North Wales – An Exploration, A Wish Fulfilled - Part I

I live in Chicago but I have accompanied my husband to Cardiff, Wales several times when he was working with colleagues at Cardiff University.  Each time I wanted to go to North Wales and this time I did.  Along the way I had help from some of the nicest and most fascinating people I can imagine.

 

Beginning with a Margaret, a friend in Palo Alto, California who lived in North Wales for five years and along with my cousin insisted I had to go there this time, to an unexpected stop at a hotel, this trip took on “a life of its own”.  The only time available for us to travel was one of the busiest possible times, the bank holiday associated with the Queen’s Jubilee.  My wish was to find a tour that my husband and I could join.  The Castle Welsh Crafts Shop across from Cardiff Castle advertised tours, so I asked owner, Bob Rice, if he knew of any: tours - yes, tours to North Wales, - no.  But he put me in touch with a good friend of his, John Wake.

 



John was kind enough to suggest both a route and important stops.  By now we had given up on a tour and rented what might have been the last car available in Cardiff, and secured lodging from the meager choices on Hotels.comJohn Wake was a detective inspector for 25 years with CID (homicide, fraud, drugs, etc).  Later he engaged in tourism and was Tourism Personality of the year in 2000.  He has done hundreds of specialist tours of Wales, began the first guided tours in Cardiff and began the first Welsh Tartan and Kilt Shop.  Alas, he was busy, taking a couple from California on a heritage tour just when we were traveling.

 

John has spent ten years researching King Arthur from a detective’s perspective.  In other words, could a case be made that King Arthur lived?  You can find two books of his as e-books, King Arthur, Mystory or History, and  Mermaid of Cardigan Bay, on Amazon.com.  In addition he has a series of 105 wonderful YouTube videos at: Johnfwake.channel 105 videos

 



 Travel with us on A470,the road everyone said to take, by watching one of John's videos. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0DOv-lKLp2o) We left from Cardiff entering the A470 near Cardiff Castle and managed to stay on the road through beautiful greenery until we reached Erwood Station, Craft Centre, Gallery  & Tea Rooms www.erwood-station.co.uk where we stopped to visit with John Wake’s friend Erika Cunningham to have a cup of tea and look at the crafts.  Erika proudly showed us the Olympic Torch she has in a case.  She was the runner who carried the torch in her area and gets to keep the torch.  She was also very enthusiastic about the ten-day festival taking place a few miles down the road.  Another couple, Bethan and Richard, was in the area in order to attend the festival for the third year in a row.  A Google search offers this: “Hay-on-Wye is a mecca for bibliophiles, boasting "thirty major bookshops", most selling second-hand books…”  (See addendum at end of article.)

 



We were pretty much crossing all of Wales, from the South East to the North West and were concerned about reaching our lodging at a reasonable time, so tempted as we were to stop by the festival, we continued our journey. This was a very good decision because from this point until we reached Betws-y Coed, our journey was very challenging.  A470 kept disappearing and when following it, we frequently found ourselves passing through very small villages with cars parked along very narrow roads and cars coming toward us. The villages were charming but maneuvering through them required an upgrade of my driving skills.

 



Betws-y Coed was very interesting, touristy and cute.  We enjoyed a meal that was pleasant, healthy and reasonable.  We had driven a long time at this point and were very anxious to reach The Northwood so we didn’t explore a great deal.  Moving on, our satellite navigation system decided that we had hugged A 470 long enough and took us on a beautiful, small, country road and before we knew it we pulled up in front of The Northwood Guest House. (www.thenorthwood.co.uk) Whew!  We made it this far.

 

Here we were in Rhos-on-Sea, in a perfect location, two blocks from the water and we learned later, near everything. Entering the lobby, I noticed a wonderful bulletin board with a large map and matching brochures to anything one could want to see and do in the area. We were then greeted by Sandy, (co-owner) and escorted to our room upstairs, which was just perfect for our needs, a larger room and a smaller attached room. I appreciated the access to my computer.  The tea, coffee, hot chocolate service was appreciated.  After we settled our bags, we walked to the water and passed several restaurants and small shops.  There was a larger hotel around the corner with a pub and restaurant where we enjoyed a local beer before returning to our room to settle for the night.

 



The guesthouse has a comfortable, welcoming lounge and a cheery dining room that opens on to a lovely garden.  My breakfast was delicious, possibly the best scrambled eggs I have ever had.  A very pleasant man was seated next to me and I asked him if he had stayed at the guesthouse previously.  He was Rob and he told me that he was from Liverpool and had been coming to The Northwood for eighteen years and thinks it is a great place to go.  He thinks that Sandy and David who have owned the guesthouse for nine years are wonderful.  I began asking how to get to nearby places and then the most amazing thing happened.  Rob (Robert Cummings) turned into a tour guide.  The weather was cold, rainy and windy but with Rob the day was “fine”.



After traveling along the A55 with mountains on one side and the sea on the other, through tunnels that went through the mountain, we crossed the  bridge into Anglesey and immediately there was a different look and feel. Our first stop was Beaumaris, (www.visitanglesey.co.uk). “the jewel and crown of Anglesey” and Beaumaris Castle.  It’s website says: “It was built as one of the 'iron ring' of North Wales castles by the English monarch Edward I, to stamp his authority on the Welsh. But it was never finished money and supplies ran out before the fortifications reached their full height.

 



Beaumaris is an amazing sight, regarded by many as the finest of all the great Edwardian castles in Wales. Begun in 1295, it was also the last. The king's military architect, the brilliant James of St George, brought all his experience and inspiration to bear when building this castle, the biggest and most ambitious venture he ever undertook.

 



In pure architectural terms Beaumaris, the most technically perfect castle in Britain, has few equals. Its ingenious and perfectly symmetrical concentric 'walls within walls' design, involving no less than four successive lines of fortifications, was state of the art for the late 13th century.

 



This was the 'beau marais' (fair marsh) that Edward chose for a castle and garrison town. From the outside, Beaumaris appears almost handsome. It does not rear up menacingly like other fortresses buts sits contentedly in a scenic setting overlooking mountains and the sea, partially surrounded by a water filled moat.”  We were moved by gentle harp music as we entered the courtyard — part of the annual Beaumaris Festival.

 





Rob knows this area well and led us through the charming village of Beaumaris where we explored the shops and stopped at Penny Farthing Traditional Sweet Shop on Church Street. We were captivated by the phone and radio from a bygone era and fascinated by the story of the flag.  The owner’s uncle gave it to her.  It was flown on V.E. Day, 1945 and appears to be in perfect condition.  With so much more to see we left Beaumaris and Anglesey heading for mainland via the lovely Menai Bridge and our next  stop, Conwy.  See Part II as our story continues.

 



Photos: Leon Keer

Addendum:

The bookshops for which the town is famous are a relatively recent innovation. The name most closely associated with the book trade in Hay-on-Wye is that of Richard George William Pitt Booth, who, on April 1, 1977, sought publicity by declaring Hay an "independent kingdom" with himself as its king. The tongue-in-cheek micronation of Hay-on-Wye and its "king" (who wields an old toilet-plunger in place of a sceptre) is today known chiefly for selling novelty low-cost "peerages" to bemused tourists.” More interesting information:

  • The resident population of Hay on Wye is around. 1,450
  • An estimated 80,000 people attend the town's annual literary festival held during the last week in May.
  • Throughout the year, the town attracts around 500,000 tourists.
  • It's estimated the Literary Festival adds around £3m to the local economy.
  • Hay was the world's 1st Book Town.
  • There are 39 bookshops in and around Hay.
  • The town has about 1 bookshop for every 36 residents.
  • There are more than one million books in the town.
  • The first Hay Literary Festival was held in 1987.
  • The Welsh name for Hay-on-Wye is Y Gelli (translation = "The Grove").

 

 

 



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