Category Archives: Wales

Into the country

DSC01307We picked up the car in the far reaches of Cardiff, and the nice young man assured us that we would be fine.  The first twenty minutes are always the worst, trying to judge how much car looms out to your left, and how close to get to the center line without going over it.  Oh, and the roundabouts.  But most of our route was on theM4, a dual carriageway, or, as I heard him say, a “jewel carriageway.”

We proceeded on to Laugharne, which despite the assertions of people from Cardiff, is pronounced Larne, not Loch-ern.  The Post had recently run a story about the place where Dylan Thomas spent his last four years and where he wrote “Under Milk Wood.”  It’s a small village on the coast, winding roads that end in a small cluster of shops and restaurants, with the estuary and the castle above overlooking it all.  DSC01302We made our way up a steep path DSC01303to Dylan’s Boathouse, the house where he and Caitlin and their three children lived.DSC01313

It’s currently being used for a film about Thomas, to coincide with the 100th anniversary of his birth in 2014, so there were workers building sets on the stone terrace.  The rooms were intact, though, and we watched a short film and then roamed through the parlor filled with memorabilia.  The shed where Thomas worked is perched up high, a bit down the lane, and peering through the windows you can see the postcards tacked up on the wall and crumpled pages from his typewriter strewn on the floor.  The view of the estuary is hypnotic.DSC01309We had a light lunch of lamb broth, bread and cheese at the Owl and the Pussycat, which was bustling with customers at 1:30, and then set off for St. Davids (yes, they’ve officially dropped the apostrophe).   After a complicated maneuver to get the Peugeot turned around on the narrow street, we set off up hill and down dale, getting closer to the sea.

When we got to Newgale, the road came right down to the sea, with a high wall of loose stones the only thing keeping us and the Duke of Edinburgh pub from getting drenched.



Unfortunately, my attention was distracted by an enormous truck ahead of me, too big for me to see around and pass, while the line of cars behind me just got longer.  The truck finally turned off, and we could see the sea again.  A handmade sign for St. Elvis which I thought was a joke but turns out to be a real place, then Solva, where I hope to walk while we’re here, then the national park center just outside St. Davids.

[thanks, TripAdvisor]

The center was beautifully designed to fit into the landscape.  We spent a few minutes perusing the books and then visited the exhibit of animal paintings by Graham Sutherland and a few others.  Then off into the smallest city in Britain.

Our B&B is well situated, though our third floor rooms mean that hauling the suitcases is a challenge (and we thought we were packing light!).  Luckily, Rob did most of the hauling.  Our room is tiny but it has a stunning view over the land to the sea.  Look closely and you will see the outline of an offshore island.DSC01324

We booked a boat trip to Ramsey Island for tomorrow, then had an okay dinner at The Bishops, the big pub in the center of town.  It was filled with families, so it must be popular, but the food was not remarkable – it’s a pub, after all – though the crab salad we had was fresh.  Back up the rise to our BB, stopping only for views of the incredible sunset.DSC01321

Castles and Brains and missed connections

Just one castle, actually, but what a castle!  The Earls of Bute married into Cardiff Castle, made lots and lots of money in Cardiff from coal and docks, and then produced the third Earl, who was the richest baby in the world when he was born in 1847.  Although he and his family lived in the castle for only six weeks a year, he cooked up a scheme to redo it in a highly decorative Victorian Gothic style.  Led by architect William Burges, the project resulted in rooms filled with detail and color, based on Arab culture as well as a romanticized view of medieval life.  A few highlights here.

The castle from the streetDSC01251

Decorative gutter


DSC01261Victorian Gothic ceiling (above)

Nursery tiled with figures from famous tales

DSC01265DSC01267banqueting hall (above)

elaborate ceilingDSC01271Roman terrace on the top level – there used to be a garden here, but the floor began to leak…

DSC01274Elaborate chapel

DSC01277A falconer was tending to the birds kept on the grounds of the castle


From the castle, we needed merely to cross the street to find the Goat Major, a traditional pub famous for its pies.  We were the only customers at their noon opening time, though soon enough a man came in, ordered a pint, and appeared to be settled in for the duration.  The pies were lovely – the Wye Valley, an award winner with chicken, leeks and Tintern Abbey cheese, and the ubiquitous lamb and mint.  With a half pint of dark Brains, the local brew, DSC01289 DSC01290lunch was delicious.

We rallied our forces for the second event of the day, a visit to the National Museum.  We split up, Alison to see the art and me headed to an exhibit about the geological origins of Wales.  I soon decided that it was too much detail without John McPhee by my side, and I decided to track down a few of the top ten items on display.  The ancient fire irons were interesting, as was the exhibit on ancient life in Wales.  The silver toilet service was not to my taste, but the 19th century glass sea creatures were amazingly detailed and beautiful.  A few Monets, a few Turners, and I was done.  A restorative cup of tea in the cafe, where we observed a tart grandmother admonishing two darling little boys, and then we made our way back to Bute Park.

The plan was to take the AquaBus down to Cardiff Bay and noodle around.  But fate was against us.  The loss of one of the regular boats to “technical difficulties” meant that by the time we got there, we were last in line and couldn’t get on.  Plan B was to ride the hop-on hop-off bus, but the kind driver told us we’d be wasting our money for such a short trip and advised the public bus #6 (as the boatman had also suggested).  We got four different stories about where to get the bus, but we finally figured it out and rode down to Mermaid Bay.

This whole complex is the result of the Barrage, built about ten years ago to get rid of the “stinking mud flats,” home to thousands of wading birds, and enable development.  The young woman in the visitors center admitted that she had been against it when the Barrage was first proposed, but after all, she now had a job there. She did say that no one had told the birds where they were supposed to go once the mud flats disappeared, so who knows how they are faring.  Another plan to build a second barrage at the mouth of the Severn River is now being proposed as well, and it sounds like a terrible idea.

We wandered along the path that circled the one-time Docks building, now a public building; the amazing architecture of the Synedd, where the Wales government meets (I think), DSC01294and the Millenium Center;DSC01292 and the Norwegian Church.  There were apparently a number of Norwegians who settled here in the 19th century, and this is where Roald Dahl was christened.  Just beyond was the Dr. Who experience, but it was closed…DSC01296

Back on the number 6, foiled in our dinner attempt at the Potted Pig, redirected to the Meating Place with its hooks for hanging kebabs (they insert the hooks into these holes poised right above your table), DSC01298and a delicious dinner of cod with razor clams for me, and a mixed kebab for Alison. Yum! And so to bed.

Arriving in Wales

Alison, Bute ParkAn uneventful flight to Manchester, then the easy train to Crewe and on to Cardiff.  The Angel Hotel is substantial and centrally located.  DSC01252We had sandwiches and the local Brains ale, then walked down to the Tic for info and to Waterstone’s for books (Alan Garner’s Weirdstone of Brisingamen for me).  Then a nap and, much refreshed, back to town for dinner at Bella Italia after a lovely walk in Bute Park along the River Taff (top and below).  And so to bed.DSC01248 DSC01247