I slept well, that first night, back in Manchester, England. I knew the frustration of leaving France contributed, but, I had turned the page and was looking forward to my time with Mike and Karen.
Because of the delay in getting my checked luggage returned, we decided just to stay and enjoy the day in Manchester. The weather was much cooler and rainy but I loved it having just had so much heat and sun in France. I don’t think Mike and Karen believed me, but, it was true.
Manchester has gone through a revitalization over the last several years after a terrible IRA bombing in 1996. The 1996 Manchester bombing was an attack carried out by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) on Saturday 15 June 1996 in Manchester, England. The 3,300-pound (1,500 kg) bomb, placed in a van on Corporation Street in Manchester city centre, targeted the city’s infrastructure and economy and caused widespread damage, estimated by insurers at £700 million (£1.2 billion as of 2015). The IRA had sent telephoned warnings about 90 minutes before the bomb detonated. The area was evacuated, but the bomb squad were unable to defuse the bomb in time. Two hundred and twelve people were injured, but there were no fatalities.
Several buildings near the explosion were damaged beyond repair and had to be demolished, while many more were closed for months for structural repairs. Most of the rebuilding work was completed by the end of 1999, at a cost of £1.2 billion, although redevelopment continued until 2005.
My, how Manchester has recovered! What a great city with beautiful old buildings, fantastic canals (Google canal boat tours…it’s a thing!), museums, libraries, great pubs and restaurants. The downtown felt alive. We had a great visit. When we returned, I confirmed through the courier tracking system that my yellow spectrum sport bag was now in their system and would arrive at an ETA of 10 PM that evening. We did not want to miss the delivery as someone had to be present to accept the bag so we had a great home cooked meal prepared by my hosts with plenty of good conversation and wine. We were thrilled when the wayward bag arrived at 8 PM. We greeted it like an old friend but, alas, it was too late to drive out to Wales that evening. We decided to leave early the next morning for our journey. I emailed my other friends, who I would visit immediately afterwards, to tell them about our delay of one day. It all worked out as Mike and Karen had booked off work until Wednesday and my other friends were happy to have me arrive later Tuesday instead of early Tuesday as we had planned originally. My travel karma had returned!
The next morning arrived and we were off to North Wales. My host’s cottage was in Harlech which was about a two and a half hour drive from Manchester. We planned to do a long walk that day in the mountains close to Harlech so it would be a long day but we were all full of enthusiasm. The drive was very relaxing and I didn’t even realize when we had crossed into this country I had always wanted to visit. The only hints were the bilingual road/place signs, progressively narrower roads and the multitude of sheep!
Harlech is a town and seaside resort in Gwynedd, within the historical boundaries of Meirionnydd in northwest Wales. Lying on Tremadog Bay and within the Snowdonia National Park, it has a population of 1,447, of whom 51% speak Welsh. The town is located in the unitary authority of Gwynedd which was formed in 1996, from 1974 to 1996 it was in the Meirionydd District of the 1974 County of Gwynedd, and before 1974 it was in the historic county of Merionethshire.
The town is best known for the landmark Harlech Castle, begun in 1283 by Edward I of England, captured by Owain Glyndŵr, and later the stronghold of Henry Tudor. The castle was originally built next to the sea, but geological processes have changed the shape of the coastline, and the castle now lies on a cliff face, about half a mile (800 m) inland. The town has since developed with housing estates on the flat low town area and hillside properties in the high town around the shopping street, church, and castle. The two areas are linked by a steep and winding road called “Twtil”.
We arrived at my host’s aptly named “Castle View” cottage (very quaint and my idea of perfection for a holiday home) and we quickly prepared for our long walk.
Y Llethr & Diffwys from Dyffryn Ardudwy was the walk that Mike and Karen had chosen. Trailhead was about 15 minutes, by car, from the cottage. It was 18.7 km in length with an ascent of 932 meters with a moderate to hard grade. Y Llethr and Diffwys (the two highest points) were the highlights of this Snowdonia walk. Starting from Dyffryn Ardudwy, this ridge walk connects some of the summits in the southern part of the Rhinog mountains, which are known for their greener and less rugged character when compared with the rugged northern Rhinogs. There were so many stone walls and even an old “London Road” that we passed. There were quite a few fellow hikers and even dirt bikers (it was a long weekend after all!) we passed along the way. I had chosen to wear my trainers because I felt hiking boots were not required. That was a mistake! It rains a lot here and the “spongy underfoot”, as it is described in the guide books we brought along, can really be translated to very wet bog. The views were great and, most importantly, we did not get rained on as it had been threatening when we started the hike. The sun actually came out for most of the hike and we could see the nearby mountains of Snowdonia and we even saw Snowdon. I actually got a little sunburn on the top of my head (I know, shocking with my full head of hair!) because I was not expecting sun here. I joked to my hosts that I was going to email my French hosts afterwards to tell them I had deepened my French tan whilst in Wales!
We had a great pub meal, after a clean up back at the cottage, in Barmouth. A great pub and I did get my requisite fish and chips meal. We returned back to the cottage for a tea and a well deserved sleep.
The plan the next day was to hike in Snowdonia. Mike and Karen had chosen Cnicht (“Knight” in Welsh) which took us on some very narrow and windy roads that thankfully were not heavily traveled to reach trailhead. The hike was about 11-12 km long and you got up to a height of 689 m. It was much more similar to the hikes I do in Canada and I loved it; except for the end. Once we had completed the high peak, Mike and Karen told me they had done this hike several times before but always had trouble with the end of it (they actually told me this before the hike but I thought nothing of it). Once, they had found themselves on the top of a very steep cliff looking down on the path they should have been on and the other times they ended up on very indistinct paths with trouble getting back to the lane which was the exit point. They wanted to get the exit “right” this time. We thought we had done very well when we found the correct path around the cliffs and the side descent slope and could see our objective. The problem is no real “path” exists despite Karen having a GPS showing a distinct OS path. The way down was full of deep boggy, wet ground (I was thrilled I brought my waterproof boots this time) and even though the GPS showed us on the path at times we kept going off of it and ending up in rather dodgy areas. Close to the exit you get into farmland with many stone walls that could box you in as well as true private land even though there is right of access you must not abuse this. At the very end we were so frustrated we just walked out on the farmer’s road track even though this would be considered trespassing. We got back to the lane and had to walk a half mile back to our car. Despite the ending, it was a great hike but by the time we exited we were 2 hours behind schedule and had to truncate our plans to visit Croesor. We tried to get into a nice restaurant in Borth-Y-Gest but we were out of luck- all booked. We planned to go back to the cottage and make dinner, but, when we arrived there Karen said “let’s just go out for dinner in Harlech”. There was no opposition. We had a great dinner but the server warned us of strong winds and rain the following day. We returned to the cottage afterwards to try and look at the guide maps to see how we could have exited better from Cnicht, but, decided this was not possible and this approach would not be attempted again. There was another approach from Croeser to the top and this would be the preferred approach in the future.
The next morning, as predicted by the waitress, was gray and very windy with rain. It was definitely stormy. We walked down to the beach as waves crashed in. It was very dramatic! Our original plan was to walk along the beach, then, proceed up the walkway which would connect to a trail which would take us above town and then back to the cottage. This was not meant to be! When we got to the end of the beach the waves were crashing so violently we could have been swept away trying to reach the small stairway up to the path. Instead, we decided to walk back along the beach towards Harlech Castle. Mike and Karen went back to the cottage in order to prepare for our departure and I went into the Castle for a tour. Fascinating! That history that occurred in this very Castle. I was able to grab a few pictures despite the inclement weather and then went back to the cottage. We departed and had a very relaxing drive back to England. Mike offered to drop me off at train station in Chorley, which was my pick up point for the next stage of my adventure, Instead of driving back to Manchester and taking the train to Chorley. So thoughtful!
Even though the trip was relatively short, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit with Mike and Karen and northern Wales. It was all I hoped it would be. I am also very thankful I met Mike and Karen previously in Peru. This is certainly one of the blessings awarded to you when you travel. You meet the most amazing people who often share similar views and interests. Certainly, Mike and Karen are perfect examples of this. I again thank them for their companionship and hospitality. I hope they will be able to travel to Calgary to visit so I can return the favour in the future.
My next adventure involved rock climbing with Richard and Dave, my friends from Canmore. Over the last 2 to 3 years I have been encouraged by them to take up rock climbing so I can join them on some of their adventures. I must admit I have had some trepidations about this. Rock climbing has never been my thing. So much so that I took a climbing course this year so that I would be better prepared! Did it help? Read on!