King Arthur and the Standing Stones

Beaumaris Castle, Wales

      Staggering off the ferry, we took our first steps back into Great Britain. Bleary-eyed from grabbing a handful of hours sleep on the ferry we set off from Holyhead to meet up with my brother, Braeden, in Beaumaris! We had meticulously (or so we thought) planned the next week and a half that the three of us would be touring to maximize our sightseeing.

Our first train ride had no problems, but after waiting 20 minutes at a bus stop for a bus that hadn’t come, we began to think we may have a problem. A very friendly (and only slightly hard to understand) Welsh man filled us in as we stood looking very confused, it was Good Friday! Shoot! So much for all that planning. Luckily, it didn’t muck things up too badly. We caught a later bus, which ended up being the same one Braeden was on coming from Liverpool!

So began the whirlwind Wales/England adventure of the Canadian trio. For the first leg through Wales we decided to go castle crazy. On the first day, we met up in Beaumaris, toured Caernarfon, and settled for the night in Conwy. The three of us agreed that it was a pretty good line up. I described the castles and towns in my, “Top Picks of Wales” post, but I’ll rehash the details a bit just because Wales is so awesome.

Beaumaris is a beautiful little town. After wandering around the picturesque castle for a couple of hours, we grabbed some lunch and sat in the main square watching a little dog ride a horse (we were confused too). Beaumaris was going to be the smallest on our castle tour so we were glad that it was up first and wouldn’t be competing with the imposing impression of Caernarfon.

Upping the scale a bit, we headed over to Caernarfon Castle. It was massive! We were short on time, and unfortunately they wouldn’t let us stash our bags, so we had to take turns waiting with the bags in the courtyard. The seemingly endless halls, passageways, rooms, and stairwells kept us running around gleefully right until closing time.

To finish off our day, we stopped for the night in Conwy. Of the three we had seen, I would have to say that Conwy was my favourite. The old town is surrounded by one of the most intact medieval walls in Europe, allowing you to walk almost the entire length around the town. Walking around the wall we had fun peeking into the hollowed out towers and seeing all the creative uses people had found for the interiors, my favourites included a chicken coop and a barbecue patio. The castle itself was fantastic too, offering beautiful views of the town and harbour. There were neat little sculpture exhibitions sprinkled throughout too (‘The Guard‘ and the ‘Llywelyn’s Coronet‘ to name a couple).

Next stop on the Canadian trio’s tour: south England! We opted to stay in Bath and do day trips out from there. Bath is a must-see for anyone visiting England. It gives a great look at Roman rule in British history. After seeing the ruin of Hadrian’s Wall, it was really neat to experience a part of that history that was still alive. The Roman Baths have been modified several times over the centuries, but you can still find some remnants of the Roman structure within the foundations. They’ve even found gemstones, coins, and curse tablets that Romans would have thrown, as offerings, in the bath. Some of the curse tablets were written asking the gods to punish the person who stole their clothing while they were bathing.

Roman Baths, Bath, England

From Bath we opted to do our own thing rather than go with any of multitudes of tours available. First up, the mysterious Avebury. We decided on Avebury rather than Stone Henge because we hadn’t spoken to a single person who was totally satisfied with experience of seeing Stone Henge (it’s a tad pricey). With the larger, older Avebury circle you can actually go within the ring of stones and explore, checking out the huge boulders, wondering how they ever managed to move them. The town of Avebury is partially inside the stone circle, binding the ancient to the modern in a neat sort of way.

Avebury, England

A short hike away from Avebury you can also find Silbury Hill. Silbury Hill is the largest man-made mound in Europe, yet it’s a complete mystery. It doesn’t contain a grave (as far as they can tell) and people really aren’t sure what its purpose originally was. If you’re lucky, you can also catch the Cherhill White Horse out of your bus window  on the road back to Bath (it was a good thing Braeden was paying attention or we would have missed it).

Silbury Hill, England

Glastonbury is a haven for new-age lovers. The grounds of the ruined monastery are mysterious and full of legends. Supposedly the resting place of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere was discovered on the grounds, paving the way for all the Arthurian-oriented tourism of today. My favourite story was about the Holy Thorn tree on the grounds, a descendant of a tree originally brought as a staff by Joseph of Arimathea, which he had planted in the ground while he rested only to discover it had taken root. Climbing up to the Tor is a bit of climb, but so worth it. The views from the top were the most beautiful I had seen in the entire UK.

The final stop on our UK tour was the idyllic, little town of Castle Combe. Dubbed the prettiest village in England, Castle Combe has played host to numerous movies, including Stardust, Warhorse, and the 1967 Doctor Dolittle. A nice, peaceful finish to our exciting tour!

Castle Combe, England

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