Monday, 12 March 2012

Wales Trip

I started the last week waking up to this view:

This was taken looking out the window of the chalet we were staying in for a holiday we were on the last week.  

Our holiday started on Saturday morning, well, the travelling portion of it anyway. We had a little hut booked for us to stay in for the week, and had all of Saturday to get there. As it was in south Wales, we had plenty of time to get there...

Started off from Luton, we left the house fairly early, me with a full hiking back on my back, Liz with our hiking boots in her backpack. We had booked tickets in advance to Swansea, and only had seats for the long train, so could get any trains we wanted to (and through) London. We got a semi-fast train to Kings Cross and then got the tube to Paddington. We got to sit both times, as it wasn't very busy. 

We arrived at Paddington with lots of time to spare before our train (it hadn't arrived nor been given a platform yet), so we got some breakfast and waited. Luckily, it didn't take that long until the train arrived for us, so we found it, and then our seats, with plenty of time. 

This train journey was pretty long. As we were going all the way into Wales, this was somewhat expected. Arriving in Swansea, we hadn't really planned much more of our journey (I couldn't easily understand the format the Welsh train/bus time tables were in), so asked someone at the handy information desk at the train station. They said to get to Carmarthen (which is what we expected we had to do, but appreciated the local knowledge matched our researching online) and get a bus from there. We got tickets to Carmarthen, however had to get the replacement bus service (not only in London!)...

The coach was pretty packed, so me and Liz were sitting a few seats apart for the trip. After a lot of travelling already, I was fairly tired so was mostly gazing at the scenery (when we eventually got out of the urban scrawl). Liz was more tired so slept for some of the trip. The roads seemed a little dodgy (either that or the coach was, could be both I guess), as we were jumping around a lot (so much so that the child sitting behind me threw up in the gangway about 2 minutes before we arrived in Carmarthen). 

In Carmarthen, we asked at the train station information desk how to get to where we had to go (I wrote down the address as I wasn't sure how "Laugharne" should be pronounced - apparently it is pronounced "Larn" (like "yarn" or "barn"), so I don't know what all the extra letters are for). We were told to get the bus (and that there was a bus station just across a bridge). 

Crossing the bridge, we arrived at the bus station and enquired about how tog et to our destination. We were told that, unfortunately, the bus had left a few minutes ago (thanks replacement bus service!). Asking when the next one would be, we were told they run every two hours. So a lot different than waiting about 3 minutes for the next tube train. 

The place we were staying was self catering, so we had a wander around the area before deciding what to do next, while picking up some foods for us to eat (as we hadn't brought much with us to keep down the weight to carry). I got a map from the Millets there of the surrounding area, and we asked where we could get some food. Trying to follow some directions to a Tesco (we got to a car park and didn't know where to go from there) we just decided to go to Wilkinsons instead. Not a huge selection of food, but enough to get us started for the evening. 

At this point, we were tired and hungry after a long days travelling and didn't want to wait for the bus, so just got a taxi instead. Bit expensive (it cost about the same as two train tickets from Luton to Swansea; I think we got a much better £/mile on the train, by a few orders of magnitude), but I guess that is taxis for you. The driver was nice and told us a bit about the area, as well as where the nearest shop was when we almost arrived. 

We checked in, dropped off our bags (luckily we got a lift to our hut so didn't have to carry our bags any further), settled a bit and then went off to the shops we had been told about to pick up more food. The shop was a medium sized Spar and we went about picking up things that we would need for the week, and a few things we needed that night or the next few days. 

Back at the chalet, we cooked up a chicken casserole (one of the things we had brought from home was a packet mix to go with chicken, which we got at the local Spar). It tasted very nice (and I don't think that was just because we had been travelling for ages!). 

We slept in on the Sunday morning. It was Liz's birthday so I got her breakfast in bed when we did decide to get up. I made so much that we didn't really need to eat anything else until later on - lots of toast, bacon, sausages, orange juice, hot chocolate, spaghetti hoops. As it was Liz's birthday, we didn't have much planned for the day, apart from to start our relaxing holiday by doing some relaxing! We had a wander around the village of Laugharne where we were staying, looking into some of the shops they had there. We got a couple of things from the gift shops there, and I got Liz a little silver ring from the silversmith there for her little finger. 

That evening, we continued our relaxing at the chalet, I tried out some of the local whiskey that I had purchased earlier (there weren't any proper glasses to drink out of, so I used a wine glass instead). 

Using local mince, I made bolognese for dinner, as it is something Liz likes (and it was still her birthday). Extra special for dessert was angel delight (with a ferrero rocher on top). 

The next day, we had planned to do some walking around the local area. I was using the OS map I got on Saturday to plan out a walk using the local footpaths. Starting our walk, it turned out I had picked a pre-defined walk for part of it (a Dylan Thomas walk, that goes across the estuary which inspired some of his poetry). Following it along, we came to a fork and decided to go with the steep incline downwards, so we could take the other way back which looked less steep. This route was pleasant to walk along, lots of nice scenery. 

Walking along, we eventually came to a farm that was marked on the map, and started to keep an eye out for a footpath at a right handle - this would start the more ambitious long stretch of the walk, but I was confident as we had made good progress so far that day. 

Continuing along a little bit, I concluded that we had gone well past it, so walked back to the farm to keep a better eye out for it. We eventually found it (it was less a path and more just the side of a field). It was a bit muddy and, after having trouble getting across the first field, we decided to turn back as the field afterwards was a lot muddier and we were struggling as it was. 

To take the second route back, we had to walk past the farm up another path that was more defined than the field, but just barely. It involved a fairly steep few stairs to get up to one level, and then it was less steep, but still a noticeable incline - the issue here was that the path wasn't that wide and had a very sheer drop right next to us. Luckily this didn't last for too far, and we got to a better walking environment soon enough. 

I came across some ruins of buildings and had a look around. As they were next to the path, and offered somewhere to sit down, we decided to stop for lunch. 

After eating, I had another wander around the ruins, before we head off to continue our walk. I considered adding on an extra bit to walk, but we were getting tired so decided against it. Lucky, as we found a nice spot to look out over the marsh and fields on the way back:

Just before getting back to the village, I took a photo of the castle there (we wanted to look around, but it is only "open" in the summer "season", which doesn't start until April). 

To have a bit of a rest from our walk the previous day, we decided to go to Carmarthen to do a bit of shopping (as it had more shops than the village we were in which only had a few) - getting the bus this time as the taxi was expensive...

Luckily we got to the bus stop early (it ran every two hours I really didn't want to miss it again) as the timetable we were given at the reception of the park we were staying at was a few minutes off after the recent changes to the bus times...

In Carmarthen, we first confirmed the place to get the bus and what time (to ensure we were ready to get it on the way back), and went to the bank, and then Wilkinsons again, this time to have something to eat, before a little wander around. We continued our wandering around Carmarthen; every time we went down what looked like a small road it would add another one to walk down, so there seemed to be lots of little roads of shops all adding up into a fair number in total. We got some fish to eat later on, and I got us some ice cream too. 

Back from Carmarthen, we went on another walk, this time a shorter one. As the evenings were starting to get brighter than they have been the last few months, we were OK with leaving at 4ish to do a walk (I made sure we had torches, just in case). We got the route from the reception, and I checked it on my map so I could refer to it if I needed to, but mainly stuck with the print out given as it fit in my pocket and explained some of the major bits in detail that you don't get in a map. 

It started off with a coastal walk before getting to a field, and eventually a small field with sheep in, which seemed to wander off to avoid us as we walked through the field. Then through a farmyard again where a dog paid us some attention while we tried to walk past. Then along a stony, muddy track, which was quite long, and slightly uphill so somewhat tiring. I started using my OS map to check the types of roads we should be turning onto and after a few turns we were onto a small concrete road, which eventually led us to the back of a church yard. One possible route back was all road but a bit longer, and while suggested to avoid the muddier dirt path back, we decided against it, however this may have been to avoid going through the really creepy looking church graveyard...

...which we did go through anyway. walking along the actual road a bit, I got my bearings a bit better and checked the local knowledge on the print out of the walk I had brought with us - there was the graveyard on a hill with the grave of Dylan Thomas, so we decided to have a look, but take a longer route through the church yard (as this part looked slightly less creepy). We had a look at some of the gravestones on the way, as well as the Dylan Thomas ones. I concluded that graveyards are (somewhat unsurprisingly) a fairly depressing place to be (we kept on noticing graves of people dying quite young). 

Walking back, it had started to get dark, but not too dark that we couldn't see (I had a torch just in case). My map reading came in handy to get a path that took us to right outside the park we were staying in. 

Even though we had a short walk on Tuesday, we had a walk planned for Wednesday that took us away from the estuary and further into the country side. I had tried to have our walk go past what said "fort" on my map, but we couldn't seem to find it (just a field with a really steep hill, that we walked along the bottom of, but I walked to the top and back to have a look around, very steep hill it was). 

Continuing the walk took us up a hill to a tiny village that seemed to consist of a church and some houses that seemed to be a point where a couple of farms met. We sat on a bench by the church and ate lunch before having a wander around the churchyard, where I found an interesting looking church window. 

We started off to find the next footpath on our planned walk, which initially looked like someone's driveway, but did branch off into a footpath, covered with some trees which was a nice walk. This bit was fairly short until we got onto a field with some horses in. We crossed the field (which was a bit muddy) and got to another field, with two ponies (which was muddier). Next was a small bridge over a tiny stream and then, unfortunately, a very muddy field that was also steep uphill. 

We eventually got to the top of the field and walked around another field this time to get to the road. From here, we followed the road back to Laugharne. We spent the rest of the day relaxing. 

As before, we had a more relaxing day after a walking day, so went on a short trip to Pendine, a couple of miles down the road. Getting off the bus, we checked the times it would arrive to go back next time (there was one bus that goes from Pendine to Carmarthen via Laugharne all day, which is why it was every two hours). A quick look through the shops later, we started walking up the cliff by the end of the beach and had a look at the view. 

We went down the cliff (second photo) to where there were a few caves, and had a look around (kept on getting spooked by birds loudly flying out of the cave). 

I had planned to look at a few other caves, but decided against it after seeing "DANGER" painted in large yellow letters above the next cave along, so we got off the rocks and started walking down the beach. 

This was a nice little walk, strolling along the sand, getting over some of the tiny streams from the rocks to the sea, trying to get to the end of the cliff to see what there was there (my map said more caves), but we got to a more sizeable stream that we couldn't easily get across without getting our feet wet, so started wandering back. 

We had another wander around Pendine and ended up getting lunch at what seemed like the only cafe open (there were a few there, but all closed, out of season I guess). After lunch, our two hours were almost up, so we waited for the bus (it was a little too breezy to sit on the beach for another two hours). 

Back in Laugharne, we had a look around the Dylan Thomas boathouse/museum, and sent some postcards. 

The last full day was earmarked as just a relaxing and packing day. We checked what time to check out Saturday at reception (they allowed us to stay later because the standard check out time is 10AM, but the one bus we could get wasn't until 11AM), and picked up some golf clubs and balls to play on the crazy golf course on site. The course was interesting, but seemed to not be built to well for actually playing on. The surface was quite uneven, the sides were very low so the ball kept on flying out and the course seemed a bit awkward. The last hole required a jump, so we both kept on trying until we eventually got it. 

Afterwards, we went to the pool that they have on site and had a swim around for a bit, before having a quick go in the sauna and heading back to relax, cook, and pack. 

We woke up early enough, and finished getting ready, and played some Commander while waiting for us to leave to get to the bus stop. Bus to Carmarthen, then straight to the train station, getting on a train (no replacement coach this time thankfully) that was going to London, but we had tickets booked for another one so we only went as far as Swansea, where we had a bit of a look around before deciding that the shops seemed like just general town centre shops (nothing unique or interesting - there was also a furniture shop called "happy something" that had the most run down and depressing looking sign I had seen, quite the juxtaposition). The birds were also flying aggressively low for our liking, so we just went to the train station to wait for the train to arrive so we could get on. 

This was the long train journey again, and the day seemed to disappear before us until we finally arrived in London, where we could reverse our journey from the previous Saturday. 

In all, it was a pleasant holiday. Lots of relaxing, and some great views. I liked the walking we did as I wouldn't have liked to sit around doing nothing the whole time, and I think we got a good mixture of walks in over the week, over a number of different landscapes.