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WALES - Discovering it's charm and hidden secrets in Part 2 of this series of Great Britain

Updated: Dec 18, 2023

More fabulous castles, lighthouses and wild ponies... more wonderful friends, and this time - there's even a ghostly experience to be shared...


What an incredible experience we have had exploring England the past

two and a half weeks, and celebrating quality time with our beautiful friends.

And, we get to do it all again, in yet another country!


Even though it is just next door, and still part of Britain,

sometimes being in Wales feels like another being on another planet,

especially when you get up to the North.

I think they are speaking English,

but I'll be buggered if I can understand a word sometimes! Bless.

This is the joy and challenge I love about language and dialect.

Bring it on!


But first, it's a big 'Cheers, Big Ears', with our favourite Welshies, Paul and Christine,

whom we first met during a game of trivia on a cruise to Scandinavia and Russia.

Two years later they travelled to visit us in Australia,

departing for their homeland only just in time,

as the borders were closing behind them in 2020. It's taken this long for us to return the visit.

And this is the photo we seem to have started a collection of: I am in it, just my hand and my drink, as I'm taking the photo. I hope we get to take many more in the future.

In a few years it will probably be four glasses of Metamucil, but not yet, Baby!



CHEERS, BIG EARS!

Happy days indeed. We have a whole week ahead with these two gorgeous humans,

and those days have already been meticulously planned for us to see as much

as we possibly can. Wooohoooo!


After an afternoon of walking and driving around their hometown,

(and capital of Wales), Cardiff,

we settled into an evening of fine home cooking and story telling.

We have really missed these guys - its such a shame we live a world apart.


A perfect night in, and a great warm up to what lies ahead.


---

Today, and the next few days, saw us with big plans. And this time, they aren't mine! After all the planning I have done for his trip, its so nice to now be surprised by what's next.


Christine and Paul had been very busy in recent months,

compiling a sensational itinerary for us to follow.

Firstly, cracking on for four days around South Wales, then a drive up to the north of the country for the remainder of our week long stay,

to finish off nicely with some outstanding adventures - you'll see!


First stop though, was the Welsh Manor home;

'Llancaiacg Fawr' - (yeah, I wouldn't have a clue how to pronounce that either...)

- a tourist attraction that is completely set up,

including actors in period dress, to walk you through life as it was,

back in the year 1645.


Lord and Lady Watson, at your service! ;)


The actors really get into it...speaking in 'Old English', and talking honestly,

as though they were back in the day, and we were strangers from a far off land -

a land that hadn't even been discovered yet in their eyes!

It was pretty cool!!



We spent quite a fascinating time there, as your entry fee includes a proper tour,

with all the actors doing their parts, and where they can, including us in their banter! Luckily for us, there were no other visitors at the time, so we had a private tour.


A very unique experience, that's for certain.


From here, it was a beautiful drive up the magnificent, challenging and barren,

Welsh Mountains, known as the Brecon Beacons... A place that sends shudders through UK Special Forces training applicants, as running these peaks is all part of their training - equivalent to SEAL training, pretty much.


Photo credit: Wanderlust Magazine.


We, on the other hand, are far more civilised, and civilian, so we just get to drive it.

All towards the famous steam train of the Brecon Mountain Railway.

Trev's a train fiend, especially a steam train, and he is truly in his element here!


All aboard!


Isn't she a beaut?


We got to enjoy a wonderful train ride, at least 30 minutes or so each way,

with a coffee stop in between, ...and on the way back we got to ride right next to the engine,

where the action was..

A wonderful privilege.



Just as we arrived back at the station carpark to leave, low and bold, there were

WILD PONIES!

Now, to be specific...not the Dartmoor ponies of the Cornish Coast,

but the Welsh Highland ponies,

and yes, happy little Mandles again!


The fencing just keeping them safe and off the train lines. These guys were super cute, and

I simply adore the arrange of beautiful coat colours.


Now, heading back towards Cardiff...we have one last stop for the day,

and this one was a pearler...

and the opening photo of this blog.


Welcome to the very 'Hansel and Gretel' looking

'Castell Coch'. ('The Red Castle'.)




After over 900 years of turbulence and disrepair, this derelict castle was eventually inherited in 1848 by the 3rd Marquess of Bute,

at the time, one of the wealthiest men in Great Britain.

He tasked others to restore it in a Gothic revival style, with the interior being very dynamic, colourful and extremely artistic - a style we were to see later on in Cardiff Castle itself.


Castell Coch has since been donated to the Welsh Government,

and opened to a very adoring public, as well as used in films, and many Dr Who episodes. You can also get married there. Wow.


A classic fairytale like castle.


With so many castles in ruins, it's amazing to see these interiors - they really blew us away, truth be told.


Lastly, time for home now, and to chow down on the best British curry we've had...yum...

And that's just day one.


---


Next on our agenda, was an even busier day...including a castle that featured in the opening scene of Monty Python's Holy Grail, (we're geeks...oops, I mean fans)

and amongst other sites - four lighthouses!!

Woohoooo, my lucky day!


First up, the spectacular Glenmorgan coastline,

and Nash Point Lighthouse, where they actually have two!


I could write a tale or two, but this account from the net says it all:

History of Nash Point

Beneath the waves lay hundreds of shipwrecks dating back to Roman times. More notoriously, is the story of ‘The Frolic’ an early wooden steam vessel that came to grief on Nash Sands in 1831, claiming the lives of all 78 passengers on board. This tragedy was the last before the lighthouses at Nash Point were built in 1832.

There are many local tales of smugglers and wreckers who would lure vessels onto rocks, attack the crew, and loot the cargo. On stormy nights, wreckers would attach lanterns to the grazing sheep on the cliff tops giving the illusion that they were sailing in safe waters when in fact they were on course to rocky shores. After 1832, the dependable light of the lighthouses meant that sailors had a reliable beacon to guide them safely away from the rocks.


How about the part where the bad guys would use sheep to lure them to the rocks...? Sheesh! Must be a great location to dive over the wrecks, though.


I bet there are so many interesting back stories about most lighthouses. I'm starting to understand that they aren't just a pretty photograph.


Photo credit: Glamorgan heritage Coast.


Whilst built around the same time, the small lighthouse was decommissioned back in the 1950's, and the large one, was the very last manned lighthouse in Great Britain,

only becoming unmanned as recently as 1998.


Let me just randomly add here,

that it's so lovely visiting Britain during October. No crowds!

The weather may be a little chillier, but we're Aussies, and Trev particularly loathes the cold, and even we are surviving easily. Days, at the moment, are around 10 degrees celsius and are fine with just a few layers on.

Just prepare for wind and rain. All day every day, jackets on, jackets off.

And repeat.


Plus, we were always on alert for the Northern Lights, as they have been appearing of late, and we were really hoping for some action, either here in Wales, or later in Scotland. What a bonus that'd be. Fingers crossed!


Following here, we drove down to Nash Point, where stunning rock cliffs meet with

beautiful rounded stones on the shore line.

Not sure if I'd ever go for a swim here, brrrr, even in summer,

but it had such a raw beauty to it,

it was impossible not to admire.



And check out the gorgeous caretakers cottage!

Like, really?

Give me that, a garden, my dog, and a paddock with my ponies, and I'd be set! And Trev too of course...! :)

Following here, we explored the ruins of Ogmore Castle. Dating back to the Norman Conquest, it was built in the early 1100's,

only to come under attack in 1117,

by the Welsh land owner trying to get his land back. And fair enough I say.

Could you imagine being invaded today and losing everything you have?

I know Trev would go down swinging.

Wouldn't anyone?


Today it's a beautifully maintained ruin, only occupied by some pretty pied sheep,

and an absolute pleasure to explore all the same.





And a few horse riders swinging by...got room for one more??? ;)


Not far from here, we wandered through St Michael's Church of Ewenny.

A 12th century priory church that had many original ancient stone pieces

all laid out on display,

but almost behind a secret door. I really had a feel for this place, and I think Dan Brown

could easily have used it in his Da Vinci Code book.





Now here is an interesting and random little stop. This below, is called a 'Dipping Bridge' and very unique. Watch my video for the explanation. Once again, local knowledge is key, otherwise we would never had noticed

or known about this at all.



Okay, from here the excitement builds...

It's Monty Python time!!!


Let me set the scene...

Do you remember the MP Holy Grail scene, where Arthur, comes along riding

(an invisible horse - with his hunchback peasant slapping two coconut shell halves

together for sound?)


And they come across the French guard on the castle wall, who has some of the best lines of the movie - I won't quote, those who know - know...


Well, welcome to Kidwelly Castle, where they filmed that scene.

We were all over recreating that scene.

Just needed the coconuts.



It actually, is an AMAZING castle!

Still a ruin, but wow, so well built.

I love this description from Wikipedia: ..

"Created as a defence against the Welsh,

the castle fell to the Welsh several times in the twelfth century." Oops.

We were duly impressed and spent a heap time there,

exploring it all, and taking great photos! We loved it.

Sword fight! 🤺

Boys will be boys...



So much fun!


Tearing ourselves away, we were headed back to the waterfront, first, to Burry Port Harbour, for my lighthouse shot...


Then a fair drive down to a very popular spot on the South Welsh coastline,

especially in the summer months,

called 'The Mumbles.' I asked our Welshies..."Why do they call it that?"

To which they replied, 'We actually have never thought about why..."


Time to ask Siri...

The actual Mumbles are two islands, just at the end of the picturesque coastline. They are two round mounds.. So, the story goes; apparently a French sailor, back in the day,

remarked they looked like ladies...

you know...boobies... Which, in French, is 'Mamelles'.


So is born; The Mumbles.

And they have a lighthouse. Sold.


This is the best my dodgy phone could take, as sadly, my full zoom wasn't working now.

Photo credit: Enjoy Gower


So, there comes the end of a wonderful day of sightseeing.

It won't stop here, I assure you.


---


Next day's touring starts with Cardiff's centrepiece...

the fabulous Cardiff Castle.



With origins dating back to the 12th century,

it has had a multitude of changes and uses over the years.


Once inside, it was similar to Castell Coch, as it was the 3rd Marquess of Bute again,

who helped fund the restoration of the castle,

and recreate the Gothic Revival style that was popular at the time.




Puts to shame how we build these days...plain, off white ceilings etc...


Even last century, during WWll,

the corridors under the castle walls were used as bomb shelters.

We strolled through these, all the while listening to the audio of Churchill's famous words

echoing against the stone walls,

coupled with the sound of the air raid sirens, it was a chilling reminder of those dark days.

Up to 1800 people were held in these tunnels, night after night, in filthy conditions,

as the constant fear of bombing pervaded their daily existence, as it did in London too.



They also have a fabulous museum in an ancient part of the building,

complete with costumes that you are encouraged to try on...


We don't have to be asked twice! 😉



Christine and I have done this before years ago...haha, in Russia! Got to never stop being silly. 🤪


From the centre of Cardiff, we next drove to a fascinating location,


A thoughtfully and skilfully produced outdoor exhibit, which takes you through the history of mankind, from its earliest dwellings, to more modern times.

As you walk through the pathways, you arrive at progressively more modern villages,

all equipped with original artefacts, and guides to explain the history of them. Certainly schools would benefit greatly from something like this. A real walk through living history.


Unfortunately, the weather had started to turn, so we couldn't see it all, (its 100 acres!)

but what we did see was really appreciated.

This is a place that we had never heard of, and may not have visited,

if it wasn't for our wonderful hosts.

They knew.

And it's free!


And who doesn't love an old fashioned General Store?


---


Now it's time to pack our suitcases again, and along with Paul and Christine,

leave super early to drive north to further our adventures.


Our dear driver Paul, happily chatting and singing in the car,

with Trev being his wing man for dad jokes,

he was always willing to stop anytime we see something we wish to photograph.


Paul was eager to get to our first stop; Elan Valley Visitor Centre,

as it sits at the base of the Caban Coch Reservoir Wall. With all the rain that Wales has had, he was hoping for us to witness the spectacular sight of it overflowing, but alas, all we saw was a dry wall. Soooo, with that in mind, Paul showed me the shots he took last time they visited. Now I understand why he was so hopeful. So, so magnificent!

With his permission:


Photo credit: Paul Bryant.


Never mind, there was at least an abandoned old suspension bridge

at least that took my eye! 👍

There's always a photo somewhere to be had!

From the base of the reservoir, we continued to climb, and to marvel at the constant glory out the car window. Just postcard material, everywhere you looked. That's Wales.


Our lunchtime booking was at Castell Deudreth,

and it couldn't be more welcoming, as we warmed ourselves by the fire whilst enjoying

our welcome drink as they prepared our table.



From our 'Cheers Big Ears' collection.


The three course set menu was so delicious, and it came with ticket entry into our next attraction, Portmeirion, which made the whole meal only 12 pounds each. But Trev may have needed a wee nap before we left - I think we were all stuffed.



Bless.



Just half a kilometre from our Castell lunch stop, is the quaint themed village of Portmeirion. I had read something about this before I left, and I had completely forgotten that

Christine had included this in our itinerary. Such a delightful surprise!


Portmeirion, is like a 'Little Italy'. Or even more specific, like an Amalfi Coast village, set on a lake in Wales.



It was so cool!


Lots of colourful buildings, conifer trees, domes, Romanesque statues, fountains,

you name it. It felt like Italy.

How adorable.



And they even had a cute wee lighthouse down the bottom.



Did I say down the bottom?

Yup, with full bellies, we had to walk all the way up the top again.

N'er mind, we needed to burn off some calories. 🚶🏽‍♀️


You could easily spend more time here...have lunch or a bevy,

and maybe even take in the sunset.


But, we have a little further to go today, to get to our next stop for two nights...Caernarfon.

And what an interesting night Trev and I had coming... Remember I mentioned a ghost story, right at the opening of this blog?


Well, tonight's the night!



But not yet...a bit more livin' to do...


This afternoon's stop, was a gorgeous riverside village known as 'Beddgelert'.

This place is famous for a certain story, that is almost as old as Wales, well, it seems. It's certainly a famous tale, that has been handed down through the generations.


A tale that absolutely BROKE MY HEART to be honest! I wasn't even prepared to regale it, buuuut, I will. I might be able to put you out of your misery after you've read it.


You can either read it on the tombstone...

or the write up from the internet.


It's all about a famous dog...



The story goes that in the thirteenth-century, Prince Llywelyn the Great had a palace at Beddgelert in Caernarvonshire, and as the Prince was a keen hunter, he spent much of his time in the surrounding countryside. He had many hunting dogs, but one day when he summoned them as usual with his horn, his favourite dog Gelert didn’t appear, so regretfully Llywelyn had to go hunting without him.

When Llywelyn returned from the hunt, he was greeted by Gelert who came bounding towards him …his jaws dripping with blood.

The Prince was appalled, and a horrible thought came into his mind …was the blood on the dog’s muzzle that of his one-year old son. His worst fears were realised when he saw in the child’s nursery, an upturned cradle, and walls spattered with blood! He searched for the child but there was no sign of him. Llywelyn was convinced that his favourite hound had killed his son.

Mad with grief he took his sword and plunged it into Gelert’s heart.


As the dog howled in his death agony, Llywelyn heard a child’s cry coming from underneath the upturned cradle. It was his son, unharmed!

Beside the child was an enormous wolf, dead, killed by the brave Gelert.


Llywelyn was struck with remorse and carried the body of his faithful dog outside the castle walls, and buried him where everyone could see the grave of this brave animal, and hear the story of his valiant fight with the wolf.


So, I'll let you off the hook that hung my heart out to dry...It's a myth! (Well, they think. I'll go with it anyway.) Thank goodness!

I thought it was a horrendous story...and to tell children?

Please, no! Apparently there are similar stories in Europe. I so hope its a myth.


Soooo, that said, we visited the grave, paid our respects to the 'story'

and enjoyed the very pretty town for what it is. Worthy in its own right for a visit.

I'm still gutted by that story - aren't you? Even if it isn't true. (But my Welsh friends wanted me include it, as it's a part of their history,

and the story is pictured on pub walls everywhere in the north.)

Beddgelert village


On now, to our overnight stay, in the village that is still inside the original stone walls of Caernarfon Castle, but not before setting ourselves up in a beer hall,

ready to watch dear old Wales play Argentina in the Rugby World Cup (quarter final ?). Alas, poor Wales, no joy for our hosts.



The Black Boy Inn was going to be our home for the next two nights... Built in 1522, this hotel is located on what was once known as

'Four Shillings and Sixpence Street', in days gone by.

The street name derived from the cost of a night's lodgings back in the day;

which included a bed, a bottle of gin, and the attention of a lady

of your choosing for the night. All I ask from Trev is the gin...🍸



So after some pub grub and a few ales, we all decided to call it a night.


Cue: our ghost story...


Let me just start by saying, that most of these old hotels, have very thin walls. Sound proofing was not something back in the day.


And, with a nightclub open around the corner, we did hear some late night revellers,

quite rowdy, through the hallways in the wee hours of the morning.


But that's not all we heard.


Trev and I both woke simultaneously, TWICE, during the night,

to the sound of creaking footsteps

in our room, and the sound of a door clicking shut.

I remember saying to Trev, "There's someone in our room..."

We both agreed that we definitely felt a presence.

I honestly thought, in my sleepiness, that simply our door wasn't locked,

and someone came in our room by mistake.

Twice?

Yeah, nah.


Trev, let me add, hardly ever wakes through the night, at least,

not to the same sounds I might wake to.


And the fact we BOTH felt something - like someone was right next to us...

But the weird, (and good) thing was, we actually didn't think twice about it at the time,

just assumed we were mistaken, and we just managed to go back to sleep.

Thankfully!


If I had even remotely thought there was a ghost in the room,

I'm not really sure how I would have reacted?


Anyway, we both brought it up the next morning, saying to each other;

"Did that really happen?" "OMG, could that have actually been a ghost?"


Upon walking downstairs to breakfast, I asked the lady at the reception desk,

"Ahhh, excuse me, is this place...haunted?"

To which she simply replied,


" Which room are you in?"


'Nuff said! Sounds like a 'yes' to me!

👻


We have one more night to spend in that room. Hoorah...


But we have a great day ahead, so nothing is going to spoil that!

We actually find it all quite endearing really. I've never had a ghost story to tell, and a 500 year old hotel in Wales

seems like the perfect place for it. All good!


Sooo, after walking around Caernarfon Castle last night,

we were looking forward to actually going inside today. And as our hotel is but a stone's throw from the front entrance,

we were pretty much the first visitors of the day.


Open sesame!



Yet another castle constructed in the 12th and 13th century,

with a history of raids and war defences,

it finally fell into disuse and disrepair,

until the state funded it's revival in the 19th century.


It is most famous for the Investiture of the Prince of Wales in 1911,

and with Prince Charles being crowned there in 1969.

(Investiture here means, the crowning of a current Prince, to become the Prince of Wales. From what I can see, it is the Heir to the throne who first becomes Prince of Wales,

before becoming King. That's of course, if a lady heir doesn't get in the way... Like dear ol' Liz 😉


I imagine Prince William's ceremony may follow soon, now that Dad is King,

if history is to be followed,

but perhaps it may be downplayed according to latest polls, who knows?


Anyway, this is where they held it over 50 years ago:


And my shot...today

A super cool location, to be sure!

I love the sculpture of the hands, cradling a model of the castle. It was actually enormous.


From here, we left to drive over to now what has become one of my

favourite castle ruins I reckon -

So many castles, so little time! Phew... lol

Did you know Wales has the most castles in the world per square mile? (With over 13 per square mile - wowsers!)

I think we're doing our very best to see as many as we can!

Personally, I never tire of it.


I can't do this when I get back to Australia!


Welcome to, Conwy Castle.


Photo credit: Britain Visitor


A UNESCO World Heritage listed castle,

and possibly the most beautiful and classical one in North Wales,

Conwy was built between the years 1283-1289, even on today's standards,

that's a staggeringly quick build - Six years!



Situated on the River Conwy and known for its eight cylindrical towers,

and its spectacular suspension bridge, and whilst it is still a ruin,

it is, in my books, one of the best.

🏰 You even get to walk along the ancient fortified city wall,

before you even arrive at the castle entrance.

Fabulous!




On occasion, it seems like we have the whole place to ourselves!

Seriously, how perfect is this circle? Still, after over 800 years! Love it.

Right, I actually think that's our last castle...well, for Wales anyway. Thank goodness I hear you say?


Driving to our afternoon's Manor House visit, yes, there's more,

we first swing by a place, that everyone who visits North Wales tends pay homage to.... The longest place name in Europe:


Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.


And my favourite part? Our photo bomber!!

Brilliant - It's what I would do!

You don't stay long here...but it's fun all the same. It's what you do.



Next stop today is a private Manor, once owned and decorated by a

very flamboyant lad back in his days, the 5th Marquess of Anglesey;

- host of many elaborate parties and theatre productions.

. After inheriting it all in 1898, as well as 30,000 acres of land,

and earning the equivalent of 13 million pounds a year for his efforts,

by 1904 he was bankrupt, after racking up debts to the amount of 60 million pounds,

by todays standards, and things didn't look good for him.

He was only 29 when he died.



We get to walk through what he lost, still in remarkable condition,

with all its lavish furniture and paintings,

and the grounds were so glorious.


Here's Plas Newydd House and Gardens.



That's the Snowdonia Mountain range in the distance,

and would be covered in snow in the winter. We head there tomorrow!

And check out the perfect weather we had!!!

A bit like Lake Como, Italy!


And wow, that's it for today's sightseeing!

Time to head back to our Inn for din-dins, drinkies,

and maybe some ghostly shenanigans at 3am perhaps?


But first, just a quick wee walk around the streets of Caernarfon

and it's castle one last time, to grab some evening photos.



Tomorrow we leave to travel east,

for our last night in Wales before we head off on our own again.

Its been a blast, just wait to you see what our hosts have in store for our last day! It's going to be awesome!


---


'Twas an early and very brisk start to the morning, as we had a mountain train to catch.

And let me say, Trev and I slept like babies, with no ghostly disturbances whatsoever!

I was almost disappointed.

Almost.

Hehe.


Today we were driving towards a trip highlight, and something our dear friends,

Paul and Christine, had never experienced themselves either!

Fantastic!

We were heading up the very steep Snowdonia Mountain Railway, one of the most scenic rail journeys in the world,

and we so weren't dressed for the extreme cold.

Whoops.

Like major whoops.