Micha around Great Britain
During summer mum came and visited Germany for a month and then spent a couple of weeks with me in England. After running through London briefly we hired a car and went on a roadtrip through England, Wales, and Scotland. Following is an account of our travels and adventures and here are the pictures.
This is the itinerary we had worked out for our roadtrip:
Day 1 - Tuesday 12th August
Day 2 - Wednesday 13th August
Day 3 - Thursday 14th August
Day 4 - Friday 15th August
Day 5 - Saturday 16th August
Day 6 - Sunday 17th August
Day 7 - Monday 18th August
Day 8 - Tuesday 19th August
Day 9 - Wednesday 20th August
And this is how it actually turned out!
Had to deal with Australia early in the morning but finally got out the door to pick the car up just after 9am. By the time we had packed and were on our way it was already 10am - a little late for the amount we had planned but not too bad..
We made it to Stonehenge in fairly good time where I proceeded to lie down on the sunny grass for a nap while mum went around looking at it and listening to the audio guide. When she was finished we made another quick lap for some piccies!
From Stonehenge we decided to go straight on to Avebury due to time rather than popping in at Salisbury. Avebury was even more impressive than Stonehenge, possibly because I hadn't been there before. The Avebury stone circle, or what's left of it, actually surrounds an entire village. The earthen walls are huge! We also went through the museum quickly. I will have to return someday and check out the man-made hill as well, which we could see off in the distance.
From Avebury we headed off to Bath where we found our B&B without too much trouble. It was a nice little place but unfortunately quite a ways from the city centre - too far to walk - so we caught a bus into town. It was already getting late but the roman baths were still open. As I had already seen them I decided to go for a wander through town while mum went in. Bath is a very picturesque town especially around the river where I proceeded to partake of a nice cool pint while enjoying the view. Afterwards I still had plenty of time to kill and proceeded to stroll up along the banks before meeting up with mum and heading back to our B&B for a well-deserved night's rest after our first day.
On the guide-maps was a lookout over the entire town which we wanted to check out before leaving for Cardiff. We took our time cruising through town first rather than taking a guided bus tour and then proceeded up into the hills to find this lookout, which we finally did by following one of the tour busses! The lookout was quite disappointing (a hole through a fence between some bushes) so we quickly went on.
First stop in Cardiff, Wales, was the tourist info where we took advantage of the extremely helpful staff in booking accomodation and finding out about the caves I was told were in the area. Then it was time to check out the castle...
I was here just a few weeks ago with Isabel, but we were too late to enter the castle so here was my chance! We went in and signed up for the guided tour of the castle state rooms. As we had a bit of time beforehand we checked out the castle grounds and the castle keep. The state rooms turned out to be very nicely appointed with some very impressive rooms and furnishings. There is a lot of effort being made to preserve it in it's current state although without more funding it's a losing battle.
From Cardiff we drove up into Wales and stopped in Merthyr Tydfil to buy some provisions and a few little bits and pieces we thought might come in handy on the way. It was already starting to get late so a lot of stores were already closing and so I didn't find an army disposal store from which I wanted some camping knifes and forks. Better planning next time!
The youth hostel we had booked into, Llewyn-y-Celyn (pronounced something like Hchwellin-a-kellin), was in the Brecon Beacons, the southern welsh highlands, near a town called Libanus - we knew we'd gone past it when we reached town. As it turned out it was at least 10km out of town, so little wonder we'd missed it. When we found it however it was a gorgeous old farm house set down the hill from the road amidst a small forest, overlooking a valley and the mountains on the other side.
As it was still daylight after dinner we decided to go for a stroll through the nature trail next to the youth hostel before bed. The stroll turned into a bit of a hike, crossing up and over the road and climbing a path beside a bubbling brook (very Enyd Blyton!) into a valley surrounded on all sides save the one we'd come from by mountains (ok, tall hills). Being a typical Werle male, I decided that I could make the top with plenty of light to spare, which I did, leaving mum to head back to the hostel on her own.
Nearly killing myself running up the stupid mountain I nevertheless made it in time for some very nice photos just before the sun went down the far side. The range I had climbed had steep accesses either side of the valley with the majority consisting of quite steep cliffs called Craig Cerrig-Gleisiad. It was incredibly nice up there with just some sheep for company, but all too soon I had to make my way downhill again before I lost my light. It was already dusk by the time I got back on the path near the brook, and I even caught up to mum who had waited and only slowly made her way back to the youth hostel. In almost total darkness we stumbled through the little forest surround the youth hostel before thankfully collapsing on the sofa in the common room with a well-deserved beer. Before bed I sorted out our accomodation for tomorrow in Conwy.
As we had not made it to the Dan-yr-Ogof caves yesterday we got up very early and made it to the entrance before they opened. Danni rang me on the mobile while we were waiting and we had quite a long chat. The caves were impressive, some being huge, but the stalactite and stalacmite formations weren't nearly as good as in the Cheddar Gorge caves. Worth a visit though, but the cheesy dinosaur park is best ignored...
We finally said good-bye to the beautiful scenery in southern Wales as we headed further north, heading ever westward towards the ocean. Our lunch stop for the day was Aberythwyth where we quickly wandered through town before settling on a very windy knoll in the ruins of the castle, overlooking the bay, with an absolutely humungous kebab each.
The drive north wended eastwards, once more going inland and into the fabulous scenery of the northern welsh highlands, Snowdonia. It is a real shame that we still had so much on our agenda, as I could have easily stayed for a few days relaxing and hiking lost amidst these mountains.
Finally arriving in Conwy we checked into the YHA just up the hill from the town itself. The YHA was a large modern building with none of the character or charm of the hostel from yesterday so we vowed to find the out-of-the-way hostels in future. We still had plenty of light to enjoy a stroll through the magnificent old town which is still surrounded by quite well-preserved town walls. From the top of the walls we had some great views over town and onto Conwy castle. Unfortunately the castle was already closed but we still got to see Great Britains smallest house. Apparently this geezer had travelled all around Great Britain measuring all the small houses so this one is officially it, and looking inside it it's quite easy to believe - two tiny cramped rooms, one above the other, with not a nook unused.
Deciding we wanted to inspect nearby Canaerfon Castle more than Conwy castle we left quite early in the day and arrived at the castle gates just as they were opening - timing! The castle was never fully completed but is absolutely enormous, with extremely massive walls. I have never climbed as many stairs before in my life! Up towers and down into cellars.. quite impressive and the views were awesome. They sure knew what they were doing back then although I'm not sure I'd want to live there.
From Canaerfon it was a long drive to our next destination, bypassing Liverpool and heading straight into Englands' Lakes District. A single stop was made at a highway rest stop for fuel and food, at which we also picked our hostel for the night - the YHA at Coniston Coppermines.
Getting to the hostel was a bit dubious as we had to drive quite a ways along dirt roads, but the dry summer had made the way quite passable and by the time we checked in there was still quite a lot of daylight left. You guessed it.. we went for a hike! This time we got a map which described a circular route past some of the old copper mine entrances and workings to a reservoir called Levers Waters. The walk was gorgeous - totally peaceful with no people around and the scenery was to die for. The old mine workings made for very interesting distractions and I even found some carnivorous plants growing at the entrance of one shaft. We got back with the very last of the light - we're getting pretty good at this!
Today was another beautiful day, largely spent in the car cruising through the Lakes District before heading up north past Carlisle and Glasgow into the Scottish Highlands. We ate afternoon tea overlooking Loch Long, the longest sea loch in Scotland. They used to test torpedoes here because the loch is so deep any sunk targets don't interfere with shipping and hence don't have to be removed.
The stop for the night was the Crianlarich YHA set in a small village near woodlands. We went on our customary evening hike through the nearby forests. Our plan of making a nice big circuit to our dinner destination - a local pub recommended by the YHA staff - backfired however, and we had to retrace our steps. After our nice dinner we walked through nearly pitch darkness back over the trail to our hostel.
We got up early and drove to Fort Williams where we had a quick brunch and stopped in at the Tourist Info office. From there we took the chairlift up into the mountains and walked to a lookout called Sgurr Finnisg-aig at an elevation of 663m from which we could see the highest mountain in the UK - Ben Nevis which peaks at 1344m. Unfortunately today was the first and pretty only day where we had suboptimal weather and hence did not get very nice views from the top. It was also quite cool up there with most people rugged up in thick jackets whereas yours truly decided `she'll be right` and scampered up in shorts and tshirt. It was alright.. as long as I kept moving!
We took the suggestion of a nice hike to a waterfall from the Tourist Info and headed there after we got down the mountains again as it wasn't too far away. It was a very nice walk, at times a little bit steep and rocky but nothing overly exerting and well worth it for we came out in a lovely Enyd-Blytonish valley again, surrounded on all sides by mountains. The day had improved quite markedly as well and we got some beautiful views. Surprisingly many people were around, partly due to the fact that a popular walking trail runs through the valley. To get to the waterfall we had to cross a large stream. There was a 'bridge' - a bunch of cables strung across - which we decided against, and a wide shallow ford due to the very dry summer. I threw a few rocks into the water and precariously balancing, made my way with mostly dry feet onto the other side. Mum decided to wait it out while I went to the waterfall to take a few pictures. A surprise find was a dead sheep lodged in the rocks below the waterfall. Nice.
After we made our way back to the car (we should've packed a picnic lunch!) we drove on through the scottish highlands enjoying the views. Our evening stop for the day was a hostel called Glendevon, set in the hills above a little village just north of Edinburgh. As we'd had quite a lot of walking already today we decided to forego our almost traditional by now evening walk.
Today we started quite early and made it to Edinburgh by 9am, parking the car near the castle. We first wandered around a bit enjoying the nice weather and taking in the other sights of Edinburgh such as the famous flower clock before heading up to the castle itself. We got our tickets quite quickly despite the long lines through my UK Heritage membership - it pays to belong! We poked around the castle for quite a while as my first visit had been quite rushed before settling down to a nice pint over lunch in my favourite pub in Edinburgh - the Ensign Ewart. After lunch we wandered down the Royal Mile and checked out St. Giles Cathedral with its famous Chapel of the Order of the Thistle.
Rather than trying to find accomodation in Edinburgh we decided to head on southwards and crossed back into England late in the afternoon. We found a hostel near Hadrians Wall where we crashed.
Today we checked out a couple of roman sites along Hadrians Wall - a wall stretching all the way across Great Britain. The first was a small temple dedicated to Mithras near the old roman fort of Carrawburgh. Then we went to Housesteads, a fairly typical example of the roman forts built along Hadrians Wall. Housesteads was built around AD124. Every time I visit roman remains I'm impressed by their architectural ingenuity - running water, flushing toilets, heated floors and walls, etc. I wonder how advanced civilisation would be these days if their empire had not collapsed.
Unfortunately I had pretty much had my fill of driving and sight-seeing by this time and was keen to get back home. So rather than taking it easy and finding another hostel for the night we just hit the highways and cruised the rest of the way back to London. Tomorrow is my birthday, and the day after I'm leaving for Austria.
Happy Birthday to me! Happy Birthday to me!
Today I took the car back to the hire place and then we jumped on my bike to go to Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew, not too far away from where I live. It was another scorcher in England and it was evident throughout the gardens - at times in unwatered sections it looked decidedly like Brisbane with the dead brown grass. One of the neat temporary exhibitions in the gardens that day was a tree-walk through the crowns of some tall oaks.
In the afternoon we returned home and went to my favourite local where we enjoyed a couple of pints with some of my friends in the beer garden. Later we went to my favourite japanese restaurant, Okiwari, for dinner. *yawn* Up early tomorrow - mum's catching a plane back to Oz, and for me it's on to Austria to meet up with Mark. From there we're heading to Budapest to watch the Hungarian Grand Prix.
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Last updated: 2004.02.22