It took three attempts to visit Warwick Castle, even though it was only 70 km away. Carina had been there on her Rock Eisteddfod tour in 1998 and told us we must go. It was a lovely sunny, cold day when we arrived and perfect for walking around battlements, climbing towers and visiting dungeons and torture chambers.
Originally built of wood by William the Conqueror in 1068, it was rebuilt in stone in the 12th century. During the hundred years war the façade opposite the town was refortified to give it its current appearance. At the time we visited, the castle was owned by the Tussauds Group so as you can imagine, the recreation of historic figures and traditional scenes was excellent. Twelve apartments were open to the public with authentic furniture and wax figures depicting a weekend party in 1898 hosted by the Countess of Warwick and included the future Edward VII as one of the guests. In 2003 Warwick Castle was recognised as the “best castle” in the Good Britain Guide.
Everywhere we went the name “Capability” Brown kept popping up. He was responsible for redesigning the gardens at Warwick Castle from 1747 to 1760, giving them a more “natural” connection to the River Avon.
Unlike its rival castle, Kenilworth, it suffered little damage in the Civil War (it was on Cromwell’s side) and has been maintained and rebuilt over its long life. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and our lunch at Vanilla in Warwick which I wrote was “quite inexpensive and edible”.
Wales was on the must do list as it was only a short distance to the border from where we lived. On a sunny Saturday morning we drove to Llanberis where we intended to catch the train to the top of Mt Snowden but decided against the £20 fare. We took our little gas burner, cooked soup and made toast by a rushing stream in the Llanberis Pass. It had recently rained and water was pouring off the hills everywhere but it kept dry for our picnic.
We had a pub meal in Dolwyddelon that night after exploring Betws-y-Coed.
Our B&B featured a ruined castle on the property which we explored in the morning. We felt like the “Famous Five” as we had the castle to ourselves!
After a three mile walk around the estate we drove to two National Trust properties (as we are members). The first was Ty’n-Coed, a former tenant farmer’s cottage which contained years of collected items from generations past. The property included a riverside walk where we ate apples off the tree and picked blackberries.
The next property was Ty Mawr where a man named William Morgan was born. He translated the bible into Welsh at the request of Queen Elizabeth 1. The story of his education and childhood was fascinating and the cottage was just beautiful, nestled in a secluded valley far from crowds. We met about four people at each spot, just enough to have a conversation. We had spent a lot of time in towns and cities and I was just loving our weekends in more remote places.
We had another picnic of soup and toast again on Sunday on top of a hill near Ty Mawr before visiting our third national trust property, Powis Castle, near Welshpool. One of its claims to fame is it was built by a Welshman, not by the invading English.
However, during the Civil war it supported Charles I and so was captured by Cromwell’s men. With the restoration of Charles II in 1660 it went back to its owners, the Herberts. By 1784 it was falling into ruin but Henrietta Herbert made a very strategic marriage to Edward Clive, eldest son of Clive of India. Money could now be poured into repairing the castle. I thought it was interesting that Edward’s son, also named Edward, was shot and killed in a hunting accident by his own second son. The fourth Earl married Violet Lane-Fox, who transformed the gardens into the “most important and magnificent in Wales” (Elisabeth Whittle, garden historian). Unfortunately she was killed in a car accident in 1929 and her two sons died in WWI (1916) and WWII (1943). That meant George Herbert had no heirs on his death in 1952 so he bequeathed the castle and gardens to the National Trust.
Apart from the memorable gardens I specifically remember the Clive Museum where many items collected as loot during battles in India are on display. Apparently their existence is now quite controversial but in 2004 we were less aware of the links between country house collections and colonialism.
A bonus Bank Holiday (long weekend) gave us time to visit Whitby and the birthplace of Captain James Cook. John has always been a great fan of Cook and has over time visited many of the spots where he planted the British flag as well as the scene of his death in Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii.
Basing ourselves in a lovely B&B just two blocks from the harbour we set off to find the places Cook had lived. Although we didn’t go to East Martin, where he was born, we found a statue of him at 8 years of age in Great Ayton where James’ father secured a job as foreman at Aireyholme Farm. Here he attended school where he learned writing, arithmetic and had religious instruction. The schoolhouse has long since gone but was rebuilt in 1785 and is now the Captain Cook Schoolroom Museum.
We then moved on to Staithes, a fishing village where Cook worked for William Sanderson, a merchant, haberdasher and grocer but his time there only convinced him that he wanted to go to sea.
It was then that Cook moved to Whitby and became an apprentice to the ship owner John Walker. We climbed the stairs to the attic which Cook would have shared with other apprentices.
Working on coal ships that travelled between Newcastle and London he rose to the rank of Mate. In 1755 he was offered the position of Master of the Friendship but left instead to join the Royal Navy. That is the end of Cook’s connection with Whitby but he would have returned to visit his family. We found the grave of Cook’s mother Grace Pace who married James Cook senior. She is buried near five of her children.
Whitby is also known for being the setting of Dracula. In the book he runs up the 199 steps to the abbey in dog form after his ship is wrecked. The author, Bram Stoker, was staying in Whitby while he researched Vlad the Impaler in the local library. Bits of Whitby can be found in the novel, including names from the gravestones near the ruined abbey.
We thought we would eat at the famous Magpie Café, known as one of the finest fish restaurants in the area. The queue out the door was so long we gave up and ate elsewhere.
As we drove south we spent a few hours in York, admiring The Shambles, with its overhanging timber-framed buildings dating from the 14th Century. The name is derived from an obsolete term for an open-air slaughterhouse and meat market. Although the butchers have now vanished there are still meat hooks hanging outside. Now there are a mix of restaurants, bookshops and a bakery, among others.
We are winding down now. It is not long to the end and yet there are still so many places to go. What does X hold in store? You will find out tomorrow.