Saturday, 13 December 2014

Castell Dolbadarn, Llanberis

Today we went off on a drive with the kids in the hope of finding snow. We didn't find any at an altitude we could get at with the children, so in slight disappointment we passed Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon), which is England and Wales' tallest mountain and surpassed only by two in Scotland. We carried on down towards Llanberis, thinking of driving back past Tryfan and giving the dog a run. Llanberis is rather a shock, where the pristine mountains beaten down by nature suddenly give way to mountains carved apart by slate quarrying. It's also the home of Llyn Padarn and Dinorwig Power Station. This hydroelectric power station is neatly hidden at the heart of the mountain, and can be visited on a rather fun tour down the tunnels by bus. These Welsh quarrying villages always look a little bleak and run down, but Llanberis carries on majestically despite that, with plenty of attractions for tourists.

The other thing Llanberis has is Castell Dolbadarn. I was always taught that in general English castles (such as Conwy and Beaumaris) have round towers, whereas Welsh ones (such as Dolwyddelan) have square, but the keep at Dolbadarn is very definitely round. According to Wikipedia this was part of a newer phase of development when the Marcher lords had started to adopt the idea of round keeps. The twenty year older parts (the castle was started in the 1220s) had square towers, but nothing remains of these but walls of two or three feet high. The castle is easily reached from a small car park nearby (just have wellies for the puddles and try not to take the sump off the car driving in), and is a very short walk up a reasonably easy track. Only the keep and some very low remains of walls survive, but it's free to go up to and look around. Think of it as a starter castle in your 'Tours of the Welsh Castles' pack.

Driving into the heart of Snowdonia, rather blurry because it's gloomy and from a moving car.

I absolutely love the rock formations round here.

Snow, but not enough snow low enough down. Down here it was raining.

A rather hasty shot of Snowdon from a moving car. There was no chance of stopping.

Very close to Snowdon the valley suddenly becomes rather tamer, much more like the lowlands.

At Llanberis we got out and took the short walk up to Castell Dolbadarn, which cuts an imposing figure on the shores of Llyn Padarn.

The castle and a little glimpse of the mountains beyond.

The smallest of the sproglets climbs up the steps to the tower entrance.

Some rather gorgeous graffiti on the slate slab at the top of the steps.

A more straight-on view of that graffiti.

Inside the castle keep.

Looking through one of the narrow windows over Llyn Padarn.

Looking down into the bottom of the tower. I'm not sure what the ring of stones down there was in aid of.

Another look through the window over the lake, and you can see the remains of the rest of the castle, all built of these narrow slate slabs.

Another view over the remains.

A rather dubiously worded noticeboard that tells you about the keep, but nothing about the rest of the castle, unfortunately.

It looks a bit more imposing from down here.

Lovely square bit of architecture attached to the round tower.

A view up the lake back towards the mountains. I think the children made me take this.

And there's some of the ruined mountain, cut into terraces by slate quarrying.

Closer up on the slate quarry.

A last look at the castle from down near the car park.

So we drove on and stopped by Tryfan to give the dog a bit more of a run. That's Llyn Owgen in the foreground. Sometimes planes from RAF Valley swoop along here and disappear down into the land at the end, which is quite a sight to see.

There's Tryfan itself, probably my favourite mountain. It looks like a pile of stones.

And a final rather blurred view of some of the snowy peaks blending into the sky, just before we drive away. It was past 3pm and the winter dark was falling fast.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Angel Bay seals, Little Orme, Llandudno

Having had a cold for the last week it's time to draw on a past excursion. This one's from February 2014, when we went to visit Angel Bay on the Little Orme. I've been there a couple of times in the past, but in recent years seals have taken to coming in to the bay and lolling around in their sealish way. Sometimes it feels like Britain is noticeably lacking in wildlife - or at least in easily visible, large wildlife rather than small, shy, nocturnal creatures lurking in the undergrowth. We've driven most large wild creatures away from our lives, so it's wonderful to catch a glimpse of great wild mammals like these.

It's a very easy walk from the residential streets of Penrhyn Bay behind the Little Orme, up onto the level ground there and along to the bay. The place has been very sculpted by limestone quarrying, and there's also a certain amount of erosion which has led to the old path collapsing into the sea in places, so a new one has been laid. You can also see concrete remains from the WWII Royal Artillery coastal gunnery school along the cliffs. A lot of dog walkers make use of the area, so look out for the inevitable fouling.

The bay itself is not the easiest place to get down to, since it involves a scramble down rather muddy and unstable paths worn deep and narrow into the ground in places. It's the kind of terrain that has you crouching down at points and clinging on to slippery mountain grass as you inch your feet forwards. At the bottom you're treated to a lovely little shingle-covered bay with some rather stunning rock formations on one side (fun for scrambling up, but take care) and the sound of the waves pounding against the cliffs on either side.

And, if you're lucky, seals. Signs warn you to take care when the seals are down there. We approached relatively close, but not close enough to spook them or get into danger. Luckily there's a big rock across the way that acts as something of a baffle.

The view out over the sea to the wind turbines on the horizon. There was an awful lot of fuss when they proposed putting these up. Claims that they would 'decimate' the scenery from people who didn't understand the meaning of the word 'decimate.' I think they're beautiful, although sometimes I feel disappointed that they put a lie to the idea of an endless, depthless sea. On the other hand, I continue to use electricity, and so we need to make compromises.

I've always assumed that the flat ground and terrace-type features here are due to the quarrying.

A hefty lump of concrete, I assume from the gunnery school emplacements.

The views over towards the north-east Wales coast are quite stunning from here. I think the little white line to the left might be the Rhyl Sky Tower.
Some more concrete leftovers which I assume were part of the gunnery school.

A first glimpse of a seal!

Some of these are watermarked but I'm generally too lazy pushed for time to watermark all of them. I need to trust that people won't steal them. (Although they do, I know.)

I loved this spotty seal. They really are like sea-dogs.

They even have the same apologetic look that dogs always have. 'Gosh, I'm dreadfully sorry I'm in this rock pool. Was I supposed to be somewhere else? The shrimp were so tasty...'

On the other hand, this is a happy seal.

Happy seal gets splashed with a wave. I'd be happy too. I wish I could get in and swim with the seals but I generally get told not to be an idiot.

Spotty seal is doing her reluctant-model pose.

'Wut? You called?'

'It wasn't me! I didn't do it!'

Very apologetic seal.

This one made me think of a moon landscape, maybe one of Jupiter's moons catching light from the sun.

This old boy (I assume - he was very large at any rate) was very scarred and mangy looking, a testament to a hard life.

Battle scarred boy.

The view of the bay from above. The photo doesn't really show how steep and difficult the incline is.

Those glorious rocks that are lovely for scrambling over (carefully.)

A little more of the bay. It would have been amazing to be here when these rocks tumbled from the side into the water, as they look like they did.

The whole lot looks very unstable.

You can see a couple of people on top of the Orme for scale.

The Little Mermaid?

We went away to pick up the kids from school and when we got back the tide was much further out but the seals were still there, enjoying the shingle.

More of those rocks. I'm sorry, but I love them.

Splish, splash, I was taking a bath... Every day is bath day when you're a seal.

Looking along the north-east coast again past Colwyn Bay towards Rhyl. You can see how eroded and unstable the side of the Orme is.

Why yes, that is a bit more of that rock.

You can see the tide is much further out now, and that shingle must be a lot more comfortable to lie on.

They're so well camouflaged they look rather like seal-shaped rocks.

A closer view of the wind turbines and the rig for erecting them on the way back to the car.

Turbines dwarfing a little boat. I saw parts of one of these turbines on the back of a lorry once and was amazed at the size.

Evening is coming and it's time to go home.