Category Archives: Wales

Cardiff sketchbook

In Cardiff I was happy to check in at a hostel. After many days of camping it was heaven. It even had a toilet in the building so I didn’t have to get out through a soggy,  slug filled field every time I needed to go to the toilet.

The National Museum (of Wales) in Cardiff was free so I took my sketchbook and tried my hand at a few of the works on display.

women

Sculptures

 

Monet

Sketch after Monet

 

Boudin

Sketch after Eugene Boudin

Then there was the park where I sketched a tree. Because my watercolours were ruined by the rain, I used GIMP to add some violent colour.

cardiff_park_riot_crop

From Cardiff I cycled to Bristol which brought me back to England.

In Bristol I stayed in a hostel with a lot of long term residents. An old Punjabi was making chapattis and Brazilians seemed to be cooking rice all day long while a black man sat in a corner reading the holy bible. We even had a Scotsmen who actually said aye. The hostel was a bit rundown but it felt genuine just as the city itself.

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Back to the big island

More Irish history. The Romans never made it to Ireland. They planned to but somehow they never got around to actually get there in a meaningful way, that is, to subjugate the people, build roads and bridges, introduce money and new gods, and educate the local population about the pleasures of hot baths and floor heating. And gladiators, to do all the gladiating.
Maybe because the nasty Picts kept jumping over Hadrian’s Wall in the North.
Will you please keep behind the wall?  Civilised people stay behind their wall. You want to be civilised now, don’t you? Sorry? You don’t want to be civilised? Look, we really don’t have time for all this…
After the Romans had left the British Isles, pagan Angles and Saxons invaded England and Wales, but Ireland, that was converted to Christianity before, was spared that fate and it was thus that England was later converted to Christianity again by Irish monks.

abbey

Another abbey

In Dublin I visited Trinity College which is very famous for it’s cheap coffee.

On my Ordnance Survey map of Wales, highly accurate but useless in Ireland, and which shows features in both languages, showed the Irish Sea in Welsh as Mor Inwerdon. ‘Mor’ meaning sea and ‘Inwerdon’ meaning Ireland. The Old Celtic root for Ireland was Iveriu from which both Eriu and Hibernia, respectively Irish and Latin for Ireland, are derived. And Inwerdon of course, maybe most relevant because of the Celtic languages Welsh is the only one that is not considered endangered.
In Ireland I haven’t heard any Irish at all but many road signs and place names were in Irish. Number plates were always in Irish [Dublin = Baile Átha Cliath‘]. The Irish accent is pleasing to the ear with its soft rolling r and short throaty vowels. It sounds friendly.

bilingual_irish

Bilingual sign

 

I love it how every now and then I find, for example, sachets of shampoo from Egypt or an Uzbek coin somewhere in a corner of my backpack. Sainsbury’s automatic cash machines don’t accept Uzbek coins. I tried.

When I was sitting in front of my tent making cheese on toast the family from hell arrived. They came from Germany. The children were shouting at each other. The mother was yelling at the children. The children then started screaming at their mother. And there was no joy. The mother looked haggard, her hair loose, her voice shrill. They had driven all the way from Munich to pitch their tent on the soggy grass of this Irish field. Then it started to rain again and the sound it made mercifully muffled the noise of the Teutonic plague.

Too late I realised I had only taken 12 photos in Ireland. So I made one of the ferry.

IrishFerries

I had to be at the ferry at 8.15 which meant I had to leave a little before seven. I woke up at six and breakfasted with pleasant routine nursing my coffee. There was ample time for a second mug. Then making sandwiches for on the ferry and changing the map of Ireland for the map of Wales.

In Pembroke Dock I cycled off the ferry and up the hill and down the hill and up the hill. It was roughly 5 miles to the country pub where I could pitch my tent in a field with lush grass. After that I needed some groceries and cycled the same way back to Pembroke Dock. Up the hill and down the hill and up the hill. Then I raided the Lidl before riding back up the hill and down the hill and up the hill again.

The weather forecast for Pembroke was promising: temperatures in their mid twenties and mostly sunny. Unfortunately, it happened to be the weather forecast for Pembroke, Ontario. Which is in useless Canada.

I’ve come cycling from Holland.
Crikey!
Crikey?? People actually say that?

In Swansea I visited the well done Dylan Thomas Centre and after that I wanted to be a poet.

 

Snowdonia and Anglesey

Wide vistas in Wales. Soon to become wet vistas in Wales.

snowdonia_small

From Abergele at the Irish Sea I cycled into the mountains. To avoid A-roads with heavy traffic I took to the back roads.

Steep

Seriously?

Some of these roads were impossible to cycle (see photo above) and I even had trouble pushing the fully loaded bicycle uphill at some points.

Not far from Curig Capel I found a small campsite where I pitched my tent between grazing sheep.

snowdon1

It was at the second attempt that I was successful at summiting Mt. Snowdon. The first time was under averse conditions: rain, strong wind and I had started too late because I had to cycle up to the car park first. High up the mountain it appeared that everybody had left for the day and with almost being blown off the mountain, soaking wet and slippery conditions, I decided to abort the attempt. I wasn’t having  a good time either.

The next day was beautiful and it was hard to see how I could have missed the path on the previous day. From the Pen-y-pass car park I now took the Miners Track that joins the Pyg Track that I had tried the day before. After reaching the summit I walked over to the other summit, slightly lower, for good views of Snowdon itself and without the crowds.

The day after conquering the highest mountain of England and Wales, the weather held out and I set out to hike to another mountain with lots of wandering sheep, soggy grass and windswept rocks. Then the weather turned bad again and for one whole day it rained steadily and I kept in my tent reading the Count of Monte Cristo and making coffee. Fortunately, I had lots of coffee.

Yes, it was better before, the woman said. I think we had a heat wave some weeks ago. A heat wave? I thought. But then definitions might vary. Maybe a heat wave in Wales is three consecutive days over 20 degrees centigrade with no rain to speak of. The last time that these circumstances occurred was in 1974.

Mount Everest was named after George Everest, a Welsh surveyor in British India, and forever mispronounced. It’s eve-rest and not ever-est. Another Welsh connection is the Western Cwm, a well known feature of the highest Himalaya peak. In Welsh a cwm is a valley. So no typos on your map there.

When it brightened up again I packed my tent and crossed the Llanberis pass to a picturesque lake on the other side of the massif. This is where the slate industry took off in the 19th century. Very interesting if you’re in roofing.

Road signs are often an entertainment when touring through Wales. I think the one on the left means something like: Careful. Hobbits. Ysgol is sooo Lord of the Rings! By the time you have finished reading the other one, you’re sure to have forgotten it actually meant to say not to drive faster than 40 miles per hour. Miles? Yes, despite years of going metric, they still use miles….
Milk is sold in 568 mils and coffee in 227 g packets. Very metric.

Anglesey. This is the island at the very north western point of Wales.

Not far from Holyhead, where the ferry for Ireland leaves, is South Stack with its cliffs, sea birds and rainy weather. There was a lighthouse too. I saw a somersaulting chough (a bird) but failed to photograph it. So I tried an easier target: myself:

Despite all the rain and the sometimes impossible inclines, Wales is still  one of my favourite destinations so far.

North Wales

At the toilet block I met a man who started talking to me but I could not understand him.
The Cockney drop their aitches but this man seemed to have dropped virtually all his consonants.
Not wanting to be offensive I nodded whereupon he made another effort of communication which proved equally ineffectual.
He seemed friendly.

conwy_castle

Sketch of Conwy Castle

The castle in Conwy was built by Edward I when he led the Norman conquest of Wales. It was one of a series of defence structures from this period that later became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In one of these castles was born his heir, the future Edward II, who became the first Prince of Wales. After that, many more followed.
Wales has more castles per square mile than any other country.
They are everywhere.

P1010892

The Welsh Riviera

On my way to Conwy I followed a coastal pathway along the Irish Sea and admired the Welsh beaches. An astonishing number of people congregate here on these shores every summer eagerly waiting for the rain to stop pouring down on them.

P1010889

St. Trillo’s Church

Smallest church (Rhos-on-Sea) in the British Isles that seats six, though I could well see how a few more people could be squeezed in. Many centuries ago a hermit built his cell here (St. Trillo I assume) and there is a well in front of the altar that has been used for its healing powers ever since. That is, until a modern hospital was built.

From the same town hails Prince Madoc who sailed from Rhos-on-Sea and discovered America in the 12th century. He landed in Alabama. Most historians seem to believe this invalidates the claim.

To Wales

When I am not listening to the rain coming down on the canvas of my tent I am reading  a history of England and it is thus that I learnt about King Richard the Lionheart, the good king who features in the stories of Robin Hood. As it happens he wasn’t such a good king; he ruined the country with his costly crusades, and neither was he very English. He spoke French and visited England only twice.

From Nottingham I rode to Ashbourne just south of the Peak District where I stayed a while. It was raining at intervals but when it was dry I made some trips in the hills and found out why it’s called the Peak District. The scenery was nice with the typical stone walls along the narrow lanes and the fields with sheep and… well, sheep mainly.

bull in field

and bulls…

 

In Youlgreave I wondered briefly around the 12th century church. It was, as one expects, very old. After that I continued my way to Arbor Low Henge and nearby Gibb’s Hill. A henge, I now found out, is not a circle of stones, but a type of Neolithic earthwork. According to Wikipedia somebody even took the trouble to actually classify henges.
Gibb’s Hill had, after 6000 years or so, lost quite a bit of its appeal in my opinion. I have seen better hills. Not far away there was another stone circle but steep inclines, especially around Stanton in Peaks where I had to push the bicycle, made me realise that I was not that interested in Neolithic architecture after all. Seen one, seen them all, I say.

My two favourite places in Ashbourne were the library, which was warm, quiet, had books and free wifi, and the Aldi which had none of the above but was cheap.

From Ashbourne I cycled in two days through Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Shropshire and Cheshire. These shires were evocative of the rich history of England and I could imagine Sir Lancelot, Robin Hood, Gandalf and Elton John, all sitting together drinking a pint of ale and swapping stories. Well, maybe not Elton John….

Field in Shropshire

Field in Shropshire

 

From Whitchurch I followed the border of England and Wales and made a brief foray into that last country. Twenty minutes later I hopped back into Cheshire. Later in the afternoon I crossed a picturesque bridge over the river Dee back into Wales. I hoped somebody would ask me whether this was my first visit to Wales, whereupon I would reply: actually it’s my second…. this day. But nobody asked.

Welcome to Wales

Near Gresford, which is just inside Wales, I pitched my tent in a field behind a country pub. In the tavern a bunch of builders was sitting at the bar.
– Do you have a local brew? I asked.
Well, we have Foster…
– Foster?
– It’s what all the lads drink here…
The lads looked at me.
– Right, I’d like to have one of those, please.

By accident I came across this rhyme that lists the Seven Wonders of Wales:

Pistyll Rhaeadr and Wrexham steeple,
Snowdon’s mountain without its people,
Overton yew trees, St Winefride’s well,
Llangollen bridge and Gresford bells.

As two of them were not far from where I stayed I decided to tick them off. In Gresford I waited till the clock struck twelve but was then not particularly impressed with this wonder. Inside the church was a stone that had been dug up and which dated back to Roman times. It showed a faded image of Atropos who cut the life thread of mortals with his shears. Very old.
In Wrexham I saw my second wonder of Wales: the gothic architecture of St. Giles’ Parish Church. A replica of the tower is built at the prestigious Yale University in America. In the churchyard I found the grave of that university’s benefactor, Elihu Yale, merchant, philanthropist and, er…, slave trader.

Two out of seven. Not bad for one day.