A Wales of a time
Updated: Nov 12, 2020
To explore the rest of the UK, we’d looked at several options from trains to cars to buses and everything in between. In the end, we decided it made the most sense to rent a car to have the flexibility to go wherever we wanted to go, off the beaten track or not. I didn’t feel inclined to drive out of London though, so first we took a bus to the city of Bath to begin the rest of our UK adventure there.
It may come as a shock that the city of Bath has a bath in it. This bath happens to be 2000 years old and was created by the Romans during their conquest of England. After all, they liked to bathe every day, so why not set up one far from home on the site of a natural hot spring? Unfortunately, after the Roman Empire imploded in 400AD, these baths were abandoned and the ruins disappeared from public view for 1000 years. I guess they didn’t care much about hygiene during that time!
Roman baths, green with algae
Not suitable for swimming
The hot springs were rediscovered in the 1700s and the current town, with all it’s beautiful architecture, was built around them. This old architecture was what we came to see, and there’s also an amazing museum where you can see the ruins of the 2000 year old Roman bath houses. To walk on 2000 year old stones and to see how the Romans expertly channeled this hot water into pools of various temperatures simply blows my mind.
Upon leaving Bath, we picked up our rental car early in the morning and immediately set out for a much older location. The ancient henge, or circle, of stones still remains quite the mystery to people today. We know that Stonehenge was completed some 5000 years ago, but no one is entirely sure what for, or how or why the large stones were brought from a few hundred miles away in Wales. Why not use stones closer to home? What worship was done here? Was it designed to align with the solstaces? Perhaps we’ll never know, but experts believe only about half the site is actually uncovered.
With Stonehenge in the rear view mirror, we made a spontaneous decision to visit the stone circle at Avebury as well. It dates back to about the same time and is much larger, but I guess you’d say it’s not in as great of shape. The nice thing about it is that you can approach and actually touch the 5000 year old stones, and feeling quite short next to them you get a real feel for just how impressive a sight this was.
The bigger the better
Continuing north from Avebury we entered one of Britain’s finest Areas of Natural Beauty, or AONB. Look it up, it’s really a thing. The Cotswolds AONB consists of a large chunk of forested and farm land with beautiful little towns sprinkled throughout. The towns themselves are known for old stone houses, quaint shops, rivers trickling through, ancient churches, and some amazing landscaping. We even managed to stumble across a filming of the show Father Brown which takes place in a fictional Cotswold town and airs on Netflix. Here are just a few of the seemingly countless photos that we took while there.
Weaver cottages in Bibury
Homes in Broadway
Tea in Burford
Filming Father Brown in Blockley
The day we left the Cotswolds was a long awaited day for one of us – it was Ethan’s birthday! To be clear, his parents are not excited about him growing up quite so fast. He got some activity books and some special food treats, but since we’re always limited on space we made the most of the day instead. We had to cover a little distance in our car so we drove just into Southern Wales and made a stop at 800 year old Chepstow castle. After that, it was all about Ethan as we played 18 holes of mini-golf in the afternoon and a few games of bowling in the evening! He even got to pick dinner for that night, which consisted of meatballs, Mac n cheese, and cucumber with a little cake for dessert. I think it all worked out quite well!
Birthday boy on the castle walls
Like a pro
Getting some expert advice
Driving in the UK thus far has been an interesting beast. It’s not the first time I’ve driven on the left side of the road on this trip, and it’s not even the first time in the trip I’ve driven on the left using a manual transmission car. The real challenge comes from the fact that none of these old cities were designed with a car in mind. Two way roads can shrink to one lane in the blink of an eye, but still functions as a two lane road. There’s no shoulder on either side of the road, and often you’re faced with hedges or hills or houses or stone walls – things that are very solid. In a few cases we’ve had to back out and let an oncoming car pass us. Highways are nice, but they often have roundabouts every mile, so just when you get up to speed you’re slowing to a stop to deal with a European intersection.
The next day our mission was to drive all the way from Chepstow and Southeastern Wales to the very Northwest corner of the country. It sounds like a daunting task but only ends up taking 4 hours and passes through two incredible national parks choc full of hills, forests, and beautiful countryside. Catherine snapped some photos along the way before we reached our destination at Caernarfon.
It was here that we encountered our first bit of drizzle in the rainy UK, but it wasn’t enough to stop us from stretching our legs and walking around the small walled in town and castle. It was built by Edward I, king of England in the 1200s to keep a close eye on his newly conquered Wales. The king frequented the castle during his reign and was able to squash rebellions by the Welsh princes. Edward had more castles built in Wales which we’ll hear more about later.
Views of Caernarfon town
Caernarfon is just outside Snowdonia National Park, a mountainous area and on a bit of a whim I decided to hike Mount Snowdon, the tallest peak in England and Wales. At only 1085 meters, there are still 60 peaks in Scotland that are taller. Although a very rainy area, the forecast looked promising for the morning so I set out early in hopes of having some great views. I was able to reach the top fairly quickly, but unfortunately the fog that was supposed to lift apparently never got the message. Oh well. I came, I didn’t see, but I still conquered.
Views of Snowdon
At the top
I met back up with Catherine and Ethan at lunch time and we drove some 25 minutes to a small island which happens to have another castle built by King Edward I shortly after Caernarfon. Beaumaris castle was by design to be the best castle in his arsenal, but alas due to budgeting issues the project ran out of money and was left as a shell. It’s changed hands a few times through the years but has aged remarkably well and is really neat to walk through the narrow tunnels and visit the courtyard. It even boasts some great views of Snowdonia National Park.
Just to say “I’ve been there”, and because it was only 15 minutes from the castle, we took a drive to Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. Yes, that’s the real name of a real town in Wales. I believe this is the longest village name in the world, and it translates to “St Mary’s Church in the Hollow of the White Hazel near a Rapid Whirlpool and the Church of St. Tysilio near the Red Cave”. There is a St. Mary’s Church there, but the rest of it I have no clue. On some smaller signs they shorten it to a 20 letter version. Much better.
The proof is in the picture
On our last day in Wales, we drove to Conwy to see – you guessed it – another of Edward’s famous castles. Edward himself was actually holed up in here for a while during a siege by some of the Welsh princes who wanted their country back. Things didn’t work out super well for them in the end. After the castle we visited Plas Mawr, a beautifully preserved 17th century Elizabethan home. We got to learn about the owner, Robert Wynn, who started his life as a servant to one of the king’s ambassadors. He got to travel a lot and became quite wealthy. Is that job still available today? Lastly, we climbed up on the old town walls for some great views of the castle and town.
On the town walls
Views of Conwy and the castle from the walls
This trip is going faster than I ever imagined and tomorrow we head back into England for the better part of a week as we work our way north toward Scotland. We’ve still got plenty more to do, so stay tuned to read about what we’ll do next!