Today is castle marathon day! We're visiting at least three castles today, maybe more if time allows. We're going to wring every last bit of value out of that Explorer Pass that we can. ;-)
First up: Conwy Castle. Built where the River Conwy flows into the Irish Sea, this 13th century Castle commanded a strategic point at the port city of Conwy. We climbed up and down lots of stairs and towers and looked out at the medieval walls that surrounded the town. If we had more time, we would have walked the walls. It is super windy today and the wind is just blasting us on top of these towers. Another really bad hair day, oh well!
Second: Beaumaris Castle. This castle was really interesting because it was never completely finished but it has a complete set of outer walls surrounded by a moat, then a green space, and then an inner set of even taller walls and towers. We don't think we've seen a castle with two complete sets of walls and towers before. There were inside passages that ran all around the perimeter of the inside walls too, with archer's stations poisitioned along them. The inside of the castle was never finished according to plan as Edward I ran low on funds. It costs a lot of money to build a castle!
Outside Beaumaris Castle there was a small craft fair going on. There was an owl rescue group there and, for a small donation, you could hold one of the Owls on display. I got to hold a very nice owl named Mr. Cheeky-chips who liked to have his feathers stroked.
Third: Caernarfon Castle. This is the castle where the Prince of Wales is crowned. This is because Edward II, the first Prince of Wales was born here. We climbed to the top of the tallest tower and looked around a bit, but at this point we were getting "castled-out" and the wind was just so strong we decided to call it quits at three castles instead of trying to squeeze in a fourth. It was also 4pm and we had started at 9:30am, so time to head back to our B&B. We left the castle and headed toward the pier where we had parked. We turned the corner around a building and the wind quite literally stopped us in our tracks! We both looked at each other like "did that just happen to you too?" Mike even had one foot raised to take his next step! Anyway we made it to the car and out of that freakish wind.
Back at Betws-y-Coed, we strolled along the high street for a bit, had a bite to eat and headed back to the room to relax. Tomorrow we head to Manchester and fly home the day after that. We've seen a lot of great stuff but I'm ready for my own comfy bed and to see the family. It's always nice to come home. ☺️
We have a long day planned today, driving from South to North Wales with a couple of stops along the way.
The first stop is Strata Florida Abbey. Another 12ty century Cistercian abbey. There is much less of this one to see as compared to Tintern Abbey yesterday. One arch and some partial walls, there is some interesting tilework in the remains of the chapels though. The very nice lady at the visitor center is happy to answer my questions about directions to our next stop and also a scenic drive that I had read about. Thanks to her excellent detailed directions, we get straight to our next destination, the Devil's Bridge.
The Devil's Bridge is an 11th century bridge with an 18th century bridge built above it, and a 20th century bridge above that one. There are two trails here. We took the first trail, the waterfall trail. It goes down into the gorge and back up again with views of a long beautiful series of waterfalls along the way. The trail has 675 steps and took us about 40 minutes to complete. We met some nice people from Cornwall who were also hiking the trail and chatted with them for a few minutes. Everyone we have met in Wales has been so nice and so friendly. The other section of the hike is above the falls and gives you a good look at the three bridges. We went down to see the bridges and then back up again. The day had started out cold and windy but we were definitely hot after all that climbing. We bought a couple of sodas and then headed back to the car for the scenic portion of the drive.
From Devil's Bridge, we took a small local road (recommended by someone on Tripadvisor and confirmed by the nice lady at Strata Florida this morning) to Cwnystwyth then on the mountain road above the Elan Valley. Wild and windy scenery, sheep and cattle loose on the road, it was a great drive and we both really enjoyed it. We kept stopping the car to jump out and take pictures. We made it to Rhayadar and joined up with a more major road (wide enough for two cars instead of one), and headed to Betws-y-Coed for our final destination and home base for the next two nights.
Today we're heading to Wales! I've really been looking forward to this part of the trip, I've heard Wales is an awesome scenic place.
We start with Tintern Abbey, a 12th century Cistercian abbey ruin. This is another one of those things where you drive along and think "we should be able to see it now" and then Bam! it's right in front of you. The early morning light is perfect for some really good photos. Lots of the arches and walls are still standing and it's easy to picture what it must have looked like. The nice young woman in the gift shop sells me a 3day Explorer Pass which will save us on admission fees at most of the places we'll be visiting. She's very helpful and friendly and helps me with Welsh pronunciation too.
Next we're off to Caerphilly to see the big moated castle there. We find the car parking and get our "pay and display" ticket on the dash. We immediately notice that one of the castle towers looks to be in imminent danger of falling over. Cool! Across the street, over the moat and into the castle we go. The man at the counter tells us to start with the great hall because there's a wedding in a just a little while and the great hall will be closed for that. We take his advice and head into the hall, the chairs and flowers are set up for the wedding and I'm thinking it would be a pretty cool thing to be married in an old castle. We climb towers, up and down lots of narrow spiral stairs. They're making a movie here tomorrow and they have props already set up. There's a dockside set of props to make it look like a market day. In the center courtyard there's a platform set up with a block! Like for chopping off someone's head! Yikes!
We return to the car park to find the local parking enforcement guy standing in front of our car with his little tablet device. Uh-oh! We ask him if we're ok cuz our ticket still shows an hour of time left and he says no, but then tells us he's just "pokin' at us". It turns out this guy is super funny and friendly and we have a nice conversation about his vacation to America about 5 years ago. When he finds out we're from California, he's jealous because in Wales they get 350 days of rain each year.
The next destination is Carreg Cennan, a ruined castle that sits high up on a hill out in the middle of nowhere. Our car navigation is very faithful to take us the fastest route but her choice of roads is somewhat questionable. We find ourselves on a "road" that is solid hedgerow on both sides of the car, so narrow that we pull the side mirrors in and stick our heads out the window to make sure we don't scrape anything. At one point, it even becomes an unpaved road. Yep! Just muddy dirt and no end in sight. So stressful! Thankfully we finally reach a small but paved road and I wonder out loud "why couldn't we have taken this road in the first place?". We turn down another little road and get our first glimpse of the castle. Mike is always saying that a proper castle should sit atop a hill and this one certainly would fit that ideal.
We stop at the admission counter to show our Explorer pass and pick up a flashlight because this castle also has a cave! 😳 It's a bit of a hike up the hill, past the sheep and cattle, to reach the castle. Once inside there isn't a lot left of anything but the walls, but the view is fantastic. We tromp around a bit and look over the edge to the valley waaaayyyy down below us. Then we decide to check out the cave. This is when it becomes less fun for me. The passage was small, narrow, dark and spooky with an uneven rocky floor and the whole thing gave me the creeps. I couldn't wait to get back up into the light and fresh air! I don't know what the castle inhabitants used it for, and I don't want to know. We walk around the outside of the castle walls and take a few more photos and then head back down the hill, past the same sheep and cattle who didn't seem to care about us one bit.