Caernarfon – Recapturing a Past Era

October 2, 2008

Our next destination was Caernarfon of the hugely impressive Caernarfon Castle. Caernarfon is less than eight miles from Llanberis, and it was a day trip.

From the Days When People Lived within Fortified Walls

The first thought that hit me when we reached Caernarfon was the fact that a whole town seemed to be located inside the fort. (Actually, only part of the town is inside; there are roads and buildings outside the fort too.)

The Caernarfon Castle, a majestic structure of impressive battlements and unique polygonal towers, is the dominating feature or Caernarfon. It stands tall on the shores of two water bodies – the Menai Strait and Seiont River. Seeing the Menai Strait stretching into the horizon, I imagined an enemy fleet arriving from distant lands to capture the castle.

The Caernarfon castle was built by Edward I, with the construction starting in 1283. The castle was modelled on the Walls of Constantinople. It was both a military stronghold and seat of government.

At present, the castle offers walkways that offer impressive views from high above, and houses the Regimental Museum of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, Wales’s oldest regiment. The Caernarfon castle has been recognized as a world heritage site, a highly deserved recognition, I felt.

The Town of Caeranarfon

Caernarfon is one of the few towns in England that date from pre-Roman times. The ruins of an old Roman fort, the Segontium, can still be seen there. In earlier times, it was an important port exporting slate. It now has a small harbour, and a Blue Flag certified beach, indicating that the beach meets certain international standards. I spent a lot of time looking at the boats lying on the Seiont River mouth.

The town, with a population of around 10,000, boasts of a Maritime Museum, Conference Centre, the Royal Welsh Yacht Club and the Galeri Cinema/Theatre. It is also a terminal of the Welsh Highland Railway.

Advertisements

Llanberis, a Fantastic Place

September 29, 2008

On a warm morning we started from Stotfold of south eastĀ England. After a 210 plus miles journey along impersonal motorways and green-bordered highways we reached Llanberis in North Wales in the night.

We stayed at a ‘converted’ accommodation, a private house converted into a B&B. The fantasy experience started when we woke up next morning and noted that the B&B was built into a mountain side. On three sides were the trees of a mountain forest. In front lay the road to Caernarfon, our next destination.

The fantasy continued when started our tour after reaching a car park at the bottom of the mountains adjacent to a jetty on Llyn Padarn, the lake that is a major attraction of Llanberis. The dark skies, slight drizzle and the comparative desolation of car park added to the mood, which was enhanced by the quaint steam engine that was pulling a lake railway, another attraction.

Llanberis is a small town in Snowdonia nestling between Llyn Padarn lake and the mountains. Its name is derived from Saint Peris, a welsh saint.

Llanberis had prospered in an earlier era from its slate quarrying industry. The mountains provided large quantities of slate that was used as a roofing material, and also as flooring, worktops and headstones. The slate industry declined when tiles became the main roofing material. There is a slate museum recapturing life in the old days of slate quarrying in harsh conditions.

Llanberis is now sustained by the tourism industry and also the pumped storage hydroelectric Dinorwig power station.

The town is a centre for walking, mountaineering, climbing, mountain biking, pony trekking, water sports and scuba diving. The summit of Snowdon mountain fascinates climbers and mountaineers, many of whom come with climbing sticks.

The waters of Llyn Padarn, lying amidst the mountains, is great for boating, canoeing and water sports. The water also feeds the Dinorwig power station. The power station has a special tourist center, where you can watch a giant turbine being rotated by the water power. You can also travel through the underground tunnels observing the wirings and piping.

The power station pumps the water back to the lake during off peak hours when the cost of energy is low. During peak hours when the demand for energy is high and the price is also high, water from the lake is released to turn the turbines and generate needed power.

Other Llanberis Attractions

Llanberis has two heritage railways, now run for carrying tourists. The Snowdon mountain railway used to carry the quarried slate during the industry’s heyday. It now carries tourists to the summit, hauled by steam or diesel engines. The second railway is the Llanberis lake railway that takes you on a sightseeing trip by Llyn Padarn.

The 13th century Dolbadarn castle ruins, rising desolately above the town in a forested area, is another attraction.

Stotfold – a Neat Little Town

September 24, 2008

We landed at London Heathrow airport on an April evening and travelled to Stotfold in the north. Stotfold was the place where we were to stay during our tour.

This was our first visit to England, and I wanted to see things with an Indian eye, my eye. Some of my comments might appear quaint to someone who has been living here. They might wonder why I bother to mention something so commonplace.

Stotfold

My first impression of Stotfold was that of a neat little place, with well-maintained brick houses, clean roads and greenery everywhere.

Stotfold is a a small town in Bedfordshire. It has a High Street and a network of roads named Rooktree Lane, Regent Street, Queens Street and so on. All the main roads were lined with houses from end to end. Then there were several enclaves, many with new houses.

The town must have a thousand houses, I guessed. The houses had gardens and many were hedged by thick bush. One thing that caught my attention was the fireplace chimneys rising out of the roofs of most houses.

The chimneys made me wonder. Did they have any function other than keeping up tradition? With convenient modern heating devices in place, did anyone use the fireplace? If someone did, would neighbours and passersby appreciate the smoke coming out of the chimneys?

Attractions of Stotfold

To me, a major attraction was the facility to walk among green environs. I was pleasantly surprised to find several small boards pointing to Public Footpaths. The footpaths led through open fields, by the side of the river Ivel and even through residential enclaves.

It was a pleasing experience to walk among the greenery breathing in the cleaner air, rather than along the footpaths of main roads breathing petrol fumes. And Stotfold offered greenery in plenty. The grass-carpeted and treed parks offered serene retreats.

There were also a few quiet roads lined with blackberry and other bushes. Instead of houses, barley fields bordered these roads. On one side, the fields stretched into the horizon. On the other, only portions of the field were cultivated. Remaining portions were uncultivated, sprouting old barley stalks and wild grass. Were these fields to be ‘acquired for development’, I wondered.

The river Ivel is a narrow stream that joins the river Ouse after a 30plus kilometer journey. It passes through different towns and villages, including Stotfold, on its way to Ouse. A walking trail, the Kingfisher way, is planned following the course of the river. What fascinated me were the swans floating on the river.

Stotfold’s main claim to fame is its mill. The mill is reported to have been listed in the 1086 Domesday Book and boasted the widest corn-mill waterwheel in the UK. Burned down in 1992, the mill is being renovated by the Stotfold Mill Preservation Trust, with the active help of Friends of The Mill. I liked the apparent purposefulness of this community group.

St. Mary’s Church is another heritage structure in Stotfold. Parts of the church date back to the 12th century, and the oldest church bell is dated 1484.

A Nice Place to Live

The people I met were friendly. Crime was negligible in Stotfold. There was a school, library, eat outs, takeaways, a cooperative store and other small conveniences. The motorway to London and to the North touched Stotfold. If you liked a quiet life, Stotfold seemed an excellent choice.