Not the large majestic mammals in the oceans. But one of the four components that make up the United Kingdom. By the no means the smallest part, Wales had a colourful history to put it mildly. However today we are not going to dive into the pains of history, but share with you our little road trip to this rugged country.
Some literature suggest this is a land of song, and today it still retains distinct cultural and linguistic characteristics that separates it from the rest of the UK. Here we are in 1996, after having completed a coach journey through the continent and Scandinavia. Suan’s cousin was reading his PhD in Birmingham and we were using his abode as a launch pad to explore a little of Wales.
Suan had been traveling around the UK a fair bit in the past, but she had never been to Wales. So, we determined to place out handprints on this part of the country too.
Our first stop was at the small village of Betws-Y-Coed. This was an approximately 110 mile drive from Birmingham and took us about 3 hours. The small village is located by a small river/stream and is overlooked by mountains. You know they call this a “honey pot” these days (found out reading recently), which means a lot of tourists visit this place. Now back in the day it was not as crowded, or perhaps we were the early birds.
We are heading to the northern part of Wales towards Snowdonia instead of the southern part which are the lowlands. As one might learn from history, Wales had always been dominated by England and the Welsh language was struggling to keep its place. These days the Welsh language has seen a revival and there are said to be have more than half a million speakers.
But here we are to put up for a night, for we wanted to do an early start the next morning where we can get to a site
Of Kings and Thrones
This stop was at the imposing fortress of Caernarfon. Now this is the “home” fortress seat of the Princes of Wales – a title bestowed on the heir to the crown of England. Just so you know. The castle was built by the early Norman King Edward I to maintain his dominance over the Welsh. You see, the Welsh princes had refused to pay homage to him even after defeat and he sought to obtain his pound of flesh. And did he get what he wanted, such that a great fortification was built to cement this domination.
The castle is also built in typical Norman architectural style, with the Bailey and keep design. Remember that the Normans themselves were foreigners in England, having conquered it from the Anglo-Saxon Kings.
Today it remains very well preserved and the imposing walls can be seen from afar as we drove to the town that bears the same name. One thing you might notice is the baileys of the fortress. They are not round but polygonal, some looking hexagonal. Literature suggests that Edward wanted to imitate what he saw in Constantinople during the crusades. Today it costs approximately £8pp to get into the castle and imagine your own version of the game of thrones.
Well, that was fun but it’s time to move on as we are looking to
Getting up high
If you observe the driving map we have enclosed above on this page, you should note that we are just a little north of the Snowdonia highlands. Yes we are looking to get to the peak that stands at a high of 1085m. We drove up to the Snowdon railway station just a short distance from Caernarfon.
Taking the train all the way to the end, we found ourselves engulfed by clouds as inclement weather set in. Well, what’s new? Along the way though we did see beautiful snippets of the country. Many backpackers come here for a trek up to the summit where a terminus is located. From here, one can send a postcard with a claim to being the highest post office in Europe. But be careful though with time if you come up here with the train, it leaves within 30 minutes of arrival and missing it means you need to buy a one-way ticket back to the base!
Rugged coastline & Celtic remains
Following this train ride, we drove on to the island of Anglesey. Approximately 30 miles at the northern tip of the island is Holyhead, a ferry point to Ireland. It is also a beautiful part of the coast and the drive was pleasurably long as we traversed across the rolling hills.
We were lucky as the weather here was much better than at mount Snowdon in the morning.
Where we went was not the town of Holyhead but rather the south stack lighthouse. Operational since 1809, this lighthouse provided warning for passing vessels making their way around this stretch of the Irish sea. From a map, it would only be barely 80km to Dublin (here)!
After spending some time walking along the coast, we headed back to Conwy, to look for a B&B for the night. We had not made any bookings, preferring to search for one at the end of each day. Back in the day, prices ranged from ₤16-18 per person with breakfast and board for one night.
Along the way we stopped at the train station and village commune with the longest name – Llanfairpwllgwyngyll. Translated into English, it takes 21 words: St Mary’s church in the Hollow of the White Hazel near to the rapid whirlpool of Llantysilio of the red cave.
When one is in Wales, one must make a stop at one of the Celtic burial mounds in the area. Many still exist, though they are ignored or even destroyed to make way for farmland. But this one at Bryn Celli Ddu is considered one of the finest. Best of all, it’s free (back then anyway). This one’s a true mound, but there can be many that are Stonehenge like.
We drove back to the mainland and headed for the fortress of Conwy and managed to find a place for the night.
Early in the morning, we set out to see Conwy castle. This is yet another one of King Edwards I’s string of fortresses built in Wales to keep the Welsh in order and prevent them from raiding the English border further in the east. The castle is yet another typical Norman design though this time we noted that the baileys are round and not polygonal…
But it was expensive for its time, costing the royal treasury well over £15,000. One have to note though that it included the cost of constructing the town walls where we walked on as well. Today this UNESCO heritage site is considered a marvel of 13th century military construction and definitely a must visit. Someday, if we do return to north Wales, we would make it a point to touch Beaumaris. This road trip to Wales had been very educational.
We learnt a fair bit about the history and culture of the country. We saw its beautiful mountains. We walked on the mighty fortifications that were constructed to enforce power over local people. Doesn’t all this make you want to come here too?
But it was time to continue on our drive.
At this point, we had a choice. It was either we make a run for the Lake district (here), or head straight for Scotland to Edinburgh (here). And it all decided with a toss of the hands. Can you guess which we chose? Click on the links to find out!
We did this road trip in July 1996!