Day 7: Angelsey, Rhyl
The plan from here on was to try to get up Snowdon on the best day of weather possible; today was not that day. It was heavily overcast and was supposed to rain off and on all day. So we reorganized and grabbed a great Welsh breakfast across the square from Y Castel and headed out to the island of Angelsey to visit the sea salt factory, Halen Môn. The sky stayed cloudy and as we got to the island the wind had really picked up. We trekked out to the coastline and found Halen Môn next to a Sea Zoo. It turned out that the Sea Zoo was the genesis of the salt company. Because the zoo was seasonal for tourism, Alison Lea and her husband wanted to create a company that would generate revenue year round. The result was the production of some of the greatest and most mineral-heavy salt I’ve ever tasted. The company greeted us by giving a salt tutorial, which was surprisingly informative as to how our body needs salt and the purer the salt the better it is for our bodies. They then suited all of us up in surgeon’s gear and led us to a crystallizer where a pool of sea water is heated to separate the salt from the water. We shoveled out a whole vat of salt and then brought it to be sifted in a rinse. This was like gold panning and, sure enough, it removed the chalk from the salt. From there it was flavored with vanilla or chili (to name a few!), or smoked to give it a great woodsy flavor. We thanked Alison and her husband for taking so much time with us and we bought up as many samples as possible with the promise to contact the U.S. rep and get this great salt into our pub!
Before leaving Angelsey we drove around the island a bit, and then stopped at the little town with the huge name, Llanfairpwllgwngyllgogerychwyrndrobywllllantisiliogogogoch. There's not much there but a photo of the train sign and a huge gift shop, but it was worth the fifteen-minute stop. The weather was still looking bad so we put off touring any park stuff until tomorrow. We trekked across the top of Wales and stopped in Conwy for lunch. Conwy was another walled town like Tenby, and we had a few Purple Moose pints in a local pub. We finished up and kept on driving to Rhyl in the North-East to visit the Snowdonia Cheese Company. The address we had led us into an industrial park where clearly the distribution offices were housed. We found the warehouse and met with the PR man Patrick. We quickly exchanged info and talked about getting larger 2 kg. wheels of their cheese into Snowdonia (they already export their smaller 200g wheels, but our cheese plates are so popular we need bigger wheels!). Patrick understood and promised he’d be in touch.
We headed back to Caraerfon after a long day of driving all over the top of North Wales. Settling back in to Y Castel, we had a pint and then walked down to a tiny street buried in the castle wall called “Hole in the Wall Street” to find a great traditional Welsh-fusion place called Blas. Blas, which means “taste” in Welsh, was a great find and I would highly recommend it to anyone. Carrie had a fillet that was topped with onion rings and I had the loin of lamb with a puff pastry lamb roll. The meats were cooked perfectly and the portions were great for the prices. We were then stuffed and wiped out from driving, so we walked back to Y Castel and passed out.
Day 8: A Train Ride to Blaneau Ffestiniog
After so much driving, we decided to take it easy with the car. It was still cloudy so we put off climbing Snowdon until the afternoon. We drove back into Porthmadog to do some quick shopping. We decided to take a old-fashioned steam train through Snowdonia National Park to the slate town of Blanaeu Ffestiniog. The train picked us up late morning, and began to snake its way leisurely along the ridges of the Snowdonia hills. Great views of waterfalls and lakes were everywhere. We snapped pictures occasionally, but it was nice to just sit back and let the train go wherever it would take us. It stopped intermittently through villages and hiking points, but we were content just to ride it until the end. After two hours, we arrived in Blanaeu Ffestiniog, a town in the middle of the park. We browsed through the slate shops and gathered up ideas for table presentation with slate plates and mats. Slate and coal were the main mining trades in Wales for the past century. Slate was everywhere: Slate roofs, slate tables, slate statues. Strangely, one never got sick of it. It was just always part of the landscape.
Having strolled the whole town, we got back on the train for another leisurely ride back to Porthmadog. From there, we set out towards a small town called Llanrwyst. On the way, we took a quick detour into Bodnant Gardens (which turns out was only kind of on the way). It was late afternoon, but the sun had come out so we gave it a shot. The gardens were shut, but their farm shop was open and we picked up a bunch of Conwy ales and a great bunch of ales from the Great Orme Brewery. We had a quick cup of coffee, toured a tiny honey museum, and then kept on South to try and find a great restaurant called The Tannery in Llanrwyst. Adrian and I had been here eight years ago when we climbed Mount Snowdon, and we had discovered this great place tucked away in this great little town between Conwy and Betwsy-Coed. We indeed found it again, but it had closed down the week before. Bad luck!
We went back to Caraerfon and changed up our dinner habits by trying an Italian osteria. The restaurant did some great bruschettas and tapas-style dishes, and we finished off the meal with some filling pasta smothered in duck ragu. We hit a few more pubs, and then went home to Y Castel with our fingers crossed that we would hit some less rainy weather on our last day.
Day 9: Snowdon
We all woke up early to an extremely rare occurrence in Wales: A perfectly, clear, cloudless sky. This couldn’t be better luck on our last day before we had to drive home. We ate fast and jumped into the car to drive to Llanberis, the town at the foot of Snowdon, to try and catch a train up the mountain. The trains were almost completely booked up, but we managed to get three tickets on the diesel behemoth. Adrian had climbed the mountain several times (he even did the harried cliff walk Crib Goch with his mum!), and the last time was with me. Back in 2007, the walk was arduous, and when we got to the top we were surrounded by clouds with just a view of your hand in front of you. This time we had a chance to get up the mountain with no clouds at all — which happened maybe seven days out of the year — so we chose to take the train. The ride was peaceful, taking about an hour. The train slowly climbed the mountain, cresting the smaller peaks and revealing more and more valleys. By the time we reached the top, clouds were beginning to appear far in the distance. We ascended the final 100 feet to the peak and the clear skies prevailed. We could see all the way to the coast and the island of Angelsey! This was the best timing of the trip yet! We stayed for almost half an hour and ran back down to catch our return train. When we loaded onto the train, the clouds were at the neighboring peak; in ten minutes, Snowdon disappeared into the clouds behind us. Had we ascended on the next train, we would have seen absolutely nothing.
When we got back down, we had a quick lunch and decided to leave Wales via the scenic route. We drove through the local green coach roads through the quaint little town of Betws-Y-Coed and across upper mid-Wales through the town of Llangolen. As we coasted closer and closer to the border of England, I laid back in my seat and soaked up the last of the sheep-filled valleys. I thought to myself that this trip would be hard to beat when we returned next year, but with all of these new-found friends, no doubt more unique places and adventures are in store for us when we come back to our namesake.