It has been a VERY dark, cold, and rainy couple of weeks on our little island and this family was about to go friggin' stir crazy! We had to get out of the house STAT and I knew exactly what we needed.
I'm absolutely in love with the show Poldark and one of my favorite characters in the show is moody, dramatic, and deliciously wild...the landscape. If you haven't seen Poldark yet, it's wonderful (and no, BBC nor PBS paid for this post...wish they had). I just craved to see the coast, sun and scenery. We needed a good day out!
I'm part of a wonderful little group on Facebook with other expat women living in the U.K. and I asked them where to go to get a little scenery. There was no shortage of replies. England is a much smaller landmass compared to the States, but you can drive any direction for a short amount of time and get different countryside views, accents, and village histories and cultures in a matter of minutes. It's fantastic! Out of all the great suggestions, I chose Conwy Castle in Wales due to it being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I feel like anything that is on the same list as Stonehenge is definitely something worth seeing.
We packed up our road trip gear and even though we're just gone for the day, with two little kiddos...you better have the equatable baggage to be able to fend off the apocalypse.
The moment the coast came into view, the clouds parted and the sun was shining. Heck, I think my checks got a little sunburned just sitting near the car window. As we're getting closer to the city of Conwy, the ocean is on our right with windmills rising out of the water like great monuments of force and to our left are lovely rolling hills with dots of sheep and the occasional medieval fortress or manor home. (I swear, if you throw a stone here you'll hit a castle or a historical monument...and the amateur historian inside me eats this up!) Then all of the sudden the ocean coastline turns into harbor and BAM! there in front of us is Conwy Castle. Sitting atop a jagged rock island looming over you, it's massive size making you very aware of how small and tiny you really are. It was wonderful! I know I was squealing like a piglet in delight.
(Our first views of the castle!)
The castle was one of King Edward I's of England, built between 1283 and 1287 to solidify his stronghold over Wales. No expense was spared and it shows in every nook and cranny of this medieval fortress. We instantly followed the first parking signs we saw and headed out to our adventure. Little did we know that the city of Conwy is enclosed by medieval walls still intact, and in order to reach the castle we had to walk the very tops (we walked in the same footsteps as soldiers on patrol would have 800 years ago) and what an AMAZING surprise this was. We had stunning views of the fog blanketed hills and the tide out harbor. We truly got a sense of what a marvel this castle is.
(Walking up to the medieval fortress walls surrounding the city of Conwy.)
(See the notches at the very top of the wall? Those are medieval potties. YUP! They were used by the soldiers patrolling the walls. I'd hate to be that poor guy standing under one of those bad boys when they were in use.)
(Our boys LOVE "ancient stuff"! This is their play land.)
(Walking the fortress walls to the castle.)
(The spectacular views from the top of the wall.)
(Views of the harbor during low tide.)
So much love and care was put into this castle, but unfortunately it was hardly lived in. Such is the case when you are a king and own over 11 castles on one island. The castle is in superb condition, but the inside is not how it would have looked in it's hey day. It is down to it's bear stones, but this leaves so much to the imagination. By just looking at this castle, the majesty and commanding spirit that King Edward I imposed and possessed over his people very much comes to life.
(Feeling a bit like Rapunzel, sans a massively long braid.)
(Harbor views from the top of the castle.)
(The boys climbing one of the four towers for great views. It's hard to see in the picture, but every step in the tower (and most castles) is uneven. This was to the defender's advantage, with the thought that the offender would trip, fall or lose footing during an attack. A brilliant militaristic architectural design!)
(View from the top of a tower, looking down into the castle rooms.)
(Hubby and I soaking up the sunshine from the castle walls.)
(Conwy Suspension Bridge to the castle.)
Once we had had our fill of the castle we decided to peruse the town of Conwy. It is a short walk to the harbor shore where you can grab a great front row seat as the tide comes rolling in. The boys LOVED this. They got a chance to roll around in the sand, touch some of the old boats, and we stumbled across the smallest home in Britain. It was hysterically small. At the moment, it's closed for renovations, so we didn't get a chance to go inside, but they're opening up in March 2017...so we plan on making another trip.
(Otis Redding sang it best, "Just sittin' on the dock of the bay, waaaaatching the tiiiiiide rooooll away..oooh".)
(No way...I'd need to be the size of a hobbit just to fit in the door!)
The icing on the cake y'all was the Great Orme cliff which is about 6 km from Conwy. We wanted to see some cliffside and thought we could just make a quick drive by to "oooooh and aaaaaah". When we reached the top (which is drivable), we were rewarded with a stunning sunset! I couldn't believe our timing. The sun went down in a blaze of colors and light. Sinking behind the clouds and finally disappearing into the sea. I mean WOW! Perfect ending to the perfect day.
If you plan on visiting Conwy Castle anytime soon, a few suggestions that we would have liked to have known ahead of time:
1) This is part of Cadw, which offers one price memberships that will get you into their historic sites throughout Wales. They also offer 3-7 day Explorer Passes if you are only planning on visiting Wales for a short time. Better bang for your buck.
2) English Heritage is another membership program which will offer you free entry into over 400 historic places throughout England, and half off most sites in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. They offer year long and short term passes as well, if you plan on visiting the U.K. as a whole, this might be a better option. It won't get you into Conwy Castle for free, but you get 50% off entry and 10% off purchases in the giftshop.
(Fun fact: You're membership money goes toward preserving all of the historic sites Cadw and English Heritage offer. So you're also doing a good thing!)
This was a wonderful day trip, and to be honest we wished we had more time. Conwy is a beautiful gem of a town, full of rich history, scenery, yummy eats, great shopping on High Street and starting in March, they offer boat tours on the harbor. You will definitely spot us here again. There's nothing like a little sunshine and coastline (and a delightful castle!) to lift the spirits during the lull of January.