Monday, August 6th:
It is 10:30 on Monday morning and we have been driving in the car for two hours now. We left in a slight rain in Bath and we’re really zipping along right now. We are just outside the town of Stafford, having just passed Birmingham and we are on our way to Stoke on Trent. Shortly after that, before we get to Manchester, we will be turning west and heading on over to Wales. We should be there, if all goes according to plan, in two more hours.
I have never seen such lazy cows in my life. Either they all have BSE and it makes their legs unable to work, or they are just used to laying around. However, it does seem as though there are more industrious cows in Wales because the last two groups of cows we've seen have all been standing.
Some of the cities we passed along the way have fabulous names such as Ramsbottom and Cracklebank. Harold’s favorite, of course with Newcastle Under Lyme and then there is Pudding Lake, Lower Whitley, Higher Whitley, etc.
We are now officialy in Wales because we've passed the "Welcome to Wales" sign. The map and road signs now have all those strange spellings that I don't know how to pronounce, but we are making remarkable time and should be at Conwy Castle in an hour. Llandudno, the small resort town where our hotel is located, is 42 miles from here.
We've decided to take a detour on our way to Conwy since Rhuddlan Castle is so close by. I hadn't realized it was so nearby, and, if my memory is right, it's a pretty cool castle.
Rhuddlan Castle was one of the most important locations in the battle for Welsh independence. It was here in 1284 that Edward I first announced the formation of the government of the conquered principality. The Rhuddlan Castle was the second to be erected as part of Edward’s strategic chain. The river Clwyd was diverted so that the castle could be supplied by sea and Rhuddlan was a port right up until a century ago.
We have been walking around the outside of what I would call the outer keep at Rhuddlan. It's built on a pretty tall hill that they erected for it because the outside wall leading down is very tall. The castle is in a pretty big state of ruin. The aerial picture that we have bought and the pictures I remember of it on the web are misleading, but even though it's pretty well wrecked, it's still amazing to see.
We walked up a staircase they've erected and were able to look out over the cobble stone flooring I just mentioned. It's hard to believe royalty once lived here.
The walls are about 10 feet thick, and we've just waked into the inner keep, which was the central stronghold in the main residential quarters, including a suite of royal apartments. It is laid out in a regular diamond plan. The castle was virtually impenetrable with its high walls, thick walls, and four story towers to the north and south and twin towered gate towers to the east and west. The regular garrison numbered around thirty here. Inside the courtyard the stone walls would have been partly hidden by timber framed buildings erected against them, roofed with shingles. No traces remain of these today except for a small stretch of cobbled flooring. They included halls and private apartments for the king and queen, together with kitchens and a chapel. Queen Eleanor had lawns laid out in a central area and small fishponds.
We enjoyed Rhuddlan, although seeing two satellite dishes across the street on our way back to the car was a bit jarring. We ate our boxed lunches and are just about to cross over the small body of water to get to Conwy where we will see Conwy Castle. Rather than taking the bridge, which is what I thought our map showed, we went underwater, by tunnel. Because these darn maps can be confusing in small towns, we ended up overshooting ourselves and passed the castle.
I've figured out my mistake and we should be in Conwy shortly. Conwy Castle was begun in 1283 and is another link in the network of fortifications erected by Edward I. Conwy's town walls are nearly a mile around (you can see how extensive the walls are in this photo), with 22 towers and three original gateways, and are the most complete anywhere in Europe. The town itself, however, was for so long less important than the strategic defenses. There were no more than 60 houses here by the late 1600's.
My husband has found a local Welsh station on the radio and we can't figure out a word of it. It's pretty funny; the commentary and the music are both Welsh, which has a sort of Germanic sound to it...darn it! I goofed again - we've just passed the castle again but took the wrong turn and now we have to give it a third try. This reminds me of trying to get to Reunion Arena in Dallas and ending up in Oak Cliff.
The entrance to the walled city is very narrow - to go through the gates one car from one side goes and then a car from the other side goes. Two cars can't fit at the same time.
Originally Conwy Castle was accessible only by water. In 1800 a single-lane bridge was built and designed to look as though it were the same age as the castle. They did not build a multi-lane bridge until 1960.
Edward I built Conwy (pronounced "Conwee") between 1283 and 1287. It’s drizzling slightly. We have just walked up about 30 steps inside one of the turrets and are walking along the battlements of the town's walls - we are not yet in the castle itself. This, of course, would have been where the soldiers would have patrolled against intruders and could have spotted enemy troops. There are plenty of arrow slits - not in the wall, not in the top of the wall that we are in, but in each tower that we passed through. The size of Conwy makes Rhuddlan look like a broom closet. This is more along the scope of the Tower of London.
The seagulls seem to love England. Bath, although it’s not on the ocean, had seagulls we could hear and right now, looking over one of the paths up into the inner courtyard and looking out over the water I’m hearing seagulls everywhere.
I have learned so much from the tour we took for one pound each that I don’t even remember how to begin. This not a typical Norman castle, although it is of basic French design. Edward had passed through France on the way back from the crusades and had created this type of castle, which featured barbican construction rather than the motte and bailey construction of earlier Norman castles. Right now we are in the king’s chambers and we're taking pictures of a huge fireplace. There are eight towers in Conwy Castle, and the staircases of seven go clockwise for defensive purposes; the eighth went counterclockwise for the lefties amongst the garrison.
Everything had been whitewashed completely white originally and most things were made out of granite, although the frames around the doorways and the fireplaces are not because granite was too hard so they used limestone instead. The granite was from nearby, the limestone they had to bring from England. Edward was stymied originally in his attempts to populate Conwy with Englishmen. Eventually he said he would give any Englishman who moved to Conwy the title of Burgess and a free home and free land for farming outside the castle. Within 12 years time, there were 400 English living in Conwy and almost half had the title of Burgess.
We saw one of the garderobes, a word which appears in every medieval romance I've read. A garderobe, of course, is the bathroom. However, one romance I read meant for garderobe to mean wardrobe or closet, and I now understand why. Because of the lack of sanitary conditions in olden days (and long before dry cleaning of exquisite fabrics such as silk), people realized that if they hung their clothing near the garderobe, the stench from the ammonia killed off all the bugs, fleas, and gnats that lived on their clothes. Hence the term garderobe not only referred to the latrine, but to the closet as well. It also explains what their clothes might smell like, which is really disgusting.
Although the chapel, as seen to the left, had been open to the elements for many, many hundreds of years, you can still tell that it was a beautiful chapel in the gothic carvings, even though the statutes were no longer there. The king could look down onto and into the chapel from his royal apartments one level above through a sort of sneak hole window.
The staircases in the king’s chambers rather than being stone were wood so that they could be moved in case somebody was trying to attack. They could be burned or torn away, although that never happened here. The castle was never breached. The soldiers lived in the barracks. There was a two floor barracks. Everyone else lived in the towers. The towers each had sort of a basement and then one level that had a fireplace, a window, a door, then a roof and then the same thing above it. No one lived in the "basement" floor of the towers for defense purposes. The walkways on top had a lid lined with lead. The lids draped down to gutters so that water would wash out. The walkways were lidded to keep out the rain.
Conwy Castle's well was 91 feet deep.
It wasn’t just the castle that was walled, the entire city was walled in and they did it all in four years. Conwy was an amazing stop for us and the tour thoroughly enjoyable and informative.
Llundudno, where our hotel is located, is Wales' largest resort, with 20,000 people. For more than a hundred years, it has been the jewel in the crown of north Wales, with lovely Victorian architecture. It is often called the most beautifully situated resort in the whole of the British Isles.
Getting to our hotel, however, was another story. It is slightly outside of Llandudno, and as I've mentioned before, our map book is quite good at getting long distances, but the details aren't so great. We were thoroughly lost even though I knew we were extremely close to our hotel, Bodysgallen Hall. We stopped at a convenience store and one of the cashiers drew me a tiny little map on the back of a 2" wide receipt with directions like "Take the roundabout and get off at 3 o’clock. Go down for a minute and take the next roundabout and get off at 10 o’clock and you should find it." And you know what? We did - I've saved her map for posterity!
Bodysgallen Hall is very beautiful and very isolated. It is set back on a private narrow road. Looking from our room we can see some beautiful formal gardens and if it weren’t raining outside right now, it would be lovely to just go walking in them.
We are going to have dinner at the hotel because I obviously don’t think we will ever be leaving it other than to go out for the day tomorrow. It is very far away from anything and we are just going to rest now before dinner.
Bodysgallen is more than 300 years old. It was the home of the Mostyn family, a family prominent in Welsh history. Here's what the pamphlet in our room says: "Standing in over 200 acres of its own park land to the south of Llandudno is spectacular views of Snowdonia and Conwy Castle, Bodysgallen Hall provides all that is best in country house hospitality."
It is said that Bodysgallen was once a look-out for Conwy Castle, and, sure enough, we can see the castle from our window, as evidenced by the photo below.
Bodysgallen's beautiful gardens include a rare 17th century partere with hedge boxes filled with sweet scented herbs, a rockery with a cascade, a walled rose garden and several follies. There are nineteen bedrooms in the hotel and sixteen individual cottages for people who desire more privacy. The 16 cottages have names like Pineapple Lodge and Gingerbread House. There is also a spa here. The photo at left was taken from out of our room's window
We've been told we cannot dine in the dining room because we don't have appropriate attire - it didn't occur to me until later to see if they had a jacket and tie for my husband, but we decided to be absolutely decadent and eat the haute cuisine from our room, including an expensive bottle of wine. Sometimes my husband is amazingly wicked.
We are going to start our dinner with a paté with peach chutney and toasted raisin brioche and braised rabbit and mustard noodles. We're splitting everything down the middle. For our main course we are having venison and parisian potatoes, red cabbage and raspberry vinegrette and roast broast of maize-fed chicken rapped in parma ham with a fondant potato. For dessert we split the Bodysgallen Summer Pudding with Clotted Cream and chocolate mousse with crushed flavored cherries wrapped in brandy snap. Dinner was to die for - a truly once in a lifetime adventure, given that we ate it while lying on our wonderful bed.
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