adeo Insights – Kevin Murray’s Diary: Week 5, North Wales

It’s all very well us telling you what to see and do when you come to visit Britain but who can give you a better insight into what you can expect from an adeo tour than our guests themselves! Our guest Kevin Murray has been kind enough to allow us to publish his trip reports detailing his travels through England, Wales and Scotland this Spring.

This week Kevin and Glenys explore the Snowdonia National Park and North Wales.

Northwards once more, through tiny fishing villages and coastal holiday destinations… past the iconic Cardigan Bay. We stopped at Aberystwyth to walk the Victorian-era promenade separating the multi-hued houses from the gravelly beach. Finally, on to our B&B in the little village of Pennal, our gateway to Snowdonia National Park.

IMG_1176We entered Snowdonia in style; by steam train, chugging up to the old slate mining town of Ffestiniog, a town clinging to the side of the steep, grey mountains that provided the huge volumes of slate that gave the town its proud boast that it has “roofed the world”!

After our train returned us down the mountain, we drove right through the middle of Snowdonia National Park, stopping wherever we could to take photos – not an easy task on these narrow, shoulderless roads. We took time out from driving to explore the extraordinary Bodnant Gardens, a National Trust-owned estate garden in the heart of the beautiful Conwy Valley. Wow! How refreshing it was to be walking among the colourful azaleas, magnolias and tulips, viewing the reflections of the magnificent estate house in the tranquil ponds, and exploring the labyrinth of paths, with picture-postcard views at every turn.

IMG_1178Our next stop was Llandudno – a popular seaside resort town on the north coast of Wales, still partly locked into the thirties with its promenade, fun-pier, cable-car rides and traditional hotels. From here we drove to Caernarfon where we explored its massive Castle, discovering that its eight centuries of history were so much more than the 1969 investiture of Prince Charles and how myth, legend and reality are so intertwined in Welsh history that it is difficult to tell where the truth of a tale really lies. If only these old stones could talk! Sequestered within the castle walls was a marvelous museum which attempted – quite successfully – to untangle some of this history for us.

Llandudno - Llandudno PierBack in Llandudno we ascended the massive monolith of limestone, The Great Orme, that dominates the end of the Llandudno peninsular. Half way up the steep road we stopped to explore a Bronze Age copper mine, a 3D labyrinth of tight, dark tunnels dug some 4,000 years ago with bone and stone, following the veins of copper ore. The vast complex of kilometres of tunnels had remained undiscovered until 1987 and is still being excavated. It was mind-blowing to contemplate the working conditions of these ancient miners who were making bronze tools and weapons 2,000 years before the Romans came to Britain.

Our next stop was to be at our friend Kate’s house in a little village near Chester. On our way there we detoured to inspect another ruined medieval fort but this one, at Flint, was special. It was featured in Shakespeare’s Richard the Second and we stood on the very spot where Richard was captured, listening to an audio of the very scene. Chilling stuff!

ChesterThe ancient city of Chester itself is quite unique. Nowhere else has the same combination of an extensive Roman history, the largest Roman Amphitheatre in Britain, the most intact Roman city wall, the stunning Tudor buildings in the town centre and the majestic 1,000-year-old Cathedral.

You can explore North Wales with adeo Travel on our Mountains and Medieval Fortresses self-drive tour or sit back and relax on our Castles, Coasts and Celts small group tour.

adeo Insights – Kevin Murray’s Diary: Week 4, South Wales

It’s all very well us telling you what to see and do when you come to visit Britain but who can give you a better insight into what you can expect from an adeo tour than our guests themselves! Our guest Kevin Murray has been kind enough to allow us to publish his trip reports detailing his travels through England, Wales and Scotland this Spring.

 

This week Kevin and Glenys cross the border to Wales, land of Dragons, and make their way along the beautiful South Wales Coast.

Next stop, Cardiff in South Wales, reached via the gigantic Severn Bridge. Here we visited Cardiff Castle, another spectacular site just oozing with history. The last family to own it undertook extensive (and expensive) renovations, restoring the ancient Roman walls and creating a sort of medieval dream world in the opulent residences.

Cardiff - Cardiff CastleWe spent another whole day exploring this surprising city, beginning with the extensive riverside parklands, then the Civic Centre and the National Museum with its comprehensive and informative display of the geological and paleontological history of Wales. Under unexpected blue skies we then wandered the streets, admiring the colorful low-rise buildings, the numerous pedestrian plazas and the attractive shopping arcades which make the centre of town very people-friendly. We also got to admire Cardiff‘s iconic Bay area, cleverly transformed from being the largest coal port in the world to a lively entertainment precinct dotted with some very impressive architecture, like the ginormous copper-sheathed Millennium Centre and the historic red-brick Pierhead building.

From Cardiff we ventured deeper into the mountainous Brecon Beacons area to the north, following the tortuous course of the Wye River through valleys painted with every shade of green. We explored the ruins of the surprisingly large Tintern Abbey, learning what life might have been like for a medieval Cistercian monk – not comfortable, that’s certain!

Brecon Beacons - Carreg Cennen CastleAfter overnighting at the lovely little village of Crickhowell, we caught a beautiful old steam train right into the heart of the Brecon Beacons National Park. Expecting rugged mountains but finding green, rolling hills – albeit rather large hills! The scenery was spectacular, with the gleaming white new wool of this year’s Spring lambs dotting the bright green fields beyond mill-pond calm lakes and not a drop of rain in sight.

and so, on to Stackpole, our gateway to the glorious south coast of Wales, 200 miles of which is part of the Pembrokeshire National Park. We zigged and zagged along this rugged coast, exploring its windy headlands, sheltered coves and sandy beaches. We saw thousands of squabbling Guillemots vying for that crucial piece of ledge, high on pillars of rock thrusting above the crashing Atlantic waves. We wandered over headlands sculpted into magical shapes by sea and wind. We descended into a bleak stone hut wedged in a precipitous crevice where St Govan was supposed to have hidden from pirates. We explored the colourful town of Tenby whose pastel-shaded houses contrasted with the severity of the remnant castle ramparts.

Pembrokeshire - TenbyFrom Stackpole we continued northwards, hugging the Welsh coast. We followed the medieval pilgrim path to the smallest “city” in the world, St David’s. It achieves city status because of its cathedral, which is almost as big as the town. This beautiful cathedral with its impressive woodwork has been in more or less continuous use for over 700 years, even surviving the worst ravages of the Dissolution era. Next door to the cathedral was the Bishop’s Palace, which wasn’t so lucky. It is now in ruins but is intact enough to allow its English Heritage owners to use it as a background to cleverly convey what life must have been like in its heyday.

If you would like to explore South Wales, why not try our Cardiff, Castles and Coastlines self-drive tour or you could explore Wales on one of our popular small group tours!

adeo Insights – Kevin Murray’s Diary: Week 3, Cornwall and Bath

It’s all very well us telling you what to see and do when you come to visit Britain but who can give you a better insight into what you can expect from an adeo tour than our guests themselves! Our guest Kevin Murray has been kind enough to allow us to publish his trip reports detailing his travels through England, Wales and Scotland this Spring.

This week Kevin and Glenys explore Cornwall, the beautiful South Western tip of England before travelling back East towards Bath.

lands endOur next stop was Redruth. From here we ventured to other locations in Cornwall, including the quaint harbour town of St Ives, with its confusion of cobbled lanes and its tiny fishing boats bobbing defiantly in the Atlantic swells. Under increasingly threatening skies we drove on to the southernmost tip of England – Land’s End – where we managed to catch glimpses of the storm-battered basaltic cliffs through the rain squalls. We sought refuge in a warm clifftop cafe where we devoured, as you would expect, Cornish Pasties.

 

Our next stop was the beautiful little coastal village of Marazion. We were here to walk to St Michael’s Mount, an 11th century Benedectine priory-turned-castle set imposingly atop a craggy island located just offshore and reached only at low tide via a rocky causeway.

St Michael's MountHeading northwards now and we hugged the Cornish west coast for as far as we could. We stopped in at Tintagel, home to many of the Arthurian legends but with an even more fascinating real history revealed by its ancient ruins. We were early arrivers, so had the whole headland to ourselves. The views up and down the wild coast, framed by decaying siltstone castle walls and bathed in early morning sunlight were, like the climb, literally breathtaking!

 

And so, on to the fabulous city of Bath, a place literally dripping with ancient history, especially Roman. Naturally we toured the meticulously excavated old Roman Bath complex where the very professional and highly evocative audio and visual presentation really brought the ruins to life. We especially liked the emphasis on recreating the lives of “ordinary” people rather than the usual preoccupation with the lives of the “ruling classes”. The digital simulations and 3D models enhanced the real sense of traveling back in time.

 

Bath - Bath Abbey 2We also visited the beautiful Bath Abbey where we were almost brought to tears by a young soprano, Maria Brown, filling the vast space with her enchanting voice. A walking tour of the nearby attractions, including the Royal Crescent and Victoria Gardens and we were replete with the splendour of this most wonderful of cities.

Visit Cornwall and Bath on adeo Travel’s very popular West Country Legends self-drive tour, or perhaps our Corners of Cornwall small group tour.

adeo Insights – Kevin Murray’s Diary: Week 2, Going West

It’s all very well us telling you what to see and do when you come to visit Britain but who can give you a better insight into what you can expect from an adeo tour than our guests themselves! Our guest Kevin Murray has been kind enough to allow us to publish his trip reports detailing his travels through England, Wales and Scotland this Spring.

This week Kevin and Glenys head West, stopping at the historic town of Salisbury and the mysterious Avebury standing stones before continuing to the beautiful Devonshire coast.

Salisbury Cathedral
Salisbury Cathedral

The next day found us heading southwest in our near-new, canary yellow Citroen DS3. We drove to Salisbury, checked in to the Grasmere House Hotel (in a room with a four-poster bed, no less) then checked out the spectacular 13th Century Cathedral that dominates the town. We were fortunate enough to hear a service with the harmonious voices of a full choir filling the cavernous interior. Walking back through ancient irrigated fields called “water meadows” we were reminded just how long this area has been occupied and farmed.

The next day saw us winding our way north through narrow, soggy roads to the little village of Avebury. Here we became utterly absorbed by the thousands of years of history that confronted us. From the Neolithic standing stones, mysterious circular trenches and huge conical hills, to the 600 years of continuous habitation of Avebury Manor, captured in the refurbishment of its rooms, with each room reflecting a particular era of occupation. On our way back to Salisbury we visited Old Sarum, another Neolithic site of mysterious meaning, later used as fortification or as a place of worship by various conquerors.

Avebury Stone Circle
Avebury Stone Circle

We left Salisbury under clear blue skies and headed for the coast. Our trusty satnav took us along narrow, windy, pot-holed tracks that pass for roads here, eliciting a large sigh of relief from us both when we eventually arrived at our first destination; the evocatively named Durdle Door. A heart stopping descent on foot down a slippery track, buffeted by an icy gale coming off the sea and we found ourselves on a beach of fine pebbles nestled beneath towering cliffs of chalk, with our eyes compellingly drawn towards the enigmatic stone arch that gives this part of the coast its unusual name. The climb back up to the carpark was literally breathtaking!

The Jurassic Coast
The Jurassic Coast

On to Exeter. What a fabulous, friendly place this is, surrounded by rich green pastures which start just minutes from town. We went on a guided walking tour of “Medieval Exeter” discovering snippets of its history, from the Roman walls and bridges to the gothic churches. We passed through 600-year-old doors and viewed twisted medieval houses, all with interesting stories to tell. We lunched in the Spring sunshine by the quayside before enjoying another tour, this time of the fabulous spire-less 12th to 14th Century Cathedral with its distinctive Norman towers, intricate vaulted ceiling and soaring stained glass windows.

Leaving Exeter, we headed west, right through the middle of the Dartmoor National Park. The weather couldn’t have been any kinder to us, brilliant sunshine, no wind, blue, cloud-flecked skies. Dartmoor is littered with the eroded remnants of a 300-million-year old granite intrusion, leaving huge boulders (called tors) atop steep hills of sodden peatmoss. Also littered across the landscape are quiet little villages sheltering in the deep, green valleys, beside fast flowing, ice-cold streams. The patchwork of fields is delineated by mile after mile of dry stone walls – many of them much older than the 14th century church we visited in Widecome in the Moor.

If you would like to visit the places described in this blog, we recommend our West Country Legends self-drive tour or the Best of Devon and Cornwall escorted coach tour.

adeo Insights – Kevin Murray’s Diary: Week 1, London

It’s all very well us telling you what to see and do when you come to visit Britain but who can give you a better insight into what you can expect from an adeo tour than our guests themselves! Our guest Kevin Murray has been kind enough to allow us to publish his trip reports detailing his travels through England, Wales and Scotland this Spring.

Kevin and wife Glenys spent the first week of their trip in London. In this first installment they explore every corner of the capital as well as finding time to spend a day in the coastal town of Brighton.

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After spending a total of 22 hours on a plane, an overnight in hot and hazy Dubai and half a lifetime standing in airport queues, we finally arrived in London. We really lucked out with the hotel in Bayswater and quickly learnt how to successfully navigate the fabulous London Tube. Apart from just wandering around absorbing the myriad sights and sounds of London, we did a hop-on-hop-off boat trip on the Thames, climbed the hill to the historic Greenwich Observatory, toured the insides of the majestic Westminster Abbey and spent a whole day exploring the grounds of the fabulous Kew Gardens. Unexpectedly, all of this activity was completed beneath blue and sunny, albeit still somewhat chilly, skies… with not a drop of rain in sight for two whole days – oddly, we felt slightly “dudded”!

London - Tower Bridge (2)I spoke a little too soon about the rain, but at least it only fell overnight, leaving our third day fine for a little more sightseeing. This time to the iconic Tower of London and the adjacent Tower Bridge – “the most famous bridge in the World”, according to the Brits – with its imposing views of the impressive London cityscape…

Our fourth day in London was also surprisingly rain-free, allowing us to walk through Kensington Gardens, past Kensington Palace and the extravagant Prince Albert memorial, and to spend the rest of the day attempting to absorb the wealth of information contained within London’s superb Science Museum.

Brighton - Brighton PavilionThis has to be some sort of record… our fifth day in London and our umbrellas are yet to be used! We took advantage of the fine day and caught the train to Brighton where we visited the unbelievably opulent Royal Pavilion – marveling at the unflinching narcissism of King George IV in conceiving of and building such a monument to one man’s vision of unreality.

We knew it couldn’t last. Our sixth day in London and we finally had to deploy the brollies against the chilly drizzle. Just the type of day to spend in another museum, this time the fabulous Museum of London. We circled the ginormous St Paul’s cathedral on our way there and visited Selfridge’s department store on our way home. But the Museum itself was totally engrossing. We spent over 5 hours wandering its chronologically organized galleries but barely scratched the surface of the thousands of years of history upon which this incredible city is built.

London - St Pauls…And so we end our first week of travels. Boy, has that time flown. In a couple of days we hire a car and venture beyond London. Stay tuned…

Inspired by Kevin and Glenys? How about spending a week in London on our London and Beyond tour?