Sunday, April 14, 2013

Ruth and Friends in Wales

By Ruth Richter
On this Sunday, it was a fairly nice day to travel.  As mentioned earlier, we had talked with Chris and Peggy Parker about things to do and places to go and in particular, a scenic route to take to Wales from the Cotswolds.
This became the Chris Parker Grand Tour as we headed to the city of Hereford, the area in which Chris had grown up. We stopped there to visit the Hereford Cathedral where the Magna Carta is kept, but it wasn’t currently on display.  Since it was Sunday morning, we arrived there between worship services; it was a cold day, and the heat was on, which doesn’t usually happen that much in churches there, especially one so large.  One man chatted with me a bit and told me it cost 4,000 pounds per day to heat the cathedral; that’s a whopping $6,500.  They had a sign posted asking for donations to help out with paying the bills – no surprise!
Then following Chris’ directions, we drove to the tiny village of Mansel Lacy (charming village names in England!) and found his boyhood home with little problem having seen a picture of it earlier.  It was situated by a clear little stream and was a small black and white house, white stucco with black timbers.  From there we went on to Woebley which is a town made up mostly of black and white houses.
Our lengthier route we’d chosen for the scenery and interesting villages next took us to Hay-on-Wye, which I had remembered as being a small town with books stuffed in every building, on bookshelves just out on the streets, literally everywhere.  This time it looked like they’d perhaps gotten rid of many of the books and it was too early in the morning for shops to be open so we just drove on through.  (By the way, Hay-on-Wye signifies the name of the town, Hay, and that it’s on the River Wye).
The drive through the countryside that day was just beautiful, lots of green pastures everywhere, and the trees weren’t leafed out yet so we had long vistas to view the rolling hills, and every little village we drove through had its own charm.  And in the afternoon there was a light rain off and on.  Once we’d entered Wales, the road signage began to be printed in two languages, English and Welsh; the Welsh is mostly unpronounceable including one village called :                  Llanfairpwllgwyngvilgogeryschwyrndrobwillandyhsiliogogogoch, which means “Church of St. Mary in the hollow of the white hazel trees, near a fierce whirlpool and the Church of St. Tysilio, near the red cave.”  
Imagine our relief at arriving in Betws-y-Coed with a relatively simple pronunciation that I still can never say correctly.  Unfortunately, about that time, someone behind us was flashing his lights so when we got a chance, we pulled over to see what the problem was.  We had a very, very flat tire!  We called the AA man (like our AAA) and a very nice young man came to our rescue within an hour, which we thought was quite remarkable considering we were in a fairly obscure spot.  Interestingly, in Great Britain, most cars are rented with no spare tire. The tires are supposed to be self-inflating enough to temporarily repair themselves.  In our case the puncture was too big so he patched the tire as best he could and then told us we’d have to go to a tire center the next day.
On we went to Dyserth Falls where our time share accommodations were awaiting us.  Bonnie had a “use or lose” time share availability which we were using for this particular stop on our trip.  We found the place easily enough but were not too satisfied with the upstairs arrangements so Ken and Bonnie went back to renegotiate something a bit better, with Ken saying “his mother” (that was me!) would have a lot of trouble with the stairs.  We ended up getting a two bedroom “condo” that had THREE bathrooms in it.  Mind you, the bathrooms off each bedroom were extremely tiny but it was a luxury nevertheless.
Ken was breaking his fast after having felt ill for the last four days, and what sounded good to all of us for dinner that night was MacDonald’s and we knew right where to drive to get our dinner that evening!   Yummy! 
The next day was terribly cold and windy so we opted for a driving and shopping day.  We drove back to Betws-y-Coed which is a really pretty village, with a river running through it, and the shopping was interesting as well.  We also enjoyed a really great lunch there. 
From there we drove past the Ugly House (pictured here) which was built in less than 72 hours to avoid having to pay taxes on it and we all thought it was beautiful; through Snowdonia National Park to Beddgelert, another charming little village;

Ugly House
and then to the southwestern coast to Port Merion, a folly (something eccentric that wealthy people built to show off their wealth) which is an Italian-looking village.  This village was featured in the series “The Prisoner” with Patrick McGoohan. I’m not a fan of Italian architecture and certainly not in Great Britian, but it was a beautiful coastal setting. 

Port Merion

On our return trip back to our lodging, we drove through Caernarvon and then along the northern coast which was terribly churned up from the cold, blustery day, with the sea pounding over the retaining walls, onto the sidewalks and even into the roadway.  We also got beautiful views of Snowdonia covered in snow at 1,058 meters (around 3,500 feet).
A new tire for the car had to be ordered and was hopefully going to appear at the tire shop the next day.  Ken was in charge of making sure all that happened, while we ladies struggled with doing laundry in washer-dryer combinations in one machine that washed clothes very well but we had a terrible time mastering the drying technique.  Ken had gotten fairly tired with our clothing being hung out to dry all over the living area and was already advocating to hit the Laundromats.  But, remember, this was a CHEAP trip and we weren’t having any of that!
Llandudno was our destination the following day; it’s a small peninsula jutting out into the ocean on the northern coast.  The city there is a Victorian style beach resort with beautiful houses, B&Bs, and hotels lining the winding street following the coastline.  We took a drive up to the top of the mountain (hill) on the peninsula where we were rewarded with sweeping views of the ocean on three sides. 

Conwy ramparts ("curtain wall")

The road led us past an old cemetery with interesting tombstones, such as a wheel with wings for someone buried there in the 1920s. Later that day, we toured Conwy Castle in the city of Conwy; this is a castle mostly in ruins built in the 1300s.  After all that exercise of walking up and down stone stairs in the castle ruins, it was back in the car to drive to Anglesey Island where Beaumaris Castle is situated.  Conwy, Beaumaris, and Caernarvon Castles were all built at the same time by Edward I, as fortifications against the enemies but only Conwy Castle was ever completed.
My guidebook mentioned a tea room that was supposed to be a good place to stop for lunch, the Beau Tea Room.  It was quite excellent, the service was wonderful, they had all kinds of bits and pieces of china for sale and Ken purchased a very interesting and unusual teapot for all of four pounds.  As we were getting ready to leave and everyone else had gone to the toilets (rest rooms to us!) as I was putting on my coat, I happened to eavesdrop on the conversation at the table next to us where four people had just sat down.  All of a sudden it dawned on me that they weren’t speaking British English, and I turned and said, “you’re Americans!”  They were and were as astounded as I was to meet there, especially since they were from relatively obscure Bullhead City, AZ and one originally from Blackfoot, ID and we, of course, from small town Garden Valley.


Another driving day, since we were making sure we got to see as much of Wales as we possibly could took us again to Snowdonia.  At one point we stopped at a “chocolate shop” and had drinks.  They also had a nice little gift area and I was able to purchase a lovely tile picturing a black-faced sheep who is wearing Wellies (Wellington boots).  He’s very whimsical and makes me smile every time I look at him!  I also picked out a really nice coffee cup decorated with fishing related things to take home to Ron, who has been using it every day since then!
I need to pause here and share a bit of information with you.  Four senior citizens traveling together were often looking for toilets.  Here in the U.S. for me that problem is usually solved by either a MacDonald’s or a gas station with a convenience store.  In Great Britain, virtually every little village has a public toilet.  They are remarkably clean, well stocked, but are not heated (whoo-ee, that’s cold!) and there’s also no hot or even warm water in which to wash your hands.  Still, it’s very convenient and usually well-signed to quickly be located.  In the one we found this particular day, they were charging us 20 p to pee (we didn’t really balk at the price which was minimal, but this particular facility was very high tech with a locking door that had the one on the inside fearing she’d not be able to figure out how to get out!
Later that day as we stopped to stock up on another round of groceries, Marla was chasing a coin she dropped on the floor rolling toward another lady’s trolley (shopping cart).  The lady responded with “I thought you were attacking my trolley!”  On my shopping list was the purchase of four boxes of Lemsips (similar to our Theraflu hot drink) for Peggy, who says they’re ever so good.  Being a good neighbor, I aspired to purchase for her five boxes and presented them on the checkout counter … only to be embarrassed when I was told they were restricted and I could only purchase two at a time.  Well, at least now we know why they’re such good medication when one is feeling under the weather!
Another helpful hint:  If you plan to take a trip to Great Britain and plan to do it on your own spending most of your time in the countryside, money becomes somewhat of an issue.  Our housing rentals were all paid for prior to leaving the U.S. but if you plan to stay in B&Bs, they want you to pay the morning you’re leaving and the small ones in the countryside usually only take cash.  Travelers checks won’t work either.  I’ve always been comfortable carrying a significant amount of cash and don’t use ATMs.  There are likely to be ATMs available in most villages, however, and most banks will exchange dollars for pounds as well, but it still involves carrying a significant amount of cash.
We shared our day-to-day expenses, with each of us putting a specified amount into the common pot and then our meals, petrol, groceries, incidentals were paid out of this pot of cash that one person was in charge of.  It made things much simpler, not completely fair pence to pence (penny to penny), but it mostly comes out about equal for every person.

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