August 29, 1995: fly to Heathrow, bus to Caerdydd/Cardiff
August 30, 1995: City Hall (Marble Hall), Cardiff Castle, National Museum of Wales
August 31, 1995: Castell Coch, Castell Caerffili/Caerphilly Castle, Tinkinswood Chambered Long Cairn, St. Lythans Cromlech
September 1, 1995: drive to Abertawe/Swansea, Pontrhyfyden (birthplace of Richard Burton), Cefn Coed Amgueddfa Glofa/Cefn Coed Colliery Museum, Swansea Maritime & Industrial Museum, drive around the Gwyr/Gower Peninsula
September 2, 1995: Y Hendy Gwyn/Whitland memorial to Hywel Dda/Howell the Good, Dynbych-y-Psygod/Tenby, St. Mary's Church, memorial to Robert Recorde (inventor of the "=" sign), Maenorbyr/Manorbier, Manorbier Castle, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, Penfro/Pembroke, Pembroke Castle, Carreg Samson (Samson's Stone) Cromlech, Pentre Ifan Cromlech, Bronze Age Gors Fawr Stone Circle
September 3, 1995: Strata Florida Abbey, Pontrhydyfen/Devil's Bridge, Dyffryn Ardudwy chambered cairn, Harlech Castle, Bangor
September 4, 1995: Ffestiniog Steam Railway, Portmeirion, Blaenau Ffestiniog
September 5, 1995: Llanfairpwllgwyngyll- gogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, Bryn-Celli-Ddu ("Mound in the Dark Grove") Chambered Cairn, Caer Leb, Bodowyr Cromlech, Barclodiad-y-Gawres Chambered Cairn, Ty Newydd ("New House") Cromlech, Tregfignath Burial Chamber, Holyhead Mountain Hut Circles, Penrhos Standing Stones, Caerbybi/Holyhead, Din Lligwy Settlement, Lligwy Cromlech, Beaumaris Castle
September 6, 1995: Caernarfon Castle, Segontium, Conwy Castle
September 7, 1995: Capel Garnon Chambered Long Cairn, Valle Crucis Abbey, Llanrhaedr-ym-mochnant ("Church by the Falls on the Pig Brook") ("The Englishman Who Walked Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain" site), Four Stones, Y Gelli/Hay-on-Wye, Abergavenny
September 8, 1995: Hay-on-Wye, Caerllion/Caerleon Roman ruins, Cas-Gwent/Chepstow, Chepstow Castle, Abaty Tyndyrn/Tintern Abbey
September 9, 1995: Welsh Industrial & Maritime Museum, Cardiff Bay, Forbidden Planet
September 10, 1995: bus to Heathrow, fly to New Jersey
[continued from Intersection convention report]
August 29, 1995: This was basically a travel day, first flying to Heathrow, then taking a bus to Caerdydd/Cardiff. I realize this sounds odd--why not fly directly to Cardiff? The only answer I have is that I have discovered that usually round-trips are cheaper, so it seemed to make sense to get a round-trip to Edinburgh/Glasgow from Heathrow. (And that's already an open-jaw ticket, but the two are close enough that they are probably counted together.) In any case, this is what we ended up with.
[Note on place names: many places in Cymru/Wales have both Welsh and English names. In these cases I will give both on the first mention, with the Welsh name first, but then use whichever one is most common.]
We flew down on British Midland 5 at 11 AM, along with a whole lot of other fans, including Dale and Jo, and Moshe Feder. Since we hadn't had a chance to talk to Moshe at the convention, we sat in the terminal after we arrived and chatted for about a half-hour.
Then we went off and found the National Express Bus office, where our tickets were waiting for us. The bus (or rather buses, since there were so many people going in that direction there were two) left a few minutes after its scheduled starting time of 2:15 PM but made up the time.
The bus was more like a tour bus than a long-distance bus in the United States. The driver told a lot of jokes, and there were beverages and sandwiches for sale. There was also more room than one has on a plane, and the three-hour ride was more comfortable than our one-hour plane flight had been.
We took the M4 west, perhaps not the world's most exciting road, but we did cross one of Britain's seven industrial wonders (or some such thing), the Severn Bridge.
Hywel Francis once said, "My Orwellian nightmare is a big black sign at the Severn Bridge: You are now entering a protected industrial relic. Pay #5 to view this disappearing society." Well, that isn't there yet, but it is true that industry in Wales is having a rough time of it. From what we can tell, however, much of the industry of the last two hundred years or so was of the heavily polluting kind, and has left a lot to clean up (which one assumes provides jobs if there's someone to pay for it).
We started seeing signs in both English and Welsh. Welsh is a strange-looking language (at least to me). It's written in the Roman alphabet, but it uses the letters differently, so when someone who knows English tries to read it, it's unpronounceable. There was once an ad for a literacy campaign that showed various familiar products, but with the letters in their named replaced by other random letters. So for example, "Tide" was "Xyri." Seeing Welsh reminds me of this. This is not to say it's totally unreadable, and once you know "w" is pronounced as "oo" in "cool," it's easy to translate "Clwb Golff."
I should also mention that we're using Wales: The Rough Guide by Mike Parker and Paul Whitfield, and the "Insight" book on Wales, though primarily the former. It is not nearly as good as the Lonely Planet book would be, but the only Lonely Planet book was for all of the United Kingdom and that was just too bulky. Since we are renting a car, we can get by with this, but if we needed to use public transportation to get around, the Rough Guide would not be of much help. It has some information on inter-city buses and trains, but not as much as the Lonely Planet would, and not as well arranged.
We got off at Cardiff and walked across the station plaza to the Tourist Information Centre, where we had them book us a room for three nights (at #38/night for a double) at the Penrhys Hotel on Cathedral Street. We also bought a two-person, seven-day CADW (Welsh Historic Monuments--the acronym must be for the Welsh name) pass for #17, which meant switching our plans around to see as many CADW sites within a seven-day period as possible.
The Tourist Information Centre said it was a "fifteen-minute walk" to the Penrhys. This took about forty minutes, about par for a fifteen-minute Welsh (or Scottish) walk. With our luggage, it seemed longer.
The Penrhys is a comfortable hotel, with bathrooms in each room, and more space than we had in Glasgow.
For dinner, we walked toward the center of town and ate at the Juboraj II, where Mark had Chicken Jahlfrazi and I had Vegetable Balti. Balti seems to be peculiar to Britain. Described as being from the Punjab region, it is cooked and served in an iron dish, but is not as delicately flavored as most of the curries. It was okay, but is not something I would soon reorder.
August 30, 1995: After a full English breakfast, including egg, bacon, sausage, and fried bread (Mark wonders that the British don't keel over from cholesterol), we walked over to the City Hall, known for its Marble Hall, with statues of famous Welsh heroes. Contrary to what the Rough Guide says, they are not all male: there is a statue of Buddug/Boadicea among them. Other than these statues, and the dragon on top of the domed roof, however, there is not much to see in this building. There is a monument outside dedicated to the dead of the Boer Wars--one thing Britain has more of than the United States is more wars to build monuments to the dead of.
We passed through a subway (underground walkway) with some interesting artwork on the walls, but no title or explanation. Parts of it looked like stylized representations of war refugees, but that could be just my imagination.
At 10 AM, we got to Cardiff Castle and decided to take the tour (#3.50 each). This took forty-five minutes and helped explain a lot (not to mention that the only way to see the inside is with the tour).
Cardiff Castle was first built (in a much reduced form) by the Romans and later modified by various people until it was finally remodeled by the Earl of Bute and the architect William Burges in the late 19th Century. A strange combination of Victorian extravagance and medieval austerity, it is certainly unique.
Every room in the castle has a theme. For example, the theme of the Winter Smoking Room in the Clock Tower is time, with various decorations representing the seasons of the year, the days of the week, and so on. Above the fireplace is carved Virgil's line, "Omnia vincit amor et nos cedamus amori." To prevent women from eavesdropping at the door while the men talked, Burges carved a devil's head above it to scare them away. (He was in the 19th Century, so he was a fairly recent git.)
The nursery has tiles painted by William Lonsdale from Shaker Heights, Ohio, which represented various figures from nursery rhymes and fairy tales. For one, he has the outline of the Invisible Prince between two trees shaped by the branches of the trees, but most are straightforward.
The Arab Room in the Herbert Tower has a ceiling of sandalwood, and is decorated with Welsh gold (the most expensive gold in the world). There are also painted and carved parrots; Burges loved parrots. The upper rooms in this tower are closed; the guide said they were haunted, but she said a lot of other stuff that was for effect only, so I suspect they're just not as interesting.
The Banqueting Room dates from the 15th Century and is in the oldest part of the castle. It has as its theme Robert the Consul, Earl and Lord of Gloucester, and son of William the Conqueror. After William died, Robert the Consul was involved in a power struggle with his uncle and his sister Matilda, and this struggle is commemorated in the elaborate fireplace. This room is now used for fancy banquets, wedding receptions, etc.
The bedroom has 189 mirrors in the ceiling (to increase the light from the candles used at the time) and a religious theme around Bute's first name (John). This includes having a wardrobe that looks like a confessional. According to the guide, by the way, Lord Bute looked exactly like Raymond Burr, which makes the rather small bed in this room look as if it might not have been particularly comfortable.
The Summer Roof Garden has a Roman theme, though heavily larded with Biblical overtones. For example, it has one of the six smiling Madonna statues in the world. Also, the wall tiles are of Elijah and Prophets of Baal from the books of Kings. And the style of the fountain is medieval rather than Roman. Still, the layout seems Romanesque.
The Dining Room has a table with a hole in center. Apparently this was so after a meal the servants could put a flowerpot holding a grapevine beneath the table and by pulling the table apart, bringing the vine up, then pushing the table together, have the vine come through the table so people could pick and eat grapes right off the vine.
The Library has five statues with tablets above the fireplace, each tablet with a different alphabet: Greek, Babylonian, Aramaic, Egyptian, and Celtic. These are somewhat related, of course. I think I once read or heard that there have been only four or five independently invented forms of writing. That of the Middle East and Mediterranean would be one, that of China another, and that of the Mayans a third. I'm sure someone can help me out with the other(s). There were also little angels or child-like figures around the walls with the names of authors, but they were not likenesses.
There is little left of the originally elaborate Grand Entrance Hall: Lady Bute fell down the stairs in the 1920s, decided they were built incorrectly(!), and had the whole thing redone in a very boring style.
Outside on the lawn, peacocks preened themselves.
We climbed up to the Norman keep and to the top of it. There is a good view of city from the keep--but then again, it's just a city, and not even a very old one. In Vilnius the view of the city from the tower was interesting; here it's the view of the castle from the city that's better.
After this my mouth and throat were fairly dry, so we stopped for a quick soda, then proceeded to the National Museum of Wales (#3 each). This is described as one of the great museums of Britain, and it certainly has an amazing collection. Towards the beginning, I saw that their Dante Gabriel Rossetti ("Fair Rosamund") was temporarily removed, and thought, "It's the story of our lives that this is missing." But this was just a minor omission considering the scope of their collection. They had a particularly good collection of the French Impressionists and 20th Century art, with Monet, Manet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Leger, and Magritte. After seeing so many museums which seem to concentrate showing only the art of their area, it's a change to see a museum that seems more aimed at showing the art of the world. If nothing else, the latter seems more aimed at local residents than tourists.
There were two paintings to which I was particularly attracted. One was Maximilian Lenz's "Spring." Lenz studied Byzantine mosaics with Klimt, and used similar gold highlights in this. The other was in the gallery of current painters and was "Entombed--Jesus in the Midst" by Nick Evans, showing a group of trapped miners with Jesus standing over them with a miner's helmet and lamp. The characters are painted in such a way that Jesus looks almost like a medieval knight, and the whole picture uses a very Welsh context for the image of Jesus as a protector.
But that's just the art section. There is also an entire floor dedicated to natural history, including an exhibit about the world's largest turtle (weighing 2016 pounds and caught off the coast of Wales). There were also exhibits on whales (pun intended?), bats, mollusks, and other fauna. The major exhibit on this floor was the "Evolution of Wales"--an excellent exhibition tracing Wales from the Big Bang to 250,000,000 years in the future. One part I liked was the computer simulation showing continental drift over the last 250,000,000 years and over the next 250,000,000 years (which was the extent of their predictions, I should note). I also liked that through the eras they indicated where "Wales" was then, that is, where the land in which these rocks, trilobites, dinosaur bones, etc. are now was then. I've often wondered when they talk about the climate in Utah, for example, being different in the past whether that's because Utah was really somewhere else then.
There were several audio-visual presentations (including one on volcanos with very dramatic footage) which were shown once in Welsh, then twice in English, then once in Welsh, and so on. I noticed that the Welsh showings didn't seem to have any attendees, while the English ones almost invariably did.
This got me to thinking about bi-lingualism in Wales. All the official signs are in both Welsh and English. All the museum exhibits are in both languages. Yet a bank that has its name in both English and Welsh will still have its signs advertising mortgages only in English. I get the impression that Welsh is prominent more as a political statement rather than as people's first language. Of course, things may be different in other parts of Wales.
The museum took us until closing time, 5 PM. We walked over to Sandy's on St. Mary Street for dinner, since it looked reasonably priced. It was reasonably priced, but Mark didn't think the food was any good. I suspect that "good" and "reasonably priced" may be conflicting concepts in Britain when it comes to eating out.
August 31, 1995: Nothing is ever simple.
I had made a reservation with Hertz through British Airways, saying we would want the car from about 9 AM on 31 August to about 5 PM on 9 September. However, they made it only until 9 AM on 9 September, possibly because the dealership closes at noon on Saturday and has no provision for after-hour returns. But they failed to convey this to me, so we had been planning on using the car that final day. Well, we quickly re-arranged our schedule (again), and moved some of the castles we were going to do at the end on our seven-day CADW pass to the beginning of the trip.
The car is a Ford Fiesta Automatic, costing US$33/day. It gets about 8 miles to the liter of petrol, and a liter costs slightly more than half a pound. So it's a little more than ten cents a mile for petrol.
Our first stop on our revised plan was Castell Coch, and we arrived there about 10 AM. Driving on the left takes a bit of getting used to, but the hardest part is learning to read the road signs and figure out the paired roundabouts--the single ones are easy enough, but the double ones are bizarre. Finding something in a town takes a long time, much longer than getting to the town.
Castell Coch is another Bute and Burges extravaganza, though smaller than Cardiff Castle. They found it ruined and renovated it, and the courtyard at least has been used for many movies, such as The Black Knight, The Prisoner of Zenda, etc. But the castle itself is very small and took only about an hour to see. The guidebook available at the entrance is very helpful for understanding what you are seeing, and in fact we bought guidebooks at almost every castle we went to.
Since this was much faster than we expected, we decided to go to Castell Caerffili/Caerphilly Castle as well, since that was further up the same road. This is much larger--in fact it is the largest castle in Wales--and took us about three-and-a-half hours to see. It has what many describe as an amazing moat, but I would describe it more as an artificial lake.
By the way, Caerphilly is pronounced "Cair-FIL-ee"--it's strange, but the tour books never seem to tell you how to pronounce these names.
I will not give you a complete description of the castle, but I will say that they had several displays on the history of the castle and the area, a whole history that we never learned in school. Except for the Romans, the first thing we learned about Britain was 1066, and any mention of Wales was just that the English kings were putting down uprisings there. But not surprisingly, Wales has its own history which is difficult to learn on short notice. Unfortunately, the pieces of Welsh history that stick the best in my brain are those linked to British history: Edward II fleeing to Wales, Henry VII being Welsh, and so on.
After this, we decided to hit a couple of prehistoric sites that we had been planning to do tomorrow. When we went to Scotland we had visited the sites listed in Janet and Colin Bord's Guide to Ancient Sites in Britain, and this trip we're working our way through the Welsh ones.
The first site was Tinkinswood Chambered Long Cairn, less than a mile off the A48 at St.^Nicholas. The book said there was a clearly marked footpath. "Clearly marked" apparently means that if you scan the distance for a signpost, and have good eyesight, you may be able to see where the next signpost is. (It's like "a fifteen-minute walk," which apparently means anything that can be walked to before sundown.)
There are only a few stones left, though there is some of the mound still visible. This has the largest capstone in all of Britain, and the book says that archaeologists have no idea how it was raised. Well, that's probably not true. Archaeologists have several ideas; they just don't have any real proof for any of them.
Nearby was St. Lythans Cromlech, continuing south from Tinkinswood about a mile, then left for another quarter of a mile or so. This consists of two standing stones with a third across the top. While the first was in the middle of a field of sheep, this was in a cow pasture, and for some reason the cows decided to start heading towards us. We did manage to get out before being surrounded, but I've seen enough movies of stampedes to be a little worried.
We returned to Cardiff and had dinner at the Poachers Lodge, only a couple of blocks from the hotel. I had the smoked fish platter and Mark had the grilled trout. Both were delicious and we agreed that this was the best dinner we had in Cardiff.
September 1, 1995: We started by driving to Abertawe/Swansea. Someone once said, "The only good thing to come out of Swansea is the road to Llanelli." I think he may be right. Dylan Thomas described it as "an ugly, lovely town (or so it was, and is, to me) crawling, sprawling, slummed, unplanned, jerry-villa'd, and smug-suburbed by the side of a long and splendid shore." The only part I would disagree with is the "long and splendid shore," which since Thomas's time has been bought up, blocked off, and filled with car parks.
Put another way, I did not particularly like Swansea.
This may have had something to do with the fact that I was unable to find my way around Swansea. As it turned out, I was unable to find my way around most other towns either, so maybe I'm being unfair to Swansea. But Wales in general seems to have an aversion to street signs, which causes the most problems in the largest cities. (They don't like road signs either. In the United States, you see signs every once in a while telling you what road you are on. In Britain, you see signs at each intersection telling you which roads meet there--usually--but that's it. And even that isn't clear: "Ipswich (A123) ->" doesn't mean that turning right will put you on the A123, but rather that if you follow the signs you will eventually find yourself on the A123 toward Ipswich.)
Eventually we found our way out of Swansea and on the road to Pontrhyfyden, birthplace of Richard Burton (the actor, not the explorer). This is a small town which boasts on its sign that it is the birthplace of Richard Burton and Ivor Emmanuel. (Who is Ivor Emmanuel?) But other than the sign, there didn't appear to be much to see, which may be why Burton left. We had been thinking of trying to find Ray Milland's birthplace in Castell-Nydd/Neath, but if Burton's wasn't sign-posted, it was unlikely that Milland's was. (Yes, I suppose we could have asked someone, but that seems like a very touristy thing to ask.)
We did try to find the "Welsh Miners Museum" in Neath, but after driving around for an hour looking for either a sign or an information center we gave up. Then we saw a sign for the Cefn Coed Amgueddfa Glofa/Cefn Coed Colliery Museum. (If you're looking for it, it's off the A465.)
This museum (#1.25 each) begins with a walk through a coal mine, although it is probably just a mock-up, being right below the surface. It has examples of the two kinds of mining, one involving short side tunnels off a main tunnel and the other longer ones, as well as examples of lamps and other equipment. Then the route goes through the Boiler House and the Pump House (presently closed, however), past the Downshaft Shaft Headgear, and into the Compressor House. In the Compressor House was an exhibit about mining lamps, and the major contribution of Sir Humphry Davy to making them safer. Apparently, however, the safety lamps were not really popular with miners when they were introduced. They shed less light than a naked candle, and since miners were paid based on what they produced, they wanted as much light as possible so they could work faster. The tour then finished up in the Winding Engine House.
One odd display was an exhibit on the history of "Johnny Onions." Evidently Breton onion growers have been traveling to Britain for centuries with strings of onions to sell, at first traveling on foot and later by bicycle. This is so common that when a British cartoonist wants to draw an immediately recognizable Frenchman, he draws a man wearing a beret and carrying strings of onions on a bicycle. This was somewhat interesting, but I'm not sure what it has to do with coal.
All this took a little under two hours. We chatted a bit with the woman in the gift shop, mostly about the use of Welsh. It's true that the museum exhibits draw mostly English speakers, but of course most museum visitors are tourists. Learning Welsh appears to be on an upswing, and it's still quite common as a first language in western and northern Wales. I'm not sure the numbers of people learning Welsh in schools counts, though, since linguists (or whoever) measure the viability of a language by how many people learn it at home as their first language.
Then we went to a Tourist Information Centre and bought a better road map of Wales. The AAA one we have is handy (in book form), but woefully incomplete when it comes to secondary roads. The new map seemed to have a better street map of Swansea, so we decided to try for the Swansea Maritime & Industrial Museum. We still made several wrong turns, but eventually found it and even managed to find a parking spot on the street. It's a rather small museum, whose main attraction seems to be a working woolen mill, but it does give a brief history of mining (and smelting) in the region. (Because it took several times as much coal as ore to smelt tin, the ore was brought to the Neath Valley where the coal was, instead of vice versa.) All this industry may have employed people, but it also led to appalling pollution, and only now through great effort is the land being reclaimed. Of course, the fall in industry has led to massive unemployment and the government does not appear to be dealing with that very well.
Mark and I have long complained about the lack of knowledge about the English language in the United States, but even here we see superfluous apostrophes in plurals, the word "effects" where "affects" was wanted, and so on.
We next drove through a place called Mwmbwls/Mumbles, a name which looks even more apt in Welsh. There must be a story behind that name, but none of the books tell us what it is.
Next we drove around the Gwyr/Gower Peninsula, seeing towns such as Caswell Bay, Oxwich, Port-Eynon, and Rhosili/Rhossili. You remember the song that went, "They've paved Paradise and put up a parking lot"? Well, that seems to describe the Gower Peninsula. I realize that cars cause problems in the cities and towns, whose streets were never designed for parking on (or driving a car through, in many cases), but it is frustrating to want to stop for a minute or two to look at the scenery and have no place to do it but a pay car park. I don't recall Scotland being this way when we toured it in 1987. There are a number of factors contributing to this difference. One is, of course, the passage of eight years. Another, however, seems to be a difference in how Scotland and Wales perceive space. In Scotland, everything was wide open: sheep wandered across the roads, you could see for miles, and if you wanted to stop you pulled off onto the verge and stopped. In Wales, all the roads are bounded by stone fences or hedges, extending high enough to block your view of the scenery and making pulling off the road impossible.
Anyway, after driving around the peninsula, we proceeded to Caerfyrddin/Carmarthen, where we got a room at the Old Priory Guest House (#34 for two people). The only problem with this was that there was a cricket team there and there was often a wait for the toilet. We ate dinner at the Priory Fish & Chips Bar (no connection--there's just a priory nearby). It was okay, but the place wasn't particularly clean. On the other hand, our choice at 8:30 PM was somewhat limited.
September 2, 1995: We started by taking the A40 15 miles west to Y Hendy Gwyn/Whitland to see the memorial to Hywel Dda/Howell the Good, who unified Welsh law in 930, but the information centre about him didn't open until 10 AM and we got there at 9 AM. Since the laws are written on the walls in Welsh, I'm not sure how much we would have gotten from it--the rest of the centre looked like a general tourist centre.
Hywel's laws, by the way, included such "modern" developments as equal division of inherited property by all offspring (including equal status to illegitimate and legitimate children), divorce by common consent, and equal division of property between spouses on separation. Of course, when the English annexed Wales in 1536 they got rid of all these progressive laws and replaced them with primogeniture, no divorce, etc.
In Whitland we filled the petrol tank, having used about 27 liters to go 233 miles. Petrol was 53.9p/liter, which works out to about US$3.29 per (U.S.)^gallon.
From Whitland we took the A40 west 4 miles, then the A478 south 12 miles to Dynbych-y-Psygod/Tenby. Here we saw St.^Mary's Church (and even managed to park on the street right across from it!). Tenby is a nice-looking town, but it's hard to appreciate it when driving around the narrow streets. It took us a while to find the church, since it was within the old town walls which the main road skirts.
St.^Mary's Church in Tenby is the largest medieval parish church in Wales. It was built in sections at different times, so has a somewhat eclectic style. Inside we saw a number of monuments, including one to Margaretta ap Rhys, who died in childbirth after twelve years of marriage--and ten children! Somehow her death in childbirth doesn't sound at all unlikely. We also saw the kneeling figure of John Risam, which was supposedly shot and damaged by Cromwell's troops who thought it was a real person. I find this explanation unlikely. It is perhaps more likely that they objected to the graven image.
There was also the following inscription on a memorial: "In memory of Robert Recorde, the eminent mathematician who was born in Tenby, circa 1510, to his genius we owe the earliest important English treatises on algebra, arithmetic, astronomy, and geometry; he also invented the sign of equality = now universally adopted by the civilized world. Robert Recorde was court physician to King Edward VI.^and Queen May. He died in London, 1558." This is the first I heard of who invented the equality sign, and I think I'll double-check it when I get home.
After we finally managed to get out of Tenby (given the one-way, extremely narrow streets, this wasn't easy), we took the A478 south 1 mile and then the A4139 west 5 miles to Maenorbyr/Manorbier (pronounced MANN-er-beer) and Manorbier Castle. This is one of the better preserved castles, perhaps because it's privately owned. (Even so, it's only #1.60 each--cheaper than the CADW sites.) It has a beautiful view of the coast and the courtyard is plated with flower gardens as it probably was originally, rather than left bare as many are today.
Afterwards we walked along the shore a bit in Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, but it was turning a bit cold for this. (Of course it's turning cold and wet: we're here to sightsee. We are available for rent by drought-stricken areas, by the way.)
From here we took the A4139 west 7 miles to Penfro/Pembroke and Pembroke Castle. This castle has the unusual feature of the Wogan Cavern, a huge natural cave at sea level and accessible via fifty-five steps from the castle. It provided a good area for storage, although I would imagine during an attack anything there would be somewhat vulnerable, and the access stairs more a negative aspect than a feature. There is also a giant Norman keep, without the wooden floors (all the ones up to this point have had the floors restored), lots of spiral stone stairs (this seems to be a feature of every castle), lots of small dark rooms, and somewhat fewer dim but uninteresting rooms. I suspect that after a while all my castle descriptions will run together.
Next was a Neolithic site, Carreg Samson (Samson's Stone) Cromlech. To get there we took the A40 north 15 miles to Abergwaun/Fishguard, then the A487 west to the B4331, which we took through Mathry and Abercastle. The cromlech itself is in a cow field overlooking the bay below.
Then we went to perhaps the best-known prehistoric site in Wales, Pentre Ifan Cromlech. We got there by going back to the A487, going east past Fishguard, and turning off before the B4582 to Nevern. It must be the best-known; there were three cars there, which at most prehistoric sites constitutes a major traffic jam. There are also more signposts directing one to this Neolithic site than to other sites; for example, there is actually a sign on the main road showing which turnoff to take, not just a marker on the side road at the site.
Our last prehistoric site of the day was the Bronze Age Gors Fawr Stone Circle, which was much harder to find. We returned to the A487, taking it east to Aberteifi/Cardigan, then taking the A478 south about 15 miles and sort of following the signs for Mynachlog-ddu, since that was nearby. We missed it on the way out, but found it on the way back. The fact that the sign was a small metal sign, dark blue with orange letters, and parallel to the road, did make it a bit hard to find, and the stone circle itself was somewhat disappointing, being small stones about two feet in diameter rather than the large standing stones one might expect.
After this we drove to Cardigan and found a place for the night at the Garth B&B. We drove to Gwbert and the Gwbert Hotel for dinner--the mussels in garlic and cream sauce were very good. We noticed that the boats in the marina there were all sitting on the sand; I had assumed that was because it was fed from fresh water and it has been a very dry summer, but after seeing the tide go out in Cardiff, I suspect it's just a place with a very high tidal bore.
September 3, 1995: We began by driving east on the A484 11 miles to Castell Newydd Emlyn/Newcastle Emlyn, then east on the A475 19 miles to Llanbedr Pont Steffan/Lampeter, then north on the A485 11 miles to Tregaron, and finally north on the B4343 11 miles to Pontrhydfendigaid ("Bridge near the Ford of the Blessed Virgin") to see Strata Florida Abbey. Our luck began with it raining (and continued this anti-social behavior for three days) and then hit us again by a sign on the Abbey saying it didn't open until noon on Sundays, even though this was not what its own brochure said. Since it was only 10 AM, we were not going to sit and wait to see a ruined abbey in the rain, so we pressed on.
Down the B4343 11 miles back to Tregaron, then the A485 north 16 miles to Llanfarian, then the A487 north 22 miles to Machynlleth, and finally the A4120 east 12 miles to Pontrhydyfen/Devil's Bridge--all in the rain of course. This was the bridge of which Wordsworth said:
HOW art thou named? In search of what strange land From what huge height, descending? Can such force Of waters issue from a British source, Or hath not Pindus fed thee, where the band Of Patriots scoop their freedom out, with hand Desperate as thine? Or come the incessant shocks From that young Stream, that smites the throbbing rocks Of Viamala? There I seem to stand, As in life's morn; permitted to behold, From the dread chasm, woods climbing above woods, In pomp that fades not; everlasting snows; And skies that ne'er relinquish their repose; Such power possess the family of floods Over the minds of Poets, young or old!
The bridge is actually three bridges: an 11th Century one, one dating from 1753, and a modern one from 1901, each built above the previous. The earliest may have been built by monks from the Strata Florida Abbey, though the name comes from a legend in which it was the Devil who built it. The torrent Wordsworth described was somewhat diminished by the very dry August, so we ended up with the worst of both worlds, since it was raining as well.
Then it was on to Dyffryn Ardudwy: the A4120 west about 20 miles to Dolgellau, then the A496 west/north 15 miles to Dyffryn Ardudwy. At Dyffryn Ardudwy there is another Neolithic site, a chambered cairn.
After this we headed for something more modern, the 13th Century castle at Harlech, 6 miles north on the A496. This was the first of Edward I's "Ring of Iron" castles in northern Wales we visited, and it must be a major attraction--there were actually signs pointing to it. Of course, they pointed to the car park and entrance at the base of the hill, but one can't have everything. (Besides, when we climbed to the top we could see the car park there was full, so parking would have been a problem.)
We started using our CADW pass here, saving the #3 each admission. We wanted to get a plan of the castle only (60p) rather than the full guidebook (#2.25), but the former came only in French and in German. We opted for French. The guidebook is handy, but we have a couple and a lot of the historical information is duplicated from one to another. The plan, on the other hand, tells you what is unique to each castle. They also had no postcards of the castle except for one landscape length card, which I bought for someone I had promised one to.
Nano-history of the Ring of Iron: These castles were built by Edward I of England after conflicts with Llewelyn ap Gruffydd in 1277 and 1282. (Llewelyn had sworn allegiance to Edward's father Henry III, but would not swear to Henry.) Edward was determined to subdue Wales and so built these castles in the area of greatest resistance to his rule. They worked. Various ones were later important in the Wars of the Roses (15th Century) and the English Civil War (1648-1660).
Strong as Harlech was, it was captured several times: by Owain Glyndwr in 1404 and by the Yorkists in 1468 (after a seven-year siege), and finally in 1647 it became the last castle to fall in the Civil War.
It did stop raining briefly while we were seeing Harlech, so I guess I can't complain.
After a couple of hours at Harlech, we drove on to Bangor: the A496 north 9 miles to Penrhyndeudraeth, then the A487 west/north 27 miles to Carnavon/Caernarfon, then the A487 and small back roads to the Tyr-Mawr Farmhouse B&B. (Well, it's probably not exactly in Bangor, but that's the closest town bigger than two shops, a post office, and a pub.)
For dinner we went in to Bangor itself, hoping to eat at a Greek restaurant recommended in the Rough Guide, but it wasn't open, so we settled for the Salema Kebab House, which was okay, but nothing great. When we left it, the Greek restaurant had opened. It's very difficult to get used to British eating hours. Restaurants close during the afternoon, and it's hard to get a meal between about 2 PM and about 6:30 PM.
After dinner we stopped in a newsagent. I was hoping to get a postcard of Bangor to send my brother, who was born in Bangor, Maine, but there were no postcards of the town. It is the home of Bangor University and the Bangor Cathedral, but I guess neither of those are considered postcard material.
September 4, 1995: Since the weather report was the most promising for today (they said there might be a break in the rain), we decided to take the Ffestiniog Steam Railway and see Portmeirion along its way. The rain did hold off until right as we got to Portmeirion, but then it rained the rest of the day, so the scenery was not at its greatest advantage.
The Ffestiniog Railway was one of the earliest steam railways in Wales, built in 1836 to serve the slate quarries. It was closed for a long time but eventually reopened, though now more for tourists than any other use.
We began by driving down to Porthmadog, where one end of the Ffestiniog terminates. We bought tickets, which were cheaper than I had expected (#9.60 versus #11.60). On analyzing the somewhat complex schedule, we determined this was because we would be on the first train of the day (at 9:40 AM) and it was a diesel. Diesels are cheaper than steam trains. Of course, since we could get off at any stop and take any later train from there, and since our first stop (Minffordd, the stop for Portmeirion) was in ten minutes, the fact we would be on a diesel at first was not a major drawback.
I say the schedule was complex. There seem to be five different daily schedules, and the first thing you have to do with the timetable is to look at the calendar and determine (by color-coding) which schedule is in use today. For some reason (maybe the start of school) today began a somewhat more abbreviated scheduled than earlier weekdays. The trains still run about once an hour during the day, but start an hour later and taper off after 5 PM faster.
The other end of the railway, by the way, is Blaenau Ffestiniog (pronounced BLIGH-no fest-IN-ee-og).
We left at 9:40 using the "Conwy Castle" diesel. (I mention that only because some people seem to find these details interesting.)
We got to Minffordd ten minutes later, but I couldn't get the train door open to get out. It seems that you need to open the window and reach out to turn the outside door handle. Why?
But we did get out, and walked to Portmeirion. It is variously described as a fifteen-minute-walk and a twenty-five-minute walk, so it took us forty minutes.
Portmeirion is the brainchild of Sir Clough Williams-Ellis. (Its name now is just Portmeirion; it was formerly called Aber Ya, which means "Frozen Mouth" and Sir Clough thought that too ugly a name for what he had planned.) Seventy years ago (1926) he started building his "Italianate village" and the result is Portmeirion. If you want to know what it looks like, go watch the old "Prisoner" series--it was filmed here. ("The Prisoner" celebrates its thirtieth anniversary in 1996.)
Because Portmeirion is such a tourist attraction, and because they don't want the people staying at Portmeirion to feel they're not getting their money's worth, they charge non-residents #3 to enter the village.
The first thing you see as you walk in is the very wide beach on which Patrick McGoohan was often chased by the giant white balloon in the series. (Sorry, this won't mean much to people who haven't seen the series.) Almost as soon as you walk into the village you see the Number 6 shop, with all sorts of Prisoneribilia. As you walk around, you see colonnades, statues, and building styles from all over. Sir Clough described Portmeirion as a "Home for Fallen Buildings," and he rescued many buildings or parts thereof from destruction and moved them here. For example, the large colonnade came from Bristol, and one of the porticos that form the facade of the Gloriette came from Hooton Hall.
Everything is scaled down, so arches are low enough that tall people may have to stoop a bit. The cottage called the Unicorn looks large, but is really tiny inside.
Portmeirion is no longer intended to grow, having reached what the late Sir Clough felt was its optimum size, and now that it has been declared an architectural monument, government approval would be needed for changes anyway.
We stopped in the bookshop, surprisingly well-stocked for a resort. In fact, it was better stocked than some small-town bookstores are back home. We didn't buy anything, but I did learn that the Welsh for "science fiction" is "gwyddonias." All the science fiction they had was in English but the label was in both languages. (Actually, later we saw science fiction translated as "ffuglen wyddonol," so we can't be sure which is correct.)
And continuing the science fiction theme, when we went into the Prisoner shop and ran into Marc Scott Zicree, also traveling around after the science fiction convention. (For those who haven't read the report of that part of the trip, Zicree has written scripts for "Star Trek" and Babylon 5, and is currently trying to sell a series called "MagicTime.") We bought a book about "The Prisoner" and a map of the village as used in the show as souvenirs.
We stopped in the cafe for a cup of tea (I needed to warm up somehow), and then walked back to Minffordd to catch the next train up the line. This was the steam engine "Blanche" and we rode this for an hour up the mountain through forest and past beautiful scenery--or what would have been beautiful if it hadn't been raining. Even so, the mist hanging over the distant mountains gave the scene a mysterious air.
We passed a stop called Tanygrisiau near a lake that Mark said was the sort of place where they might have filmed one of those British 1950s science fiction films where the creature, drawn by radioactivity, or troop exercises, or whatever, comes out of the water.
At the top of the mountain (well, almost the top) was Blaenau Ffestiniog, at one time a dreary slate-mining town, but now a dreary slate-mining town with a gourmet coffee shop for tourists. We got off here and walked along the main street for most of the hour we had until the next train. Even here there was a bookshop--it seems as though almost every town in Wales has some sort of bookshop. If only this were true in the United States, although it is also true that in the United States it is easier to get to a bookstore a couple of towns away than it is here. Bookshops are certainly more plentiful in Wales than cinemas, a reverse of what seems to be the case in the United States (or at least in New Jersey). And most bookshops in Wales seem to combine selling new and used books.
In this area, Welsh is widely spoken and read, and a large proportion of the books in the shop were in Welsh. I looked but couldn't find either Sherlock Holmes or science fiction in Welsh. Well I'll check for the latter in Forbidden Planet in Cardiff. (No luck there either, as I will talk about at that point.)
I didn't catch the name of the engine that took up back down to Porthmadog, though it seemed to be something like "Merthyr Eddings." We talked to another couple on the train who happened to be from near Princeton, less than an hour from us at home. They were traveling through Wales before he went on to Zurich and she went on to Prague.
We had hoped to eat dinner at the Ship and Cantonese Pub, which supposedly serves Malay bar meals, but it was only 4:00 PM and they didn't start serving until 6:30 PM. So we drove back to the Tyr Mawr and rested up a bit (and I changed into dry socks and shoes), then went out for dinner to the Ty Mawr Tea Rooms just down the road. On the way (and in the parking lot) we listened to Robert Harris on BBC-2 talking about his new novel Enigma, but also about his previous (and first) novel, Fatherland. Fatherland is an alternate history in which Nazi Germany had greater success invading Russia, and after discovering that Britain had broken the Enigma code, had forced a peace in the west. In 1964 a policeman in Nazi Berlin investigates an apparent suicide and discovers a twenty-year-old cover-up of what happened to the Jews. It is interesting that both books involve the Enigma code; he may have gotten the idea for the second when writing the first.
September 5, 1995: The Bods' book gives a clockwise route around Anglesey, and directions are based on that. This is unfortunate, as when we got to the first site we discovered that a CADW guidebook describing the sites is available at Biwmares/Beaumaris Castle, at the end of the circuit. It is also available at Caernarfon Castle (which we are doing tomorrow), so I would recommend that anyone seeing Anglesey go to either Caernarfon or Beaumaris first.
But the first place we stopped wasn't a prehistoric site. It was Llanfairpwllgwyngyll-gogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, referred to on maps et al as Llanfair PG. The full name means "St.^Mary's Church in the hollow of the White Hazel Near to the Rapid Whirlpool and the Church of Tysilio by the Red Cave." If you think that this sounds like an unlikely name to occur naturally, you are right. The town was originally Llanfairpwllgwyngyll until a merchant in the late 19th Century decided that giving the town a really long name would make it a tourist attraction. Well, I suppose he succeeded, though whether that actually improved business in the town during his lifetime is not clear. Of course, nowadays there is a large wool shop on the other side of the railway station car park, and that, and the pub opposite, as well as the railway station, have the full name of the town. The pub and the wool shop both have the translation under the name, though the translations differ slightly. This is not, by the way, the longest place name in the world; according to the Rough Guide that is held by someplace in New Zealand. It is, however, the railway station with the longest name in the world.
Our first real stop was at the Bryn-Celli-Ddu ("Mound in the Dark Grove") Chambered Cairn, which took a little longer than expected because now that the A5 goes through the island, the A4080 doesn't seem to be signposted any more. But eventually we found the road again, going down a road that was barely one lane wide, and then the site.
This is another Neolithic chambered cairn, and I'm sure most people reading this have little interest in Neolithic chambered cairns, so I will avoid giving a long description for this or anything else of similar specialized interest.
Just down the lane from this was Caer Leb, a site so minor that the Bords don't even list it. (Or perhaps it's not considered prehistoric, since it dates from Roman times.) After this we returned to the A4080 and took it to just past Bryn-Slencyn, then turned right onto a totally unlabeled lane which we followed almost two miles (to past an unlabeled dogleg), and to the Bodowyr Cromlech. Why is this named after Bedevere? Or even, is it named after Bedevere? The Bords are silent on this, as is the guidebook.
We returned to the A4080, then continued to two miles past Aberffraw to Barclodiad-y-Gawres Chambered Cairn, a cairn known for its spectacular location on a cliff and its decorated stones. Unfortunately we could see only the first one, since the main part of the cairn was locked. (The guidebook, which we bought later, indicates that you can get a key from some shop in Llanfaelog, but that seems a very elaborate procedure.)
Next was the Ty Newydd ("New House") Cromlech, returning to the A4080 to one mile past Llanfaelog, then left on a lane to Bryngwaryn. This has deteriorated to the point where it needs two brick pillars to hold it up.
Crossing over to Ynys Gybi/Holy(head) Island, we took the B4545 about two miles to a lane to the right (labeled Lon Tonwyn Capel, which is not mentioned in the book), then about one mile to the Tregfignath Burial Chamber. This is notable primarily for its three separate chambers.
Next we tried to find the Penrhos Standing Stones but somehow overshot and ended up at the Holyhead Mountain Hut Circles instead. By the point the weather, never particularly good, turned even worse, leading me to ask myself, "Is walking through sleet to see hut circles more fun than a fourteen-hour bus ride with a sprained ankle and your luggage wedged in front of you?" The answer is left as an exercise for the reader. It was a very large site, though, covering fifteen to twenty acres. The settlement itself was inhabited from 500 B.C.E. to post-Roman times.
After this it was somewhat easier to find the Penrhos Standing Stones, although by this point my umbrella seemed to be a casualty of the wind. (Luckily I was able to fix it, because the ribs had little springs that had slipped out of place and just needed to be slipped back in.) These are two stones ten feet high which are said to be impressive, but the cows in the field didn't seem all that impressed.
After this we drove through Caerbybi/Holyhead, known primarily for its ferry to Ireland. In fact, the second most common language on pubs and such in Holyhead was not Welsh, but Gaelic.
Back on Anglesey, the Din Lligwy Settlement is arrived at by turning left onto lane east from Amlwch off A5025 towards Moelfre, going about one mile, then turning right onto a lane that actually has a signpost at the intersection! This is a Roman settlement which is fairly extensive, and even attracted other tourists. They were German, which reminded me of the incident in Mexico at Tula. As we were arriving at Tula, about an hour outside Mexico City, we could see a small group of tourists. (Of course, we were an even smaller group, being just the two of us and our guide.) Our guide saw them about two hundred yards away and said, "Germans." "How can you tell?" "Only Germans come here. Americans go to Mexico City, to the Pyramids [just outside the city], to the bullfight, then on to Acapulco." I guess we're Germans.
We also stopped at the Lligwy Cromlech, just past Din Lligwy, then drove on to Beaumaris Castle (remarkably well sign-posted after the preceding sites).
This would have cost #1.70 each, but we used our CADW passes. Beaumaris is another of the Edward I "Ring of Iron" castles. There are basically four major castles of this period in the north Wales area: Harlech, Beaumaris, Caernarfon, and Conwy. We will be seeing the last two tomorrow, and those are also the two biggest. It would have been nice to spread them over two different days, but geographically that didn't make sense.
Beaumaris is pronounced "boo-MAR-is" and is somewhat unassuming when compared to many of the other castles, being on flat land rather than high point. In addition, the wallwalks are closed due to structural problems, making it more difficult to see the entire layout. Though full of impressive defensive features, the castle was still taken for two years by Owain Glyndwr in 1403, making it the only one of the castles so captured. (Caernarfon Castle was captured once, but that was before it was finished.)
After seeing Beaumaris, we returned to the Tyr Mawr, then went out later for dinner in Caernarfon at the Black Boy Pub, not a name that would float in the United States these days, particularly with the somewhat exaggerated painting on the pub sign. But inside it was just a pub, and our palmtops caused great amusement and a long discussion of the Internet amongst the patrons.
September 6, 1995: Today we will see the two most important "Eddie Castles": Caernarfon and Conwy.
At Caernarfon (pronounced "car-NARV-on") Castle we took the fifty-minute guided tour, which was well worth it and we would recommend to people who want to get the most out of their visit. (This costs #1 in addition to the #3.80 admission.) The guide pointed out the unique features of Caernarfon, such as the triple arrow slits which allowed crossfire; these were built after a successful attack in 1294. (That attack was successful only because the north wall of the castle hadn't been finished because the builders falsely thought that since that side faced the town they could leave it undefended because the town would protect it.)
Of course all this castle-building didn't last for long. After 1300 or so, cannon or artillery supposedly made castles "useless," though oddly enough many managed to do a reasonable job of holding out during the Civil War in the 17th Century. After the Civil War, the town of Caernarfon received permission to pull it down but couldn't manage to do it because it was built so well. Even so, the guidebooks claim this was the greatest danger the castle ever faced.
Some changes were made, however, The Norman motte was landscaped out in the 19th Century (the keep had burned in 1112), and later a slate dias was placed there for the investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales. Caernarfon Castle had been the first place of investiture for the English Princes of Wales, ever since the future Edward II was born there and Edward I supposedly presented him to the Welsh people a few days later as their prince "born in Wales who could speak not a word of English." The story is certainly apocryphal to some extent, as Edward II was not made Prince of Wales until seventeen years later in 1301.
Of course, it wasn't like a lot of English kings up to that point spoke English. In fact, Edward I was the first since the Norman Conquest to even learn English. And Edward II eventually spoke English, French, Latin, and probably even a bit of Welsh. And when George I came in, he revived the custom of English kings speaking no English.
In 1911, David Lloyd George somehow (and for some reason) pressured to have the future Edward VIII invested in Caernarfon. I say "for some unknown reason," because Lloyd George was known for his Welsh nationalism. Be that as it may, because of this old and new tradition of investing the Prince of Wales here with a ring of Welsh gold, the staff, and the crown, Caernarfon Castle has been called by one Welshman "that most magnificent badge of our subjugation."
After this we drove to Segontium, which won out in a closely fought battle with the Caernarfon Air Museum, because 1) the Rough Guide calls the latter "over-rated" and 2) because the #1 admission charge at Segontium was included on our CADW pass. (Of course, the pass had already paid for itself by the time we got here, but we're cheap.)
Segontium was a Roman outpost (the site at Caerleon was for an entire legion, while this was for a much smaller group). One of its leaders was Maximus, an unsuccessful pretender to the imperial throne of Rome in 383. Maximus also figures in Welsh legend and the history of Caernarfon Castle. According to Welsh legend, Maximus dreamt of a castle topped by golden eagles in a far-off land where a princess waiting for him. (The translation of The Mabinogion I read doesn't mention the eagles, but maybe there are other versions of the story.) He supposedly came to Wales, found the castle, and married the princess, and their descendents were the (pre-Norman) Princes of Wales. When Edward I built Caernarfon, he had the towers topped by stone eagles. (Well, he was broke from fighting wars against the Welsh and building castles. In fact, that's probably why he evicted the Jews from England in 1290: he had borrowed heavily from them and evicting them and seizing their property was more profitable than paying them back. Jews were not allowed back into England until the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell.)
After Segontium, we drove to Conwy Castle (and Town Walls, since these are the most complete remaining town walls of any of Edward's castles). Here our CADW pass saved us #3 each.
We got the tour here as well, and were the only two people on it. Our guide seemed pleased that we knew something of the history of the area and the various kings and prices and spent more than an hour going over the features and history of the castle, including the story of how Richard II was lured from safety there by Henry Percy, and almost immediately captured by Henry Bolingbroke (later Henry IV). Richard's execution and Henry's ascension to the throne led eventually to the Wars of the Roses and the succession of Henry Tewdwr (Tudor) as Henry VII.
There was mention in an exhibition on castle chapels about how in the days of low literacy rates, stained glass windows helped teach the stories of the saints to the people. I commented that this makes them the original "Classics Illustrated" comic books.
After this we drove to Capelulo for dinner. This was not as easy as it sounds, because the map didn't have any road numbers for the roads, and the description in the Rough Guide seems to assume you have street map. But eventually we got to the Austrian Restaurant and some excellent Austrian food (like German food with a Hungarian influence). I had wild boar; Mark had beef goulash. Both were excellent and the drive was through some very pretty scenery, though the road from Conwy was quite steep at times. We returned via a more direct route (though harder to follow in the other direction) to the A55 and then to the Tyr Mawr.
September 7, 1995: Well, there are no castles scheduled for today.
We left Tyr Mawr and drove to the Capel Garnon Chambered Long Cairn, south on the A5 twenty-two miles to Betwys-y-Coed, then north on the A470 less than a half mile to the turn-off for Capel Garmon, then another mile before turning right towards Capel Garmon/Rhydlanfair, and a half-mile past Capel Garmon. After parking the car in the farmyard, we slogged through a wet field littered with cow shit and sheep shit, into another field littered with only sheep shit. Boy, isn't this fun?
At the cairn area itself, sheep have gotten in despite the fence and sheep gate surrounding it. There aren't any there now, but they have left signs.
After this we drove to Llangollen (southeast on the A5 thirty-four miles), then two miles north on the A542 to Valle Crucis Abbey (normally #1.70, but on the CADW pass). This is a ruined Cistercian abbey. (Mark and I had a long discussion about the precise definitions of abbey, monastery, convent, and nunnery, but since we didn't have a dictionary we didn't reach any conclusions. Later I found the following in Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary: "Cloister, convent, monastery, nunnery, abbey, priory means a house of persons living under religious vows. Cloister and convent are both general terms, though cloister connotes seclusion from the world and convent stresses community of living; a monastery is specifically a cloister for monks; a nunnery is a cloister for nuns and is now more specifically called a convent; an abbey is a house for monks or nuns governed by an abbot or by an abbess; a priory is governed by a prior or prioress and may be subordinate to an abbey.")
The Cistercian Order was founded in 1098 as an offshoot of the Benedictines, by monks who felt the Benedictines had become too lax in their ways. The Cistercians were the most successful order in Wales, and Valle Crucis, founded in 1201, was just one of many such abbeys. What makes it notable is its fairly good state of preservation since the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in 1535.
However, everything must be commercialized, and Mark noted that in the gift shop they were selling Brother Cadfael potpourri. (We later saw Brother Cadfael mead in an off-license window.)
Our next stop was Llanrhaedr-ym-mochnant ("Church by the Falls on the Pig Brook"). What is there, you may ask. Well, nothing, really (unless you count its previous claim to fame, being where Bishop William Morgan made the first translation of the Bible into Welsh in 1588). So why were we going there? Because that's where The Englishman Who Walked Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain was filmed. This is not exactly easy to get to, but then if it were, it probably wouldn't have been suitable for the film. (The novel was originally set in Taff's Well, near Cardiff, but that town became too modern-looking for them to use.) To get to Llanrhaedr Y.M. (as it's called on the signs), you take the A5 south thirteen miles to Oswestry, then the B4580 west about twelve miles. The last part is a bit tricky, as there are some roads which are not labeled which can deceive you. A good map is necessary. On the way you will pass the hill/mountain that they used for Fynnon Garw; it is recognizable by the little knob on the top. (If you've seen the movie this will make sense; if you haven't you wouldn't be going there anyway.) From the description in the Rough Guide, and if I remember what Roger said, this may be Sycarth, since that is described as having a grass mound marking the site of Owain Glyndwr's ancestral court, reputedly a palace of "nine great halls" and only a mile from the English border, a fitting setting for the film. On the other hand, I doubt the people would have let the film crew rip up Sycarth for the film.
The village looks something like the village in the movie, though obviously a film crew does a lot of set dressing. For example, the lane next to the garage where they push the car is not actually next to a garage; they put a false garage front up for it. There also covered all the road markings with peat, and so forth. All this we got from Roger, who runs the general store, a B&B, and apparently also the Post Office. You can see a couple of visible reminders of the filming: there is a tree planted off one of the town squares with a plaque saying it was planted on the first day of filming The Englishman Who Walked Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain, and the general store advertises T-shirts and sweatshirts with the film's name (or at least some of it) on them, though I suspect Llanrhaedr-ym-mochnant is not deluged with film fans wanting to see the town, and most of their tourist business comes from people walking in the area or seeing the falls nearby. (I didn't see anything like a marker for where the Bible was translated other than the sign at the edge of the village.)
Roger did mention that initially the film was about a half-hour longer (based on everything they shot) and the first showing of it for the town was ten minutes longer, but didn't make much sense in parts because some subplots had been only partially edited out. When he went to see it in a theatre (in Shrewsbury, I think) it seemed better edited.
I asked Roger where the book was set, mentioning that it had been discussed on the Internet, and it turns out that he has just gotten an Internet account. It seems odd to think of that village in the movie as being on the Internet, but there you have it.
After this we went to our final prehistoric site, Four Stones. This is, not surprisingly, four stones in a field. The book says their purpose and meaning is unknown and they are not even signposted, making them very hard to find, and they weren't very exciting even after we found them. But they were not very far out of our way to our next real stop: Y Gelli/Hay-on-Wye.
To get to Hay-on-Wye without going to these stones, one takes the B4396 east about eight miles to the A495, the A495 south twenty-one miles to the A458 which one takes ten miles to Y Trallwng/Welshpool, then the A483 south forty-five miles to Llanfair ym Muallt/Builth Wells, then the A470 south fourteen miles to Llyswen, and finally the B4350 east eight miles to Hay-on-Wye. Easy, right?
And why does one go to Hay-on-Wye? Well, to quote from the "Bookstores in the United Kingdom" list on the Internet, "Anyone who is interested in rare second-hand books in the UK may find it worth travelling to the remote (by UK standards) small town of Hay-on-Wye, on the English-Welsh border. Somehow, this has become the second-hand book capital of the UK, with probably about six large shops and any number of smaller ones. Hay-on-Wye is just over the border near Hereford and Leominster (pronounced Lemster) and is a picturesque little town devoted entirely to bookselling. There are around thirty bookstores, including the former cinema and the former firehouse. Quality at Hay goes up and down but this year (1994) it was very good. You'll need a car to get there but it is worth the trip." (Actually there did seem to be some sort of bus service, but you would need to enquire locally.)
We started with the best-known shop, the one in the former cinema (though all traces of cinemaness have been removed). The selection was big, but I'm not sure it's larger than the Strand in New York, and it suffers from the same drawback--most of the categories are alphabetized only roughly if at all. I realize it's probably not cost-effective for them to spend time putting books in perfect alphabetical order, but it does make looking more difficult. I checked out a couple of sections that I was somewhat knowledgeable about. The science fiction section is mostly older British authors (Kenneth Bulmer and so on) and the Judaica section is history rather than theology and is placed next to the Middle East section.
We also went to various pieces of the Booth Bookstore, which has several buildings, each specializing in a different set of subjects. This seems to include Five Star, which specializes in science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Though not listed as a Booth Bookshop, it did seem to be connected somehow. Booth also has a couple of "Honesty Bookshops," where there are no staff, everything is priced very cheaply (e.g., all paperbacks are 25p) and you just drop the money in a cash box. The Booth Bookshop is the oldest, founded by Richard Booth in 1961, making this bookiness a recent phenomenon as Welsh history goes. It's also the largest; the Rough Guide says more than a half million volumes.
Hay-on-Wye can best be described, I think, as where old books come to die. I saw a lot of books that came from various library systems in the United States, answering the question of what happens to all those books in library sales that no one wants. I did find one book that a friend of ours has been looking for for years, and it came from the Miami (Florida) Public Library.
Since we arrived at 4:45 PM, we could go into only a few bookstores before everything closed, but I would say that Hay-on-Wye bookstores are designed more for browsers than for people looking for specific books. There are more books in French and in German than in Welsh in this Wales town. (Admittedly, it's right on the English border, and driving here we crossed the border several times.)
We finally left and drove to Y Fenni/Abergavenny (the B4350 west six miles to Glasbury, the A438 south one mile to Three Cocks, the A4078 south two miles to Talgarth, and the A40 south nineteen miles to Abergavenny). By the time we arrived it was almost 8 PM and we had to try several B&Bs before finding one with any vacancies. We had dinner at the Peking Chef--not bad, but oilier than we're used to back home (I don't think Britain is as worried about fats as we are), and more expensive.
September 8, 1995: We got up and drove to Castell Rhaglan/Raglan Castle, but got there before it opened. We went to get petrol, and Mark suggested that perhaps we should play hooky from castles and go back to Hay-on-Wye, since we didn't have much time there. That sounded good to me, so we did just that.
We spent another couple of hours in Hay-on-Wye, and I did find a couple of books: Lion Feuchtwanger's Jew Suss, the complete plays of Christopher Marlowe, and Schifra Strizower's Exotic Jewish Communities. The Marlowe was the only book I was actively looking for, and I couldn't find a copy of Shakespeare and Fletcher's Two Noble Kinsmen. As I said earlier, Hay-on-Wye is more for serendipity unless you are looking for something one of the dealers happens to specialize in (e.g., G.^A.^Henty novels). And working against the browsing aspect, at least for non-British tourists, is the fact that one has to get the books home somehow. So even if there was a wonderful deal on a complete Encyclopedia Britannica (for example), we wouldn't want to buy it. I even debated buying the Marlowe, which was a paperback, because I knew I could get it back home albeit for a higher price.
One shop that sounded good was the Old Penguin Bookshop, selling (surprise!) old Penguin books. But going there was a bit of a disappointment. Penguin is really just a large publisher in Britain, and they publish a wide variety of categories. In the United States, however, they are known almost entirely for their classics lines. (They used to have orange spines for English classics and black for antiquities; now I think all the spines are black.) So they had a much higher reputation in the United States than they would have if we had gotten all their books. (Their current fiction used to be green spines, and their non-fiction blue, which I mention for completeness' sake.)
More details on all the bookstores in Hay-on-Wye are available on request, but I won't bore you with them here.
After this we returned to our schedule, driving back through Abergavenny and on to Caerllion/Caerleon via the A4042 and the B4236. Caerleon is known for its Roman ruins: its amphitheatre, its barracks, and its baths. These ruins are probably what led Geoffrey of Monmouth to think that Arthur had his court at Caerleon. In fact, the amphiteatre is also called "King Arthur's Round Table," though now that it has been excavated it looks more like his round bowl than a table.
There is also a small museum (#1.70, or #2.80 in a combination with the baths; the baths are covered on the CADW pass but not the museum). This museum might be worth it if you're getting a combination ticket, and if you haven't seen the museum at Segontium, but is in large part a duplication of the information there. Perhaps when the current expansion is complete it will be more informative.
The baths, on the other hand, have quite a lot of information both on signs and in audio-visual programs. Built and modified throughout the Roman period, they remained standing until the Middle Ages when people used them for building materials. Still, the foundations and some structures remained for archaeologists.
After this it was on to Cas-Gwent/Chepstow and Chepstow Castle; we couldn't play hooky from all of today's castles. This was easy to get to, just twelve miles on the M4.
One reason we decided to go to Chepstow rather than Raglan as our one castle for today is that Raglan is very similar to other medieval castles, while Chepstow still has most of its Norman keep, a huge rectangular tower (roofless and floorless, of course). Chepstow was built in three sections: first the keep (built in 1067 and comprising most of the Middle Ward), then the Upper Ward (built, one presumes, in the 12th Century), and finally the Lower Ward (dating from the 13th Century). Though largely in ruins, it is still quite impressive, and different enough from the layout of all the other castles to made it interesting.
J.^W.^Turner didn't find it impressive enough, however, and in his painting of it shortened the horizontal lines and increased the height of the castle. Turner is perhaps the best-known of the Romantic painters who made these castles and abbeys so well known in the last century. (I've been collecting postcards of Turner's paintings for the various places we've visited. There is also a booklet from CADW about Turner and his paintings of Wales, but I can't put that in an album as easily. This year is apparently a celebration of Turner, with brochures of places he painted saying "On the Turner Trail." I think one would need more time (and fortitude) to cover all the ground though.)
(Chepstow Castle is normally #2.50 each, but was covered by our CADW pass.)
After this we drove up the A466 ten miles to Abaty Tyndyrn/Tintern Abbey, another Cistercian abbey. This abbey is best known because of William Wordsworth's poem, which ironically doesn't even mention the abbey except in the title: "Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye During a Tour. July 13, 1798." Well, he does say it was composed away from the abbey, but generations of tourists come here because they know he wrote a poem about it.
Just as at the start of our trip the Scott Monument in Edinburgh was covered with scaffolding, so was Tintern Abbey at the end--at least partially. The scaffolding had warning signs labeling it as "incomplete," so I suspect they had just started putting it up after the summer holidays ended two weeks ago.
Here was our last use of the 7-Day CADW pass, saving us #2.20 each for a total savings of #41.20 for the two of us against a cost of #17. Even if you don't drive yourself as hard as we did, it's worth it if you're seeing more than a couple of major castles in a week.
From here we returned via the M4 to Cardiff and the Penrhys Hotel. After resting a bit, we went out to "Wales's only Thai restaurant," the Thai House, for dinner. It's a start, but not the best Thai food I've had, or even the best Thai food I've had outside of Thailand. (I know--one doesn't come to Wales for the Thai food.)
September 9, 1995: Today is our last vacation day (tomorrow is all travel and doesn't really count).
We returned the car, having driven about 1300 miles in nine days. This is not much compared to our mileage in Utah, but a comparison of the roads in the two places makes even 1300 a lot in Wales. The car was somewhat better than the car we had in Utah, though a problem because of its size. Welsh roads and car parks are designed for tiny cars, but any car with an automatic transmission is going to be too big. If the car had had power steering it would have helped a lot, but this was not available in the (relatively) cheap model we got. And if you're renting a car in Britain, take into account the cost of petrol. We ended up spending #150 on petrol, tolls, and parking, or about US$240; the car rental itself was only US$297.
Carless, we walked down to the Welsh Industrial & Maritime Museum by Cardiff Bay and sat on a bench overlooking the bay until it opened at 10 AM. Admission was #1.50 each. Most of the machines were large engines used in mining, but there were other exhibits, such as a miniature diorama of Ernest Willows's airship of 26 November 1909, which eventually flew from Cheltenham to Cardiff, and later from Cardiff to London. I need to check if this was the inspiration for Stephen Baxter's, "Brigantia's Angels," an alternate history in which flying machines were invented in Wales in 1895. (It may have been, but when I checked, it turned out Baxter wasn't writing about Willows or dirigibles.)
There was also at least one error: a history of road transportation diorama shows a Frankenstein film poster in the 1920 section (the film opened in 1931), and a poster for Valentino's Cobra in the 1910-1920 section.
There was also a section talking about the tides in Cardiff Bay. The place with the biggest difference between high and low tides is the Bay of Fundy in Newfoundland with a tidal bore of 14.7 meters (48 feet). Cardiff has a bore of 12 meters (39 feet) and in fact when we looked out the window only an hour after we had been sitting by the water (which had come up to the edge of the promenade), it looked as though someone had sucked the bay dry; there was no water for hundreds of feet. Had I known, I would have taken a picture when we first arrived for contrast, but as it was I had to settle for one after the tide had gone out.
After this we thought about going to Techniquest, but decided to just wander around Cardiff and do some last-minute shopping instead. We dropped into Blackwell's, which had a good-sized science fiction section (bigger in fact than that of Forbidden Planet, the science fiction shop), labeled "Ffuglen Wyddonol." Horror is labeled "Arswyd." Actually, every heading is in both languages, but all the books are in English. The books in Welsh total about two meters in the "Cymru/Wales" section.
We stopped for lunch at the Celtic Cauldron, more to try traditional Welsh food than because we were hungry. We had Welsh rarebit (melted cheese on toast), laverbread (seaweed mixed with oatmeal and served on fried bread), and Welsh faggots (meatballs made of some sort of organ meat). Of the three, only the first was what I would call good, and the last was actually bad (in my opinion, of course).
After lunch we went to Forbidden Planet, which was a real disappointment. That's actually true of most of the Forbidden Planet stores--they used to be good sources of science fiction, but they have mostly switched over to a larger stock of comics and games, and fewer books. The Edinburgh one wasn't too bad, but the Cardiff one had fewer books than Blackwell's, and the New York one runs a distant third to the Science Fiction Shop and SF, Mysteries, & More. They had no science fiction in Welsh (no surprise there), and suggested a shop that might, but which we couldn't manage to find. Oh, well.
We also bought a few souvenirs and gifts, and Mark got a cassette of Welsh music, including "Men of Harlech." Unfortunately (for us), the words are in Welsh; if anyone can provide an English translation for it or for "All Through the Night" it would be appreciated.
Then back to the room to rest, pack, and rest some more. The latter was necessary after packing, since we are trying to cram a lot of stuff (mostly books) into suitcases that were pretty full when we started.
Dinner was again at the Poachers Lodge--we had liked it last time and wanted to assure ourselves of a good last meal in Wales. Mark had lamb cutlets; I had grilled trout.
September 10, 1995: Not much to write, except that I am completely caught up in the Wales part of this log. (I'm still at mid-afternoon Saturday of the convention report though.) We got up, had breakfast, called a taxi, checked out, and caught the bus in Cardiff for Heathrow. The bus actually goes to Terminal 4 (the international terminal), so we won't have to schlep our luggage from Terminal 1 as I had feared.
It's raining, but I snapped a few pictures of the countryside, mostly to use up film.
We got to Heathrow and then proceeded to Terminal 4, which judging by the distance the bus traveled is somewhere in the vicinity of Bath. And naturally our gate is the furthest one from the terminal, at least a quarter of a mile from any shops or stands except for a Mars candy vending machine.
This flight we do not have a would-be acrobat next to us. We have someone who is attending a virtual reality conference in Galveston and reading William Gibson's Burning Chrome as research. In front of Mark is John Lynch, the editor for the British science series Horizons.
British Airways gives their safety spiel and at the end says, "We hope you have a comfortable flight." If they really meant that, they'd give us wider seats and more leg room.
We had an uneventful eight-hour flight, most of which I spent typing my convention report. I'm all caught up on my Wales log, but still have a day and a half of convention not yet written up. Even so, I'm way ahead of where I would be without the palmtop. With luck, I should be able to finish my convention report by the end of the week.
Dale Skran picked us up at the airport and we returned home. Except for a certain recalcitrance in the car in starting (after its four-week vacation) there were no problems.
Costs in US dollars for the entire four-week trip were:
Airfare 1654 Ground Trans 730 Lodging 2400 Food 849 Film & Dev 109 Festival Tickets 698 Misc 360 TOTAL 6800
Evelyn C. Leeper (firstname.lastname@example.org)