Tag Archives: UK

Detour, or why we are in Switzerland and not Ireland

20 May

20 May 2023.

Ireland was the plan: Switzerland is the reality. But first, Wales!

When last I wrote (see Styles of Styles) we had just arrived in Wales in the charming town of Conwy. Northern Wales is lush and green, much like Western Oregon and Washington, with similar trees, shrubs, flowers, and even waterfowl. The weather was fine and there were neither mud nor cow dung underfoot. But then we were not walking in pastures. 

Where the Pacific Northwest has soaring mountains, Wales has castles. Lots of castles. Storming Conwy Castle, climbing the town walls, a day trip and walk in Betws-y-Coed (which I can now pronounce correctly), and strolling through Bodnant Gardens filled our three days. No rain hats required. 

Bodnant Garden is an exceptional place. Acres and acres of manicured gardens, lush forest, winding paths, a folly here-and-there. Once a private estate, it was handed over to The National Trust in 1949. The house is still occupied by Lord Aberconwy. You can point a camera in any direction and get a beautiful shot. Click on any photo for an enlargement.

Our traveling companions including the experienced left-hand-side-of-the-road driver had to cancel their trip to Ireland due to family circumstances. Where we were going in Ireland was quite rural and was not going to be easy to do by train and bus. Ric and I are not left-hand drivers and not about to start. After a quick assessment of how we might best spend the next two weeks, we made an about face from Conwy and headed to the continent and our favorite refuge, The Lauterbrunnen Valley.

I briefly assessed changing our tickets to fly home sooner. Not only was it depressing to think of calling the trip to a halt, the cost to change was astronomical as airfares have escalated so dramatically since we bought our tickets in September. 

Getting here was a two-day journey. We avoid flying when we can and so we did. Tuesday we rode on two British trains to London, then the EuroStar to Paris, where we spent one night. The next day, a French TGV Lyria took us to Basel and was followed by a series of three Swiss trains to get us to our tiny mountain village. I know some would find this nightmarish (my brother’s idea of Hell, I think) but we travel light and find it far less stressful than flying. Plus a night and a morning in Paris = a fine meal and a lovely morning walk in an elevated garden, La Coulée Verte René-Dumont, which I wrote about four years ago in this Postcard from Paris.

The weather forecast for the Lauterbrunnen area was daunting. Weather.com showed rain for the foreseeable future when we checked it before leaving Wales. But the reality is far better and the weather app MeteoSwiss has been our friend. I have not had to wear a rain hat yet and we even saw peeks of sunlight the past few days with continuing improvement ahead.

No book research, no major plans. Just enjoying seeing one of our favorite places in a different season; we have only visited in the fall and once, briefly, in the winter. It is a totally different experience in the spring: fewer tourists, although the transportation can be crowded, and many places are still closed for rest and renovations between ski season and hiking season. Tulips are still blooming and the deciduous trees just leafing out are a stunning contrast to the deep green conifers.

For those of you who know the area, the little cliff side train from Grütschalp to Mürren is out of service as they will bring the new equipment on-line in June. From what we could see, track-work must be just about complete. The corresponding gondola is also out of service until the middle of June although the path between Grütschalp and Mürren is open if you want to walk roundtrip, I guess. (We did not.)

We are riding trains and gondolas, taking easy hikes, and discovering new corners of this marvelous region. Might have to eat some rösti, too.

Styles of stiles and trip miscellany

13 May

13 May 2023.

England delivered exactly what we expected: occasional sun and plenty of damp, but high spirits surrounding the spectacle of King Charles III’s coronation.

What a privilege it was to be in-country for the event! When we booked our trip, Queen Elizabeth was still very much alive so being there — although not in London, thank the gods — was strictly coincidental.

In Lower Slaughter on the Sunday after the Coronation, the village prepares for The Big Lunch, a community celebration. These parties took place all over the U.K.

First stop was Oxford, convenient on our path to The Cotswolds for some country walking. Oxford was decked out for the upcoming pageant and did not disappoint. We toured parts of Oxford University with a doctoral candidate and enjoyed his inside-take on how the place functions and inevitable comparisons to the U.S. university experience.

Blenheim Palace was a glimpse into the aristocratic lifestyle as the family still resides there. Goslings and ducklings peppered the estate grounds and the gardens were in fine form. I can only imagine how gorgeous the roses must be in season. Our final Oxford tour was of the Bodleian Libraries, dating to the 15th century when 281 manuscripts were donated, the libraries now house over 13 million printed items.

The oldest part of the Bodleian, Duke Humphrey’s’ Library. Volumes cannot be “checked out” but must be read on-site with a chaperone librarian.

Almost over jet lag, we headed to Bourton-on-the-Water, our home for a week. We chose a self-guided center-based itinerary with HF Holidays staying in a hotel that was previously a private residence built in 1662.

This is the view of the grand staircase that greeted us outside our our room.

No matter how often we tour in the UK or the rest of Europe I am constantly dumbfounded by the history and the preservation and adaptation of old buildings. HF Holidays provided a lovely room, cooked breakfast and dinner with a packed lunch daily, and dozens of walking itineraries to choose from. We could select from clear instructions encased in waterproof laminating to guide us. All we had to do was don our gear and head out each day.

Those waterproof instructions were necessary. Our walk conditions have ranged from misty to sun-dappled to downright soggy. It reminded us of Oregon although in Oregon we have never hiked with sheep nor though mud as sticky and pervasive as we have done here.

And there are stiles of many styles. Frankly, I prefer a good gate, but the stiles were definitely a sensible solution to allowing walkers to walk unhindered yet keep sheep and cows in their fields. They are being replaced in many areas to allow barrier-free access to public footpaths.

Our final day in Bourton-on-the-Water was weather perfection, a sunny day capped by a thunderstorm at 17:00 when we were safely “home.”

We set off for Wales yesterday (Friday). Almost two hours by private transport thanks to a rail strike in England, then a 3 hour train ride. Conwy, the town we are staying in, is charming and today’s weather exactly what you’d hope for on a spring day!

Will write more from Ireland later in the trip!

%d bloggers like this: