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FULS/FLHS Trip to Wales 30 April to 4 May 2017 - A Northern Perspective
By Doreen McBride
"Yon trip to North Wales was 'dead on!'" was the unanimous verdict of those who went on the trip to Wales.
SUNDAY, April 30
We northern ones joined our southern brothers and sisters in time to catch the first ferry from Dublin to Holyhead on a dull Sunday morning. The crossing was so smooth even those of us who are prone to sea-sickness enjoyed a hearty breakfast and the joy of meeting old friends.
We landed in Wales, piled into 'our' bus and met our guide, Amanda. She was well organised, knowledgeable and good humoured, everything you'd want of a guide.
The weather was reasonable, that is by Irish standards. It was cold and cloudy but, and this is important, dry! We set off on a tour around Holy Island, which is separated from the Isle of Anglesey by a narrow, winding channel. It's called 'Holy' because it has a lot of standing stones, burial cairns and other religious sites. Unfortunately, like almost everyone else on the bus, I couldn't stay awake. From what little I saw Holy Island looked picturesque. It has a variety of habitats.
We had a one hour stop at Beaumaris, an old Viking settlement that developed in 1295 when Edward 1 commissioned the castle as part of a chain of fortifications around the North Wales coast. It's called Beaumaris because the builders were French and they called it 'beaux marais', which means 'beautiful marshes'.
Beaumaris is classified as a World Heritage Site. It's one of the finest examples of late 13th century and early 14th century military architecture in Europe.
The rest of the afternoon was spent at Plas Newydd, where we met Lord Uxbridge's leg! The said leg belonged to Lord Uxbridge, Henry Paget, 2nd Earl of Uxbridge, who later became the 1st Marquess of Anglesey. He fought in the Battle of Waterloo alongside the Duke of Wellington and was hit by one of the last cannon shots fired on 18th June 1815. According to local folklore he was fighting close to the Duke of Wellington when he was hit and exclaimed, 'By God, sir, I've lost my leg.' To which Wellington replied, 'By God sir, so you have!' He had to have his right leg amputated but the loss of a leg had no effect on his ability of sire children! He had eight with his first wife and ten with the second, six of which were born well after the Battle of Waterloo! Mementos of the Battle of Waterloo and the Anglesey artificial leg are held in a museum within the house.
Plas Newydd belonged to Lord Uxbridge's family from 1470 until it was presented to the National Trust in 1976 after which the house and grounds were opened to the public. It is well worth a visit.
MONDAY 1st MAY
What a day! We were up bright and early for a coach tour along the North Coast of Wales. We passed through Bangor, Conwy, Llandudno, Colwyn and spectacular scenery on our way to Chester, one of the most complete walled cities in Britain.
The sun came out during our guided tour, which included a walk round the walls, a look at the Roman Amphitheatre and the black and white buildings before we embarked on a tour of the cathedral. The tearoom connected to the cathedral provided reasonably priced, delicious lunches.
The local museum has a collection of silver that originally belonged to the Butler family in Kilkenny. It arrived in Chester in lieu of death duties. Frankly I found it disappointing. It was mostly large silver salvers of the type I imagine once held the head of John the Baptist. There were only two pieces George and I really liked, a teapot and a piece shaped like a jug with a wooden handle.
The museum was interesting but after a quick look we developed the disease known as 'museumitis' so escaped out into the sunshine. There we watched a busker with a dog that stood on its hind legs and beat perfect time to music.
Our next visit was to Llangollen to meet the famous Ladies of Llangollen two Irish ladies, Sarah Ponsonby and Eleanor Butler, who became leading socialites in the late 18th Century. Imagine! Two 18th Century suspected of being lesbians! Fancy that! We were given to option of either visiting their graves in the local churchyard, or their house, Plas Newydd. We opted for the church. It was beautiful and contained a plaque commemorating the ladies. We were startled to find they wore headgear resembling bowler hats!
After dinner, local historian, Robat Humphreys, from the Caernarfon Civic Society, covered over a thousand years of Caernarfon's history in a very interesting talk.
TUESDAY 2nd MAY
Great excitement! We went for a ride on a steam train from Porthmadog to Blaenau Ffestiniog, which is at the foothills of Snowdonia! Steam trains are dirty, smelly, environmentally unfriendly and completely marvellous! The sheer excitement of seeing a steam engine puffing away and blenching smoke is fantastic. The little train chugged along on the narrow-gauge track through breath-taking scenery. The whole experience was magical, although poor JJ complained he had to sit on seats resembling orange boxes and his backside felt it was dead! He was unlucky. Our seats were comfortable and we travelled without suffering from something resembling rigor mortis!
Our next visit was to Portmeiron. Wow! It's wonderful, mad but wonderful! Who'd have thought of building an Italian village beside a beautiful beach in chilly North Wales. Sir Clough Williams-Ellis did between 1925 and 1975. The amazing thing is it works. We wandered around in glorious sunshine emphasising the 'in Italy' feeling. We had lunch, did a bit of minor shopping and had a sneaky wander around the ground floor of the hotel. Gee! How I'd like to stay there. It's very comfortable, very tasteful and like the rest of Portmeiron, full of cheats and bluffs. Nothing is quite what it seems. Clever use of huge mirrors makes what are small rooms, appear to be like those belonging to a stately home.
We were brought down to earth by our final visit, to David Lloyd George's boyhood home, museum and grave in Llanystumdwy. The museum gives a real feel for his life and times and his attempts to change the plight of the poor when he was British Prime Minister between the years of 1916 and 1922.
Lloyd George's grave is difficult to reach. It's down a steep bank in a quiet wood beside a river. We were warned to be careful and not slide into the water.
That evening we entertained the Mayor of Holyhead, Ann Kennedy, and the co-directors of Holyhead Maritime Museum, Richard Burnell and Richard Kennedy, to dinner. Their presence was thanks to their friendship with one of our members, George Beattie. They were delightful! The Mayor gave us a hearty welcome and the craic was mighty. They have promised to keep in touch.
WEDNESDAY 3rd MAY
We began the day with a visit to Llanberris Slate Museum. It's definitely a case of beauty and the beast. The surroundings are beautiful, the lives of the slate miners beastly. They had to extract slate from the quarry by boring holes into the rock, filling them with dynamite, setting a fuse and getting safely away - fast! The fuses weren't very accurate. They often went off prematurely and blew up the miners. There was no compensation for death or injury. Being blown up wasn't the only danger. Splitting the hunks of rock into slates and cutting them to size filled the place with dust causing lung diseases. We were given a demonstration of splitting slate by a very humorous demonstrator. He was hilarious!
On leaving the old slate mine we travelled through spectacular countryside to Bodnant Gardens, via Betws y Coed.
Rhododendrons and azaleas were in full bloom in Bodnant Gardens. I haven't got the words to describe how much we enjoyed this visit. The garden is out of this world. We left reluctantly and headed for the walled town of Conwy and Conway Castle.
Conwy is a pleasant village. Conway Castle forms part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is arguably the prettiest in North Wales. We had a quick walk round, decided we had had enough culture for one day and headed through the town to a pub at the waterside. There we met others of similar ilk and had a giggle and a cuppa!
After dinner, the FULS group made a presentation of a bottle of Welsh whisky to Larry Breen to thank him for his care of us over the years as he has gone far beyond the normal call of duty. He, his wife Anne and their friends have provided beds for many of us to help us catch the early morning ferry. We are very grateful for that and for all he has done for us. Thank you, Larry.
THURSDAY 4th MAY
We visited Caernavon Castle before heading for Holyhead Port and the Maritime Museum, where we were delighted to meet our new friends, the Mayor of Holyhead and the two directors of the Museum. Alas! It was time to catch the ferry for home.
"Cymru, rydym yn gobeithio dod yn ôl" (Wales, we hope to come back!) You, and trips organised by Larry, are definitely 'dead on'!