Wales, walks, wildflowers

I intended to write a post last week about the process involved in planning and executing my latest project. But the truth is, I was feeling fairly burned out and needed a respite. Sitting on a warm and sunny beach somewhere while reading books and drinking cocktails sounded pretty nice, but that would involve getting on a plane during the crowded and covid-impacted Easter holiday, which we were determined to avoid. So instead, we drove to Wales for some respite and a change of scenery. I actually managed to leave my laptop at home, and not once did I look at either my email or the news.

Above is a photo of Doug, standing in the front garden of our B&B (this was a return visit to The Royston) at around 8 in the evening as dusk is starting to fall. It is a very lovely and peaceful spot. You can’t see it in the photo, but just to the left of where Doug is standing, are two chairs around a fire pit, where you can sit and enjoy this view. That is where I spent the next afternoon, doing a bit of knitting in the sun.

I hesitate to admit that this is the only time I did any knitting on the entire trip. I also read only one book. Mostly we walked, admired beautiful scenery, breathed deep, and slept 10 hours a night. We went on some great walks. This one was in Snowdownia National Park, near Dolgellau:

It was so lush and green, and peaceful. We walked for hours without passing anyone.

The trail ran along the sides of a ravine, with a river below. The only sound you could hear was that of the river rushing.

We had a lovely adventure when the GPS in the car told us to take a short cut to the seashore, which involved driving through an abandoned slate mine and then on a long track which progressed through a multitude of livestock gates, through country like this:

The lambs did not understand right-of-way:

The seashore was a bit cold and grey but you could walk for miles along the coastal path.

Here is a great stretch of nearly empty beach:

This little steam train ran along the beach, on the other side of the dunes:

We really got a kick out of this brightly painted cinema in the town of Tywyn:

Which is also where Doug grabbed this funny shot:

We spent 4 days up in that part of Wales, near Snowdownia, and then drove to Hay-on-Wye where we stayed for another few days. I had always wanted to visit Hay, which is a spot for book lovers; the town hosts a world famous yearly literary festival, and is home to 38 used book stores. Hay turned out to be a bit too touristy for me (perhaps because it was Easter weekend). It had some funky shops, like this one:

We spent an afternoon wandering through a few of the many book shops. We particularly liked the poetry book shop, where we bought some lovely old and quirky volumes of poetry, and in another shop bought two classic cookbooks from 1961 (the year I was born) and a few books on food writing. We had a fantastic dinner in Hay, at Chapters. If you plan to visit Hay and want to eat there, book well in advance!

We were quite happy that we had not booked a place to stay in the town, instead opting for nearby Glasbury. We spent a fantastic day walking at the National Trust property Begwyns. The website says: “It is possible to see almost the entire Brecon Beacons National Park from the Roundabout, hence all of the views none of the climb.” They are certainly right about the views, which are spectacular, but being not so fit, Doug and I felt that they weren’t entirely honest about there not being a climb.

The Roundabout is a circular, walled piece of forest, at the top of a wide sweep of mostly empty land with views in every direction. You can see it above, and here is a shot from closer up:

In the photo below, I am sitting on a bench in the Roundabout, looking out at one section of the view. You can walk around the walled fence and as far as you can see in every direction are beautiful, rolling hills.

It’s hard to capture an image of the sense of space out there. The sky feels very big and makes you feel very small.

I love the shot below, which has Doug on the left, and a lone tree on the right:

What a beautiful place to take your horse for a ride!

We are now back home and I can’t help but notice that home looks…..well, not unlike Wales! I took the below photo this morning just a few miles from my home:

Hee hee! We could have saved some money by staying home, but then that pesky laptop would have been calling to me, and I would have undoubtedly succumbed to answering emails. Today, the bluebells are at their absolute best, and this part of the world is gorgeous and covered in blankets of the purple wildflowers. Those of you who are long-term readers of this blog may be thinking “Oh no, not more bluebell photos!”, but I couldn’t resist. Besides I am fairly sure that I didn’t post any for the last two years.

These were taken on our walk this morning.

Individually, they are such dainty little flowers, but once they congregate, they become fairly majestic.

I had originally called this post “Wales, walks, wool, wildflowers” and I was going to show you a bunch of wool and knitting photos. But instead, I think I will save those for another time.

Best wishes for a peaceful Sunday.

In search of 13th century Wales

My daughter Leah is a history fanatic.  There are many periods and places that she studies but she is especially enamored of the Medieval Period.  Since reading Sharon Penman’s Welsh Princes trilogy she has devoured everything she can read about 13th century Wales.  The trilogy covers the saga of the medieval princes of Gwynedd (North Wales), in particular Llewelyn Fawr and his grandson, Llewelyn ap Gruffydd, through a turbulent 100 year period, marked by war, betrayal, royal machinations, and upheaval. Wales had rather progressive (for the time) rights for women and there were a number of very strong female characters who are portrayed in the book including King John’s (illegitimate) daughter Joanna, and Simon de Montfort’s daughter Ellen (who was cousin to King Edward).   Leah wanted to visit Wales and tour the locations from the books while she was home this summer, but we have had difficulties finding time.  This post is the story of 48 hours in Wales in search of history.  (A note to my regular readers:  Despite this being a knitting blog, there is no knitting content whatsoever in this post, except for the occasional photo of my Killybegs sweater!)

We drove to Wales on a Thursday afternoon, arriving late.  Friday dawned with rain and clouds and gloom, which continued throughout the day.  Leah had plotted out an itinerary of sites from the book, but we had trouble from the beginning.  Some sites were impossible to find (the Pass of the Two Stones) others disappointing (it was too wet and late in the day to hike up to Aber Falls).  By four in the afternoon, we were totally dispirited.  As Leah said “All we’ve had today is the castle we couldn’t find, the Pass we couldn’t find, the church that wasn’t the church, the church that was the church but was closed, the sea view with no view and the hill that might have been the site of a castle.”  We decided to try one last site before heading back to the hotel – Dolbadarn Castle.

13-IMG_9349Here we hit the jackpot.  This beautiful castle is perched on the top of a hill, looking over gorgeous countryside.  You have to hike up to it through a lovely forest tract:

05-20140704165103In the rain and the gloom, it is magnificently atmospheric.  Best of all, there is no ticket office, no gift shop selling souvenirs, no ropes barricading it off; it just sits in the gloom, as it has sat for over 800 years, majestic, solid,  indifferent to the ravages of weather and the passage of time.14-IMG_9352From the tower, you can see the remains of the walls of the castle and the beautiful views across the valley:

03-20140704164426Owain ap Gruffydd was imprisoned in this very tower for 22 years by his brother Llewelyn.  Here is Leah, sitting in the stone spiral staircase leading to the top of the tower, reading from the book the scenes that took place there.

04-20140704164111Our experience in Dolbadarn made up for the rest of the day, and driving back to the hotel through the stunning Llanberis Pass was just icing on the cake.

The next morning dawned bright and sunny.  We had stayed in the town of Dolwyddelan because much of the trilogy takes place at Dolwyddelan Castle.  We hiked up there just after breakfast.


02-IMG_9357There’s nothing quite like walking up the steps to a 13th century castle:

05-IMG_9372Or walking all the way up to the top, through narrow stone staircases, and looking out over the ramparts:

6-IMG_9392I really love this photo of Leah, sitting in the window seat of the Great Room at Dolwyddelen; she is reading a scene which takes place in this very room:

07-20140705104608We had the castle all to ourselves for over an hour.  It was incredibly peaceful.  The countryside is still so unspoiled, it is easy to  imagine yourselves hundreds of years back in time.  Eventually, however, the peace was shattered by the arrival of about 40 teenagers, clearly on a tour of some sort.  This led to the following conversation:

Leah:  Well, its too bad that we now have a crowd here, but at least they are speaking Welsh.  It adds to the atmosphere.

Me:  How do you know they are speaking Welsh?

Leah:  Can’t you hear?  The language has voiceless lateral fricatives.  There are not too many languages with voiceless lateral fricatives, Mom.  I mean, Navajo is one I suppose but it’s highly unlikely a busload of Navajo speaking teenagers is touring around Welsh castles today.

This is music to the ears of any linguist parent: a child who says the words “voiceless lateral fricatives” in ordinary conversation, much less recognizes them when she hears them.  Oh, the simple joys of parenthood!

I can’t resist, since this is indeed a knitting blog, the following photo which shows off my Killybegs sweater.  When you are hiking through this kind of weather, with sun and wind and mist and rain, you realize that there truly is nothing that works as well as wool.  (I am convinced that all of the sheep in Wales agree with me.)  I am also sitting in a 13th century window here, which is pretty amazing.

04-IMG_9368After our hike back down from the castle, we made our way to Swallow Falls, a lovely waterfall near Betwys-y-coed which also features in the books.  We were told that summer isn’t the best time to view them, but they were lovely:



The last stop of the day was totally magical.  This was the church at Llanrhychwyn.  Parts of the church date to the 11th century- it is, in fact, the oldest church in Wales.  Llewelyn Fawr and his wife, Joanna, worshipped here.  Part of the magic was in finding it at all.  It is up in the hills, and not signposted; it was true serendipity in the guise of two hikers who appeared at just the right moment and directed us through unmarked fields to this amazing treasure.

20140705_145434The church sits at the top of a hill with views stretching out over a valley.  There is barely any indication of modern life.  It is easy to feel transported back through time.

20140705_144848The inside is so spare, so simple.  I find it astonishingly beautiful.  If you have no feel for history whatsoever, you would still feel the magic of this spot.  If you are a fan of the books, however, it is very moving.


09-20140705144246One of the books, Here be Dragons,  ends with Joanna worshipping alone in this very church.  Leah was able to sit here and read that scene.  Lovely, don’t you think?