A Travellerspoint blog


More Creeping up the Welsh Coast

storm 12 °C

So, yeah, well I like was in Manorbier, like, and I caught this, like, bus, like

Nah, can't keep it up - but I had a dose of young Americans around me recently as I took a bus somewhere.

Anyway, I left Manorbier on a bus, one of the many that makes short trips all around the Pembrokeshire Coast. This one was going a relatively long distance, all the way to Haverfordwest, 18 miles. Still, it managed to take more than an hour, as it popped up side streets and waited vainly for passengers at various point. At one time, it had three passengers, but for a while it was just me, and when we got to Neyland, I seriously wanted to absent myself - this is where Brunel ran his railway to, or from. Probably to, actually, as until there was a railway, there wasn't a Neyland. It looked a pleasant place as well, on the banks of the River Cleddau. At least this day we could go over the river - I'd heard on the previous day that the wind was so high that buses weren't going over.

Haverford West was just a place to stop and catch another bus, one going 16 miles, but there was a gap of a couple of hours. I had all my bags with me, so a leisurely walk wasn't really an option but I saw a wimpy bar. A wimpy bar! A brand new one, even. I was convinced they'd disappeared, as I've not come across any, just a sign in Tenby. I had to go in, was surpised that they offered table service and had pictures of nice looking ice cream sundaes and had a full menu going, but not surprised although sad to find my food was basically crap.

At the end of my second bus ride, which had taken me through pleasantly rolling farm land, for a swoop down to the coast and then through a bit of rough, I was in St David. Here is its main street, standing about one block from the end.

There's maybe another block around the corner and two roads running off it and that's about it. Small is the word, according to wikipedia, it has 1797 occupants and yet it is a city, the UK's smallest, but still a city. The thing is, if you go to the bottom of the main street, and do a bit of a dogleg to theright and go through a gate in a high wall that stops you from seeing anything, you suddenly find this

It was a wee bit like the welsh lass saying Machynlleth - every time I saw it it was a fresh delight. I didn't stick around very long the first time, as I was still carrying my bags and had a long walk to the hostel, the longest so far under full load. I'd asked the bus driver about taxis, and was told there were none. Of course, when I got to the hostel there were signs for three different taxi companies. Ah well, at least it wasn't as warm as in Singapore.

It is right out in the country

- I can't think of any city where you can start in the centre, walk 30 minutes and spend the last 25 of them in the country. Off to the side is White Sand Bay - the weather was hovering on the verge of rain, if not raining, the whole time I was there so this is as close as I got

Most of the time, I actually spent around the hostel, there were friendly people and I could work, easily enough. A bit of a scare to have no internet at all, however.

By the time I got back into the central city to find dinner, I was a little alarmed - no convenience store, no chippy, no pizza, hardly even a pub, but three or four posh restaurants which were full. I really didn't feel like starving, and luckily I found a pub at the far end of town that did me proud.

On the Monday, the weather cleared enough to encourage me to make a dash into town, where I could explore the Cathedral properly.

It had a very nice restaurant where I was planning to spend a chunk of time relaxing, until a group of four year olds decided that it was really a football field and that football means lots of screaming. My tolerance to such things is not what it used to be so I retreated to the Bench, which was a very nice place in the centre of town - with a pervasive smell of deliciously cooked prawns.

Next to the Cathedral is the Bishop's Palace, not quite as well kept unfortunately

Despite being small with no shops, I managed to spend most of the day in St David, popping through the gate to see the Cathedral a number of times.

And then it was all over. A bus up the coast to Fishguard, a night in a pleasant hostel there with a pint and a bite to eat in the pub while some folk musicians did their thing in a corner and it was bye bye to the UK. So many things I've seen, yet so many more that I haven't. I could have spent a month covering the ground of the last few days! But it has been grand, with more to come.

Posted by NZBarry 15:54 Archived in Wales Comments (0)

Creeping up the Welsh Coast

all seasons in one day 15 °C

After leaving Tenby, the plan was to go up the Welsh coast in small hops, but the first such hop was ridiculous: a total of 4.5 miles. I could have walked! As it was, I had to leave my digs at 10:00 in the morning and couldn't get into the new place until late afternoon. Plus, it was threatening rain. So, castle time. There are lots on the Pembrokeshire Coast, every nook or cranny seems to have one, and I think I could spend a month driving about here, but there is only one that the bus from Tenby takes you to

After a hefty breakfast in an 80 year old cafe and sending yet another consignment home, it was time to go in. Pembroke Castle is a pretty big deal: it was a stronghold for quite some time, variously for or against the French and for or against the Welsh, and the birthplace of the first Tudor King, Henry VII - his Uncle Jasper, Earl of Pembroke, was the last proper one - Henry VIII was against baronial power, and actually had Ann Boleyn take the place over. Then he had her executed. For a couple of hundred years, after some deal was done, it was left in private ownership to moulder away but then in the 18th century, romantic poets and artists got all keen on it and it was back on the map. There's been a massive restoration project, and it is looking pretty good. This is inside the wall:
and various shots as I wandered around

I was curious at the concept of a dungeon tower

The building to the right is the Great Keep, one of the earliest towers with a domed roof, built around 1200

After a quiet pint, listening to a local and a couple of guys he struck up a conversation with solve all the problems of the world, it was time to hop on the bus, and head back. Yep, I said bus - trains aren't that good for travelling up the south west coast of Wales, and it means I had to abandon my bike in Tenby. I left it locked with the key in the lock in the railway station - probably means that some morally bankrupt lowlife will get the thrill of thinking he's stolen a bike, but I couldn't think of a better distribution system.

My destination for the night was a wee place called Manorbier, which had been a big defence base. I chose to stay there simply because the blurb in the YHA book about the hostel made it sound cool. It has a Norman church
and a pretty wild looking beach

It started to rain while I was at the beach, but the wind was so strong that I was being dried off quicker than the rain could wet me.

Of course, being a nook or maybe a cranny, it has a castle

What it didn't have was any place to eat. Yes, there was a pub which had some fine ales and a menu but no-one to do anything about food. So, for the first time since leaving home, I actually had to cook for myself. The horror. The horror.

The hostel was almost deserted - a group was finishing off their meal as i returned, talking about seeing someone called Harry Potter, apparently he's in films. I wanted to shout at them that they were in Wales, the site of some real history, the Last Invasion, and that was all they could find to interest them. Maybe they knew what was on my mind, as I never saw them again.

The hostel was certainly an unusuall styled building, had been part of the defence base

It is up the coast, about a mile from town, on the Coastal Path, so I took a wee walk

Posted by NZBarry 14:55 Archived in Wales Comments (1)

To Tenby

sunny 17 °C

Yes, this was another fit of indecision which captured me: I couldn’t decide between Whitby or Tenby, so decided upon both. I certainly made the right decision going back to Whitby for a few days, although it would have been a giggle to have been there the weekend before. Instead of steam trains, it was goth time – one of the two annual Gothic weekends, and the local paper was full of images. I feel a particular sense of loss for not seeing the Dracula Drop bungee jump or the football match in which Real Goth took on a local team. I wonder if any turned out wearing kit like this

But before Tenby, I had a wee bit of tripping about to do. First, I had a couple of nights back in York, where I was disgusted to find that among the hundreds of bikes at the station, mine had been picked upon to be stolen. It only cost £25 and was nothing special, so why it would be taken I have no idea. It would have been very helpful to me, as I had quite a trudge to the hostel, and I’d perfected the art of making the bike carry the heaviest bag. Since that was the end of that, I thought I might as well confuse someone by tying my helmet to their bike.

This time in York, I did get to see inside the Minster, but didn’t really do much else. The hostel was good to work in during the day and, in the evening, well another retired bloke had struck up a conversation with me within about a minute of getting into my room. He too had been to New Zealand, even bought a bike with big ideas about cycling the length of it, but didn’t get far – the bus was much less tiring. Poor fellow, he was made redundant, his age made it hard to get more work, then the recession cut in to make it impossible. We went off to a really nice cafe, Concerto, opposite the Minster – it had music scores in place of wallpaper and a really friendly vibe – and took a couple of pints before tackling the walk back. The next night, we didn’t even get to leave the hostel, just spent the evening in the hostel bar, with our young German room mate and a New Zealander, doing a bit of travelling before going back to her accountancy firm. I’m fairly sure she’s the first Kiwi I’ve talked to since I left home – the funny thing is, she didn’t recognise my accent. After my rant about teacakes, she probably wishes she’d stayed in her corner. Or maybe I converted another to the cause.

Now, the logical way to get from York to West Wales is to go back through Birmingham, not via the Scottish Borders. But I’d heard so much about the Settle to Carlisle railway as being the most spectacular rail journey in the UK that I had to try it out for myself. Of course, back in York railway station, I found that my bike hadn’t been stolen after all, so it could come for the ride.

We didn’t get far. After a change of trains in Leeds, a very interesting looking city, lots of very new flash buildings among the older, more sedate brick edifices, we got stopped at a station just south of Settle. A freight train had broken down ahead of us – normally that would not be a problem as there are two lines, but this one had chosen to break down on the Ribble Viaduct, where the railway was reduced to a single track, and there were problems extracting it.

So, I got to Heilliford Station before 11:00 and was there for a while. Luckily it was a nice station and had an alarmingly cheap cafe – after I’d loaded up with a quota of crisps and Mars Bars and homemade ginger cookies and a cup of tea, I had to question whether he had his pricing right.

They did put on a bus, but the only reason for going to Carlisle was to do the train trip, so I was determined to wait it out. I had a fellow to talk with, a local who turned out to be a retired Crown Court Judge (and to continue with the theme of retired gentlemen who went to New Zealand when he was young, he was another). He was just going “over the top” for a day trip, but by early afternoon he gave up. A train did come along, that would take me to Carlisle via Lancaster, and the staff on my stuck train were quite definite that I should take it. Nope, no way, I’m doing the Settle Carlisle. It was just before 4:00 that the line cleared and the next train came along which could take me.

The journey? Kind of nice but the bleak experience I’d been promised
was over pretty quickly.

Didn’t help that Carlisle was not that great. I think the best thing about it was my dinner – walking around, one place was much busier than anywhere else, so I went in despite it being a Chinese eat all you can Buffet (traditionally not very good food) and it was great. Swansea the next night wasn’t much better, lots of people there for stag and hen nights and generally getting drunk, but I’d had to stop there because of the wacky world of Waterstones. You can go into their shop and buy books, or you can order online, which saves you heaps. Then you can ask that they deliver to your local Waterstones, which they’ll do for free. Since Swansea was the only place I was passing through that had one, and I was curious to see if it is as dour a place as the guide book says (it is), and I found a cheap night in a Travelodge it all added up.

All in all, I was getting a little apprehensive, maybe I’m getting over this travel lark and won’t enjoy Tenby? I needn’t have worried – even the little train that bumbled its way between the bushes to get me from Swansea to Tenby cheered me, particularly the very proper speaking English fellow with a very long white philospher's beard who turned out to be the train driver.

And in Tenby, I had a great week. I had an apartment, which gives a bit of the view of the sea

Yep, these are all from the window of my apartment. From the outside, it was nothing, a grey concrete wall above a shop selling touristy kitsch, but inside it had all I needed, even a bath. Not having to work within the routines of a hostel or hotel or flatmates was wonderful – a week of getting up around 11:00, working through until 2:00, when I’d spend a couple of hours in a cafe for a sausage baguette (much better than it sounds) and apple pie, catch up on the internet and go for a bit of a wander.

It was nice for the fellow in the cafe to decide I was a writer, which I guess is what I am at the moment. Then it would be a few hours work in the afternoon, then dinner at a pub and another wander, before working through until about two. The changing mood of the sea was a constant entertainment

The TV mumbled away in the background, so I became heartily sick of the MP expenses row, but it was interesting to spend 10 minutes listening to what they’re debating in the House of Lords – the fact that the bacon in their restaurant is from Holland, not Britain – because British bacon is £6.59 a kilogram and the Dutch is £4.80 and “we like to give value for money”. They even tell jokes in the House of Lords” “I had this friend, he came back from Mexico, and I was worried because he didn’t seem very well, thought he might have swine flue. So, I rang the swine flu hotline but, instead of help, all I got was crackling.”

I may as well write it here – I had a particularly geekily spooky experience during this week. I got this thought in my head on the Sunday night, that if I was to buy land and build a caravan on it, like the static caravans they have here which have wheels but never go anywhere, then it wouldn’t be a building so I wouldn’t need a building permit. All sorts of images of what sort of thing I could build and it not be a building were in my mind. That kind of passed, but then a few days later I read something – at almost the precise time I was having visions of buildings that aren’t buildings, the High Court back in New Zealand was convicting a fellow for constructing non-mobile caravans in his caravan park without a building permit.

I think that I was right to be confused about whether Tenby or Whitby is better, because they both suit me so well. The town of Tenby might have a little less to enjoy than the town of Whitby, certainly has nowhere of the stature of Beckett’s, but the beach that circles around Tenby is definitely superior.

In between my doses of The Forsyte Saga, I have been reading a more contemporary novel. Over the course of nearly a fortnight, I only managed the one - Victor Pelevin's Babylon, set in Yeltsin's Russia, after a fashion. Another name for Babylon is Babel, which has certain connotations important to understanding this book. Its central character is a fellow often simply called Baby, who is an adertising copywriter who spends most of his money on drugs, and he takes some wild trips as a result, imagining himself in a ziggurat communing with its priest or having a long argument with his ex-boss, only to find it was a fence post. The middle class is somewhat different to Addison & Steel's, or even Galsworthy's - here, they're thugs in armour plated cars with heavy automatic weapons and have bodyguards.

Towards the centre of the book is this sort of funny episode, although it was incredibly dull to actually read, like a lot of critical theory. Baby has himself an ouija board, and wants the spirit of Che Guevara, which he gets. But Che gives him a multi page account of marketing theory, based on the premise that we don't watch TV, we are controlled by it. And TV certainly has a huge role in this novel. I'm tempted to say just how huge, because I did enjoy the premise, but I have been warned off by the Guardian review: Baby is "initiated into a huge politico-cultural conspiracy - but it is so delightfully realised that to reveal it would be an act of gibbering critical sabotage".

Posted by NZBarry 16:07 Archived in Wales Comments (0)

To Exeter

sunny 14 °C

Another of those crazy days in which I got off to an early start, so early that most in the hostel seemed to be still abed when I left, and yet it was late at night before I was done for the day. Another spin back to Lands End didn’t give it any more appeal, but a quick duck down a side road and the day was off to a good start.

Sennen is the first harbour north of Lands End, tucked in under here
and tiny

Nice beach – I stopped and had breakfast so I could watch it for a while

Then it was back past the hostel and into St Just to look around during the day – it is like a small Dolgellau

But with added bonus of a Welsh amphitheatre, which has been here since the 12th century

As you head up the coast of Wales, you go through its mining district, silver mainly (plus, I think, tin). The Levant mine was actually on a cliff face and under the sea. Little remains today, however

There is still a fully functional mine, in the hands of the National Heritage Trust – I did pop in and wandered around the outside a bit, but I found the Levant more interesting.

The land round here is a bit wild

So too are the roads – very narrow in parts, with drivers like me taking it easy but the locals, not so much. At one point I had to back over to let someone past so far that I was sure I felt the car come into contact with the stone wall, typically concealed behind a benign layer of foliage.

The entire town of Zennor, where some famous poet came to live (I hope he liked long walks in the countryside!)
and suddenly I was in St Ives, a town which presents a few challenges to those seeking to drive through – this is the road

I was pretty much convinced that I had inadvertently driven into a pedestrian zone (I’m sure it is possible) but someone was following me, and then there was a car park.

St Ives is a very pleasant spot – it has a lovely waterfront
and quaint narrow streets, full of shops selling ice creams (I was warned to watch for the seagulls when I bought one) pasties (it is Cornwall after all – have to say that I prefer the Birmingham version, Balti chicken), nicnacs and gewgaws. Importantly, I found one selling the local beer – the Admiral Ale by the St Austell’s Brewery won the best ale in the world competition last year (it was tasty).

I really did try to take a look at Penzance, you can’t go to Cornwall and not go to Penzance, but I got caught up in a mess of narrow one way streets and was spat out at the south beach
so decided to press on.

Next stop was Newquay (on the north coast), another town with a weird system of one ways, so I again got lost, but did get out to its main beach

People may have heard of Rick Stein, he’s been on our screens pursuing fishy dishes. He owns half of Padstow, which is along the coast from Newquay. Since his fish and chip shop opened as I drove into town, I decided to join the queue (yes, there was a queue to get into a fish and chip shop – luckily it didn’t last)
for a cod and chips. Not that special, really.

Padstow has a tranquil little harbour

I had one more essential stop to make, so I gobbled my dinner and headed off, still along the north coast of south Wales. I feel quite special, parking my car here
(possibly not that recognisable, although this bit of beach has been on our TV’s quite a bit). Maybe if we look at it from another angle
or pan around

This is Port Isaac, but perhaps better known as Portwen, the home of one Doc Martin. Even if it hadn’t been famous (in some quarters), Port Isaac was well worth a visit, despite another set of narrow streets (I drove in one
and had no idea how to get out again, until I watched some people leave – straight out the way you come in).

It is lovely
so I decided to hell with it and went to the pub for a reflective pint. I had hoped to sit on the balcony on which Doc Martin had so many embarrassing moments, but it seems to have been built special for the show: the only balcony I could find was a terrible small concrete thing, one table deep with a grill work. No worries, the sun was out, the beer was good and I was happy.

So, it was near dark already before I headed off to Exeter, where I was booked into the YHA. Nice hostel, but I have no idea about Exeter (and I so wanted to see the narrowest street) – I did try driving into town, but my first finding of the hostel was a complete fluke, so I wasn’t sure I could repeat it. I did check the car for scratches – there was a horrible ridged silver gash. Expensive!

Posted by NZBarry 15:59 Archived in Wales Comments (0)

To Telford

sunny 11 °C

Yesterday was all about coasts and castles and coldness. Today was about warmth and inland destinations, one of which I managed to fall in love with.

This is the view from my hostel bedroom at Borth. The road over the hill to Aberystwyth was a little less scary in the daylight, but still very narrow

I only really went back to Aberystwyth because I wanted to see if Galloway’s bookshop was open – after something like 130 years of being a family business, they have finally decided that life is too hard and are closing their doors for ever. Sad. Plus they were having a 25% off sale, but they don’t open Sundays. I wandered around a bit, was so impressed with this
I had to ask a passing gentleman what it was all about. Apparently it used to be a hotel, but when it went bust, was taken over to form the original campus of the University of Aberystwyth. Still in use and much nicer than the new campus up on the hill, and what a location, right on the waterfront.

Heading north, my first stop was Machynlleth, which was (briefly) the site of the Welsh Parliament at the beginning of the 15th century.
I wonder how many MP’s they could fit in there (and whether THEY had problems with MP’s double-dipping on their second home allowances).

After this, I was on the southside of Snowdonia

and then it happened: I came round a corner and over a wee bridge
and saw this

This is Dolgellau – reading my guidebook later, I saw that is one of the best preserved traditional Welsh granite towns there is.

I took so many photos my camera battery died. No worries, I took refuge in a cafe and charged up

I had a lot of fun in the visitor centre in Dolgellau, more fun than I thought possible. I was curious about coming back, so asked the charming lass how to get there by public transport; apparently you come through Machynlleth. Hearing this said with the proper Welsh pronunciation is a thing of joy - I contrived to have her repeat it. After about a dozen times, I thought I had better go, otherwise she might think I was a loon.

After this, I had to get a move on to get back to Telford before dark, with only the occasional stop for photos - I was impressed by this church (it hasn't come out as clearly as hoped - it is sheathed with corrugated iron, but it is the colour which got to me)
then it was goodbye to Snowdonia
This building is a restaurant and what seemed to be apartments - and what a location

There was a reason I had started in Telford - it is a few miles from a place called Ironbridge, which is where the Industrial Revolution is said to have started. It is here that Abraham Darby was the first to use a blast furnace to make iron in 1709, and a whole industry built up around him. There are ten museums devoted to this early phase of industrial history, and I've been wanting to go explore ever since I hear about this place. Unfortunately, my planning was a bit off - I didn't get down to into the Ironbridge Gorge until about 5:30!

It is a beautiful spot
and yes, there is an iron bridge, the first cast iron bridge in the world, built by Abraham Darby III in 1779

Thomas Telford, who built the Conwy suspension bridge that bears his name was strongly influenced by Darby's bridge but refined the design considerably. His Wikipedia entry reveals him to be a quite remarkable man who did a lot in the early 19th century to design transport links all around the UK.

The town of Telford, named in his honour, is a disaster. It is a near new city - basically a bunch of roads built around a mall, with none of the bars, cafes etc that you'd expect to find in a place housing 200,000 people. Only now are they investing to build up this essential element. The only place I could find to eat (apart from the Motorway service area) was a Beefeaters; they managed to stuff up every element of my dinner. The only element that was cooked nicely was something I hadn't ordered, so I don't expect they'll be seeing much more of me.

Posted by NZBarry 15:43 Archived in Wales Comments (0)

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