The second part of our England and Wales adventure blog begins again after a fun evening enjoying a music festival at a nearby pub called the Chestnut Inn, named for the gazillion huge chestnut trees all around. We woke to a boat wake rocking Trimdon Grange against the cement wall of the canal in Worcester; time to get moving! We had to have her back in the marina by 0900, so we untied and pulled up stakes (literally) and off we went. Making the final 90-degree turn into the marina was a piece of cake now that we were so experienced, ha!
Pretty soon the boat was safely moored in her slip, and we were ready to hoof it to a hotel we’d booked for our last night in Worcester. As it turned out there was a half marathon going on in the city and it seemed as though everyone one in England was running! Various streets were closed so we had to wind our way towing suitcases across the bumpy cobblestone roads through the throngs of people. It was pretty funny trying to get to our hotel without having to cut across the wall of marathon runners. We did end up crossing the crush of runners three times. I’m sure the locals enjoyed watching two Yanks puffing their way through the gaps in the crowd!
After a luxurious night in our hotel (Boutique by Brown’s, highly recommended) by the River Severn, we once again had to trek across town with suitcases in tow to the rental car agency to pick up the “wrong side driving machine” that we’d be using for the next three weeks. I was the designated driver, with Marty handling the navigation duties. Of course, the very first challenge when pulling out of the car park (parking lot for you Yanks), was to figure out which side of the road to turn into, followed by the ever-lurking clockwise roundabouts. We survived the first few miles as I quickly learned to shift using my left hand, muttering my new mantra; “stay to the left, stay to the left”.
We soon left Worcester in our rear-view mirror and headed northwest toward Wales. While driving through all the picturesque towns (cute town alert, cute town alert!!), we noticed what looked like an elevated aqueduct in the distance. Pretty soon we came to a sign post for the famous Pontcysylite Aqueduct, so we made a quick U-turn and went for a look see! It’s an amazing sight, with 18 tapered stone towers rising over 125 feet above the River Dee, supporting a 1000 foot long cast iron trough deep enough for the canal boats to cross over! The architect was Thomas Telford, who designed many of the Industrial Age canals and bridges in England and Wales, including the suspension bridge that we would soon cross on our way to Anglesey.
Our plan was to drive through Snowdonia National Park, an area with 90 mountain peaks, on our way to the coastal town of Caernarfon (Ka-NAR-von) where we’d be staying for five nights. As we approached the mountains, the weather deteriorated quickly, and the front bands of Tropical Storm Helene started pummeling our little car with wind and sideways rain. Mt. Snowden, the tallest mountain in Wales at 3,560 ft., was hidden in the clouds, but what we did see of the countryside was gorgeous.
At one point we stopped for a look-see at the top of a pass, and as I walked across the car park I almost got run over by a soggy sheep heading for the hills! It was freezing cold and the wind was trying to knock us over, so our little walking excursion didn’t last long. Included in “the plan” were a few days of hiking in the mountains, along with a train ride to the summit behind an old steam engine. Unfortunately, Helene had different ideas! The train was only doing a partial ascent and hiking was not advised due to “60mph gusts which can knock over hikers”. Okay, we get the picture – time to snuggle in front of the fireplace for a couple of days!
When Helene finally moved inland, we donned our rain jackets and headed out to explore the area. Caernarfon is an historic city that began as a Roman fort originally built by Agricola in about 77-78AD. The fort was huge, covering an area that would have included the castle and was occupied up until about 394 AD, just prior to the final flight of the Roman forces from Britain in the fifth century. Caernarfon Castle that dominates the local skyline today was built in 1283 by Edward I, following his conquest of Wales, and was also the site of the Investiture of the Prince of Wales in 1969. Yes, I stood where Queen Elizabeth stood!
We had great fun climbing around the castle and enjoying the views across the Menai Strait to the Isle of Anglesey. The wind and current made us glad we weren’t going to be sailing Happy Dance through the channel! It was beautiful though, and we could just imagine archers standing on the ramparts in the cold north wind, where the carved gargoyles on the top of the walls had been whittled by the wind and rain to narrow stubs over the centuries.
Walking the narrow cobble stoned streets of the old walled city we found many treasures to remember; sitting next to some well-lubricated locals at the historic Anglesey Inn who enjoyed teaching us a few words of Welsh, afternoon tea and amazing leek soup while sitting on the sidewalk people watching, visiting with a shop owner who explained the slate trade to us, and of course, lamb shanks, and steak and ale pie at the pub!
One day we drove over the impressive Menai Suspension bridge to the Isle of Anglesey and Holyhead. The island is beautiful, with low rolling green hills, rock walls, and dramatic coastal views. We drove to the northwest corner of the island and walked a bit of the Anglesey Coastal Path that circles the entire island, but the wind was blowing so hard that we could barely keep our feet under us. We had fun watching the waves crash on the rocks around the South Stack Lighthouse, laughing at a herd of black sheep that we first thought were rocks, and exploring the amazing Ty Mawr iron age hut circles that date back about 4000 years.
One of the fun factoids we learned about this area was that Holyhead was the site of a semaphore station in the days before electric telegraph. The station here was the furthest west of a line of eleven stations that could send a signal to Liverpool in less than 30 seconds using only line of sight flags and signals, to alert Liverpool of the condition and arrival times of inbound ships. Think of the excitement to learn of a ship coming in after months or years at sea!
I should also mention just how fun our accommodations were in Caernarfon. We stayed in an AirBnB that was the home of a Mom and daughter who lived nearby. The narrow row house had three stories of creaky staircases with books and fun artwork everywhere. The “hob” was a beautiful old iron stove, and there was a cozy electric fireplace that we enjoyed while Helene was howling outside. It was fun to be in a real Welsh home, with books in Welsh and English lining the shelves, cupboards full of tea and foods we’d yet to try.
Our time in Caernarfon soon came to an end, so we packed up our little wrong side driving machine and headed toward Cardigan…soon to be another chapter coming to a blog near you!