Saturday, September 24, 2016

Wales - Day 2

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.

Careg Cennan castle 

View from the castle

Mike on a ledge outside the castle 

Tintern Abbey

Tintern Abbey

Caerphilly Castle and moat 

Wales 2016 - Day 1

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.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Sudeley Castle's Knot Garden 

Broadway Tower

Cotswold countryside from the top of the Broadway Tower

Mill at Lower Slaughter

Sheep in the countryside

Sudeley Castle - tithe barn ruins

The Cotswolds

The Cotswolds are an area with pretty stone houses, rock walls, and lots of sheep. We have 3 nights here as a relaxing break from all the museums and running around that we've been doing up to this point.

 I booked what looked like a lovely room on the Internet, but when we arrived it was not as clean as I like and the pictures on the website must have been taken a while ago.  I looked around that room and immediately began searching the Internet for an alternative. It was late at this point so we decided to stay the night and leave the next day, which we did though we took a big hit to the budget.

The next day we moved to a much nicer hotel and it was definitely worth moving. The nice hotel is in a place called Lower Slaughter (slaughter is a modification of an old word meaning swampy), and it's much nicer than the name implies.  The tour buses don't come here since it's just a couple of hotels and some houses, no shops to speak of.  This means it's nice and quiet and you can stroll around the village just enjoying the scenery.

Bourton-on-the-Water is a very nice town nearby with a small river running through it and lots of little stone bridges crossing the river.  We had lunch here one day and I bought a Christmas ornament to take home. I always try to buy an ornament from each place we've traveled. Stow-on-the-Wold is another town nearby with lots of old stone buildings and we also visited Moreton-in-Marsh.

The next day we visited Sudeley Castle and its gardens which meant a very scenic backroads drive. The gardens and the ruins of the tithe barn were very picturesque. The family who owns the place is very proud to say that their estate is the only private estate to have a queen buried there.  Catherine Parr, the sixth and last wife of Henry VIII lived and died there and is buried in the small church on the estate.

We also went to see the Broadway Tower which stands on the second-highest point of land in the Cotswolds.  We climbed up to the top and enjoyed the views of all the surrounding countryside. The day had started out with rain but ended up being gloriously sunny.

I think Bourton-on-the-Water was my favorite town, it was very nice with the river running through it. Lower Slaughter was my favorite village because it was a picturesque area and there were sheep and horses and pheasants to see.  We even saw a fox! He ran right along the stone wall by our cottage one evening.