Thursday, 8 August 2019

Parrindi travels Part 3

Continuing on in Wales. We left the boat moored up a couple of miles from Llangollen and caught the bus into Wrexham. The bus was a double-decker and of course we went upstairs to the front row for the best view. The buses which run between the local villages are fitted out on the top deck with tables having wi-fi connections just like long-distance buses.

The boat's Begonias this year

We had a look around Wrexham which is quite a large market town with all the usual big stores. Visited St Giles Church which dates from the 15th century with the 135 feet tower being completed in 1506. There have been a few additions over the centuries since but it’s still pretty amazing. It was the ‘Church Mouse Festival’ when we were there. The whole church had 1000s of knitted mice in every nook and cranny. Must have taken the knitters of Wrexham months to make so many mice - all with different themed costumes too. Had a look over the small museum and went to the Tourist Bureau where the lovely ladies there told us about a Big Jazz Band concert being held nearby that night.

We checked into The Lemon Tree Hotel and after a lovely dinner there we booked a taxi to the Concert. Turned out to be at the Steel Worker’s Club - way out in the countryside.   The band, with 20 musicians, hold concerts there every month with only about 20 regulars in the audience enjoying the music led by band-leader Bill Basey. At interval they asked Terry to draw the raffle when they found out we were visiting ‘all the way from Melbourne ‘. Terry managed to pick out his own number - how embarrassing! So the evening ended up only costing about £10 (including a box of chocolates won in the raffle). We didn’t even have to book a taxi back to Wrexham as one of the trumpet players gave us a lift.

The Lemon Tree Hotel in Wrexham

Having great fun with the Welsh language. Nearly all the signs are written in Welsh with the English version underneath in smaller print. The written Welsh looks totally different e.g. the word for Wales is Cyrmu and even the ‘Slow’ sign on the road is ‘Araf’. We get puzzled looks when we ask for directions as we’re obviously not pronouncing the town names correctly. The letters K, Q, V, X and Z are not included in the Welsh alphabet, but they seem to double up on ll, dd, ff, etc. in most words. Our favourite town of Llangollen is pronounced as Klangothen’ (or something that sounds like that!)

Next morning we collected our hire car and set out to see the north coast of Wales. We stopped at Rhyl which is obviously a beach holiday destination with lots of fun fairs and amusement parks but it was just about deserted when we arrived. It looked a bit dismal with the tide completely out, drizzling rain and a cool wind blowing so maybe all the holiday people were hiding indoors. We learned later that it all ‘kicks off’ the following week when the big school holidays start.

We continued along the coast to Conwy which is a walled city with a large castle which Terry thought we had seen years ago. (Later we realised it was a different castle we had seen.). We walked over the Suspension Bridge at the castle built by Thomas Telford in 1826 and then headed for town. A very touristy place but it started to rain quite heavily so we had lunch to get out of the rain.

We then walked down to the harbour and found ‘The Smallest House in Great Britain ‘ which is a one up, one down cottage measuring just 72 inches across, 122 inches high and 120 inches deep. The last tenant was a 6' 3" fisherman called Robert Jones who lived there until 1990 (must have been bit of a squeeze for him) when the cottage was deemed unfit for human occupation.

We walked back to town and found the National Trust property, Aberconwy House, which is a 14th century merchant’s house. It’s thought to be the oldest surviving town house in Wales. It was very dark inside with all the blinds kept down as daylight can damage the furnishings. The National Trust does some incredible work in restoring these properties and they are staffed by very knowledgeable volunteers.

Leaving Conwy we drove to nearby Llandudno and up the Great Orme - a huge hill nearly 700 feet high, which has a cable car, ski slopes and a Tramway. It was still drizzling rain so we decided to have a ride on the Great Orme Tramway. This Tramway commenced running in 1903 using steam from coke-fired boilers. This was replaced by electrically powered engines in 1958. Passengers must change at the Halfway Station as the upper and lower sections operate separately. There are two trams on each section which cross at passing loops half-way along the section. Fantastic views from the top of the hill then the tramway runs between houses as it gets down to the township, looking a bit like the San Francisco trams. The sun came out for our return journey so we could really appreciate the magnificent view.

We backtracked to Old Conwy where we had booked an Airbnb for the night. Nicky, from New Zealand, was our very friendly host for the property which was a huge old Methodist Church. The accommodation was in the lower level and Nicky took us upstairs where the church area, complete with balcony seating and large organ still remain. Nicky and her husband, also a New Zealander, presently have the property on the market as they want to return home after 9 years in the UK but if it doesn’t sell in the next two years will rethink its use.

Next morning we set out on a lovely sunny morning for Bodnant Gardens also run by the National Trust. Thought we would be the first to arrive but ten minutes after opening time the car park was packed and a couple of busloads of keen gardeners had already arrived. We visited these gardens about twenty years ago and they are still awe-inspiring. It was here that we got the inspiration for the Laburnum arch we planted at Ruffy. The Bodnant Archway had finished flowering this year but there were masses of roses with glorious perfumes and a jaw-dropping Dogwood in full flower.

This is one tree!

Next it was Penrhyn Castle on 45 acres of grounds with views all the way to Snowdonia. It was built in 1820 for the Pennant family who made their money from their Welsh slate mines and Jamaican sugar where they used slaves to work the plantations. Apparently the whole castle was designed to show just how wealthy the family was back then. Although the actual cost of construction is not known as much of the timber came from their own forests and most of the labour came from the workforce at their nearby Bethesda slate quarry it’s estimated to be worth approx £49,500,000 in today’s money!

This place is one of the most impressive Trust properties we have ever visited. The house contains superb plasterwork, wood and stone carving and fine furniture. Queen Victoria once slept in the one ton slate bed in the State bedroom when she stayed at Penrhyn in 1859. The estate also hosts an industrial railway museum with much of the railway stock that was used in the slate quarries on show. In 1951, the castle and surrounding land were accepted by the Treasury in lieu of death duties and it was handed over to the National Trust for upkeep and to place on public display.

We then crossed the Menai Straits to the island of Anglesey on yet another Thomas Telford bridge (he certainly was a busy man!) and also went across the nearby Britannia Bridge built by Robert Stephenson. Anglesey is quite a large island and we headed inland to the village of Llangefni to the 18th century Bull Hotel where we spent the night.  

Next morning we drove right around the island which was mostly large farms with lots of black-faced sheep. We passed through Holyhead where there’s a large shipping terminal with heaps of ferries going across to Ireland.

Next stop was Plas Newydd, another National Trust property, in the township of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (yes - the longest named village in the UK). The property set on the shores of the Menai Strait has beautiful views over the waterway. It’s connected with Henry Paget, the 1st Marquess of Anglesey, who played a key role in the Battle of Waterloo. The story goes that he led many charges against NapolĂ©on’s army, having to change horses six times as they were killed under him. He lost his leg in the battle and was the first person to wear a fully articulated wooden leg - which is on display at the house.

The elegant home was redesigned by James Wyatt in the 18th century and was radically restyled in the 1930s. Unfortunately for us the Trust is now renovating most rooms so all the furniture and paintings were covered in dust-cloths. However the famous mural designed by Rex Whistler for the dining room wall was on display. This is the most incredible artwork as the Trust guide explained. It’s 58 feet long and 14 feet high,and it’s like one of those paintings of people where the eyes follow you around the room except this is a seaside scene. In this mural there are lots of famous buildings from around the world included in the town on the left side of the painting. As you move along the room many of things in the scene somehow change with the mountains only being in a third of the painting when you go further along, the boats move and the paving stones with wet footprints in the foreground change direction. Whistler, who was in love with the owner’s daughter, included many family members in the painting as well as himself. However he reportedly didn’t earn as much for the painting as the people who installed it on the wall.

This is the stable block!

We drove through the Snowdonia National Park on our way back to Newtown but unfortunately the views were mainly hidden by the persistent drizzle and misty conditions. Luckily we had been there in the 90s so we knew how spectacular the mountain views are on a clear day.

We spent the night in Newtown at The Gro Hotel, a property believed to have been built in the early 1600s for the local vicar. Only problem then was that his church was on the opposite side of the Severn River so he had to row across to it for Sunday services until a bridge was eventually built. This only lasted a few years before it was washed away and he was back to rowing across. Over the years various bridges have been built and the building has been extended and turned into a guest house. We had quite a nice room overlooking the garden but everything squeaked - the floorboards, the stairs and especially Terry’s bed! It must have even kept the resident ghost awake! We dropped the hire car back to Wrexham and then caught the bus back to the boat.

Next day we went to Erddig, a National Trust property set in 1,200 acres of gardens and parkland near Wrexham. It was good idea that we got a taxi from Wrexham as the driveway from the road to the entrance was over 2 miles. A rich London lawyer bought the property in 1714 and substantially enlarged and enhanced the buildings. Unusually for those times the servants were highly regarded with portraits, photos and verse about a number of them over 200 years on display. One housekeeper worked for the family for 70 years! Erddig has a treasure trove collection of furniture, textiles and rare wallpapers. One of the conditions on handing the property over to the National Trust in 1973 by the last squire, Philip Yorke, was that nothing was to be removed from the house to be used in other Trust properties. Apparently the family over seven generations were great hoarders so there are approximately 30,000 items of furniture, paintings, ornaments etc held at the house.

Photos & verses of some of the servants over a 200 year period

Unique shower 

Our final National Trust property to visit in Wales was Chirk Castle which was built as a fortress in the late 13th century. It had various owners until 1595 when it was bought by the Myddleton family for £5,000. They turned it into a comfortable family home and the Myddletons still live in part of the Castle today. Lovely gardens with lots of topiary hedges


The Long Hall, Chirk Castle

Went back to LLangollen Basin where we spent a few quiet days on the boat. Sharron, a friend from Ruffy, flew in from New York where she had visited her son who lives there. We took off towards Chester in lovely sunny weather and went over the fqmous 120 feet high Aqueduct.  Sharron had the experience of doing a few locks and a lift bridge along the way.

Llangollen Basin

River Dee outside Aldi store at Llangollen

Sharron and Terry at The Corn Mill restaurant

The rapids alongside The Corn Mill

Tractor in the main street!

Crossing the Llangollen Aqueduct
We visited the lovely town of Ellesmere where the ‘meres’ are huge lakes formed during the Ice Age when massive glaciers took centuries to melt and gouged out the lakes. The forecast for the weekend was looking grim so we suggested Sharron visited some of her friends who lived on a farm up in the Peak District. This involved her getting a bus and a couple of trains to Stoke station where her friends met her.

Street knitting in Ellesmere 

We spent the weekend travelling back along the LLangollen Canal (the weather was remarkably fine despite the forecast) and managed to get through the troublesome last lock where boats were still getting jammed. The Canal & River Trust is closing the whole canal in November when it’s a quieter time so they can completely strip down the lock to repair it.

Breathe in....It's a tight fit!

We moored up at Nantwich on the Shropshire Canal again. Sharron arrived back there on Tuesday and thought it was a beautiful historic town. Bob, who we met many years ago brought his granddaughter, Tegan, to the boat to see us. She’s now aged 15 and grown into a delightful young girl.

Old grocer's shop display in Nantwich

Set out next morning towards Chester. More locks to do - this time double locks - so we were lucky to have boats with us as it makes the work so much easier. Sharron is becoming an expert and enjoyed talking to all the other lockies. Temperature was over 30C so we spent two afternoons moored under shady trees after doing locks in the morning. Went to the lovely Cheshire Cat Hotel for lunch to escape the heat. Who said it doesn’t get hot in England!

Last lock before reaching Chester

Moored up at the walled city of Chester around midday. Showed Sharron the black & white Tudor shopping areas and then decided to walk the nearly 2 miles around the top of the wall for a general overview of the city. The walls were originally built by the Romans with additions by the Normans and more work carried out after damage in the Civil War.

View from top of Wall

Lucky we did this as the next two days had soaking rain. This didn’t deter Sharron who did some exploring of the city, especially Chester Cathedral where she did the roof tour. . We also checked out the Grosvenor Museum which has a large display on the Roman times of Chester and then saw ruins of the large Roman amphitheater outside the city wall which could seat more than 8,000 people. It’s believed this was used for training of the military and also for gladiator sports.

Roman Amphitheatre ruins

Sharron's last day in Chester

On Monday morning Sharron left by train for Manchester airport to return home to Ruffy via New York.

More news to come later.