The most difficult tourist attraction to get to

Once upon a time, two hapless tourists, a boy and a girl, went in search of a famous waterfall in Wales.

 

In search of a waterfall

 

A large sign plonked in the middle of the great wild wilderness told them that they were only two miles away from the most famous waterfall in the area, the Sgwd yr Eira.

 

Brecon Beacons National Park

 

The sign included a map that was impossible to follow unless you’re the bloke who drew it because it was drawn to a scale of 1:1 billion.

 

Useless map

 

Right from the start, the trail was rough and dirty, decorated with mud tracks that sometimes turned into swimming pools.

 

Brecon Beacons swimming pool

 

If you didn’t feel like having a swim, you would have to skirt around on the banks.

The boy and girl found themselves skirting a lot.

Sometimes it was fine and there was walkable land on either side.

Sometimes it wasn’t fine.

Some banks were shut away by fences.

Some banks were grassy death traps with hidden bogs and pits underneath them that wanted to swallow your foot hole.

 

Grassy death trap

 

Some banks were entire hills that you had to climb.

After which you had to find a good spot to climb down again.

The boy and girl got into an adventure worthy of famous nursery rhymes.

 

The only way is down

 

Jack and Jill went up the hill to get away from mud-pools.
Jack leapt down and said, “Woohoo!”
And Jill followed very slowly and carefully and looking very uncool.

 

The only way is down

 

Second by challenging second, Jack and Jill picked their way through the rough terrain, which got rougher and crazier the further they went. A few times, there were diverging paths without road signs.

Once, they had to backtrack because one of the paths led to a dead end.

Another time, they had to climb over a locked gate, which signalled to Jill (with angry red beacons flashing in her head) that they were definitely on the wrong track.

But before she could protest, Jack said, “Listen! I can hear a waterfall. We’re near!”

Jill listened very hard, but all she could hear was her tummy rumbling.

They plodded on.

And came across a massive construction of logs that stretched about half the length of an Olympic stadium.

 

Logs??

 

The path through was a muddy quicksand. Jack threw a large rock at it and it got eaten up whole. On the other side was death-trap boggy grass.

The safest way past this obstacle was to hug the logs and hope that there weren’t any termites in them.

 

Mud pool

 

When they came to the end of the log trail, they had to stop. Ahead of them spread a giant death-trap field, which they couldn’t see before because the log trail was that long and a bit curvy.

The mud path veered sharply to the right and continued to be equally muddy all the way as far as the eye could see.

According to Jack’s interpretation of the map, the waterfall lay straight ahead, so they didn’t want to follow the mud path to the right. But straight ahead looked like certain death.

It had been a whole hour since Jack and Jill started their trek, so Jill felt it was about time to put her muddy foot down.

 

Yeah, eew.

 

“We should have reached the waterfall half an hour ago!” she said, “I’m turning back!”

Defeated by Jill’s defeat as well as stupid terrain, Jack reluctantly agreed.

They went back the direction they came, picking different sides of paths to walk on to see if it was easier.

It wasn’t. No matter where they went, they found themselves challenged by deadly hidden bogs and toxic swimming pools.

 

Toxic swimming pool

 

Still, they persevered, not particularly because they were the persevering kind, but mostly because it was nearly dinner time and they didn’t want to spend the night out in the wilderness munching on twigs and grass.

And, finally, when they were perhaps ten minutes away from the starting point, they saw this.

A tiny little path branching off from the main path, which they must have missed the first time because they were busy climbing up and down a hill to avoid muddy tracks.

 

Hidden little path

 

Was the right branch the path they were supposed to take??

Disappointed Jack and exhausted Jill went a little closer to study the new trail.

 

Hidden little path

 

HELLO, WHAT IS THIS LITTLE YELLOW STICKER ON THE FENCE POST?!

 

Stupid little sticker

 

Public footpath, it said, in Lilliputian lettering that was turned 90 degrees the wrong way.

PUBLIC FOOTPATH?

PUBLIC FOOTPATH!!!!

This must have been where they were supposed to go.

But who was going to see a tiny yellow arrow hidden on the side of a fence post even if they hadn’t at that point been walking atop a hill to avoid a mud bath?!

In any case, the public trail looked just as bad as the other one.

Jack and Jill couldn’t be bothered anymore. They walked back to their car and put an end to their two-hour misadventure.

And no one lived happily ever after, except maybe a couple of sheep encountered along the trail, who had looked at the intruders warily because Jack had tried to trick them into feeling friendly by making sheep noises at them but he wasn’t any good at it, and the sheep thought so, too.

 

Silly sheep, Y U live here!

 

THE END.

A rubbish zoo and a town with a ridiculously long name

Continuing the story of my Wales road trip with Piers, I want to talk about two places in particular.

First up is the Welsh Mountain Zoo, situated on the northernmost part of Wales atop a mountain, where I thought we could see spectacular views as well as animals.

Well, we didn’t quite, and this is why in a nutshell:

Half the animals couldn’t be found (enclosures/cages were empty), the ones present weren’t really interesting, and the supposed nice view was a letdown.

 

Welsh Mountain Zoo

 

Welsh Mountain Zoo view

 

There’s a rather blah view, which you can enjoy while you sit in a druid ring freezing your bum off.

What’s druid ring doing in a zoo, anyway?

It was inhumanly cold when we went that day, even though it was summertime (23 June). The wind was really strong, making it feel even colder. The moment we got there, I wanted to jump back into the car and drive away.

The only reason we didn’t was because we’d already paid £22 to get in.

Piers gallantly let me wear his sleeveless padded jacket over my autumn coat and, still, I froze, as the wind whipped hair into my eyes for sport.

 

Very windy

 

Very windy

 

I tried to enjoy the outing but I was honestly quite miserable the whole time. The only “fun” I had was when Piers and I repeatedly joked about how crap the zoo was.

Well, I suppose I did like seeing some of the animals. I mean, it wasn’t an impressive show by any stretch but I love animals anyway, so there was that.

Here’s a bunch of them:

 

Welsh mountain goats
Welsh mountain goats

 

 

Welsh mountain kid
Welsh mountain kid

 

 

Humboldt
Humboldt penguin

 

 

Ring-tailed lemur
Ring-tailed lemur

 

 

Brown bear
Brown bear

 

 

Cotton top tamarin
Cotton top tamarin

 

 

Backtrian camels
Backtrian camels

 

 

We had planned to spend three or four hours at the zoo, take some slow walks, enjoy the view, maybe have lunch, etc. But it was so miserable and disappointing that we left after an hour and a half.

We drove on to the town with the ridiculously long name.

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (yep, that’s the town) is the longest town name in Europe and the second longest in the world.

The name is a Welsh sentence meaning “St. Mary’s Church in the hollow of the white hazel near the rapid whirlpool and the church of St. Tysilio with a red cave”.

Im. pres. sive. (Said with a brow-raising, dafuq did I just hear, look.)

 

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch railway station house

 

Sidetrack: The record holder for longest place name in the world is Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu in New Zealand.

It means “The summit where Tamatea, the man with the big knees, the climber of mountains, the land-swallower who travelled about, played his nose flute to his loved one”.

W. o. a. h. If that is not trippy, I don’t know what is.

I think it’s nuts to name a place using a convuluted sentence. It’s a bloody sentence not a name. Next, people are gonna be naming their babies in sentences, why not?

Example: Baby girl whose mother, Anne, met her father, Bob, under the big dark grey bridge by the pretty daffodils where they fell in love and Bob immediately proposed marriage to Anne using a cheezel he just happened to have in his pocket, while fluffy white clouds stood in the beautiful blue sky as silent but approving witnesses.

 

And the baby's name is...

 

There, make that a person name using whatever foreign language you like. Because you’re allowed to join loads of words together to make one word, only in foreign languages.

 

Okay back to Llanfair…etc.

The story is that, in the 1800s, the construction of a new road and railway crossing turned the small rural settlement into an important commercial centre, attracting all sorts of tradesmen.

Around 1860, a committee was formed to help attract even more trade and tourism and a cobbler came up with the idea of making the town have, like, the longest name in the world. (Except they didn’t reckon for New Zealanders to beat them; they should have added a few more clauses to their sentence when they could.)

It bloody worked, anyway.

 

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch Vovlo garage

 

The name is probably the only reason anyone even goes there anymore today. We didn’t find much to look at. Just unremarkable buildings and roads. A very average, very quiet town.

There are only a few small attractions in the area (2 bridges, an old toll house and a 27-metre tall column built in 1815 to pay tribute to some marquess who had lost a leg in battle), but we didn’t have time to do anything other than stop to take photos of the town name.

 

James Pringle Weaver

 

This (above) is the James Pringle Weaver visitor-centre-cum-shop. It’s the main stopping point for tourists. Inside, you can buy souvenirs such as record-breaking-size train tickets or get your passport or postcards marked with the famous Llanfairpwllgwyngyll stamp.

And this is how you say Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch:

 

(If you can’t see the audio embed, click here.)

 

In Welsh, the letter w is read like a double o (w = oo). That’s easy. The hardest thing to say is probably the “ll”, which is pronounced like a “chl”, although not a hard or even soft c but more like an airy version of it (a bit like Darth Vader breathing).

 

Llanfair PG railway station

 

The actual railway station sign helps visitors pronounce the name by breaking the word into chunks, but it can’t explain the double ls.

Anyway, that was a mildly interesting diversion on the way to our next destination, Caernarfon, which was about 15 minutes’ drive away.

I don’t really want to think or talk about this town anymore after today because every time I do, I compulsively try to pronounce the name over and over to get it right and I end up with a sore tongue, an irritated throat and a brain threatening to implode on itself if I don’t stop.

So, it’s over to you now.

Feeling nostalgic in Ludlow Castle

The reason I chose to stop at Ludlow on our way to Wales was because I remember the name of the town from an MMORPG (massively multi-player online role-playing game) called Dark Age of Camelot, which I played 12 years ago.

A lifetime ago!

It’s a strange and beautiful feeling to read a fantasy book or play a fantasy game based on locations in England and then years or decades later visit the very same places for real.

Of course, the real town looks very different from the game town since the game is set in the 6th Century where 90% of the world is basically vegetation and dirt paths.

Today, Ludlow is a smallish market town with a large number of Tudor-style buildings nestled among more modern buildings, lining the sides of gravel roads.

 

Ludlow

 

Here, I found a screenshot of the Ludlow in the game (from this website) so you can make a comparison!

 

Ludlow

 

Tudor houses!

Gosh, the nostalgia. Some people think I’ve wasted my entire life being addicted to computer games and it’s true I could have done a lot of useful things in the time I was playing games but I don’t regret it one bit. My most treasured memories are of my gaming adventures. The worlds may be virtual but you’re interacting with very real people who make you laugh and cry, and I have made many, many good friends through gaming.

Okay, back to the present.

Because we were on our way to Wales, all we had time for was a quick zip through the streets, heading straight for Ludlow Castle since that seemed to be the most obvious landmark, then 30 minutes to look inside (at £5 a pop).

Fortunately, the castle wasn’t very big, and most of it was in ruins anyway, so 30 minutes was quite enough. Photos now!

 

 

A panoramic view of the courtyard, taken from the top of a tower. The round building on the left was the chapel:

Ludlow Castle

 

 

The entrance to the castle. Doesn’t look so grand with the crumbly bits!

Ludlow Castle

 

 

Steps leading to the main wing of the castle:

Ludlow Castle

 

 

Some mouldy castle walls. Piers was controlling my camera through his phone via Wifi but it was a mess and the camera kept snapping when it wasn’t supposed to:

Ludlow Castle

 

 

A view of the top of the castle walls and some scenery beyond:

Ludlow Castle

 

 

More scenery beyond:

Ludlow Castle

 

 

Me feeling a bit stressed because our 30 minutes were nearly up and we were on metered parking:

Ludlow Castle

 

Sorry the photos are quite small but I can’t help it since my blog has a fixed width of 500 pixels to make reading text easier. But hope you like them anyway.

Well, I don’t know if all gamers have the same kind of great memories as I do or whether they feel as strongly about them. If you do, let me know!

Cynhynfa Country Guest House and Singapore hawker food

So, the story is that I belong to a Facebook group called Singaporeans in the UK and, a few weeks ago, I told the group that I was going on a road trip to Wales. I asked for suggestions and got a lot of helpful advice, which helped me plan my route.

Someone also mentioned that a Singaporean lady owns a bed and breakfast on the border of England and Wales. Since it was in a location that could fit into my then very sketchy route, I thought it would be a great idea to stay a night there.

And so we did!

This is Cynhynfa Country Guest House. (It’s pronounced something along the lines of “ker-nin-fa” if I recall correctly.)

 

Cynhynfa Country Guest House

 

Singaporean Nora runs the bed and breakfast together with her English husband. She’s full of funny stories, on Facebook and in real life, so it was a real pleasure getting to know her.

Her house decor is beautiful! Every piece of furniture and ornament seems to have been carefully picked and thoughtfully placed. The stylish setting indoors was a real surprise after driving through miles and miles of country.

 

 

Our bedroom:

Cynhynfa Country Guest House

 

 

Another bedroom, a little one with a slopey ceiling:

Cynhynfa Country Guest House

 

 

The dining room:

Cynhynfa Country Guest House

 

 

The view from the dining room:

Cynhynfa Country Guest House

 

 

Outside the house:

Cynhynfa Country Guest House

 

Nora was really hospitable. She made us feel at home immediately and fed us some homemade curry puffs because I’d told her that Piers is mad about them, haha. (I mean he is literally crazy about them. When we’re in Singapore, he turns into an excited puppy every time we pass by a stall or shop that sells curry puffs. He’ll be, like, “Oh looooook curry puffs omg!!!”)

She also cooked us a nice Asian dinner at no extra charge because I’m homesick for Singaporean food and it was gorgeous. She and her husband sat down to dinner with us and we had a nice time swapping stories and getting to know one another.

 

 

Sambal tomato prawn:

Sambal tomato prawn

 

 

Chicken curry:

Chicken curry

 

Speaking of Singaporean food, I told Piers about the Gordon Ramsay vs Singapore hawker food challenge and he was really excited because he’s a huge fan of Singaporean food and he thinks it’ll be good for the celebrity chef to try it.

Not quite the reaction I had expected.

Personally, I find it a bit silly because people of different cultures have different taste buds, so the winner of the challenge is going to be affected by where the judges come from and what sort of tastes they’re used to, so how will that prove anything?

Also, they’re going to make Gordon Ramsay cook something he’s probably never even eaten (he did mention a lack of experience in Singaporean food) against people who have cooked those dishes for decades. Huh?

 

Gordon Ramsay vs Singapore

 

Then again, this whole thing is just a publicity stunt to promote Singapore hawker food and give Gordon Ramsay as well as the organisers a lot of publicity, so it’ll probably just be an entertaining show where all parties come off winning, in some way or other.

Sorry about the digression but I had sort of come to an end, anyway.

So, Cynhynfa Country Guest House was a nice start to our entry into Wales. We didn’t really have time to visit around the area but if you look in the website, you will find many great places to visit nearby.

And that’s the problem with holidays, isn’t it? There’s always too much to see and experience, and never enough time to do everything!

Famous bridge and cottage in Wales

Here’s a place I would love to live in. It’s almost like a fairytale cottage, isn’t it?

 

Pont Fawr Bridge and Tu Hwnt I'r Bont

 

I first came across photos of it while googling Welsh attractions and fell in love with the little red cottage. (It’s now a tea room/restaurant so no one can live in it, unfortunately.)

Well, it was green when we visited it since it was summertime. I’m assuming that the leaves that have swallowed up the cottage will turn red in autumn, although I don’t know why absolutely nothing but the cottage-eating foliage would turn red. See this photo from a Welsh tourism website:

 

Tu Hwnt I'r Bont

 

Not that I know anything about seasons and nature and schizophrenic foliage, having grown up in the equatorial concrete jungle that is Singapore.

This view of the bridge and cottage is probably one of the most photographed and painted views of Wales, and it seems obvious why. I wouldn’t mind having a painting of it hanging over my future (imagined) fireplace.

 

I love my painting

 

The bridge is called Pont Fawr, meaning “large bridge” in Welsh, although it’s just a tiny bridge, being about 55 m long and wide enough for just one car to pass through. But maybe it was huge when it was built in 1636. People also call it Inigo Jones Bridge because some sources credit British architect Inigo Jones as the designer.

Beyond the bridge stands the pretty little cottage named Tu Hwnt I’r Bont, meaning, surprisingly, “beyond the bridge”.

I’m not sure who names these things but probably not the builders, since the cottage was built in 1481, way before the bridge existed.

 

When we first arrived, it was raining a bit. I was disappointed. I’d looked so much forward to seeing it and had come all the way from Bournemouth to take a photo of it.

Then I thought, “There are no rainy photos of it on the Internet so I will have a special, unique photo!”

So I cheered up a bit and ran across the bridge to the vantage point, where I started snapping while Piers held an umbrella over me.

 

Rainy Tu Hwnt I'r Bont

 

There’s my rainy photo!

And then, stupidly, the rain stopped before I even got properly started, so I was able to take normal photos after all. Just as well, since the rainy photo looks rather dull. Which is probably why there aren’t any rainy photos of it on the Internet, lol.

Not too difficult to get a rainy day in Wales, anyway, the locals will probably tell you.

All that fuss over nothing; let’s move on.

 

Mandatory touristy photo of Tu Hwnt I'r Bont

 

Tu Hwnt I’r Bont is roughly pronounced “ti hoont ear bont” (and you have to roll the “r”). I had a lot of trouble reading Welsh names until this English lady at a B&B taught me how to say some of them.

The cottage was first built as a residential dwelling, then later used as a courthouse. Over the centuries, it had to be restored several times until it became a tea room about 50 years ago.

Now, more photos!

 

Back view of the cottage (naked!):

Tu Hwnt I'r Bont

 

 

 

 

Closer look at the front of the cottage (looks a bit curvy; the panoramic feature on my camera does that):

Tu Hwnt I'r Bont

 

 

 

 

Super close up:

Tu Hwnt I'r Bont

 

 

 

 

Inigo Jones Bridge stretches over the River Conwy, which is 27 miles (43 km) long:

River Conwy

 

 

 

 

Side view of the cottage:

Tu Hwnt I'r Bont

 

 

 

 

View of the bridge and cottage:

Pont Fawr and Tu Hwnt I'r Bont

 

 

 

 

Further view:

Pont Fawr and Tu Hwnt I'r Bont

 

 

 

 

View of the town Llanrwst (pronounced something like “hlan-roost”) on the other side of the bridge from the cottage:

Llanrwst

 

No photos of inside the tearoom because photography is not allowed inside, so I’m just going to describe it with words.

The decor is very old-fashioned and the ceiling is low. It looks Tudor-style with white sand-textured walls and dark brown wooden beams and pillars all around. It’s a junk and antique collector’s dream with endless knick-knacks from the past decorating every spare inch of wall, crook and cranny. Most of the items are made of copper or iron.

The tearoom was packed nearly full with customers who looked local because they had a relaxed vibe and appeared very much at home having a leisurely meal or cup of tea, totally unlike the gawky, excited tourist writing these words now.

Unfortunately, we were still quite full from breakfast so didn’t feel like eating anything. But we ordered a Welsh rabbit (or rarebit) to share, just because it’s a Welsh thing. It’s basically a toasted cheese sandwich (no animals harmed!) but a lot more cheesy, with cheese sauce generously melted all over the bread.

I didn’t enjoy it, though. The “toast” was soft and the cheese didn’t taste all that fantastic, so I let Piers have all of it.

Boyfriends are really good for that sort of thing.

 

Give it here.

 

But maybe it’s really good and I was just too full to appreciate it.

If you’re planning a visit, be sure to do the anti-rain dance or something beforehand, because it’s lovely to have a walk there along the river bank or have a sit on one of the benches and soak in the tranquility and (hopefully) nice weather.

So, I shall end here with a couple of questions. Would you want to live in a cottage like Tu Hwnt I’r Bont and how often would you have to give it a haircut?