Monday 2 October 2017

The joys of travel

Unexpected delights and tribulations have always been the lot of the traveller. so too has been our experience in the last two weeks of touring England and Wales as an add on to a planned family visit to our daughter, son-in-law and their delightful 18 month old.

Revisiting the Cotswolds after forty two years renewed our acquaintance with this charming area. Our travel through to North Wales reminded us of how intensely the UK is farmed and we saw a wide variety of agricultural pursuits throughout these regions. The driving on very narrow roads can be challenging but the Brits are very polite drivers and are accustomed to pulling over in the narrowest of spaces.


The rich fields of Wales support more sheep to the acre than one can ever imagine to see. The mountain area of Snowdonia and its glacial valleys were a treat to see. Somewhere in Wales with the unpronounceable name (for me) of Gwernymynydd we mananged to collect a parking fine. Wow £60, a king's ransom, despite our assiduous search for the pay and park sign. The hillsides of slate and abandoned mines in Wales are reminders of times past whereas the ubiquitous blue P, a sign of the present day, has had us digging deep for many pound coins in all the places we have visited across the UK. After a three day stay in Llandudno, from where we explored as far afield as Anglesey and Holyhead as well as the nearby beautiful National Trust Bodnant Garden  we moved to Chirk to begin our narrow boat adventure.

Bodnant Garden near Conwy, Wales

At Chirk marina we boarded our narrow boat 'Ruby' for four days. This was a novel experience and thanks to my husband's persistence and skill in manoeuvring the beast we conquered the curves, tunnels, locks and aqueducts. Our route towards Ellesmere revealed a twisty tree lined canal where we were amused by all the cows canal side, along with hundreds of ducks and sheep wandering down for a drink. Two locks conquered and rest breaks for morning tea and lunch and soon the day was gone. Passing through overhanging trees and viewing the attractive countryside from the walking pace of the boat, this was a magical experience.

One of the many bridges to be negotiated along the canal

Next day on our journey back past Chirk there was another challenging tunnel. Light on, power up against the current and through we went. Once past that we approached a swing bridge, another new experience. Once wound up and we were through, the famous aqueduct of Pontyscillite was only a short distance from there so we decide to cross and find a turning place at Trevor.

Entering the aqueduct high above the Dee River

What an experience, 38 metres high above the Dee river with a sheer drop and no fence on the left hand side approaching from this direction. I stepped off on to the walking path on the right to take photos. With a phone camera it is difficult to get perspective but the valley was far below. Across the aqueduct lies the small basin and settlement of Trevor. We had decided not to progress to Llangollen township taking into account the time it had taken us to get this far and the rapidly deteriorating weather conditions. Chris threaded the boat through the narrowest of spaces and managed a five point turn. This led us back to the aqueduct where two boats were slowly progressing towards us. The rain was now steady as we recrossed in the other direction. No photos this time as the weather closed in. The narrow canals near the aqueduct provide no mooring space so about half an hour later we were relieved to tie up for the night. The next morning dawned sunny and bright so we walked back and crossed the aqueduct again, this time on foot and we marvelled once again at this amazing engineering wonder. On Friday morning we returned the boat well before the 9 am deadline and left the marina to head north.

'Ruby' our home away from home for 4 nights

We arrived in Chester to once again be charmed by its buildings and general ambience and set out in somewhat drizzly weather to explore. Chester boasts a magnificent collection of 'black and white' buildings incorporating 'the rows' where the covered walkway is above street level with shops below. After enjoying a croissant and coffee we visited the ancient but well endowed cathedral where modern sculpture was on display in the enclosed cloisters and side passageways.

At the corner of Bridge Street and Eastgate Street, Chester

Next to Liverpool where we marvelled at the size of the municipal and civic buildings from earlier times. Walked down to the pier area where we saw and photographed the famous Royal Liver building and next to it the huge square block of the Cunard headquarters. More than 9 million British and Irish immigrants left for the USA, Canada and Australia from the port here. A sculpture of a family of immigrants commemorates their departure. The history of the Cunard line is engraved on large stone tablets near the front of that building. 

The size of many of Liverpool's buildings reminded me of the immense buildings in both Washington and Delhi. St. George's Hall is a huge structure atop the hill, incorporating concert halls and courts. Nearby are the museum and library. The walkway leading into the library has book titles and authors' names engraved into large pavers. There are many signs of renovation and renewal in the city centre.

The Royal Liver building

Onwards to Blackpool in heavy Friday afternoon motorway traffic. Loathe it or like it, it is a cultural phenomenon like no other. The old central pier stretches well out to sea and is crowded with sideshow alley stalls and rides. Pinball parlours are prominent and the whole length of the promenade must be the world's longest sideshow. After dark the Blackpool tower flashes its neon glow as thousands of people crowd the pavements. About thirty Cinderella style carriages await passengers to transport them in their blue, pink or white glass bubbles along the length of the promenade and back. It was a cold windy night but thousands were out with children twirling every imaginable shape of neon lit baubles. 

I write now from the comfort of Toll Cottage in Cockermouth where we arrived yesterday after a day touring some villages of the Lakes District and venturing over the Cumbrian hills. Until now we've had relatively good weather and will venture out again tomorrow after a day of rest and recuperation, essential for the traveller.

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