And I think to myself, what a wonderful world!
Gnomon's Trip to England and Wales - Part 3
I conclude the tale of my trip with my family to England and Wales. We've visited the countryside around Stratford-upon-Avon, and the cosmopolis that is Cardiff. Now we've just arrived in our Bed & Breakfast on a farm near Dyffryn Ardudwy.
Day 8 - Our First Full Day in Wild Wales
If you've seen a map of Great Britain, you'll known that Wales has two big peninsulas that stick out westward. In the big bay in between these, the coast runs from north to south and about half way down the coast there is a big inlet called the Mawddach inlet. The village of Dyffryn Ardudwy lies a few miles to the north of this inlet, and our B&B was in the hills above the village, on a farm called Byrdir. The farm is a working one, although most of the income comes from the bedding and breakfasting. Our room was more like a full apartment, with a downstairs room with a TV, sofas, a set of bunks in the corner, a sink and microwave, a small sun room, and a small shower-room with toilet. Upstairs was a very low room in the roof, with a big double bed, and a doorway opening onto a balcony on the roof of the sun room. It was very nice, although you did really have to watch your head upstairs for the roof beams.
The owners of the farm, the very friendly Gwion and Louise, also managed the breakfasts, Louise hidden in the kitchen and Gwion greeting us and bringing us our very substantial breakfasts. One feature I had not seen before at breakfast was small oven-baked pots of beans and sausage, almost like a cassoulet, rather than grilled or fried sausages.
After breakfast we kitted ourselves out in walking boots and started on our main pursuit of the day: a walk in the countryside. The company that had organised this part of the holiday provided us with maps and very detailed walking instructions with every step of the way measured out, with things to watch out for and local history explained as well. We went on an 8km walk around the area, taking in an iron-age fort and three portal dolmens. I was interested to see that the portal dolmens in Wales are built exactly the same as the ones in Ireland. Although these tombs were built in around 4000 BC, the neolithic people of Wales were obviously in communication with the people of Ireland. For those of you not familiar with dolmens, a portal dolmen has two flat upright stones facing each other so that a doorway (portal) is formed between them facing east. Other smaller stones are placed on the west side, and then a giant capstone is placed on top so that it slopes upwards towards the east. It is thought that the cremated remains of ancient people were placed in a pot inside the tomb and then the gap between the portal stones was blocked with another stone. Around Dyffryn Ardudwy, there are many such dolmens, and they are known collectively as Arthur's Quoits. In the legends of the area, King Arthur was a superhuman giant who threw the stones from the top of a local mountain.
The day was warm and sunny, and the walk went for a long way along a pleasant river valley before bending back towards the farm. We stopped and had some sandwiches at one point, and eventually found our way back to our dwelling.
That evening, we decided we would drive to Harlech, the nearest big town, and eat in a restaurant. But we couldn't find anywhere suitable, and eventually settled on getting takeaways. Mrs G and I found a sort of pizza restaurant, while the girls went off in search of Indian food. Returning to the farm, we ate outside on a patio, with a lovely view of the sea in the distance.
Day 9 - The Village
After breakfast, we wandered around the farm and found two delightful pink pigs with black spots. They were tiny! Apparently they are a New Zealand breed and never grow very big. The pigs were delighted to see us, as were some ducks who obviously thought we had come bearing gifts of food. We had to leave them disappointed, but they'd be fed later.
We then drove a few miles north to one of the oddest sites in Wales. The village of Port Meirion is a private village completely designed by one man— the architect Clough Williams-Ellis designed the whole place, with every building individually crafted to be as different as possible from all the others. It is often described as an "Italian village", but that doesn't really do it justice, as every form and style is represented. Most of them are painted in bright cheery colours, and there are statues, gazebos and follies everywhere. There's an admission fee on the way in, but it wasn't ferociously expensive, and there was enough there to keep us amused for the day wandering around the strange village and the gardens and woods behind it.
If you ever saw the television serial The Prisoner, you will recognise Port Meirion as the place where it was filmed. In the series, it was never clear where it was, and it was just called "The Village"; our hero, Number 6, was constantly looking for a way out. If you haven't seen The Prisoner, you'll just have to find some pictures of it on the web, as its uniqueness and peculiarity really can't be appreciated from a description. We started our journey around the village at a coffee shop, and ended at a very nice restaurant where we had a rather late lunch.
The only bad thing that happened in the day was that when we got back to our car it had a flat tyre. I quickly changed it, and then we drove back to the farm, dropping off the wheel at the garage in Dyffryn. Because of the late lunch, we didn't feel like any dinner. We passed the evening watching the Eisteddfod (a Welsh singing competition) on the TV.
Day 10 - A Railway Bridge and an Estuary
Our first task today was to collect the repaired tyre. Unfortunately, the damage to the tyre was bad enough that it couldn't be repaired so we had to buy a new tyre, which made the little mishap slightly more expensive than we had hoped. But such things happen.
We now drove south to the town of Barmouth which is just north of the Mawddach estuary, where we found a decent coffee shop. Then we walked south until we got to one of Barmouth's distinctive features, a railway bridge that crosses the estuary. There's a footpath on one side of the bridge, which cost us something like 60p (each or in total? I can't remember) to cross. On the south side is a fairly uninhabited area where we were able to go for a long walk on flat ground without meeting any other people (well, maybe one or two). It was very pleasant. The whole thing was only about 5km, but it was enough for us.
The evening was our last night on holidays, so we decided to treat ourselves to a meal in a top-class restaurant in Harlech. This was absolutely delicious and really rounded off the holiday.
Day 11 - Going Home
Our last day in Wales, like all going home days, was a furious schedule of packing, driving and queuing to catch our boat home. Nothing really worth reporting. But the friendly goodbyes we got from Gwion and Louise really made the day worthwhile, and made us feel that we are always welcome in Wales.