Wales for the Holidays

Wales is often split up into south and north Wales with a small section that occupies what is often called Mid Wales. As the unofficial capital of Mid Wales, we decided to spend a night in the small coastal town of Aberystwyth before continuing our journey north to Conwy. We stayed the night in Aberystwyth the day before Christmas Eve and we decided to take a quick walk over to the western coast of Wales before leaving the city.

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On our walk, we were surprised to find another ruin overlooking the coast which was once the Aberystwyth Castle. Now, whereas the other ruins we saw had a definitive castle-like arrangement, the nearly 1000 year old castle is not much more than several piles of rocks, most of which only vaguely resemble actual structures. Though not very historically relevant, the castle’s position overlooking the sea gave it a unique spellbinding quality. I’m glad we happened upon it.

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We left Aberystwyth heading north to Conwy, pronounced Con-way, where we had Christmas Eve and Day dinner reservations. We drove through Snowdonia on the way, a mountainous region and national park home to craggy mountain peaks including Snowdon, the tallest mountain in Wales, many walking trails, and, as we would see on our drive through the region, thousands of waterfalls.

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Conway itself is a beautiful little town, surrounded entirely by high city walls and home to its own impressive castle. Every year in Conwy they hold a huge Christmas celebration where literally the entire city floods to the city center to watch a caroling performance and an appearance by Santa capped off by fireworks shot over the castle. We spent the night reveling in the festive air that surrounded the city and spending time in a couple of the over-crowded pubs, including one that was converted from a bank and still bears all the marks of its past life, including a repurposed vault.

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Christmas day arrived chilly but not snowy and thankfully not raining for once. My mom and I decided to get up early that morning to take a stroll atop the castle walls and hopefully get a few good pictures of the sun coming up. Afterwards, we strolled around the city and up to the castle under the pretense of trying to take pictures but really because we wanted to spend some quality time together. After breakfast at our hotel, we took off to explore the countryside since we knew there would be no stores open. We took some more crazy Welsh roads that didn’t even show up on the GPS, including roads that were little more than grass goat tracks. Later that night we had a nice Christmas dinner at a nearby restaurant before going back to our hotel to play cards over a few drinks. The whole day was really enjoyable and low-key, and it was wonderful being able to spend some one-on-one time with my mother.

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Conwy was unanimously the favorite of all of our Wales locales. The city itself was incredibly charming, as were its inhabitants. We cannot say enough good things about Henrique, the owner of The Castlebank Hotel who was always willing to give us trip advice or chat and was even happy to serve us alcohol from the hotel bar on Christmas Night while his family visited. I try not to advertise for places too much when I post, but I am happy to advertise for Henrique. Beside the place we stayed, the pubs in town and some of the places we ate such as the Erskine Arms were amazing as well and I would fully recommend visiting Conwy if you are looking for a relatively not very well-known place to visit, especially around Christmas time.

We finished off our last day in lovely Wales with a final day of sightseeing near Conwy. The agenda for the day included short rides to Beaumaris and Caernarfon, both of which are home to their own unique castles. Beaumaris is a small town that lies directly on the Menai Strait and was where we got our first and only sight of the sun in Wales. The town lies in a beautiful area where over the strait you get an amazing view as the landscape climbs the horizon morphing from sea to green fields to rolling hills and finally into beautiful snow-capped mountains. I just wish my photos could do it better justice! Near to Beaumaris is the city of Caernarfon which is best known for both its castle, which is one of the largest and most imposing fortifications built by the English in Wales, as well as its role as a spearhead for the revival of the Welsh language which upwards of 80% of the people in the city speak fluently. This reliance on the national language has set up Caernarfon as a major rallying point for the Welsh nationalist cause.

 

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Beaumaris Castle

 

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View from Caernarfon Bay

 

Before heading back to our hotel in Conwy for our last night in Wales, we had to take a quick stop in the city with the second longest one-word place name in the world and longest in Wales.
The city is rather hilariously named Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch which means “St. Mary’s Church in the hollow of white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of St. Tysilio near the red cave.” Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, as the city name is often shortened to, got a fair amount of viral fame a few years ago when a weatherman in the UK pronounced the name flawlessly during a newscast (seen here). This city name was adopted in the 1860s to inspire tourism into the city which evidently worked on us. It was a fun little side trip to take and say you have been there, but other than taking a quick picture of the city name at the train station, there is not much else to do there.

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Our adventure to Wales was a really special one for all involved. None of us had ever been but we had always wanted to so we learned so much about the country during our trip. Wales is, on the whole, a wild land full of tons of natural beauty. The country is a prime destination for the adventurous and nature-lovers alike, full of everything from gorgeous beaches to snow-capped mountains and everything in between. It is also a major hub for those into adventures nature activities with its thousands of walking, biking, and hiking trails, a lot of surfing opportunities, hang-gliding, and much more. If those are not your cup of tea, Wales also has more castles per head than in any other country in the world, each of which are uniquely amazing in their own ways as we discovered on our journey around the country. I am so glad to have experienced Wales, especially with my mom, and even though we saw a lot of the relatively small country, I would go back to see more of the country in a heartbeat.

 

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