September, October madness

WE HAVE MOVED HOUSE! And it’s a beautiful wee flat in the very trendy area of The Shore, in Leith. Some lovely friends were moving to Belfast and looking for tenants, and it’s worked out so well. It’s an extra few minutes on my commute every day, but it is more than made up for by the view of the water, the swans, the ducks, the gorgeous bars and restaurants and the extra space!

I’ve been very busy at work and with the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation, so I have let my writing practice slide and have been procrastinating like a star with some fabulous television (Strike, The Crown, and brand new Outlander, Will & Grace, and Broad City!). I’ve also been reading up a storm, cat-sitting, studying Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites, voting with a big fat YES online for that ridiculous Australian marriage law survey, attending a meeting of the Richard III society (for a fascinating discussion of Perkin Warbeck), going to an event at Waterstones with MARIAN KEYES (and managed not to cry all over her this time), rejoined the walking group (I used to be learning to run, but I prefer walking!!), and attending a friend’s baby shower (just in time – she went into labour three days later).

We’ve used the last of the ‘summer’ weather to have a BBQ at Leith Links, and two weeks ago we headed down to Tweedbank in the Scottish Borders. The Tempest Brewing Co. has an Oktoberfest event, and we were lucky to have a friend from Australia visiting as well. A good day was had by all, including an excellent selection of food trucks and stalls, quality cider and gin, and one of the best cover bands I’ve heard. We also said farewell to Sean’s sister after having her floating around Europe for two months. But we’re going to be in Australia in eight weeks, so it doesn’t feel quite as devastating as the last time we said goodbye!

Finally, the lovely Bec and I took a road trip down south. We stopped in Crosby to visit Belinda & Andrew, as always, lunched in Chester at a BEAUTIFUL restaurant called The Botanist, and then headed to an absolute utopia known as Gladstone’s Library.

My parents had bought me a voucher to stay the night – it is, I believe, the only residential library in the UK. It was clean and comfortable accommodation, but the library itself was simply magnificent. Historic, quiet, beautiful, and enormous. There is a lounge for residents with an open fire, lots of squashy armchairs, and an honesty bar, where you can read or chat or play board games. They have an onsite restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and afternoon tea – you can basically live there full-time and you would never need to leave. They offer scholarships and bursaries, a vibrant events program, and the friendliest staff. I think it’s a magic place and I can’t wait to get back there one day, hopefully for a longer stay!

The next morning after breakfast we jumped in the car and drove deep into Wales. We stopped for photos at Llyn Tegid and headed through the middle of Snowdonia National Park to the seaside town of Barmouth. This was a gorgeous little place, even while covered in mist and a light rain. We went into cosy gift shops, had lunch in a pub, and bought a banoffee pie milkshake for the road. After this, we headed back to Betws-y-coed, a picturesque village I had visited with Marnie and Mum several years ago. Drenched in rain, it was beautiful as ever. We drove back that evening to Belinda & Andrew’s place.

After brunch and a long walk along Crosby Beach to take pics of Antony Gormley’s Another Place, we jumped in the car and drove back to Scotland. It’s always a brilliant feeling crossing the border. It feels like home.

 

Advertisements

The town of books

I have had the best day. Racing around trying to fit in as many bookstores as possible was not the least bit stressful and I ended up seeing 16 bookshops, counting the one I visited yesterday afternoon. And that’s not even all the bookshops in Hay-on-Wye!! The weather wasn’t sunny, but it held off the rain until the last bookshop of my day and even then, it was very light. We had massive hot chocolates, copious amounts of tea, and stopped for lunch at The Granary café, where I had an amazing BLT. Aside from the bookshops, I popped my head into a few gift-y type places, but really, I was here for the books, and it was the bookshops that I enjoyed best. I went well over budget, and will very probably have to mail my books home because of limited luggage space, but I regret nothing. I have bought a couple of Peter Pans for my collection, and a few other bits and pieces, including some presents for people (yes, you’re getting a book, Sean, suffer in your jocks), and also went to The Fudge Shop and bought Baileys fudge because yum. I have had so many conversations with locals today, all really lovely booksellers and book buyers. One little old man sat down next to me and introduced me to his Jack Russell who has been to the same bookshop 6 days a week for most of her life. Her name was Lucy and he let me pat her and take pictures of her while we chatted. I even went into The King of Hay bookshop, which is named after Richard Booth who initiated the whole ‘booktown’ concept and proclaimed himself king of the kingdom of Hay. He wrote a great autobiography, which I’ll have to buy when I have the funds.

We got home and unpacked our purchases. We’ve had dinner and are about to attempt to repack everything including stuffing in our new books because we leave Hay-on-Wye early tomorrow and travel to the Cotswolds. Wish me luck!

Ludlow and Tenbury Wells and HAY-ON-WYE

 

 

This morning we woke up relatively early, so we went for a walk down to the Uffington Church and behind, over paddocks and through turnstiles and down little country lanes along the river. I Skyped Sean before we left, and then we headed down to Ludlow, a medieval market village which has more listed buildings per head of population than any other town in England. Ludlow is particularly famous for it’s medieval castle, which housed famous residents like Catherine of Aragon and her first husband, Prince Arthur. It is also where Arthur died, and an old man at St Laurence’s church today told me he thought Henry VII had sent Arthur to Ludlow to finish him off. He knew it was cold and wet and Arthur had a sickly constitution, so it’s an interesting theory. Ludlow Castle also played host to Mary Tudor (Catherine’s daughter) and Edward V and Richard of Shrewsbury, the famed Princes in the Tower. It is a ruin similar to Conwy, but is a little more intact. It has only just been reopened after the winter, and a pigeon had made it’s nest right next to one of the staircases and gave us major stinkeye when we walked past it’s eggs. Hopefully they can arrange to have the nest moved, because it’s going to get accidentally stepped on otherwise. We also headed into the Tudor apartment bit and looked up to find ourselves surrounded by birds glaring at us.
Afterwards we walked through the Ludlow market and I had a quick squiz in St Laurence’s Church, which has a stained glass window depicting a number of figures associated with Ludlow including Edward V, Edward VI and Prince Arthur. Then we stopped for lunch in a lovely little sandwich shop with a little Tudor sitting room upstairs.

 

 

 

 

 

St Laurence’s

 

St Laurence’s

 

Tudor sandwiches!

Then we drove to the nearby town of
Tenbury Wells, which has some really unusual Pump Rooms built around a well, which is how the town got it’s name. The well was built after a mineral water spring was discovered in a farmer’s paddock. It brought lots of money to the town, because people would pay to drink and bathe in the water which was supposed to be good for ailments. It sounded like pretty horrid stuff – it contained sulphur and was twice as salty as seawater – but people paid a lot of money for the privilege of using it. The most lovely woman was just locking the place up when we arrived, but she was delighted to see us and took us on a tour of the place giving us a lot of history and explanation. She made us sign the guestbook when she found out we were from Australia and insisted on us taking lots of photos. The Pump Rooms look a bit Seuss-ish. The style is often described as Chinese-Gothic. Tenbury Wells is also famous for growing hops and cider apples. Queen Victoria visited and referred to the town as ‘my little town in the orchard’. I tried to find a local cider to sample, but had no luck so I bought some English cider anyway to toast the place.
The fountain

 

Pump Rooms

 

The well

 

Pump Rooms

 

Then we jumped back in the car and as we drove, we saw some actual gypsies and their horses and caravans (forgive the political incorrectness. Do I say gypsies, Irish travellers or something else?). Then it was on to Hay-on-Wye! We are in a gorgeous little 2-bedroom cottage for 2 nights, with neck-breakingly steep stairs, so we are being very careful. We’ve had dinner and done two loads of washing, and been for a walk through the town. For anyone who doesn’t know, Hay-on-Wye is referred to as ‘the town of books’ and is stuffed to the brim with bookstores. Obviously, it has been a longtime dream of mine to come here. I’m going to sit down and plan my day tomorrow to get the most out of it. Cannot. Wait.

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Chirk Castle

We left Frodsham this morning! Actually quite sad to be leaving. It was such a beautiful place to start our trip, and I hope to go back some day! And Yarrangall B&B was wonderful. We set off early and drove to Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, which Marnie had visited with Grandpa around 20 years ago. (In fact, they had hired a canal boat and cruised up the canals for a week on their own, never having driven a boat before, and finishing at Pontcysyllte because they’re awesome). The aqueduct is the longest and highest in Britain, and is, quite frankly, magnificent. You can take a canal boat over it, or you can walk. We were a bit early to hang around for a canal boat trip, so Mum and I walked over it. It was strange – I don’t love heights, and there were a few moments were I felt a bit dizzy with the knowledge of how high I was, but the views were so spectacular that it sort of helped me forget. Some insane people were even riding their bikes over it, and you’ll see from the photos that there is no railing on the canal side of the bridge. All it would take is a particularly bad stack and you’d go flying over the edge. No thanks.

 

 

 

 

Afterwards we walked down to the water to take some photos from beneath the aqueduct and all the steps that I’ve climbed in the last few days has made my muscles protest something fierce. The nice lady in the gift shop gave us the key to one of the boats after Marnie told her about her own trip. The boat Marnie and Grandpa took (named ‘Daffodil’) is no longer in use, but the lady let us look inside a different boat that was of a similar make. It was a really lovely little setup, with a kitchen, bathroom and double bed squeezed into it, along with plenty of cupboard space. I think I’d like to go on a canal boat trip one day.

 

 

We drove about 15 minutes down the road to a little town called Chirk. We had heard there was a castle here worth seeing, and I am so glad we took the chance, because it was such an unexpected pleasure. Chirk Castle is not at all a ruin like Conwy, and in fact, the same family has owned it since 1595, lived there until 2004, and still visit occasionally to their private apartments. It was first built in 1295, and there is a lot to see from various periods of history. The (old) Myddelton family home, with it’s incredibly ornate decoration and dozens of portraits is particularly beautiful, but you can also see the King’s bedroom and chapel, the servants hall, and the scariest dungeons you can possibly imagine. They are dark and cold (about 9ft underground), and have these passages reaching up to the ground level to let in chinks of light. Really spooky stuff.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We walked back across the enormous estate, spotting pheasant and squirrels and millions of daffodils. Then we hopped back in the car and drove here, to Uffington, a tiny village about ten minutes out of Shrewsbury. This village has a church, a pub, and a few houses, and we are staying at the pub. Our room is quite fancy, and we have a private bathroom and kitchen. I am so tired I can barely see. I can’t wait for bed tonight!

Conwy Castle, Llandudno, and Betws-y-coed

This morning we charged out early after another delicious breakfast. The homemade bread is easily the best I’ve tasted, and we have been spoiled for choice in terms of everything else you could imagine available for breakfast. It’s Mothering Sunday today (the UK’s Mother’s Day), so we wanted to do something special. We headed out first to Conwy, into North Wales and drove along the top of the country. There were signs along the motorway to watch our for badgers and deer, but we saw no (live) specimens, unfortunately. We had heard Conwy Castle was worth a look, and were a bit concerned we may not be able to locate it straight away. If anyone has been to Conwy Castle, you’ll know that’s a bit of an unnecessary concern. It dominates the entrance to the town, rising above everything else and generally just being massive.

We had a cup of tea and bought a ticket into the castle. It’s basically an enormous ruin, but it is the best preserved ‘ruin’ I have ever been in. It’s brilliant. Absolutely huge, with four at least four different levels to explore because of the still-intact staircases (though they are extremely steep and dark and neck-break-y). The views across Conwy and the enormous river are spectacular, and the ruin is home to about a million pigeons and seagulls that chatter away to all the visitors. The seagulls in Europe are massive and make funny noises. We saw them in Venice as well and I couldn’t get over the size of them. We were on a bit of a schedule, so we stayed about 40 minutes, but you could easily spend an hour if you wanted to go through every passageway and staircase.

 

 

We hopped back in the car and drove about ten minutes down the road to Llandudno, which looked beautiful with the pastel colours in the hazy light. We walked along the promenade and up the pier, which is insanely long and filled with little shops and park benches. Walking through Llandudno, even on a crowded, sunny day like today, makes you think of all the 19th and 20th century British novels where the characters go to the seaside. It’s full of very up-market eateries and hotels and there is nearly nowhere at all to park, though we got lucky in the end. We had some lunch and then continued on in the car to our next destination.

 

 

 

Betws-y-coed is an absolute fairytale of a place. It’s all stone bridges and rushing rivers and beautiful trees and tiny railways and little teashops. Marnie had been there with Grandpa about 20 years ago and wanted us to see it. She took us to the 14th century church of St Michael, which has a font in it from the 13th century and is surrounded by yew trees that are over 1000 years old. It’s the oldest building in the community of Betws-y-coed, which only has a population of 534 people. The village was bursting at the seams today because of Mothering Sunday, but we did a lot of walking and photo-taking and sat down for afternoon tea at about 4.30. Then we drove home!

 

 

 

St Michael’s Church 
St Michael’s Church

Mum has been amazing with the driving, and the GPS has worked well so far. It was a long drive back to Frodsham, but it was so picturesque. The Welsh countryside is beautiful particularly in the sunshine. We also encountered a kamikaze pheasant, but managed to avoid squashing him. Now we’re back at Yarrangall for our last night here, and have been packing up all our stuff and eating all our food! Tomorrow we head to Shrewsbury. Goodnight!

Lazy days – still my fave

Sleep-in this morning! A completely rocking sleep-in. My back has really, really started bothering me in the last week, but I have worked out it hurts less if I sleep on my stomach. So I was quite rested when I finally got up. We went for a breakfast baguette and to book our tickets to Holyhead, before Sean went off exploring and I retired to the hostel to chill out.

Oh! And I am no longer backpacking around Europe. I am suitcasing, 70 hard earned pounds later. My back was really frustrating me, so I turfed my pack and went to M&S and bought a suitcase on wheels, that will hopefully help my back heal.

We went to a pub for dinner that had half-price everything on Mondays, and then went to Chippy Alley to get chips with curry sauce. I’ve wanted to eat these in Wales since the characters on Gavin & Stacey debated their appeal. They were quite nice! Gravy’s better though…

I really like Cardiff. It’s a pretty city, but it seems very quiet compared to a lot of other places. The people are friendly and there seem to be a lot of retirees. I could easily stay here a lot longer – maybe one day I will! We need to be up at 6am to catch our train to Holyhead tomorrow. Ew. Until then, readers! xx

Cardiff

We shared the dorm with a really lovely couple from Barcelona last night, and we were up in plenty of time to check out this morning. That was partially because I had another crappy nights sleep due to my back, but I think I have worked out why it hurts the most in the mornings. While Sean went off in a fruitless beer-hunt for that uber-special beer he wanted to buy before we left Scotland, Dad called my from church and I got to speak to loads of people! Gee, it was nice to hear some voices from home, and nice to catch up on what everyone has been doing. It’s hard to remember the cogs are still turning away as normal for everyone when you’re in the midst of travelling. It’s a surreal experience. We then hopped on a train to Crewe and then one to Cardiff. This took a big chunk of the day, but I got two novels read: War Horse and The Abortionist’s Daughter – two extremely different books, but both very good reads. By the time we got to Cardiff it was quite late in the afternoon and after getting a wee bit lost, we eventually found our hostel. The riverfront of Cardiff is really pretty and it was so nice to arrive in a city that wasn’t bursting with people. It strikes me as quite a quiet place and I really, really like that. We had noodles for dinner and I chucked heaps of vegies and tofu into mine, which was a nice change from burgers and chips! Now we are back at the hostel just chilling out and enjoying not having to rush off to do anything.