Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Four Days in North Wales

The last week of October was school half-term, so we took off for a week in Northern Wales. We travelled from the train station behind our house all the way to Colwyn Bay—almost a 7-hour train ride, with two changes.

Outside the Colwyn Bay train station.

If you're looking for a lovely Wales get-away, keep reading for our itinerary and reviews! :)

Renting a car in Northern Wales is pretty cheap (a Ford from Hertz was less than £70 for 5 days). We spent the entire week at the Carreg Brân hotel in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. No joke. It's the village with the longest name in Britain! There's not much to it (ironically), other than 58 characters! ;) But being able to say we stayed there was pretty cool.

The Volvo dealership—I HAD to get a shot of that sign. lol

The hotel was tricky to find, but once there the staff was friendly and helpful. We had booked more than a month in advance, and were lucky to get a room for four. It was actually two rooms with adjoining doors that we just left open; one with a queen-sized bed, the other with two twins (which was great for keeping sibling arguments at a minimum).

The morning of our first full day, we explored part of Snowdonia, first visiting Swallow Falls which was beautiful, but something of a rip-off. Then we took a two/three-hour hike from behind St-Mary's church in Betws-y-Coed (pronounced Be-tous-ee-co-ed) to Llyn Elsi, a mountain lake in the Gwydyr Forest.

Swallow Falls

Llyn Elsi

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (or Llanfairpwll for short), is on an island above the coast of North Wales called Anglesey. The island's south-eastern side is home to Beaumaris (which comes from the French for "beautiful marshes"). That's where we headed on Wednesday morning, to visit the small village and its castle.

Afterwards, we drove back towards Newborough (ironically—this is the area the original occupants of Beaumaris were forced to resettle after Edward I decided to build his castle) on the island's west coast. Once there, we "raced the tide" on a small hike/walk through forest, sandy dunes and windy beaches, to the small "island" of Llanddwyn, named for the church of St. Dwynwen, which is now only a beautiful ruin overlooking the Menai Strait. I think this may have been my favourite part of the trip.

If you like the outdoors, visiting ruins, and talking nice long walks across woods, dunes, and beaches I highly recommend the walk to Llanddwyn island. If you go, make sure you know the tide times!!

The ruins of the church of St-Dwynwen.

The path on the island of Llanddwyn.

In the distance, Tŵr Bach, beacon of Llanddwyn.

On Thursday, we visited the heart of Caernarfon (pronounced Car-nar-ven) and its imposing castle. There were a lot of people as entrance that week was free due to the Poppies Weeping Window "exhibit" in place for Memorial Day. The city of Caernarfon is home to the legend of the Dream of Macsen Wledig, which spurred Edward I's (and his wife Eleanor de Castile) takeover of Wales in the 1200s. A short walk brought us to the remains of a Roman Fort, the Segontium, which wasn't much to see really, and reminded me a lot of the ruins we saw in Aquileia (Italy).

Poppies Weeping Window display at Caernarfon Castle.

Once we were done, since it was early enough still, we drove the meandering and dangerously narrow mountain roads to Criccieth (pronounced Crick-ee-eth) castle, and walked through the ruins built on the very windy peak of a rocky peninsula by the first "true" Prince of Wales. (By the way, learning about the Llywelyn the Great and the Princes of Gwynedd was a very interesting piece of history!)

Criccieth Castle

On the last day, we left really early to visit Conwy Castle and a small segment of its walls. This castle is similar to Caernarfon but on a smaller scale. We were pretty much the first people inside and had the place mostly to ourselves. And it was perfect timing too, because the sun decided to show itself as we climbed one of the highest towers we've seen to date. What spectacular views! We were done in plenty of time to return the car and take the train home.

Early morning at Conwy Castle.

All in all, I'd say Wales has something of Scotland in it. The weather was kind to us all week, something the locals told us was unseasonable ("we haven't had a proper rain in months!" lol), allowing us to explore the outdoors nice and dry.

One thing I would have added to our outing would have been the deep mine tour of Llechwedd Slate Caverns after the walk in Betws-y-Coed. But the internet at the hotel was down all week, and a bug on my husband's phone kept showing no service, so we weren't able to see how far it was and were afraid to get there too late. Oh well, can't always do everything!

Planning Your Trip

Here are a few links I found helpful while researching and organizing our holiday:

Oh, just one last word of advice: I learned the hard way that it was very handy to have local cab company phone numbers on this trip. If you're going to be in any particular city, make note of the taxi company phone numbers of those particular cities. Reason being, there are like maybe one or two cabs in service at any given time. Some times, you can actually call the neighbouring city's cab company and get quicker service. (There was no way we could walk to the car rental place from the train station, despite what Google Maps had to say about it...)