Today my tour group headed off to Wales, and I think I was able to handle all the weather it threw at me fairly well. It started off warm and beautiful, practically perfect in every way, then strong winds came rushing in giving the air a cold bite, then rain and pebbles of hail fell from the sky and it got colder and even windier. Finally the day ended with it being warmer than it started off as and a rainbow appeared (but as I am writing this in my room it is raining and hailing again). Welcome to Welsh weather, a full week of weather in just one morning.
The first stop we had was Conwy Castle. Conwy Castle is in North Wales and here Welsh is the native tongue (all signs have the Welsh and English spellings). In fact, the first written language with an alphabet in the United Kingdom was Welsh not English. To get to Conwy from Chester we drove through gorgeous countryside and past the coast of the choppy Irish Sea.
Castle Conwy is mostly ruins now, but visitors can walk through them and up the eight massive towers to the curtain wall and then all the way up to the tallest turrets. This is a place that every one of all ages can enjoy, but be warned the wind is strong that it might just blow you right off. At the top there are amazing views that overlook the town, countryside, and Conwy River. By walking through and seeing it you can understand why Conwy Castle is one of the great fortresses of medieval Europe.
Conwy Castle was built in the reign of Edward I, he had planned to surround Wales in an ‘iron ring of castles’ to subdue the rebelling Welsh. This also led to a defensible wall surrounding the town to protect the English colony at Conwy. The building of Castle Conwy began in 1283 and much of it still stands today. Approaching the city my first view was of the castle that leaves a forceful impression of strength as it overlooks the town and its surroundings. And this strong impression is what is left after hundreds of years have deteriorated it. Imagine what it must have been like in its hay day and how those looking upon this mighty English structure must have felt.
Our next stop on our journey through Wales was Trefriw Village. This small, nearly empty village was taken over and turned into a commune in the 60s. The people made crafts and sold them to larger towns, but their goods became so popular that Trefriw turned into a hot tourist spot. The commune and their crafts are long gone, but what still stands (and what we stopped to see) are the woolen mills. You can actually walk into the working mill and watch the entire production process all the way to their special weaving.
One of the greatest legends in the world that came out of Great Britain is that of Camelot and King Arthur. Many will claim various places as the legendary land, but our stop in Snowdonia lays claim to being the place of Avalon, the home to the Lady of the Lake. If it’s true or not I haven’t a clue, but it makes for an interesting tale and now I have bragging rights and can claim that I have been to the spot of legend. Snowdonia is overflowing with beautiful scenery. We saw waterfalls, valleys, and mountains. We even saw an area of large blue stones that has the potential of being the original hole to the rocks at Stonehenge. No trees grow in the area so its speculated that they were torn down and used to move the massive stones and were never given the opportunity to grown back.
Wales is also famous for its mines, and northern Wales for its slate mines. We stopped at the largest one that halted production in 1969 and went through the museum. Admission is free and it is a worthwhile see. Personally I was not overly excited to learn about a slate mine, but with nothing better to do I went in and I am glad I did. You can walk through where the men worked long hours and see all the machines they used in the process for mining and working the slate.
Finally we went back to Chester and were dropped in the city center so that we could explore. I spent my first hour walking through the incredible cathedral (which also has free admission). The details in the stained glass windows and medieval woodwork are spectacularly intricate. The cathedral has seen many changes over its long history. It was founded in 1092 as a Benedictine abbey and built in the Norman style and then 1250 onward 275 years it was rebuilt to fit the Gothic style. The cathedral is a must see in Chester. My next hour was spent walking along the old Roman Walls surrounding the city. Chester was originally a Roman Fortress called Deva over 2000 years ago, and was a hub for trade. The walls are the most complete Roman city walls in Britain and make it easy to find the other attractions around the city like the castle, Roman garden, and the Roman Forum. I then followed a map (I went retro and didn’t use my phone’s GPS) out of the city center and back to the cute guest house I’m staying in. The walk took around twenty minutes but was simple to follow.
I don’t think I have seen a countryside as lovely nor as inspiring as that of Wales in April. It is a green silk tapestry that rolls over miles. Lying in the grass you might just think you are counting sheep and little lambs, the clouds are so white and fluffy. The sky is an incredibly bright, clear blue and daffodils paint the ground yellow. The picturesque scenery leads to ideas of finding a comfortable spot in the sun and enjoying a good book, but if so inclined to do so make sure to come prepared for all imaginable weather!
Helpful Hint: Always bring shower shoes when going to hostels. You do not want to get feet fungus.