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I recently returned to the USA from a sudden but exciting adventure across the pond to the United Kingdom. The goal of the trip was three-fold: to study some unpublished manuscripts of J.R.R. Tolkien (for an article or two in progress), to tour sites related to Owain Glyndwr (for an upcoming book), and to visit the site recently identified as the location of the Battle of Brunanburh.
As a result, the trip was pretty well packed with things to do, so I’ll be breaking up my trip report here into smallish doses. Enjoy!
. . .
Tuesday, 19 July 2011
Big traveling day today, with multiple stops and a lot of great country.
My first stop was — at last — Machynlleth, where Owain Glyndwr held his first parliament. There’s a fifteenth-century building on the same site (no one is certain if it is the one Owain used) that now houses the official Owain Glyndwr museum and study centre.
It isn’t nearly as impressive as it sounds. It’s striking, in fact, how unbothered they seem to be about promoting or highlighting their history over here — relative to the USA, anyway.
Still, it was quite lovely for what it was, and I got to chat up the gentlemen running the place. (I also learned they have plans to expand if they’ve enough interest, which I hope to help provide for them.)
From there I drove to Harlech, which took me along the absolutely beautiful seaside near Barmouth. I tried to capture it, but I’m sure I failed. (Another thing they don’t have over here are picture-taking spots. I daresay they’d be well-served to promote themselves a bit more to tourists with overlooks and the like.)
I was in Harlech, as you may recall, to see the castle. Unlike Aberystwyth, which is in utter ruin, Harlech is only partially in ruin — and it is very impressive. It’s situated on a high rock promontory, seemingly grown up out of the native stone. The multiple levels of the gatehouse, main walls, and towers remain. I hiked the tight, steep spiral stairs to get to the highest point, and it was an amazing view out over the sea and up into deeper Wales. A really great castle with strong connections to Owain: it became essentially his headquarters after he seized it in 1404. It was very much worth the detour it took me to get there.
Before I left Harlech I had a spot of ice cream to go with my powerbar. I ordered a tub with two flavors — one scoop each — the Welsh equivalent of Bailey’s, and an award-winning elderberry blossom. That second one I had to convince them to let me try. They kept saying that it was a very local kind of flavor, and I surely wouldn’t like it. Yesterday a person from Arizona hated it, blah, blah, blah. Turns out I positively loved it. So there.
From Harlech I had a long drive over Snowdonia, essentially all the way across Wales, down into the Dee valley. Owain Glyndwr is from the Dee valley — his last name, in fact, effectively means “of the Dee.” There’s a sizable equestrian statue of him in Corwen that I stopped to snap.
Owain’s childhood home (well, the mound on which part of it was built) is not too much further, right beside the road west of Glyndyfydry. I obviously stopped there to hike around through the sheep-poop-strewn fields.
So then, at last, down the valley to Llangollen, where I’ll be spending two nights.
I really like Llangollen so far. It has a sort of “Ouray” feel as far as the small town meets tourism in beautiful surrounds. Gift shops, local crafts, a mighty river tumbling through … And an artisan spirit to boot.
It also has a bit of Silverton in it: there’s a small steam-powered train that puffs up and down the valley from here. Very awesome in and of itself.
Oh, and there’s the Telluride part, too: it’s a town of art and music and hot-air balloon festivals.
And did I mention that it is beautiful?
Yes, I do think I like it here.
For dinner I had an odd — to my American experience — but quite yummy “macaroni cheese” (as they call it) at the Corn Mill. Might have the best atmosphere of all the places I’ve been to on this trip. I then took a walk through the town along the rushing river (awesome), then along the boat-filled canal (awesome), then across the old stone bridge (awesome), and back along the river and, well, you get the idea.
It’s pushing 9:00 now — as I said it was a long trip today — and tomorrow I will have a lot to do. Just have to decide what it’ll be!