Saturday, July 17, 2021

Old Travel, Wales 2007, Part 2


Beaumaris Castle, Anglesey

Carreg Cennen Castle, Llandielo, south Wales

Three Special Pubs. Many of the pubs we visit (like coffee shops in the states) are local hangouts, and many have something special about them. Near Pwllheli GC we found two of these special pubs. The first was a modern gastro pub, where the food is more important than the drink, named Y Brycynan and owned by Dennis Moore who was also the Managing Secretary of Pwllheli GC. 

The modern pub is a lively place which serves high quality meals for good prices--for example, scampi and fried potatoes, lamb shank. It’s a Must Stop in the area. Also interesting is the name which is old Welsh for…nobody seems to know. Dennis said it came with the pub and the former owners couldn’t translate it either. Tradition is important in Wales, so the name stayed the same. 

The second special pub is the The Ty Coch Inn in the village of Porth Dinllaean which is the smallest official village in Wales and is located in the middle of Nefyn and District GC. 

Take the path from the headland golf course, accessible from the twelfth or fifteenth tees, 100 yard down to the beach and the village which consists of a couple of houses and the Ty Coch Inn. After a drink or a meal, climb back up to the course and continue your round, A fantastic idea!

A third special pub on the trip was the Prince of Wales Inn on the outskirts of the village of Kenfig recommended to us by the golf pro at Pyle and Kenfig GC. After golf at P&K (as the locals call it), we dropped in to the Prince of Wales for quick pint (or in our case, a quick half). The pub’s stone exterior is very plain and the interior was fairly nondescript. What attracted our attention were the locals—living and dead. The pub dates back to the 15th century and has been a guild hall, courtroom, coroner’s inquest room, Sunday school room, and a mortuary for shipwrecked sailors. With this history it’s obvious why the inn is considered one of the most haunted in Britain. While we didn’t meet any of the local spirits (except the ones in our glass), we did observe an interesting local.

Our second visit to the Prince and the old guy is alone.

The older gentleman was “holding court” with his chums when a young girl (probably a granddaughter) came in and told him it was time to go home to dinner. He told her he’d be along as soon as he finished his story. She said, “You’d better hurry, Mum is getting angry!” His buddies chuckled as the story ended abruptly and the man left. We liked the pub so much we went back the next night for dinner. The same local was sitting on the same stool, but he was alone. When his granddaughter came in to gather him for dinner, he immediately left with her. Even though we stayed longer and looked harder the second night we still saw no ghosts. I wouldn’t doubt though that many of the bar stools are occupied with the spirits of locals waiting to be called home.

Two views of Aberystwyth from the local golf course.

No golf at Borth GC. It happened in Ireland at a course in Galway, and now it has happened in Wales. We arrived at Borth GC just south of Machynllth village along the west coast of Cardigan Bay just ahead of our scheduled tee time.  The lady in the golf shop had us on the tee sheet, but said we owed for green fees. This is not unusual and we always keep a copy of our arrangements with the course manager. I told the lady we were writing about the course and golf was complimentary. She said, “Yes, but it doesn’t say free.” I asked her to talk to the secretary who had made the arrangements and she did. The secretary came out and said she hadn’t intended to give us free golf, but how about half price. At this point we walked out. It costs the club nothing to put two people out the course for a round, and if a course is up front about not giving us “courtesy of the course” we will often decide to pay and play anyway. I draw the line, though, when a course reneges on its promise. We spent our found time doing some great touring in Wales [see next story].

The Aberystwyth funicular tram to the overlook and golf course.

Devil’s Bridge. The Devil’s Bridge is an interesting site we would have missed had not Borth GC turned us away. It’s where three bridges have been built, one over another, over a gorge. 

We walked down to the bottom of the gorge and could view all three bridges stacked up (for a small fee). We then hiked back up to the top in time to see a steam train coming into the small station near the bridge. We later recognize the bridge in the mystery TV series Hinterland. We missed golf in Borth, but made good use of our extra  time.

Laugharne Castle

Two Boathouses of Laugharne. Besides the Laugharne Castle, the village hosts two Boathouses, both quite interesting. The first and most known Boathouse in Laugharne is the site of poet Dylan Thomas’ (1914-1953) writing shed overlooking the Taf estuary. 

The coastal path with view of Dylan Thomas' Boathouse.

Thomas' Writing Shed

The boathouse is now a tearoom on the new Wales Coastal Path. The small writing shed, where Thomas did much of his later writing, is above the tearoom and has views of the estuary and part of the village. The wring shed is open for viewing most of the year.

The other Boat House in Laugharne is a high standard luxury B&B. The B&B has a Dylan Thomas connection as well. In his time the building was a pub, The Corporate Arms, where Thomas often drank. The B&B we booked into was run by mother/daughter duo, 

Ann and Jenny. Outstanding rooms, lovely service, and delicious meals made it the best in the area. Now run by new owners (2017), the Boat House B&B has maintained its stellar reputation.

The path to Ogmore Castle and the castle.

The Welsh National Botanic Gardens. There are some wonderfully special gardens in Scotland and England. The small two acre Branklyn Garden in the city of Perth in is one of our GoTo stops on every trip to Scotland. Just outside of Crieff in central Scotland is Drummond Castle and Gardens with one of the most impressive formal gardens in the UK. Acorn Bank Gardens near Penrith in northern England is renowned for its herbal gardens and fruit orchards. The garden has a lovely tearoom serving specialties straight from the garden, such as hot bed lettuce soup which was delicious. And on this trip we were lucky to hear about and visit the Welsh National Botanic Gardens in Llanartheny in southern Wales. 

Only recently opened (May 2010), the gardens are made up of several great exhibits. The Walled Garden has several themed gardens including the Boulder Garden, the Apothecary Garden, the Welsh Native Garden, the Slate beds, and more. The outstanding feature of the entire garden is the world’s largest single-span great glasshouse, a dramatic facility as long as a football field and twice as wide. 

Housed in the glasshouse is a series of Mediterranean gardens. Besides the outstanding flowers and plants exhibited, there is a British Bird of Prey Centre with daily flying displays. We spent a couple of hours wandering amongst the exhibits and certainly could have spent more time if local golf hadn’t gotten in the way.

At Caerphilly Castle, southeast Wales

Views of Caerphilly Castle, Wales' Largest

Sunset at Aberystwyth

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Old Travel Just Coming to Light: Wales 2007

Llandudno, Northern Wales

Anne and I drove south from Crieff in central Scotland toward our stay in Wales on my 62nd birthday—so, besides Social Security I got Wales. I’d had a nice birthday breakfast at our Scottish home (Merlindale B&B) with songs and presents. The drive to Wales was six and a half hours with a couple of quick stops for relief and a fast food lunch. We checked in to the Bednobs B&B in Llandudno at 3:45 leaving us enough time to wander down the promenade, shop a little in town, and find tickets to a Welsh men’s choir concert in a local church later in the evening. Dinner—good pub grub—was in a local tavern, The Albert, which was only a block from the concert. Nice town, good B&B, easy drive, good food and music—al in all, a good birthday.

Red Kite near Carreg Cennan Castle in southern Wales

Thus begins our third trip to Wales (spring 2007 before the beginning of this Blog in 2011) and the subject of this post. We are only beginning our post-Covid travel, so I will try to regale you with photos and stories out of our daily journals from this trip where we were gathering information about golf courses, pubs and restaurants, B&Bs, and attractions for our second golf guide, Golf in Scotland II: Hidden Gems of Scotland and Wales, updated and still available on Amazon.

Road around Great Orme

Great Orme from the South

The Road around Great Orme. A toll road goes all the way around Great Orme (Y Gogarth in Welsh), a limestone headland (peninsula) on the north coast of Wales and northwest of Llandudno. Great Orme shows signs of human occupation for at least 4000 years, most in and around the remains of copper mines. The road is one-way and has pullouts which make good photo stops. About a third of the way around is a side road up to the top where there’s a gift shop and observation area. This road is steep, windy, and narrow. Part way up to the top is an ancient church dedicated to St Tudno. Today’s church has bits from the 12th century, but the foundation goes back as far as the 5th or 6th century. 

Parish Church and Rectory of St Tudno

Back around the perimeter road, about half-way around, is a cafe and a lighthouse which has been converted into a B&B. It would make an interesting, albeit inconvenient, place to stay. We finished our tour back on the edge of town. Although there is a cable car which runs up to the top, Great Orme is definitely worth the drive around. 

Anne Teeing Off at North Wales GC

North Wales GC

Isle of Angelsey GC, a True Links Gem

Playing in the Wind. The wind means tough golf for us, we’re not used to it, and it especially complicates playing courses new to us (which is our whole adventure). I’m not talking about little breezes, but at least moderate zephyrs every day, On parkland courses like Abergele GC (east of Caernarfron) 

Abergele GC

the trees will block some of the wind and the grass will stop the ball quicker. Links courses like North Wales GC and Isle of Anglesey GC exaggerate the effects of the wind and make it difficult to control your ball (as if I had any control of my golf ball anyway). Our first windy golf on this trip was the first course we played, North Wales GC, where the wind was a steady 20 mph with 30 mph gusts. The wind was a significant factor on most of the links courses we played on the trip. The wind was especially brutal at Royal Portcawl GC in southern Wales where four flag poles were blown out of their holes and laying on the greens

Anne tries to get Out of One of Royal Portcawl's Penal Bunkers

Royal Porthcawl GC on a Four-Flag Day

—the pro called it just a four-flag-day, but then he’s used to the wind. We did get some windless or light wind days and were especially grateful that one of those days was when we played Nefyn & District GC in Morfa Nefyn at Gwynedd near Pwllheli (sorry, I couldn’t resist including that lovely Welsh address). 

Nefyn & District GC

Nefyn & District GC is a beautiful headland course.

The smallest official village in Wales is directly beneath the cliffs of Nefyn & District GC.

The course is a spectacular headland course which plays out to a lighthouse and back and has a pub to stop in after the 12th hole. As much as we grouse about playing in the wind, it’s just a natural part of golf in the British Isles, and at the end of the day we love our golf here.

Rhuddlan and St Asaph—The Great and the Small. After golf at Abergele GC, we visited these two sites, each impressive in their own ways. Rhuddlan Castle in Rhuddlan, North Wales, is one of Edward I’s series of defensive castles, built to keep control of the native Welsh tribes. Master mason James of Saint George completed the castle 1282 when it became the temporary residence in Wales of Edward I. 

Rhuddlan Castle

Now managed by Cadw, the national heritage trust of Wales, the castle’s impressive two huge towers dominate the countryside as they were meant to. In contrast, the nearby St Asaph Cathedral in the village of Asaph is the smallest cathedral in Britain. 

Asaph Cathedral

The Anglican cathedral, barely a large church, dates back 1400 years. The building we visited was constructed in the 13th century and was home to famous Bishop of Asaph Geoffrey of Monmouth, 1152-1155. While the outside of the cathedral pales in comparison to Rhuddlan Castle, the interior is very interesting with many war memorials, a large number of which are to Joneses. I was particularly drawn to one memorial dedicated to Robert Jones—my Jones family connection is to this section of Wales. It was really strange to see someone with my name being described in terms that I hope would fit me--it was a little like reading my own  obituary. Spooky.  And that’s the great and small of our touring day. 

The Ancient Sites of Wales. On one of our golf days, we played our course for the day and had plenty of time to explore some of Wales’ ancient sites. 

Chapel of Din Lligwy

The first we visited was a small chapel, Capel Lligwy, an 11th century fairly complete ruin (there’s a good oxymoron for you). The chapel is associated with the Din Lligwy Hut Group nearby. Next we visited the monument which consists now of mostly hut foundations and stone walls (probably of workshops) dating back to Neolithic times. 

Din Lligwy Iron Age village.

This small Iron Age settlement was occupied into Roman times (2nd or 3rd century). A few miles away we explored our third ancient site of the afternoon, Ty Newdd, .a neolithic dolmen or cromlix (burial tomb). 

Ty Newdd Chambered Tomb

The partially reconstructed tomb was the oldest of the ancient monuments dating to about 1500 BC. When it was excavated in 1935 finds included flint tools and early pottery. All three of the sites we visited were well cared for and well signed.

Playing with Members of the Club. At St Deiniol GC (Bangor, Wales) we played with Iolo Williams who is the historian of the club and who edited the club’s centenary book. He was a great playing partner and guide, and he spotted us to a nice lunch in the clubhouse lounge after the round. We love it when we get paired with locals as we play their course and ask for local guides whenever we can.

St Dieniol GC in Bangor, Wales

Anne is visiting with Iolo Willams, Secretary of the club, after our round.

On this trip we had the best luck getting paired with locals for our rounds. At Tulliallan GC (Scotland) we had a couple, Dave and Eli, and at Kinross Montgomery GC (Scotland) we played with Jamie Montgomery, an Earl and the Laird and owner of the course. AT Pwllheli (Wales) we played with the Vice-captain Joe and his wife Glenda. 

Pwllheli GC where the first nine holes are parkland and the second nine are links.

Vice-captain Joe and his wife Glenda were our hosts when we played Pwllheli GC.

It was at Tenby GC in the southern Wales area called “Little England” that we played with the best golfers of the trip. Marvin was a 4 handicap (very good) and Heather was an 11 (very good for a lady), 

The tourist village of Tenby sits on the cliffs above the beach.

Tenby GC, Southern Wales

yet both we very understanding that we need to be good writers more than we need to be good golfers—at the time I had a 12 handicap and Anne a 22 handicap. When we got lost trying find Ashburnham GC (southern Wales), Keith Williams and Mike Jones who had planned to be our playing guides had to wait an hour for us. 

Along many of the seaside links holes of Ashburnham GC our guides pointed out leftovers from WWII. This is either a command centre, a lookout station, or a gun placement.

Not only were they understanding of our story about going to the wrong course, they also stayed late and treated us to a fine dinner in the clubhouse.

All of these pairings were wonderful. We’ve met nice people and gotten much more information about the course and the area than we would have by just playing the course. Our writing gig brings us great rewards.

Next: I Continue the Wales Saga