Back from Wales

March 25th, 2008

This has not been the most exciting of trips, for two main reasons. First, it was mighty cold and, unlike in London, where not a single snowflake has graced us with its presence this winter, we had nothing less than intermittent hail following us through the northern part of Wales. Second, – and probably more important! – Wales is a great place for tourists in search of outdoors; it enables in great abundance hiking, trekking, climbing, rafting and all other kinds of nature-related pursuits. For those more interested in man-made wonders, such as yours truly, Welsh offerings are somewhat less spectacular.

 

The Smallest House in Britain, Conwy, Wales

 

Which is not to say that you can’t find interesting things to do in Wales if you are primarily interested in history and architecture – and, after all, we can occasionally enjoy nature ourselves.

We journeyed through all of Wales from south to north, stopping at a number of selected places. In Cardiff, we enjoyed the exuberantly over-the-top and whimsical castle that the local coal baron redecorated for his family in the 19th century. In Brecon Beacons National Park, we visited remarkable caves and had girls take horse-riding lessons. Near Aberystwyth, we did a small trek around the Devil’s Bridge waterfalls area (which amazingly coincided with a windless and sunny gap between two rounds of hail – and, as other potential visitors were apparently scared by the weather, we had the waterfalls all to ourselves).

In Portmeirion, we spent a couple of hours in a dazzling, if artificial, Mediterranean village. In Blaenau Ffestiniog, we descended into the 19th-century slate mines. In Conwy, we walked around the tiny walled medieval town and stopped by a fine example of the Elizabethan merchant house.

Finally, in Caernarfon, we toured a spectacular castle, one in the ring of castles in Northern Wales that the English crown built at the end of the 13th century to keep their then recently conquered subjects – Welshmen – in check.

We stayed one night at a great hotel, another at a passable B&B, and the last one at a great B&B. The contrasting experiences highlighted to us that creatures of comfort, such as ourselves, certainly find extra value in having things like, say, a hotel pool, readily available. And that a big breakfast buffet offers considerably better opportunity to leave satisfied for picky travelers, such as Kimmy or Natasha, than a hearty – but limited variety-wise – British breakfast at a mom-and-pop B&B. And that quiet rustic accommodations have a chance to be anything but, on account of a golden jubilee being celebrated in the dining room downstairs…

My very last act on the Welsh soil was filling up the car for the return home. Remember my gas horror story? The gas station in Caernarfon had every single pump equipped with a credit card machine. In and out in less than three minutes. Wales rules!

Photography, Travel

  1. March 29th, 2008 at 17:33 | #1

    As it happens, my ancestors were Welsh. In the early 1840s, two Welsh brothers by the name of Bennion converted to the newly formed Mormon Church, emigrated to the US, and were among the first settlers of Utah. Bennion is a fairly common name in Utah these days, and we all descend from those two. And, of course, their many wives… 😉

    I’m not Mormon, myself, but I am nevertheless proud of this lineage. It must have taken a lot of guts (or faith) to move to a new country, and then on out to a desolate, undeveloped territory the way they did.

    Needless to say, Wales is yet another stop on my ever-growing “to see” list…

  2. March 29th, 2008 at 20:16 | #2

    Do you know the name of the place that they hailed from, Jason? I wonder if I went through it on my tour…

  3. March 31st, 2008 at 05:40 | #3

    After consulting The Bennion Family History, Vol. 1 (I’m not kidding — I really have such a book; Utahns in general and Mormons in particular take family history very seriously!), it appears John and Samuel Bennion hail from a village called Hawarden, Flintshire, North Wales, which is adjacent to Shropshire, England. Ring any bells?

  4. March 31st, 2008 at 08:41 | #4

    As it happens, I must have driven through it on our return leg. No specific recollections, though, just the fact that Google Maps show it sitting on the country road that we used to go around a huge jam on the nearby highway :)

  5. March 31st, 2008 at 15:55 | #5

    Well, at least you didn’t have a specifically BAD recollection of the place. :)

    My understanding is that it’s pretty much always been an anonymous farming community – sounds like it probably still is.

  6. Jack
    April 12th, 2008 at 22:27 | #6

    Portmeirion is the way it is due to a sixties cult tv show called ‘The Prisoner’. Its not fake in any pretentious or faux mediteranean way, you should take the time to read about its origins. It’s quite unique. Although no great lover of the welsh myself, that little bit of the uk is full of history, castles etc. and is well worth researching before you visit.

  7. April 12th, 2008 at 23:20 | #7

    What I have read about Portmeirion and The Prisoner was actually that the show selected the village as the setting because it fit into the concept, not the other way around. Despite that, I would not call the village pretentious in any way, and it is entirely too picturesque to be a sore sight (some pictures can now be found here), but one cannot shake a feeling that it is a movie set… In any case, we certainly always travel prepared, and I second your advice that it is always worth researching the places you travel to before going. Thanks!

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