Wales and the West Country

South West Coast footpath sign

South West Coast footpath sign

Leaving Lyon we made a quick ten day swing around a part of the UK we had meant to visit in January, but didn’t. We started by train from London to Burgh Island, not too far from Plymouth. Burgh Island is one of those islands that exist as an island only at high tide, like Mont San Michel and St. Michael’s Mount. There is a hotel there that has been kept in its original art deco 1930s style, down to no TVs and big clunky telephones in the rooms. The hotel has been the set for several TV shows and movies of that era—old Poirots for instance. Each room is named after someone who has stayed there: Agatha Christie, Noel Coward…we stayed in the Josephine Baker room.

Noel Coward's typewriter at Burgh Island

Noel Coward’s typewriter at Burgh Island

You have to dress formally for dinner. We went for our 34th anniversary all tuxed and long-gowned and had a great time.

 

Then we went to St Ives near the western tip of Cornwall for 3 days. Loved it! Charming, artsy seaside town made famous by the luminescent sea-toned light loved by artists and sculptors. Also Virginia Woolf’s family went there—all made famous in her book To The Lighthouse. We were able to take several long walks along the SW Coast Path in both directions from the town. The weather was breezy and in the low 60s, but that doesn’t stop the Brits from enjoying their beaches.

St Ives harbor; tide's in

St Ives harbor; tide’s in

 

Brits at the beach on a St Ives Sunday

Brits at the beach on a St Ives Sunday. Why does everyone love digging holes in sand?

We also went out to St Michael’s Mount one day, which is near Penzance, on the south side of the Cornwall peninsula (St. Ives is on the north side). Interesting walk around and up the island. It’s quite different from Mont San Michel, although it was founded by monks from there. It’s smaller than its French counterpart, and has been a privately owned house for about a thousand years, managed today partly by the family and partly by the National Trust. We timed our visit to be able to walk out at low tide, and then took the boat back.

Tide washing over path to St Michaels Mount

Tide washing over path to St Michaels Mount

On our way north to Devon and Somerset we went to the Lost Gardens of Heligan. I’d read about this place for years in British gardening magazines…a large garden that fell to weeds and was totally lost after World War I when the gardeners joined the military and were mostly killed, along with the family who lived there. Probably something that happened to lots of country-house gardens, but here, the garden was rediscovered by some botanists and has been brought back to life. The most interesting part is what the owners have done to research and commemorate the lost gardeners, local handymen, all young and killed in the terrible mud and trenches of France. A couple years ago, to honor the 100th anniversary of WWI, sculptors made lifesize ice statues of the men and put them around the garden in the evening, and they all slowly melted over the night and next day. Today’s gardeners and local artists are making living statue today:

The sleeping lady of Heligan

The sleeping lady of Heligan

 

The ghost lady of Heligan

The ghost lady of Heligan–harder to see!

 

A quick visit to Coleridge’s cottage in the Quantock hills got us on our way to northern Somerset, where we stayed in Minehead, a small town on the coast of Bristol Bay, just south of Wales, and on the eastern edge of Exmoor National Park.

We walked a couple of miles to the mediaeval village of Dunster and its attendant castle, excellently run by the National Trust. The Trust has put a lot of effort into making its holdings accessible and fun for families—at Dunster the grand Lady’s dressing room was a real dress-up room for kids, with clothes to try on and play in.

One of the drawing rooms was open for all to sit on the furniture, play cards, do puzzles, read newspapers, just as if you were a guest there. This library was NOT one of those rooms:

 

Dunster Castle library. NOT one of the rooms open for guest lounging!

I loved the sign on an old quilt on one of the beds:  so much nicer than simply “Don’t Touch.”  It said: “This quilt is almost 200 years old and very fragile. Please help us to look after it by trying not to touch it.”  

We also were able to walk a bit of the SW Coast Path, which starts here. It was breezy and rainy, perfect for rainbows. On our walks and drives we noticed lots of solar panel farms and lots of wind turbines, many more such installations than you see in the U.S.

Double bridge at Dunster,;

Double bridge at Dunster near watermill that still grinds wheat for flour.

 

 

 

 

 

Then off to Wales! Northern Wales in fact. While most people were chasing warmer weather, we were heading increasingly north (we didn’t see fully leafed out trees until this week when we finally arrived in Milan.) In Wales we stayed at a country house in Llandudno owned by the National Trust and run by a hotel company. It was quite elegant and the views were spectacular, looking over the waterway that separates mainland Wales from Anglesey at Conwy Castle, and the snow-dusted Snowdonia mountains.

Sunrise over Snowdonia and Conwy Castle from our country house hotel window

Sunrise over Snowdonia and Conwy Castle from our country house hotel window

We heard a lot more Welsh spoken, by people of all ages, here than we had on a previous visit years ago. We laughed when our google maps GPS lady gave up and started spelling the road and town names instead of pronouncing them.

Caernarfon Castle (and seagulls) where Princes of Wales are invested (only 3 so far--ancient tradition with long middle period where it didn't happen--politics and wars intervened

Caernarfon Castle (and seagulls) where Princes of Wales are invested (only 3 so far–ancient tradition with long middle period where it didn’t happen–politics and wars intervened

While here, we got quite an education about the middle ages and castle building. They were dark days indeed, cold and full of awful battles with axes and swords and boiling oil, and the women having baby after baby, mostly all dying. Two of the castles we visited, Conwy and Caernarfon, were run by the Welsh National Trust, so the signage and descriptions included lots of digs at the Brits.

 

Conwy Castle from mainland; tide's out

Conwy Castle from mainland; tide’s out

 

Bodnant Gardens is a spectacular garden in lovely spring bloom—amazing hellebores and grassy fields of daffodils…on the roadsides everywhere these two weeks were spreading clumps of lovely pale lemon sherbet primroses.

Just a ppart of the  hube fields of daffodils in the grassy fields at Bodnant

Just a part of the huge fields of daffodils in the grassy fields at Bodnant

Took the train from Liverpool (dropped off the car at the John Lennon International Airport) to London and then on to Milan. Train was run by Virgin—practice for us, I guess, for Alaska Air’s latest acquisition.

 

Sign at end of driveway of oBodysgallen, our Llandudno country hotel

Sign at end of driveway of Bodysgallen, our Llandudno country hotel