A couple of weeks ago we were in Wales. The next part of our UK trip was to visit friends in that neck of the woods and to have a bit of a break. We hired a car from Budget straight from Gatwick. Once the paperwork was all done, off we went.
Now car hire is something you should all be wary of. The amount to hire advertised when booking the car doesn’t necessarily cover you for adequate insurance, so read the fine print before driving off. I realised last time that windscreens are covered by the whole insurance. What that means is the whole excess would need to be paid to have a windscreen repaired. It’s possible to take out separate glass cover for just a few quid, to avoid a huge bill for an irreparable stone chip. The other thing to watch out for these days is debit card transactions. Every time you use your debit card for anything travel related, there’s a hold placed on the value of what you paid for. That is, if you pay say three hundred pounds for a rental car for the week, this goes through off your account, then a hold is put on the same amount. So effectively your card has twice as much money debited, then when the car is returned in good shape, the hold is taken off, and the money magically is available again. This is because debit cards can’t go below a zero balance, unless you have an arrangement with your bank. I don’t always agree with using credit, but to avoid funds being held in limbo and not being able to access them, sometimes using the credit card is a better option. The hold on the car hire did not come off as agreed, and it took a visit to the bank to sort this out after getting back to Bermuda. Having been caught out by this before, we made sure we had enough funds to cover it this time, but it left us that much short during our holiday.
So off we drove. When you leave Gatwick, the M25 is virtually straight off the roundabout. So we went from driving thirty miles per hour, which is already faster than, Bermuda’s maximum speed limit, to suddenly being in a three lane motorway doing seventy.
I thoroughly recommend driving around the car park and even around all the roundabouts at Gatwick for a bit, to get used to the car before launching yourself to the mercy of UK roads. Luckily traffic was quite light being Saturday, and it wasn’t as hairy as we thought it might be. I opted out of driving this time, my lovely husband hadn’t driven UK roads for nearly two years, so it was his turn
The drive up to Wales is quite nice. I like watching the colours change as we get into cooler temperatures. The trees were turning quite late so there was a good autumn show, then the trees got more barren and skeletal as we got nearer to Wales. The hills looked greener though, and there was some evidence of the recent flooding every now and again. Down near London the hawthorn was flowering, which made the hedges look as though they were covered in snow. That’s quite unusual for this time of the year. The scenery gets more and more familiar as we near the North Wales Expressway, which I have driven countless times going to university in Birmingham, and when on my work-based placement for my degree. When we got to Llandudno, our lovely hosts had the heating on for us, and ‘my room’ all ready. We are so lucky to have such great friends. A dinner was organised for the next day, so we got to catch up with lots of friends. Some travelled a long way to see us, which we appreciated so much.
During the week we went to Chester. Chester has the Christmas market all along the main street, and I was looking forward to my Bratwurst sausage, yum. They are a foot long and so delicious. We looked everywhere, but they weren’t there this year. It didn’t matter really because we were going to a restaurant called the Botanist for dinner, who cater for every kind of food requirement, and have delicious choices. Mmm steak and ale pie for me. First the cathedral which was lit up for Christmas, and staff were there preparing a graduation ceremony. This year the cloisters had Christmas trees decorated by local groups right around the whole length of it. It looked really great, and some of the ideas were brilliant. Most trees had themes, my favourite being the tiny felt dolls each carrying handbags, dotted all over one tree. The market itself is lots of little stalls with all kinds of sweets, cheeses, jewellery, clothing, toys, carvings, decorations, candle burners, mulled wine or cider, well, you name it, it was probably there. If the post didn’t have to go so early to New Zealand, I’d love to buy all my Christmas presents there, but most of the natural handmade products would be confiscated by customs anyway. When we were thoroughly cold, it was time to hit the road and drive back. We didn’t use the park-n-ride this time. If you do get to Chester, there’s four park-n-rides, just outside of town. You locate the one nearest to you, park your car there, pay for the bus which takes a circuit around the main parts of town. It costs about two pounds each, and there’s no stress about trying to find a park. Such a good idea, I often think my home town should adopt it too.
Later in the week we went for a drive to Anglesey. Well we tried to. It was one of those days, when everything seemed to take a long time to get anything done. We finally went off after lunch, but realised we only had a couple of hours of daylight left. It starts to get dark around three-thirty in that part of Wales, so by four it’s definitely time to head home. Realising, we cut our drive short and went up the Ogwen Valley instead. I think I’ve written about it before, but the Ogwen Valley is in Snowdonia National Park. It’s a very beautiful part of Wales, and we were hoping to see some snow, but none was there this time. We parked in the carpark and walked up to the Devil’s Kitchen, that’s a lake at the top of a stone path. I have to quote the next bit to get my welsh, and geography right –
‘The Devil’s Kitchen is the name given to the dark, black crack which splits the rock of Clogwyn y Geifr (Cliff of the Goat) between Y Garn and Glyder Fawr. The Welsh name for Devil’s Kitchen is Twll Du, meaning ‘black hole’. Twll Du is known as the Devil’s Kitchen because of the plume of steam that is often seen rising from the crack resembling a chimney. It’s said when steam can be seen rising from the chimney, the Devil was cooking.’ (ref. 1).
I couldn’t have put that any better myself! Well, it’s one of my favourite places, possibly because of the lovely flat boulder path which zig zags its way up the hill. It’s a place that grounds me, and the view is breath taking when you get there. We were delighted the little wild Welsh ponies were grazing alongside the track. Don’t get too close though, they bite! It’s not too steep, last year my Mum managed the walk no problem, and two years ago, my youngest went right to the top with me, crossing a waterfall on the way. Now that was a view! Rain came in at us this time, and not being very prepared for an impromptu mountain adventure, my jeans got soaked through in no time. I was thoroughly cold by the time I got back to the car, and the only steam we saw rising was from my pants once the heating started to make a difference!
Our last activity in Wales was a ‘jolly’ to Betws Y Coed. This is a mountain village, a bit like New Zealand’s Queenstown, but everything is made of stone, and it’s very quaint. I just love it. We go and have a look at Swallow Falls to see how they’re flowing. The water is like back glass, it’s so dark with peat, and rushing over the rocks plunging down into pools like the frothy head off a beer. We looked about at the shops, which are mainly tourist, souvenir, art, jewellery, mountain equipment, food, you know the kind of thing. Then it was lunch at my favourite ‘Alpine Café’. I like going there for their all-day breakfast, two sausages, two eggs, fried potato and onions, baked beans, mushrooms, a tomato, and two pieces of toast and jam. They have lots of different tea choices from all around the world, so I try to have a different one each time I visit. It was Oolong this time. The café supports the Orangutans, so we know money spent there is also going to a good cause.
Our week went too fast, and we were on the road again, this time a quick dash and lunch with friends in Worcestershire, which was cut short by a traffic jam just five miles away from their home. Honestly, we were early according to the satnav, then absolutely stuck, for an hour. It turned out stop-go men were directing traffic just down the road from their house, and had closed a complete intersection, and put another to one lane. Only in the UK on a Saturday! After lunch we went onto a little hamlet in Herefordshire, to stay over with more friends at their lovely woodland cottage. The woods sound so different to New Zealand bush, which is alive with our alpine parrots, wood pigeons, bell birds, and fantails. England has squirrels, deer and pigeons cooing that I think I heard during the night.
The next morning, up at sparrow’s fart to be on the road, to get the car back by eleven to Gatwick. No traffic jams this time, and we made it with plenty of time to spare.
After checking our bags in, and going through security, we had a delicious brunch at Wagamama. Funnily enough, I have no trouble at all getting out of the UK, so no delays there either. And suddenly we’re boarding and flying again. Holiday over. I woke up the on the first morning after getting home to the sound of the rooster crowing, and thought, yep, definitely back in Bermuda!
More soon – Sally
Featured image: Llandudno beach view from the Great Orme, the Llandudno pier, to the Little Orme