Twas the day after christmas, and nothing was open! Not petrol stations (well we found one eventually, with 25km to spare in the tank), not tourist attractions, not alternative energy centres, not restaurants. Who’d have thought it? Surely Unesco World Heritage Sites like the four castles we want to visit here in North Wales would be open on a day of holiday when everyone has the day off and is looking for something educational and fun to do. I’m sure MY world heritage site would be open on the day after christmas… (quickly checks website… yes it is!) Anyway, my lack of forward planning has led to a day sans castles. That’s right, tragic, but there it is.
However we had some brilliant scenery to compensate, including the breathtaking Snowdonia national park, amazing red bracken and grey trees, and living up to its name by coming complete with snow on top. We saw crazy walkers out there, miles from civilisation, trudging through mud and snow and rain and hail and 4 degree weather, dressed in sensible beige waterproof outfits and hiking boots (strangely none of them seemed to think Justin’s finest embellished cowboy boots an appropriate option).
And we went a-hunting for neolithic remains, otherwise known as ‘old stuff’, yes even older than castles. We drove up to the island of Anglesey to view the elegant Menai suspension bridge designed by Victorian engineer Thomas Telford, and then hunted down Bryn Celli Ddu, a neolithic burial chamber in a fenced off corner of a farmer’s field where we were greeted by a dog who then entertained himself by chasing cows around us. Pretty cool as we were the only ones there, and we could access the interior with no restrictions, but couldn’t make out the supposed wiggly lines carved into the interior.
We followed this up with Barclodiad y Gawres, another burial chamber, but could only view this one through a fence across the chamber entry as due to some previous acts of vandalism they’ve had to restrict access. This one had a brilliant location on the south coast of Anglesey on a small hill next to a beach – there were some people barbequeuing on the beach in blustery 6 degrees (it’s warmer on the coast) – and after viewing the burial chamber we discovered the hillside was covered in a good 20cm of the softest grass I’ve ever felt, it was like walking on a bouncy castle, so of course we had to lie about in it for a while, oblivious to the strange sideways glances of other neolithic remains hunters – it was so very comfortable but a little cold after a while.
For fear of incriminating ourselves I can neither confirm nor deny whether we jumped a fence to see another closed attraction, Segontium, the remains of a Roman fort near Caernarfon. Hey it’s a National Trust property and we’re still members until the end of 2009 so it’s fine, had we done such a thing, really.
Off we headed back to the Snowdonia area and environs, to Portmeirion, the italianate village designed by a crazy and wealthy architect (must have had private means…) who called it ‘the strange necessity of beauty’ or something along those lines. I believe his idea was that too many villages are ugly and functional and bland, and he wanted to integrate decoration and beauty into everyday life, and decided that clearly colourful Italianate design was the way to go. Not sure if he succeeded in his aim, as no-one actually lives there, it is essentially a hotel / theme park, and to see it you have to either pay to enter or stay in the hotel/cottages – ensuring that his creation of beauty remains the preserve of the affluent. Anyhoo socialist ideals aside it was pretty amazing, although probably not appearing to best advantage under a slate grey sky and drizzle (the weather was turning nasty by this time), a hint of mediterranean sunshine would set it off a treat.
We headed further south and did a quick rainy car circuit of Harlech castle, one of the Big Four of Edward 1st’s Iron Ring, but one we’re unlikely to get to see tomorrow on our condensed day of Castles. By this time it was raining dismally and getting dark, so we braved another winding narrow dark Snowdonian drive back for dinner in the only open venue (a cheap and cheerful Wetherspoons pub) and back to the hotel, looking forward to another sing-along – ohh, no Mama Mia tonight, so heading off to bed…
Here are some photos that Justin didn’t show you yesterday…