Monday, 19 May 2014

Always catching up, never there on time - Part two

 May is a special month for the family, because both The Better Half (TBH) and the Granddaughter (TG) have birthdays just one day apart. TBH's birthday was an auspicious one since it was divisible by ten, something we humans find significant, probably because we have ten fingers and so can pride ourselves in our ability to count in tens. TBH is quite difficult to buy pressies for and only reluctantly gives out information and clues as to what she really wants and because it was special, I suggested that we do a mini tour of North Wales. She has not been to that part of Wales before and became quite keen on the idea. Because the top end of Wales is significantly closer to TG's home than ours, we decided that it would be nice to end up there in time for TG's birthday and give her a surprise.
The day before we set off my cousin's daughter and granddaughter, had arranged to visit for the day. My cousin's granddaughter wanted some help with a project she was doing and needed a suitable subject to do an interview. I fitted in with the subject of her studies and so she and her mother spent the day with us, stopping for lunch.

On the next day, Sunday, we set off and headed for Porthmadog. The drive was unusually straightforward, with only an average number of morons doing daft things in their cars. To get to the North of Wales from our part of the country we usually travel up the M5 and join the M6 at junction 8. Ever since those two motorways were built, and I am older than them both, that junction has been the most annoyingly difficult place to pass through with traffic queues miles long crawling slowly until you are past junction ten or so. That day, we sailed on through the junction and joined the M6 without even having to slow down. I have never experienced that clear a passage round Birmingham for all the mumblty mumble years I have been driving. Leaving the M6, we followed the M54 to Telford where we stopped for lunch in the services there and then headed on to Shrewsbury. The motorway ends just past there and normal A roads take over. On that last stretch of motorway, the traffic coming the other way seemed to consist of more motorcycles than was reasonable and pretty soon it became clear that something odd was going on.

A lot of motorcycles

More motorcycles

yet more motorcycles

Still more motorcyucles...
The mystery was solved when the TP traffic reporting system kicked in on the radio and it turned out that some four thousand motorcyclists were heading to Cosford, an ex RAF airfield, now a museum. They were all going there for a ‘Bike 4 Life’ rally. Apparently the entry slip road on the motorway had been closed at Wellington to all other traffic to allow the bikers on to it safely. For the next few miles, the other lane was just a mass of motorcycles heading East.
Our next stop was in Llangollen* for a coffee, where there was a coffee/book shop. Parking was problematical, but just by luck, after having unsuccessfully tried several jam packed car parks. with annoying people blocking the exit because they think someone is leaving; we found a space in the high street, which by sheer chance was almost opposite the coffee/book shop. Inside there was the usual demonstration of Terry Pratchett's L space, where a small shop distorts normal space/time to create a tardis like effect with rows and rows of books, and shelves stretching on for many more cubic yards of space than the outside dimensions of the building should allow.

I bought two books and we skipped the coffee, which was less than appetising looking, and went elsewhere for coffee. We then continued on to Porthmadog* to find our hotel.

* For people unfamiliar with Welsh pronunciation, Llangollen is pronounced something like clhangothlyn and the other town, portmaddock, nothing to do with a mad dog. The original Welsh language was never a written language and so I suppose that when it started to be formalised, the people who brought it into the modern world set up a convention for using combinations of Roman characters to produce sounds that are found in spoken Welsh that are not found in English. They also took a number of English words and re-spelled them to make them more Welsh. My apologies to those who can speak Welsh, I realise that my attempt at writing down the pronunciation is almost certainly a bit imprecise.

Once we had checked in to our hotel, we had a meal and then went for a walk around the town. I wanted to show TBH the Cob, which is a long causeway across the river Glaslyn. The Ffestiniog railway also runs across the Cob and at one point curves across the road as an elongated level crossing.

The long level crossing at the end of the Cob

The Ffestiniog railway crosses the Cob

The Cob heading towards Porthmadog
The next morning we checked out and went to Portmeirion. That place has always fascinated me since it was used as the backdrop for the enigmatic and now rather dated TV series, Patrick McGoohan’s ‘The Prisoner’.  I did not at the time know it was a real place and for many years I thought that it had been created just for the TV series and presumed it had been taken down once the series finished. Some years later I discovered it was a real place and was open to the public. I had visited it before and TBH had wanted to see it for herself too.   It was built by Sir Clough Williams Ellis and was based on his idea of an Italian village.  It is now owned by a trust and is used as a hotel and conventions.

The logo from the Prisoner series is still used

The main entrance
The weather was nice and we spent most of the day there wandering around. Near the entrance there was a large vintage car and on closer inspection it turned out to be a Lagonda, a rather expensive make of car which has been in production on and off since 1906. This model was from the 1930s and was attracting a lot of attention.

 As we walked around, we came across another Lagonda ...

and then another and pretty soon it became clear that the hotel was hosting a Lagonda rally and they were everywhere, all shapes and ages.

This time there were not 4,000 like the motorcycles, but there must have been a good proportion of all the Lagondas that still exist in Great Britain present.

Whilst we ate our al fresco lunch, we noticed a robin sitting on the wall only a couple of yards away. It was a baby, almost fully grown and its mother was feeding it every now and then. Both birds were quite unconcerned by our proximity and carried on as if they were alone. In fact the cheeky little one came and scrounged some crumbs from me whilst its mother was away looking for more food for it. When its mother was about to arrive, it hopped back on the wall and pretended it had been there all along and was still very hungry.
The mother bird has an insect.
This time it is a a piece of bread, not so healthy
Some of the gardens in Portmeirion

The round building with the blue alcove is the back of No 6's house
The land is very steep here
Looking along the water front
A small train runs around the wooded paths and visitors can take a ride on it at no extra charge.  It does not run on rails and was rather bumpy, but the landscape it passed through was worth the bumps. At one point it passed by a small lake with a Japanese style bridge and summerhouse.
An ornamental Japanese bridge and the summerhouse is just visible amongst the trees.

 The last time I had been to Portmeirion, The Prisoner and Patrick McGoohan theme was much more apparent, but since the programme has faded from memory, there was very little reference to it, with just a small souvenir shop in what had been in the series, No 6’s room, which sold merchandising from the TV show. There was a plaque over the door and another plaque, right at the far end of the village, to the memory of Patrick McGoohan, who died in 2009 aged 80.
I took this when the sun was in the wrong place, but apart from the logo on the entrance, this is one of the few references still there for the TV series.

The Plaque in memory of Patrick McGoohan

Towards the late afternoon, we drove on to Caernarfon. When I was a kid and well into adulthood, Caernarfon was spelled with a v instead of an f, but since the revival of all things Welsh in the 70s, it has changed. During the 60s, there was a small but noisy group who insisted on making all things Welsh even more Welsh and after a few splinter group terrorist acts, they were listened to by the powers that be and suddenly signposts and place names all became Welsh. Since at the time the majority of Welsh could not speak, let alone read Welsh then, the signs had to be written in both Welsh and English. This is very confusing, since mostly the signs are Welsh first and English second but sometimes the other way around and unless you are very careful, by the time you have read and understood any road sign, you have missed the turning, but that is what the die hard Welsh wanted and so we all have to live with it. 

It must increase the cost of signing and white paint for road markings, since things like Slow, an easy to understand word, written on a road surface must also has to have Araf as well, thus penalising the rate payers of Wales. But I digress.

                                     Can you read all this sign whilst travelling at 70mph?                                  At this time of year all the grass verges are yellow with a strip of dandelions.  None of these colourful strips are planted deliberately, but they seem to be in formal rows.
Meanwhile back at Caernarfon, we found our hotel , parked the car and walked into the town. Caernarfon is a walled town with a castle and this older part of town is quite compact. There are a lot of shops and eating places within the walls in narrow streets.

Looking down from the castle battlements, you can see part of the town wall behind the white and yukky green building at the end of the street.
 The Castle is on one end of the walled part of town and is in very good repair. It is almost complete and was used for Prince Charles’ investiture as the Prince of Wales in 1969.

The platform inside the castle, where the investiture took place is still present.

There was a smaller fortification built some time in the late 11th century but in 1283 King
Edward the first expanded it and built the existing castle.  Caernarfon has always had an important role in Welsh history and at one time applied to become the capital of Wales but its bid was unsuccessful and Cardiff won.
The most impressive view is from the other side of the river. This view is courtesy of Wikipedia
At the end of the day, after walking around Portmeirion all morning, we were not ready to walk around the castle, so we got some fish and chips and returned to our hotel, saving the castle for another day.


  1. Carnarvon, Conwy, Port Merion and Llangollen not to mention Landudno where Barry's Mom and Dad lived, are all part of our past haunts. I do love North Wales, especially off the main roads. Some lovely little villages.

  2. Nice post snafu. I 'do' M5/M6 junction twice a day going to and from work and yes it can be a bit of an 'experience'.

    Me and MBH (my BH) have stopped in a cottage in Penrhyndeudreth that is a stones throw from Portmeirion and visited 'The Village' a number of times. We did contemplate stopping IN The Village but it's still too expensive. We've also been to Porth-Maddock and Caern-arvon. There is an excellent ice cream shop outside the castle that sells the Cadwaladers ice cream that is on sale in Portmeirion.

    And this time we're learning a bit of conversational North Wales language as we plan to go back there soon. Diolch yn fawr.

    1. Hi, long time no see. Often thought of trying to learn a bit of Wesh, but too lazy to get far. Pob lwc!