"What I did on my holidays" 2003

This is a personal account of my summer holidays 2003. I took a 10-day fly-drive tour through Wales, appending two days near Shrewsbury for my interest in the Cadfael chronicles.

Rogier Steehouder

Creative Commons License This work (text and pictures) is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

The title is a reference to a book written by Twoflower, a character from "Interesting Times" by Terry Pratchett.

day 1 slept at home in Enschede

Some sun and dry.

I left for Cymru (Wales). I took a traintaxi, because busses don't ride that early, then the train to Schiphol. I was early, but there was a long queue for check-in: all baggage to be checked in was checked out first with an X-ray scanner. My hand baggage however was never checked! After wandering around for a while, I could board and the passengers and I were brought to a Fokkker 70 with a bus.

After an uneventful flight we landed at Cardiff airport and I picked up the rental car. I got in at the left side, realized there was no steering wheel, got out and in at the right side. Turning from the parking I took the right lane and swerved left again. After that I was so intent on keeping left, I missed some signs and drove through Cardiff instead of around. After an hour and a half I got back on track and had learned to keep left. I arrived a little late at the B&B in Erwood (halfway between Brecon and Builth Wells).

day 2 slept at the Old Vicarage, Erwood

Clouded in the morning. Later sunny and warm.

In the morning I climbed the Pen y Fan (886 m.). I parked the car a little south of the Storey Arms wildlife center and followed a small stream upward for a while. As you approach from the south, the first top is the Corn Du (873 m.), and the Pen y Fan is 100 m. further (each picture taken from the other top). At first the clouds were as low as the mountain, but later it cleared enough to look under them and admire the view ( from Corn Du and from Pen y Fan).

In the afternoon I drove to Llanthony Priory. I followed the Hunddu river from Llanfihangel to Hay-on-Wye, stopping along the way to view the remains of the priory. Continuing north, it becomes a single track road that eventually leads to the top of the ridge, providing an excellent view. Hay-on-Wye itself is only of interest to second hand English book enthusiasts.

I had dinner at the Erwood Inn. The owner knew Enschede: he had served in the military in Münster. He and his friends frequently went out in Enschede rather than Hengelo. Enschede was more fun, however someone had to stay sober to drive back for lack of a train connection.

day 3 slept at the Old Vicarage, Erwood

Sunny.

I drove from Erwood to Cosheston (a small village near Pembroke). I turned south at Carmarthen to visit Kidwelly castle. This is one of the largest castles in Wales (still more or less standing). Most castles in Wales (also the castles in Pembroke and Cearnarfon) were built in the times of Llewellyn, the first to unite the Welsh land and only truly Welsh Prince of Wales, and shortly after. The first were built by Llewellyn to defend against English invaders, and the latter by the English to defend against Welsh rebels.

The last part of the trip I took the scenic route along the coast. First I visited Tenby, parked the car and followed the signs "beach". Soon I started climbing, climbing and all of a sudden I came to a fence. Indeed, 100 m. directly below lay a small beach.

The directions to the B&B were completely correct, if you came from the main road from St. Clears, not from the coastal road from Tenby. After searching and finally asking, I found out I had to take the road back toward St. Clears and where it joined the A477 to turn left toward Pembroke Dock. After that the directions were clear.

day 4 slept at The Old Rectory, Cosheston

Sunny and warm.

I drove to St. Davids and parked near the tourist information centre. There I got a leaflet with a circular walk from St. Davids to St. Nons (his mother). It took me along a stretch of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path and back to St. Davids along a ridge of the hills.

On my return to the city (res. 1500, but becasue of the cathedral it is a city) of St. Davids, I put my backpack away and visited St. Davids cathedral. Most cathedrals were built on a hill to overlook a valley and impress the locals. St. Davids cathedral, however, was built in the valley so its tower could not be seen from sea: if the vikings couldn't see it, they wouldn't plunder it.

I still had time left, so I drove of towards Fishguard and went to see Pentre Ifan, a stone age burial ground. The mountains there are where the stones of Stonehenge came from. No-one knows how the stone age people moved them such a distance.

day 5 slept at The Old Rectory, Cosheston

Clouded in the morning. In the afternoon sunny and hot. In hindsight, this is when the heatwave started.

In the morning I visited Pembroke castle. This one is still largely intact and you can climb most of the towers.

Afterwards, I drove to Bosherston, south of Pembroke, to make another coastal walk. I had a leaflet detailing several "all saints walks" that tour a number of chapels and churches in the area. I decided to combine two walks, totalling about 13 miles. I did not realize 13 miles is a lot more than 13 kilometers and even though I cut it short it took me over 5 hours.

The first leg was through a danger area (military ground) to St. Govan's chapel. Legend has it that St. Govan, an Irish saint, fled from pirates and came to this cliff. It split open to let him in and then closed again to hide him. Behind the chapel in the rock are some markings that look like a man's ribcage: an imprint of the saints chest. After the danger passed, St. Govan emerged and spent the rest of his life in the area and he built the chapel. It is enclosed right and left by vertical rock face.

After the chapel I followed the Pembrokeshire Coast Path to Stockpole Quay. What really took it out of me today was that, unlike near St. Davids, here the cliffs were occasionally broken by bays and beaches. This meant climbing down, crossing loose sand and climbing up again. By the time I reached Stackpole I was exhausted. I decided then to cut the walk short and return skirting the Bosherston lakes. It turned out that there were woods along the lakes, so besides being mostly level ground, I could walk in the shade. When I made it back to the car I had to rest even before driving back to the B&B.

day 6 slept at The Old Rectory, Cosheston

Sunny and hot.

A long drive today: Pembroke → Haverfordwest → Fishguard → Cardigan → Aberystwyth → Machynlleth → Dolgellau → Bala. At Aberystwyth I took a detour to Devil's Bridge. Nice views on the way, but the waterfalls aren't much. The three bridges (look carefully) are interesting. The B&B is a farm near Frongoch village: Rhydydefaid Farm.

day 7 slept at Rhydydefaid Farm, Frongoch

Sunny and hot.

I hadn't really rested after my last walk, so I decided to make a car trip to some of the towns in Snowdonia. Besides, tomorrow was a sunday, so I figured it best to plan something that was guaranteed to be open: Snowdon. First I drove to Betws-y-Coed, which is very touristic, then on to the Llechwedd slate mines. They have recreated part of an old miners village, with a pub and stores, and provide two mine tours: one with a guide into the mountain and one with a audio-tour deep (ca. 500 ft.) underground.

I took both tours. The guide told some of what life was like for a miner. They had to drill a hole for gunpowder in the slate, using what looks like a spear with a large weight on the end. By thumping it on the ground while twisting it, a miner could drill a 2-3 ft. hole in about 8 hours. Then he would fill it with gunpowder and set it off. The blast would tear of a sizable block of slate, which would slide down the slope toward the tracks. Then he would mark the block (for his payment) and it was hauled to the surface. A better paid job was to clean the ceiling: to take down loose rocks and such from the (granite) ceilings to prevent them falling on people. Of course the risk of falling and injury was also much greater.

The top mine was fairly well lit, but the deep mine tour showed the true working conditions. A miner only had a candle and everything was pitch black. You could only see some points of lights and hear tapping and thumping. Working days were 12 hours, so in winter, most miners never saw the sun. Miners were paid according to what they dug out, with a loan system: the company bought your food and equipment and at the end of each week, you paid them off with your wages. If a miner hadn't produced enough, he could end up in debt. Usually a whole family worked at the same "chamber": father, uncles and children from the age of 8 or 10.

The valley is a small pocket not in the national park, so there are still some working slate mines and a lot of craft shops.

After the slate mines I visited Caernarfon castle. After conquering Wales, the English king had his son born here, so he could proclaim him Prince of Wales. Caernarfon castle still is the site where the British crown prince is made Prince of Wales.

Finally, I rode back through Llanberis pass, from where the "easy" path leads up Snowdon mountain.

day 8 slept at Rhydydefaid Farm, Frongoch

Sunny and hot.

Today is the day: I am going to climb Snowdon mountain (1085 m.). Starting point is Llanberis, close to the bottom station of the Snowdon Mountain Railway. From there a well trodden path leads to the summit. The first leg is a road to a farm shed, then a short track to a low wall. Beyond that is sheep country. The path is a mixture of stone blocks and gravel, or even bare rock. Halfway up is the Halfway cafe, a small hut where they sell beverages (and keep sheep-feed). Passed that the track becomes steep: in places it rises at a 45° angle. The first top you see, and have been seeing from Llanberis village, is not Snowdon, but Crib y Ddysgl (about 70 ft. less). After circling that, you can see Snowdon's summit.

Finally reaching the summit after about three hours and 1½ l. water, it was positively crowded. The path I took was busy, but here several paths joined with the people that took the train. I rested a little lower, but nevertheless the view was excellent. I could see most, if not all, of Anglesey, the Welsh coast and I may even have spotted a bit of Ireland. Except for its twin top, Snowdon is much higher than any of the other mountians, so you have an unobstructed view.

Going back was a little easier. I spend the rest of my water and was glad to reach the village. The first building is a combined tourist information centre and cafe. According to a sign on the door they have 60% rain in the year and people are welcome in muddy shoes and have free use of towels. Today however I was glad to sit outside drinking my coca-cola.

I left at 11:00 hours and returned around 16:30 hours. I used around 3 l. water and other fluids and nearly got sunburned in spite of the suntan oil I used. I was dead-tired, but I still think it was worth it.

day 9 slept at Rhydydefaid Farm, Frongoch

Sunny and hot. I realized I had climbed Snowdon in a heatwave.

Today I visited Bodnant Garden. It lies on a hillside. The higher end has the house, Bodnant Hall, and five terraces with flowers. The lowest terrace has another building: the old pinmill. This building used to be near Frampton. The lord of Bodnant Hall liked the architecture and since it was severely neglected, he tried to move the local population into restoring it. When the locals were less than enthusiastic, he bought the structure and had it moved stone by stone to his garden. He had some adjustments made with regards to the windows and doors, converting it into a teahouse.

The lower part of the garden, the Dell, has shrubs and trees. Most impressive are a number of American sequoias over 45 m. tall. Back at the top, near the entrance and exit is the Laburnum Arch, which I was too late to enjoy.

day 10 slept at Hafren, Llangollen

Sunny and hot.

After sleeping very late, I went to Shrewsbury. Their park & ride scheme is very nice. I took some time wandering around the old town and then went down to the river to the abbey. A few years ago across the road from the abbey church was the Shrewsbury Quest. I looked forward to visiting it, but I found only a large car park. The tourist information was closed for renovation, so I could only go back to the car.

I drove east towards Ironbridge. I visited Buildwas Abbey and Ironbridge and then drove to Haimwood, near Llandrinio on the Welsh side of the border. The B&B is on the bank of the Severn.

day 11 slept at Haimwood

Sunny and hot, again. Although in the evening some clouds appeared in the sky.

This day I spend doing nothing whatsoever. I mostly stayed in my room and read a book. It was just too hot to do anything and I was tired.

day 12 slept at Haimwood

An end to the heatwave! In the morning it drizzled some, and during the day there were some showers. It would not have been an English holiday without at least one day of rain. I'm glad it was only the last one.

The flight was at 19:15. I had to be there 2 hours early: 17:15. A 2 hour drive: 15:15. Refuelling along the way: 14:45. Looking where to deliver the rental car: 13:45. Unforseen circumstances: 13:00. So I figured I had to leave Haimwood around 13:00 hours. I was ready by 10 o'clock and I had finished my book, so I thought I'd go and be early. I would buy a new book at the airport and wait. After a 2 hour drive I got to the airport, hadn't found time to refuel (even the motorway throught Birmingham is hell) and found the rental car return immediately.

So there I was, 5 hours early and to top it all off, none of the book stores had books from the series I was reading. At 17:30 hours, I could finally check in and bought a new book at the duty-free shop. They had a better selection there than in the hall. The flight home was uneventful. I just missed a direct train to Enschede, so I had to wait a half hour. After switching trains in Amersfoort, it turned out it would stop at every station after Deventer, so it was well past midnight when I arrived. I took a traintaxi home and arrived around 1 o'clock in the night. But, home at last!

The End