Wales Sept 2011

Llandudno, Anglesey, Carnaervon

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Click here to read Harlech: Reunion Time

The Long Journey to Llandudno 7 Sept 2011

6-7 September 2011 Llandudno Wales
“Madam, wake up, our flight has been called”. A kind fellow passenger had recognized the sleep deprived couple had not heard the announcement to board the plane. We quickly woke up and joined the line for our short connecting flight from Heathrow to Manchester.
It has been a long time since we left our home on Tuesday evening. Our last day in Ottawa for the next two months started well. Ray and I were leaving that night on an overnight flight to Manchester, England via Heathrow. We had three days on our own before meeting 13 other friends for a week together at a lodge in Harlach, Wales. We were ahead of schedule, with just a few short chores to finish before leaving for the airport. In fact, we had enough time for a final morning of duplicate bridge, much to the surprise of our fellow bridge players to whom we had said good-bye last Friday. We even managed a nice walk in the afternoon. Right on time, our kind friend, Huib Arnold, arrived to drive us to the Ottawa airport.

From that point on our carefully laid plans started to unravel. The flight was delayed by one hour from a late 11:35 departure to a very late 12:30 departure. When we finally boarded the plane, the Air Canada crew assured us we would be able to make up time on the flight over the ocean. By the time we got through a long, tiring, overnight flight and landed in Heathrow, we had not made up any time and the generous two hours between flights had been whittled down to one. After a long walk and a shuttle bus ride to the domestic flight terminal in Heathrow, the check-in gate for our connecting flight to Manchester had been closed. We had no choice but to stand in line and book seats on a flight leaving two hours later. We negotiated long line-ups for both customs and immigration and the security check and found seats amongst the multitude of duty free shops. There we waited and waited for the gate number to be displayed for our flight. Well past the time of our anticipated departure our flight displayed that ominous “flight delayed” notation. By that time I had given up trying to read as my book kept dropping when my eyes would not stay open. Eventually the departure gate was posted and we hustled off to yet another lounge. Not too long after the posted boarding time we all trooped onto the plane. The flight crew explained that the delays were caused by strong winds in England and there was now another problem. The vehicle towing our plane onto the runway could not disengage itself from our plane. Another service vehicle had to be called to cut us free. We finally left at 6 PM, 4 hours after our original departure time and we still had to drive to our B&B in Llandudno, a resort town in northern Wales.

Despite the cold rain that was falling and the rapidly approaching night, things were looking up. Our shuttle van to the nearby Thrifty car rental depot arrived and our rental car was ready for us. When asked if our car ran on regular gas or diesel, we were told it was regular gas, but we could exchange it for a diesel fuelled car if we wished. It would be a slightly larger car and came with GPS and would only cost another 5 per day. I thought we would be fine with the smaller car we had originally chosen. Hindsight always tells you what we should have done. Ray had copied the directions to Llandudno from Google maps and gave them to me, his navigator. I admit my navigating skills were sub-par that night. What would have been an easy 2 hour drive in the daylight became a 4 hour ride in the rain and the dark. We didn’t have a good map of the area between the Manchester border and Wales and I could only turn on the interior light to read the directions for brief moments at a time. We made our first mistake shortly after leaving the car rental office. After correcting the first error hour later by returning to our starting point, we proceeded to miss at least three other mistakes. Ray’s favourite expression became “we’ve seen that before”. I reminded him that whenever we bicycle or hike he tells me that he is never lost, we are just exploring new territory. We explored a lot of new territory that night, but at 11:30 PM we found our B&B and the owner was still up waiting for us. A celebration drink at a local pub was just what we needed to unwind, regardless of the late hour. We could sleep in the next morning.

Llandudno: A Planned Resort Town

Thursday 8 Sept 2011-09-08

Wednesday night was a decidedly young crowd of locals at the Palladium, one of the few drinking spots still serving at 11:30 PM. The guys were dressed very casually, the girls were fashionistas in high heels and very short skirts. This morning we were no longer the oldest in the crowd. The first hint was the number of people with walkers, canes and wheelchairs. I estimated the average age of the tourists to be at least 70. Families with children had returned home and bus tours of seniors had come to fill the gap. We had all Thursday to explore the charms of Llandudno, one of the most popular seaside resorts in Wales. 

Llandudno sits at the base of a small peninsula jutting into the Irish Sea. The Mostyn family were the wealthiest 19th century landowners in Wales, except for the Crown. The Victorian era was in full swing and seaside holidays were high on every wealthy families list. Helped by the Enclosure Acts, which the Mostyn family championed, tenants on the former town common were relocated and the land was bought up. Llandudno Bay, a broad curve two miles long, anchored on the northern end by the rocky promontory, the Great Orme, and on the southern end by the smaller Little Orme Head, was the perfect spot for a model resort community. Plans were made in 1849 for the Mostyn family by a Liverpool surveyor, Owen Williams. A broad promenade was built over the shingle banks of Llandudno Bay, later enhanced by a broad Marine drive enabled visitors to enjoy the sea view on foot or by carriage. A line of hotels sprung up in a wide curve facing the bay, lots were sold and building of holiday homes progressed over the next number of years. The town center consisted of broad avenues laid in a grid pattern, unlike the narrow village roads morecommon at that time. Restaurants and shops opened to service the tourists who came in droves. The mile long Llandudno Pier, considered a Victorian marvel of wrought iron and wood opened in 1876. The cable-drawn Great Orme Tramway, built in 1902, enabled tourists to enjoy the view from the top of Great Orme.

Today most of the elegant three story Victorian homes have been converted into B&Bs and small hotels. I estimate there are more B&Bs per square mile in Llandudno than any other town in the UK. We stayed in one of them. The modern trip to the top of Great Orme is a ride in a cable car but the high winds and end of the summer season had forced its closure. It was even too windy for us to consider walking up Great Orme. We contented ourselves with strolls on the promenade and the pier and having lunch in town. This was a day to relax and battle the inevitable jetlag.

Touring Anglesey

Friday 9 Sept 2011

Following maps is much easier in the daytime than it is at night, but I can still manage to send us on small detours to explore new territory. Friday we moved on, following the coastal road west from Llandudno to Bangor where we crossed the Menai Straits on the historical Menai Suspension Bridge to Anglesey Island. There is a reason to choose a small car in the UK. Bridges and roadways were not built to accommodate larger North American style cars. In fact it took me a while to get over my fear of imminent disaster caused by scraping the side of the car on a stone wall or the side of another car. The other caution is the prevalence of speed zones, all monitored by cameras laying in wait for the driver who dares exceed the stated limits that change as we pass through each small hamlet. We are not sure if we got caught on camera in one town. We hope not.

Our first stop was in Beaumaris Castle begun in 1295 by King Edward I to guard against the marauding Welsh. After 30 years of construction, Edward got distracted by the now warring Scots and never finished the castle. Considered the most technically medieval castle in Britain, it is now a World Heritage site. We spent an hour or so wandering the ruins and enjoying the views of the Irish Sea from the ramparts. Our timing to enjoy the many concerts on offer in Wales is off. We missed several performances by Welsh choirs in Llandudno and workmen were at Beaumaris setting up for an open-air Opera and Orchestra concert inside the castle grounds. I hope the threatening rain holds off for tonight’s performance. 

We bought sandwiches for a picnic lunch and carried on around the island on winding country roads. We were going to go all the way to Holyhead but I directed Ray on the wrong turnoff part way around and we headed across the island. It didn’t really matter. We still enjoyed the sheep in the fields and the quiet roads. We only wish we had time to explore the multitude of walking trails that continually crossed the roads.

Lunch ended up being in the parking lot of a beach surrounded by sand dunes. Several other cars were taking advantage of the location for their lunch break. An added bonus was a walking trail leading to the end of a promontory where burial chamber dating from 2500 BC has been discovered. We walked the short distance to peer through locked gates at a series of standing stones inside a large chamber beneath what was originally an earth mound. It looked very interesting. Guided tours can be arranged on weekends and Bank Holidays but again our timing was wrong.

We continued on around the island, crossing back over the Menai Straits on the newer Brittania Bridge and driving a short distance to Caernarfon, where we are staying in the Menai Bank B&B Hotel for the night. Our pub dinner last night in Llandudno was good enough to search out another one for tonight. Tomorrow morning we may vist another World Heritage site, Caernarfon Castle, before joining our friends in Harlech.

Caernarfon to Harlech

10 Sept 2011

Caernarfon Castle, on the banks of the River Seiont, is nothing to be trifled with. Edward I built his massive stone fortress to withstand attacks from the marauding Welsh and as a suitable home for the Head of England whenever he visited Wales. In fact, the son of Edward I was born in Caernarfon Castle in 1284 and Prince Charles was invested as the Prince of Wales in the castle in 1969.

Now a World heritage Site, the castle is certainly impressive. We climbed to the top of two towers for the view and read the history of the castle in the excellent presentation room in the Eagle Tower. We had just an hour to tour and I wished we had more time. Instead we did a grocery shopping in the large Morrison Grocery and headed south through the Snowdonia.  

We chose the more scenic route to Harlech right past the base of Mt Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales, rather than the more direct route. It wasn’t a day for hiking. The clouds were low over the mountains totally obscuring the top and the few hikers we saw were soaked from the rain. Luckily the rain stopped long enough for us to stop and take a photo of the narrow-gauge Welsh Highland Railway pass by one of the craggy peaks next to the road. 

Soon we were in Harlech where we met up with six of our group who had arrived before us. The time for renewing our acquaintance with our friends had begun. 

Click here to read Harlech: Reunion Time

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