Dartmoor to Wales-Be Seeing You!
So, where were we? Ah, yes, leaving Guy and Eunice in Cornwall and setting out for Wales. So much to see!
Our immediate goal was the Great Dartmoor. The looming landscape of so many Gothic novels, including, of course, The Hound of the Baskervilles, Sherlock Holmes' greatest adventure. We did it in daylight, but the brooding landscape, dotted with free range sheep, cattle, and horses; the patches of bog, the fields of gorse and heather; what's not to love!
We took the B3212 through the centre of the park, and what a wondrous route it is! Plenty of open road, some tight twisties, lovely inns that are centuries old. Spectacular!
From there, we skirted Exeter, then jumped on the M5 and exited for the Cheddar Gorge and lunch. Cheese, of course! There is one, and, sadly, only one cheddar cheese maker in Cheddar. It makes me sadly shudder at the lack of cheddar. I know, that's a gouda one.
This is a marvelous little village at the mouth of one of the most spectacular rock formations in the Isles. We bought a couple of wedges of cheese, one a super aged cheddar, the other, a smokey cheddar. Then, lunch across the street. All the sign says is Good Food, Real Ales. We took them at their word and weren't disappointed. I had the ploughman's lunch with TWO huge hunks of cheese, enough to eat half and save the rest for future lunches. We snacked on that cheese for a week!
One of the interesting, and, well, a bit freaky bits of info we learned was about the mummified remains of a neolithic hunter/gatherer, dubbed "Cheddar Man". His remains were found in one of the caves that riddle the gorge, and a few years ago, someone got the idea to do some DNA testing on him and the living locals. Shockingly, some 20% of the local population are direct descendants from this guy who lived some 3000 years ago!
After lunch a a walk through some shops, we headed through the gorge itself. Amazing! Spectacular. It's not a long drive, but well worth it. Out the top, we headed to Wales. Using good old Hotels.com, we found a B&B in Chepstow, Wales, just across the Severn River. The First Hurdle is a nice place, but we were only there to rest our heads. For dinner, we opted for the Beaufort Hotel. Very nice and reasonable, it's an old school hotel/bar/restaurant that is clearly the gathering spot for the local Old Farts' Club. Large Welshmen with booming voices. Well, I've heard they do some singing in Wales, so I wasn't surprised. all in all, a nice place.
Early in the morning, before breakfast was served, we were on the road, first to Tintern and the abbey ruins made famous by William Wordsworth, the great romantic poet. Pretty far afield from his native Lake District, but it was easy to see why the man who practically invented Romantic Poetry, all filled with a love of nature and a 180 degree turn from the cold hard logic of the Enlightenment, would love the place.
Again, timing is key. We got there just as the sun was struggling to rise over the gorge of the Wye River (and yes, there is an Abbot and Costello routine in all of this) we had the place to ourselves. No tour buses, no chattering selfie-stickers, nobody. The sun lit up the ancient walls with a golden glow, and there I go, waxing poetic. It's an easy place to have that happen.
We chatted a bit with the shopkeeper in the only place open (the Welsh accent is both the loveliest and most difficult to understand), bought some stuff, including the obligatory Welsh Love Spoon. These are a great art form, hand carved from one block of wood, they have interlocking chains, hearts, flowers, etc, each having a meaning.
From there, we headed through the Brecon Beacons National Park (more great roads and scenery) along the A479/A470 to Tywyn on the coast. Don't ask me how to pronounce it. Welsh is indecipherable to all but the native born speaker.
Tywyn is neat because it has the oldest steam tourist railway in Britain, if not the world, and served as inspiration for Thomas the Tank! It's a delicate little two foot gauge railway that once served the slate mines nearby. The equipment almost looks more like an overgrown garden rail road. The Live Steamers in Griffith Park in LA are almost as big! Mind you, I'm not disparaging it at all. But to an American, used to massive 4-8-4's and Big Boys, well...Lunch in their cafe was good, and we left in plenty of time to make it to one of The Highlights of the entire Trip, Portmierion, AKA, The Village.
Now, you'd have to be a fan of the late 60s TV series, The Prisoner to get any of this, but catch a few episodes on youtube and you'll see why it is quintessential 60s Down With The Man drama. It was all filmed in this odd little resort on the Welsh coast, called Portmeirion. Built by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, beginning in 1925, it's a tribute to idyllic Italian fishing villages. What can I say, it's what the Madonna Inn wishes it was! Every nook and cranny has something in it, every arch reveals a ready made photo opportunity, it's spectacular!
We splurged on this. Our room was in the Cliff House at the top of the Village. The view into the estuary of the Afon Dwynyd was incredible. There was also a full carafe of complimentary sherry. Walking about, we headed down the hill to the hotel itself, made reservations for dinner and strolled about. Naturally, we hit the #6 Shop (you need to see the TV show, suffice it to say, #6 was the main character-"I'm not a number, I'm a Free Man!) and bought T-shirts, buttons and stuff.
Dinner was a show in and of itself! We opted for the Tasting Menu. PreStarter (Salmon Sushi); Crispy Duck Egg with black truffle soldiers; Local lobster, heritage tomatoes, iced lobster thermidor, and basil; Loin of Welsh lamb with pine nut crust, quinoa, ratatouille vegetables, torched aubergine and olive tapenade; Sea Buckthorn sorbet with champagne and yogurt; and finally, Chocolate and passion fruit tart with coconut ice cream. And to cap things off, a spectacular full moon rising over the river and a couple celebrating their 40th anniversary with a fireworks show!!! And did I mention that the dessert was a FLAMING one?
The morning saw us off to Holyhead and the ferry back to Dublin. We said good bye to the trusty rental, and just a bit hungover, took the good ship Jonathan Swift back to Ireland, and more adventures.