Wednesday, September 2, 2015

UK Trip: Llanberis, Snowdon, and Caernarfon, Wales (July 17, 2015)

We were up very early this morning because we had booked the 9:30 train to the top of Snowdon.  When we got over to the Snowdon Mountain Railway in Llanberis, we found that, due to the wind, they would not be taking people to the top.  They would take us a little more than 1/2 way and they would refund us some of the full purchase price.  The weather was questionable for some of the other activities I would have liked to have done - I had picked out a hike that looked interesting - so we decided to go on the train.  Beautiful, moody, views.  Lots of sheep.  And it was windy!

On the train to Snowdon.

Beautiful valley.

The stopping place.

Waiting for another train.  Llyn Padarn (Lake)

Llyn Peris.  Dinorwig Power Station under old quarry workings on left.
Following our train ride, we walked along the road that separates Llyn Padarn and Llyn Peris over to the National Slate Museum at the old Dinorwic Slate Quarry.  The museum is located where the workshops for the mine were located.  Here, patterns for cogs and other pieces were cut and molded for machinery.  We walked around looking at the exhibits and climbed up to view the 50 foot diameter metal water wheel. I believe all of the energy for the workshop came from water.  There would be plenty coming down the mountains surrounding the site.

We watched a short video about the history of the mine and the men who worked there.  We then watched a demonstration on how to split and cut slate.  It was interesting to learn that the instruments used to split the slate were actually dull, not sharp.

Inside National Slate Museum with the workings behind.
On our walk back to the car, we took a detour to a ruined castle that sits perched over Llyn Peris.  Castell Dolbadarn was built by Llewelyn ab Iorwerth ('the Great') in the early 13th century.  Only the stone keep survives.  The remainder of the castle was plundered for its stones and wooden beams.

Castell Dolbadarn.

We drove back to Caernarfon for lunch.  I had wanted to try a real fish and chip shop and I had read that Ainsworth's was the place to try.  We got two boxes to share (we should have ordered one per person - it was delicious) and ate it on the bench outside.  Then we went to Palas Caffi for ice cream.  We all tried different flavors, lemon meringue, toffee, Mounds (coconut), Nutella.

We were again staying at Tal Menai Guest House and we had been told there was a foot path that led from town back.  Our oldest wanted a little break from us, so he headed back to the B&B along the path while the rest of us crossed the bridge by the castle and took a walk along the shore on the other side.  It was very windy and the scenery was not that spectacular, so we headed back.  When we got to the bridge, a boat was coming through and we got to see the bridge swing back into place.

Caernarfon Castle.

Tal Menai Guest House.
We took a little break back at Tal Menai and headed into town for dinner.  It was a Friday night and there appeared to be a lot of people out for happy hour.  The place I had in mind looked packed, so we ended up at a restaurant we had seen earlier in the day.  We got inside and got a table, but it was pretty noisy and the kids were the youngest ones in there.  The meal was nothing special and we were happy to finish up and leave.  We went back to the guest house to relax and get packed.  On Saturday we were headed east back to the Manchester area and then York.

Sunset over Menai Strait with the sheep in the field across the road.
Looking back on the Wales portion of the trip, there are things I would have done differently.  I would have skipped Llandudno altogether.  Too busy for me.  The Great Orme was nice, but I think I would have preferred spending more time in Snowdonia, perhaps doing a hike.  I think staying all three nights in one location would have been better, too.  Next time!  Wales was beautiful and we saw too little of it.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

UK Trip: 7/16 - Caernarfon, Wales (July 16, 2015)

On Thursday morning, we left Conwy and headed west toward Caernarfon with a stop at the Snowdon Mountain Railway to check out the train to the top of Snowdon.  The only time they had available for the day was at 3:30, so we decided to buy tickets for the next morning.  This meant we would spend today touring Caernarfon Castle and the surrounding town.

Before heading into Caernarfon, we took a chance and stopped at the B&B we had booked for the next two nights.  Tal Menai Guest House is just a mile outside of town.  It was around noon, but the owner, Sylvette, was glad to see us early because it freed her up to see her grandchildren in a performance that night.  We put our bags in our room then sat on the front lawn for a lunch of bread and cheese that we had picked up on the way.  Sylvette gave us a map of the town and told us of a free place to park within a short walk to the castle.

View of Menai Strait from our bedroom.
When we got to the castle, there was a tent set up inside and they were doing a sound check using James Taylor music.  Was he going to be playing?  Wouldn't that have been funny after traveling all this way.  It turns out that, in the evening, there was going to be a concert by a local choir.  Choirs are very big in Wales, but this was possibly the biggest, Cor Glanaethwy.  B knew who the choir was.  This 162 person choir, ranging in age from 8 to 68 had come in third in the 2015 Britain's Got Talent competition.  (Only in Britain...a dog won the talent competition).  Although the concert was invitation only, the rehearsal would be taking place while we were touring the castle!

10-sided Eagle Tower.

While we kept an ear out for the choir, we enjoyed roaming all the passages of the castle.  One of the things we didn't do while we were there was visit the Royal Welsh Fusiliers Museum.  I'm not sure why other than I just wasn't in a museum-y kind of mood.

Castle Square from Queen Eleanor's Gate.
I had not realized until we were there that Caernarfon Castle is where, in 1969, the investiture of Charles, Prince of Wales, occurred.  He was presented to the public, who were waiting in Castle Square, from Queen Eleanor's Gate.

Length of the castle with Menai Strait beyond.

Looking across to the mountains of Snowdonia.

Eventually, Cor Glanaethwy took the stage.  First the youngest sang, then a group of teens and young adults, then adults, and eventually all 162.  We did take a few brief recordings, but if you want to hear them, here they are on Britain's Got Talent singing Benedictus, The Prayer, and Hallelujah.   And, if you can't understand the words, it is because they are singing in Welsh.

Part of Cor Glanaethwy rehearsing.

We left the castle and crossed the bridge over the River Seiont to take a look back.  The tide was out and all the boats were high and dry.  It was interesting to see the twin-keeled sailboats resting on the mud.

Low tide on the River Seiont.

We had dinner at the recommended Black Boy Inn and then headed back to Tal Menai.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

UK Trip: Llandudno and Conwy, Wales (July 15, 2015)

Our long-awaited trip to the United Kingdom was here!  Although the majority of the trip was to be spent sightseeing, the real reason for the trip was to visit long-lost cousins.  We had been corresponding for several years now and we were finally going to meet!

We left Boston at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday night and got to Manchester, England a little after 8:00 a.m on Wednesday.  Our plan for the day was to drive to North Wales, do some activities in Llandudno, then head to our B&B in Conwy.  We wanted to keep busy and get ourselves back on a normal sleep schedule.  It took about two hours to get to Llandudno.  The highway driving wasn't too bad, but driving in the more congested areas was very stressful!

Apparently, Llandudno is one of those traditional British beach towns.  Maybe not exactly like the towns you would see along the southern coast with their beach huts, but Llandudno has streets full of shops, a promenade with a pier (the longest in Wales), and a beach that seemed only to attract those young enough to enjoy playing in the sand.  The whole place was absolutely thronged with people, and to my eyes the vast majority of them were pensioners. 

Llandudno Pier

After a so-so lunch at a small place on Mostyn Street, we walked along the promenade to the cable car which took us to the top of Great Orme.  If you imagine Llandudno as a neck, the Great Orme is the head.  Water almost completely surrounds it.  The ride gave us spectacular views of the town, cliffs, and coastal scenery.

Llandudno from a cable car to the top of Great Orme.

Great Orme Tramway and the Halfway House.

We walked around at the top for a bit just enjoying being outside on this spectacular, sunny, breezy day.  We could see the Isle of Man and the coast at Blackpool.

Cable cars to the top of Great Orme.

Wind farm in the Irish Sea (to the right).

The Grand Hotel and the promenade.

After Llandudno, we headed to our B&B, Bryn Guest House, in nearby Conwy.  Bryn is an old home with absolutely beautiful gardens.  The town wall is at the back of the garden with a tower overlooking the home.  Our hostess, Alison, greeted us, and after putting our bags in our rooms, we set off on foot to explore the town.

Bryn Guest House and Gardens viewed from the city wall.

We were too late to visit the castle, but we enjoyed a walk along the city walls.  We had dinner at an Indian restaurant and went to an ice cream shop for dessert.  I decided to have ice cream flavors that I wouldn't find at home.  I had Jaffa Cake (biscuit with orange and chocolate) and Eton Mess (fruit, meringue, and cream) ice creams.  While we were in the shop we had a nice chat with a man who was in the area getting work done on his boat.  I don't remember all we talked about, but I do remember him mentioning that Welsh is considered the Language of Heaven.

A word on the Welsh language:  I was actually very surprised at how prevalent the Welsh language is in Wales.  I would expect to hear native German speakers in Germany, but I assumed most people in Wales would speak English.  They do speak English, of course, but Welsh seemed to be spoken as the primary language. 

I looked into learning some Welsh before we came.  I found a free online source called Say Something in Welsh.  I didn't really get anywhere, but it is something I will consider working on in the future. 

Conwy Castle and the town view from the wall.

After getting back to the guest house, everyone was pretty tired.  The boys went up to their room to fall asleep watching Top Gear.  D was falling asleep wherever he happened to sit down for a moment.  It was still light out at 9:00, so I went to check for hedgehogs in the garden and then I was off to bed as well.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

West Granby - Holcomb Farm

Date Hiked:  Sunday, May 17, 2015
Number in Group: 1
Estimated distance round-trip: 2.2 miles
Weather: Warm, low to mid 70's when I started hiking at around 9 a.m.
Resources: Holcomb Farm, trail map
Highlights of the trip: wildflowers

I decided to get my hike in earlier rather than later on Sunday, since I knew it was supposed to get into the high 80's.  I was on the trail around 9 a.m. and it was already pretty warm.  I didn't use my car to get to the farm, so I had no bug spray with me.  I definitely could have used it!

Holcomb Farm has gone through some changes in the last few years, but activities including art classes, Two Coyotes Wilderness School, educational classes, and more, keep the place busy.  I was surprised to see people there on a Sunday morning.  They were there for The Institute of Sustainable Nutrition class.

The western trails start behind the big red barns.  I walked down the hill, crossed Kendall Brook, and entered the CSA fields.  Straight across the field and through the gate took me to the banks of the West Branch of the Salmon Brook.

Kendall Brook

Holcomb Farm CSA

Bridge over the West Branch of the Salmon Brook

On the far side of the bridge there is a lot of sand and rounded rocks.  It's a nice place to sit and enjoy the sun, or look for unique looking rocks.  Head straight back toward the woods and you will come to the start of the Yellow Trail.  I decided I would take the trails in order - Yellow to Blue to Green to Purple - always turning right and gaining elevation on each trail.  I went to the right and wound my way through the woods a bit, noticing a few wildflowers and a lean-to, before I got to the stairs.

Canada Mayflower

Going up!
At the top of the stairs, I turned right onto the Thruway (Blue) Trail.  This trail climbed a little higher and turned 180 degrees, after which it connected to the High Ridge (Green) Trail.  This leads you out to a trail head off of the dirt section of Broad Hill Road, or if you turn left and stay on the trail, it very quickly connects to the Lookout (Purple) Trail.

Fringed Polygala
The Lookout Trail has a little spur that takes you to the lookout.  It is an outcrop of rocks in the middle of the woods.  There is not much to see at this time of year, but maybe once the leaves have fallen you can get a view to the east.  Just below the lookout, on the trail, is a picnic table and small bench next to a couple of glacial erratics.

The sign on the right indicates the Lookout that you see on the left.

A bench to enjoy the view once the leaves are gone.

Glacial erratics.
Continuing on the Lookout Trail, I soon connected back to the High Ridge Trail at the end opposite from where I started.  A short section of the High Ridge Trail, took me back again to the Thruway Trail.  I think it was near here that I came across what I assume are shelters built by the kids in the Two Coyotes classes.  I also spotted the only Pink Lady's-slipper that I have seen this year.  I looked around, but didn't see any others.

A little village in the woods.

Pink Lady's-slipper
When the Thruway (Blue) Trail connects with the Yellow Trail again, you have two choices.  If you go left, you will stick to the woods and go back to the stairs.  If you go to the right, which is the way I went, you will follow the Yellow Trail down the hill until you get to the bridge over Beach Brook.

A hawk or owl feather.  Not sure which.
You must cross Beach Brook again in order to get back to where you started.  The only issue is, there is not another bridge.  The water needs to be low enough for you to be able to cross using the rocks in the stream.  Someone has put a rope between a couple of trees to help with the first part of the crossing.  This gets you to a little "island" from which you have to make your way over another smaller section of the stream.  I got the toe of one boot wet, but not a big deal.  You would not be able to cross this area in higher water.

See the rope tied between the trees?

West Branch of Salmon Brook


West Branch of Salmon Brook back near the bridge.
I followed the Yellow Trail back to where I started, crossed the bridge, went through the CSA fields and back to the barn. 

According to the data on my phone, I went about 2.2 miles and reached an elevation of 644 feet.  I really enjoyed the hike.  It was on the warm side, but not too bad, although the mosquitoes were ferocious if I stopped moving.  You could lengthen this hike by zig-zagging the trails as you went up, or you could visit some of the Granby Land Trust properties (Diamond Ledges, Petersen, and Beman Family Preserves) off of Broad Hill Road.  (As far as I know there are no trail maps for these properties). 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Simsbury - Wagner Woods

Date Hiked:  Thursday, May 14, 2015
Number in Group: 1
Estimated distance round-trip: 1.5 miles
Weather: The pick of the week! sunny, 73°F, light breeze
Resources: Simsbury Land Trust Wagner Woods
Highlights of the trip: tom turkey, pileated woodpecker

The other night, I was poking around for a hike I could do on Thursday afternoon.  The local meteorologist had named Thursday as the "pick of the week", and I wanted to be ready with a place in mind so that I could get out and enjoy the day.  In looking at the Simsbury Land Trust website, I noticed a hike I hadn't done before - Wagner Woods.  I believe this is a newer property not included in The Walkbook.  There is a trail map available online.

I parked at the trail head located on Great Pond Road.  There is not a lot of room here, maybe enough for 3 cars.  There is another parking area at the George Hall Farm on Old Farms Road.  There is a kiosk at the entrance with a trail map, an aerial view from 1934 of the old Stierle Farm, and information on the various bird species on the property.

Entrance kiosk on Great Pond Road
I started down the red trail and soon found myself in a pine forest.  The trail was very well marked.

I took a right onto the blue Boehm Trail.  The trail crossed over a small muddy stream and went through breaks in several rock walls.

Interesting how this one tree twisted around the other as it grew.

The purple trail went off to the right to the parking at Hall Farm.  I was taking a few photos as I went along, but man!  The mosquitoes were really out in force.  I didn't spend as much time as I would have liked observing what was around me.  As I approached the turn-off for the yellow Stierle Trail, I heard some rustling in the leaves off to my right.  I didn't pay much attention, thinking it was just a squirrel.  I was wrong!  It was a tom turkey.  As I struggled to get my phone camera out and focused, he moved off at a pretty good clip through the undergrowth.  I got a picture, but nothing that was in focus.  Rats!

I took the yellow trail down a little hill and just before I went through another stone wall, I noticed some feathers lying on the ground.  I took a quick snap to identify later.  Again with those mosquitoes.  Using the Feather Atlas, I believe I have identified the feathers as coming from a mourning dove.  Unfortunately, there were quite a few lying around, so I am not sure of a positive outcome for the poor thing.

Mourning dove feather?
In this same area, I noted a bunch of white, fluffy, "cotton" on the ground.  I thought I had identified the trees.  The leaves looked right, but the bark, for such large trees was not thick and furrowed like cottonwood.  Perhaps the trees I saw were aspen, but then where was the "cotton" coming from?  I'll have to go back and make better observations (and take pictures that are actually in focus).

Shortly after going through the rock wall, I came to the orange Hop Brook Trail.  Turning left takes you into the field.  Instead, I took a right, along a stone wall and down to the brook.

Love these big old wolf/pasture trees.

Hop Brook
On the way back up from the brook, I heard and then spotted a pileated woodpecker on a fallen log.  It stayed long enough for me to get a picture.  Unfortunately, the camera on my phone has a rather poor zoom.  I think I need to start carrying my camera and my phone, something I had been trying to avoid.

I was now back to where I started on the orange trail and I could look across the field.  The orange trail is a narrow path that runs along the edge of most of the field and then meets up with the red trail.  The red trail cuts across the field and along the far side.  It was not long before I thought that taking this path may have been a bad idea.  I mean, it was a lovely trail, but all I could think was, "Ticks, ticks, ticks!"  The trail was not mowed recently, and the grass brushed my legs.  I did not stop to enjoy the scenery or to see if any birds were using the nesting boxes.  Instead, I just made my way across the field until I got to the edge and could take a moment for a tick check.  Unbelievably, I did not find a single tick.  However, I still felt like I had them crawling all over me.

At the edge of the field, I found a lilac bush and some lily of the valley.  I also saw two different yellow flowers.  Again, my pictures were completely out of focus.  I could not identify the first one, even though it had fairly distinctive leaves, but I am pretty sure the second one was celandine.

Not far from where the trail leaves the field and enters the woods, there is a vernal pool.  I managed to scare two mallards (and myself) and they quickly swam to the far side.  On the other side of the trail, there is supposed to be an old foundation.  In my agitated, feeling like ticks are crawling all over me state, I forgot to go and take a look.  I simply headed back to the car.  Another tick check and things still looked good.

I had thought about combining this hike with one at Great Pond which is just across the street, but decided to do that another day.  Below is a map they have at the kiosk showing the trails of both Wagner Woods and Great Pond State Forest.  The Wagner Woods route was about 1.5 miles and I believe the trail around Great Pond (not including side trails) is probably about the same, so the combination would make a nice 3 mile hike.

I will definitely be back to Wagner Woods.  In my short walk, I saw a fair variety of wildlife and I think there is much more to observe.