Friday, 30 October 2009

A weekend away with TRAINS and DRAGONS

After our dealing with spontaneity we did book a B&B and went away. We ended up choosing Caernarfon because we decided on the Welsh Highland Railway for a train to ride.

We have taken long weekends before and stayed away only one night, but found that with a B&B and having to get up and moving, it can make the break feel much longer.

We also set an itinerary of things we plan to do so that we don't spend time in making spontaneous decisions!

We decided on two nights rather than one but were offered a 3 for 2 deal which we would have been daft to refuse.  We stopped at Chirk Castle on the way there and were grossly disappointed that much of the building was empty while the building fabric was being restored and we certainly felt it wasn't twenty pounds worth.

We arrived at the B&B and struggled with parking. Increasingly towns and cities are trying to keep cars off the streets and while this is laudable it does make it difficult for the tourist industry. However Mary and Roger (our hosts) pointed us to a place on the harbour wall where we could park unrestricted, and it was only 3 minutes walk.

The second day away was to be train day and so after breakfast we set off. Wifey and myself do not eat a cooked breakfast while we are away and often wonder 'How many people in B&Bs would eat a cooked breakfast at home?'. We suspect very few, but when someone else has the cooking to do and is prepared to wash up then they will have one. We don't change our habits so easily but did indulge in both cereal and toast where normally it would be one or the other. (Wifey mainly has toast when I take her breakfast in bed at weekends.)

Our engine was to be a South African Railways Garrat engine. A 2-6-2+2-6-2 articulated engine of two feet gauge. Originally built in Belgium and shipped to South Africa and when decommissioned from SA it was returned to the UK for restoration.

On the train we bought brochures announcing 'New for 2009' the line would go right through to Ffestiniog but it doesn't yet. This brochure and announcement are unfulfilled ambition and the link will now be complete in 2011. We will see about that though...

We were due back at Caernarfon at 18:35 and had arranged dinner at the B&B. The train arrived back about 20 minutes late, which I found disappointing as you expect these small lines to be punctual as a matter of pride. However on the way back we stopped at 'Snowdon Ranger' - a station close to Snowdon - and were intrigued by the fact that you can clearly see the lights of the cafe at the summit from miles away from Snowdon itself. (The clocks had gone back and we were starting the dark nights!) We thoroughly enjoyed the day and have too many tales to tell!

One item worth recounting though is that in Beddgelert is a wooden gifts shop which specialises in wooden items. Outside this shop are a few very fine carvings and this dragon is one such magnificent specimen. It was a little sad to read though, that the story of Gelert is now, almost certainly a tale made up by an eighteenth century innkeeper to boost tourism!

Second day was another castle day and we 'did' Caernarfon Castle before lunch and Plas Newydd in the afternoon.

We had been to Caernarfon before and found that half a day is not enough and were left wondering 'Why don't they have a teashop?' and had to leave to get lunch. In the afternoon we headed to Plas Newydd which is more a house than a castle but none the less very interesting and enjoyable.

On the third day we had a trip to Beaumaris Castle planned as we believe that we are on holiday until we cross the threshold of our house again and did not need to hurry home. We had been to Beaumaris before with both FOC and SOC on the same trip, while FOC was at Uni in Aberystwyth. We knew it to have opportunities for the two children to chase in long corridors and to be quite a complete castle. Sorry - not two children - Wifey and Daughter (SOC). Another important feature of this castle are the back to back toilets! Impressed? Me neither. But it is an extremely nice castle and worthy of a visit.

After lunch we went to Penrhyn Castle which is more a house in that it was not a defensible structure, but was designed to look like a castle. It was built on the site of an old castle but could really now only claim the name by it's geographic location. It is a beautiful house with huge amounts of carvings in both wood and stone and lots and lots of moulded plaster. The real shame of this house - and it is shame - is it was built from the three 'S's - Slate, Sugar and Slavery. The builder had 2 daughters, one called Slate and one called Sugar - what if he had a third? We will never know. To think that the house's legacy was paid for in blood though does make you stop and think and regret it's building. We arrived at 15:00 and had insufficient time to see many of the 'extras' like a railway museum, doll museum and much more.

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