I’ve just come back from holiday, and what a holiday it was! There have been points when I thought the whole holiday was doomed, or cursed or something.
Over the past four years or so, we’ve been going on holiday each summer with a good friend I met through an Asperger Support Group, and her children. Apart from early teething problems between Efan and Taylor (two boys of similar age in a caravan was always going to be a little difficult) things went smoothly as did subsequent holidays. I can honestly say they have been some of the best holidays of my entire life (apart from the one in Pontins, of which the least said the better).
Last year’s jaunt to Tintagel was magical – literally, as we went to the Witchcraft Museum in Bodmin, and loved it – and I thought it would be very hard to top. It was, but this year we managed it.
The decision to go to North Wales was prompted by Annemarie as a nostalgic trip after a twenty-year gap. We have reasonably similar tastes, and I wasn’t reluctant to settle on moving northwards this year, especially as I have fond memories of our trips to Angelsey when Lori lived there. We got together over coffee and Chinese and found a lovely cottage in Blaenau Ffestiniog.
All was well until a few weeks ago when we were informed without ceremony that the holiday cottage had been sold and our holiday cancelled. Thank you very much! I since discovered that one family was actually asked to leave half way through their stay when the house was sold. I can’t believe anyone would be so callous or so stupid. A cautionary tale there folks. Whether legal or not, and it’s clearly a breach of contract, especially for those who’d already started their holiday (incidentally, they were German and therefore left stranded in a foreign country), it’s often more trouble than it’s worth to fight.As it was, the sale was propitious for us because if Haulfryn hadn’t been sold, we would never have discovered the amazing house we actually stayed in, in Porthmadog.
As it was, the sale was propitious for us because if Haulfryn hadn’t been sold, we would never have discovered the amazing house we actually stayed in, in Porthmadog.
The second booking was somewhat rushed and happenstance, in that we were originally looking at somewhere else, which had filled up while we were thinking about it and was no longer available. Frantic searching led us to Manns (www.cottagesinwales.com/) and Snowden Street in Porthmadog. The photographs looked too good to be true, but we booked and we were all set again.
We had to return home one day early for Efan to attend his college enrollment, so we made the rather ill-conceived decision to extend the holiday by one day the other end, and take a trip to Legoland Windsor, something we’ve been talking about for a while. Why, in the name of all the Gods did I ever think that might be a good idea? Not only did I volunteer for a day of driving and walking (my body sure did thank me for THAT – NOT!!) but I crammed just about everything Efan hates most into one hot, loud, bright, crowded, intense day. Yay me. No “Mother of the Year” award this year.
Day 1: Friday: Legoland
Yeah, it was something of a disaster, although not everything was truly awful. I have to admit that it’s an amazing place. They truly have something for everyone, from rides, to education centre, to miniature (and lifesize) models, to shops, restaurants, cafes, photo opps, shows, entertainment, lots of colour and lovely staff. The place is huge and the attention to detail astonishing. If you like places like Oakwood, Alton Towers and Disneyland, or if you’re a fan of Lego, Lego movies or just the weird and wonderful, this is the place for you.
Day 2: Saturday: Driving There
After a good night sleep in a basic hotel, we got back in the car and headed for North Wales. Ungh. Seven hours later, we arrived and I fell out of the car and cried. Well no, I didn’t but that’s what I felt like doing. Damn it was a long drive. We did stop off at a lovely little pub in…err…somewhere and had a fab meal, then detoured into Bala for petrol and for the first time in my entire life was served petrol at the pump. That was an experience that was well worth the detour. It was a freaking awesome petrol station. If you’re thinking “garage”, think again. It was two pumps on the pavement. Okay, the pavement was a bit wider than usual so you could squeeze the car in next to the pump and still leave room for someone to walk past without being on the road, but it was snug.
Anyway, we eventually arrived – here
Then we found
Struggled up the front steps to find
For some reason, I didn’t take any other photographs of the house. Gods know why, because it was far and away the best holiday cottage I have ever stayed in. This was the living room. The kitchen was huge, and also had a television that size over an enormous scrubbed-wood kitchen table. The bedrooms were fabulous and comfortable and the bathroom!!!!! My only possible niggle about the bathroom (think black marble, carved wood chest and African statues, and a completely separate shower room with an OMFG shower) is that it was up two flights of stairs. Thankfully there was also a toilet on the ground floor.
Day 3: Sunday: Portmeirion
OMG! What a start to the holiday.
Port Meirion is an amazing place. It was built as a folly and used as a film/music video set. Here’s a link so you can find out more about it. I strongly suggest you take a look because it’s fascinating. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portmeirion
It was a magical day, and Portmeirion was absolutely as magical and fascinating as I’d hoped.
Day 4: Monday: Llanberis
I hadn’t been too sure what to expect with our trip to Llanberis. We’d planned three things – a visit to the slate museum, a ride on the lake, narrow gauge railway and a tour of “Electric Mountain” the hydro electric plant. We only managed the first two, but boy was it worth it. The slate museum was a lot better than it appears in the photographs. It looks bleak, but it really wasn’t. The blue tinge and clean lines of the slate made it a truly satisfying and peaceful place.
I got to decorate my own piece of slate and, given the only colouring materials were pencils or felt pens, I was fairly happy with the outcome.
Next, we went on the railway. If I’m honest, it didn’t really float my boat, although it did rattle my bones. Taylor is a big fan of railways, especially steam engines, so this one was for him. I think he and Efan had a great time, which is what counts. I won’t be running back to board one of these trains but I’m quite happy to sit on the station with an ice cream and wait.
As you can see, I wasn’t particularly inspired to photograph the experience.
After the ride, we didn’t have time for the power plant, which was pinned for another day. I was more than ready to head home, to more of our luxurious little bolt hole. Little did I know of the horrors that awaited us.
Alright, it wasn’t that horrific, but the parking situation pissed me off. You should understand that after driving long distances, walking is very painful for me and even a couple of yards is a big deal. On the first day, we noticed a “No Parking” sign outside the house and assumed, rightly, that this was meant for everyone other than the people staying in the house – ie us. We parked outside and everything was rosy. We couldn’t get too close to the end of the street because there were defined bays with a hatched area at the corner (ie I couldn’t park on the bit right at the end).
I’d noticed that there was a disabled bay next door but one, and it had a car in it the whole time. This, admittedly, made the space available for the next door neighbours pretty tight if we were parked outside our house. I hope this makes sense. On the first night, I had no idea that the owners had an agreement with the next door neighbours that neither would park outside the other’s house, so we parked without care, not realizing that we hadn’t left quite enough room (I assume) for the neighbour’s car AND we moved the traffic cone, which we realize now belonged to the neighbour.
When we returned from Llanberis the neighbour’s car was parked in such a way that left nowhere near enough room for me to park outside our house. I ended up parking in the public car park across the street. Because I have a blue badge I didn’t have to pay but that wasn’t the point: it meant I had to walk across the car park, out onto the street and over the road. For an able bodied person this probably wouldn’t have been a big deal at all, but to me, it was a pain (literally). I grew increasingly frustrated as the week progressed and it became more and more obvious the neighbour was playing games with us. I only managed to park outside twice in the entire week. Even then, I made absolutely sure that my front wheels were as close to the lien as reasonably possible without leaving me open for a parking ticket. It wasn’t a huge issue, but a matter of daily frustration. I hope the neighbour was left with a warm fuzzy feeling of triumph right until karma kicked his ass.
Day 5: Tuesday: Castles
Today we ventured further afield to Conwy Castle and Caernarfon Castle. Efan has always loved castles and I’m not averse to crumbling masonry myself. Oh, who am I kidding? I LOVE castles. I love the magic and myth, the sense of romance and the history that soaked into the ground like all the blood that was spilled on it. I’d passed Caernarfon Castle a couple of times when travelling to Anglesey and I’ve wanted to visit for a while. It’s where the Prince of Wales is Invested. Don’t let me get started about what I think about that. This post is not for political ranting.
For some reason, I didn’t take any photographs of Caernarfon castle, which is odd because that was the one I most wanted to see. Oh well. To be honest, it was underwhelming in comparison to Conwy, which just blew me away. Conwy has some strong ties with my area (through Rhys Ap Tewdr if you’re interested) and I was glad that was the better castle, even though Caernarfon was the better preserved.
By the time we got to Caernarfon I was completely knackered which is likely why there are no photographs. I’d thought I’d managed to take some, but hey ho.
Day 6: Wednesday: Beaumaris
Obviously, a historic courthouse was going to draw my attention! We stopped here briefly on our last visit when Lori lived on Anglesey, but I wanted to take more time about it. Last time we’d gone to the Gaol first then the courthouse, which was the wrong way round, so I was determined to do it right this time.
I was a little disappointed that there were no live actors here this time, but it was no biggie because the audio tour was fantastic and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment. I could have sat all day and read through the old court records of cases, crimes and punishments. They were harsh, and sometimes unfair but I believe there was, on the whole, more justice around then than now.
After the courthouse, we wandered past the beautiful castle (we were going to go, but to be honest I was a bit castled out by then)
Just past the castle, through an absolutely charming courtyard, we found ourselves on quite a busy main street and found an intriguing American-style diner for dinner. It was all going so well before Taylor tried to stand, to find the bench wasn’t in one piece, and fell, breaking himself and his watch (not bones, fortunately). This kind of threw a pall over the day, which sadly only got worse from there.
When I last went to Beaumaris Gaol, I was completely blown away. We were met by a “warder” who gave us a quick tour, then let us loose to wander and talk to other live-action inmates about their experiences as prisoner or staff. I will never forget the young lad who talked us through his last walk to the gallows, or the poor mad woman in the punishment cell who I thought was a crying child and tried to shush.
This time…nothing. We’d already bought our ticket as a double back at the courthouse and when we presented them, they were clipped with a smile and a nod but not a word. We were then left in the tiny shop with nothing to do but either browse or pass through the only other door, which we did.
There was no warder, no actors, no graphpic depictions of torture on the walls, no real life stories or anything of much interest at all. Even the punishment cell was just a room with a sign that said if we wanted to experience what it might have been like to be locked up in total darkness we could close the door and switch off the light. Where’s the drama in that!
What happened Beaumaris Gaol. All you are now is an old building full of rooms with no particular purpose.
Just outside the castle was a little cottage with painted windows. I have no idea what it was, or was perhaps meant to be but, on this occasion, it lives on in my memory as being far more interesting than the Gaol.
Day 7: Thursday: Electric Mountain
I was looking forward to going back to Llanberis and taking the tour of Electric Mountain. Efan was excited too, I think because things like that are right up his street.
We got to the power station, bought our tickets and said farewell to Anne and Isabelle. Isabelle was too young to go on the tour and Anne has been on it before, so they were happy to wait in the cafe. I wish I had, too.
I got all the way into the first part of the tour, which was a film about how the power station was built and how it works. Put very basically, there are two lakes, one up top and one down below. When water is released from the upper lake into the lower one, it creates electricity. Because of its unique design, Dinorwig power station can go from zero to full power in under a minute while it takes a more traditional station the best part of an hour to achieve maximum capacity. For this reason, Dinorwig is essentially a “booster” station, called upon when there are major surges in demand for electricity, for example during commercial breaks in popular soaps, after major events etc.
So far, so good. I was enjoying myself – right up to the point where they started talking about 16km of tunnels deep under the heart of the mountain. Shit. I started to sweat. No amount of talking-to would get my hands to stop shaking and I finally faced the truth. Taking a severe claustrophobic into a tunnel miles under a mountain just wasn’t going to happen. What had their leaflet said? Guests suffering from claustrophobia may experience mild discomfort. MILD DISCOMFORT?! I abandoned the boys and ran. (Okay, I did explain what was happening to them first, and confirmed they were okay to go on alone. I’m not THAT irresponsible, but “Mother of the Year” floats even further out of reach).
I spent the next forty five minutes in the cafe with Anne and Isabelle feeling somewhat guilty and rather ashamed of myself. I should have known better really.
Even though I definitely did not deserve a reward after the Fiasco at Electric Mountain, which so should be the title of a book, Anne directed us to Pete’s Eats, an infamous cafe that has provided all day breakfasts to the people of Llanberis for 40 years. Well, well, well worth a visit. I have to admit I was expecting larger portions after what I’d been told, but I guess legends are never going to be quite what they’re bigged up to be. However, the food was absolutely top rate and they make a fabulous, and legendarily huge, mug of tea.
Day 8: Friday: Driving Back Again.
Sad day. It was an uneventful journey, on the whole, and in true cliche form seemed so much faster than the journey up. Granted it was a different route, but given we’d travelled more than half the way on motorway on the way up and almost none on motorway on the way down the strangeness was even more pronounced.
After dropping the others off at Tesco, Efan and I went to his college enrollment (a Mother Squee moment. My boy is a college man!), then we met up again for a last supper (tea) at Tesco before we separated.
Another holiday adventure safely navigated and survived with maximum enjoyment and minimal scarring.
Roll on October when our next adventure begins. We’re already planning next summer 😀