Hannah Drake

A Weekend in Wales

TravelHannah Drake1 Comment

Last weekend, Luke and I headed to Wales for a special weekend away. (Now I just need to visit Northern Ireland and I'll have been to the whole of the UK!) We decided to go somewhere quiet and near the mountains, which made for the perfect getaway. We booked it pretty last minute, but were still able to find an apartment on Airbnb for two nights.

It was about a 3 hour drive from Birmingham and once we were away from the city, it was a beautiful drive! The fields are so green here and decorated with fluffy white sheep, just like you'd imagine Wales would look like. 

We were greeted by our Airbnb host who gave us a handful of recommendations, but we weren't able to register them all because Welsh is an interesting language, to be sure. Once we got the car unloaded, we decided to head out for a walk along the nearby river to stretch our legs after spending the afternoon in the car. We walked along the main road into town, but it was still quiet and peaceful, with the sound of the river flowing to the right and a flock of sheep grazing in a field to the left. We weren't entirely sure how much further it would be into town, but we knew we wanted to get take away for dinner and didn't necessarily want to carry it back if it was too far, so we headed back to drive into town.

I loved that the Chinese restaurant in town was also a B&B. While we waited for our food, their phone kept ringing and their ringtone was the Harry Potter theme song. It was great. We took it back to the apartment to watch Dexter (we're on season 4) and the CU game before calling it a night.

On Sunday morning, we enjoyed a small breakfast of tea and croissants before heading into town. We parked at the far end of the main street and made our way down, popping into shops (trying to figure out what the Welsh greeting cards said) and walking along the river, stopping to take in a small water fall near the bridge. The best way I can describe this little village, Betws-y-coed, is that it combines the peace and stillness of the Colorado mountains with the charm and quaintness of the English countryside. In other words: heaven on earth.

Even though it wasn't supposed to rain on Sunday, it started drizzling a little--spitting as the English, or at least Luke, would say. We popped into a cafe to warm up with a coffee. (Well, chai for me.) Luckily our favorite game, Hanabi, is travel-sized so I was able to fit it in my cross body bag and we played a few rounds while we sipped our drinks and people watched.

We decided to go to the shop to pick up a few things for a picnic lunch. Our picnic basket might still be in the states, but that won't stop our love of picnics! We headed toward Dolwyddelan Castle.

Dolwyddelan Castle is thought to have been built in the 13th century by Llywelyn the Great, Prince of Gwynedd and North Wales. It was originally thought he was born at Dolwyddelan Castle, but it is now thought he was born at Tomen Castell and that he instead build it. Though the castle was then only one tower with two floors, a second tower was built in the late 13th century (thought to have been added by Edward I) and a third floor was added to the first during the late 15th century repairs. It was captured by Edward I's forces in 1283 during his conquest of Wales, perhaps as part of negotiations to surrender. It was then modified and strengthened during their occupation through 1290. As the long-term strategy of control in Wales began to rely on military and administrative centres accessible by sea, the inland castles became obsolete.

It was quite a hike up to the castle, but it was worth it (and worth the £2 we paid to continue on). We spent some time in the castle, even though it's just one room with a fireplace now, and on top taking in the surrounding views. We took the long way back to the car to walk along a stream. I felt like we were in Middle Earth! On the way back to the car, I lost my FitBit, so we ended up having our lovely picnic lunch in the car before heading back up the hill to retrace our steps. (We found it in the end.)

Afterward, we decided to drive out to the coast and see the Black Rock Sand Beach since it wasn't too much further. We didn't stay long at the beach because neither of us were wearing the right shoes and we didn't want to turn into YouTube stars getting swept away in a high tide we didn't see coming. Besides, it's not exactly the sunbathing, lounging beach. In fact, it quite reminded me of Cannon Beach in Oregon! We stopped to visit a cool shop in Porthmadog, but didn't spend too much time there since we were both tired from all our exploring and wanted to go back to the apartment to relax before dinner.

We relaxed with another episode of Dexter before heading back into Betws-y-coed for dinner at a local pub. We thought about staying out for a drink, but figured we still had a bottle of wine back at the apartment and would make it back in time for the Broncos game. (We were pleasantly surprised to see that the Indianapolis-Arizona game was on in the pub, but there weren't any tables near the TV and we weren't sure if they would keep showing NFL games throughout the evening.)

Our initial plan for Monday was to ride the steam train up Snowdon Mountain, but sadly we didn't book tickets enough in advance to be able to. Instead, Luke did some research of what else was nearby and we decided to drive to Conwy to visit another castle and explore the town. I really regret not booking tickets for the train early enough to be able to go, but if we had, we wouldn't have been able to go to Conwy. We'll just have to go back for the steam train. But, the lesson to be learned is to book tickets for the things you really want to do beforehand and plan the rest of your trip around that. You're likely to get discounted prices, skip long lines, and you're able to prioritize what you really want to do and see.

All that being said, we really did still have a great day on Monday in Conwy. The coolest thing about Conwy is that the town is still surrounded by the original castle walls. We parked outisde the walls and immediately started walking around the city. It's free to be up on the walls and they have a lot of great information and of course incredible views. However, it's £7 to go into the castle itself. It's worth it though!

Conwy Castle was built by Edward I during his conquest of Wales, between 1283 and 1289, costing about £15,000 at the time. Over the next few centuries, the castle played an important part in several wars. It withstood the siege of Madog ap Llywelyn in the winter of 1294–95, acted as a temporary haven for Richard II in 1399 and was held for several months by forces loyal to Owain Glyndŵr in 1401. Following the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642, the castle was held by forces loyal to Charles I, holding out until 1646 when it surrendered to the Parliamentary armies. In the aftermath the castle was partially slighted by Parliament to prevent it being used in any further revolt, and was finally completely ruined in 1665 when its remaining iron and lead was stripped and sold off. Conwy Castle became an attractive destination for painters in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Visitor numbers grew and initial restoration work was carried out in the second half of the 19th century.

We spent so much time exploring every inch of the place. It's the best maintained royal apartments in all of Britain and while it doesn't have a roof, it's easy to imagine the castle bustling with people given the amount of information available and the condition it's in today. Most of the towers have had the floors removed, but you can see the three levels that were once there, the massive fireplaces still build into the walls, and even see exactly where the floors were. Because of how thick the walls are, each window is the perfect little nook and has great views of the city, the hills, or the water. 

After spending a considerable amount of time there (and after Luke had yelled "Your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries!" off the tallest tower), we decided to wander into town for some cream tea. We found a cute little tearoom upstairs and ordered a pot of tea and scones with clotted cream and jam.

We decided to take the long way back to the car and walk around there rest of the city along the castle walls. Since the city is on a hill, it was quite a hike up, but it was such a cool experience. A lot of private gardens went straight to the wall, so some people would have the hallowed out towers on their property and have a set of table and chairs within the tower, while other homes who had steps from the wall on their property would have them blocked off. It was hard not to imagine myself in Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings or something. Not to mention the incredible views we got at the far corner. You could see the rooftops of the whole city, the castle, and the waters beyond it.

As we ended our trip around Conwy, it started raining again, but we made it back to the car before getting too wet. We decided to start our journey back to Birmingham. Once again, we had a picnic lunch in the car, listening to a podcast on artificial intelligence on our way home.