Jeanne, Bob and I flew to London, rented a car and set out for Wales, where we would meet our friends from Berlin, Gisela and Wolfgang. They were also bringing another couple, Gisela and Peter. Our objective was to explore Wales, but especially the ‘Little Trains of Wales,’ which are narrow-gauge railroads, used previously for hauling, but now are really just volunteer-operated tourist trains. Wolfgang has a special interest in trains, so we shall see what that is all about.
On the way to Wales, we stopped for a night at Burford, staying at the Golden Pheasant Hotel. We were so impressed with this little hotel, as they set the breakfast table for three, especially for us, and gave us all free newspapers to read with our morning coffee.
We explored Burford some, discovering a plaque at the church that said that King Henry VIII’s barber was from Burford and was buried here. The barber was an especially trusted person, as every day the barber would be holding a straight-edged razor to the neck of the king—which might make a king nervous, one would think.
The next day we arrived in Porth Penrhyn, experiencing the exotic spellings of place-names that one encounters in Wales. We pushed on to Fairbourne where Gisela had rented a house. Although we really didn’t have explicit directions as to where we would meet, this was a small town and we assumed it would be self-evident. Well, it wasn’t! We booked rooms at the main hotel in town, and soon Gisela showed up there looking for us. It turned out that we stayed at the hotel, because the rented house was not big enough to accommodate all of us. When we were all united, we celebrated with a beer!
The next day we all took a boat to Barmouth, which was across an inlet from Faribourne. The weather and scenery were beautiful!
Wolfie had a detailed map which allowed us to take a long hike to the Abergavenny Castle ruins, walking through sheep pastures, going over stiles, climbing over fences, etc. We continued on to St. Mary’s Priory, which was a country church built in the 13th century.
From here we came to Dolgellau Falls.
The town of Harlech and Harlach Castle were next on our ‘outing list.’ This is a huge castle, which we explored quite fully. There is a plaque in town, which explained that a more recent Lord Harlech had laid the stone of that house in 1908.
We explored Portmeirion, a bizarre town with elaborate Italianate architecture. It was created by a Welsh architect, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, who fulfilled a childhood dream of building a village “to my own fancy on my own chosen site.”
From there we drove on to view Mt. Snowdon, the highest point in Wales. The countryside was very beautiful; we took walks to view the ‘just opening’ rhododendrons that grow wild on the hills. The pinkish hue on some hills would become bright pink in a few days.
One of our walks brought us to Gelert’s Grave. The legend was that in Beddgelert, Llywelyn the Great left his faithful hound, Gelert, to guard his infant son while he went hunting. When he returned he was horrified to see the cradle overturned, and Gelert covered in blood. Thinking that the dog had attacked his son, he slew the hound, only to then find his son unharmed under the overturned cradle. Nearby there was a dead wolf, which Gelert had killed to protect the child. Present day promoters of tourism had built a mound of stones with a plaque to commemorate this event.
That night the seven of us celebrated with a party at their rented house. Interestingly, we saw the sun setting in one direction and the full moon coming up in the other. Jeanne, Bob and I had brought a couple bottles of wine to the party, which we had bought at the hotel. They were soon gone, in spite of them being some of the worst bottles of wine that I have ever drunk. Still this seemed to be the only option in this little town for keeping the party going, so Gisela and Wolfgang made a run back over to the hotel to buy some more. We were dancing, singing, and having such a good time that we didn’t pay any attention to the quality of the wine!
Another excursion took us to the Hysbysrwydd, Siop and Parc. (Can you pronounce the name of this place? I can’t either!) From there we rode on the Welsh Hyland Railroad. These little trains are such fun to explore. They are mostly all run by volunteers, who give their time, expertise, and money to keep them going! Not far from here we encountered an accident that had just happened. A man had somehow run into the front of a shop!
At this point our friends from Berlin departed for home, and Jeanne, Bob and I carried on alone.
Another train—the Snowdon Mountain Railroad—gave us a chance to admire the scenery hereabouts. From here we explored two towns—Tenby and then Swansea,which is really a city, with a little detour to see the Brecon Beacons.
On the way back to London, we went a bit out of our way to see Winchester with its wonderful cathedral. (Remember the song, ‘Winchester Cathedral’?) Inside the cathedral we discovered Jane Austen’s grave—she died in 1817, and further down the street was a house where she had lived her last days.
On to the London airport. While we were waiting to board our plane, we were delayed a bit while members of the British Royal Family (Princess Alexandra, I think) were being met and greeted. They were whisked away in a fancy car with flags flying. And soon we were jetting back across the Atlantic and home.