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Published: January 17th 2014
Motorhome News from North Wales
30th June 2013 A wet, warm and windy week in North Wales and the story of the dog that cried wolf!
'We'll keep a welcome in the hillside,' they sing, in praise of all things Welsh. Well worn stories of being ignored by village locals peering from under witches' hoods in far flung pubs and mumbling in some strange tongue in stubborn animosity to the English visitor are seemingly gone. They're more open in the hillsides now, prefering only to welcome us with roadsigns in what might otherwise be considered an unreadable language by any foreigner brave enough to set foot on soggy Welsh soil. It's not so many years since we ventured into Eastern Europe in our motorhome armed with our brand-new Satnav in fear of roadsigns in an indecipherable language. The joy of travel in the wake of grey haired nomads reveals all signs are in both local and English wherever we might roam these days.
Powys Castle, the seat of the Herbert family, was on our route out west, less than four hours from our home in Norfolk, across the other side of the country. In addition
to sumptuous State Rooms, copious fine art and tapestries, there is a fine collection of Indian memorabilia housed in the Clive (of India) Museum in this imposing red-brick Jacobean home. The castle sits imposingly at the top of a hill and its wonderful terraced gardens offer a kaleidoscope of summer colour in broad perennial borders that every keen gardener might dream of. Interlinked pathways and steps lead downhill from terrace to terrace forming an intricate pattern of gardens, tempting us to wander on grassy paths and steep steps past wisteria covered stone walls as magnficent bronze statues peered down on us from above. These gardens should not to be missed if you venture this way in summer. We're reminded that our tomato plants may be drying out back home. 'They have two chances', Janice was heard to remark as we left.
This is the land of Jones and Williams, Morgan and Evans, Griffiths, Owen, Llewelyn, Taffy and Snowdon. This is the land in the open arms of the gulf-stream, the warm and wet beneficiary of gently undulating hills that form a checkerboard of fresh green grass and the pale yellow face of freshly mown hay in late spring. Fields
bordered by mature ash and oak and hazel hedges spread before us, bleating lambs call from far flung meadows, red kites waltz across fields like giant butterflies, broad-winged buzzards hang on the wind in a race with time to feed their young and in the distance we hear again the call of the tawny owl as dusk approaches. Our love of wildlife took us from the campsite at Llanerfyl to Lake Vyrnwy, a reservoir dammed back in 1891, and a nearby RSPB Reserve. Lush green sycamore and spruce forest lined the roadside and swathes of buttercups glistened on sheep meadows across the hill, delicate ferns sheltered from sunlight in bluebell woods and pink campion draped the verges as we drove the narrow lanes. At the reserve, groups of young goldfinches and families of siskin, chaffinch and nuthatch and a redstart greeted us on our walk before driving on to Bala and the touristy town of Beddgelert. A half-or-two of local brew in the Llewellyn Arms provided us with a none-too-subtle excuse to watch Andy Murray on their lounge TV on his way to victory ar Wimbledon!
There's little sense in sitting around waitng for the rain to stop when
in Wales. There has to be a reason for all that green. Perhaps it's the sound of the rain-men, those mellow notes of Welsh male-voice-choirs echoing up the valleys we're all so fond of. More likely it's something to do with Tom Jones. Let's blame him anyway.
Brave as ever, we laced our sturdy hiking boots and set off for a six-miler beside the Welsh Mountain Narrow Gauge Railway from our Forest Campsite to Beddgelert and up into the valleys beyond; heads-down, with the wind rattling the cotton grass, sweeping leaden clouds across a slate sky and buffeting in our ears. Trusty Janice, always alert-eyed like a sprightly young Welsh collie, took charge of our map. We're both safe in her hands - born with a Satnav in her head some might say. But on this occasion we both missed a sign - and that's important to the story of the dog that cried wolf. 'C'est la vie', as they say in Wales. It was but a diversion to visit a small grave on the hillside. There's always another day, another story.
We'd made it the few miles as far as Nantmor, scrambling over rocky tracks along the
footpath to the welcome sound of the river tumbling over stranded rocks when the rain started. Well, don't be surprised, this is Wales, isn't it? The nearby train station offered shelter from the deluge in the waiting room and the time-table suggested a welcome train-ride back to our campsite deep in the forest at Beddgelert; a ring-the-bell request stop would you believe! Whoever said you have to believe everything you read in our blogs?
Back at the campsite we undertook a little research into that all important grave we sadly missed. Gelert is evidently the name of a legendary dog associated with the village of Beddgelert. This particular dog, presumably a Welsh Collie, is alleged to have belonged to Llywelyn the Great, Prince of Gwynedd. Llywelyn is said to have returned from hunting one day to find the family baby missing and the dog covered with blood! Believing the dog to have killed the baby, Llywelyn hacked it to death with his sword. After the dog's dying yelp Llywelyn heard the cries of the baby, unharmed under the cradle, along with a dead wolf which had attacked the child and been killed by Gelert! As you will have gathered
we neither found the grave nor heard the cries of poor Gelert. Altogether now - 'ahhhh'.
It's been a tiring day. Time for an afternoon nap, a pastime almost unheard of in our household with so much living to do and only one lifetime to do it in as far as we know. An afternoon nap is known as a 'Keith' to us for reasons we'll not go into here in public. It rained all night. Wild barren hills and deep verdant valleys dominate Snowdonia National Park and the many single track roads we take are really quite unsuitable for motorhomes and deffinitely no-go for caravans, particularly in the rain. We'll be back to Snowdonia to check out that big hill later in the week if the weather impoves; currently rain clouds are swirling across the leaden sky with little prospect of any views from the top.
Alexander Graham Bell would turn in his grave if he were to venture to Wales today. In a little more than one hundred years, the Welsh have managed to change his world acknowledged masterpiece of science known as the telephone into something called a 'dros y ffôn'. It leads me to
ponder the future of the computer, the internet or the microchip in this otherwise quite delightful Principality. It's rather like our little home from home campsite here in the forest: there's no mobile phone signal, the tourist Information office still charges £2 an hour for use of their landline computer - but if you want to watch the tele or communicate with the outside world there's alwaysTV and free Wifi at the Llewelyn pub down the road. That's progress. They're still waiting for it in Wales, living in the past it seems.
Brighter sky out to the west along the Lleyn Penisula suggested better weather for our coastal walk of the day at Criccieth, on the boulder-strewn beach, before heading out to that somewhat difficult to pronounce, Pwllheli, to sample the town's rather tatty market for provisions. Beyond Pwllheli there's a delightfully peaceful pebbly beach at Llanbedrog dotted with holidaymakers watching little red sailed dinghies reefing in the wind off Abersoch, and a pearly string of picture postcard brightly painted beach huts waiting to have their picture taken. The beach is National Trust property so be prepared to have your membership card handy or there's a nice surprise in
store for you. This is one of several local popular resorts that will cost you £4 for the pleasure of parking your vehicle. So much for 'freedom to roam' for which we're so famed on this little island of ours.
There's another National Trust property just a few miles along the road from Llanbedrog; a fascinating 1930's furnished cottage at Plas yn Rhiw, with a lovely unruly garden overlooking the coast. There's nothing quite as touching as nostalgia is there? As we discovered, having missed the sign at the entrance, the lane leading to this particular little house is not easily accessible for large vehicles, so beware.
A somewhat rare sighting of an early summer sun tempted us on a cliff-top walk from our campsite near Aberdaron. We were rewarded with stunning views across Aberdaron Bay out to Bardsey Island, watching a family of choughs circling the cliffs; those cheeky little black corvids with skinny red legs, persistnetly chattering in little groups like old ladies outside the village post office on pension day. In all this pleasureable excitement we somehow wandered off our path and became unsure of the route back. There are few car parks in the
The easy way up - if there's room!
locality and on the cliffs below us we sighted a group of fishermen carrying rods and bags who seemed to know were they were going We followed like swarming gulls behind the fishing smack and finally caught up with them unloading their gear into the back of their truck. A friendly wave and a stop for a wee chat, as one does, and we were rewarded with a couple of fine sparklingly fresh mackerel for our tea!
But so much for our hopes of a brighter future and good visibility for our planned trip to Snowdon. We woke the following morning to thick fog, reducing visibility to little more than a hundred metres and opted for a walk at Mynydd Mawr at the very tip of the Lleyn Peninsula which promised views across Cardigan Bay to Pembrokeshire, the heart of Snowdonia, and the Wicklow Mountains in Ireland. It gave us instead that magical experience of peace, enveloped in mist, alert for the tiniest of sounds, birdsong ringing in the chill air somewhere beyond the stunted foxgloves and gorse as we hiked the short distance out to the disused coastguard station and back. As morning mist turned lethargically to thin
from the top...
sunshine, we drove the lanes to Porthoer and walked the deserted beach famed for its 'whistling sands' and then back along the cliff-top path. There's a man with his hand held out here too; another £4 for another National Trust car park. OK we're members for the time-being. We recall a day in Cornwall some years back when we were confronted with car park charges of four pounds and more four-or-five times in one day at various locations. We don't do Cornwall anymore - or Devon for that matter, for that very reason.
You'll not be surprised to learn the good news that there's yet another £4 for the car park at Porth Dinllaen, where we discovered another stunning beach with children playing with buckets and spades, mums and dads laden with picnic bags and push chairs and an upmarket clientelle lunching in bayside restaurants. Time for an upmarket drink and sausages and mash at the popular Ty Coch Inn. It's a great walk back along the cliff-top beside the very tempting Nefyn Golf Course. An hour later we were camped near Caernarfon, cooking our tea at our base camp, praying for the fine weather forecast on the morrow
The rear half of the Grey haired nomads taking a well-earned rest!
and acclimatising ourselves in readiness for our attempt on the summit of Snowdon.
Aware that an adequate breakfast is an essential element in successful mountaineering we took off to Caernarfon Castle, for the rare treat of an early 'small Welsh breakfast' at a local cafe we had visited before on a previous trip. This one was much like any other breakfast, without leeks, though Janice did have Welsh Cakes followed by free Wifi. At 9 am we were the first ones to enter the castle before the enactment of the battle of school kids and coach parties. Caernarfon's massive proportions are truly impressive, built one suspects to impress the hoards of American, Chinese and Japanese visitors and vast numbers of young students who followed us in a short time later. This particular castle is the site of The Prine of Wales' investiture as you will already know. Well, if you didn't before, you do now. Sufficiently fortified (or is it castleified), we prepared for our challenging attempt at Snowdon - by mountain railway, I hasten to add.
Snowdonia Mountain Railway's 'new contempory carriages' as advertised, now sport five-a-side seats, but in reality, with scarcely room enough for four matchsticks. With our Lady Luck hidiing somewhere under the seats in shame, we found ourselves confronted with four-a-side twenty stoners in our pre-booked five-a-side carriage. That was not in the plan for a pleasant afternoon outing and certainly not a good start to our long uphill journey. But help was at hand. Our jovial host and train-driver came to the rescue after much grumbling and groaning on our behalf, sorting the four thinnest (or least overwieght) on to one side to make room for Janice, and seating yours truly behind him in the cab. Not quite Janice's idea of David's Bastille Day birthday treat either, but the spectacular views from the summit station afforded the squeeze-box experience some compensation. Our last minute booking was a little late in the day for us to consider the long hike to the top and indeed in retrospect our hiking is reserved for the solitude it offers rather than the nose to tail experience on offer here in Snowdonia. We're happy to say, 'We've done it,' after all these years, to have admired the magnificent view - and conveniently forget to mention we took the alternative route! Were I a Trip-advisor, which I'm not, the spectacle would rate 10/10 and the overall experience 5/10: overpriced, over-optimistically promoted, uncomfortable seating and topped with the usual tourist rip-off add-ons; parking at the station £6, and a £3.50 'booking fee' for something or other they couldn't quite explain. 'I just work here,' the ticket sales clerk told us on the phone. Janice is just going off the boil.
It's Saturday and all the World's hikers and climbers are off early to get the most from the bright skies before the real Welsh weather arrives. Out through the dramatic Llanberis Pass the road led us to Betws-y-Coed for a strenuous leg-stretching four-hour hike through birch forest up to the lake, Llyn Elsi, for some fabulous mountain views.
There's another impressive Welsh castle at Conwy, lively as we strolled along the quay where Blue-Grass players entertained the crowds at the European Market - and we managed to get our hands on a wee bottle of real Welsh whisky. Now, there's a thing!
Back on old ground we took the long drive along the Victorian front at Llandudno; a throwback to the days of jolly railway outings to the sea-side, a stick of rock and a donkey ride, before finally taking our leave of Wales. And in celebration, the long awaited fish and chips, wrapped up in white paper now newsprint is banned, warm to the hands, plucking at the battered plaice with greasy fingers, overlooking Great Orme beyond Llnadudno bay. There's much to please the senses when in Wales and it's really rather bucolic.
We're still thinking about that poor dog. If you were to listen carefully on a wet and windy night you might hear him. He might just be there, waiting outside your back-door, wagging his tail. On the other hand, he might not.
David and Janice
the Grey haired nomads
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