Wales: Coast to Mountains

“Here, are the stiffening hills, here, the rich cargo
Congealed in the dark arteries,
Old veins
That hold Glamorgan’s blood.
The midnight miner in the secret seams,
Limb, life, and bread.”

Mervyn PeakeCollected Poems

“Do you miss Wales?” Tessa inquired.
Will shrugged lightly. “What’s to miss? Sheep and singing,” he said. “And the ridiculous language. Fe hoffwn i fod mor feddw, fyddai ddim yn cofio fy enw.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means ‘I wish to get so drunk I no longer remember my own name,’ Quite useful.”

Cassandra ClareClockwork Prince

Map of Wales

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I live at the International Students House. This is an extremely diverse community full of people from different countries, majors, interests, habits, and tastes. One of the most amazing things about living here is the opportunity we have to meet new people. The bar and communal dining area are the best places for this. Of course, food and alcohol, the foundation of random introduction. Through ISH there are also free events taking place almost every week. Last week we had a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory themed dinner, a free classical music concert, and Oktoberfest.

But one of the most amazing parts of living at ISH is access to groups like the ISH Travel Club. Although the trips that they run have a cost, that price tag is far cheaper than any other available channel we have for travel.

With this in mind I joined the travel club and immediately signed up for the Wales trip. I have always heard wonderful things about the Welsh landscape and couldn’t wait to take advantage of its proximity during my time in England.

I have to say now that it was one of the most fantastic weekends so far.

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The weekend began the morning of the 5th of October. Two other students from Wisconsin signed up for the trip as well. One was my roommate Caitlin and the other was Lee. So Caitlin and I walked over to ISH, grabbed breakfast, and joined the random group of people standing in the lobby. There were 16 of us in total, mostly Americans, and mostly cool and exciting. Our guide, Oz, is from northern England and was nice and interesting from the get go.

After getting on a bus at 8:30 and driving for hours we arrived at the Medieval city of Chester, right on the border of Wales and England.

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The Chester clock is one of the most photographed clocks in England, with good reason!

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Chester was absolutely beautiful, and the hour that we spent there walking around the remaining ancient city walls was a perfect break from the bus road trip. Wall construction was started by the Romans between 60 and 70 AD. Of course there were more modern sections but every now and then I would run my hand over a rock and imagine it sitting there in prehistory. Memorable moments: A sausage roll from the PoundBakery, for a pound, of course. Our new friend Alex buying some freshly made doughnut holes, hot and covered with cinnamon sugar. Having wholesome conversation with new friends. Walking paths, canals, and dogs…dogs everywhere.

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Chester Abbey. Built around a Benedictine Abbey first established in 1093, parts of the old abbey still exist on site.

After Chester we drove over the border to the fishing village of Conwy, well known for it’s castle and city walls.

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Castle, ocean, mountains, and sunlight.

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Here is Oz hamming it up in a turret.

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Pshh…danger? I laugh in the face of danger!

As we passed into the country of Wales the language on the signposts changed from only English only to both English and Welsh. The Welsh language is beautiful, fascinating, and perfectly fit to the skyline of the country. The letters J, K, V, X, and Z are not actually used in the Welsh alphabet. Our guide proposed that if someone could correctly guess all five, then he would buy them a drink later that night. I was one letter away.

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This is the view from the front lawn of The Warwick House, in the town of Llandudno, where we stayed for the night. The hill behind is called The Great Orme. Caitlin, Lee, Alex and I stayed in the guesthouse for long enough to drop our things, then went for a walk up the hill.

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Trying to find our way up the hill we stumbled onto THIS. Apparently it is called dryslope skiing?

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Sheep at sunset on the Great Orme. I will admit that I spent some time chasing them around. I guess that New Zealand never really left my bones.

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Caitlin loves flowers, so this picture at sunset would only sum her up better if she was sticking one in her hair.

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We ran along the top of the Orme in the hunt for the perfect view of the sunset. Running at such a height with sunset and stars and good friends was absolute perfection.

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While on the hill we all decided that it would be a fantastic idea to come back up for the sunrise. So it was an early bedtime in a comfortable bed and an early wake up made more difficult because of the comfortable bed.

When we first stepped outside it was dark. Stars were out. There was a hint of possible sun rise along a corner of the sky. At 7:24, after we had been out there for about 40 minutes, at sun rose and it turned into this:

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On the way down we had two animal encounters. One was a donkey, and he kissed me. The other was this goat who came out of nowhere then ran off into the brush.

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Coming back down to the guesthouse our windswept and freezing souls were healed by a traditional Welsh breakfast that looks a whole lot like a traditional English breakfast.

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The great Orme in the bright mid-morning sun is an entirely different hill. We all piled back into the minibus and went, once again, up the Great Orme. The views were outstanding and the wind (not seen) was so strong I felt like I could float out over the water like a bird.

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The next town we visited has the longest place name in the Europe. Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, phonetically it is “Clan vira pulth gwinn gith gor gerrick win drob uth clan tay see lee oh go go gokh.” Five pounds if you can say it three times fast.

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Caernarfon Castle. A grand example of English Edward’s castles.

There were dogs everywhere and border collies held the vast majority. As I move closer and closer to the dog owning stage of my life I find myself critically examining every dog that I see. The one with Caitlin below we found tied to a bench at the fittingly named Porthmadog train station. I wanted to take him home, but his owner showed up before I could.

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The afternoon in Snowdonia was what I looked forward to the most about this trip. I absolutely was not disappointed. This place looks the most like New Zealand as anywhere I have been since. A walk in the woods and a train ride later and I wanted to buy a thick sweater and never leave. Of course, it was like New Zealand, but at the same time was subtly different. It was enough to make my heart break a little. We took a steam train through the national park. Hills and valleys, wayward sheep, steam smelling wonderfully of gun power pouring through the windows every time we went into a tunnel, piles of slate rubbish, twirly trees, overcast skies, moss, and winding footpaths winding their ancient way through wales.

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The seven hour bus ride back to London was a brutal affair, but as you can see from the pictures above it was worthwhile. After arriving home I took time to relax at the International Student House bar while I wrote down snippets of the adventure weekend over a bottle of IPA. Two days to experience an entire country is simply not enough time. Especially when the country is as dark and mysterious and gorgeous as Wales. Still, for one weekend I escaped the city, ran across hills, saw stars, chased sheep, and met new wonderful people so I must express that it was a weekend well spent.

Love from London,

Carey

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