Castles, Cakes and Camping in Wales

Trip Start Mar 15, 2008
Trip End Oct 02, 2009

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Flag of United Kingdom  , Wales,
Thursday, June 25, 2009

Leah says: We set off on the 24th June heading first through traffic filled London to send home our 2 tea chests of accumulated gear back to Adelaide. Once that was sorted we hit the road to head off with the aim of getting to Wales although with no specific destination in mind.

Along the way we stopped in at Bristol as Ben had found out about a Banksy art exhibition at the local museum. We discovered Banksy while in England who has become famed as an anonymous graffiti artist whose work is very inventive and often a humorous look at issues in society. The Exhibition was amazing and we spent a good hour and a half wandering around looking at his collaboration with the museum where he had taken over and wreaked havoc on a whole floor of museum artefacts and paintings. (Note: no real artefacts or paintings were ruined in this exhibition. Copies were made for it.) After that we hopped back in the car and headed on to Wales.

We found our first camping spot in a little village somewhere near the Brecon Beacons and only down the road from "Alice Springs". We settled in for the night with our newly purchased 20 pound tent from Argos. It was advertised as a 2 person tent....their 2 people must have been of the very petite size and not require luggage space…thank goodness we had the car to store our bags! Overall we had a great night and even had the luxury of a microwave that would work for 7 min in return for 50p. We felt privileged that we could eat warm pasta that evening and had we known this was the only caravan park that had any cooking facilities for the whole 3 weeks we may have used it more and forked out the extra 50p for hot pasta!

The next morning we got up nice and early to check out Caerphilly castle, Cardiff, Swansea and some of the coast along the way. It was a great day and Caerphilly castle was really lovely. They are in the process of restoring sections of the castle but much of it is still in a ruinous state which allows you to use your imagination really well. We wandered around Cardiff city centre had a look at the exterior of the Cardiff Castle and the sports stadium as well as trying Welsh cakes at the local market. The Welsh cakes became a staple for the rest of our time in Wales. They are really delicious little flat pancake type cakes full of sultanas and coated in sugar.

We headed to Swansea next and were a little disappointed that there wasn't much to do other than walk through the city centre and take a stroll along the beach. It was a good opportunity to purchase some local foods from the markets including Leven bread (a seaweed gloop…not bread at allL), Pork faggots (large meatball type food made with offal), and bread rolls, salad and more Welsh cakes! Our dinner that night was an interesting mix of adventurousness and eventually defeat and resorting to mainly Welsh cakes and port instead of the other local foods.

Next morning we woke to more Welsh cakes and apples for breakfast. Today was going to be a big driving day with our aim to drive the Brecon Beacons and make it up to Snowdonia in the north of Wales.

Driving the Beacons was truly amazing the scenery was lush and greener than green. The beautiful rolling hills and mountain peaks along with small streams and tiny one lane roads were wonderfully picturesque.

We had a look at Carreg Cennen castle which was precariously perched on a mountain. We drove across the Black mountains which were absolutely beautiful and then continued up through the middle of Wales to the Snowdonia National Park. We stopped in a little village called Dolgellau for a wander and quick drink at one of the local pubs. At the pub Ben had the misfortune of trying one of the local 'real’ ales, the warm English beer. I definitely think he didn’t enjoy this beer though, adding to our list of Welsh cuisine we didn’t like. Upon leaving the pub it became apparent that the rain had definitely settled in for a while and we decided to check into a hostel in the nearby town of Bala as we didn’t want to set the tent up in the rain. The hostel was fine although the lady who ran it was slightly rule obsessed and had the amazing ability of making you feel like you were about 12 and incapable. She even had a step by step guide of how to make the bed laminated on the wall of each room. She left us in our private room (there was a few sports teams in town and they had filled in the 20 bed dorms!) with the strict instructions not to touch any of the other 3 beds in our rather cramped 5 bed room.

The following morning we got up bright and early and headed out to take a drive through beautiful Snowdonia National Park. We passed through Porthmadog ( a lovely little town with an old steam railway) and drove along the coast a little before heading up to the Isle of Anglesey and to the Guiness Book of world record holding town for the longest place name called Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. We stopped and did the tourist thing of a passport stamp and had a bit of a wander around looking for our usual souvenirs of a magnet for Ben and a shot glass for me.

From here we headed on further to what would end up being our favourite place called Conwy and to visit Conwy Castle. This was a typical town of cobbled streets quaint buildings and old city walls encompassing the main town centre.

Conwy castle is what you would expect of any medieval castle. Being the only UNESCO world heritage listed castle in Wales it was built in the early 1200’s and its blackened stone construction looms over the walled town with its high turrets and towers. Its restoration has been done well to allow visitors to see the crumbling walls and yet functional enough to let you climb to the top of the impossibly tall turrets to scope out the view across the town and water that surrounds it. It truly was an amazing place to visit and I think we took about 200 photos to prove it ;)

From Conwy we continued on our travels across the north coast of Wales with the shocking realisation that our hopes for a lovely coastal drive were not to be realised as the whole area feels like an endless sea of caravan sized metal boxes that are in fact holiday homes broken up only by tacky entertainment parks.

We had trouble finding a place to camp this night (we had hoped a quiet beach spot may have been found but obviously not in North Wales) and after driving around for at least 2 hours and arriving at one place that had closed its reception 30 mins before we arrived at 7pm and another that hadn’t been open for at least 6 months according to length of the waist high grass and the pile of rubble that had been placed in the driveway entrance. We finally found a place that was another 30 min drive away that would accept us for the night and it was at this time that it started to rain a little. By the time we found the park it was absolutely chucking it down and we had to put our poor little tent up in less than ideal weather. I think Ben was ready to forget the whole camping idea by this stage but we persevered and everything was only a little damp by the time we got it all organised. Luckily we slept well and the rain cleared for the rest of the evening.
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