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Published: December 5th 2010
Caenarfon main street
We concluded that there was a paint subsidy in Wales
This British regional thing has been keeping us interested. Each county with its own particular, even peculiar, character. Constantly changing accents and, when you cross one of the actual country boundaries – the ones with somewhat separate governments – you even get a different language. Scotland is working hard to bring Gaelic back, although you might wonder why, and there are Welsh people who, I am informed by my language advisors, never did learn to speak much English, although I have a sneaking suspicion that it is really all about taking a bog standard word and adding squads of consonants. Take LLLs and WWWs out and the poor buggers couldn't spell anything.
We drove into Wales the day after their Prince or, to be more precise, his son – who is apparently William of Wales – became engaged to his long term lady. The story was all over the talk back radio and we were mildly interested in hearing a 'Welsh' take. The argument raged for hours about whether or not the bill for the wedding should be met from the public purse or by his dad, the Prince of Wales and Duke of Cornwall, or his Granny, the Queen
Llanberis main street
paint subsidies at work again
of England and Scotland. Not one caller suggested that it would be right and proper for the Welsh to pay for the wedding of their very own Prince even though he currently lives in Wales. The consensus seemed to be that they like him and wish the couple well but he is really just an Englishman – and they would really prefer not to pay for an Englishman's wedding.
We only had time to take a taste of Wales and we decided to drive along the top to Anglesea and Holyhead, down through Snowdonia National Park to Aberystwyth, down along the coast to Fishguard, across through the Brecon Beacons, down to Cardiff and then to hook back up through the east of the country to spend a weekend with friends near Mold in the North.
The country is different from England and from Scotland. The difference is not great but it is there. The photos, hopefully, will tell some of that story. The Welsh accent is enjoyable. Like Italians, they tend to use plenty of letters to make up a word and then give loving attention to each one. A Welsh person who wants to speak quickly must
find it difficult. Neither of us, though, made much progress at all with the Welsh language.
We did get into a couple of cultural activities. A night in a pub near-ish to Cardiff at a time when the Welsh were playing the Fijians at Rugby was interesting. The level of analysis of the game by a group of men – who had to have been a scrum once – was great. They were unhappy early, the Fijians were being allowed to play much too well, settled down a little when the Welsh came back but fell into complete depression when the Fijians equalised close to the end of the match. They left leaving their half consumed beers on the table. Couldn't believe my eyes but I suppose some things are more serious than finishing your pint. While the rugby was on, the pub filled up with another group of people who weren't the least interested in that type of sport. They were there, partly, for a karaoke evening. Standard fare. Women done up to the nines and looking good, men in T-shirts and jeans. Perhaps the rugby men knew what the karaoke would be like. We left when we
found out. So much for the fabled singing of the Welsh. But we did take the time to finish our pints.
Cardiff as a city was, for us, just that. There were a lot of shops, nice pedestrian malls, a good old fruit and extras market, castle, churches and reasonable parking. We had a little look around. More touts on the street than we had experienced since India. Then we followed a recommendation and scuttled out of the city proper to St Fagans Museum.
St Fagans is actually the Museum of Welsh Life. Very well set up letting you walk around a large site where Welsh history is tracked from the Celts through to the 1980s. Houses have been brought in and rebuilt to demonstrate how people of various classes have lived over the years. One of the better museums of this type that we have visited. And it was free. Amazing. We were clearly not in Scotland. But worth a good price if they ever do charge.
Part of our plan had been to drive through the Brecon Beacons to have a look at what is supposed to be one of the more beautiful parts of
Wales. Unfortunately, we arrived after dark and left before the fog had lifted properly. It was after 11.00 am but apparently these things take time.
One of the nice things about travelling around is meeting people. A couple walked into a guesthouse in Hue, Vietnam while we were eating breakfast. They looked properly knackered. We knew the look. We had been on an overnight bus a few nights earlier. Had a chat and a few beers later on. They looked after us wonderfully well for a weekend in North Wales. Lovely people the Seamarks living in a very scenic part of the world, some of which they were able to show us. We hope that we get the opportunity to return the favour one day.
We haven't done as much touristing in Britain as we should have but there are some places that we decided that we would make time to see. One of them was Bath. The restored Roman baths are very well presented. Not restored so far that the sense of age is lost but with interesting and informative displays. The baths were very good but the walking tour of Bath with one of the Mayor's
volunteer guides was excellent. They have these schemes in other places and the guides have always been very good. The guide in Bath was a local who knew his stuff and gave us an insight to the city that made a 2 hour walk on a very cold afternoon very enjoyable.
Stonehenge was another must see. Everyone has seen the photos. I wonder now why I never noticed in those photos the major road running through the site less than 50 metres from the stones. Here I was expecting that we would park the car somewhere and walk across the moors to see the magnificent stones looming out of the mist. In fact, the road is close enough that, if you like, you don't have to pay. Just have a look through the fence. We did the business though. Paid and walked around the path that ensures that you don't get closer than the prescribed 20 metres. We did get into it a bit and wandered off on our own to poke around the nearby paddocks to look at the barrows – graves they think of important personages – a wall that had been dug into the chalk close
In the Brecon Beacons
one of the clearer moments
to the site and the avenue along which some of the stones may have travelled on their way to their place in history. We were, eventually, able to overcome our disillusionment (if that is really a word) at the size of Stonehenge, the road and the squads of people and enjoyed the site and the stories.
The run down through Somerset – where the cider apples grow – on the lesser roads was very enjoyable. The country is very … pretty I suppose sums it up. It looks very gentle. I am sure that it isn't at various times of the year but it is the sort of country where you would expect everything to procreate and grow precisely as it should, eventually selling for the price you need. Very nice.
By the time we hit Cornwall and were wandering around Tintagel the weather had kicked up a couple of notches. Tintagel is the legendary birth place of King Arthur. It wasn't really but don't let that put you off if you want to see the ruins of a castle in a bleak, hard and very windy place. It was cold and blowy but the climb up the
serious stairs warmed us up a little. Had a pasty too but it wasn't as good as the one we had at the Seamarks, courtesy of Donna's cooking skills.
We rather enjoyed it when, while poking along a lane along the Cornish coast on the back way to Newquay, we came across snow on the side of the road. It had been snowing in Scotland and the north east of England but there wasn't supposed to be any here in Cornwall. We took photos of course, quite pleased with ourselves. Next morning there were stories about snow all over the media but not a lot about. But the morning after that there was plenty. The driveway was steep and icy and the little Corsa wasn't going up that way. Luckily they had a back gate. The snow faded as we left the coast.
We intended to have a good look along the coast of Cornwall and go to Lands End but that was where the snow was supposed to be heaviest so we decided to be sensible and drove straight to Devon and a farm near Exeter along roads where plenty of traffic had sorted out the snow
Note the address at the bottom of the poster: North Wales, England
and ice. We did stop for a few hours at the famous Eden Project though, where they are still sorting out some of the damage from the floods in the area a few weeks ago.
Didn't do much tourist stuff in Devon which is a pity. We will try to get back there at some stage when the weather is slightly easier to manage. The Records Office was efficient and had plenty of material and, after sorting through over 70 of the parishes that are not on any database, we think we have a strong contender for George Mellish/Melhuish, one of the earlier of my relatives to arrive in Australia, back in 1825.
A nice feed and a couple of beers with Jona at a pub in the next door village was very enjoyable and a highlight of the visit. I will miss English pubs with their comfortable surroundings good beer and friendly patrons and staff – although we do seem to come across a reasonable proportion of Australians as staff.
Another reasonably careful run up the motorways in the increasingly serious snow to Hertfordshire and a couple of days near Stevenage and Hertford to chase Charles
Passing the church gate
at St Fagan Museum of Welsh Life
Willcock. Not a lot of luck here. This bloke was on the Kirkham side and therefore not a criminal. School teachers are harder to find. They were allowed to move where they wished, not many records were kept on them and they may even have had enough money to move around easily. We will find him though. May take time.
I must say that I was just a bit relieved to hand in the vehicle and climb on to the trains, even though my pack still needs to lose some weight. I would have been a lot more comfortable with a 4WD with nice knobbly, snow tyres bolted on, but there doesn't seem to be much of that done here in most places. The main roads are covered with grit, a mix of salt and sand, which makes it a lot easier and keeps things moving but I recall travelling in Japan and Canada in the snow when things seemed to be handled differently with strategies moving more smoothly into place.
A few days here in London in a very flash place for us. Six days of luxury before we head for Mexico.
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