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.

Dovestone Rocks, Oldham

So this hike, organised by the Bee Sober Sunday walking group, was advertised as a full day, long walk, but I think that bit went over my head. I just saw the words Peak District Sunday Hike and cleared my diary (who am I kidding we are in the middle of a pandemic, in the worse hit area of the UK, I had no other plans) So slightly unprepared, I turned up to an already busy carpark, at 9.30am on Sunday morning, scrabbling for change for the carpark, which seemed to reject every other 20p I put into it.

I could see the majority of the people parked up were here for a stroll around the Reservoir. Located just to the edge of the Peak District meant on a clear day, the views are superb, but I was well aware, we were walking in a completely different direction, away from said reservoir.

After a slight back and forth, our hike leader (i.e the one who downloaded the route onto his phone) found the correct path, and we headed North up a rather steep hill, it was a bit of a sharp wake up call for still early on a Sunday morning, but I slowly acclimatised and was able to appreciate the views soon enough, (once I got my breath back).

First spot for a group photo and quick break for snacks was the Pots and Pans war memorial atop Aldermans Hill.

Then, it was back onto the track, across to Dick Hill, full of rocks precariously looking out across the Peak District and down to the reservoir, not a place to hang around if someone has a fear of heights, and so we quickly retreated to lower ground when one of our group turned a rather pale shade of grey.

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Back on lower ground, some of us in the group (the tired ones) looked longingly at the reservoir and the carpark as it came back into view, but not for long, we headed East along the top of the reservoir, then back up a sharp incline, following the path alongside the rather magnificent Dovestones Cascade, that brings the water down. 490A98E2-CEB3-4DE3-804E-3F1695ED6AC3

At the top is Ashway Rocks, and it was here we stopped for lunch, and took in the misty and atmospheric views across the Peak District, which also distracted from my slightly undercooked pasta salad I had brought for lunch. Then, realising we still had a good 2 hours to go to get back to the carpark, we headed back on the trail. This portion of the walk was high up along the top, along Alphins Pike, with views of the reservoir below and Manchester up ahead and I’m sure I could spot my car down in the carpark!

I have to admit, the descent was painful, my underused muscles were not happy, but as soon as we landed back on the track heading for the car, my muscles relaxed again & all was happy.  Until the next morning of course, when I was rudely reminded of just how far we had walked the previous day. It was challenging in parts, but fun, with a great likeminded group of folk, all of us just making the most of the Covid restrictions and joining up to get out and connect with nature. Overall, another successful hike.

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Sunday hike around Anglezarke

Anglezarke, White Coppice and Great Hill Circular

I’ve done parts of this walk all seperately, in this area of Lancashire close to Chorley. I’ve taken a nice stroll through White Coppice the little village that once was a busy industrial part of the county. I’ve done a windy dog walk up to Great Hill and back, starting over in Brinscall, and I’ve also parked up at the Anglezarke reservoir for a explore with mum, but this particular time, one of the Bee Sober hikers planned a 15km loop trail linking up all three.

It had been raining heavily the night before, so after a quick fumble with some borrowed gaiters, I finally managed to strap them to my walking boots, double check I had enough snacks & the 3 of us headed off. Having done shorter versions of this walk with my 70 year old mother, it didnt really twig at first that the estimated 2 hours to complete the hike was completely unrealistic, until after closer interrogation from one of the other walkers, our leader admitted he has miscalculated and had based the timings on a trail run and not a casual hike, involving photo stops, lunch and carefully negotiating patches of boggy moorland. Not that any of that mattered, we were all in for the hike regardless, but knowing it was going to take double the time, us ladies on the walk, just limited our water intake, in case we didnt find anywhere discrete enough to pee. (Which reminds me, I must order a shewee!)

The first stage of the hike involves as easy to follow paved road, a babbling brook, remains of a lead mine and a memorial to an air crash in 1943, and a stunning landscape of the lancashire moors beyond.

 

It was then that the borrowed gaiters came into thier own, after bravely following our designated leader across a field of cows, we headed off across the rather wet moorland. First heading for Round Loaf, said to possibly be a prehistoric burial site, its a great spot to stop and take stock of the journey so far. There are amazing views across to Winter Hill and the rest of the moors from atop the mound, and from here you’ll see other hikers on the many other trails that link up in the area, including the Lancashire Way.

 

Next it was across more boggy moorland to join up with the path to Great Hill, where we stopped for a quick lunch. Quick because it was quite windy and it can get quite cold sitting on the stone bench at the summit, but again the views were worth it.

Then it was a slow descent towards White Coppice, when the rainclouds opened, but it made for an atmospheric, misty walk along the quarry and the Dean Black Brook waterfalls.

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Then ignoring the one dead sheep along the side of the path, we headed back round towards Anglezarke, passing the reservoir and back to the carpark, just totalling over 4 hours in all, including our stop for lunch. It was then time to head home for a hot shower and straight into my PJ’s for what was left of  the afternoon, there is nothing like that tiredness that comes with being outdoors for the day, perfect!

 

 

 

 

Sunday Bridgewater Canal walk

Another Sunday Summer hike this year has been, again with the Bee Sober crew, this time a more gentle 2 hour stroll along the historic Bridgewater Canal. The canal built in the 1700’s is 41 miles in length, covering the area from Runcorn to Leigh near Wigan, via Manchester City Centre.

We all met up at the Stretford metro station, which is right by the canal, and parking is free with a metro ticket. We took our time, soaking up the sunshine, taking photos, passing under bridges, smelling breakfasts being cooked on the many barges parked up and apparently walked past the retired footballer Gary Neville and his family, but I was too busy being distracted by the swimming swams in the canal.

It took about 90 minutes before we reached the centre of Manchester and then about another 30 minutes to find somewhere to eat brunch outdoors, that would allow 6 friends, as the restrictions were starting up again as the Covid 2nd wave was starting to approach. In the end we found a Gino’s grill in the Corn Exchange area with outside seating that we had to ourselves, unfortunately there were no plant-based options, but I had brought a cereal bar with me, so had that with my soy cap, whilst the others had cake, oh well.

It was then a short ride on the metro back to Stretford to pick up our cars and head home. Well recommended if you fancy a nice flat walk, going from fields, to football stadiums to skyscrapers as you get closer to the city centre, where you can reward yourself with a nice lunch.