Sunday, September 17, 2006

Friday, 15th September – North Wales

The rain cleared overnight and it was a perfect autumn day – clear blue skies, not a breath of wind, a slight crispness in the air. We drove through spectacular mountain scenery: impossibly lovely villages with stone cottages, streams and steep tree-covered hillsides; huge slate quarries and hillsides piled high with the evidence of decades of mining; deep blue lakes surrounded green slopes and rocky cliffs. We were heading for Portmeirion, a little fantasy Italianate village built between 1926 and 1976 by an architect to show that the development of a naturally beautiful site need not lead to its defilement, and “that architectural good manners could be good business”. The result is magical, though not very Welsh. Many of the buildings have been rescued from demolition around the country, and the whole place was created with a sense of design but also a sense of humour. We spent a very pleasant couple of hours there. (Portmeirion pottery, by the way, was started by the architect’s daughter in 1960).

Our plan was to go to Llanberis to catch the historic steam train to the top of Mt Snowdon. We had discovered that you couldn’t get all the way to the top, because the station there is being redeveloped, but it was still worth going half way up. But when we arrived at the station all the trains for the day had been sold! (It is the first time on this trip we have had any problems with crowds; although there have been a lot of people at some places, we have never had to queue or felt uncomfortably crowded.) I guess the one positive about feeling like we aren’t staying long enough anywhere is that there is plenty more to do if we meet an obstacle like this one. So we drove to the island of Anglesey, to a town called Beaumaris intending to visit the castle there. Wales is dotted with huge castles built by Edward I when he conquered Wales in the 13th century. Beaumaris is the last built and the only one with a moat.

However on the way to the castle we saw a sign offering one hour cruises to Puffin Island, and it was such a gorgeous day we decided to do that instead, although we were informed that the puffins had flown south for the winter. It was very pleasant and a relaxing way to spend an hour. We saw lots of birds (mostly cormorants), and one seal, and a different view of the coast.

Next stop was Caernarfon, to look at the outside of the castle (it was closed – but we planned to only visit one castle in detail, and that is Conwy (pronounced Conway) tomorrow). We had a walk & took some photos of the Castle walls and then found a very nice pub next to the castle on the water where we sat outside and ate slow-cooked Welsh lamb while we watched the sun setting over the water – tough, but someone had to do it.