Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The only tourists in the village? (Wales: June 2016)

Following our Women's Institute lunch, the drive from Newent to Pembrokeshire in S. Wales is fine, but it is not easy like Australian rural driving. Lots of traffic and roundabouts and roadworks on our alternative route, apparently the main route is even more congested. Even so, we are there in three hours. Our Airbnb place near Mathry is easy to find (thanks Google maps!) and is a lovely spacious apartment set in a beautiful garden. Wine in the garden, bacon and eggs for dinner, a coal fire. The daylight lingers until around 10pm! End of day.

Laneway to our Airbnb near Mathry
Countryside near Mathry

4.6 - Pembrokeshire 

Drive south to Tenby, a seaside resort on the south coast, for fish and chips. Sounds easy ... but ... there is a lot of traffic, and endless roundabouts. Try to stop in Narberth, but it's too busy - we get told off for trying to park in a 'private street' (there are no signs ...). It's the last weekend of 'half-term' school hols - I had forgotten that there is such a thing - and Tenby is also packed. Four pounds for parking, then queue for very greasy fish and chips (no lemon! no pepper!). By the time we are driving north again, it's 3pm. Sodding Tenby!
Beach at Tenby
Sodding Tenby
It's a quicker drive back north. Fishing villages with pastel rows of fisherman's cottages, postcard views galore. We stop at Solva for coffee (vis Newgale Beach - looks familiar). Then to Charming Tourist Town (CTT) of St Davids for the cathedral. It's very pretty and olde worlde, but the cathedral - wow! It's vast and ancient and atmospheric with endless little side chapels and crumbling effigies of knights and bishops. They are preparing for a concert - the last of their summer festival - and we could buy a ticket for just 8 pounds, but are weary and hungry. I am torn, but after exploring the grounds - graveyard and exterior of ruined Bishops Palace - we go home. I grill sea-bass with new potatoes, leeks and broccoli - very nice.

Interior of St Davids Cathedral
Chris and Bishop's Palace
Graveyard - St Davids Cathedral

5.6 Mathry - Bethesda

A leisurely start to the day and at 11 begin the drive north. It's quite an easy drive, not too many roundabouts and less traffic (school hols are over!), the roads are lined with wildflowers. Beginning at Dollgellau in S. Snowdonia, the towns and villages become dark and slatey, very characteristic. It feels more rural than the south, and rocky mountains emerge out of the rolling, bucolic farmland. A bit of real wild.
We arrive at Bethesda just after 4, it's a bit of a shock after all the quaint tidy towns. The town, as well as our accommodation is shabby, run down and grubby. There are no tourists in sight. The 'fabulous views' advertised for our Airbnb are reasonably pleasant outlooks from small dirty windows. It's on a busy main road and everything is dusty and creaky. Oh well. It has a cluttered but functional kitchen and a spacious bedroom.

Dollgellau - southern gateway to Snowdonia
Emerging mountains ...
Wildflowers! including bluebells!
Exploring the village before dinner we try to find somewhere to sit beside the Ogwen River that runs behind the terraces. One side is dirty and dusty, old fencing and rubbish. The other side is a lovely park with a path along the river, but no seats ... It's weird. Finally we find some rocks to sit on above the river, with a view over the valley. We drink wine on a beautiful evening, surrounded by oak trees, the greenest things you ever saw.
After a brief walk we decide to eat out at a nice looking Indian place (Shirin). The food is good! Prawn Sag (spinach sauce) and vegetable balti. Too many pappadams so we bring the naan home for breakfast. The waiter tells us his story: from Bangladesh, lived in London for some years, until his wife brought him to rural Wales. He would rather be somewhere more lively, but his  father-in-law is the restaurant's chef, so at least he has a job ... We meet the chef, and congratulate him, the food is pretty good.
Bethesda - the only tourists in the village
Oak grove, Bethesda
Shirin's Indian in Bethesda - young waiter and his father-in-law chef

6.6 Snowdon

While Welsh language is visible everywhere in Wales, up north it is for many their first language and it is spoken everywhere. Today is tourist day: we go to the CTT of Llanberis to get tickets for the Snowdon Railway (29 pounds each!), then a detour to Caernarfon before the train leaves, to see the castle. Stop for coffee and lovely fruit cake at Cwm-y-glo, where I holidayed as a child. Also find a mechanic to check out our oil change alert - all ok.
Caernarfon is busy, but not overly, and the castle is impressive, with amazing local views, and several historical displays about the history that are quite well done. I never knew that all of the N. Wales castles were actually built by the English (Edward 1) to keep out the Welsh hordes!
The train ride to Snowdon summit is slow and crowded and it's hard to take photos. The views from the top are certainly spectacular, and it is still so warm that we are in shirts. Back down we board early, the crowds have thinned (some walking back) and it's a lot more enjoyable.

In Cwm-y-glo, near Caernarfon
Caernarfon Castle
Snowdon summit - look, no jacket!
Snowdon summit 2
I plan a quick drive around Anglesey, but it begins to rain and the traffic doesn't look good, so we head  for home. A detour around the back of Bethesda is lovely, and does have fabulous views of the nearby quarried slate mountains. We find the most amazing overgrown cemetery, all slate with Welsh inscriptions - very gothic. Back to Bethesda, and our dingy flat, do some washing, then out again for evening wine in the memorial park across the road. It's a lovely, cared-for oasis, and the weather is so balmy that it feels like Provence. Back home, I cook broccoli and leek frittata.

Slate cemetery
Slate cemetery 2

7.6 Bethesda - Solihull

Driving along the north coast of Wales for a glimpse of seaside villages before returning to England, what we find is ... Rhyl! Endless streetscapes of cabins and caravan parks punctuated with amusement arcades, fast food shops and an occasional closed down 'fun' fair. It's the underbelly of Welsh tourism, where working class hordes from Liverpool and Manchester are ghettoed by the seaside. Weirdly bleak, extremely ugly and sparsely populated, it must be a vision of hell in August. We linger a while to ponder this new dimension of Wales. So it's not all CTT with quaint and pretty old cottages.

Rhyl, a seaside village

No comments: