Thursday, August 31, 2017

Rainbows and Whisky

31 August 2017
A week in Scotland was not enough. After meeting my friend Riley, we picked a car up from the airport and headed to Loch Lemond. Rain and fog didn't stop us from hiking and camping, but it started the trip off on a rather soggy note.
With squishy feet we headed Northwest to the isle of Skye through mountains and stunning views. 
 I wanted to see the Fairy Pools, so on narrow, one track roads, we headed out to a Creek that runs down a narrow gorge. The creek drops from pool to pool in a series of waterfalls. The scenery was spectacular and so were the midges-mini mosquitoes that desperately want to suck your blood and leave you with little itchy welts.
We found a place to camp out on an emerald green peninsula surrounded by sheep and in the morning pressed onwards past the iconic Eileen Donan Castle to Glen Affric.
With a surprising morning of sunshine, we set out on a 10 mile hike around the lake. The sunny day quickly Chand to rain, then sun, then rainy wind, then rainy sun, and finally plain old sunshine. The weather only made it all the more beautiful as rainbows and beams of sunlight filtered through the clouds.

 Another day of soaking feet and happy hearts.

We drove north of Inverness to Cromarty for a quick campout in a cow field. W decided the only practical thing to do with our last full day would be to visit as many distilleries as possible. So in a delicious daze of whisky, we wound our way southward following notes of caramel, smoke, and boozy burbon soaked barrels.
Glenn Moray, Glen Grant, Macallans, Cardhu, Glenfarclas, Glenlivet, oh my. We drove into Pitlochry and crashed after a heavenly day. 

Back to Edinburgh, back to reality, and sadly, the end of my time in Scotland... for now.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Last days of Wales

22 August 2017
One of the places I wanted to see in Wales was Tintern Abbey. We woke up to rainy skies and decided to brave the hour long drive out to the Wye Valley instead of hiking.
The Abbey is absolutely beautiful. Many of the windows and arches are still original, and one of the windows even had traces of the medieval glass work. The monestary once was a whole village until itself with gardens, kitchen, libraries, hospitals, and even an advanced sewer system that carried waste and water away from kitchens, bathrooms, and the infermeries.

 We rounded a corner and were meet with the ruins of the Abbey in a feilds of green with mist draped around it's stone walls. Built in 1131 as a place for monks to practice simple living, it grew to an awe inspiring church within a couple hundred years. After Henry VIII split with the Roman Catholic Church in the 1500s, he dissolved the monestaries and Tintern fell into ruins.
After lunch, the weather improves slightly so we decided to hike in Brecons Beacon, one of the national parks Our objective was Penn Y Fen, the tallest peak in southern Wales at a stunning 886 meters (2900ish feet). The hike took off on a wide, graveled pathway upward through the mist.
 There were many times we thought we wouldn't make it. The elements were testing out physical and mental strength. At one point mom's glasses fogged up and we contemplated turning back. But with perseverance and dedication, after two grueling miles, we finally found ourselves at The summit.
 Fearing for our safety, we decided to stay only a short while on the summit before heading back down. Knowing that we conquered our fears and pushed our physical capabilities to the limit, this trip has ended on a high note.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

English castles and Welsh countryside

19 August 2017
We were corrected by our hotel host that we have NOT been seeing Welsh castles, merely the English ones. The Welsh castles are typically older and in ruins, the English castles were built to dominate, enslave, and prevent the Welsh from rising against them.
Unfortunately our plan for the day was so see more English castles. We started at Castle Conwy, built in the 1280s, one of 17 called that Edward the first built or rebuilt during his reign. 
The conquered Welsh had to work to build and pay for the castle and the thick walls that surrounded the town through heavy taxes, yet we're not allowed to live within. Instead Edward I filled the medival city with loyal subjects he brought over from England. 
Despite the disgruntled attitude that the Welsh still hold towards the English, the castles are lovely and very much worth visiting. As we work our way back down south we'll try and even out the sites.
Next up, the Bodnant Gardens, 80 acres of stunning gardens and woodlands.
 The Bodnant House is still private, however the gardens were given to the national trust and were spectacular. With formal ride gardens mixed with stoney paths along the river, it had enough scenery and variation to keep both mom and myself enthralled the whole time.

Least stop of the day too us to the Great Orme, once a bronze age mining area, now it's a nature preserve way up at the top of a tiny pennisula.

 The wind is pretty strong and the pennisula was bare of any 
trees but full of birds, sheep, and views back towards the main cost of Wales and the mountains beyond. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

The hiking part

18 August 2017
What would a trip to Wales be without some walking? We loaded up the car and drove through beautiful valleys and mountain roads.
We choose to walk up to lake Idwal, a three mile hike that takes you up to a hanging valley surrounded with peaks on three sides. The sun was out, the Heather in bloom, and there was a tea and cake shop at the trailhead.

Next up we walked around Lake Ogwen where legend has it, the sword Excalibur was thrown to return in to the lady of the lake when king Aurthur was on his deathbed. Only the wind prevented mom from jumping in to find it.
We spent the afternoon walking along stone fences in an attempt to dodge boggy ground and sheep. Safely tucked into our hostel in the town of Bethesda, we watched the slate covered hillsides go from bright sunshine to heavy downpour to bright sunshine again in the span of 10 minutes. The weather does keep you on your toes!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Trading beaches for old stuff

17 August 2017
Another morning of slightly terrifying driving led us to saint David's cathedral, the patron saint of Wales.
saint David's followers built his monestary in 589 after he died. It grew to be so important that the pope said two pilgrimages to saint Davis's equals the one pilgrimage to Rome. So many pilgrims came to David's, that it became extremely wealthy and a palace was built just behind the cathedral for the bishop in the 12 to century. 
We took a quick side trip to Porthgain where a deep harbor allowed ships to come in and get loaded with bricks being made on site. After I made mom walk out on the cliffs to the point so I could take a picture looking back at the town, the wind and rain kicked up ferociously. Mom, who is terrified of heights,  practically crawled back to safe ground cursing me the whole time.
We retreated to the town of Newport where we stayed in a hostel, listening to the rain beat against the windows and playing trivial pursuit. The next morning we set off towards Snowdonia National park but had to stop at the ancient Roman fort re-enactment site. We hiked to the top of the hill where historically accurate thatched huts were filled with small children dressed as Roman soldiers marching with swords, getting their faces painted blue, and making bread. 

We drove in circles throughout the rest of the day trying to work our way North. We finally landed at our destination, a pub. We asked about staying in the Guesthouse on the top of the hill. One of the patrons put his beer down and ran next door to get the owner who drove up and opened the hostel. As we were the only guests, we now have the entire place (it was a golf clubhouse for the last hundred years) all to ourselves.
Tomorrow we press on to New adventures and exciting places.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Beaches, castles, and non stop mom time

15 Aug 2017
So Wales. Mom wanted to go and at first I was sceptical. Two days in, I'm sold. The beaches are stunning, every city has castle ruins atop their hillsides and the pub food is both delicious and interesting.

I rented a car and as terrifying the small roads are, driving on the left head not been too bad. Our car is about the size of a bathtub so that does make it easier to deal with.
We started the day in Porthcawl with a quick walk on the beach. Mom found giant jelly fish and built up an appetite for dinner pub food.

Both mom and I are always interested in local foods, so when the menu suggested "faggots and mushy peas," mom couldn't refuse. Turns out they are delicious meatballs made from the organ meat of pigs. Served over mashed potatoes, they are found all over Wales and I have to say are really tasty.
Ready to move on, we jumped in the car, headed down roads that would be a tight squeeze for two bicycles to pass each other, and found ourselves in the town of Mumbles, home of the stunning Oysermouth Castle.

It seems like every city has either a restored or a ruined castle or two on their high points, and for little to no charge you can run around ramparts and cattle grounds to your heart's content. We had a great time talking to the ladies running the visitors center and exploring the different rooms.
 A quick scary drive onward and we found ourselves at one of the most scenic beaches in Wales- three bridges beach. I was amazed at the expanse of golden sand, the surfers, and the ruins of castles on the edges of the dunes

At the end of the Gower pennisula we found ouselves at Rhossili, a small town with a 3 mile beach of a surfer's dream. It's over of the most popular beaches to surf in Wales and it was spectacular. A dinner of duck, a cream topped ale, and another scary drive out of the pennisula and I would call it a wonderful day.