A Somewhat Romantic Getaway in WalesCOTTAGES & CABINS, GUEST BLOGGERS, Interesting Towns, Scenic Wonders, THE UK, WALKING/HIKING — By Steven Hampshire on January 13, 2012 at 01:13
By guest blogger Steven Hampshire. Photos Copyright © Steven Hampshire.
AFTER SIX MONTHS of stagnate Surrey dwelling, the wife and I thought it might be nice to take an extended mini-break somewhere we hadn’t yet been. I wanted to drive, and Lindsay wanted to see some coast, so we figured “Why not see a place with far too many consonants in its name to properly pronounce?”
After we had picked up and packed the hired car, we set off in the morning for Llwyngwril in the foothills of the mountains of Snowdonia.
The bland British motorway is alright and everything, don’t get me wrong, but the further we got from home, the better the road got. For almost no reason, we stopped in Shrewsbury. Lindsay picked up a few magazines with free lip glosses and eye makeup from Morrisons, and I opted to purchase some wine and spirits for what I believed would be a rather romantical time.
I knew we had finally entered Wales when road signs started telling us to “Araf” (slow down) around corners and over hills. That and the fact that the first town we rolled through was called Welshpool was pretty much a dead giveaway.
Welshpool was alright to look at from the car. It was a quaint little English-looking village with Welsh flags all over it, but we happened to get stuck in traffic. We ended up sitting in traffic due to a single, terribly programmed traffic light that would allow one or two cars through with each change. Obviously, each change took upwards of ten minutes. Let me assure you, there is nothing more ridiculous than sitting in a traffic jam in a town with a population of 6,269.
After we had made our left turn through that terrible light, we headed on down the A493 towards our next stop in Dolgellau. The road was admittedly pretty fun to drive, but it was most certainly dangerous to anybody who hadn’t driven it a hundred times. Both lanes were no wider than two of our little Vauxhauls would have been side by side and, as such, we ended up driving a lot of the way with the right tire on the dividing line—if there was one to begin with. As we got closer, we were met with two-meter high stone walls on either side; stone walls that had no doubt claimed the lives of numerous side-view mirrors over the years.
We did make it to Dolgellau where we stopped for a coffee, or what they advertised as coffee, and an orange soft drink.
The last bit of the drive, all the way to the Pentre Bach Cottages, was even tighter, windier and much more beautiful than any road we had yet seen. When we finally came over the hill that looks over Fairbourne, we were stunned. This is the Wales you see in post cards. This is the Wales people come to see.
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Pulling into Pentre Bach was even more stunning than that first view of the Irish Sea. They had some incredibly beautiful real estate and upon it was nestled two buildings, comprised of four cottages. We ended up staying in the smallest of them, Y Llaethdy, as it was just the two of us. Still, the place was impossibly cute, something that Lindsay was really rather fond of. We stayed in that night, made dinner, and sat out back watching the trains go by and watching the sun set.
Wanting to make this more of a vacation than anything else, when we awoke the next day we had only one thing on the docket. We wanted to go for a small hike up the hills behind the house and take some pictures. The number of sheep was mind boggling. True, I have yet to go to New Zealand—and Skye did have its fair share of the little guys—but my God they (and their excrement) were everywhere. I also saw more than a few cows on the hike. Still, muddy shoes and all, the view from up there was pretty spectacular and definitely something I’m glad I was a part of.
Being rather sick of doing stuff, we thought we might go to the pub for a drink and feel out what dinner might be like. Thank goodness we aren’t the type to judge a place based on its name because Llwyngwril’s only pub was the Garthangharad. We walked in and sat down at the bar to get a few pints in us and have a laugh with whoever happened to be there. The regulars had no issue with us being there and we were almost immediately welcomed to a table in the back of the pub to watch the rugby.
After a few drinks, we decided we had best be staying for food and we were both really glad we did. Honestly, I don’t remember what exactly we ate due to the consumption of a few pints prior, but I do remember absolutely loving it. It was definitely a cut above most pub food I’d had before, was plated nicely, and looked fantastic. I guess, because the Garthangharad is also a hotel, they step their game up for their guests.
The next day, we wanted to go and check out Barmouth and the Harlech Castle. We started with the castle and worked our way back throughout the day. The castle was nice and all, if not a little destroyed by years of withstanding the English, then withstanding the Welsh.
Once I had taken all the pictures I wanted, we left the castle walls and made our way to a little cafe down the street. The sandwiches were quite alright indeed and the coffee was probably the best I had in Wales (really not saying much with that statement).
On our way back to Llwyngwril from Harlech, we stopped in Barmouth almost entirely because of it’s relative size to everywhere else we had stopped in Wales. We decided, after a short drive through, that we might as well pick up some things for dinner and lunch over the next couple days. After the market, we decided to walk about for a bit. Shortly, we realized that there was a super awesome amusements arcade on the promenade. We ended up spending a few hours in there and blowing more than a few pounds trying to grab giant plush cupcakes from grabbing machines. Once I had successfully extracted a pink one named “Shelley” we made our way down the promenade to the bay.
By this time we’d seen enough of Barmouth and made our way back to our little cottage for dinner on the grill. We had some pretty amazing vegetables and sausages grilled over coals and ate it in the little alcove of our cottage.
Our fourth and final day before driving home would be spent attempting to hike the Cadair Idris in the Snowdonia mountain range. Getting there was fun in and of itself, but the hike up was literally one of the most beautiful and ominous I have ever done.
Frankly, we picked a terrible day. The cloud cover was thick so it made for good pictures, but once we had actually gained some elevation, we were soaked. Outside the parking lot there were a number of really very pretty houses and ranches that you envision yourself living in as you pass. The first hour or so of the climb also yielded some pretty spectacular views, but once we had entered the fog, the climb got worse and worse. When we finally reached the peak, it was raining sideways, windy as anything and cold to boot. I took a shot of the peak, but ultimately, the shelter was what I was really interested in. We sat in the makeshift cabin, eating the rations I had brought up with me, before making our descent.
We went back to the cottages and promptly sat down for the rest of the evening, rewatching Gavin and Stacey with a new-found appreciation for Nessa’s job at the arcade.
After packing up our hired car, we found leaving Pentre Bach was rather difficult. It had been a really relaxing vacation for the most part and there was just something about Wales and the Welsh people we met that made us slow down. That little piece of Britain’s coast line will be visited again the next time we need to take a few days to slow down.
Steven Hampshire is the content director and often travel blogger for, what is in his opinion, the United Kingdom’s best car hire search engine price aggregator website thingy, CarRentals.co.uk. Most of his travels are around Western Europe, but he’s been to exotic locales such as the West Coast of America and even Poland… (He quite liked Poland).