Oh hi there! Welcome back!
So yes. Initially we booked a rental car for pick up in London, before we got spooked and changed it to a train to Bath and the rental car from there. We picked places to visit almost at random from the guidebook – anywhere that looked interesting, really, and then picked hotels based on: 1. does it look like Manderley? 2. is there a pub nearby?
It was the best week with the worst beginning.
Traversing the city on the tube at rush hour is never the most pleasant experience but doing it with a bag? Horrible. Even if it’s only carry-on size, like ours were, it’s not the nicest. Oh and then when we got to the station we discovered our train had been cancelled.
Like I tweeted at the time, there’s adventure, and then there’s ‘trying to catch the National Rail on a day with a signal failure.’
(I WAS TOO MAD TO EVEN TAKE PHOTOS)
We were given two options; to hope for a train to Basingstoke and then take multiple extra little train journeys to Bath, they had no idea how much extra it might cost and it might take us all day; or to get a refund, go to another tube station, and spend £20 more to catch the train on a different service to Bath.
We paid the £20. It was worth it.
It was raining when we got to Bath and it seemed like our rental car company had vanished into thin air. Wandering around an industrial area is not the most fun you can have an is in fact less fun than dealing with a cancelled train and unhelpful customer service people.
Once we were at the rental car company, eventually, the skies cleared (I’m not even kidding) and we were given a brand new SEAT León to drive.
It was adorable and black and had only done 18 miles when we got it. And, thank everything, it had Sat Nav. We named her Penny and she would become a saviour and a menace over the next week.
On our way to our hotel for the night we took a detour to Portishead because it was on the coast and, mostly, because of the band. It was one of the windiest places I’ve ever been. And I’m a born Wellingtonian.
The hotel we picked was the most Manderley of all. A big old hotel on a cliff overlooking the sea in a town called Clevedon just out of Bristol.
We drove in to Bristol to visit the suspension bridge* and then returned to our hotel by the sea to sit in the bar, where we were the youngest people by about 30 years, to drink beers and plan our next move.
You know, if you ever visit Bristol, you should definitely check out the SS Great Britain. Initially we thought it would take maybe an hour? Three hours later we were back on the road. It was the only super touristy thing we did in Bristol but I don’t regret that for a second.
Croeso y Gymru!
I’d been to England before, and I’d been to Scotland, but I’d never actually made it to Wales. It became my favourite part of the trip.
Tintern Abbey was just far enough off our route that I was beginning to really hope it was worth it when we rounded a bend and there it was, majestic and crumbling and almost in the middle of nowhere.
We were almost alone among the stones.
Our first night in Wales we technically stayed in Cardiff but drove out to a place called Cowbridge (in the Vale of Glamorgan!) to have dinner with another member of my girlfriend’s family.
(DON’T LET THIS FOOL YOU. THIS HOTEL WAS NOT GOOD)
We were underwhelmed by Cardiff – the traffic and hotel were terrible, there was nothing we really were that invested in seeing, so we decided, fuck it, Cardiff’s not going anywhere, and headed out of the cities.
It was the best decision.
If we’d stayed in Cardiff we’d never have stumbled across the Botanic Gardens of Wales or had enough time for me to get us lost in the moors searching for a random church we saw a sign for.
We also visited another ruined Abbey – the Strata Florida from the 12th century, and the Devil’s Bridge which only cost £1 to visit and was worth so much more.
Basically, a 2.5 hour drive took us the better part of 7 hours and I wouldn’t change a thing. Every time we rounded corner to see yet another beautiful part of the landscape one of us would invariably exclaim “Fuck Cardiff!”
University towns, we like. Aberystwyth has a university, and a ruined castle, and a funicular, and a beautiful classic British seaside town waterfront. It was utterly utterly charming.
We stayed in a hotel on the waterfront because, when you’re in a place like that, you just can’t not. Our room was in the attic with a beautiful view of the sea, and apparently half the hotel was originally built as a home for one of the Jack the Ripper suspects. I was in love.
Continuing our pattern of doing-things-beloved-by-old-people, on our day in Aberystwyth we clambered around the ruins of the castle (13th Century!) partly because they were there, partly because they were free, and then took the (crazy steep and rattly) funicular up the hill to see the view.
On our way back down, I kicked the bar at the northern end of the promenade. No, I don’t know why. A sign told me it’s a tradition.
Oh! And, visiting the old-old-old books at the National Library of Wales, I snuck this photo of Angus McBean’s guest book (I didn’t use flash, I swear).
Also continuing our pattern of taking-7-hours-to-drive-anywhere-in-Wales we drove to Colwyn Bay via Snowdonia National Park and Portmeirion, because why the fuck not, basically.
Portmerion looked a little bit like a hallucination and we got lost in the woods. But it was such fun.
(we also ate Welsh Rarebits because they were on the menu, it was cold outside, and well, we were in Wales so I think it’s mandatory)
Most of the way to Colwyn Bay we crossed an old old one lane bridge and saw there was a pub by the river and it was so fucking gorgeous I could barely take it.
So we stopped and had a pint and it was just perfect. I couldn’t have been happier.
Which is good, because Colwyn Bay was very very weird. We stayed in a B&B run by the loveliest people (and their precocious daughter called Hermione Rose) but the town itself? Almost utterly charmless. A strange dinner in a strange restaurant followed by a pint in a Wetherspoons pub. But only one. Because it was a Wetherspoons and not a very nice one at that.
Driving out the next morning we drove along the waterfront to see the Bay the name promised, but a wall had been erected all the way along, as if they didn’t want anyone to see it.
We should have stayed in Conwy.
In Conwy was yet another medieval castle ruins. This one was from the 1200s and is in remarkably good nick. Plus there were a lot of birds nesting all around the walls which adds a surreal air.
Then, for some absurd reason (um I think I suggested it?) instead of just driving the under-two-hours to get to Lancaster, we decided to drive all the way around Lake Windermere so 1. I could see the lake, and 2. we could visit Satterthwaite which is probably named after a distant distant relative of my girlfriend (her name isn’t Satterthwaite, don’t get all stalky)
It ended up taking us all day.
But! The Lakes District is beautiful, and Sattertwhaite is a tiny town with a babbling brook and whitewashed houses and a country pub where we had lunch.
Thanks to our diverting diversion, and the fact we needed to get to York, we ended up not having any time at all to see Lancaster. Which was a pity because our room was in the attic with a view out over beautiful grey stone buildings. Maybe we’ll go back someday.
It’s beautiful in York. We were staying at a hotel-above-a-pub right next to the medieval gate and two minutes walk from the Minster.
We spent hours in the Minster – the undercroft area is actually a pretty interesting museum but they don’t even tell you that when you go in. So odd. We also climbed the 275 steps to look out over the city. Also an excellent choice.
(oh and I was super glad we did the Yorvick Viking Centre first because well that was not impressive at all and it would’ve been terrible the other way around)
After York we drove to Bath – probably the longest journey of our trip, and the only one where we stuck to the motorways and listened to Penny the SatNav the whole way through. We had to get to Bath in time to drop off our wee Leon.
When we pulled into the rental car place we’d clocked 995.7 miles (or more than 1600 km) and we hadn’t damaged their brand new car at all. Phew.
Our hotel in Bath was terrifying and probably haunted. The bathroom was twice the size of the bedroom and constantly chilly. There was terrifying art on the walls of the hallways and the only other people there seemed to be over 80.
The Baths of Bath? You kind of have to, if you’re there. I touched the water in the middle before I saw the sign saying to not touch the water and my finger felt all strange and wrinkly for the rest of the day. The water tastes …. like blood.
(there was a tap and paper cups, it wasn’t the same water you weren’t supposed to touch)
That night we were sitting outside our hotel, not quite ready to face the potential horrors of a night in a haunted hotel, when a man (this is disputed, my girlfriend swears it was a woman) in full creepy-clown makeup and long hair, accompanied by a younger person holding a light bounce reflector scurried into a bar next door to our hotel.
We were just drunk enough to think there was maybe some strange kind of circus/cabaret act going on at this bar called … Circo. Not even kidding.
Of course there wasn’t and this story, like so many, kind of just ends there. We had hoped for circus cabaret but instead we had a couple of really delicious cocktails at an almost-empty cocktail bar, and slept all night undisturbed by ghosts.
The next day we caught a coach back to London, moved into our flat, and enjoyed the special bliss that comes with unpacking a suitcase after weeks of living out of it.
* a terrifically sad sidenote to our time in Bristol. As we headed back to our hotel for the night we noticed the area around the suspension bridge had been cordoned off by the police. It had only been an hour or so since we had been at the look out and when we checked local news websites that night and the next morning we couldn’t find out what had happened.
It was a couple of weeks later we found out an old woman had committed suicide from the look out and that’s why everything was cordoned off. I’m beyond certain she was sitting on one of the benches when we were up there (my memory is very good) and … the rational part of my brain knows there’s nothing I could have done, but the irrational side wishes I’d smiled and said good evening to her.