Snowdonia Holiday

1 Jul

Well, despite what I might have said in a previous post, I really quite enjoyed the break in north west Wales last week, despite the typical weather. On the day before we left I retrieved the suitcases from the loft, during which adventure I knelt on my right knee – the one which has not been fixed – and did a very slight ooh nasty! Anyhow, I drove up on the Saturday after lunch and arrived at the house in Talsarnau by half past four. We unpacked and I went off to explore the local pub, the Ship Aground, which was only ten yards away.

On Sunday we went to Harlech, mostly the Castle because there is not much else to do there on a Sunday. This is a proper castle, not some castellated stately home, and is in pretty good nick, all sieges considered. Owain Glendower had the town as his capital for a while. There is a protected staircase down the crag to what used to be the harbour, but which has since become quite a way inland, behind a line of sand dunes and a golf links. We also visited the restored home of a Welsh language poet of the late seventeenth century who I had not heard of. This man wrote ‘The Dream of the Bard’ (translation) which sounded a bit pretentious and fey. By the end of the day my knee was hurting some.


On Monday we went to the Isle of Angelsea, over Thomas Telford’s bridge and hung a right to get to Beaumaris, Edward I’s last and uncompleted castle. While in the town we also visited the old courthouse and the prison, both museums and supposed attractions. The sheer inhumanity of Victorian prisons is difficult to describe. It is as though Jeremy Bentham’s idea of the Panopticon was adopted and adapted but with mortification of the flesh being more important than any penitential intent. The isolation and useless labour of the routine being a form of psychological torture. Anyhow, the castle is very impressive, though the top of the curtain walls was never completed. It is both big and impressive, with some nice touches. It would have been very formidable as a statement of intent as well as being cleverly engineered fortress. Two castles down and my knee worse.


Tuesday had been decided as the day for the compulsory visit to Portmerion. This is where ‘The Prisoner’ was filmed and is an Italianate fantasy full of effects to fool the eye. It is one large stage set and is one of the most filmable places I have ever been to. If you can avoid the souvenirs with the penny farthing bicycle embellished with the text, Number 6, the whole experience is very enjoyable. It is very difficult not to take too many photos around the village. The essential good weather makes the place come alive, and it was great to visit it on a sunny day. We went for a walk around the grounds and ended a bit lost around an area described as the Ghost Garden. Ther is a very strange recurrent motif of a bifurcated Mermaid in many places. We drove to Porthmadoc on the way home to find where to park the car and to buy tickets for the Welsh Highland Railway for the next day. By the end of the day my knee was getting quite sore.




Wednesday was the day for The Welsh Highland Railway is a relatively new line, that is newly reopened and extended. It climbs spectacular slopes through a pass close to Snowdon, all the way from Porthmadoc to Caernavon, just over thirty miles. The journey takes nearly two and a half hours. The gauge of the rail is a mere two feet, as the lines were all for moving the slate from the mines. This makes the carriages rock and roll a good deal, even at low speeds. The engines used are the most powerful to be used on a narrow gauge, but have to work hard on the slopes. On the day we went they had a record number of passengers. The morning had low cloud obscuring the tops of the maountains, but this lifted during the afternoon, and the journey back gave better photo opportunities. At Caernavon we visited castle number three. This one is more theatrical and fancy than the other two, and was quite crowded with Spanish students. I liked it less than the others, but is was intended as a royal residence as much as a castle. I was stupid enough to indulge in ice cream during the day, and quickly regretted it when my lactose intolerance kicked in with a vengeance on the return journey. I’d had ice cream at the Hay Festival, but that was made with sheep’s milk, which I have no problem with. The knee was also quite sore.




Thursday was a day when the weather was to break. It drizzled persistently during the morning and pissed down in the afternoon. We went for a walk in the morning, wrapped up in waterproofs, me with a knee support an half high on Ibuprofen as an anti-inflammatory and painkiller. The walk took us along the Welsh Coastal Path and around the ex-island of Inys. At Inys the church has a carved standing stone. The walk around Inys was clocked at three and a half miles, and the walk along the path something over a mile each way. So in total it was about six miles or somewhat over, on mostly level ground. There some fine views of Portmerion across the estuary and of a distant Harlech Castle. I did not take the camera, so these two are from Hazel’s.It makes me think that the size and weight of the DSLR are a positive liability sometimes. My knee was quite sore when I finished the walk and stiffened up badly during the afternoon and evening. We watched tennis in the afternoon and I went round the pub again in the evening. In fact, I only missed going to the pub on Wednesday, as I needed to be near a toilet!


On Friday we went to the nearby station at Talsarnau, about a quarter mile from the house. This is unmanned, and you have to wave your arms at the train if you want it to stop. This is reminiscent of a bus request stop. Hazel enjoyed waving her arm out and I caught the moment on her camera. We purchased tickets on the train, heading south to Barmouth, a resort town. We were there for less than an hour. Hazel asked the girl at the Tourist information what there was to do. She replied that there was a museum, but that did not open until one PM. We might have stayed longer if there had been a nice looking pub on the harbour, but there wasn’t, though the railway viaduct was spectacular. My knee hurt abominably as we traipsed around the town, the pain making me feel a bit ill. We returned to Talsarnu, having informed the ticket collector that we wanted to alight there! We packed the bags ready for departure the next day and went out in the evening to the local motel where we enjoyed a meal in the restaurant. Hazel had slightly pink duck breast while I had the lamb leg steak. We talked to a party of ladies who had been out walking and had got wet. I called in the pub before going back, saying my goodbyes to the welsh-speaking maniacs and the token Englishman.


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