June 28, 2007

Once again we had the vegetarian breakfast after our porridge; we hadn’t told them to change it so that was now our standing order. Today we saved some of the leftover toast and put some jam on it for our lunch.

There was blue sky and only a few clouds in the sky. But the weather forecast in the hallway called for fine weather deteriorating to showers in the afternoon. So we decided to visit Conwy Castle and Bodnant Gardens and other places in that general area, instead of the Lleyn Peninsula where we had planned to do some walking.

In Conwy we found space in the Vicarage car park in the town centre, which was not too busy and only charged ₤1.90 for three hours. First we went to the castle, which was right next to the car park. It was much smaller than Caernarfon Castle but otherwise very similar in its features. We passed through the main entrance, which formerly had a drawbridge. It was amazing to walk along the parapets and climb the turrets and think of the innumerable people who had been there before us. We spent about an hour exploring the castle.

Below the castle was Thomas Telford’s 1828 suspension bridge across the Conwy River, which was still the main road into Conwy until its replacement was built in 1954. At the far end of the bridge was the rebuilt toll collector’s cottage, now run by the National Trust. It looked like a miniature castle and consisted of four rooms on the main floor—entrance room, sitting room, kitchen, and bedroom. Any children would have slept in the attic. On a board outside was displayed the toll rates from 1891, a complicated tariff starting at a penny for one person.

We walked back across the bridge to the town, and then down to the sea wall to look at Britain’s smallest house. We didn’t feel like paying the entrance fee and just took a photograph of it. Continuing along the sea wall we came to the actual town wall. We climbed the steps and walked along the top of the wall for a while. It towered over streets and restaurants and people’s back yards. When we came to a stairway, we climbed back down so that we could visit Plas Mawr (“Great Hall”). It was built by Robert Wynn and dates back to 1576, and the interior has been restored to appear as it would have when he lived there. The walls and ceilings were ornately plastered with various heraldic motifs; in one room there were 27 different plaster reliefs on the ceiling. The other restored furnishings were very well done too.

We picked up some juice and apples at the Spar in the high street, then had a quick lunch in the car park. Then we got into the car and worked our way out of Conwy and back to the main A55 road. From here we turned south on the A470 to the Bodnant Gardens, also run by the National Trust. Here our Heritage Canada memberships got us in free once again. The gardens were very extensive, with some enormous trees. The rhododendrons were finished flowering, and many other plants had not yet started, but we wandered around trying to pick up some ideas for redeveloping our own somewhat smaller front yard. This is one of the few National Trust garden properties that does not include the house, so we couldn’t go into the house. But it is not surprising that the family donated the property, as it must be very expensive to keep up.

By the time we decided to leave the rain was starting to fall. This must be one of those showers, we thought, as we continued south on the A470. We turned up a side road and stopped at Trefriw—in the rain—at the woollen mill, where Rosemary bought a wool skirt length that came complete with lining and zipper. Then onwards—in pouring rain—to Dolwyddelan castle. It was up a path behind a farm house, and it was basically a big stone box on top of a hill. Definitely inferior to the other castles we had visited so far. Nobody was there but us and the wind howling past it.

It was still pouring rain as we drove down through road construction at Blaenau Ffestiniog and down to Porthmadog. Yesterday the RSPB people at South Stack had told us about ospreys nesting near Tremadog, the first south of Scotland. After a few wrong turns we found the site, only to find that it was a temporary building with osprey displays, and the only way to see the birds was through a video feed showing the mother bird feeding two chicks in the nest. But the nest itself was about a mile and a half away, in some trees that we could barely see in the pouring rain. Even with the scopes in the bird blind we could barely make out the nest tree.

It was after 5 pm, the rain was really coming down, and we just wanted to get home. After more twisty winding roads, we arrived back at the hostel barely in time to order dinner. Paul had the pasta with vegetables and Rosemary had the baked haddock with new potatoes instead of chips. Both of us ordered dessert—sticky toffee pudding with fudge sauce—but when it arrived it turned out to have a butter sauce, which was much tastier.

Then we headed upstairs to have showers and write journals. Rosemary talked to some of the schoolgirls and asked them to guess where she was from. After a couple of guesses—Scotland, Cheshire—one of the girls guessed America. When she told them we were from Canada, it turned out that one of the girls had been skiing at Whistler so she vaguely knew where Vancouver was.

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