Monday, 31 March 2014

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!

Sunday, 30 March 2014

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!

Saturday, 29 March 2014


After a pretty decent nights sleep, we were served a delicious breakfast with homemade everything, including goose eggs. Delicious start to the day! I also found this website that tells us a bit more about where we're staying. We then headed down to Frodsham for an explore, stopping to admire the cutest little red telephone box that has been converted into a community noticeboard and tiny library. At Frodsham we walked up and down the main street, reading all the little heritage notices on beautiful cottages and buildings.

Frodsham cottage
There is even a building with an actual thatched roof. The town symbol is the bumblebee and there are carvings all around the town and also actual specimens flying around occasionally, and my goodness they are the Hindenberg of bees. Like the size of a small fist. The spire of the Trinity Methodist Church has been saved from demolition, and in the ruins of the church behind it, there have been apartments built. Would be a very cool place to live.

Entrance to the apartment block.
I walked right down to the Castle Park gardens and made friends with the volunteer staff lady in the Arts Centre, who had been to Melbourne and was really interested to hear about my trip. She told me a bit about the history of Castle Park, so hopefully I can pop back there before we have to leave. Then we all met up again and drove to Chester, where we walked through the Chester Cathedral gift shop, ate our lunch in Abbey Square, and happened upon an annual performance of Morris dancers. After that weirdness, we met up with Belinda, Andrew and Lucia! I haven't seen them since my 2012 trip and it was great to catch up. We had tea (gingerbread hot chocolate for me) and then walked the city walls of Chester. I did this back in 2007 with Belinda, Andrew, Lucia and Alfie, but I'd forgotten a lot, and it was really lovely to do it again. 

Chester City Walls
Lucia and I on the bridge in 2007.

Lucia and I on the bridge in 2014
Marnie and I had a quick squiz in Chester Cathedral and caught the end of Evensong, and then Mum drove us back to Frodsham and we've just finished dinner. I'm hoping to stay up a little later tonight!

Friday, 28 March 2014

Trafford Centre and Frodsham

Okay, so after our airport breakfast, we got on the free bus that drives you across the terminals to the car rental village. Even just stepping out of the airport doors into that crisp, English air was exhilarating, because to me (and perhaps this is just because I'm a tourist), everything seems so quintessentially British, and brings me right back to some of my best travel memories. We also passed bunny rabbits eating airport grass while we were on the bus, so that helped.

We picked up the car and drove to the beautiful Trafford Centre, which is pretty much like a really classy and pretty version of Chadstone. There's lots of high-end, boutique retail, and I felt particularly yuck as I slobbed through in my clothes that I had been in since Melbourne, but I managed to sort out my SIM card, get some lunch, get some groceries and essentials, and have a good stickybeak around some of the more beautiful parts of the Centre. Mum showed us the food court which is modelled on New Orleans, with all the beautiful frescoes and facades serving as shop fronts. There is lovely mosaic and different types of design and architecture throughout the building - it really was something different.

Afterwards we drove to Frodsham, our home for the next three nights. Frodsham is a village close to Chester, and we're staying at Yarrangall B&B, which is about 3 miles outside the village on a farm. It is GORGEOUS. Even driving through Frodsham had the three of us sighing and exclaiming over the most mundane things which became utterly enchanting when viewed through the lens of a charming English village. The B&B is surrounded by tiny country lanes and paddocks full of horses. There is a huge duck pond with a resident flock of geese, and the owners of the B&B run the small farm themselves and make jams and chutneys and sauces to sell. We have our own little studio flat, two rooms with three beds, a bathroom and tea and coffee making facilities. I am already thinking about coming back here later on in my travels.

It is 8.15pm and Marnie and Mum are already asleep. I am pretty knackered myself, so I'll wrap up this blog entry for now, but I hope to post many pics of Yarrangall and Frodsham tomorrow, now that I've unearthed my camera from my luggage. Until then xxx

Here at last!

In Dubai Airport, typing this in Word because the wifi is being slow. Feeling as though I have been gently steamrollered and hung out to dry, but the worst leg is behind. Crossing so many time zones is doing my head in. We left Melbourne at 4.15pm, arrived 13 hours later in Dubai at 11.15pm, and now we leave Dubai at 3am to arrive 8 hours later in Manchester at 7am. I managed to sleep about 90 minutes on the first leg, which is 90 minutes more than I was expecting to sleep, so that’s a nice start, especially as my cold has not helped matters. Mum and Marnie are being wonderful as always, and the entertainment unit is really good, stacks of variety. Have watched a bunch of comedies, trying to snatch dozes where possible. Dubai Airport is massive and very fancy, but don’t feel quite able to appreciate it on account of being somewhat zombie-like at the moment. Just had a cup of tea and some fruit salad, now minding the bags while Mum and Marnie are stretching their legs. I’ll probably post this once we’ve reached the UK unless the wifi improves, so if you’re reading this, yay, I’ve survived the second leg!

Okay, I ended up not posting this separately after all! Just to let ya’ll know we are in Manchester Airport now, eating breakfast and killing time until 9am when we can collect our rental car (we landed at 6.30am). The second leg was more bearable, being shorter and being on an Emirates plane rather than a Qantas plane meant we had even more variety of stuff to watch. Managed to snatch another hour or so of sleep but feel pretty average at the moment. If I have the energy tonight, I’ll write another blog!