June 1-6, 2016
After visiting Gary and his family for a few days, we began our six-day road tour of Wales. I lived in southern Wales for about one year during my LDS mission back in the early 1970s, so I was anxious to visit the country again.
We spent several weeks working on our tour plan, using a google document so everyone could contribute to the plan. It worked out really well and we settled on what turned out to be a great trip. We spent a fair amount of time in the car each day, and the boys were unbelievably well behaved the entire time. We didn’t have a lot of room with seven of us in the minivan, but everyone seemed content and excited to be visiting Wales.
Our first stop was in the lovely mountain town of Llangollen. We picked this stop because the River Dee flows right through town. When I learned that there was a River Dee, I just had to stop and take a look since I have a long family heritage of river rafting and kayaking. The town and surroundings were beautiful, and this would make a nice vacation destination. Apparently they offer guided river tours 364 days of the year – every day except Christmas.
Our next stop was Rug Chapel. Kim and I bought a Welsh Heritage Pass which gave us access to all of the castles we would be visiting during the week. We also picked up some small stuffed dragons as gifts for the grandchildren.
Rug Chapel is rather small, but it has a lot of decorations on the inside. It is in a fairly remote part of the country, so it probably doesn’t get a lot of visitors.
We took a short detour to visit Swallow Falls. The falls are just off the road, so it didn’t require much walking.
Conwy Castle was our first really large castle, and it was quite amazing. Gary’s family had already visited about 20 castles while living in England, and this jumped near the top of the list – at least until the next day.
Conwy Castle is on the northern coast of Wales, with spectacular views of the harbor and nearby mountains.
Our next destination was a hike to Aber Falls. It was getting kind of late, so we were not sure if we would have enough time to complete the hike, but everyone kept up a good pace, allowing us to visit the beautiful waterfall.
We even used my GPS to hunt for a few geocaches hidden along the way. We didn’t find all of them, but the boys really enjoyed the hunt and the treasure associated with each cache.
Our final stop for the day was at the train station in Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch on the Isle of Anglesey. I think this is the longest town name in the world. The sign at the train station is almost as large as the station.
The name means: Parish [church] of St. Mary (Llanfair) in Hollow (pwll) of the White Hazel township (gwyn gyll) near (go ger) the rapid whirlpool (y chwyrn drobwll) and the parish of St. Tysilio (Llantysilio) with a red cave ([a]g ogo[f] goch).
We also enjoyed some fish and chips at a shop across the street from the train station.
We bought breakfast at a bakery in Beaumaris before visiting the Beaumaris castle. Beaumaris castle has a nice mote, and is a well-designed castle. I was surprised to learn that the castle was never finished – because the owner ran out of money. I was also surprised to learn that it was built in just four years. I can’t image how much labor was required to build those massive stone walls.
Most of the castles had some form of treasure hunt or game for the kids to play, which made it more enjoyable and more educational.
Next we visited Caernarfon Castle. This quickly became everyone’s favorite. It is really large and has some great views from the tall towers. This castle is still used for official Welsh affairs.
We then drove through the beautiful mountains of Snowdonia National Park. We stopped for lunch at a beautiful lake called Llanberis.
We also stopped in the small town of Beddgelert to learn the legend of the dog that saved a small child from a wolf. (Look it up on the Internet to get the full story).
We then hiked to Cynfal Falls. This hike and water fall was rather disappointing, even though the countryside was beautiful.
We stayed at a hostel instead of a motel for a change of pace. It turns out that the owner of the hostel was from Utah.
We started the day by enjoying the Torrent Walk. This was our favorite hike; perhaps because it was in the morning before we got too tired, or perhaps because it was such a lovely walk. It was a nice trail along a cascading stream. There were no large waterfalls, but there were plenty of small cascades. We even found another geocache.
We left Snowdonia behind and visited the popular coastal town Aberystwyth. We spent about one half hour enjoying the beach, which was covered by millions of flat, round stones that would be perfect for skipping on the water.
After another fairly long drive we arrived at Whitesands Beach along the Pembrokeshire Coast. This was a really nice beach and the boys had a blast playing in the water and staking rocks. The wind was blowing rather hard, so no one wanted to get too wet.
In the morning we visited Broad Haven South Beach, which is on the southern coast of Wales. It consists of a large semi-circular beach inside a cove. Kim and I took a walk along some lily ponds while the kids played at the beach.
After finishing up at the beach we drove to Brecon Beacons and took another hike at the Waterfall Centre. The trail was wide and smooth and led to a beautiful waterfall called Sgwd Gwladus.
We spent the bulk of the day at the National Showcase Caves. There are three separate caves to explore, and a large dinosaur garden. The place is well kept and everyone enjoyed it. Before leaving, we visited their animal farm.
We then drove towards Cardiff and visited Caerphilly Castle. This is the largest castle in Wales.
We drove to Pontypool where I served about seven months of my two-year LDS mission. We found the house I lived in, and stopped at the small train station where I shared some stories from my mission with my grandchildren. That brought back precious memories.
One of my favorite castles from my mission experience was that of Raglan Castle, so that was our next destination. It was a smaller castle than I remembered, but I like the angular architecture of the castle.
We then drove through the Wye River Valley. It is a pretty valley, but the trees are so thick along the road it is hard to appreciate it. We made a short stop at Tintern Abbey, which I also visited on my mission.
Our final castle to visit was Chepstow Castle. I think I visited this on my mission as well, but I had no memory of it.
Finally, we drove back into England and down to Stonehenge, which is discussed in my “England Trip Report”.
We were lucky to have six days of gorgeous weather. Wales is absolutely beautiful with a great mixture of mountains, coastlines, and historic castles. The people were very friendly and helpful. We thoroughly loved our time in Wales.