags put down and a little more settled in, we went out exploring the town. Mostly we were looking for dinner. We settled on Indian takeaway and took it to the park by the lakeside where we had a view of the Elidir Fawr and Dolbadarn Castle too.

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Our meal done, we wandered the city some more. We passed our first free-range sheep on public land. We found a path that pointed toward the local waterfall, Ceunant Mawr, and followed, trying to find the overlook. I think we missed our turn off the paved road, but continued up beside the railway line and beside houses and woodland and meadow until we reached a sign saying that we’d reached private land and weren’t to go any farther. Un-penned sheep greeted us at the top and another wonderful view of Elidir Fawr in the setting sunlight. We were near the waterfall; we could hear it and see a bit of it through the trees on the opposite side of the railway line, but never got a photo-worthy view. The climb was steep and exhausting. It dashed our hopes of being able to conquer Snowdon on foot the following morning.

 

We worked our way back down, back into the park beside Llyn Padarn, and then back to the b&b to settle in for the night.

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Llafn y Cewri seems the sort of monument with which one poses. It was erected in memory of the Welsh princes and resembles one of their swords.

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Our first day’s travel in Wales, following the blue not the white line.  Created using Google Maps.

All photos are mine, except the one of me, which my sister took.  Most can be viewed almost full screen if you click on them.  The maps are otherwise attributed in their captions.

Shelfie: July 27, 2018: Next Week in Wales

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Time for my announcement!

This will probably be my last post for a little while as I am preparing next week to leave on a plane that will take me first to Ireland where after a few days I will I board a ferry and finally make it to Wales, a corner of the world that stole pieces of my heart long ago–probably as long ago as the first time that I read Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising Sequence, which I’m fairly sure was some time before or around 2001, when I was but a wee thing not even introduced yet to Rowling’s Harry Potter.

Almost every free day that I had in July and the last bit of June has been taken up with more and more frantically researching, Pinning, and Google searching various places and things to do in both countries, skimming travel books, comparing prices and itineraries of this or that tour, trying to plan travel routes that will get us in any timely manner between one destination and another, emailing tour companies and hostels and B&Bs and student housing facilities with questions, finding the appropriate currency, finding the appropriate bags in which to pack for two weeks abroad, knowing that I intend to carry everything I bring with me up and down two different mountains, trying to plan a trip that will tick bucket list items for both my sister and I while being as inexpensive as is possible and while she and I are 5 hours off one another, my lunchtime her dinnertime so by the time I want dinner it’s nearing her bedtime–  Breathing has been difficult.  Forget writing.

This is really the first international trip that I am taking where I will be doing most of the planning–accompanied by my lovely sister, who is currently living in one of these two countries, but who wishes to see sights on this trip that she has yet to see, so where we’re both going a bit blindly.

You might remember my trip to Japan, where a great friend met me in the country where she lived and took me to her favorite sights.  I relied on her quite heavily to get me to where she wanted us to go, and did very little research, and had very few expectations prior.  I had to.  (I’ve learnt more Welsh more solidly than I had learnt Japanese before that trip, but I think my Welsh will be less useful, and frankly I still can’t say much, though I can convey that I like tea, and I have hello, goodbye, and thank you down pretty solidly–all of which are important.)

To create this post, I went through the house and found all the books I had that I read that were set in either of the two countries (and allowed one that leans very heavily on Welsh history and mythology but actually takes place here in the mountains of Virginia.  I will be in the same town where Owen Glendower set up a Welsh parliament.  My sister’s university also has a building named after the rebellious Prince).  I have read surprisingly few books set in Ireland; this might have to be mended when I return.

When I return, I hope to turn this blog into a travel blog for a little while, so that I can share with you all my adventures and some of my pictures, all of which I hope will be magical.