A weekend in North Wales
by Slug on July 19, 2013
Unfortunately we didn’t have too much time to devote to hiking during our recent North Wales visit, and on the morning we set off unfortunately, Wales’ highest mountain at a touch under 3000 feet was Snowden was shrouded in low cloud. Instead of taking our annual hike up the mountain, we parked at Beddgelert village and decided to take a low hike which took us past the copper mine at Sygun on the outskirts of the village, then over the ridge and down to the river, which then allowed us a river walk back round to finish the circle back to the village. While I was disappointed not to tackle Snowden once again, we actually had a fantastic variety of walk, and although it was probably only about 8-9 miles it had enough rough walking to make our knees know we had taken a stroll. The toughest bit of the walk was past the Sygun Copper Mines to the top of the ridge; as it has been a wet spring we were walking through a stream as there was a lot of run-off from the boggy mountainside. Fortunately, the rock has a lot of good grip and while we were getting our footwear wet it was at least easy going underfoot. At the top of the mountain there were a confusing array of paths, but fortunately it is easy to work out your direction down to the river, and you can see the estuary between Anglesea Island and the Welsh mainland. I always like to see the cotton grass in the bog land; sticks of grass with bits of what looks to be sheep’s wool stuck to the top. There are some very clear paths to take you down to the rushing white waters of the river. Fortunately half way down the mountain there was a lovely handmade bench produced in the memory of someone who had died far too young, and had loved these mountains. We stopped a while and ate an enjoyable packed lunch while enjoying the view and easing our limbs a while. At this part of the walk, we imagined that we would be walking along smooth grassland alongside the river, but much of this walk comprised of a hard going path cut into rock alongside the river. If you don’t like heights then this won’t be for you as part of the walk requires you to use metal handholds screwed into a wall of rock as you inch along a walkway about half a dozen feet above the rushing water; it’s called the Fishermen’s way, and indeed there were a couple of anglers on the river. The route isn’t particularly tricky but I did feel a little dizzy as I looked over the river throwing white foam over the rocks in the riverbed. Finally, we reached much firmer terraine and we fair strode across the couple of fields over-taking the casual walkers to the assumed grave of the faithful dog Beddgelert before coming back upon the village where we stopped at the corner shop for refreshments. I can recommend this hike for its sheer diversity of village lane, hill, field and riverside walking. There’s a lot of view and enjoyment for your efforts. If you want to follow my route buy a local map, look out for Beddgelert, Sygun Copper Mines, the ridge beyond and the river which curves back round to your starting point.
by Slug on July 5, 2013
We had a horrible Friday night drive to our destination in North Wales, Caernarfon (spoken as car-nar-von), so we arrived at our hotel rather late, flustered and keen to hit the mean streets of the town for dinner. 8:30pm on a Friday Evening can be a scary time to look for dinner, as many of the restaurants and bars are either completely empty or completely full. Neither state is very helpful or encouraging for the hungry diner. While wandering around the little town we spotted the little Wal Restaurant which was somewhere in the middle and dived in with the hope that we would find a table. We gave the waiter a winning smile when he told us that he could fit us in. Our table was down the back of the rather long and skinny restaurant; we were sat in front of a lively (but not overly so) birthday party of 8 and we proceeded to order our food. One downside was that we were not given a drinks list; they were around so I’m guessing they just forgot to get us one. No matter, two pints of Welsh organic lager seemed to call our name from the kitchens and we were soon on our way enjoying a drink knowing our food had been ordered.The building is an old style one with exposed brick walls. I imagine the original occupants of the 1800’s would have had a fit if they saw those exposed walls; it would have originally have been only very poor houses that had such things. The arched stone wall meanwhile is believed to date back to Roman times. It’s rather cool to eat in a 2000 year old building! The Wal of the name is Welsh for "Wall".The restaurant did like its lighting and candles and there were quite a few types of lighting and lampshades dotted around. Had I the time I would have probably tried to count them all (the things I do for the perfect reviewing experience!) Our waiter was something of a fuss pot; having dispatched us to the end of the restaurant, he first insisted on moving the table out from the wall; fine, but it didn’t really make a lot of difference. Then after we had sat down he pondered that we might be more comfortable sitting sideways onto the table; it was a square table and I guessed it would mean the table behind us could get backwards and forwards more easily. As we were moving, he concluded that a different table towards the front of the bar might be more to our liking, so he wandered off to set up that table for us and move us. Fine, we have a waiter with OCD we thought. Rather bizarrely, although there were a couple of other tables, a later arriving couple were shown to the table we had recently vacated and were sitting in the same position we were with the party of 8 behind them. I’m guessing we will never get to the bottom of that little moment. Fortunately, the hopping of seats diverted us enough to the point where our food had arrived very quickly. We just ordered main courses, and I plumbed for the Americano Spicy Pizza at around £9. The pizza wasn’t Italian authentic as the bread base was more good quality bread dough rather than Italian pizza base, but it was very fresh and tasty and laden with ingredients. I liked it a lot. My beloved meanwhile hit carrot jackpot (the one vegetable she dislikes) the main vegetable in the side dish to her Salmon in a Brandy sauce. There were two large steaks of Salmon, and I’m guessing that we could have shared the one dish. The sauce likewise was lovely; not healthy as it was very cream laden, but lovely. Her dish was around £12-13. With a couple of organic largers each our meal came to £40 for the two of us with tip, and we were both very happily full and we both really enjoyed our meal. It appeared the lager had something of an unfortunate effect the following day (particularly unfortunate as we were hiking) as it was the only common thing we ate or drank, so I will just knock a star off and suggest if you visit that you go for a bottle of wine, but we found the restaurant very pleasant and a good deal for the quality of the food on offer.
by Slug on July 6, 2013
As there was quite a lot of low cloud, we decided that our hike would be a fairly low circular trip around the village of Beddgelert. Our route thus took us past a former copper mine opened as a tourist attraction, and as we had the whole day stretching out before us we decided to take the plunge and pay the £8 admission fee. Sygun Copper Mine is perhaps a mile out of the main village area.This part of North Wales was famous for it metal ores since Roman times, and in particular copper, lead and gold. While the rocks are rich in ores there are more productive places to mine, and copper mining ended in the region in the 1930’s.The attraction comprised of the original mine building which housed a shop selling bits of ore in stone and other tourist bits, a small coffee shop and the ticket booth. Pay your money, pick up a hard hat and it’s a short wander to the start of the attraction – a real copper mine hand dug into the mountainside. The attraction has a series of 8 or so spots to stop; you just press a button to hear a recording and look at a mannaquin in a hard hat stuck into some crevice in the mine above your head. It sounds and was a little corney but to be fair it was rather effective as the recordings told of the very hard lives and risks led by the miners. In effect they were contractors and only got paid per weight of ore, so cleaning up the mines and removing the slag was all undertaken in their own time, as was the rescue of colleagues if the shafts collapsed. One rather sad element was with the exaggerated friendliness and Welsh accent of the actor recording the voice. It sounded a little forced and contrived. I was a little surprised with the layout of the mine as I imagined it would be a very safe walk into the mine; in fact there were a series of steep metal steps going up the mine workings (another surprise, I expected to go "down" rather than up into the hillside). The climbing was actually quite strenuous and not great if you don’t like heights. The tunnels were just below my head height (I’m just a hair or two below 6 foot tall) so the hard hat was helpful as I would have banged my head a couple of times without it. For me the route made the tour that little bit "exciting" as you "self tour" and it wasn’t totally bland. We spotted one lit up bit where you could see the coppery colour of the earth, and a metallic looking rock formation in a cavern. For some bizarre reason visitors had tossed some coins into this formation "for luck". I really will never understand this little habit. I think overall we probably spent about just under an hour rootling around in the mine and finally exited halfway up the hill above the Mine head with a stunning view of the valley around. To sum up, this is a worthwhile pit stop (literally) although perhaps not for anyone with trouble climbing steep steps, not liking enclosed spaces or heights.
The village of Beddgelert (spoken as Bed-Gel-Ert) is one of Snowdonia’s prettiest villages. While Snowdonia itself is beautiful, the villages tend to be rather dour places overshadowed by slag heaps and poor. However, Beddgelert is blessed by a pretty more open location by the side of a river, and because of the story of Gelert the faithful dog of Llywelyn (Loo-Well-In) the Great, a Welsh Price who ruled North Wales for 40 years in the late 1100’s.The tale goes that Gelert the faithful dog refused to go out with Llywelyn on a trip one day. On Llywelyn’s return he was greeted by his dog covered in blood and wagging his tail. Llywelyn then spotted blood around the cradle of his infant son, and assuming the worst, draws his sword and kills the happy dog. As the dog rattles his last breaths, the noise wakes up Llwelyn’s infant son and Llywelyn then spots the body of a wolf who had arrived to eat the child.Llywelyn filled with love and remorse names the spot Beddgelert, builds a grave for his beloved dog who saved his son and never smiles again.Before you break your keyboard through spilling salty tears know that versions of this story exist in eastern Europe, and an enterprising inn-man actually built the grave in the 1700’s. Further Gelert was a seventh century man who lived in a cave nearby and was reputed to be a healer and thus became a saint. Beddgelert is named after the saint, rather than a murdered dog. Still, it keeps the tourists coming and it is a lovely tale. Today, you can visit the grave of "Gelert" and there is even a rather grand bronze statue erected in thanks to the tourists that visit the village every year. One thing that is real, is that the illustrator of the original Rupert the Bear books came from Beddgelert, and many of the settings of the illustrations were inspired by the village.There are a few nice tourist shops to view, along with a few good pubs and restaurants. It’s also a nice place to stroll along the river. Alas hunting for Gelert (the dog) appears rather futile.
by Slug on July 7, 2013
As we have been doing a lot of cheap travelling of late (we can go to more places) and it was my birthday, I decided to splash out just a little and pay for a couple of nights at the three star, but very traditional Celtic Royal on the edge of Caernarfon Town Centre. The rack rate is around £145 a night for a double room in summer, although our deal was half that. I’m sure the coach tours for elderly Brits, Germans and Americans pay even less, but we were quite comfortable with our deal. On entrance we were surrounded by a group of excited young teens on their prom nights; we smiled at the sophisticated grown up looking women against the same aged fluffy chinned boys, looking uncomfortable self-conscious and anxious in their unfilled out suits. Actually the people we met on that evening were polite, funny and friendly (we took a few photos for them over the course of the evening) and we certainly didn’t have a disturbed time because of their presence.Our room was on the large size with a double and a singe bed within it, and it was quite nicely, if traditionally furnished. It looked as though a part refurbishment had taken place, meaning that the red carpet, and the older style table unit didn’t match the blue bedspread, the flat screen wall mounted TV or the light yellow walls. However, we were quite comfortable in the room although it felt very warm in there. Our room looked out over the expansive and highly sloping car park. My beloved’s Honda Civic is quite a heavy car and we struggled to find a space where we felt comfortable with the hand break holding. In icy weather, that car park would be something of a problem. The other public rooms were pretty nice, although the pink candy stripe regency corridors were a mistake; it felt like we had entered Willy Wonkas Chocolate Factory. The entrance lobby and the open balconies from the stairs overlooking the lobby was quite impressive, although the art-deco Havana Bar was rather a disappointment (particularly as they didn’t even serve bottles of real local ale). We left after one lager as it didn’t sell what we wanted to drink and was rather soulless. Service in the hotel was relaxed and friendly and a lot of the staff seemed to be Polish. Considering this is a 110 bed hotel the breakfast was served to precision, with a good hot plate of traditional English breakfast (think fried bacon, sausage egg, tomato etc), and then ceriels, yoghurt and fresh fruit (although not a great selection). The breakfast overall was perhaps like the hotel; pretty good if not stunning. The dining room was very impressive however, and I’m sure the older coach party clientele would have particularly appreciated it. As we were hiking in the mountains, we didn’t have time to sample the swimming pool and I am a stranger to the fitness suite in any case. To sum up, the Celtic Royal Hotel is in a reasonable location where it is easy to walk into town (although the supermarket opposite, and the shut down hotel up the road somewhat marks the look of the immediate area), and it is a reasonable and pleasant hotel. We were very happy with our two nights stay for the price we paid for bed and breakfast included.
We did struggle to find a good real ale pub for our weekend’s stay in Caernarfon, although we know there are some good local breweries around (waves at Great Orme Brewery in nearby Llandudno). We felt our best chance would arrive with the very characterful Black Boy Inn in the old town of Caernarfon. The pub dates back to 1522 and so is one of the oldest pubs in North Wales. The inside of the pub is suitably dark and stone flagged and it is a very atmospheric place. Apparently the ghost of a nun can be seen in the pub (although whether that tale is as "true" as that of Gelert the dog is unknown). In the olden days, the pub was in the centre of the red light district which formed to serve the sailors that dropped by each evening. I didn’t see much sign of that tradition following through to the current time. The Black Boy name may have one of three origins; it was near a black buoy out to sea, it was a place where Royalists met (King Charles was referred to as a Black Boy on account of his hair colour), during the English Civil War or it referred to the colour of some of the sailors that visited the place. We also rather liked the jukebox; anyone that has the Velvet Underground playing at the point we enter a pub earns a brownie point from me. The jukebox was heavily indie, rock and alternative.On the downside on the day we visited the beer was truly terrible. It was a very musty tasting local beer; to be fair to the pub, I don’t think it was off, but it was a poor choice of beer and meant we only lingered in the bar for one. I wasn’t sure if they were changing the barrels as there only really seemed to be a choice of two beers when we visited. The poor drink was rather a shame, as we had quickly managed to nab a table despite it being a very popular local drinking hole. The possession of the table meant we could have dined here, although my beloved concluded it was too early to eat. Instead I stared wistfully at the plates of wonderful looking and smelling food pass us by (and the portions looked truly massive). There was quite a lot of interesting choice on the menu and I’m sure there would have been something to suit everyone. The Black Boy Inn offers rooms that are well rated on a popular rival website, but of course we were staying elsewhere.Summing up, the Black Boy seemed like a most promising place; plenty of atmosphere, great looking food and a super jukebox. Unfortunately it might have been an off day when we visited, but the drink (and the primary reason why one might visit a bar) didn’t taste great and no convincing of my beloved to linger a while could persuade her to stay. As such I must speak and rate as I found the place.
©Travelocity.com LP 2000-2009