Being a teacher on holiday means I have a lot of time on my hands at the moment and since the devil finds work for idle hands, he sent me to North Wales for an impromptu 3 day solo trip. As soon as I reached Colwyn bay and the coastal road I realised it was a good little devil!
Before I babble about Caernarfon, let me pat myself on the back for two reasons other than there is nobody with me to pat it. Firstly this is the first time I’ve been on a break with only my good self for company (and so far I’m revelling in it, yepee). Secondly this is the first time I have driven that far from home (and aced it, yepee). Sitting in my hotel room tonight, having had a trip that went without a glitch (who said I panicked on Birmingham’s ring road?) I’m feeling quite smug. Sure it used to be easier letting my partner look at the maps, prepare the route and drive while pretending to like his choice of music from the 80s and feeding him mostly wrong directions but I didn’t get the same empowerment feeling. Don’t tell Kim Kardashian but as empowerment goes, I think it possibly tops flashing your boobs on Instagram too.
Right, now on to Caernarfon. The hotel I booked is on the old fashioned side of old fashioned but it is clean and the landlord is more talkative than all the landlords I have seen in London put together for the past ten years. Was it a little patronising when I said it was only me staying and he proceeded to tell me about all the security features installed in the room and the hotel? Yes it was but on the other hand it appears that I am staying at Fort Knox with a bunch of SAS snipers ready to defend me so I can sleep on both ears.
The first thing I noticed as soon as I reached the town centre is how widely Welsh is spoken here. Little kids play in Welsh, customers order their ice creams in Welsh and cash points ask if I want a receipt in Welsh. This is something I have never encountered when going to South Wales and I feel like I am really in a far foreign land here.
The jewel of Caernarvon is its famous Castle, built by the English from 1282 in order to prevent Welsh soldiers from cutting their soldier’s throats. It stands facing the Menai strait and is a wonderful piece of medieval engineering. It features unique defensive arrow loops that fooled the enemy into believing there were only 1 loop when in fact three bowmen could fire in three different directions using this same loop. This was the medieval equivalent of a machine gun! The castle is also a bit of a Trojan horse in reverse. It appears very impressive from the outside but was voluntarily left unfinished in the inside, where you can see bits of stone jutting out of every wall for no apparent reason. After all the Welsh were only going to see it from the outside so as long as they believed the place was as monumental inside, it was enough to keep them erring on the right side of cautiousness and not attack. I greatly enjoyed exploring the nooks and crannies of the Castle, going up and down its many towers and learning about it on the guided tour. If you are able, go up on the towers, the views over Caernarfon are lush and worth every trembling knee.
The town itself is a coastal mix of fortified walls, souvenir and craft shops, slightly upmarket boutiques and cheap eateries. It is pleasant but not too much, as if the locals had had enough domination in the past centuries to stop anyone from wanting to spend too long in their town. Compared to towns like Boulogne or Vannes in France, Caernarfon is slightly short handed in the charm department. However, it remains a perfect base to explore what is around, which is the plan for tomorrow.