Last weekend, we had friends visiting from Boston and we thought it would be the perfect time to take a little road trip to Wales. We all hopped in our little blue car early Saturday morning and hit the A40. We had decided that on our way to our Bed & Breakfast in Wales (a 5.5 hour drive away), we’d make some pit stops, and we were excited to get started.
It felt great to be back in the car, driving through the English countryside again. Our first stop was in the quaint little town of Burford, considered to be the gateway to the Cotswolds.
Next, we stopped at Daylesford Organic New Farm, a place Chris had learned about on a previous road trip from a local he’d met in a small Cotswolds village called Lower Slaughter (horrible name, amiright?). It was really cute! They sold local artisan cheeses, wines, and other foods, as well as locally made clothing, toys, and home decor items.
Our next stop was in the adorable village of Stow-on-the-Wold. I had been to a little tea shop here previously, with my friend Kim, and insisted we stop in for tea and a snack on this trip. Lucy’s Tearoom was just as cute as I had remembered and the food was just as tasty. We shared some tea, crumpets, a scone, and a sandwich, with a slice of carrot cake for take away.
We continued on to Hampton Court Castle (although it could more accurately be described as a manor), where we got lost in a hedge maze and wandered through the beautiful gardens with spring flowers in full bloom. We took a quick tour around the rooms of the “castle,” as well, but in my opinion, the outdoor grounds were much more impressive than the inside.
Castle #2 of the day was Ludlow Castle. We walked around the ruins of this almost one thousand year old site, impressed by how intact it was, considering its age. Throughout the centuries, this castle had had many renovations, so it has aspects of Norman, Medieval, and Tutor architecture. We wanted to check out the town a bit, as well, but there was some sort of carnival going on and there were a few too many people there for us to enjoy the sights, so we quickly moved on.
Next, we went to Stokesay Castle in Shropshire, England. It, too, was more of an old fortified residence than a castle, really, but it was pretty neat. As we listened to the audio guide, we learned that it is one of the oldest surviving wooden structures in the country.
We continued on our journey, making our way into Wales and Snowdonia National Park. This was certainly sheep country! There were sheep everywhere! Every now and then, we’d see a sheep that had somehow escaped the fence and landed outside, only to decide that it wanted back in – but couldn’t get back in!
The road to our Bed & Breakfast was windy and we drove through a valley. The views were incredible! We arrived at the B&B to discover it was on a sheep farm! We met the family who owned the farm and B&B, and settled into our home for the weekend.
On Sunday morning, we woke up and headed downstairs, where we devoured a full English breakfast (err – full Welsh breakfast?): eggs, “bacon” (British bacon is more like ham), toast, baked beans, sauteed tomato, and mushrooms.
We decided that day would be the best day for a hike, as the forecast called for rain in the evening and would make the ground muddy the next day. We threw on our boots and headed up the valley on the rural single-lane road, watching the sheep grazing as we walked, Meg and I squealing at the adorableness of all the baby lambs we saw.
We had learned from the farmers/B&B owners that it was lambing season (the time of year when ewes give birth to lambs) and that out of the 1,200 ewes that had been pregnant this year, there were only 30 left that had to deliver. The farmer and his family have been checking on the ewes and helping with the deliveries when necessary. We also learned that a lot of ewes – more so now than in the past – give birth to twins, so in order to keep track of who’s who, they number the lambs! Apparently the color coding is for the farmers to know which pasture or field they belong in.
When we got to the end of the road, we started up the hill, following the pedestrian footpath through a farm. Occasionally, we’d turn a corner to find a group of sheep hanging out in the road. They’d snap alert, see us, look around in panic for a second, and run off. The mother sheep (ewes) would usually see us first, and stare us down, deciding if they should move away or if we were at a safe distance. The lambs would either not notice us and keep frolicking around or stare at us, too. Sometimes, they’d take a curious step toward us, only to have their mother go “meeeeehhhh” and they’d run back to their mother’s side. It was so funny to watch!
Eventually, we got to the top of the hill and got some great views of the valley below. It was incredibly windy at the very top (almost had a hat casualty!), so we just snapped a few photos and headed back down.
When we got back to the B&B, we hopped in the car and went to find ourselves a pub lunch in a nearby town. It was a little hard seeing lamb on the menu after being around lambs all morning…
After lunch, we took a drive over a mountain pass in Snowdonia National Park. The landscape was very barren and looked incredible!!!
We passed through an old slate mining town called Blaenau Ffestiniog and then we turned back to return to our B&B via another two seemingly unnamed, long, narrow, rural roads. Both of these roads occasionally required us getting out to manually open a gate to ensure that free-roaming sheep wouldn’t wander off each farmer’s property.
The drive ended with us crossing over the highest mountain pass in northern Wales followed by our arrival at a local pub called The Red Lion (impossible for us to pronounce in Welsh!!) for dinner. Having hiked and driven around all day, we were pretty exhausted, and turned in for bed soon after.
On Monday morning, we headed to Harlech Castle, a fortress beautifully set high above a beach coastline that our B&B host had recommended. Pat and Meg went in to explore the castle (ruins), while Chris and I walked up a hill on a public footpath to catch a view of the castle from a short distance.
When we were finished exploring Harlech, we made our way past Mount Snowdon, the tallest mountain in Wales.
After we went over the mountain pass, we reached another slate mining town and found some castle ruins to explore.
Eventually, we arrived at Caernarfon Castle, one of the most famous castles in Great Britain. We explored until we had worked up an appetite, then stopped in at the Black Boy Inn for a delicious pub lunch.
Our last castle of the day (we were getting castled out!) was Conwy Castle. It was closed by the time we got there, so we just took a quick drive and walk around to see the walls. It looked really neat with at least eight large cylindrical towers!
After Conwy, it was time to make the long drive back to London. At the end of the 5 hour drive, we were happy to be back in our city “flat” (apartment), but missing the Welsh countryside already!