Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Harlech: another beach, another castle

After our three days in Victorian holiday splendor, we made the trek across to the west coast of Wales to Harlech. I think the distance is about 50 kilometers. We studied bus timetables, trying to fit in the mill at Trefriw, trying to minimise the twisty turny roads, trying to get this distance covered in a day! Finally we turned to the train timetables, although I knew there was no mainline service all the way. That's because there is the Ffestiniog railway in the middle! So in the end we got a journey with no bus-sickness, and a real, live steam train, to boot. (And for whatever reason, Stephen's camera was on B&W mode, so we get this moody, steamy picture!)
Apparently if you take this train about a month from now, you'll find the whole route decorated with rhododendrons, but we were quite satisfied with mossy trees and daffodils and little lambs and old slate heaps. We did have to wait quite a while for the big train from Porthmadog to Harlech, and I think the whole journey took about 5 hours! (I don't have pictures of the lambs, but take a look at other Mary's lambs!)

This is what you see when you get off the train in Harlech!

And this is what you see from our digs. It was quite a climb!

We stayed in a lovely B&B run by a woman named Mary. She was thinking of slowing down the business, and so didn't put signs out on the street for casual passersby to find her place. This also meant that those of us with reservations couldn't find the place, but luckily the town is small, and through the miracle of the telephone, we managed to reach her!

Big thrill, the family room has bunk beds!! Of course, only one child at a time can sleep in the top bunk, so there was a tiny amount of squabbling... and mommy stays awake all night waiting for the kid to fall...

Our first morning there, the sun was bright and the sky was clear, and we figured we should pass on the castle and head straight for the beach. First we had to get a roll of packing tape and do some fixing of the bat kite. Mary lent us some shovels and buckets and we were off.

When the castle was first built, in the late 13th century, the sea (Cardigan Bay, in fact) came up to the bottom of the hill. Now there is a huge amount of sand -- enough for the train line and the road and quite a bit of town and a golf course, where I believe I saw a man wearing plus fours! Then there are sand dunes piled up, and finally you get to a gently sloping expanse of sand as far as the eye can see! And perfect sand, too -- no mud here! The tide was going out when we arrived, leaving shells and sea urchin skeletons and various other treasures along the tide line. The kite situation looked grave, with several spiralling crashes, but when Stephen tied a bit of old plastic onto the tail, stability was restored and the kite flew perfectly for hours! We finally got tired of holding it and tied it to a post stuck in the sand!

Digging was begun in earnest. Arthur took his socks and shoes off to go into the water (yes, to go in the sea in April!) with the buckets. Elaine and I built castles which were adorned with all variety of seashells. As the tide went out, Stephen and Arthur dug a series of ditches (I first typed "stitches" ... this is a knitting blog, you know!) to drain the flats.
The kids took up "tobottoming," which is sliding down a sand dune on your bottom. We ended up spending all day there, soaking up the sun.

Around about 4 o'clock, the rest of the family was off in the dunes and I was holding the kite, thinking of taking yet another picture of the sky. We had decided that when it was time to go, I was going to wiggle the kite for a signal. This system, of course, depends on someone looking up, which no one was... I know this because suddenly there was a major structural catastrophe, and the tape holding the keel onto the kite finally gave way. Dramatic crash landing into the dune grass! Which no one else noticed!

We recovered it all, but that was the end of the kite, really. It served us well, flying steady for about 5 hours!

It was a good thing we spent that first day at the beach, because the second day was much more April-ish. A bit cloudy and grey, hardly any wind, much better for medieval castles!
This castle has less internal structure than Conwy, but it is picture-perfect in its design, with towers in each corner, a fine gatehouse where you can see the portcullis slots, chutes outside each tower for... whatever might have to go down a chute.... There is a good walk around the top of the walls, but we somehow missed the stairs that would take you to the top of one of the smaller towers.

Arthur and I did go up this wee internal
staircase! Click and you can see us, really.

And Elaine was dressed in style for any jousts that might take place.

As a matter of fact, the following day there were people in costume with swords and birds of prey, but we figured we'd had enough castles by then. We walked around the town, swung on some swings, and generally hung around till 2:30 when our train left.

On the final train ride, I finished the sock I had taken with me. Pics of that, and other miscellany, up next.


  1. Great castle and beach pictures - it really looks like everone is enjoying themselves immensely.

  2. I'm glad to see you're enjoying your adventures - it all looks beautiful! So where's the knitting! ;) -sue

  3. It sounds like you had a lot of fun in Wales. I haven't been to Harlech but your blog has convinced me that for our next trip to Wales (August) we must venture to Harlech and explore the beach and castle.


Comments are now moderated. You can be anonymous, or just use your name, without signing in to anything, though.