Travel – One Year Ago Today in Wales

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​One year ago today, we were winding our way back from Wales, over hill and dale, across the Irish Sea to stay overnight in Dublin, and then return to our home base and our cousins in Northern Ireland.

When I first went on my solo adventure to Wales in 2009, upon returning I was asked if I wanted to bring my family to see what I saw. My immediate answer was no. I didn’t want to share it with anyone, but the reality was that I also didn’t want them to spoil it for me.

Like when you set up a movie night for your best friend to watch your favorite movie, and while they’re watching the movie you’re watching them to see that they love it as much as you do…but…they don’t, and it kind of ruins the experience for you, and now every time you watch that movie again, you’ll think of your friend who didn’t like it, and wonder why they didn’t like it.

Wales could not impress them as it did me, and I did not want to see the looks on their faces of huh, so this is it.

I knew that if I wanted to visit Wales on this trip, and I did, not only to pilgrimage to my saint’s holy well, but also just to feel the land under my feet, the rocks under my fingertips, then I would have to bring them along. This was a family adventure and I couldn’t leave them behind for three days. I resigned myself to whatever they would feel, and I made peace with it.

From the ferry, we began the drive across Angelsey to cross the bridge into mainland Wales and the hour or so drive to our hotel, adjacent to St. Elen’s Well. Winding hilly roads bordered by stone walls, and there was finally a pull off to see the view, right before the bridge.

Leaning on the cold stone wall, looking out across the field that met the dry bed that met the water, seeing the Menai Bridge across the way, the mountain ahead and to the left of us, I turned to see where my family was, and there I saw it.

Their looks.

Even the kids.

They may not have had the spiritual connection or the hiraeth of homecoming, but they had amazement. It was about to drizzle, and it was grey, but judging by their faces and their eyes sweeping across the landscape, it was the brightest, sunniest day they’d ever seen.

And as we drove deeper into the towns at the base of Snowdon, their eyes only got wider. We got out several times between that first time and reaching our hotel. There were rivers to see, stone buildings, mountain views, sheep and cows, but oh the amount of sheep defying gravity on the side of the mountain.

I was glad I brought them.

They could maybe kind of understand my obsession connection.

I wasn’t even mad when they unintentionally one-upped me. It was at the point when I couldn’t do anymore climbing, so when we passed through Llanberis on our way back to Holyhead, they went up to see and take pictures for me of Dolbadarn Castle, one of Llywelyn Fawr’s. Actually, I believe that his grandson, Owain Goch ap Gruffydd was kept confined there by his brother Llywelyn the Last. So I was a little jealous, but I was still okay with it. Mostly. Now, they’ve been to a part of Wales that I haven’t. 

Maybe one day I can rectify that.

Dolbadarn Castle. Llanberis. North Wales. (c)2018


On the path to Dolbadarn Castle. Llanberis. North Wales. (c)2018

My Pilgrimage to St. Elen’s Well, Part 1

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​[Note: As I began to write this, I thought it would be an emotional look back at an important pilgrimage that I undertook last summer. However, as I began to write, it seemed that before I got to the actual pilgrimage and the feelings that it conjured, I had to wade through the logistics of discovering the well, and finding that it was important for me to visit it. The coincidences that have crossed my life’s path and Wales astound me every time I discover them.]

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Travel – Photos – A Brief Look at My Wales

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I’ve been fortunate to have visited North Wales three times. The first was randomness, the second fortune, and the third with determination. All three were spiritual and while the first began a decades old journey, all three began, and explored different aspects of that journey. All three had friends and family supporting and helping to make it happen.

Read the brief captions about the three photos I’ve chosen to represent my three visits, all steeped in more meaning than can be written in such a brief blurb, but will be explored more fully, or if not fully, then thoroughly in future days.

This photo, while taken in 2017, represents my first visit in 1987. I hiked and hitchhiked from the train in Betws-y-Coed to this youth hostel, just about center of the Llanberis Pass, a stop for hikers and climbers alike. It was my first foray into Wales, and it grabbed me in a way that many other things haven’t come close. It linked me to a place i’ve never been as if I’ve been born there. It is my soul’s homeland, and I feel the hiraeth as clearly as any native-born Welsh-person. The youth hostel at Pen-y-Pass. (c)2017-2018

Dolwyddelan Castle from the road. Taken in 2009, and representing my 2009 visit, it was also the view my family saw in 2017 when we stayed barely a mile up the road, but in 2009, this was one of my important, planned destinations: the birthplace of Llywelyn Fawr, the Prince of Wales. The castle wasn’t here, but he was born in and around this plot of land in 1178, and eventually built a motte and bailey castle on the mound here. This keep replaced that in future years.Llywelyn, and a gift from a dear friend, brought me to this place to see the places that i’d been reading about; and feeling about. The castle resides on private land, a working farm. You pay the woman at the back door, and walk through the cow gate, climbing the steep dirt path until reaching the pavement, and more hills going up and up. I wasn’t in the physical condition to go all the way to the keep. I may have tried if not for the misty rain making the slate and stone steps slippery. It was not a risk I was willing to take alone. I was still content to have reached as far as I did, and to meet some folks. I walked around for a bit, listening to the nearby stream and small rapids crashing lightly against the rocks. I discovered a snarled tree that was the perfect place for a distant photo of the castle. Looking forward to my next visit. (c)2009-2018

I discovered St. Elen’s well on a blog and was thrilled that ot represented my confirmation saint. I discovered long after returning in 2009 that the town where I spent three days (Caernarfon) was her town, and Dolwyddelan, where I’d spent a couple of hours walking around was less than a mile up the road from the hotel named for her that I must have passed on the way to the castle car park. We stayed at that hotel on this more recent trip, and the well is on the hotel property. There was some dispute on the land the path is on, but there seems to be some sort of arrangement as I had no issues other than the daily rain made the steep path a little bit slippery, but not undoable. Slow going made me take the time to stop and, not smell the flowers, but observe the vegetation, the tree branches, the cows and church next door, listen to the birds all around me, and come upon the well slowly. I could hear the water flowing before I could see the well, and it could do with a weeding, but it was still glorious, and spellbinding, and I felt the spirituality of not only Wales, but of Elen while the smells of the variety of plants were captivating, and the holy water was cold to my touch, but tasted refreshing and revitalizing. I sat for some time in contemplation. My family was very cooperative of that. (c)2017-2018

Travel – Caernarfon, North Wales

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Caernarfon was not a place I’d ever heard of before it was suggested that I visit the town. My friend lives near there, and offered it when I asked for recommendations for my 2009 trip. He mentioned the Castle and the Strait and the nearness to other Welsh attractions, and we could meet for lunch or dinner in nearby Bangor.

I picked Caernarfon from his recommendation before even reading up on it.

I’d be arriving on Monday morning and driving in. I’d stay at an international hostel. I had stayed at a youth hostel my first time in Wales (in 1987), but they had a maximum age of, I think it was 25. This hostel took all ages as well as families. I’d have to find my way around, but on Tuesday, I’d get to Bangor for our dinner.

So far, those were the only plans that I made.

I wasn’t exactly flying by the seat of my pants, and I would eventually have some sort of plan for the week, but it was nice to have a base for the first half of the week, and Caernarfon was perfect for that.

Caernarfon was wonderful in so many ways. I hadn’t planned on returning in 2017, but we did manage to pop in. I was happy to be able to show my family a place that I could kind of get my way around, and share my experiences with them, not to mention creating new ones with them.

Here are a few of my recommendations of places I visited in and around Caernarfon and a few on my list for next time. Please use the links to make your own travel plans. It is well worth the trip.

This and the above photo: Caernarfon Castle, taken in October 2009 in Caernarfon, Gwynedd, North Wales. (c)2009-2017

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39/52 – Three Days in Wales

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I didn’t do the spiral journaling while I was overseas, but I thought it might be a nice idea to go back and just do the three days I spent in Wales. Some of it is the basics of where we were and the towns we visited, but there were also some reflective moments that came through despite the small writing space. It was also amusing to find that I wrote more as the days went on despite not really having done more. I think I got more comfortable in describing my thoughts and feelings, and on the last one, I really ran out of space. Continue reading

38/52 – Pen-y-Pass, Thirty Years

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​Thirty years ago, 7 January to be precise, I arrived for the first time in Wales. This was a momentous event for several reasons, even if I didn’t realize all of them until years later. It was one of the most spontaneous things I’ve ever done, and had life given me different circumstances, I may have missed all that this gave me. Our trip could be divided into three parts – England, Wales, and Scotland. We had lots of time, and that still wasn’t enough. If I recall correctly, after London and about a week in England, we took the train from Wolverhampton to Llanddudno Junction, and then on to Betws-y-Coed, where we would need to walk or hitchhike about twelve miles to the hostel in Snowdonia. The hostel was in Pen-y-Pass, which is about the middle of the Pass of Llanberis. I know all of this now more than then. Then was thirty years ago, and I was following my college roommate wherever she was taking me with little complaint. It was not an easy trek, and although I am much more out of shape now, this most recent time (and the time before this one) I had a car to get around.

Since it was January on that first excursion, Pen-y-Pass was not very crowded. This really isn’t the season for hikers up and around the mountains of the Snowdon National Park. There were only a few of us at the hostel, but we made friends quickly, and ended up traveling together to Bangor and then eventually split up, the boys, Neil and Hugh, fifteen or so to our twenty were heading home to London, Gunnar, 20-something to West Germany, and Liz, 18 was traveling with us to Kendal in the Lake District, where she lived, and where we would be spending the night (at another hostel) before we traveled to the Scottish Highlands the day after. Gunnar was kind enough to add to my collection of money, remembering to stop me in the morning to hand me two German coins.

Youth Hostel at Pen-y-Pass, Snowdon National Park, North Wales. (c)1987-2017

In order to write this, I am re-reading my journal from those days, and I must admit – it is atrocious. It is very much “we did a, b, and c, and then this happened, etc.” I read my journal from 2009 as well, and it is not much better. At least I’m conscious of it as i try to journal from my summer visit a few weeks ago and I pray that my writing has improved.

“7pm

We are at Pen-y-Pass. We got here at around 4:30. We got two rides from Betws-y-Coed, and we walked a bit less than a mile (although it seemed like forever.) This is a beautiful region filled with mountains. Not like the Oneonta [where I went to college] mountains, though. There are less trees. These are huge stone slabs against the sky. We walked towards the sunset, so it looked really great. There are lots of sheep. The view up here is absolutely wonderful. There aren’t enough adjectives to describe it. I’m sitting next to a nice, warm fire. This is really a nice hostel. We’ve changed some plans: tomorrow, we go to Bangor; then Kendal, then Pitlochry for two days and finally Edinburgh.”

“8:50pm

[I drew a little diagram of the constellations I could see.]

Just got back from a night hike up the mountain. The moon was out, and the stars as well, of course. It wasn’t too cold. We saw some sheep and heard some streams.

Kathy [my college roommate] & I are going to go up again tomorrow morning.”

I believe this was a trail called the Miner’s Track.

Snowdon National Park at Pen-y-Pass, near the Miner’s Track, North Wales. (c)1987-2017

One of the amazing things my husband noticed on our trip simply confirmed what I had learned so long ago. Ireland has a lot of sheep. A lot. They don’t have nearly as many sheep as Wales. The Welsh sheep also have this knack for defying gravity. The can stand perfectly in any clump of grass, rocks, dirt, no matter how steep. They also seem to be like the Harry Potter Knight Bus, at least the ones we encountered on the roadways, in that they were there suddenly, but miraculously made themselves small enough to not get run over, or push your vehicle over a cliff. We were very grateful for that.

Our visit this time to Wales was for one simple reason: my pilgrimage to my saint’s holy well. Everything else was like icing on the cake, actually it was like the ice cream next to the cake since for me the icing is the best part. So the well would be the icing, and the rest of the visit was the ice cream.

I have always found many of the well loved places in Wales through other people’s suggestions for me. This time was no different. I had driven past my friend’s family home near Bangor on our way to the hotel in Dolwyddelan, and he suggested we go for ice cream in Beddgelert, so we did. Well worth the trip (and worthy of its own post).

In our driving around Wales, we discovered many things, and rediscovered several things from my second visit that I could share with my family. It’s funny because when I returned home in 2009 from my solo adventure, I did not want to share any of this with my family, but after bringing them this past August, I was really excited to share with them the very things that at first frightened me.

While we were there for just over forty-eight hours, we did quite a lot of driving. 

We ended up taking a quick break where ther were a lot of cars parked, both in the car park and on the roadway, and a phenomenal amount of walkers and hikers, all sporting various hiking equipment and gear. My family decided to stop here to take a couple of pictures and grab a couple of drinks for the rest of the drive to wherever we were going at that moment. By this point in our trip, I was exhausted, so I waited in the car.

I looked around from my vantage point, and thought things seemed familiar, but of course I told myself that I must be imagining it. I mean to someone who is not a hiker/mountain climber, one mountain is pretty much the same as any other. It was a grey sky, and slightly overcast; chilly and the sky was darkening into evening, but still, there was something about this place.

The road between Pen-y-Pass and Llanberis, North Wales. (c)1987-2017

I looked around some more, and as I stretched my neck and turned my head, a woman sitting on a picnic bench moved ever so slightly, and I could read the sign that had been directly behind her head: Pen-y-Pass.

PEN-Y-PASS.

I got very excited, but couldn’t leave the car – I hadn’t known where my family went, and I didn’t have keys to the car, but I was frantically trying to see more of my discovery.

When my son came back, I excitedly asked him if there was a youth hostel there, and when he said yes. I handed him my phone and asked him to take some pictures. He asked no questions and did as he was asked, and it was in looking at them on his return that I realized that it had literally been thirty years, and I was back.

Pen-y-Pass with 30 years of changes. North Wales. (c)2017


I was astonished. I had no plans to come back here or to bring my family despite this spot being so integral to my attachment to Wales so long ago. This was where on a cold, sunny hilltop in the Snowdon Mountains did I encounter that feeling that isn’t deja vu as much as it’s deja vu times a lifetime. It has been mysterious and has led me back twice more, and it can’t be explained to anyone who’s never experienced it themselves.

On that day thirty years ago, we set out on our hike. It was January in the UK, and I expected Wales to be the same as England. Gray, overcast, damp, misty, cloudy, etc. and so on.

It was not.

Oh, it was cold. Not as cold as the Cotswolds, but damn it was cold.

No clouds, though. Just a brilliant blue sky with the snow-capped mountains set as a backdrop against the sky. There were sheep – I still can’t figure out how they managed to stand at a 45 degree angle and not roll down the hills. We walked, we stopped, we walked. And I was home.

It really was unexplainable. I felt this incredible sense of awareness of every blade of grass, the sunlight reflecting on the water, the cold snowy smell, and just the feeling that I’d been there before. This is where I was meant to be. I was supposed to be there because I had been there before. It was overwhelming and unforgettable.

It remains so.

It’sf spiritual.

And holy.

And it drew me in, and has kept me searching, even when I wasn’t looking.

It was only two months ago (and thirty years ago), and still, I can feel what I felt both times.

In that most recent time, I had this incredible feeling come upon me. This was another time that seemingly unrelated moments connect as they have between 1987 and 2017, and I wonder how destiny works, but know that it does.

Recipe – Jacket Potatoes

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Recipe

Jacket Potatoes

I will usually use 1 1/2 large potatoes, but use your judgment for your appetite.

Take the potatoes, wash, dry, and poke holes on four sides with a fork. Bake for 1 hour at 400*.

When the potatoes are ready, cut them in half. Put two or three halves in a cereal or soup bowl.

Keep the potato flesh in the skins, but mash it a little with some butter.

Add to the potato whatever you like. my personal preferences are:

chopped up chives,

bacon pieces (real bacon, not bits),

shredded cheddar cheese (or your favorite flavor), and

a dollop of sour cream.

Jacket potatoes are very versatile. You can smother them with chili, leftover hamburger meet, pasta sauce with meat (I’d recommend mozzarella for that one), broccoli, beef stew leftovers. The options are endless.

They make a great lunch, and pair them with a hearty salad, and they can be very filling for dinner.

– – – –

Recently, we had jacket potatoes for dinner. We’d run out of groceries except for a 5lb. bag of potatoes, and some odds and ends in the fridge. No one wanted to make dinner. When I suggested potatoes for that dinner, my husband thought I was being crazy, but since he didn’t have to make the meal, he went along with it.
It’s funny how the simplest thing can seem like the best, most wonderful, unique food on the planet. The first time I had a potato as a main dish like this I was in England in the eatery at Warwick Castle. My friend and I were on a three week adventure through the UK, and we were watching our pennies. We still had another week to get through with the cash we had on hand, and as any tourist place, even twenty-odd years ago, the castle’s food was expensive.

Looking though the menu, we both chose this odd but very interesting sounding thing called a jacket potato. It really was an oddity. A baked potato with stuff in it. It was huge. It was like the size of two potatoes with what looked like four ounces of cheddar cheese on top. I loved it. I came home that spring and started making them for my lunches.

Many years later, upon returning to North Wales, I visited another castle. This one was Caernarfon, 13th century built by Edward I to subjugate the Welsh. They had a gift shop, but no place to eat on site. It didn’t much matter; there were enough places to choose from in the small town.

I ended up in an alleyway, called Hole in the Wall. Too narrow for a car, but perfect for walking or bicycling. There were several places along the small lane, and at least three restaurants all on the same side of the lane, and I chose the cafe across from where the bell tower used to be. The stones that made up the tower and surrounded the bell were still there but half of the stones were missing so one side was open.

Appropriately named The Bell Tower Cafe, it was a tiny place, maybe ten tables, mostly filled with regulars, a variety of ethnicities all speaking the lyrical Welsh language. They were all getting a good, hearty British breakfast. It looked amazing, but I had already eaten breakfast at the hostel, toast and jam. I watched as the steam rose from the white tea someone had ordered. In searching over the menu, I discovered that old favorite from Warwick – the jacket potato. I had that big potato covered in cheddar cheese with a salad and a soda, and it was delicious. I went back the next day and had the exact same thing.