With our tour of Ireland completed, we arrived at the airport in Dublin to begin the next leg of our adventure with our friends, Kathy and Dennis. Our bags were packed as compactly as possible and sent through the baggage drop. We quickly scanned the list of Departures and realized that our Ryanair flight to Birmingham, England, was delayed a significant amount of time. It seemed like a good time for one more pint of Guinness. Twenty minutes later, I glanced once again at the board and discovered that the gate was closing and our flight was ready to take off! Had we missed the call? Panicking, we grabbed our bags and started running through the airport to the specified gate, only to see the plane taxiing onto the runway. What had gone wrong? And how do we get back to the other side of the security gates to find out?
This is how our vacation began! Hopefully it was not a foreshadow of future events! After summoning help from an Airport Security Guard, we found our way back to the other side of the glass and arranged another flight for two hours later. The second flight cost considerably more than the original one we had booked months earlier. This had turned into an expensive pint of beer! Our luggage had been offloaded so we had to collect it and check through again. A discussion with airport personnel revealed that Ryanair was a cheap airline for a reason…no announcements of last minute gate and time changes…basically, if you fly with them, keep yourself at the gate and your eyes glued to the departures board. Lesson learned!
With two hours to kill, we had lunch and wandered the shops. Jim stretched out on a bench and caught up on sleep. But when our departure time neared, we stayed put! Boarding of the next flight was without incident and we touched down in Birmingham in the late afternoon. We joined the lineup at the car rental kiosk and eventually hit the road in a fancy Mercedes Benz SUV. We had driven in separate cars in Ireland since we were on the road for so many days there but with only four days in Wales, we decided to travel in one vehicle.
Our accommodation for the night was a couple of hours drive southwest of Birmingham in the little English town of Martley in Worcestershire. It was September 9th, the day of our 40th anniversary and we were pleased to arrive to a beautiful room overlooking the garden of the house. After checking in, we headed down the road a bit for dinner and a glass of bubbly to celebrate.
The next morning our host, John, served up breakfast complete with champagne and orange juice in honor of our 40 years of wedded bliss. He recommended a few stops worth making in the area before we journeyed into Wales. Leigh Court Barn was our first stop. This is a huge oak cruck framed barn built in the 14th century. It would have housed livestock and produce for the estate farms of Pershore Abbey. It is one of the earliest and largest of its kind to survive in Britain.
Just a few steps from the barn stands a very old church that is still in use today. Nobody was around but the door was open so we popped in for a look around. We thought the entrance was particularly elegant!
On to Lower Brockhampton to see a moated mansion that has been in continuous use since the 12th century. In 1960 it was donated to the National Trust and displays throughout the house give an historic account of its use over the years.
The surrounding trees were loaded with damsons, a plum-like fruit that we had never seen before.
Well, it was time to move on. Destination: the Swansea area of Wales in the southwest corner of the country. We stopped for lunch at a great little coffee house called Sprok Wobbles in Usk, just over the England/Wales border. We checked into our cute little renovated barn Airbnb in the farming community of Cheriton. It came complete with a small kitchen, a second bedroom in a loft, and a hot tub in the yard. It wasn’t long before we were taking advantage of this great little back yard overlooking the green countryside.
We spent the next day exploring the beaches in the area. Who knew that Wales was a land of beautiful beaches? Our first was Horton Beach at Port Enyon, the most southerly point of Wales on the Gower peninsula. We walked for miles on the sand, watched a group of school kids learning to surf and clambered around the ruins of an early 16th century house that reputedly served as a front for a very lucrative smuggling career for a fellow by the name of John Lucas, a local privateer. By the mid 16th century it had been converted to a Salthouse and became one of the most advanced of its kind in Wales, extracting the salt from the seawater by pumping it from the pools into heated pans where the water would evaporate and leave the salt behind. Salt was a valuable commodity at the time and this is the only surviving ruins of salt mining in Wales.
We ate a picnic lunch then drove to Worms Head, still on the Gower Peninsula. This was a magnificent spot with a beautiful beach that stretched for miles and a peninsula that, at high tide, looked like an island. Walks out to the rocky peninsula had to be timed perfectly to allow time to return before the tide came in. Even with signs at the trail head , people regularly get stranded and the volunteer coast guard is on alert for any danger. A pod of seals likes to hang out in the tidal pools. With binoculars we could see a few of them in the distance.
With all the fresh air and walking, the hot tub felt great back at the house. A fun packed day behind us, we started planning our route for the next day along the west shore to Snowdonia, the northern part of Wales.
We passed many sunny little beach towns as we traveled north. Aberdovey, Twynn, Barmouth; all the spots the English come to spend their summer vacations.
By late afternoon we had arrived at our home in Tai’n’Lon. Again we were staying in a remote farming community, only a few other residents in the area. A walk down the road to pet the horses at sunset was such a peaceful way to end our day.
The morning brought another packed day. Jim and I used to live in the community of Caernarvon in Edmonton so we couldn’t miss going to visit Caernarvon Castle while we were in Wales. It stands high on the hill overlooking the town of Caernarvon (Caernarfon), an imposing stronghold built for King Edward I in the 1200’s. The castle itself is still in use today for ceremonial functions for the Royal Family. The investiture ceremony for HRH Charles, Prince of Wales took place at Caernarfon Castle in 1969. The castle is in remarkably good condition and the Royal Welch Fusiliers Regimental Museum is set up in two of its towers.
The Snowdonia region of Wales is mountainous, and known for its castles and its steam trains. We decided to get tickets for the Llanberis Lake Railway which took us on a steam train past a working slate mine and along the shores of Llanberis Lake. The scenery was lovely and the vintage steam train chugged along at vintage speed!
It was our last night in Wales. We went out for our “last supper” and took a walk along the waterfront in Caernarfon before heading back to our house.
The next day we would head back to Birmingham to board another Ryanair flight; Kathy and Dennis would fly back to Dublin to catch a flight home the next morning. We would fly to Torremolinos, Spain to lie on the beach and recover from our whirlwind past three weeks. It had been a great vacation with great travel partners.