Last Sunday, Martina and I left Winchcombe, heading for Cheltenham Spa and our trains onward. We had such a great few days together, and the heavy rain as we made our way to the train station seemed a sign that it was the time to end our walking trip.
Martina headed down to London, but I spent the day with a friend from Nottingham, his partner, and their two kids. It's been awhile since I'd seen Mark, perhaps since we all met for a play in Stratford ages ago. How fun to be in their new house, talk with. Mark and Katrina, meet the new baby, try to get the 2 1/2 yr old to smile, and just catch up. Mark pulled out his photos from his 1996 trip to Chicago, and we just laughed at how young we all look, especially my very young brothers!
Then, too soon it was time to board another train to Runcorn, where I would meet Claire. We were spending the next few days at her family caravan on Anglesey, so we drove straight there. It had been nine years since I last made my way into Wales, when Claire and I went to Beaumaris and I spent a few days on my own castle hopping in north Wales. This time we'd enjoy the caravan and celebrate my 41st birthday! Claire had premade delicious vegan food, so we had amazing stuff to eat for the four days.
Monday seemed like the day with the least amount of rain in the forecast, so we decided on a National Trust property, Penrhyn Castle outside Bangor. This "fake" castle was finished in 1837 over the remains of a much older castle. It's massive and gorgeous, with a beautiful walled garden and views stretching around the countryside. Inside, you wander through the gorgeous living quarters, up amazing staircases, and through the kitchens. There was a gift shop in the stables, a railway museum, and lots of photographic opportunities. Such a great few hours!
Then, it was home for lunch. The weather seemed to be holding out, and the tide was low. One of the Ball family caravan activities is to walk the coast to the Ship Inn in Red Wharf Bay. So we packed our rain gear and went to the beach, walking around and over rocks and moss. We arrived at the Ship Inn a bit chill but nothing a warm pub and a pint of cider couldn't fix. It felt like a perfect pub, full of kitschy memorabilia, ambience, people with dogs, candles. We couldn't linger too long due to the tide, so we headed back. We only had a few trouble spots and one wading through the shallow water, but the coast is beautiful, making it a lovely walk regardless!
Tuesday, I woke up to the sound of heavy wind and rain. Nothing could dampen my spirits, as I was on vacation. That being said, the rain stopped, and Claire figured it was our chance to take care of the break in weather. We packed our gear and made our way southwest from Bennlech to Newborough to do a lighthouse tour. Claire knows how much I love them, so she took me to one of her favorite spots, Llanddwyn.
What a gorgeous day to walk the beach to this island. It once was a holy pilgrimage site to St Dwynwen, and the remnants of the old church and two crosses still in honor of her. What a gorgeous island with its sea grasses and flowers, the sound of the waves crashing, and two lighthouses. The first Twr Bach is small and used more as a tower than lighthouse. The second Twr Mawr is larger and has more of a working lighthouse feel. They are both painted white and are surrounded by cliffs and sea views. The sun came out and blue sky could be seen! There are a few old cottages dotted around the island. I did not see any of the wild ponies on the island, but the rest was too pretty to care.
We then went back to the car, making our way back east, passing through the town with the longest name (Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoth), to lighthouse #3, Penmeth Point. We had a quick lunch in the Cafe (tea and beans on toast is the best birthday lunch) and meandered down to see the lighthouse. Painted in more traditional white and black, it sits in between Puffin Island and the Anglesey coast. Again, the sun and blue sky were showing themselves. When leaving the point, there are a few sites to see: an old dovecoat, St Simeon's well, and St Simeon's church. The dovecoat was the first I'd ever seen and a bit creepy if you imagine it filled with birds.
We meandered back to the caravan, passing through the lovely Beaumaris. I was last here in March 2006, when it was cold and quiet. Now it was crowded due to school holidays, as people flooded to the castle. We came home, popped open the prosecco, and enjoyed a birthday meal made by Claire. She even made a chocolate birthday cake and brought candles. We watched some amazingly bad tv shows (I think British tv rivals the US for bad reality tv) and just chilled. I enjoyed checking Facebook for all the birthday messages, and I Skyped Todd for a birthday chat. A great day for welcoming in 41.
This morning, my last full day in the UK, we started off with a morning excursion to the nearby fishing village of Moelfre. The sky looked ominous but held off rain. We took a beautiful walk along the coast there with cute little cottages, people walking dogs, the sea crashing below us, and lots of photos. No wonder Claire and her family come to Anglesey. There are so many cute little places that you'd miss if you didn't know about it.
It was then back to the caravan for lunch, a pack up, and the return to Liverpool. We spent my last evening with Claire's lovely parents, Marie and Gerry. I've been having dinners with them on my visits for the past twenty years, and I do love their company.
So now all I can do is sleep, wake up, and head to the airport. This decadent month long holiday is over. I've loved every second, relished every cup of tea, and now it's time to get back to my Chicago life and plot the next trip. Thanks for following along, the 18 of you who seem to be reading :)