Monday, 27 August 2012

Conwy, North Wales (Round 2)

Ah, the end of summer.  The last Monday in August is a Bank (public) Holiday making for a 3-day weekend similar to Labor Day in the States (though kids have not returned to school yet like in the US).  Despite our busy summer holiday schedule, we could not let the opportunity pass.  We decided to fit in a return trip to North Wales for the weekend.

Recall, that we visited North Wales for a 4-day weekend in April 2011 (link).  It's worth a refresher ro go back to that posting to catch up on the history of the area.

North Wales in an ideal weekend location.  It's only 2.5 hrs away (or 3.25 on a bank holiday Friday).  We love the history, scenery and the Welsh.  Last time, we stayed in Criccieth which is a little further away (past Bangor, Caernarfon and down to the southern part of the peninsula.   This time we stayed in the wonderful, small, walled town of Conwy.

Our home for 3 nights was the Castlebank Hotel, a Grade II listed Victorian Home just outside the city walls with convenient parking and still within stumbling distance to the restaurants in town.

Saturday -- exploring Conwy

The weather prediction for the weekend was not great but it didn't turn out too bad.  It rained on the way down (and back) and Saturday was a little misty at times but by and large we stayed dry.  We started off by walking some of the town walls to the harbor . . .  all decked out in our waterproofs to be safe (no temporary ponchos this time).

We will eventually make it to Conwy Castle, one of the 8 castles built by King Edward I.  It was built (rather rapidly) from 1283 to 1289.  Looking good for the years.

 Another shot, this time also capturing the bridge into town.

Our first stop would be the "Smallest House in Great Britain", the red building on the end.  Gotta like the guy checking his phone while waiting for customers.   (According to the wiki link, it doesn't appear that he is the regular host).

another castle shot as we get closer . . . you can see the tents being set up for the festival du jour along the quay

and here we are.    The house is 10 x 6' and was lived in until 1900.  At that time it was it was deemed to be unfit for habitation and was set to be razed (like the houses adjacent to it).  However, it was spared when the owners (?) went around Great Britain and determined that it was indeed the smallest house (so small I couldn't get a decent photo inside).   It was tight.  The 4 of us really couldn't be in there together.

If it's a festival day near a castle, there must be birds of prey.  Nicole's favorite barn owls here.

  and a hawk too (Harris or Red-Tail I presume)

 and a great, big eagle owl

and now, on to the castle.  As mentioned, it's in pretty good shape.  We could walk on the walls, into the towers and around some of the rooms.

I tend to like these government purpose built jobs for some reason.  Seems better than just the fat-cat Lords building something to protect their land.  (but then again, I guess Edward I was the biggest fat-cat trying to project against the Welsh he just overtook).

 Suspension Bridge leading to the castle

Alex enjoying the view

Here's a nice model of the walled town of Conwy some time ago.  Our hotel was just outside the middle of the far wall.  We walked down to the quay (on the right) along the walls and then along the quay to the castle (where the walls aren't walkable or don't fully exist).

Edward I built the castles for defense and then the walled cities to protect the English cronies that he enticed to stay.  Had to keep the angry Welsh out, you see.

here's a view from the castle back along the quay (and the special tents setup for the day) 

 interior shot with the Wales flags flowing briskly in the wind

required sheep shot outside the walls on the opposite side

capturing some of Conwy opposite the harbor side -- I also wanted to point out the typical UK scene of a car (black mini-van) doing a multi-point parking maneuver into an extremely tight space (the passenger had to get out first) while many others circle hopefully

family shot on top of the castle

This has historically been quite the mussel area.  There was a nice little mussel shop/museum (link) along the quay.  They limit the season to a few months starting in September.  It was interesting to learn that they plop them in a ultraviolet tank for a few days to kill all the bacteria living in them (yummmmm).  Had to snap the two mussel lovers next to the monument. 

We walked back along Castle Street and stopped off at St. Mary's Church (link).  We couldn't tell if it was open (or how to get in!) so we just walked around the perimeter.  The church dates back to the 12th Century as the abbey church of the Cistercian Abbey of Aberconwy (the Abbey itself moved after the castle was built).

Next up was the Aberconwy house, Conwy's only surviving 14th-century merchant's house, one of the first buildings built inside the walls of Conwy (National Trust link).

They had a nice little video inside the house and the rooms were nicely done.  This one was staged to appear like the it was in the 17th century when the wealthy merchant owner lived here (and was living through the civil war).

This room was set later (19th century?) when the house was used as a "temperance" hotel.

Alex tries on some army gear from back in the day.  They made a point with the low doorways and armor that folks were a lot smaller back then (about Alex's height in general).

We went back to the Quay briefly and the only downpour of the day occurred.  Lucky for us, we were right by an unoccupied tent!  Joined by many.  It was over in 5 minutes or less and we just had to deal with a little mist.  We did okay given the forecast (18 months in the UK and now "at least we didn't get soaked" is a good weather day).

Back up to High ("Main") Street.  This is the Castle Hotel (not to be confused with our Castlebank Hotel).  Interesting building (though a little pricier and more difficult to park!).

We continued our historical walk through town by stopping at the excellent Elizabethan era house Plas Mawr.  The house was built between 1576 and 1585 and is the (self proclaimed) "finest townhouse of its era in Britain".  We agree that it is very well done.   I couldn't get a photo from the front, so the back with have to do.

The family crest of Robert Wynn, the 16th century owner of this establishment.  Interesting to say the least.  The plasterwork has been redone (very well) throughout the house.

Alex like the authentic broom

the herbal and vegetable spread in the kitchen

the game hanging in there

here's looking at you (these were real, stuffed animals btw)

not sure what's growing out of his beard

we liked the deer/moose -- it's in Nicole's drawing style and everything

a colorful room with more of the singularly exposed woman

after a nice day of seeing the sights, it was back to the wall to continue our walk around (which we admittedly bailed out of instead of walking around the railroad tracks)

So, we saw a Castle, two restored homes, a mussel museum and the smallest house in GB.  Cost?   £3 (for the smallest house).  The Castle and homes were free with our English Heritage and National Trust memberships.  Sweet.

View from our hotel later in the evening.

Sunday --  Beaumaris and Llandudno
Heavy rain overnight and thick clouds when we awoke.  However, the forecast was good so we decided to continue on plan and head to Beaumaris on the Isle of Anglesey. 

The destination was Beaumaris Castle, the "unfinished masterpiece" of Edward I.  Lots of info and photos here.

Ready to enter.  Notice the honest-to-God real, filled-with-water (albeit green) moat.

on the bridge

Photo of a photo to show the concentric design (moat, outer wall, inner wall).  We walked both the outer and inner walls as well as outer & inner courtyards.

As luck would have it, they were having a special medieval fair on the day we visited.  The weaponry area was recruiting as we walked by.  Doesn't Nicole look thrilled? 

Nicole the Giant towers over the other (4 year old) recruits

a half-hearted thrust (at least she's smiling now)

one final charge for the crowd (the baby next to us was not happy as it scared him to tears)

more barn owls (don't let the sign fool you)

a view of the bridge and moat from a tower

the inner courtyard -- you can see it turned out to be a nice day

another, this time with the hills in the background

various interesting exhibits going on . . . cooking (not shown) was a hit as was this woodworking on a spindle lathe

the best event of the day, though, was the ferret racing!

pre-race pat/pet/stroke down

here's something different -- they actually took bets before the race (50p to win £1).  Not good odds.  :-)

The race was a lot of fun.  They didn't exactly speed through it and even turned around at some point.  A winner would be declared once all 4 paws came out.  Kuk's choice was the first to finally stick its head out.  Kuk screamed for it and it immediately backed up and hid.  No winner.

#2 did the same thing.  Tough getting all 4 paws out.

Alex's choice was finally coaxed out -- we have a winner!  Fun times.

We next drove back towards Conwy and visited the larger, Victorian seaside town of Llandudno and the Great Orme, a limestone headland.  This statue is by the visitor's center at the top of the Great Orme.

The views were fantastic.

more great views (and more sheep)

we had a nice short stroll around -- we've gone soft as we did not walk to the top, but rather drove (I blame the lack of time)

Jay, I found your sheep.

I did not plan on driving to the top.  I figured we'd take the cable car or the tram (both shown).  However, the parking in the town was a mess so we keep on driving on the "marine road".   It was a nice drive around the perimeter but once we headed up it was your typical white-knuckler 1.5 lane UK death-defying road.

more sheep & nice views

here's a view back towards Llandudno

Alex needed a little encouragement to get up the last hill during our walk

one more scenic shot with the cable cars (too bad we missed that)

Quick aside to show the "fun" in trying to read Welsh.  You can't exactly fake your way through it like Spanish or French, can you?  Everything in Wales is written in both Welsh and English.

last shot looking in the opposite direction of town out towards the sea

After the Great Orme, we did manage to find a place to park in town and then headed to the boardwalk.  The inspiration for Alice in Wonderland, Alice Liddel, had a holiday home here and her family was friends of Lewis Carroll.  I didn't find the White Rabbit statue that I was looking for, but we did see the Queen of Hearts on the way back into town.

The Grand Hotel in Llandudno and the beginnings of the very long (and some would say seaside tacky) pier.

a view of the Great Orme from the pier

Looking back at Llandudno from the pier.  In our search for parking we did drive along the waterfront and enjoyed the view of all the Victorian styled hotels.

The other side of the bay opposite the pier.  I believe this is the Little Orme.

Here's the end of the pier with Joe Fisherman manning his phone and a half dozen rods.

We enjoyed the quick visit and walk around Llandudno but Conwy was more to out liking.    Here's a seagull on the wall to great our return.

I'd done my research and found this little gem for dinner.  As I've learned to do, I made a reservation ("booking") for Saturday night.  This has to rate as one of the best overall dining experiences (food, service, cost, ambiance) that we've had during our time in the UK.

Watsons was so good, we weren't getting excited about anything in Llandudno so I made a quick call and we got the last table on Sunday night as well!   I can't let my foodie fans down:

 crab cake tart starter for Kuk

goat cheese tart for me

they brought out complementary liqueurs between courses and made sure the kids had their own version as well -- big hit! 

scrumptious lamp chops, ground lamb & mint ball with mashed potatoes for me

sea bass for Kuk

no pictures of the main meal on Sunday, but we did get dessert that night.  We both had forms of berries and cream
 yum -- you must try Watsons Bistro if you are in the area!

Monday -- the drive home

I hadn't planned on any sites on the way home.  We don't tend to try to do much on the last day of the holidays since we still have the weekly chores to do.  However, I noticed that we passed within spitting distance to Crewe and thought we might have an opportunity.

In the early days, both Rolls-Royce cars and airplane engines were built in Derby.  However, with the onset of WWII, the Derby site focused on airplane (and later jet) engines.  The manufacturing of Rolls-Royce cars was established in Crewe, a railway center (info link) in 1946.

The last Rolls-Royce made in Crewe was in 2002.  It currently makes Bentleys (it's quite complicated with all the BMW and Volkswagen Bentley/Rolls-Royce Motors dealings).  I thought there might be a museum or vistor's centre to link the Rolls-Royce heritage.  I guess not.  It did make for a nice 5-minute stop though.

here we are -- fortunately the rain stopped long enough for a quick photo

the front entrance -- closed today so I'm not sure what exactly is behind the doors or if it is even open to the public (I did ask the guard in the hut if there was a museum -- nope)

This Bentley through the glass will have to do.  Oh well, it only took us 5 minutes out of the way.  Good idea (and I actually knew before setting off that there wasn't anything RR there).

Phew -- quite a summer.  Back to school and the regular (new) schedule soon.  I think we are all looking forward to taking next weekend off!

Have a good week and thanks for reading.