Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Snowdonia, Wales

Note: I am desperately far behind on my blog posts at the moment! This harks back to 2015 (a whole year ago? Not quite...). I promise I'll try to keep up my blogs a little better in future.

After Budapest, there remained days free between Christmas and the New Year.
Days which could be used to go someplace, somewhere. But where? York? Manchester?
What about Snowdonia, Wales?

Months previously, months and months ago when I hiked Cheddar Gorge, the original intention had been to hike Mount Snowdon in Snowdonia (it sounds like the name of a place in a fantasy novel, doesn't it?), but it fell through. Snowdonia, however, remained in my mind.

In the few weeks leading up to the trip, Britain was plagued by terrible flooding, and the day before we left the trains to Wales were not running. Our whole trip was blessed with excellent weather at exactly the right moments…but let me start at the beginning.

27 December (being holidays, I still have no idea what actual day this was…a Sunday?)

The journey to Snowdonia in Wales was over 6 hours long. It included a couple of different train transfers (and I spent most of it travelling backwards). By the time we arrived into Porthmadog, I was ravenous.

We wandered down the street and passed a hotel restaurant which was still serving until 9pm.

It was currently 8.50pm.

Running inside, we were greeted by a very friendly gentleman behind the counter, who showed us to the restaurant, handing us to the waitress. She handed us the menus saying, "please order quickly!" and within 30 seconds we knew what we wanted. We both went with a local beer and cider and the lamb pie. it was delicious, but oh so very heavy.

Rolling out of the restaurant we waddled our way to the hotel which was a short walk from the town centre. I wasn't feeling good - and had intended to ring my mum for her birthday in Australia but as I was feeling very bad I curled up into a ball and fell asleep.

28 December
It was a fitful nights sleep thanks to my silly belly being silly, but thankfully not food poisoning. Today we were going to catch the Ffestiniog Railway up to the little down of Ffestiniog and back again, and then if there was time, to catch the West Highland Railway to Caernarfon.

The first train was leaving quite early, just after 10am, so we started towards the town centre and the station, picking up an iced coffee and some random assortment of snacks for breakfast. Dan scoped the train for the best carriage so that we would have the nicest view - and where he could stick his head out the window and take excellent shots of the train.

The round trip took about 2 hours and wound us through spectacular rolling hills and leafy scenery. As it was winter, many of the trees were spindly and bare - affording us a better view of the valleys and hills beyond. In summer time, they would be lush and full and the scenery behind obscured. Each season would have its own distinct beauty.

Returning to Porthmadog (pronounced Porth - ma- dog, although we though it might have been pronounced more like Port Maddock), it was time for lunch. We chose a little diner called Jenny's and stuffed ourselves full with local beer and cider (again!) and some lovely hearty food. There was time to catch the other steam train, and we raced back to the station again, this time to buy a ticket for exactly the opposite direction.

This view was no less spectacular, but a little more subdued than that of the Ffestiniog Railway; it was a distant beauty rather than the winding through of close-knit trees or over thin stone bridges. I took a few photos, while Dan darted from side to side to capture the best pictures. I was never game to stick my camera (or head, for that matter!) out the window for fear of collecting myself on a low hanging branch or a somehow-unnoticed tunnel (which would be just my luck).

By the time we reached Caernafon it was becoming dusky dark. We figured we were here now, why don't we explore a little? We saw a big fort and made our way around it, and slowly through the town centre. When we had enough, we attempted to find the bus stop to take us home. I say attempted because at this juncture I decided to help out with directions, and basically had us walking every which way (resulting in missing a bus). The next one wasn't going to be for some time, and so we popped into a nearby "this-looks-like-a-spoons, oh-it-is-a-Wetherspoons!" pub for a local cider, before jumping on the night bus back to Porthmadog.

The bus ride took about an hour, and once we were back in the town centre we went looking for dinner. A Thai place had been recommended to us, and so we headed in that direction. It was blowing a gale, and the wind roaring through the yachts in the marina was an eerie cacophony of shrill squeals and clanging of metal. We found the Thai place. Very. Darkly. Closed.

Bugger. By now, we also had a mild bladder problem and time was of the essence. The Australia pub it was. It had come recommended from a number of courses, and so we powered inside, made use of the facilities and went to grab a menu.

"I'm sorry, we don't really serve dinner here," I was told from behind the bar. "We do have soup, though."

Soup? A pub by the name of The Australia and it only serves soup? What is this outrage? Thanking them politely, we left and, after trying another local pub - finally found one that was serving food.

I'm not blaming them, I understand - it was the strange time between Christmas and New Year, it was a small town and many people were on holiday. We settled down for some pub fare at the bar near the train station and compared our lovely pictures from the day.

Today had been my mum's birthday but, because of how poorly I had been feeling the night before, I didn't get a chance to give her a call. I spent a few minutes outside once we returned to our hotel (the only place that had any decent internet reception), being buffeted by the gale force winds and wishing her a happy birthday (where she was sitting in her bathers as it was a lovely day!)

29 December
While at the pub the previous night, Dan received a call from a friend back home who had spent their overseas adventure living in Porthmadog working in the train workshop. He arranged for Dan to have an extremely exclusive look inside, and so this morning we walked across the Cob to the yard at the other end. It was a beautiful walk - the Cob is a seawall connects one side to the other with the road, walking path and train tracks. The scenery is spectacular, and we were treated to bright blue skies and a glorious rainbow on the backdrop of the beautiful Snowdonia mountain range.

It was quite a hike and the other side seemed to be getting no closer, but we finally did arrive, saw the steam train we had caught yesterday go past and made our way inside the train yard. Here, I will freely admit that I had little idea what was going on, being said or shown, but enjoyed the happiness on Dan's face.

After our visit, we continued on to the seaside town of Portmerion. The sign said it was 0.5 miles away, which I worked out to be about a 10 minute walk. Over half an hour later, after passing multiple "Portmerion this way" signs, we arrived. I was, naturally, grumpy, hangry and sore by the time we arrived (are you surprised?). I was also grumbling over the fact that entry was £8 per person which seemed awfully steep. We approached the desk to pay for entry and, after a number of failed attempts at using the credit card facilities, the lady said "Head on in - you can pay on your way out."

Put bluntly, this was a strange place. It was specifically built from 1925 in the style of an Italian village and designed to be the perfect "pretty" town. The buildings were painted bright colours with ornate metal workings and all the structures were set into the cliff face. Most of the buildings could not be entered as they were holiday residences and there was another hotel off to the right hand side.

We grabbed some food and thawed a little, before spending a couple of hours exploring what we could. It was oddly disappointing - worth a little visit but not worth £8.

Back in town we decided to try the Thai place that had been closed the night before. Had we spent an additional 35 seconds there the previous night (if our bladders weren't dictating our actions), then we may have spotted the "Not open until February" sign. We saw it the second time, and so we about turned, tried another two pubs before finding one that did serve food.

A few strong Welsh ciders later, we called it a night as we were leaving reasonably early the next morning.

30 December
I had been desperate to try a coffee shop that had also received good reviews and was reasonably close to our hotel. It was raining cats and dogs today and we considered ourselves very lucky that the weather had held out so well previously. The day before we were due to arrive in Wales, many roads and train tracks had been closed due to flooding. We apparently brought the sunshine - the only 2 days they had had without rain for 2 months.

That all ended this morning, and as we approached the coffee shop, we discovered it was closed. Blast! Why was so much shut? We returned to Jenny's diner to dry off and load up on an enormous breakfast - we had quite a drive ahead of us.

The 6 hour train journey home was mildly eventful as our first train was broken - everyone had to pile off, and then the train we were meant to get on was cancelled, so we ended up piling back onto the first train. This, while annoying, wasn't altogether unwanted as we had grabbed some snacks on the way - camembert, to be precise - and it turned out to be off. In the previous carriage, the smell of odd cheese left an unpleasant feeling in the nostrils and so by getting off and on again, we joined a new carriage, free of cheese scent.


And so concluded Snowdonia, Wales! The people we met were all very lovely and the landscape beautiful - a hiking trek in the warmer months would not go astray. And so we returned to London, still with 4 days of holiday remaining, and wait for the New Year to begin.

Til next time,