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.

Encounter with runaway sheep

How I wish sheep would let us pet them but they are all terrified of strangers (I’m not sure how they are with their owners).

When they hear a sound, they look up from grazing and stare at the source of the sound (you). If they think you’re too dangerously close to them, they bolt.

 

graze graze graze

 

 

 

*gasp* A sound!

 

 

 

Yikes! A hooman!

 

 

 

Don't come any closer I'm warning you!

 

 

 

Mummyyy...!

 

Aww…

This was the closest I ever got to a sheep before it bolted.

An hour and a half later, Piers and I bumped into a couple of runaway sheep as we walked up a mountain road.

We had been walking all that time literally, our goal being a national park or something like that, but we never found it. Probably took a wrong turning somewhere.

It was a nice walk, nevertheless. We didn’t know what to expect and we kept getting surprised by different things to look at. Sometimes we were closed in by woods on both sides, sometimes fields lay spread out before us, and sometimes we were able to see into the distance for miles and miles.

 

Cows

 

 

View

 

 

Sheep

 

 

Sheep

 

 

Diverging path

 

 

Fishing at the lake

 

 

Lake

 

 

The view

 

 

The view

 

 

After about an hour of walking, we decided we’d had enough. We had that same distance to walk back.

It was on our return trip that we saw the runaway sheep.

 

Runaway sheep

 

There they were, standing right in the middle of the road, looking lost.

We walked very, very slowly towards them (they were in our way, after all) and they would alternate between looking at us worriedly and walking away from us, back towards the direction they had come from.

Then we got to a spot where the road widened out into a diverging path, one leading off to more road and one leading to a dead-end gate. The sheep were walking themselves into a dead end.

 

Herding sheep

 

Piers thought we could corner them at the gate (so I could pet them) so he tried to slyly walk around to their back while they kept a fearful eye on me.

When he had blocked off one side of them, I walked forward to herd them further towards the gate. They went right to the end.

Finding themselves cornered, they suddenly bolted right past me and disappeared down the winding road within two seconds.

 

Scaredy sheep

 

Silly, cute sheep!

We continued walking.

In the same minute, we encountered two more runaway sheep!

 

Runaway sheep

 

They were trying to get into the field beside the road but the whole field was enclosed by a thin wire fence so they couldn’t get in.

 

Runaway sheep

 

As we walked, they walked. If we stopped, they stopped, always maintaining a very safe distance from us, about this far:

 

Runaway sheep

 

I had to zoom in with my camera to get visible pictures of them.

 

Runaway sheep

 

Sometimes they would bolt and we would lose sight of them until a while later.

 

Runaway sheep

 

But we’d catch up with them again.

 

Runaway sheep

 

The whole time, we were worried that we were driving them backwards, further and further from their destination, although I’m not sure they knew exactly where they were going.

But there wasn’t much we could do about it. We had to get home and there was only one way.

We continued this way for about seven minutes and then a car came from behind us. As we pressed against the side of the road to let the car go past, the sheep ran for their lives.

And that was the end of it. We didn’t see them anymore.

So, there’s our grand sheep adventure.

 

View

 

This happened in North Wales, near the town of Llanrwst. We were staying at a bed and breakfast called Fir Cottage, which is a lovely old-fashioned cottage run by a lovely old lady.

She was the one who gave us directions for our walk, which starts from the field next to her house.

The directions weren’t clear enough so we didn’t get to where we were supposed to but it was still a very nice walk.

Some photos of the cottage:

 

Fir Cottage

 

 

Fir Cottage

 

 

Fir Cottage

 

 

Fir Cottage

 

 

Fir Cottage

 

If I ever go back to Wales again, it would be for the sheep. They are so adorable, especially because they’re so timid! And they are literally everywhere. You can’t miss them if you go to Wales!

So, what are your thoughts on sheep? Do you like them?

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!

Wales road trip: Overview

What a glorious place Wales is, lovely sights of endless pastures, mountains and sprawling horizons.

I know “sprawling horizons” sounds a bit strange and maybe oxymoronic, but that’s what it feels like. You gaze out into the distance and the horizon is a patchwork of rolling hills and fields.

I can’t really show you the extent of it in a photograph because it’ll have to be a bloody big photograph to even begin to relay everything the human eye can see, so you’ll have to make do with a photograph of me.

 

Sheylara in Wales

 

Yep, that’ll do.

Now, let’s start from the beginning.

Last week, Piers and I went on a road trip to Wales and back. We drove a total of 720 miles (1159 km) in six days, and stopped at a different bed and breakfast each night.

Here, I’ve made a map to illustrate the geography of the region so that what I’m going to talk about next will make more sense to non-UK readers.

 

Map of The United Kingdom

 

Piers and I live directly south of Wales, on the southwest coast of England, so we just drove north into Wales. But we kind of veered around outside of Wales before entering it near the northern part because of certain stops I wanted to make in England.

 

Our route

 

When we drove into Wales, I didn’t see any “Welcome to Wales” sign, either because I was daydreaming or because we went via a road that didn’t have it. I’m sure hundreds of roads lead to Wales so they can’t possibly have a welcome sign at every road, right?

I think we only knew we were in Wales when the road signs suddenly changed from English to Welsh.

In the middle of driving, Piers suddenly said, “We’re in Wales! Wow, Wales looks amazing!!”

I looked through all the windows and thought he was being stupid.

“It looks exactly like England, hon.” I said.

 

The difference between England and Wales

 

We bickered a bit on this point but I know he was just being silly. You will find many similarities between England and Wales in terms of physical appearance.

But the funny thing is that, after being in Wales for several days and loving the scenery, I thought I could feel a marked difference after crossing the Severn Bridge back into England.

 

Severn Bridge

 

England seems to be a darker green and maybe a bit more grey, overall, and there is a discernible lack of sheep.

But, to be fair, there are equally beautiful places in both England and Wales, just that Wales has more mountains so, when you’re driving through them, you get to see more fields and pastures around, which is probably why it seems more vibrantly green in Wales.

I will share more photos of the scenery in future posts. Today’s post will be a sort of a summary of the entire trip so you can have a preview of what’s coming up next.

 

Day 1

So, we started our trip by spending our first night in Bath (England). I’ve blogged about Bath before so I’m not going to say anymore about it. (You can read the two posts here: Bath is beautiful despite mouldy hot springs | Rude shock in Bath)

Here’s a photo of some cute scarecrows next to our B&B in Bath. If I ever have my own biggish garden, I will place a couple of cute toddler scarecrows in it, no adult ones. I don’t know if that would be scary enough for crows, though.

 

Cute scarecrows

 

Day 2

From Bath, we drove on to Cynhynfa Country Guest House, situated on the England/Wales border. We went there because it’s owned by a Singaporean but I’ll talk about it more in another post.

Olive parked outside the guest house:

 

Cynhynfa Country Guest House

 

Before stopping there, we passed through Ludlow (in England) and I decided to stop to have a look at Ludlow Castle.

The view is quite lovely from the top of the castle walls, even though the castle isn’t that tall, really.

 

Ludlow Castle

 

Because we stopped at Ludlow, we didn’t have time to stop at Shrewsbury as I had wanted to. Shrewsbury is where Charles Darwin came from so I thought it would be interesting to visit.

But it’s not a big deal. There are hundreds more places I want to visit in England and I still have the rest of my life to do it!

 

Day 3

After an early breakfast, we drove into Wales and stopped at the famous bridge (Pont Fawr) and tea house (Tu Hwnt I’r Bont).

 

Pont Fawr and Tu Hwnt I'r Bont

 

After that, because we’re way ahead of schedule, we had to find something to do before our next planned stop. We looked up Points of Interests on our sat nav and Gwydir Castle came up. It was only about 5 or 10 minutes away so off we went.

When we got there, we found out that it is more a large Tudor manor house than a castle and that they close on Mondays and Saturdays (which is the day we were there), so we didn’t get to visit!

At that time, I had completely forgotten that it was the castle I had mentioned in an earlier post, where I had found out we could stay but chose not to because it’s haunted.

I only realised it was the same castle after coming home and googling it.

What a shame it was closed. All we saw were walls and closed doors.

 

Outside Gwydir Castle

 

But we did see a bunch of peacocks and peahens roosting on top of the walls so we managed to while away some time, me taking photographs and Piers trying to attract their attention by imitating their call, which is a high pitched, long squawl. A bit like a seagull but longer and more melodic.

Yes, just imagine Piers squawling like a peacock. He loves doing that sort of thing, poor me.

 

Peacock

 

That night, we stayed in a lovely B&B called Fir Cottage and went for a walk up a mountain next to the cottage, where we encountered a couple of runaway sheep, all of which I will elaborate in a separate post.

 

Fir Cottage

 

Runaway sheep

 

Up until then, we had been pretty lucky with the weather. It was moody, sometimes a bit sunny, sometimes a bit overcast, with some drizzling here and there, but on the whole it didn’t rain on our parade too much.

But it did the next day.

 

Day 4

Our first order of the day was to visit the Welsh Mountain Zoo. It was a terrible, terrible mistake. It rained intermittently, the wind was ridiculously strong up on the mountain, it felt nearly as cold as winter, and the zoo was rubbish at being a zoo.

 

Welsh Mountain Zoo

 

So we left the silly place some two hours earlier than planned. We then drove on through the town with the longest name in the world: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. It looks impossible to pronounce but I will show you how to in a future post.

It was still raining and we had to carry umbrellas with us around all day, so we didn’t linger in the town.

Here’s Olive parked next to the railway station gatehouse with the full name of the town mounted on it.

 

Llanfairpwllgwyngyll

 

Yes, you know the drill now: Details of all that will come in a later post.

We drove on to Caernarfon on the same day. Still raining, still cold, which was a pity because Caernarfon is a very cool town with a bustling town centre built inside the outer castle walls. And right in the middle of it all is Caernarfon Castle.

The rain and cold made us just want to go indoors and snuggle under the duvet, so that was quite the shame.

 

Caernarfon Castle

 

We stayed in a B&B inside these walls:

 

Caernarfon castle wall

 

 

Day 5

It was time to head back south and, this time, instead of driving through motorways we drove through mountain passes, which was a great idea.

The weather had tamed considerably so it was a wonderful three-hour drive to get to our next destination, with many stops along the way to admire the scenery, gawk at sheep and take photographs.

 

Sheep on mountain

 

Driving through a mountain pass

 

The only damper on our day was our failure to locate a famous waterfall in Brecon Beacons National Park, thanks to lousy mapping, unclear instructions and lack of signposts on the part of the tourism authorities.

It resulted in a two-hour trek (back and forth) through the most ridiculous, scary terrain, with nothing to show for it except muddy shoes and possibly an entertaining blog post to come.

We found refuge for the night in a nice B&B called Llundain Fach Little London, which has a nice cascading stream a very short trek away through a wooded area.

 

Llundain Fach Little London

 

Cascading stream

 

Day 6

Last day of our trip and the sun decided it was time to come out and play. My new £5 sunglasses came in use for the first time since we started the trip.

 

Sheylara's new sunglasses

 

It was a great last day.

We saw a waterfall (this one was much easier to get to and had clear directions but it was smaller), then decided to leave for home earlier than planned.

 

Henrhyd Falls

 

I had wanted to visit the National Showcaves Centre for Wales (Dan yr Ogof), which is an 11 mile (17 km) long cave system in south Wales featuring lots of cool cavern sights and a dinosaur park, among other things.

If you google image it, you can see loads of cool pictures of it. But Piers and I were both so tired out by our whole trip that we decided to give it a miss.

 

Dan Yr Ogof image search

 

We had received mixed reviews of it from our B&B host; some adults said it’s a waste of money and only cool for children, while other adults loved it. So I don’t know! Maybe we will visit it one day. It’s only about four hours’ drive from home, lol.

On our way home, we stopped at a burger bar on a mountain for lunch and trekked a short way higher up to enjoy the 360-degree view.

It was a bit sad leaving that mountain. Despite my tiredness, I felt like I could have stayed a few more days, or weeks.

 

A scene from Wales

 

After that, we spent the next three hours on the road for the last leg home, during which time I mostly slept while Piers drove, which is the natural order of things!

And that’s the end of this post. Like it or comment if you want to hear more stories and see more photos of our adventure!