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Emerald Island Escapades; Week 3 of 5

Dingle to Westport, May 24 – May 30th.

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After having such a delightful time in Dingle, and getting to visit with my friends Eileen and Victoria, we begrudgingly packed up our gear into the car and continued our journey northward toward Doolin on the 24th of May.

Along the way we stopped at numerous places; Ardfert Cathedral ruins for example.

We also visited Ballybunion; a nice little holiday resort seaside village where we stopped for a nice picnic lunch overlooking the beach.

Then we continued until we crossed the River Shannon via a ferry  near Tarbert making our way to Killrush on the other side.IMG_6818IMG_6819IMG_6822

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From there we meandered along country roads continuing to hug the coastline as much as possible until we reached the Cliffs of Moher later in the afternoon.

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Just a wee bit further north and we arrived in the cozy little hamlet of Doolin where we would spend a couple of days in a darling and cozy hostel called the Aille River Hostel.

The next day we took a ferry from Doolin over to the Aran Islands and spent one night at Aonghasa’s Walker’s Lodge on the big island of Inishmohr.  What a wonderful experience that was!

We landed at the cute little harbor, grabbed some lunch, did a little shopping…

…and then boarded a shuttle bus which took us around to the various sites on the island.

The big highlight was Dun Aonghus fort; a VERY, VERY ancient dwelling, fortress and sacred spot perched on the edge of a cliff.  Impressive to say the least!

The highlight of our day however (as if it could get any better) was when we were able to take a pony and cart ride back out to our lodging near Dun Aonghus after the rest of the tourists had taken the ferry back to the mainland.  We were just riding along with our fantastic driver, Tom and his spirited horse, watching the sun slowly set as we lazily clopped along the beautiful scenery.

The next morning we left that beautiful harbor and took the first ferry back to Doolin. We explored Doolin a bit more visiting its many cute and quaint shops and finished the day off by taking in some great traditional music at a local pub, James Griffins and lived it up.

After that wonderful stay in Doolin and Inishmohr, the next day we continued our journey northward, winding our way up through the Burren, visiting many sights, including Kilnefora Cathedral & Poulnaborne Dorman, an ancient and sacred burial tomb.

A little further up the road near Ballyvaughn we found a cool little castle, Newtown, and the Burren Art Centre.

Continuing northward to our final destination for the day, Galway,  we came upon Danguaire Castle with some really cute thatched roof cottages which were being restored.  We decided to take the tour of the castle, and were so glad we did.

Saw and experienced quite a fair bit that day, and luckily we only had a short distance to finish our days’ travel to Galway where we would stay put for a couple of days.

We stayed in a small and nice holiday resort town, Salthill, just minutes from Galway in a 2 bedroom apartment. We went to a local market, bought some food and enjoyed the view from our balcony while we ate.  Phew!  What an exciting day!

The next day, May 28th, we walked into Galway from Salthill and began exploring and enjoying it’s many sights and culture for a couple of days.

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From Galway we starting driving north again through the Connemara stopping halfway at a lovely remote hostel called Ben Lettery for one night. Before we arrived at the hostel however, we visited several interesting places, starting with the village of Cong with its Abbey and very posh castle!

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Cong is small, but really packed with a pow.  Ashford Castle is a 5 star hotel now and the guard wouldn’t let us go across the bridge without paying 10 Euro each.  Oh well…

We ambled through the woods back to the car parked at the Abbey and continued our journey through some pretty incredible landscapes.

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The next place we found was another castle!

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We had traveled quite a bit and decided to stop at the store in the very small town of Recess to get some groceries before heading the last couple of miles to our remote hostel. What you see behind the sign that says “The Connemara Giant” is the totality of the town of Recess!

The Ben Lettery hostel sits at the base of a rocky Ben without anything else around.  Pure peace and quiet.  Our host, Sam, has a famous Connemara goat and a rescue dog, Chantel.

The goat had its back leg mangled and it had to be cut off at the knee.  A french doctor has made a prosthesis for it so it can walk.  This goat, and Sam, have become quite well-known.  People come to the hostel just to see the wild Connemara goat turned tame!

The next morning, we had to leave, although we really enjoyed getting to know Sam and her animals.  Quite the young lady, managing that hostel all by herself and taking care of rescue animals as well.

We started our drive through the rest of the Connemara starting with a tour of Ballynahinch Castle which was just down the road from the hostel.  We went there specifically to get a sneak peek preview of the place for our friend Maureen back in Oregon. She will be lucky enough to get to stay there later this summer with her sisters! Lucky ladies!

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After the castle we drove a bit down the road to the coast and found the picturesque seaport village of Roundstone, some gorgeous beaches at Gurteen Bay and Dog’s Bay.

We also visited the Marconi sight where the first trans-Atlantic telegraph lines came to shore and also where the first trans-Atlantic flight landed by Captain Alcock.

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Up the road a bit further and we came upon, and visited briefly, Kylemore Abbey.

 

 

 

 

 

Then we meandered along the Asleagh river and to its falls…

…through the Doolough Valley at the base of the Bens where the Famine Cross stands.

Lastly, near the end our day we came upon the pilgrimage trail that leads up to the top of Croagh Patrick, and across street was the Coffin ship; a monument to the people who suffered from the great famine. Unfortunately, many died on the ships on their way to America from starvation and disease.

Soon afterward we arrived at The Old Mill hostel in Westport.  Menora, our host for the evening, was such a great gal, she took good care of us, set us up with a great room, made some bread and we had a real nice meal and then slept like babies. A perfect ending of our third week in Ireland!

Next post will be all about our adventures from Westport to Donegal, Londonderry, Glenveagh National Park, and the beginning of Northern Ireland!  Until then… hope you have enjoyed this installment.

 

 

Farewell & Final Blog Post…

Writing a travel blog and sharing my adventures with all of you here has been a whole lot of fun. I can’t believe, however, that I have come to the end of my stories and pictures. And I’m sorry to tell you but this post will be the last one that I write. I will still be travelling, but will no longer be blogging about it. It’s been fun, I’ve learned a lot, made a lot of friends, and it’s been an adventure in itself.

My granddaughter, Nichole, was right when she suggested I give it a try about 2 1/2 years ago. She encouraged me to share my interesting stories on a blog explaining to me that there would be a whole bunch of people “out there” that would love to hear the stories and read my blog if I took the time to write it.

There certainly have been a lot of people “out there” who are interested and who seem to be quite entertained; she was right. I have gathered dedicated “followers”; some that I know and others who are total strangers from scattered corners of the planet. So interesting. I really appreciate their support and encouragement.

Since returning home from the trip I’ve been earnestly trying to get the last of the adventures blogged in chronological order. That’s a lot of places! I’m getting tired. You must be too! Although it’s been worth it, writing a blog requires an inordinate amount of work, dedication, disciplined daily effort, stamina, ideas and time!

I have enjoyed sharing my adventures with you and have posted a whole bunch of photos, told a few stories and shared a lot of information I’ve gathered along the way. Hopefully, it has served to not only entertain you; but also inspired you to venture out and do a little travelling yourself. Maybe you are unable to travel and like to travel along vicariously; that’s wonderful too! Maybe I’ve given someone the courage to venture out on their own, travelling solo, as I often do.

There is so much to see and do in this wonderful world. Go live it and experience it your way, in whatever fashion you desire. If I had to wait until someone else had the time, the money and the desire to go with me, I probably wouldn’t have seen a fraction of what I’ve experienced and seen so far; I’d still be waiting. Life is too short for that. Go find it, even if it means going by yourself – you’ll soon be making friends along the way!

I sincerely hope you enjoyed it. Thanks for coming along for the ride on this blog with me and reading it.

What follows is the last story about the final days of my 4 1/2 month travels in Ireland, Scotland, England & Wales 2017:

One More Little Taste of Each ~ Wales, Ireland & Scotland ~ Before I Head Home

It was September 8th, my last day in Wales. I started the day early at about 9 o’clock because I had a reservation on a train to take me to the top of Snowdon Mountain.

I arrived at the Snowdon Mountain Railway station and was soon ushered aboard a railcar pushed by a diesel locomotive named George. Soon we began our hour-long ascent to the summit!

From the moment we left the station the train began the journey upwards into the clouds.  According to their website:

“This is a fabulous land of faeries and giants and kings. For centuries Welsh princes held council here. It is a land rich in alpine flowers and rare ferns left behind the retreating ice age and it is dotted with ruins that chronicle the history of long lost communities. These ancient mountains thrust upwards by volcanic forces 450 million years ago, once towered 10,000 metres. Over eons, the wind and rain and successive ice ages have sculpted them to their current form.”

Soon after the train left Llanberis station the track crossed the first of two viaducts across the Afon Hwch river and offered a wonderful view of the waterfall plunging into the gorge below.

As we emerged into open ground, I would have had a first glimpse of the peak of Snowdon, but its peak was shrouded in clouds! The train soon passed Car Esgob, Bishops Field and the ruined Hebron Chapel before starting its final summit ascent in earnest amongst spectacular countryside.

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IMG_7446A lot of people hike up to the summit on Snowdon. I admire their abilities and stamina and am extremely grateful that I can ride a train, otherwise, I would not be able to see the summit.

Including stops at the passing loops, the train takes an hour to climb to the summit and an hour to descend again, at an average speed of around 5 mph. It is is a narrow gauge rack and pinion mountain railway and steadily, but slowly, moves along for 4.7 miles offering up beautiful scenic vistas to enjoy all the while.

IMG_7475We arrived at the summit station, disembarked, walked through the Visitor Centre to the outside and then followed the rock stairs up to the brass marker.

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Since we were shrouded in clouds, our vistas were limited and could barely see down to the train tracks, let alone the lakes and landscapes way below. I have pulled a picture off of the trains’ website and posted below so at least we can see what it would have looked like if it had been clear. Quite a view I must say! Will have to go back and try another time.snowdon summit

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We started back down the mountain clearing the clouds about halfway down and the vistas opened up once again. Behind us Snowdon is still quite dark and ominous looking.

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On the way down we passed another steam train headed up the mountain. Before long we were pulling into the station and the ride was over.  Sure was a fun one!

The sun was shining brightly in Llanberis at noon. I spent the rest of the afternoon at the hostel doing domestic chores like laundry and sorting out my luggage. The following morning I would be taking the ferry across the Irish Sea to Dublin. I also had to clean out the rental car I’d been using since June and after driving it for over 6,200 miles. (That’s a lot of miles; I’ve loved every one of them!) I finished off the day with good traditional local fare for my supper and enjoyed a beautiful rainbow while doing so.  It was a perfect day!

I had a few more days left in September on my itinerary. I wanted to use them wisely, so I returned to a couple of my favourite haunts to see some of my favourite people one more time before I headed back home to America.

After an uneventful ferry ride back to Ireland, I rented another car and made a beeline to Northern Ireland to see my good Frew friends for a few days…Deirdre, Heather – the whole Frew girl lot! I had some additional special personal time together with both Deirdre and Heather, exploring a few new sights. Deirdre, and her wonderful little great-granddaughter, Lilly, took me to the waterfalls at Glenariff and then we drove along the northern coastline near Carnlough and Glenarm. Beautiful!

Heather treated me to a visit to her sister’s fabulous tea room near Armagh.

All the “Frew girls” near Ballymena are always a delight to see. It’s a real hoot to get together and spend time with each other (usually  laughing our heads off!)

After spending a week or so in Ireland, I spontaneously decided at the last minute to change my plans. My sister, Sue, and her husband, George, had arrived in London a few weeks earlier and had been travelling north to Scotland while I was exploring Wales. We didn’t think we would see each other while we were both in the UK at the same time. That was until I decided to surprise them!

After conspiring with my cousin Lindsay in Aberdeen, I drove back to Dublin, returned the rental car, took the ferry back to Holyhead, rented another car and then proceeded to drive all the way to Aberdeen to his house arriving the same day that my Sue and George did.

That was a long drive, let me tell you! I didn’t arrive in Aberdeen until the well after midnight. While I was driving they arrived in Aberdeen, had dinner with our cousin Lindsay and made plans for the following day to go visit a castle or two. When they arrived at Lindsay’s front door in the morning, I went out the back door and circled round to the front, and then waited for a couple of minutes for them to get a bit settled, then I rang the doorbell.

Lindsay commented to Sue & George, “Oh, I hope you don’t mind; a neighbour lady friend of mine heard we were going to visit a castle and wondered if she could come along. Do you mind if she joins us?”

“Sure, the more – the merrier!” my sister replied. He opened the door and invited me in, pretending to introduce his “neighbour friend” and boy you should have seen the look of surprise and delight when they realized it was me. They couldn’t believe it and were quite surprised!  We all had such a great time together; a special “family heritage, ancestry” time exploring castles we have ancestral ties to with each other for a couple of days.

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First, we visited Fraser Castle, the Clan that our Frew ancestors are associated with. We visited another castle at Braemar that Sue and I share ancestral connections to and we also toured Craigievar Castle just because it’s one of my favourites and also because I was sure they would absolutely love it.

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Spending a little extra special time with each of my favourite people at the end of a very special trip was the perfect way to end it.

IMG_8286Well, like they say, all good things shall come to an end…

I have had a fun time sharing my travel adventures here on this blog.  Thanks for reading it, sharing it with friends and family and coming to read the posts on my blog.  Happy Trails!  ~ Claudia

Wales – Part Five ~ Swallow Falls at Bets-y-Coed, Conwy Castle & Ancient Llys Rhosyr

map“Another wonderful day for exploring,” I thought to myself as I rose from my slumber on the 7th of September. I decided to go the opposite direction than I had gone the day before to visit yet another impressive castle – Conwy.

I drove up the canyon from Llanberis to Pen-y-Pass and then down the other side to a nice little woodsy town called Bets-y-Coed just to see what was there and what I might find along the way. I was pleasantly surprised.

Along the road, interesting looking and quaint IMG_7174places to eat, drink, sleep and be merry were scattered here and there amongst the gorgeous landscapes. They looked rather inviting. Here’s one in particular that falls into the “interesting” category; I’m not even sure it’s currently open, but it sure looks like it’s seen its share of happy times, happy travellers and has plenty of stories it could tell!

IMG_7172Another one, Tyn-Y-Coed, looked inviting and pleasant and one that has been here awhile. Across the road was a really neat old horse-drawn carriage on display in the car park. What a ride on these back roads that must have been in its day!

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A bit further down the road which followed the twisting river downhill, I came upon another interesting inn, complete with its own set of waterfalls!

What a beautiful and refreshing spot this was!IMG_7177

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IMG_7189As I came up the staircase from the rivers’ gorge below and passed through the gates of Swallow Falls, I noticed this sign; what a perfect reminder of why I love to travel and see new “things.”  It expresses exactly what I mean when I tell people I love to travel and see beautiful things.  “Things” I refer to are the people, the places, memories, pictures, feelings, smiles…  This gorgeous waterfall made me smile and laugh, caught my breath and helped to remind me that it just doesn’t get much better than this. What a lucky girl I am!

The town Bets-Y-Coed was a nice little bustling place nestled in the woodland glen with the river winding through it. I didn’t stay long, however, I only stopped long enough to get some fuel in the car and enjoy some baby horses grazing & lazing in a field.

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Nearby, the bridge which spans the River Conwy exclaims it was built the same time the Battle of Waterloo occurred in 1815!IMG_7192

I drove another 14 miles or so north toward the ocean following the Conwy river and arrived at Conwy Castle near the mouth. The castle dominates the entrance to Conwy, immediately conveying its strength and power. The majestic suspension bridge connecting the castle with the main peninsula still guards the main approach to the castle at the river as it always has.IMG_7308

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I had briefly visited Conwy earlier in the summer in mid-June. I spent the night at the delightful hostel up on the hill just above the walled town. I only had one night, however, and only enough time to quickly check out the town before getting back on the road heading north. I knew I would be coming back to it about 3 months later and now I here I was. IMG_7222It’s a really interesting little town with a very interesting castle. Here’s an illustration of how it’s laid out.

Conwy Castle and the town are surrounded by a well-preserved wall. A similar town wall exists at Caernarfon but is far less complete. Conwy’s wall maintains the town’s medieval character. It was built about the same time as Caernarfon by King Edward I in about 1283 and was part of a plan to surround Wales in an iron ring of castles to subdue the rebellious Welsh population.

Below is a picture of the back side of the castle, at low tide, and from across the river. This massive castle has eight great towers.IMG_1677IMG_7210IMG_7211First a glimpse from a painting of what the castle looked like long, long ago.

Now for the front of the castle and the inside. I got my ticket and made my way up the side of the steep rock face embankment toward the entrance.

In the photo below, notice the zig-zagging path the visitors are following up to the arched entrance on the right-hand side. Directly below the arch is what remains of another massive stone structure; a stone ramp which is now gone.
IMG_7388Like Caernarfon castle, Conwy also had a very long steep stone ramp with a drawbridge at the top of the ramp directly across from the arched entrance. Between the stone ramp and the arched entrance, the wooden drawbridge could be raised if under attack, leaving an insurmountable open gap. They had a very handy interpretive panel nearby to describe and show what it would have looked like.

Below, looking down Castle Street, is what the town of Conwy looks like from the entrance arch of the castle…

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IMG_7221Through the next arched doorway, we’ll enter the castle’s exterior walls and proceed inside to see its interior courtyard.

IMG_7226IMG_7227Interesting inner courtyard; it’s narrower than I imagined and with so many more large rooms all around the perimeter of the castle walls than expected. Lots and lots of rooms and many levels to ascend and explore! Let’s start this exploration with the Northwest Tower…and climb to it’s top.

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The views of the town, river and harbour below, and surrounding countryside in the distance, from the top of the Northwest Tower, were commanding!

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IMG_7246While I was up so high, it was great to walk along the tops of the rooms and curtain walls gaining a birdseye view of what lies below.

 

Like Caernarfon, the signage and interpretive panels were very artistic, informative, maintained in good shape, and well placed, making them easy to read, understand and follow.

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The views from the top were astounding!

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There is so much to see in this place, feels never-ending as you weave your way through each tower, each room, each connecting passage.  Lots of fun! This place is huge and has everything, even a couple of baby dragons!

One can spend hours wandering around this castle, and I did. So much so I was working up an appetite, so since I had my fill of castle exploring I left and walked down into town and into the harbour to find some fresh fish ‘n chips for lunch to eat by the water’s edge.

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While I was sitting on the dock eating that yummy fish, I noticed that the smallest house in Britain was right there before my eyes! It’s absolutely tiny! I’ve seen playhouses bigger than this place! IMG_7371People have actually lived in there? I paid a pound to enter and could barely turn around inside. Below is a photo collage of what it looks like inside. it was all of about 6 feet deep and 5 foot wide with a single bed above accessible by a ladder.

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I continued walking around the town, eyeing the wares in the windows (luckily I had eaten my lunch and so was able to resist the tempting delights below)…

IMG_7314…when I came upon a very old building maintained by the National Trust, Aberconwy House, a 15th century Merchant’s House. Tree-ring analysis of the roof timbers shows that the trees were felled c. 1417–1420. This dating makes it one of the oldest, datable houses in Wales and exemplifies the importance of the building. Ooooh! This could be an interesting little slice of history to go look at and experience!

It has an interesting style of construction with the big timbers on top, the stonework on the lower level, and with the top floor being jettied and the overhanging structure supported on corbel stones, what is said to be “a mark of prosperity.” The entrance to the living quarters is at the top of the stone stairs. Accessible by the arched doorway at lower left, the basement underneath is the Merchant’s Shop.

Upon entry in the living quarters, we’re greeted by volunteer tour guides in the main part of the house and the dining room.

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We then proceeded with the tour into the kitchen in the adjoining room.

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After the kitchen, we climbed the stairs to the top of the house where the living room and bedrooms were. They had the whole place laid out with authentic furnishings, artwork and one could really get a feel for how the people lived and interacted with one another inside their home at various times throughout its history.

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The bedrooms were quite comfy looking and offered some glimpses into how the place is constructed with waddle and daub.

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We finished the tour down in the shop below the house and headed back outside through the arched doorway at street level.

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The rest of the afternoon I spent driving around the countryside exploring many roads. I ended up heading over to the Isle of Anglesey near a remote beach and came upon an ancient site of the Welsh princes at  Llys Rhosyr.IMG_7390

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It was getting late in the day so I started heading back toward the hostel at the base of Snowdon. When I return to Wales one day, I would really like to concentrate my explorations out on the Isle of Anglesey as I didn’t allow for it on this trip. They have some absolutely wonderful beaches, lighthouses, windmills and a few more very interesting buildings, including another castle, Beaumaris, that I would love to visit and an old burial tomb like the one in Newgrange in Ireland. So many things to see, so little time!

Tommorrow morning we’ll head up Snowdon Mountain to its summit on the steam train. That’s going to be an adventure you won’t want to miss!  Until then… happy trails!

 

Wales – Part Four ~ Caernarfon Castle & the Welsh Highland Railway

IMG_6759I was snuggled up real cozy at the YHA Snowdon Llanberis hostel on the morning of September 6th. The hostel was nestled at the base of Snowdonia Mountain. I opened my eyes, peeked out the window from my warm bed and pinched myself; what an idyllic location! I noticed it was a bit misty outside, but, was glad that at least it wasn’t raining! I was excited about exploring this new territory in oh-so-many-ways. The guidebooks & travel articles I read, as well as some personal experiences that friends have shared, have revealed that there are a lot of things I would like to see and experience here in Northern Wales.

After a satisfying breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast, I decided to go for a walk along the edge of the nearby lake, Llyn Pardan, to kick start my morning. Along the way, I thoroughly enjoyed the company of some very friendly local swans who quickly swam over to me greeting me curiously as I strolled.

 

Since it was my first full day in this area and I had so many things I wanted to see and do the next three days, I began prioritizing them. For instance, there is a steam railway in Llanberis which travels up Snowdonia Mountain right to the summit! As you might imagine, it is quite popular, therefore requiring the purchase of tickets at least a couple of days in advance.

Since riding that particular steam train was a top priority I made sure I purchased my ticket straightway. I was lucky enough to get a ticket for the first run in the morning on the very last day I would be staying in town.  That was lucky! In the future, I will definitely go online and purchase them a lot sooner instead of waiting until I got there as I almost didn’t get one at all during my stay! That could have proved to be quite disappointing!

Another attraction I wanted to see was Caernarfon Castle. Luckily it was only about 7 miles away along a beautiful country road from where I was staying in Llanberis so after saying farewell to the swans, I jumped in the car and began the beautiful drive west in the sunshine that had broken through. In no time at all, I was standing right in front of that mighty impressive castle right at the water’s edge!

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It appeared in person just as the castle’s website had described it:

“A brute of a fortress. Caernarfon Castle’s pumped-up appearance is unashamedly muscle-bound and intimidating. Picking a fight with this massive structure would have been a daunting prospect. By throwing his weight around in stone, King Edward I created what is surely one of the most impressive of Wales’s castles. Worthy of World Heritage status no less.”IMG_6761

Like so many, it also had previously been the location of a Norman motte and bailey castle and before that, a Roman fort. The river and easy access to the sea made the banks of the River Seiont an ideal spot for King Edward’s monster of a castle with its polygonal towers; the Eagle Tower being the most impressive!

 

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The castle and its walled city were built in 1283 and it amazes me that they are still standing despite having been ruinous for a large number of those years!IMG_6911

It’s a fun little town to walk around both inside and out. I am so grateful that people had the foresight to preserve these beautiful architectural treasures for future generations.

The parking area on the right in the photo below is where all the ships and shipping activities flourished in the past. Rather quiet now with just parked cars! It used to bustle!IMG_6775

 

IMG_6880Like so many castles I have had the pleasure to visit on this trip, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Caernarfon Castle also holds ancestral connections for me. Edward I, King of England (1239 – 1307) built and lived in this castle and he is my 20th great-grandfather  Geez, it just gives me goosebumps when I make these discoveries!!!! 

I didn’t realize this fact until just now, as I write this blog and therefore didn’t know it while I was visiting the castle. Usually, before I visit a castle I check my family tree in Ancestry to discover whether or not the person who built the castle was an ancestor of mine. I didn’t check ahead of time because I didn’t realize I had any family connections in Wales. However, when the thought occurred to me to at least check now, although after the fact – lo and behold! – I did have a connection! Amazing!

I suppose I should be getting quite used to this by now, but it never ceases to impress upon me how complex my ancestry is; how many golden ancestral threads crisscross the countryside of this island. It’s like my ancestry DNA is weaving its own beautiful tapestry with a thread from each place containing all the individual pieces of splendour and history from each location and each person in my family tree.

I cannot recommend highly enough nor encourage you more to trace your roots. Tracing your family history and visiting the actual locations they come from is such a unique and wonderfully fulfilling experience. Sure, it takes a little work to figure out who your ancestors are (and that can be quite fun in itself) and it also takes some more time to map out where they came from, but it’s oh-so-worth-it!  Doing so has really helped me to learn a lot more about history, my ancestors and most importantly, myself, who I am and where I come from.

So….anyway, back to this castle – one that one of my great grandpas from way-back-when built in 1283…   It’s pretty amazing both inside and out. Let’s take a detailed look.

I walked around the outside perimeter and also walked around and through the small quaint city inside the walls while I waited for the castle doors to open for the day. The city had all kinds of interesting buildings and shops, a town square called the Maes, churches and many busy little side streets that were fun to explore.

 

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No matter what angle I took a picture from, the castle constantly appears formidable and takes centre stage. The view above is taken from the town square, ‘the Maes,’ and the big archway opening on the left side of the castle is called Queen’s Gate. There used to be a stone ramp that led up to it from the quay, but it’s long gone.

Below are pictures which were taken from the Queen’s Gate arch looking both into the interior of the castle, and looking back down to the Maes.

 

King’s Gate, the main entrance, is about halfway down the right side of the castle walls. After getting all of these great pictures of the outside, I ended up at the castle doors just at the right time to be greeted by a friendly face who was opening the doors and welcoming his guests to the castle.

 

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Off I went exploring further inside after purchasing my concessionaires discount ticket! (I love being a senior citizen!)

 

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I climbed to the top of the towers… and there were a lot of them!  I think I counted about 9 and some of them were about ten stories high at their rooftop levels! I got my exercise that day… The views from atop were outstanding and magnificent.  My favourites!

 

 

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All throughout the interior of the towers and rooms throughout the castle were numerous displays and exhibits, such as The Royal Welsh Fusiliers Regimental Museum,

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where you will find a wealth of original exhibits with film, sound and models, telling the story of over 300 years of service by Wales’ oldest infantry regiment.

 

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IMG_6856There was also this display of all of the main characters throughout the course of the castle’s history set on a chess board. The white pieces represent the English; the red represents the Welsh. It was a very interesting way of presenting a very dry subject and it was fun to walk around and intermingle amongst them.

 

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Then there was the King’s bedroom in another tower….IMG_6905

 

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IMG_6909It was a wonderful castle to tour; one of the best I’ve been to, actually. They had really good audiovisual equipment, professional and updated contemporary signage. Their displays were extensive and quite informative.

After visiting such a massive structure, however, I was ready for something a little bit smaller, kind of cozy, and gentile.  So, I got back in the car and headed inland this time and down the road to another wonderful spot, the quaint village of Beddgelert. Straightway I found a handy parking place right next to a perfect outdoor cafe with riverside seating where I enjoyed a delicious lunch while listening to the flowing and rippling water nearby.

 

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After a very satisfying meal, I took off on foot exploring across the bridges, down the streets and on the pathway to an unusual grave.

 

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IMG_7002Next, I walked to the top of the town where the train station is, IMG_7001bought a roundtrip ticket and boarded a steam train bound for Porthmadog.

 

 

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It was a really cool old train which meandered through the glen following the river most of the way, going through tunnels and blowing its whistle. I felt like a little kid and enjoyed it tremendously.IMG_7066

 

 

 

 

As we approached Porthmadog, the ground levelled out and we were travelling through farmland looking at the mountain ranges on either side of the lush valley.

 

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Entering Porthmadog was an event in itself. The train tracks go right down the main street to the station and vehicular traffic as well as foot traffic is barricaded so the train can drive down Main street and over to the station.

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Once we arrived at the station, all passengers disembarked and stretched their legs while the Engine went down to the turntable to reposition itself.  It also gave us a chance to have a good look at the engine that had been pulling us.

 

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I mosied around the train station for a little while I waited, grabbed a fresh coffee and a lovely little welsh pastry to go with it, and discovered quite a few things of interest close at hand. That station was right at the harbour’s edge, in the centre of this bustling little seaside town.

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There were several very interesting and beautiful steam trains to marvel at.

 

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IMG_7068Soon it was time to board the train again to head back to Beddgelert. The First Class cabin had pretty lush and comfortable looking seating, but you couldn’t open the window and let the wind blow in your hair! I’ll take the latter, thank you!

We began the ascent up into the mountains and enjoyed the beautiful scenery once again in reverse order.

When I arrived in Beddgelert again, I still had just the right amount of sunlight left in the day to take the same road through Pen-y-Pass as I had the day before, retracing the way I had come. There was some absolutely gorgeous scenery through there and I wanted to take my time, stop at every turnout and take a picture or two this time through. The day before I had been driving all day long and was looking for my next hostel so I hadn’t had time to stop but once or twice.  Now I had plenty of time to stop, much more sunlight for my photos, and much more time to spend enjoying and capturing nature’s grandeur and beauty.

 

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It was a delightful day, full of fun train rides, beautiful scenery and an outstanding historic castle. Who could ask for more? Not I! My day had been chock full of wonderful surprises and discoveries and I was grateful for them all.

I returned to my hostel nestled up on the side of the hill at the base of Snowdonia. I treated myself to a serving of Bangers and Mash supper that the hostel offered for dinner that night, chased it with a nice dram of Scottish whisky and then my day was complete.  I tucked away for the evening in my cozy bed back in my “room with a view” in anticipation of the next day – yet another castle to explore, wonderful waterfalls and an ancient archaeological site to visit!

 

 

Wales – Part Three ~ Off to Snowdonia National Park in Northern Wales

The 5th of September was another rainy and dreary day in Pembrokeshire Wales when I packed up my car and started driving north for about 150 miles toward my next stop, Snowdonia National Park.map

IMG_6607I drove along the coast for quite a while at the beginning of the drive, and then I ran into some heavy traffic I had to pull over and wait for…

21640583_1680793351945355_1876317576_oAlthough it rained most of the early part of the day I did manage to sneak in a couple of rain-free stops in some cute little coastal fishing villages along the route…

…First at a very small place called Abercastle…

A bigger place called Fishguard…

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IMG_6636…and a relaxing place called Newport Town.IMG_6646

So far I had only driven less than one-third of the miles I needed to drive that day so I continued on up the road. I had gone only 2 miles further when I noticed a sign for the small village of Nevern. I had heard of this place before and remembered what my host in Haverfordwest had told me about the church there. Evidently, it’s a very old church and inside the churchyard is a very unusual Yew tree; one that purportedly bleeds red! Now I just had to go see this for myself!

Sure enough, there was the Yew tree, just like they said, and it’s sap does bleed red! Amazing!

IMG_6663There were quite a few interesting things about this small, quaint, and off-the-beaten-track church; for instance, this ornately carved Celtic cross…

The Great Cross at St. Brynach’s church in Nevern is one of the most perfect examples of ancient Celtic Stone in all of Wales. The total height is 13 feet and two feet wide. Experts date the Cross as late 10th or early 11th century. All four sides of the column are carved with interlacing celtic and key patterns.

Inside, this small church held even more interesting things…

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For instance, along one windowsill were some interesting carvings in the stone…

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Back outside, I still had some exploring to do around the grounds…

IMG_6656…the first interesting thing to see was the Mounting Block; the stone steps were used by gentry to mount and dismount their horses in a dignified manner when attending church services. They were once common in this country in the 18th century.IMG_6658I made my way around the outside of the church…

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Afterwards, I climbed back in the car, drove over the bridge,  through the colorful village and got back on the main road heading north.

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IMG_6719Although the traffic was extremely slow at times when following farm vehicles, I remained vigilant and covered the next 60-some miles along the coastline until the road turned inland and dove into forested mountains on the edge of the National Park boundaries. What a beautiful sight appeared when I reached Coedy Brenin Forest Park.IMG_6723

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I followed the road further to a beautiful lake, Llyn Gwynant, with its beautiful array of waterfalls at its head.IMG_6732

IMG_6733With only about 10 miles left to drive I turned left onto the A4086 and went over the steep Pen-y-Pass with Snowdonia Mountain still on my left. It was a beautiful drive through the gorge with its rivers, waterfalls, giant rocks and towering peaks.

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IMG_6745At the base of Snowdonia, in the small village of Llanberis, I found my way up the back streets to the YHA Snowdonia Hostel nestled against the hillside where I would spend the next 3 days while I explored the environs around me! What a great location! I had no idea Snowdonia would be so scenic and quite so breathtaking!

IMG_7570There’s a lot to see and do in this area. In the next blog post, we will visit nearby Caernarfon, where there is a fantastic, historic castle where the Prince of Wales is crowned. We’ll also start exploring the many lines of the Welsh Steam Railways! It’ll be fun; you won’t want to miss it!

Until then…happy trails!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wales – Part Two ~ Saint David’s Cathedral

Wales – Part Two ~ Saint David’s Cathedral

To read my most recent blog post, click on the link below:
https://globetrekkergrandma.com/2017/11/12/wales-part-two-saint-davids-cathedral

mapOn the first of September, I left Cardiff and headed toward the most westerly portion of Wales. Since there weren’t any hostels available around there, I rented a room for 3 days from a very nice woman in a private home in the town of Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire for 3 days. What a ‘comfy-cozy’ place that was!

A friend of mine, Meinir, who also loves to travel and who I first met at the Eiffel Tower a couple of years ago, lives nearby. This was the perfect opportunity for the two of us to reconnect and to get to go exploring together in her neck of the woods. She took me to St. David’s where we saw the beautiful and ornate cathedral and the ruins of the Bishops’ Palace. She travels all over the place but hadn’t visited this place since she was a young school girl and was excited to see it again after all these years.

We travelled to the tip of Wales, seeing coves and small harbours along the way,

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until we arrived at the center of town where all sorts of delightful tastes are to be found!

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We enjoyed a really yummy sandwich and salad combination for lunch at an outdoor cafe. Afterward, we were fueled up and ready for some exploring within the confines of the cathedral grounds.

Since the 6th century, there has been a church on this site.  For the past 1500 years, prayer and worship have been offered here and continues to this day. The monastic community was founded by Saint David, Abbot of Menevia, who died in 589.  This cathedral is quite large and the grounds surrounding these enormous buildings are also quite extensive!IMG_6327

IMG_6298From the car park, we started out with a bit of a stroll down to the backside of the cathedral working our way around to the front of the building…

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Quite a piece of construction; very impressive! From the view above, I turned to the left, and on the other side, I saw the ruins of the Bishop’s Palace as shown below…IMG_6254

IMG_6246We headed toward the entrance admiring the soaring tower and the many turrets and ancient windows.  IMG_6245

IMG_6357Once inside, the cathedral begins to reveal its many treasures starting with the Nave.

 

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The nave is the oldest surviving part of the cathedral and built in a Transitional Norman style. Originally it didn’t have seats and was used for indoor processions. Each of the rounded arches is carved with a different pattern.

The stone screen, or ‘pulpitum,’ which divides the nave from the choir is quite unique. The stone carvings were beautiful.IMG_6369

 

IMG_6365As luck would have it, a wedding had just taken place and we were lucky enough to get a picture of the lovely bride and her attendants.

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Skeleton vaulting with murals inside the ‘pulpitum’

Inside the ‘pulpitum’ is skeleton vaulting decorated with murals, it is thought that these are remnants of an earlier screen absorbed by the present one.

 

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As we wandered around the vast interior, around a corner we discovered the cathedrals’ Treasury! “There ought to be some very interesting things to look at within its confines,” I thought.

Sure enough! I was right.  According to the Cathedrals’ very well-written interpretive signs and brochures:

“Treasures of the Bishops
A variety of objects, reflecting the power and status of the Bishops of St Davids, were discovered in the Cathedral graves of four early Bishops. Amongst these were rings which are now on display in the Treasury – rings decorated with amethysts which belonged to Bishop Beck and Bishop Carew and a plain gold ring with five notches on it, perhaps intended to remind the wearer of the five wounds of Christ.  Silver Chalices on
show were also buried with Bishops Beck and Carew and date back to the 13th century.”

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“The croziers or Bishops’ staffs of office are perhaps the greatest of the treasures on display. They are made of copper and gilded and would have been carried by bishops during services 800 years ago. One found in the grave of Bishop Gower is much plainer than the others on display, made of latten, an alloy of copper, zinc, lead and tin, and was specifically made to be buried with the bishop. Medieval coins were found in the grave of Bishop Beck.  They date from the reign of King Edward III (1327-1377).”

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Once again, according to the cathedrals’ sources:

“David was born in the year 500, the son of St Non and a prince of Ceredigion. Legend states that Non gave birth to him on a cliff top during a violent storm. The present cathedral stands on the site of the monastery he founded in the inhospitable area known as ‘Glyn Rhosyn.’ David and his followers lived a simple life; they refrained from eating meat or drinking beer. David’s symbol, now a national symbol of Wales, is the leek.

David rose to become a bishop in the church and made several pilgrimages including one to Jerusalem during which, tradition states, he brought back with him a stone which now sits in an altar in the south transept of the cathedral.

The best-known miracle associated with David is said to have taken place when he was preaching in the middle of a large crowd at the Synod of Llanddewi Brefi. When those at the back complained that they could not hear him, the ground on which he stood is reputed to have risen up to form a small hill so that everyone had a good view. A white dove settled on his shoulder, a sign of God’s grace and blessing.

David died in the year 589.”

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Right next to St. David’s Shrine and in the middle of the room, is another famous grave, that of Edmund Tudor, 1st Earl of Richmond (father of King Henry VII) who died in 1456 at the young age of 26.

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Nearby was yet another really old stone effigy of Rhys Ap Gruffydd, one of the most successful and powerful Welsh princes.

We wandered around all the nooks and crannies of that multi-faceted building. The ceilings above in each chapel were amazingly intricate. I especially enjoyed the fan-vaulting.

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So many interesting carvings and stonework to admire along with heraldic symbols.

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IMG_6261After that interesting tour inside the cathedral, we headed back outside and proceeded to cross a very old footbridge as we made our way over to the Bishop’s Palace.IMG_6259

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The Bishop’s Palace is as big, if not bigger, than the cathedral! With all it’s many floors and stairwells to follow, it took a lot longer to tour!

According to CADW (the historic environment service of the Welsh Government);

“The whole site sends shivers down the spine. It evokes a period when religion was the order of the day and bishops were powerbrokers par excellence. Lavish decorations, corbels carved as human heads and striking chequerboard stonework are all testament to the wealth and status of these medieval men of religion.

Bishop Thomas Bek undertook significant new building work on the site but it was Bishop Henry de Gower who was responsible for virtually the entire palace we see today. His legacy consists of two great ranges. The east range – the simpler of the two – was the first to be built. This was his private domain. The second, the south range, was much grander and built for stylish entertaining. The great hall, the most impressive chamber in the palace, created the perfect backdrop for banquets.”

I headed into the east range first.

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After exploring the lowest levels of the east range, I then turned my concentration to the newer and more opulent south range where all the stylish entertainment occurred.

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When I went back downstairs below the Great Hall, there was a very interesting wooden model of the Palace with intricately carved figures and cute little scenes depicting life at the time that you could walk all the way around and look into each room.

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Elsewhere on the bottom level were huge rooms where a lot of activity used to take place.

What a fantastic tour of both places. Rich with history, outstanding architecture, art and historical figures burial sites.

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We headed up the hill to the Gatehouse above to exit the grounds to start making our way back to Meinir’s house about 40 minutes away.IMG_6244

IMG_6488When we got to her house, her father had prepared a wonderful typical Welsh supper for us and we really enjoyed our last bit of time together in the comfort of their home. What hospitality!

It was a great day spent with Meinir and I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to explore with her, learn about her home, meet her family. It’s so much fun to be with a “local” and get the feel a place through their experience. Thank you Meinir!

I stayed in the quaint town of Haverfordwest for a couple more days, but it began raining so I took the opportunity to take care of some domestic chores that were much needed. Things like watching my clothes after travelling constantly for 2 weeks was a good start, also went grocery shopping to restock my stores, and sat inside with the fireplace warming me while I got caught up with blog posts.

When it cleared my host took me around her town while she shopped pointing our many of its charms as we went. We also enjoyed a nice lunch and a yummy coffee at a cafe on the river’s edge in centre of town.

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The town had all kinds of interesting shops with unique Welsh ware…

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To the top of the town we went to visit the ruins of a small castle.

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Inside the main building within the castle walls was the museum, so we ducked in just before closing and were able to see old pictures and relics from days long ago.

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It was a fun day and an interesting little town and I really enjoyed getting to know some of the local people and how and where they live. The next morning, however, I gathered up my clean clothes,  packed my groceries neatly before stashing them in the car, and started heading north. In my next entry, we’ll be visiting scenic Northern Wales, exploring a couple of more castles, traipsing in the mountains and taking a ride or two on the Welsh Steam Train Railways!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wales – Part One ~ Cardiff Castle

driving mapIMG_5911IMG_5912Driving the roads from Beer to Cardiff on the beautifully sunny last day of August was a breeze. The sky was blue and the roads were clear and uncrowded. The next part of my journey took me to Wales for 9 full days to explore its’ hidden treasures.