We were off the next morning for Beddgelert Wales. When we chose this destination we knew that we would have to drive. In England. Drive in England! Of course, we understood that this meant driving on the left side of the road but after three days watching the driving in London we knew there was a lot more to it than just being flipped around. In fact, in London it seemed mostly like you just jump into traffic, punch the gas too hard, and then hit the brakes every time anything happened around you. Those things included other cars, pedestrians, bikes, buses, double decker buses, and roads that don’t make total sense (at least to me). There is nothing particularly bad or wrong about London driving, it’s just different. It takes different training. I knew we wouldn’t be driving IN London, but I wasn’t sure how this would translate to the rest of the country.
Needless to say, I didn’t sleep well. We had two hours to think about driving and study our Great Britain atlas (yes, we can still use an atlas!) on the train ride to Birmingham. Once in Birmingham we had another travel miscommunication in which we couldn’t quite figure out where to pick up our car. I called and got that one straightened out pretty quickly and it wasn’t long before we had our rental car. One thing we didn’t have to worry about was driving an unfamiliar car. As luck would have it, our rental was a Ford Focus. Easy enough. The challenge was getting out of Birmingham.
One of the rental guys gave us quick directions to the highway we needed and off we went! Everything was going quite well until we missed a road (as I said, the roads didn’t always make sense). After missing a road we had to wing it, and in the process of winging it we ran right into our first major roundabout. In a moment of confusion over who was supposed to yield we got it wrong. While scary for a second it was not the worst mistake ever. This was our first real clue into how defensive the driving in England is. Everyone is always watching out for what’s happening around them. Luckily. Back on track, we made it to the Motorway we needed and it was smooth sailing. Just like being on an interstate, but maybe even easier. If the whole way had been a Motorway we might not have gotten the distance being relative lesson again. However, we soon exited to the A roads, which are just two lane highways. With roundabouts. Lots of them.They were little country roundabouts and made for good practice. We got used to how to pass on the motorways (weird), how the national speed limits worked, what signs meant, and to a degree, how to turn right across traffic.
Then it was time for the smallest roads of all and I can’t remember the names of those roads. SMALL! At this point it became rainy and foggy as well. Many times we were on roads that would be called one lane here but were not there. And at other times we were on one lane roads there that would be called walking trails here. We went slow. I’m sure that anyone unlucky enough to get behind us was miserable. It just didn’t seem rational to go the speeds around curves that these people were going! How are there not head on collisions every few minutes? Our slowness paid off toward the end of the trip when we came upon a massive charter bus stuck on a tiny road with people backed up both ways while the driver walked around and around his bus trying to work out how to fit in the curve. We finally got beyond that trial and made our way to Beddgelert.
The scenery in Northern Wales is beautiful! Even with the fog. Especially with the fog! It was kind of mythical looking. We understood why there were so many fairy tales involving dragons from the area. It just made sense. The road up to the inn was basically a golf cart path that we had to get a regular car up. It took some time and stress. So when I say distance is relative this is what I mean. It was 124 miles to Beddgelert from Birmingham. It took us almost four hours to get there. We made better time on the way back in good weather and better driving skills and it took just under three hours, like our GPS said it should. Driving just takes longer in England.
Oh dear, this is already long and we just arrived in Wales. Yikes.
When we got there it was so rainy and foggy and adorably cozy in our inn (called Sygun Fawr, in case you want to go there…and you should!) that we just read books all afternoon, had dinner in the dining room, and went to bed by 8:30. Sticky toffee pudding is a life changer, by the way. We even had to have the heater on in the room. It was fantastic!
While hanging out I looked up castles to visit near Beddgelert. There were lots of options but the easy choice seemed to be the large castle in Caernarfon just up the road. Caernarfon was one of two larger towns near Beddgelert, but it’s the coastal one that has a castle. Easy choice. This is where it was really nice to have a car because we could just take off and get wherever. Caernarfon is a pretty decent sized town, but not at all difficult to navigate. We just parked behind the castle and spent the day exploring. Some of the city is inside the castle walls and most of it has been built since then. For only four pounds we toured the castle. It isn’t renovated and some of it takes some imagination. The great part was that almost nothing was off limits. We spent three hours going up and down multiple towers, crawling in and out of sentry posts, finding grand hallways and determining which tiny windowless rooms were probably toilets. Or whatever the equivalent was in the 12th or 13th century. Buckets? The castle also houses two museums we looked through. It has the museum about the Investiture of the Prince of Wales. It has a slate throne that belongs to Prince Charles. In fact, everything in Wales is made of slate since it so plentiful. It will make you want everything in your house made of slate. Slate house? Yes. Slate roof? Of course! Slate throne of your own? Perfect! Slate coasters? Lovely! The other museum is one of Welsh military history. It was much bigger, but somehow didn’t hold our attention as much. If you end up at Caernarfon Castle and go through the little gift shop, rest assured that you should buy your souvenirs here. It will not get better outside the castle walls, only cheesier. A big regret of ours is that we didn’t pick up a few souvenirs for family at that shop. It is definitely better than the surrounding ones. Use it!
After exploring the whole castle we went around the town. We had really good fish and chips, some coffee, and finally some gelato. We looked at real estate prices in the windows of some offices and realized that we could easily rent an apartment for a month there for our next vacation as long as we got some people to go with us and didn’t mind sharing only one bathroom. What is it with that GB? Two bathrooms in one house never hurt anyone. Back in Beddgelert we went around the town a bit, got some groceries at the local grocery store and went back to hole up in the cozy inn for the evening.
Our last day we had a long breakfast and waited for the weather to let up. We had not really packed well for the weather in Wales and couldn’t hike until the weather matched our clothes better. How have I not mentioned the breakfast? Three days of a traditional English breakfast. Link sausages, English bacon (lean ham?), blood sausage, eggs, roasted tomato, sauteed mushrooms, toast, hot tea or coffee, any number of granola’s or bran’s and fruits you could find room for. I think beans might be traditional but we didn’t have any. The first day I might have offended the inn by only making it about halfway through the meal. It was wonderful but soooo much food. Not a single other person in the dining room left a morsel on their plate. One man asked for so many extra helpings of link sausage (bangers!) that the whole inn ran out the next day. By the end of the trip I could take out almost everything on my plate like everyone else. We didn’t eat lunch more than once in Wales and we had to share it when we did.
After all that we decided to forego the hike on Snowden, afraid we didn’t have the right shoes, clothes, etc. Instead we took a slightly smaller hike on a nearby mountain. We walked right down into town and out into a field and our hike was underway. I love how everything in England can be simultaneously wild and tame. Of course, I’m sure it’s all pretty tame and manicured in the grand scheme, but you are just traipsing through woods, sheep fields, over mountains, and through creeks and rivers. Everything is unbelievably green, dense, and wet. (Sidenote: I can’t bring myself to give up the oxford comma and I NEVER will!) All the land is crisscrossed with hundreds of miles of ancient stone walls. Even when you aren’t near a river or creek you hear the constant bubbling of water around you as it trickles down the mountain or springs up from the ground into little pools. Sheep surround you and pay you no more mind than a tree. On our particular hike we passed by an old copper mine and all the leftover detritus. We climbed up for a long time but the air was so cool and clear that it rarely felt even minimally difficult. In fact, at one point I lost Sergio as we took different paths trying to determine the correct direction. I fell sideways into some sharp brambly bush. My legs hurt because I’m out of shape. I sat down and waited for him to show back up and I really wanted to be pissy about not knowing how far we had left to go, falling in a bush, and being tired and lost, but I just couldn’t muster the pissiness. The air was so nice. The day was so pretty. I just got up and kept going until I found him waiting for me one a fence. As luck would have it, we were at the top and the trail went down from there. We hiked almost straight down toward a lake. The view was indescribable. I wish the pictures we took could really express how pretty it was. The path eventually took us right by our inn, but we went the little bit extra back into town and found a pub. Eating after you’ve earned your hunger is just the best feeling. We shared a big sausage plate and had a couple of beers. I posted a picture on Facebook of my Corono Light with the quaint town of Beddgelert in the background. I did it because I knew it was incongruous, but at that moment it was the best drink I had ever had. Sergio had a cask ale and it was warm, as British beer tends to be. I made the better choice.
The next morning we returned the car into Birmingham. Our drive was nice and calm. In Birmingham we did manage to go the wrong way down a one way street, but made it out alive. No harm done.