Welsh Diaries Day 2 – The Castle Conquerers

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Welcome back to the next installment of my Welsh adventure. Last time we found ourselves on the long winding country roads to Harlech castle to find some sights, sounds and sandwiches…

As we turned the corner into the picturesque village of Harlech is was clear that everything has been built around this medieval stronghold perched on the top of the hill, overlooking the plains and sea below. Quite breathtaking. The castle itself was only small but the views around it were spectacular. I even managed to brave the heights and climb up to the rampart. I would love to say that the view made my irrational fear of heights disappear, but that would be a bare faced lie. As I slowly walked down the centre of the walkway I was able to enjoy the scenery from a safe distance without having to look down at the swift drop below. I am slowly getting over my fear but it is a working progress; especially when it is a crumbly old castle with no handrails.

My victorious decent, after conquering the terrifying heights of a castle wall, was made a little less glamourous by my lovely fiancèe taking lots of photos and laughing as I slowly made my way down the steep stone stairway. That’s love for you…

You would be surprised how hard it is to walk down a tiny stone staircase when you have size 10 clown feet that are double the size of each step. Add the fact I had a heavy backpack with all our gear I felt like I would lose balance and flip over the rampart at any moment. A slight exaggeration, I know, but allow me this indulgence in the face of this traumatic experience.

Fears faced, sights seen and laughs had (less of those being mine of course), it was finally time to refuel before the next leg of our journey. A nice grilled panini with crisps and a cold can of fizz. As is our custom, we ordered two different flavours and split them half and half. That way you don’t have to worry about those annoying things, like choosing, you can just enjoy both the best flavours at the same time. When time is limited in a new place this is the best way to try the biggest variety of food; which is the primary reason we go travelling. It’s a little more socially acceptable than me ordering all the food just for myself… people seem to frown at that kind of behaviour (for some reason).

The more time we spent in the Welsh countryside, the more I realised it was the perfect place for me. The nature lover in me was more than satisfied with the beautiful scenery around us. However, the language learner in me also got his fill. Like the cartoon image of an angel and devil, he was standing on my should and jumping for joy at all the Welsh being used on the road signs. It’s not often I have been to a place that makes multi-linguism a part of everything. That is kind of the atmosphere I imagine to be found in Quebec with English and French; which is why I would love to visit there too.  For a long time I had been resisting learning Welsh, as I was focusing my language efforts on Italian, but seeing all these signs made the desire to add a new language to my linguistic tool belt almost unavoidable. A language for every occasion.

As we were so close to Snowdon, we really wanted to find somewhere at the base, while the sunlight was still good, to get some nice pictures. Originally I had thought about attempting a climb but we opted for a more leisurely experience driving around, rather than stumbling our way up a mountain. With the combination of our laziness and general lack of directional abilities, it didn’t seem like the best approach in the quiet months. Getting lost up a mountain is not a good birthday present… apparently. After a quick search on my trusty online tour guide (Google) we decided to see what Llanberis had to offer.

Approaching the mountains, we found ourselves on some amazing winding roads that slowly wormed their way up the steep edges to the next destination. It was a little nerve racking at times but it offered some unforgettable views that made it more than worth the strong grip on the steering wheel. There was one particular valley that we stopped in and soaked in everything around us. A valley leading down to the sea on our left and snow capped mountain peaks to our right that were rising up into the clouds, as if they extended forever. Not something you see everyday.

On the final stretch of road before Llanberis, we entered a narrow valley with two sheer cliff faces towering over us from both sides. Like an armed guard protecting the entrance to another beautiful Welsh town. Turning the final corner we saw the small ruined castle, standing sentinel on a little hill, watching the town below and promising an amazing perch to enjoy our surroundings.

Following the small beaten track over the crest of the hill we were greeted by the last remaining tower of Llanberis castle. It can barely be called a castle now but you can imagine the grandeur of that place when it was complete and operational. A behemoth observing and protecting everything in its domain. Probably from those pesky Englishmen that seemed to like invading Wales at the time.

After taking some pictures and breathing in all the fresh mountain air, it was time to follow the setting sun back to Betws y coed to have some dinner and finish this amazing day on a high. After a short walk in the dusky night aire we found the inviting Hangin’ Pizzeria. A really cool little place with industrial metal chairs, wooden benches and chalk boards over the counter with all the options available. Clearly our liking for eating early was made plainly obvious by the fact we were the only person in there, outnumbered 2 to 1 by the kitchen staff that were all staring at us as we took our seats and peered at the menu.

Without our two pizzas ordered we enjoyed our little cans of San pellegrino, lemon and orange if you are interested, and waited for the freshly cooked Italian delicacy to be delivered steaming to our table. To enjoy the caramelised onion and goats cheese, or pepperoni and ham, slices I employed my trademark folding technique. Keeping the end from limping around and causing me to make an even bigger mess than I would normally. The cutlery simply laid at the side unused as it would have been much too slow in comparison to my fast pizza arm. They were absolutely delicious and there wasn’t a scrap left on our plates… I made sure of that!

After all that excitement it was time to pick up some snacks and head back to the hotel to watch some TV and relax. I know… party animals, right?! With a film on in the background, looking through our pictures of the day and getting warm and comfortable we both soon drifted off into sleep, ready for our journey home the next morning.

Stay tuned for the final installment of our Welsh adventure for our return journey and my first experience of the beautiful, and windy, Welsh countryside.

Ciao for now

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