June 27, 2007

Breakfast this morning started out with orange juice and porridge, but instead of our continental breakfast we had somehow been put down for the vegetarian breakfast. This consisted of sausage, hash brown potatoes, tomato, baked beans, and a fried egg. It actually turned out to be very good.

After a cup of tea we organized our things for the day. The rain was pouring down so we were glad we had done Snowdon yesterday. The first stop for today was Caernarfon. We went into the castle and bought our 7-day Cadw pass, good for free entry to castles and the like all over Wales. The castle was built in the 13th century and reconstructed in the 19th, but it’s still somewhat of a ruin. We climbed numerous turrets and looked into all sorts of rooms, trying to imagine what it would be like to live and work there in the 14th century. There was a museum about Prince Charles’s investiture as Prince of Wales; it must have been quite a spectacle watching that ceremony in the castle grounds. We also skimmed through the other museum about the Royal Welch Fusiliers, which was also very interesting. We decided to skip the movie about the castle, though.

By this time it was getting on towards 11:30 am so we thought we should move along. While leaving the car park, Paul scraped the rear panel of the car on the concrete wall of the circular exit ramp. Hopefully we will be able to clean it up so the rental company doesn’t decide it needs to be repaired at our expense.

Then we drove along the strait and over the old Menai Bridge to Anglesey; this was the first bridge built over the strait. We parked in the town of Menai Bridge, surprisingly not “pay and display” here. We had a book published by the AA listing 200 walks in Britain, and there was a 5-mile walk here that we had decided to do.

The walk went downhill to the shoreline, then under the bridge and through the lower part of the town, then up a narrow muddy public footpath with a river flowing down it. After that the walk went through several fields with sheep; the instructions were rather confusing but we persevered through a number of kissing gates until we came out onto a road verge. This was right according to the book, so on we went along the verge, turning right after a short distance at a brand-new Audi dealership (not in the book).

The next direction was to find a public footpath that went off to the right about 800 yards up this road. For some reason we did not see it, so we ended up following the roads back into the town. When we got to the part of the road where the footpath was supposed to join back, we didn’t see that either. So we missed the historic mill which was sort of the main reason for doing the walk. But it was an interesting exercise anyway, so all was not lost.

Then it was onwards to Beaumaris Castle, further up the coast of Anglesey. This was the last castle to be built as part of Edward I’s Welsh pacification mega-project, and the most perfect and symmetrical, although it was never completely finished. It even had a working moat around it. When we arrived it was pouring rain again, so we hurried in to be under cover. But the rain soon dried up and we wandered around in the sun.

By now it was almost 3 pm and we had not yet had any lunch. In the gift shop we bought some chocolate-covered toffee-centred biscuits and some cross-stitch coasters. Outside in the streets of Beaumaris we located a bakery and bought two small sausage rolls to augment our lunch.

After eating the sausage rolls and some of the biscuits, we hopped into the car and headed across the island to Holyhead. The route was straightforward, just following the A55 across the island from Menai Bridge to Holyhead. From there we followed the signs to South Stack, an area of cliffs at the sea’s edge where thousands of guillemots (“murres” to North American birders) were nesting. By now the sun was shining beautifully. We walked to the lookout building, called Ellin’s Tower, which is run by the RSPB and overlooks the bay and cliffs. From there we could see guillemots, kittiwakes, gulls, and gannets. When we told the naturalist that we were looking for puffins, she said there were only a few there. She found one swimming in the bay, but it was hard to focus the telescope through the glass window.

Just past the cliffs were the 400 steps down to the South Stack lighthouse, so we walked over there to look at the part of the cliffs where the puffins could be found. And indeed we did manage to pick out half a dozen puffins in the midst of the thousands of guillemots, not to mention other birds like razorbills and fulmars. Rosemary took some photographs of them but they were really too far away for that.

After climbing back up the 400 steps, we continued on up to the top of a hill looking over the Irish Sea. The views looking back to the mainland of Wales were spectacular, with all the mountains of Snowdonia lined up. In the opposite direction we thought we could see Ireland as a blue smudge on the horizon. When we got back to our car park, we found it was just across the road from a set of stone rings that were the remains of houses dating back to Roman times and perhaps even earlier.

But by now it was about 6:30 pm and we were both getting hungry. We checked our Rough Guide to Wales for restaurants in Holyhead, but it had nothing at all to recommend. So we decided to head for home and have dinner at the Snowdonia Parc pub, just down the road from the hostel. Paul had chicken tikka masala with rice, and Rosemary had the giant Yorkshire pud with roast beef and vegetables. She was surprised to find out that the giant Yorkshire pudding was the size of a soup bowl and that it was absolutely filled with roast beef, potatoes, carrots, and leeks. And all for ₤6.95. We were both full up after that meal.

Before going back to the hostel, we walked down to the shore of the lake across the road from it. In the woods there somebody had built board walks and sitting areas, in a very idiosyncratic style. It was lovely to walk through there. In one section there was an area of woven willow branches that when fully grown would be like a circular room.

Back at the hostel we sat in the lounge and wrote our journals. We had some catching up to do, so it wasn’t until 10:30 pm that we went up to our room to go to sleep.

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