Day trip to the Laburnum Arch 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿

I received a frantic sounding message from a friend wanting to visit the National Trust Bodnant Garden, but we had to go within the upcoming 3 weeks! Luckily we both had the same Sunday free, so two weeks later, with packed lunch and a brolly just in case, we set off through the Mersey Tunnel, to the Welsh county of Conwy.

Pretty much a 90 minute drive from Liverpool on an early Sunday morning, we arrived at our pre-booked time of 09.30. Although you don’t need to pre-book an entry time, the Laburnum Arch is a huge attraction, we saw coach loads of people arriving with impressive looking cameras, so booking is highly recommended, although I expect at other times of the year, you could just turn up.

Once we arrived it was a little overwhelming as the place is just so big, armed with a map, we couldn’t quite decide on which way to explore, but then noticing the streams of other people coming in, including a coach full of American tourists, we decided to head straight for the famed Laburnum Arch before it got too busy.

Started 140 years ago, this 55 metre long walkway, was in full bloom when we arrived, said to be possibly the longest and oldest of it’s kind Britain, roughly 50,000 people visit during the short window each year, to experience the walk way beneath the yellow flowers.

We took our time, took loads of photos, got our noses right up into the flowers to really get the full experience and then walked back round to get another go. Second time around, we had time to marvel at the ingenuity of the way the trees were planted and grown over the delicate scaffolding to create this incredible natural pergola, it really was a wonderful immersive experience.

With the weather looking a little overcast we decided to stick to the gardens closest to the coffee shop by the adjacent garden centre, which were to open at 10.30, so we could shelter and get caffeinated if we needed too. The other coffee shop in the heart of the gardens opened at 11.30 and although there is a coffee shop by the main carpark that was already open, that involved exiting and entering again, and was far too complicated to undertake on what was still early on a Sunday morning.

I hadn’t really done any research on the rest of the gardens, but it’s a National Trust garden, so of course there is so much to see other than the Laburnum Arch with its short yearly life span. It’s a huge place, with so many gardens, lakes, bridges, waterfalls, not to mention a gigantic collection of trees, plants and flowers of every size and colour from all over the world.

We made our way over to the Pin Mill, originally it was a lodge house, before becoming a pin factory and then a tannery. With lily pads floating on the water and the scent of roses coming from the nearby rose garden it made for a beautiful wander, along with incredible views of the Welsh hills from nearby Snowdonia in the distance.

Everywhere you turned you were faced with every colour and shape of flower I had ever seen, I really don’t think I have taken that many photographs in one day trip before. I rarely knew what I was looking at, I couldn’t tell you the difference between an oak tree and a yew tree for example, but you don’t need to be an expert to appreciate the sheer beauty of the place.

We returned towards the entrance to make a stop in the coffee shop by the garden centre, whilst we let the dark clouds overhead pass us by. There are also some plug sockets available should you need to recharge your phone after taking too many photos (which we both needed to do!), and toilets are found at the back of the garden centre too. They had diary free milk options, but no diary free cakes, but luckily for me I was prepared with snacks, which I sneakily ate alongside my latte.

We then decided to follow the pathway through the old park, up to the dell, and along the stream, eventually taking the path over to a beautiful building set into a rock, called The Poem. The Poem is actually a mausoleum, but we only figured that out once I zoomed in on my camera through the lattice framework on the door and saw the plaques inside.

Close to The Poem is the gorgeous waterfall bridge, which is exactly as it is described, it’s an incredibly scenic photography spot, with a babbling brook, surrounded by pink, red and green trees, chirping birds and the relaxing sound of the waterfall, so peaceful!

Finding a nice bench with a great view wasn’t hard to find, so we had our packed lunch a top one of the higher footpaths, looking back down onto the river. Sheltered from the elements from one of the huge old trees above us, it was one of the best picnic spots we had found in a long time.

Revitalised with food, we continued walking along one of the many foot paths, over little bridges, streams, a small pond with jumping fish and found the site of a large old fallen tree, a victim of the vicious Storm Arwen from late 2021.

Although starting to feel tired from all that fresh air and the early start, we still had a few footpaths left to explore. So we meandered along, trying to make sure we left no part of the gardens unexplored, around every corner was a new beautiful flower, tree or plant to discover.

Eventually we had to tear ourselves away, conscious that I had another 90 minute drive to Liverpool to drop my friend off and then another 30 mins after that to get myself home. So after picking up some rather delicious Welsh green tea with coconut from the gift shop, we headed back to the carpark, with people still eagerly arriving in their droves for the mid afternoon slot.

Since the trip I have had so many comments from friends and colleagues asking me where I had been and how could they get there, it seems at least in my circle of friends, Bodnant Garden is a bit of an unknown. None of us had heard of it before , but I would recommend it to anyone looking for a peaceful, green, Sunday walk with the most stunning gardens, even a reluctant nature lover would be hard pressed not to enjoy it.

Two Castles and a Kayak

I was invited the other weekend to go kayaking in Llanberis, a small town just on the western edge of Snowdonia National Park.  It wasn’t until the Sunday afternoon, so with no other plans booked in that weekend, I decided to make it into a little overnight road trip, finishing up Sunday lunchtime in Llanberis for a kayak with friends.

A Unesco sites that I had been meaning to visit, but was just a bit too far for a day trip, were 2 of the 4 world heritage castles on the west coast, in the county of Gwynedd; Conwy and Caernarfon. I had visited Beaumaris previously over on Anglesey and the 4th, Harlech is a lot further south, but Conwy and Caenarfon are only about 35 minutes apart, so seemed doable in the same day.

It’s super easy to get to Conwy from where I live and I didn’t even need to use my maps to get me there and 90 minutes later I was parked up at the main long stay carpark.  It sits behind the castle walls, easily signposted and payment is by app or card, so no fumbling for money needed!

Conwy Castle is an incredibly well preserved Medieval fortress, over 700 years old. Built by Edward I, Edward Longshanks to his friends, Edward was born in England, but was intent on conquering Wales. The four castles along the coast with their imposing walls, were all part of his successful takeover plan and sent out a very strong message to the Welsh that he meant business!

I have to say, Conwy Castle is one of the most impressive castles I have visited, for sheer size and how it has retained its features. You really do feel transported back in time as you explore the many chambers, climb the spiral staircases up to the towers and walk along the high walls. The views of the Conwy Suspension Bridge over the River Conwy and Snowdonia’s mountainous skyline in the distance, is spectacular, I can’t think of a more perfect location for a castle.

Having been to Conwy before, I just had a short walk along the harbour, and sat and had my packed lunch, watching the tourists queue up to visit the ‘smallest house in Britain’ while a vicious seagull attempt to eat a families bag of chips, quite entertaining really. Then I took the long way back to the carpark, via the main high street for a bit of window shopping, before heading down the coast, to Castle no. 2.

Just over half an hour later, I was pulling into the carpark down by the waterfront, staring back up to the imposing castle walls in the town of Caenarfon. Although the building of this castle started the same year as Conwy, this castle took over 40 years to completion, compared to Conwy’s quick 7 year build.

It’s an ideal spot if you’re going to build a castle, as it sits at the tip of a peninsula, edged by the Menai Strait and River Seiont, affording great views and lots of protection.

Unlike its neighbour in Conwy, Canaerfon isn’t in as good a state of repair inside, but the walls and main structure are still none the less impressive. Much of the interior hasn’t survived that well and some of the buildings weren’t ever fully finished. That said, I preferred this castle to Conwy, it takes a little more effort to get too, and was nowhere near as busy, and for me that gave it its charm. There is still lots to explore here though, spiral staircases to climb and outstanding views from the top, as well as a museum inside too. Part of the castle was in the process of being renovated during my visit, leaving a few spots out of bounds, but all us visitors got a free guidebook as compensation instead.

Highlights for me included, the dark atmospheric passages taking you through the basement and up the Well Tower, the narrow stone spiral staircases winding you up to the 2nd floor for epic but windy views from the Chamberlain Tower and a surprising single stone glass window.

Once done, I took a short walk through the town centre, but as we are still in Covid times and with some places still closed and restrictions in place, I decided to power on and head to my final destination for the day, Bangor.

I only knew of Bangor from my University days, as they used to have a school of Podiatry there, but I knew absolutely nothing else. The reason I chose it as a place to stay the night was it’s a University town, so I knew there was a good chance of there being some affordable hotel options as well as probably some plant based food for sale somewhere, and it was only a 20 minute drive from my meeting spot the next day.

But I was pleasantly surprised, once checked in I headed to Yugen coffee house, to pick up an oat latte and some vegan cheesecake, then headed to the coastline located a nice bench and then just sat and took in the breathtaking views, of the Menai Straits and Anglesey to the front and Snowdonia behind.

After a quick check of maps on my phone, I could see what looked like a pier, stretching almost all the way to Anglesey, so I continued to walk south, until I arrived at a place I had no idea existed, Garth Pier. A Grade II listed Victorian Pier, there are 2 colourful Kiosks to welcome you, and a small fee to enter. Then its a lovely walk right out across the Menai Straits, with local crafts, ice cream and art work being sold, as well as a coffee shop right at the top. I had just filled up on coffee, so I just sat on a bench completely taken in with the surrounding views of the Welsh landscape, texting family and friends about this new (to me) discovery and recommending it to everyone.

Finally, all my plant based dreams came true and my bet on Bangor being vegan friendly paid off, the first fully plant based restaurant in Wales happened to be a 5 minute walk from the pier. Called Voltaire although they were fully booked, they were happy to let me have some take-out, so with one of their signature burgers and fries bagged up, I hotfooted it back to my hotel, and tucked in, it’s pretty much a whole reason in itself to return.

The next morning, feeling refreshed, I took the short drive to Llanberis and found myself a nice free parking spot by the lake. I arrived an hour early, so did a loop of the town, remembering the places I had visited previously, investigated the lake we would soon be sailing on, and watched admiringly the sweaty, tired looking hikers who were returning from Snowdon’s summit, which I had done a year earlier.

After a hearty breakfast with my fellow kayaker’s at Pete’s Eats we headed down to Snowdonia Watersports and got our kit. For £25 we got full kit hire and 2 hours out on the lake, you also get access to indoor changing rooms, a locker and hot showers, so absolutely worth it.

Of course I fell in, whilst the others gracefully climbed into their kayaks, but I regained my composure and tried again with my second attempt being successful, all while keeping my hair dry!

Then we were off, for a glorious, peaceful sail around the lake, with incredible 360 views of the lakeside steam train, the welsh mountains and the sun reflecting off the rippling water. It was a perfect sunny Sunday afternoon.

Once back on dry land and warmed up with a hot shower, we all headed back to Petes Eats for a hot drink, then it was time to load up another podcast for the drive and head back home to have that kind of deep rejuvenating sleep you can only have after a full day out in nature. Wonderful.

Bank Holiday Hike – Moel Famau

August bank holiday weekend in the UK, is often remembered for terrible weather and long queues on the motorway, but when a friend texted from my sober social circle, inviting me to hike Moel Famau (Mother Mountain), I couldnt resist.

The hill in the north east Welsh county of Denbighshire, is the highest and most popular of all the hills in the Clwydian Range, and at only an hours drive away from home, I am not sure how I’ve overlooked it all these years.

Being mindful of how heavy the traffic can get at this time of the year, and being an early riser, I got all my stuff ready the night before, and pretty much woke up, dressed, grabbed my backpack and drove one hour west.  Starting on a motorway, the roads gradually got smaller the longer I drove, with the final few minutes ending up on a small almost single track road in places, as I arrived in the The Clwydian Range area of outstanding natural beauty.

I got to the lower carpark pretty much as it opened at 8am, it’s a large carpark with toilets, picnic benches and a play area, the fee was £2 (cash only) when I was there, but there is also a smaller carpark further down the road, which had an card payment options.  My plan was to eat breakfast once I got there, enjoy the views and wait for the others to arrive, so with my overnight oats and a flask of coffee, I had the pick of the seating area, and chilled for a while.

Important to note, there is virtually no phone signal in this part of the park, so if you are meeting other people, get your meet up details spot on. I briefly got a signal & texted one of my friends, who had actually parked further down the road, luckily they realised where I must be, and we all eventually found each other and headed up the trail.

There are multiple routes to the summit, I photographed the information sign at the top of the carpark, but had no idea which we were doing. My friends had all done the hike a few times before though, so with that in mind, I decided to do no research, and was just happy to just follow their lead. Turns out we were doing the Jubilee Tower Circular, one of the moderate tracks, but for those wanting something less or something more, there are plenty of other options.

The hike was wonderful, the views spectacular, it was foggy at the start of the day, but as we began our climb, the fog lifted and the sun came out. With it being such a clear day, the views went on for miles, down to the River Dee, across the rest of the undulating hills of the Clwydian’s, and even over to Snowdonia in the distance with fields of purple heather all around us.

There is quite a steep bit to get your heart pumping at around a third in, but we found a bench to rest and hydrate, before continuing up to the summit. As far as hikes go, it didnt take that long to get to the top, at least not along this path we took, and as it was only late morning, it wasn’t too busy either. With the weather warm and sunny, we ended up sitting on the ground, eating our snacks, taking in the views and having a good old natter for maybe an hour! Usually at summits, its cold and windy, and you only have time for a quick selfie before you lose the feeling in your hands, but the weather was on our side, and as this is only actually a hilltop at 558 metres, (when you think Snowdon further to the west is 1,085 metres), you’re not really that exposed to the elements and can really take the time to appreciate the incredible scenary.

After about an hour, and almost losing the dog who ran off to chase a squirrel, we slowly headed back down, arriving back in the now almost full carpark. A quick change of shoes and one podcast later, I was back home, with that tiredness you only experience from a good walk and fresh countryside air. Bank holiday Sunday, done right!

 

 

Hike to Snowdon Summit

The tallest mountain in Wales, and only second to Ben Nevis in being the highest summit in the whole of the UK. Its only a 2 hour drive from where I live in the North West, and its somewhere I’ve fancied doing for many years. Not because I’ve been a hiker or mountain explorer for years, but so many people I know have already hiked it and by people who I considered no fitter than myself, so I always had it on my bucket list to do.

Many times I’ve had offers or plans to hike it, but they always fell through, plus being an inexperienced hiker, I didnt want to do it solo or with someone even less experienced than me, so I always relied on someone else to organise it and so it never actually got organised.

Until 2020 happened, and a combination of all my foreign trips being cancelled, most things I could do socially had to be outside, (so hiking was No1 on my list) and the first hike I did with Bee Sober Manchester mentioned that Snowdon was planned for mid September. I quickly cleared my calender, booked a single, contact-free hotel room in Llanberis, the town inside the national park and got in training!

We decided we would start early on the Saturday morning, as all of us had arrived the night before, so it wasnt too painful to get up and get to the Pen y Pass carpark around 5.30AM so we could grab one of the limited car parking spaces (otherwise, you’re best to use the park and ride). The majority of the different paths all start from this carpark, so for £10 all day, its well worth it. Plus, there is wifi, handy if you’re co-ordinating a meet up with others, as phone service is sketchy and there’s toilets too.

We set off early to avoid the crowds, which have swamped to Snowdonia since lockdown, as well as to witness the sunrise on our way up, and boy was it worth it.

There are a number of different routes up to the summit and even a train, which I think you have to pre-book, but it wasn’t fully in service due to Covid. We hiked up the Pyg track, then came down on the Miners track, and its a route I would advise any first timers to do. It was completely managable for someone who hasnt done a whole lot of hiking in the last few years and the ascent only involved a bit of a scramble, with a lovely flat path down below on our way back. There’s lots of places to stop, (have a sneaky wee) rest, eat and take in those amazing views, absolutely worth the early start and we were back down by 12 and we looked back on the growing crowds with relief that we had avoided them with our early start. Also, by staying close by in Llaberris, I was having a hot shower and rest by 12.30.