Wales. A magical place known – in my mind – for sheep, Roald Dahl (Charlie & The Chocolate Factory!), the longest village name EVER, BBC television series Torchwood, sheep, Bonnie Tyler, John Rhys-Davies (The Tudors!), a funny little language called Welsh, and more sheep. That sounds like my kind of country! Take a journey with me…
We had a free Virgin rail train ticket to use up before the end of the year, which seemed pretty awesome at first until we discovered that 1) we were limited to destinations, 2) the ticket could only be used with Virgin trains (fair enough) & the journey could not be broken (ugh! meaning we couldn’t get off somewhere in between and get back on again), 3) Leicester to Birmingham would be a £12 return trip, as we HAD to depart from Brum to get a Virgin train, 4) the further afield we wanted to go, the more expensive our secondary ticket would be. So we settled on Holyhead, Wales. The western most part of the UK (unless you count some island-y bits of Scotland, which I don’t), and somewhere that neither of us had been before (unless you count that one time where I caught a ferry from Ireland to Wales and sat around the train station, which I don’t).
Leg 1: Leicester – Birmingham (realization that more than one cup of coffee will be needed)
Leg 2: Birmingham – Sandwell & Dudley – Wolverhampton – Crewe (coffee acquired in Crewe station)
Leg 3: Crewe – Chester – Flint (Y Fflint, we’re in Wales now) – Prestatyn – Rhyl – Colwyn Bay (Bae Colwyn) – Llandudno Junction (Cyffordd Llandudno) – Bangor – Llanfairpwll
Leg 4: Llanfairpwll – Gaerwren – Pentre Berw – Llangefni – Gwalchmai – Bryngwran – Caergeliog – Valley – Penrhos – Holyhead (via local X4 bus)
Interesting to note: chugging along from Bangor to Llanfairpwll, crossing the Menai Straight, over the Britannia Bridge, were 4 large lion sculptures, one at each corner, flanking the entrance / exit. Sculpted out of limestone by John Thomas, these British lions are several metres high and remind one of ancient Egypt or Lord Of The Rings; I had a sense that I was crossing over into a mystical land, where I would possibly be swallowed up by island auras, forever destined to live under the misty skies. Which wouldn’t be too bad, really. Strangely enough, these works of art cannot actually be seen from the roadway, rather only by train.
Once we discovered that Llanfairpwll (aka Llanfair PG) was also located on the Isle of Anglesey, we definitely needed to take a detour. LLanfairpwll is a village which boasts the longest place name in Europe. Our change of plans had us alight in Bangor, get a different train to Llanfairpwll, then take a local bus to Holyhead. An additional cost of £7 was completely worth the side trip. Total travel time from Leicester to Holyhead: 7 hours.
So, take a breath: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. Okay, so the way I see it is, I’ve got the first bit down, and the last bit down…all that stuff in the middle? It’s just filler. Isn’t this just THE BEST place name EVER!? Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch translated means: St. Mary’s church in the hollow of the white hazel near to the rapid whirlpool of Saint Tysilio of the red cave. This is not the original name, as the extra bits (…goger… and onwards) were added on in the 1860’s in an attempt to garner the village some publicity. Well done!
A profitable stunt to be sure, but there are like absolutely zero attractions in this village. Apart from the signs with the village name on it and the “shopping experience”, which basically was a kitschy tourist shop but also seemed to serve as a shopping hub for locals as there was everyday clothing, shoes, bedding and housewares. The parking lot was packed with tourist coaches and a lot of people speaking German. We took the obligatory photos and walked around for a bit. As little as there was to see, it was a notable highlight of the day; another quirky thing that I can add to my list of off-the-beaten-path points of interest.
The bus journey lasted about an hour, taking us through some tiny tiny villages, narrow road ways and lovely countryside. There were bus stops in the middle of nowhere, which I couldn’t really understand, because legitimately there were just fields on either side of the road. Where are you meant to go!?
Holyhead (is it “holly” or “hole-y”?) is on Holy Island, which is considered part of the Isle of Anglesey; the only thing connecting the island to the isle are a couple of bridges. Just about all the signage in Wales is written in both English & Welsh, which is very handy and educational and super-awesome if you’re a logophile. Holyhead (Caergybi) is a port town, shipping freight and shuttling passengers back and forth across the Irish Sea. Now, I’m not knocking Holyhead, but it doesn’t offer much in terms of points of interest; the one museum it has was closed for the winter season. There are other attractions to see near Holyhead, most of which are outside and better accessible by car, and perhaps better left seen on a day when the sun doesn’t set at 4pm.
It was stupid-blustery outside, winds reaching around 60 mph, with hurricane gales expected later into the night. Perfect time to explore around town! Oddly enough, most of the shops, cafes, etc. were also closed. I can only assume that everyone runs on “island time” and does what they want. Quickly exhausting that option, we decided to peruse the waterfront. The wind spinning your hair out of control, sea mist spraying into your face, the chill air scraping at your exposed skin. Mmmm perfect! Oddly enough (again) we encountered quite a few people out for late afternoon / evening strolls.
We wandered into the marina, which was incredibly eerie: it was dark now with only the glow of street lamps; there was no one around; there were no sounds except for the constant whistling of the wind, trapped and whirling through the masts and spires, and the clanking of boat parts against one another. I was half expecting to turn around and find the entire town population moving towards us in a paranormal fashion. Then it seemed like an adventurous idea to try to get to the lighthouse out on a pier; we didn’t make it as the prospect of rain turned us off, and we didn’t have a torch with us, which would have been handy since dark roads in the night are not ideal. Looking more closely at a map now, I don’t think it was a lighthouse for people to visit.
The wind definitely picked up over night because the bloody window or whatever it was kept rattling as I tried to sleep. Our no frills hotel was adequate for a one off stay, and I definitely have stayed in far worse places, which this hotel would in no way compare. Thank goodness we didn’t have to get on a ferry because they were all cancelled or delayed (by like 8 hours), and the train / ferry station was chock-a-block with tired and surly passengers. Overnight there had been heavy rain, bringing an already waterlogged area into further wet conditions, which was evident on the ride home as fields had turned into swimming pools. Another long day of travel, topped off with the ejection of 3 youth (“youf”) from our train for making racist comments, one of which told the police officer that because he paid taxes, the officer worked for him. Okay there…yeah, time to put your can of lager down. I think it’s past your bedtime.
Listen to: Filthy Pedro – They Kicked Me Out Of Anglesey
BONUS SONG: Gruff Rhys – Beacon In The Darkness