Published: August 6th 2011August 5th 2011
As I mentioned in my last entry, last weekend a group of about twenty of us went on an excursion through Wales. Basically we drove all across the country in a charter bus, seeing some truly amazing sights. I'll try to break it down by day, just so it doesn't get too confusing.
Day 1- We departed Oxford at 0830 and headed south towards Avebury. Our first stop was less than thrilling, as we looked at some grey rocks that were in the middle of some field. We stepped it up however when we finally arrived in Avebury where we saw the largest stone circle in Britain (think stonehenge), a towering Bronze Age monument called Silbury Hill and we even got to go inside an old Stone Age burial mound. Later that day we went to an old monastery called Tintern Abbey. It was build in the 1131 by the Cistercian monks. It is in ruins now, but was still a really cool place to see. We also took quite a few pictures climbing on the ruins, good times. Moving on we stopped briefly on the Forest of Dean for a wine break and history lesson in mining. Finally we arrived in Chepstow to stay the night at a hotel. A few of us took a walk down to the nearby river and got to see the castle illuminated at night.
Day 2- Again we got off to an early start, making our first stop in a town called Caerwent. It used to be a Roman legionary fortress and we got to climb the wall that guarded the city, constructed in 75 AD. Moving on we arrived at Caerffili Castle, which was in the midst of some sort of renaissance festival. After exploring the various tents and sampling some wine, we got back on the bus to head for the Brecon Beacons, one of Wales' national parks. Let me saw that I had no idea how beautiful Wales was prior to this trip, but I can assure you now, it truly is. After driving through this upland area for a while, we arrived in the Elan Valley, which was home to several dams and reservoirs. There we had our daily wine break while chatting about the environmental and social effects of constructing dams. When we finally arrived in our hotel nestled in a beautiful mountain valley, we found out that a few of us had to stay at a nearby Bed and Breakfast, because they hotel was full. So myself and two other guys volunteered to go.
Day 3- I was initially a little hesitant about this Bed and Breakfast because when we pulled in to the driveway at night, it definitely looked like something out of the Blair Witch Project and I remember thinking "My God, I'm going to die here." Contrary to my initial reaction, it was actually a really nice experience. The place was run by a very sweet elderly couple. In the morning they made us a full English Breakfast, with fried eggs and honey coming from their hens and bees they kept out back. We later rejoined the rest of our group and made our way to Barmouth, a tourist seaport. Unfortunately it was pretty chilly although it was still nice to see the beach. Our next stop was probably my favorite.
We visited a medieval town on the northern Wales coast called Caernarfon, complete with a castle with the incredibly creative name Caernarfon Castle. It was built as part of a series of castles by the English for the purpose of cutting the Welsh rebels off from their farms, thereby eliminating their food supply. I'll upload pictures of all these places including the castle, so you can fully appreciate how amazing it was. It was complete with a drawbridge/moat, spiral staircases and archer towers. Next we visited the Dinorwig Hydroelectric power station, colloquially known as Electric Mountain. THis place was really cool. Basically there were two naturally occurring lakes, one at the top of this mountain and the other in the nearby valley. Someone had the idea to use the flow of water to generate electricity, but to preserve the pristine landscape, the entire power station was constructed inside the mountain. We got to tour the facility in a bus, seeing all the massive pipes and turbines. The tunnels that they dug in this tunnel are about 30 feet high! IT was really an awesome experience and made me feel pretty proud to be an engineer. That evening we stayed in a seaside town called Llandudno. It was really beautiful and reminded me a lot of a 1920s American costal town with the hotels lining the beach and a pier with a merry go round. That night was a lot of fun as we all went out an explored the local pubs, finishing off with a late night pizza (finally).
Day 4- The last fay of our excursion :( We started the day off by driving up into the nearby mountains of Snowdonia National Park and got to explore a 3,500 year old copper mine, believed to have been at one time the largest copper mine in Europe. Later we actually got to hike high into a glacial mountain valley called Cwm Idwal and actually made it pretty far up one of the mountains. Unfortunately we didn't have enough time t get to the peak, but the views were amazing nonetheless. We then made our way to Telford, a small town not far from Birmingham (back in England). This was the sight of the worlds first Iron Bride and is considered to be the birth place of the Industrial Revolution. We finished up the trip with a dinner at The Copper Kettle, arriving back in Oxford around 10 pm.
This excursion was really a blast, but it was bittersweet when it ended. This is mostly because I realize that this program is coming to an end much more quickly than I would like it to. Don't get me wrong I'm really excited to see everyone, its just that leaving here will be difficult.