Another day out in Wales.

Yesterday, we had another excursion to Wales, this time offering a choice of venue which were to visit either Betws-Y-Coed or Blanaeu Ffestiniog. I hadn’t a clue as to what either venue offered and hadn’t really made up my mind which one to choose until we arrived there. In the end we decided to remain on the train and not alight at Betws-Y-Coed, although in hindsight we may not have made the right choice. It’s now blatantly obvious to me that I certainly miss the detailed information that used to be supplied to every passenger on the GreenExpress Railtours and which helped you to not only be able to find your way around a venue that you were unfamiliar with, but in cases such as this where you were offered different venues to visit, helped you to decide which one seemed the more interesting.

Scene through the train window

Unfortunately, CompassRailtours  don’t provide a detailed information sheet and brochures about the venues that you are travelling to , so you are completely in the dark about the interesting places that each new venue offers unless you have visited before. All you are given is a simple synopsis of each venue.  Someone else on the train stated that Betws-Y-Coed was just a small village and that Blanaeu Ffestiniog was bound to offer more. After all, it had the Ffestiniog narrow gauge railway and a slate mine so surely it would be the venue of choice. We had just three hours to explore Blanaeu.

When we arrived, it was about 1.00pm or lunch time to my sidekick Kerri,  and all my readers will be well aware of what that means. First priority then was to find somewhere decent to have some lunch. Hmm.  Exiting the railway station, it looked as if the whole place was being completely overhauled. Areas were cordoned off with bright orange fencing surrounding road works and building works making the whole area look unkempt and messy. Right outside the station was supposedly a Hotel which also contained a restaurant called the Queens Hotel. We entered and then quickly beat a hasty retreat. According to the signage outside it was up for sale despite its obvious advantage of being right outside the famous Ffestiniog railway and I would have thought a veritable money spinner owing to its position and a prime choice for tourists to either stay at or eat in.

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As the current owners were obviously vacating the premises, it was run down and didn’t look terribly well looked after, in fact during the short time we were there, there was no member of staff around to ask about meals. Using my mobile and the Local Scout tile, I did a search for somewhere else to eat.  One of the choices was the King’s Head Hotel, so we set off using my phone as a map guide in a similar way to using a Tomtom in a car. It was quite a trek, and at one point we actually crossed the narrow gauge railway and saw the train pass us by.  However we were to be bitterly disappointed when we finally arrived at the King’s Head Hotel as it appeared to be closed!  What sort of place was this? Was nothing open for visitors?

We made our way back to the railway station and entered the fish and chip shop that we had spied earlier. I had been reluctant to choose to have our lunch there but in hindsight we would have been better to do so, as by now it was past 2.00pm and the cafe area where you could sit down to eat your fish and chips was now closed! We had to take them outside and eat them as best we could sitting on a nearby bench in a blustery wind.  Not only that, but at precisely 2.00pm, the ice cream parlour across the road also closed.  Didn’t these people want to encourage visitors and tourists to their town? What on earth was wrong with these people?  The whole place resembled a roadwork’s and there was little or no services provided for visitors! Where were all the gift shops etc.?  Where was all the hospitality and encouragement to return for another visit in the future? 

Note all the work taking place.

I have since learned via the web that our visit was actually ill timed as a ‘regeneration’ of the town was begun as recently as May this year, so we can probably put the whole experience down to bad timing, and hope that once the regeneration has been completed then things vastly improve.  I would have loved to have paid the Llechwedd Slate Caverns a visit whilst we were there, but wasn’t sure how far they were to walk to and therefore whether or not we had enough time.  An ideal opportunity would have been to provide a bus service that picked up visitors from the railway station and took them to the Slate mine.  If we ever return to Blanaeu Ffestiniog in the future then I will make sure that we pay the slate caverns a visit.

The only upside to our visit was that luckily the weather was kind to us as we ventured around the town, and the rain, although always threatening to put in an appearance judging by the dark ominous clouds, thankfully stayed away.  Enjoy my photos album of our day and as always just click on it to see all the photos and also as slideshow if you prefer.

TG

Journey to Wales and back again.

On Wednesday, we set off on a rail excursion to Wales, an area I have never visited before in my life. It’s been quite a while since we enjoyed one of these excursions, our old providers Green Express railtours are sadly no more. This particular excursion was being run by Compass Tours, a new company to us. Picking up from our station at 06.10am meant that Kerri and I were trundling through town with all of our gear in the early hours of the morning. There were plenty of other early travellers who turned up on the platform eventually, including many familiar faces from the old Green Express tours days.

Obtain a token to pass...

The train arrived on time and we all knew the drill by now, get on and then walk down to your assigned coach (in this case E.) All carriages were well looked after, and our steward for the day Dave introduced himself and then promptly disappeared. We had lot’s of stops to do in order to pick up other passengers all the way down to Crewe,  but eventually we began the journey along the single line track known as The Heart of Wales’ railway. On this line, the driver had to obtain a token at various stretches of the line in order to continue along the route. The vista viewed as we travelled along was breath-taking, with high hills and valleys spread out before us on both sides of the train. Fields dotted with sheep and their lambs scampering away as our train passed them by. Babbling brooks meandered along the same route as ours, twisting this way and that. I did makes some attempt to take plenty of shots of it all through the window which thankfully had been thoroughly cleaned, but as always its not easy and many were very blurred.

rolling hills of Wales

We arrived at Cardiff approximately on time at 14.30pm and it was a relief to disembark the train and stretch our legs. Now where to go? It’s always difficult whenever you visit a strange venue to know where to go and which direction to set off in. Unlike our previous tours, there had been no brochures on our tables to help you plan a route around your intended destination. As you never have a lot of time to explore on these day excursions, this small detail was always an aid for planned exploration of a strange venue, and was therefore sadly missed by everyone who had done these journeys previously. We headed off in the same direction as everyone else seemed to be heading and then spent the next hour or so wandering aimlessly through shopping precincts and malls and the like before finally asking someone the directions to Cardiff Castle.

The Castle gate

We have visited many castles the length and breadth of the UK, and Cardiff Castle has to rate amongst one of the best. Firstly after making our way through a door in the left side of the castle wall, we toured around some beautifully decorated rooms complete with ornate carvings especially around the fireplaces. One room in particular was breath-taking in its carvings which adorned the walls and ceiling. Trouble is having wasted time previously, we couldn’t linger around to admire it all or visit every attraction in the castle, so we made our way across to the central tower, passing some birds of prey demonstration along the way.

Decorated ceiling inside the castle

The central tower was surrounded by a moat, currently occupied by a few ducks. Its foundations were covered in golden daffodils and the entire sight looked absolutely fantastic in the sun. Kerri was none too keen to climb all of the steps up to the tower, but she managed it and also some of the steps inside the tower, eventually calling a halt to sit inside one of the many archer slits whilst I continued on to the top of the tower to enjoy a magnificent view of the surrounding parkland. Ever mindful of the time, we both descended into the grounds where many were making the best of the sunshine. We were enjoying a spectacular day weather-wise and I remarked that we had not seen one cloud in the sky all day so far.

Surrounded by a moat

We had already purchased our souvenirs at the Castle gift shop but as we exited the castle gate and crossed the road we spied another gift shop where Kerri could have bought a t-shirt that wouldn’t bury her and I saw a much greater choice of fridge magnets. Patience is a virtue! We slowly made our way down the road towards the railway station, where we enjoyed a Burger King meal for our tea. Arriving in the station with some time to spare, I found the next book in the ‘Game of Thrones’ series that I am busy ploughing through and bought it alongside a packet of Randoms for the journey home. We made our way up to Platform 4 to await our train. At approximately 18.10 it pulled in and we all clambered on board to take our seats.

Kerri sits this climb out.

Everyone began to swop tales of where they’d been and what they had done and seen. The lady sat opposite had lost her husband and went to look down the train for him. When on a train excursion, staff always remind everyone that they will cannot wait and if anyone misses the train because they turn up late, they would have to make their own way home. Thankfully he arrived in the nick of time and we set off on the long journey back.  Once it became dark outside the return journey became tedious. There was no longer any glorious countryside whizzing past to grab your interest, but at long last we began to drop off other travellers along the way and eventually after what seemed a journey of eternity,  we arrived back at our little station at 23.36pm. Two of our friends from previous train excursions offered to kindly give us a lift home from the station and we gladly accepted their offer.

 

We had enjoyed a wonderful day out visiting an area I had never been to before in my life. I do hope you enjoy the photos I took along the way, and I also hope its not long before we are once again setting off on another train excursion to somewhere as equally exciting.

TG

Packing it all in….

This year (fingers crossed) we intend to have a packed year full of excursions, holidays and visits to places I have never been in my entire life. One of the reasons I never hanker about going abroad is the simple fact that  there are lot’s of places in the United Kingdom that I have never set foot in but have longed to do so. As my long term future on this planet is not certain, I intend to fill some of my remaining time visiting all those areas of our beautiful country that my meagre income will allow. This means of course, adopting a single mindedness about saving diligently and not wasting a penny on items of little consequence. 

One area that I have always wanted to visit is Cornwall. It’s lure for me personally is partly its lore (King Arthur) its breath-taking scenery and I plan to take numerous photos of everything I see whilst there. We will be staying in a mobile home which will be used as a base for our daily visits to such delights as Tintagel, Lands End, St Ives, Carbis Bay and St Michaels Mount. I would love to visit every wonderful place there is in Cornwall, but there will be obviously time restraints on just how much we can cram into a weeks visit and how much our money will stretch to of course!

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The artist in me will want to sit down with an easel and paint brush no doubt, but my trusty camera will have to suffice instead. I love the photos of those quaint  fishing villages dotted about, and I’m intrigued by the numerous caves seen along the coves and beaches. Just how much we will be able to investigate is open to question and how much our aching feet can stand of course. One activity I don’t see us taking part in is surfing, though we might try some horse riding if there are stables near by. By the time the holiday ends and we return home, I shall probably need a week in bed in order to recuperate!

int_std_1The other area of the British Isles that I have never set foot in is Wales. We plan to rectify that shortly in March when we join a day excursion on a Compass Tours train to Wales, aptly named the Welsh Mountaineer. This excursion will be taking us through some of the most picturesque welsh countryside where we will be travelling through the heart of Wales and following  the route of the River Teme to Offa’s Dyke, Llandrindod Wells the Tywi Valley and onto Cardiff, where we will hopefully have enough time  to grab a bite to eat before our journey back home via a different route.

Tywi 052

Of course, this journey through the heart of Wales and its enjoyment of the stunning countryside will entirely hinge on whether or not the train staff have bothered to clean the carriage windows sufficiently so that we passengers can see it in all of its glory. If not, you might read of TG having to resort to sticking her head out of the carriage door window in order to get some really clear camera shots. Unfortunately this train will not be headed by a steam locomotive but will instead being pulled by a diesel engine. Mind you, these diesel engines are often the focus of train enthusiasts in the same vein as their steam cousins, and we will no doubt  see many photographers and train buffs on the station platforms and along  the route as we travel.

That’s the travel plans so far for this year, all hinging on finances (state of) and my ability to curb my ‘money no object’ daughter who is already scouring Amazon every chance that she gets on the computer, so I’m going to have to be vigilant, as always.

TG