Tag Archives: Wales

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.

Postcard from Wales: Alla fine!

30 May

30 May 2019.

Alla fine! At last, we come to our time in Wales and what a wonderful place it is! Why do so few Americans make their way to Wales? Perhaps it is the lack of big sights. There’s no Uffizi Museum, Tower of London, nor Louvre; no Colosseum, Big Ben, nor Eiffel Tower. What Wales has is beautiful countryside, unspoiled coastline, friendly people, charming pubs, and historical castles.

It does take significant effort to ferret out information and construct an itinerary. Rick Steves does not have the best bead on Wales, in my opinion, and maybe that’s because much of his audience does not have the time to devote to this rural corner of Britain.

Penny Lane Sign

We started our time together with a short Beatles Tour in Liverpool. Paul autographed this sign. From left, me, Ric, Jane & Rick.

Maybe Americans don’t go to Wales because of right-hand drive cars. My brother, the intrepid driver, has experience with “wrong side” driving and we take advantage of his willingness to be the driver when in the UK or even in other European areas where having a car is advantageous (Scotland, Puglia, Croatia, rural Emilia-Romagna). With brother Rick at the wheel and husband Ric in the navigator’s seat, Jane and I could relax and enjoy the scenery from the back seat of the Range Rover.

We all met in Liverpool coming from our various directions. After taking a private “Magical Mystery Tour,” we headed to Caernarfon in North Wales. It is lovely country here, dominated by Snowdonia National Park, but it does take a bit of effort to get around: a lot of windshield time as the going is slow. Without a car, one can use some buses and scenic trains to aid hiking, but a car is quite useful. Easy hikes are not too hard to find with the help of the tourist office. We did find getting detailed walk info in advance of the trip a little challenging but once on site we were happy with walks that included a good pub lunch at the end. We stayed in the Gatekeepers’ Lodge at Plas Dinas Country House. Quite charming and we slept well, ate well, and drank fine whiskey.

Please click on any picture for a slide show and captions.

From Caernarfon, a drive down the coast allowed us a stop in Aberystwyth where the TV drama Hinterland is based. It was a bit dark and brooding on this gray day which is fitting for the show. Watch it if you can. Netflix has it.

By the way, our luck with the weather was amazing. Brother Rick says he always brings the sun to the UK and we only had rain on days we were changing cities, i.e., during car time. Ric and I got wet once since leaving France, and that was in London after Rick flew home. Go figure!

On to St. David’s, Britain’s smallest city. St. David’s is a cathedral city of some historical religious importance and we were drawn to this remote section of Wales for the Pembrokeshire Coast Path. Once in the city, you can just about get around without a car thanks to a bus network, the Celtic Coaster, but having a vehicle and a willing driver makes it easier and faster. The walks were just what I expected of country walking in the UK. We hiked across meadows of sheep and buttercups, along hedgerows, through small copses, past lovely gardens, through kissing gates, and along narrow shoreline paths: all in one walk! In the evenings, dinner was a 10-minute walk from our homey B&B, the Ramsey House. Thank goodness we were walking so much! Big breakfasts then chips and beer at lunch became a habit we need to break.

Click on any photo for a slideshow and captions.

The Welsh language is a major factor in the culture of this part of Wales, separated from the more English-speaking section by the Landsker Line. In Caernarfon and the villages of Snowdonia we heard Welsh spoken often and still heard it a bit in St. David’s. Once we got to the city of Pembroke and on to the Brecon Beacons, the only Welsh we encountered was on the bilingual signs that are required everywhere.

Welsh sign

From menus to road signs and waymarkers, almost everything is presented in both Welsh and English.


Pembroke Castle is very important in Welsh history, indeed in the history of the UK. We took a very informative tour. There is a giant map of Wales in the courtyard which Rick and Jane are shown touring.

One night in a pub in the Brecon Beacons village of Pontsticill, I overheard a table of 30-something men discussing the language with their 60-something waitress.

“Do you have the Welsh then?” asked one of the men.

“Nah, but me grandkids have it at school,” she responded.

Guffaw from the lads. “I could never when I were at school!” said another.

Speaking of the Brecon Beacons, what an extraordinary area! So vast! Although it carries the title National Park, this is nothing like a national park in the United States. These are lands set aside to preserve the way of life as much as to prevent development, so one finds villages and estates right inside the parks, and grazing lands abound as well as farming in sectors. There are no big hotels nor resorts but there are campgrounds and facilities available along with guesthouses, holiday houses, and B&Bs.

It was challenging to find detailed information about walking in Brecon Beacons until we arrived there. We had a faint notion to try a short, local segment of the Offa’s Dyke Path and did a couple of small sections but learned too late about supporting transportation options that would facilitate one-way half-day hikes. A return trip could be more focused. There was a fine walk through sheep pastures to an Iron Age hill fort in the Brecon Beacons. That was pretty darn cool.

We had a very nice house on the edge of Brecon Beacons, at the southern edge of the park, but close to some cute villages with nice options for dining.

Once again, please click for captions and larger photos.

Alle fine (in the end), we had a great trip through Wales and Liverpool was worth exploring as well although our time there was short. We could have extended any location by a night or two and gone deeper and hiked more. Leaves something for “next time.”

We wrapped up our trip in Salisbury, but you’ll have to wait for the next blog to hear about that fine city!



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