Driving in North Wales

Driving in Wales is not for the faint of heart.  At every turn there were narrow, tight, winding roads with speed limits of 60mph but often impossible to drive anything over 30.  And I should mention the sheep – they crossed quite often so I hope you aren’t doing 60mph when they cross your path!  The driving felt similar to Ireland except more mountainous, especially as we entered Snowdonia.

The drive was breathtaking 95% of the time.  Only rarely did we come upon anything industrial.  Most of what we saw were quaint stone homes, fields and mountains of green, thousands upon thousands of sheep and the water – whether a river or the sea.

In a way, it felt like you were in a completely different world rather than in a part of the United Kingdom. Signs were posted in both English and Welsh.  And I cannot even begin to pronounce any of the Welsh words as most didn’t appear to even have any vowels!

Many of the shots that I took while driving were just that – driving shots – so they aren’t all 100% clear and I didn’t know what towns or villages we were driving through most of the time.  But the drive was half of the fun and the scenery along the way was breathtaking – both in views and fear of the curves and narrow roads!!!  So while this post isn’t big on text, you’ll find lots of beautiful shots that we took along the way during our time in North Wales!

Just getting started and we are already on narrow, windy roads

Just getting started and we are already on narrow, windy roads

And curves, let's not forget the 90 degree curves!

And curves, let’s not forget the 90 degree curves!

Yes, this is the bridge we saw on the Llangollen Steam train

Yes, this is the bridge we saw on the Llangollen Steam train

Cute town

Cute town

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Snowdonia National Park in the distance

Snowdonia National Park in the distance

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Snowdonia National Park

Snowdonia National Park

We drove this tiny narrow road for a long time!

We drove this tiny narrow road for a long time!

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Driving thru Snowdonia above the treeline

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Castle ahead!

Castle ahead!

Apparently North Wales is also known for it's slate and we saw a number of mountains where slate was being excavated.

Apparently North Wales is also known for it’s slate and we saw a number of mountains where slate was being excavated.

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Not what I expected to see on the backroads of Wales... In London, yes... here, no.

Not what I expected to see on the backroads of Wales… In London, yes… here, no.

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I thought at first this sheep was stuck under the bench but turns out he was just scratching himself...

I thought at first this sheep was stuck under the bench but turns out he was just scratching himself…

We were on top of the mountain and the sheep just cross whenever they feel like it.

We were on top of the mountain and the sheep just cross whenever they feel like it.

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More sheep crossing

More sheep crossing

Driving along the coast

Driving along the coast

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A little adventure to get to the castle - narrow, windy roads with very tall hedges.

A little adventure to get to Chirk castle – narrow, windy roads with very tall hedges.

I have to give a shout out to Josh who did a great job of not only navigating all the narrow, windy roads, but did so on the “wrong” side of the road.  And a bonus, no rearview mirrors were destroyed like in Ireland!

Knuffels en kussen,

Julie

Storming Castles and Telling Tales of Old in North Wales

Part of our plan in North Wales was to visit a few of their numerous castles.  While we technically only visited two castles, we saw many along our drives.  In addition, while it wasn’t a castle, we did a tour of King Arthur’s Labryinth.  I put it in this entry since even though it’s not a castle, it’s the tale of a king who lives in a castle 😉

King Arthur’s Labryinth

King Arthur’s Labyrinth tells of some of the unknown tales of King Arthur.  The tour takes you under the mountains of Snowdonia and into the caves which were formerly used for mining.  It was necessary to take a little boat along a river inside the cave to get to the labyrinth which was rather cool, though filled Liam with terror (until after the fact in which case he told us, it wasn’t so bad!).

On our way to the entrance, we found that the little Corris Craft Center was filled with a lot of little shops and even a tiny playground – great for kids who have been cooped up in the car!

Aidan found the playground

Aidan found the playground

The entrance to the Labyrinth

The entrance to the Labyrinth

Liam on the playground

Liam on the playground

Ready to go underground!

Ready to go underground!

Ready to go into the caves!

Ready to go into the caves!

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As we were underground with minimal lighting, there aren’t many pictures of the labyrinth / cave but here they are.

The spooky water ride into the caves

The spooky water ride into the caves

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We’ve been in better caves filled with stalactites and stalagmites, but this one was cool because of the underground river in it that we were able to take a boat along.  The tour itself was just ok – Aidan found it a bit boring and to be honest, the wax figurines that told the tale along the way creeped me out (there is just something about dated wax figures that are just plain creepy!).  But it was worth the visit to do something a little different!

Conwy Castle

Built during the times of Edward I in the late 13th century, Conwy Castle is a great example of well maintained British (not Welsh) construction.  With 8 towers and 2 fortified gateways, this castle is no joke.  It’s impressive.  And it’s most impressive when you are driving towards it from the bridge on the other side of the River Conwy.  We did that by accident when trying to find parking and oh my – it was a great mistake!

Approaching the castle from the bridge

Approaching the castle from the bridge

But it’s not just the castle to be seen, but also the walls of this small village which enclose it.  While we didn’t have as much time as we would have liked, you can actually walk the majority of the walls around the village. I’m sure the views from above are second to none.

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Some of the walls you can walk above

Conwy Castle ahead!

One of the 8 towers

Driving thru Conwy

Driving thru Conwy

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You can see some of the castle walls encircling the town ahead

You can see some of the castle walls encircling the town ahead

This building was dated in the 1500s

This building was dated in the 1500s

We took some time to walk around and even had the opportunity to walk along a small piece of the wall.  The village was adorable and had quaint shops, including a great ice cream parlor which, of course, we had to visit!

We stopped for a little fish n chips break here

We stopped for a little fish n chips break here

Beautiful old building

Beautiful old building

Lounging around

Lounging around

View of the castle wall behind us

View of the castle wall behind us

Delicious ice cream!  We managed to get in just before a huge crowd!

Delicious ice cream! We managed to get in just before a huge crowd!

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More of the castle walls

More of the castle walls

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View from the top of the castle wall

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One of the loveliest parts of visiting Conwy was that it was situated right along the river with beautiful water views.  I wish we had more time to explore the walk ways along the waterfront as I’m sure they would have yielded more adorable shops, restaurants and more!

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A giant buoy??

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Aidan hanging out by the water

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It was low tide and several of the boats we saw were grounded and beautiful sandbars appeared.

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Chirk Castle

Chirk Castle was very different than Conwy.  Kind of like Swallow Falls to Aber.  Though in this case, it wasn’t about the challenge of getting there but more about the experiences once we were there.  Getting to Chirk Castle was actually a little bit of an adventure.  While we were following the GPS, the narrow one lane “road” didn’t feel much like the approach to a castle.  It felt like we were heading off into the middle of no where.  And in fact, we were pretty much in the middle of no where when we finally did make it (it turns out that there is a more main road to get there, the GPS just didn’t send us that way – not necessarily a bad thing as I think our route was much more scenic).

A little adventure to get to the castle - narrow, windy roads with very tall hedges.

A little adventure to get to the castle – narrow, windy roads with very tall hedges.

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Unlike Conwy, Chirk Castle did not surround the town of Chirk with walls.  In fact, the castle was fairly removed from the village by a good distance.  Set in the hills above the River Dee, Chirk Castle was built around the same time as Conwy Castle.  Both were used during the time of Edward I to reinforce British rule in Wales during this time frame.

We approached the Castle by a small road and were surprised to come upon herds of black sheep.  Til now, we’d primarily seen white sheep in the thousands.  So it was a surprise to see black ones but because of their rarity during this trip, it was all the more beautiful how they stood out from the rest.

Reminds me of the children's song "Baa baa black sheep"

Reminds me of the children’s song “Baa baa black sheep”

And all the cute little babies!

And all the cute little babies!

The grounds upon the approach were lovely.  This castle is famous for it’s gardens and I wish we’d had more time to explore, but alas we had a flight that afternoon and couldn’t stay very long.

The castle upon approach - the gardens are beyond on the other side.

The castle upon approach – the gardens are beyond on the other side.

From the visitor center, we had to walk up the road to the castle.  There was a great playground (again not enough time, much to the dismay of the kids) that we passed along the way as well as a few homes that at one point must have been for those that worked on the property.

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Walking up to the castle

Walking up to the castle

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Castle entrance - less imposing than Conwy

Castle entrance – less imposing than Conwy

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Chirk Castle is a rare Welsh castle that has been maintained continuously over the years, was never in a state of disrepair and was actually lived in until recently. Purchased by the Myddleton family in the last 1590s, it was occupied by their family until 2004 when it was turned over to the National Trust.

The first thing we came upon after entering the courtyard was a room that was formerly a dungeon but now held weapons of the past.  The kids loved dressing up and getting to hold the weapons.  As the weapon holding was not supervised, I’m surprised more people don’t get hurt – my kids alone swung those swords around and pulled back on the bow and arrow ready to aim and fire!  Thankfully no injuries during our time there 😉

Castle courtyard

Castle courtyard

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God this helmet is heavy!

God this helmet is heavy!

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Thankfully he didn't let go of the arrow!

Thankfully he didn’t let go of the arrow!

Swords!

Swords!

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We walked through the castle and Josh and I both agreed, this Welsh castle had nothing on the ones in St. Petersburg.  While lovely, they lacked the extreme opulence that the palaces had there.  But then we’re talking castle vs. palace.  But after having seen the walls lined in gold in St. Petersburg, this just seemed ho hum.  Beautiful nonetheless and I imagine it would be pretty cool to grow up in one of these castles like the Myddleton family.

Dining hall

Dining hall

Part of the main home

Part of the main home

Beautifully ornate ceiling

Beautifully ornate ceiling

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Another beautiful ceiling

Another beautiful ceiling

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The Great Hall

The Great Hall

What do you mean they took baths in there?  And you should have seen his face when we showed him the chamber pot ;)

What do you mean they took baths in there? And you should have seen his face when we showed him the chamber pot 😉

View of some of the gardens from the home

View of some of the gardens from the home

Playing with a diorama

Playing with a diorama

Myddleton family tree

Myddleton family tree

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Myddleton library

Myddleton library

Josh took a brief walk around the ground while the kids and I checked out the store.  It was a fun morning and always a bonus when it’s educational too.  There are still many castles in Wales that we haven’t seen.  I guess we’ll just have to come back!!

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Knuffels en kussen,

Julie

Waterfalls of North Wales

With all the mountains that North Wales has to offer, it came as no surprise that there would be an abundance of waterfalls to visit.  The last time we saw waterfalls was on our trip to Iceland last year so we were really excited to see some… and bonus, the temperatures, while not warm, were certainly much improved from those in Iceland!  Not to mention there was no ice. Continue reading

North Wales: Llangollen

When we were looking for somewhere to stay in North Wales, we really weren’t sure where to start.  The guides that we read said to stay near Chester.  But when I started my search most places we wanted to visit took us closer to the coast or to Snowdonia.  We wanted to be able to visit castles near the border of England/Wales but to also head west towards Snowdonia and more north to the coast as well.  After some back and forth, we ended up in Llangollen. Continue reading

Wild for North Wales

I can’t say that I’ve ever had this huge burning desire to visit Wales.  But then I never had that urge to visit Iceland either and it ended up being one of the most amazing trips we’ve ever taken.  So when we found that our original plans weren’t going to work out for the kids’ May break, I decided to look closer to home.  We’ve been to England, Scotland and Ireland.  But we hadn’t made it to Wales yet. Continue reading