After our time in England, it was time for my Mom and I to head off on our own little adventure to Wales (followed by Ireland). We rented a car and had fun adjusting to driving on the left hand side of the road. Especially challenging on the country roads that barely fit one car, let alone two, and throwing in a manual shift adds to the fun. I haven’t driven one in years, but it’s like riding a bicycle, in that it easily comes back to you. Using your left hand to shift is a bit awkward at first, but then it’s just plain FUN.
We knew we had crossed into Wales when the radio station we were listening to became incomprehensible, with the DJ’s speaking in a language that sounded curiously like hobbit, and the street signs were filled with impossibly long names containing very strange combinations of vowels and consonants.
Our first destination was the small village of Dolgellau, which would serve as our home during our 2 short days in Wales. Dolgellau is located in Snowdonia National Park, in the northwest corner of Wales, which is known for its wild natural beauty mixed in with quaint villages, medieval castles and lots of outdoor activities including hiking, climbing, mountain biking and water sports.
Dolgellau is one of the aforementioned quaint little villages, featuring crooked buildings of the dark stone characteristic of this area. Our hotel – Y Meirionnydd Inn (still don’t know how to pronounce it properly!) – was right in the center of town, and just what we needed: simple, clean, comfortable and well-located (with very nice proprietors).
In the morning, we woke up to tackle a hike up Mt. Snowden (appx 3,600 ft), the third highest peak in the UK (behind 2 peaks in Scotland). There are several ways to get to the top, including a train ride up the back, but we opted for the second most difficult, the unfortunately named Pyg Track.
It’s mostly a steady uphill climb along a well-marked path, with the last 1/3 becoming progressively steeper and requiring some boulder scrambling. Mom was ready to pack it in near the top, but then heard from some fellow hikers that there was a café on top serving great cappuccino and she had a burst of energy! 30 minutes later we were at the summit, and we were rewarded not only with a nice coffee, but the clouds that had been sitting on top of the mountain cleared to reveal a beautiful view below.
On our way back to the hotel we stopped off in the village of Beddgelert (nope, don’t know how to pronounce that either) for dinner and congratulated ourselves on a job well done.
The next day, we checked out of the hotel and visited a couple of Welsh castles. First up was Harlech Castle which is considered to be one of the finest examples of late 13th century military architecture in Europe.
About 45 minutes northwest of Harlech, and right on the Irish Sea is Caernarfon Castle, very large, well-preserved and best known as the site where Queen Elizabeth II bestowed the title of “Prince of Wales” on Prince Charles in 1969. The title is traditionally given to the next male in line to the throne, and poor Charles has been waiting patiently ever since.
Next we were off to Ireland via a ferry from Holyhead to Dublin. Unfortunately I didn’t pre-book the tickets (who knew?) and we had to wait 4 hours at the ferry terminal for the next ship, which was a “slow ferry”, taking 3 hours to get across. A bit painful, but we landed safely in Dublin just before midnight and took a short cab ride with a very friendly, chatty driver to our hotel, the Westbury, just off of busy Grafton Street in the heart of the city.
More to come on Ireland…stay tuned in!