Saturday, September 24, 2016

Hello Ireland!

Our trip to Ireland was on a ferry.  It was a mini cruise ship, complete with slot machines, duty free shopping, children's play area, movie theater and restaurant.  The kids were pretty enamored and could have stared out the windows at the sea rushing pass the entire journey.

It was about a three hour ride and from the moment we started moving until the moment I met the ground again I was a little woozy.  Hannah had bit of motion sickness too.  Thankfully, we had booked a berth in hopes that the little boys would take a nap.  That didn't happen but after we munched a bit more lunch, We turned off most of the lights and tried to rest.  Charlotte and Spencer really want to go back to the children's play are since there was a movie playing.   Hyrum was kind enough to take them while I laid down to try and feel better.  I tried to convince Ben to join me but he was having fun pushing buttons and exploring our little space.  After about an hour the older kids, Ben and I join Hyrum, Charlotte and Spencer.  We all "enjoyed" some Curious George until they made a final call for dinner.

We had meal tickets since we wanted to be able to get right to our cottage that night.  It turned out this was the best choice we made of the day.  Hyrum and I went down memory lane and enjoyed some Swedish meatballs while the kids enjoyed chicken fingers and french fries.  After dinner we went back to our berth and picked up our mess.

We made our way back to the restaurant level, turned in our room keys and sat down to watch the boat dock.  It was quite fascinating to watch the ferry come into port.  As we had boarded the ferry there were large semi-truck, as well as passenger cars in the hold.  As we disembarked, so did they.  It was if Noah's ark has opened but with vehicles instead of animals this time!

Dublin port wasn't great to look at so after we gathered our bags, I was looking forward to seeing a more attractive part o the city.  It did get better.  After the ferry we had to catch a train.  The ferry company had a shuttle to train station so off we went.  We hurried to the train station and thankfully made our train.  We were on the three for quite a bit.  It was rush hour and we filled a section with our bodies and luggage.  I don't think people like it very much.  The ride however was really nice.  Once we got out of the city, the train follows the coast.  It was really lovely.

We were pretty loaded down but we were determined to make it work.  As we were getting off the train a gentlemen took pity on us and helped us get everything and everyone off the train.  He started to give us directions to get out of the train station and then said he would just help us get out.  He took a bag, directed us to the lift (elevator) and after a couple lift rides (the lifts could accommodate half of us with suitcases in tow) we all found each other again and made our way through the turnstiles.

Our new friend, said good bye while Hyrum went to get our Leap Cards, passes for the buses and trains in and around Dublin.  A few minutes later though, he was back again with information about taxis.  I was so impressed with his willingness to help us out.  I was grateful for a complete stranger's help.  We were still about 30 minutes from our destination and it was getting to be a very long day.  His kindness helped easy the growing worry I had in my mind.

We were hoping to find a taxi van to take us to our cottage since we would have to wait nearly and hour for the next bus and that would mean we still had to walk about .5 miles before we got there.  With all of our stuff that was a bit daunting.  Taxis to go to the little village we were staying near are rather hard to find, add to that 7 people and 8 suitcases/bags and we couldn't find any takers.  We ended up waiting for the bus and riding the 30 minutes on the bus.

By the time we got off the bus it was very dark outside.  We were on this country road in the middle of nowhere with only a vague idea of where we were suppose to go.  We set off walking down this dark road single file with our phone flashlights on to see where we were going and help cars see our little caravan.  We finally turned down our lane and the fear was growing inside me.  Initially there were beautiful flowers, but quickly we were walking past junk piles, overgrown bushes and derelict-looking houses.  I didn't think things could get worse after London but I was beginning to think maybe they were about to.  We hit the end of the lane and it went from paving to gravel.

Just as I made it, Hyrum open the door to our new home.  We quickly got everyone and everything into the cottage, got pj's on and assigned everyone a room.   We were met with a clean, bright, sizable home that would suit us just fine.  I could finally relax, after we put everyone to bed.

Conwy Castle

View inside the Keep from a tower.

Conwy (pronounced Conway) Castle is a magnificent castle built on the northern Welsh coast by Edward I.  It is am imposing sight as we drove into the city.  It was part of a system of castles meant to impose English rule on the Welsh.  It never fell to enemy fire but once found itself ruled by a few Welsh rebels that snuck in dressed as carpenters.

This is a classical example of a fortified town with a central keep.  The entire city is fenced by a massive wall.  Then the castle itself has another wall and towers there.  It was a massive structure.  We were all in awe.  The castle sits on the bedrock below it making it quite strong.  There was a series of clues and placards for the kids to ind and learn from.  They gave details about the Welsh who took the castle in 1401.  The kids had a good time finding the clues and coloring their pictures.  They ended up with Welsh dragons and English lions on their cards which they presented for a badge.  It was a great way to keep them busy and engaged.

Jonathan liked looking for the murder holes and arrow slits.  Hannah wanted to find all the answers. Charlotte just wanted to sit, Spencer tried his best to keep up with the older kids without really understanding what they were doing and Ben just enjoyed being out of a harness for most of the time we were there. It was a great day a neat place to stop.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Jubilee Tower and Moel Famau

Our last stop in Wales was this great place on the edge of the Shropshire Hills, another Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.   After getting settled in, our host told us about hike and playground not very far away.  The large hill is known as Moel Famau.  We took a trail from the playground area and walked up the mountain through heather and other plants.  It was pretty even for a while and then went sharp uphill.  In addition to the up hill we came into intense wind.   The kids were troopers though as we finished our climb up the hill.

On top of the hill sits The Jubilee Tower, a monument begun in 1810 to commemorate the golden jubilee of George III.  It was not completed and eventually ruined over time.  The older kids enjoyed checking out the views.  The views were amazing.  From the top of that hill you can see most of Wales, and into England.  

We ate a snack and then made our way back down the hill by another trail.  The trail back down wound through a sheep pasture though we didn't meet any near the trail.  The weather was overcast and windy but a good temperature for hiking.

After our hike we enjoyed lunch and then the kids quickly ran off to play.  The playground was bird themed.  There was a large swing that was like a large nest as well as a set of tunnels that also lead to nest-like tree forts. We enjoyed a few hours playing and them back to our house so I could get things packed up and ready to go the next day.

Family History

A few months ago my mom mentioned that her family comes from Wales and she was excited we would be stopping in Wales.  I'm a bit ashamed to say that I put it out of my mind as we survived through the summer and prepared for this trip.  I would remember and put looking it up on my mental check list but it always came up after I was ready to be done for the day.  I justified myself by saying there was no way we would be anywhere near where my family was from.  

Well, I was wrong.  Just as we were preparing to leave Wales I found myself with some free time.  I pulled up family search and to find out just where my family was from.  I could have kicked myself.  We were not twenty miles from where my great-great-great grandfather, William Weal was born and died.  It felt good to have been in the area where my ancestors walked at one point or another.  

I really wish I had taken the time sooner to learn more about my Welsh roots.  We probably could have visited the church he attended and possibly with a bit more preparation found out more about he and his family, my family.  I will never look at the Welsh dragon again quite the same way!
Image result for welsh dragon

Stokesay Castle and Witley Court

From left to right, top to bottom: Stokesay Castle, great hall entrance; Witley Court, grand steps to East Garden; Flowers at Stokesay; Slide at Wilderness playground, Ben loves slides; Roses at Stokesay Castle; Stakesay Gatehouse, the ridiculously bright colors likely saved the Castle during the English Civil War; Rope Bridge at the Wilderness playground; Witley Court East Garden; Stokesay Castle South Tower
Saturday was a great day to see another castle.  Stokesay Castle really shows just how liberal a definition they had of castle as it is more of a fortified manor house.  Apparently Lord Ludlow wanted to build things like towers and a moat which only castles could have so he petitioned the King for "castle" status and received it.  It didn't turn out well for him during the English Civil War because the Parliamentarians saw those turrets, they decided to invade to make sure there were no Royalists there.  It was quite a price to pay for some fancy stone buildings!  

The tickets included an audio guide so we got one for everybody.  Ben likes to push the buttons and it keeps him entertained.  It didn't help this time though.  I ended up hanging outside with Ben because he was yelling and screaming inside the large empty hall, making it impossible for anyone else to listen to their guides.  I even tried some tic tac bribes but that just exacerbated the situation.  There were a few lovely flowers though and when I wasn't trying to bribe Ben with cookies/biscuits, I took pictures of them and enjoyed sitting outside.

After a bit of lunch we were ready to leave Stokesay castle.  It was relatively early in afternoon so we decided a visit to Witley Court and Gardens as well.  (I should say, we had purchased an English Heritage Pass which gave free entrance into several historical places all over England.  In part we were trying to make good use of it.)  At first I think the most important draw was the wilderness play areas for the kids.  It was the closest we would get to a big Pemberley-esque manor house on this trip and I was all for it.

Front entrance

The kids has a great time at the playground and didn't want to leave, even when it stated raining on us.  We'd brought rain jackets and so we soldiered on to the manor house.  By the time we arrived at the house, the rain had stopped and we were able to see glimpses of the once majestic home.  The house had been around for a while--several hundred years at least--but came into it's glory in the mid-1800s.

Just inside the entrance hall.

The house burned out in 1937 in a fire that destroyed most of the building leaving just the exterior shell behind it.  Today you can see the bricks and potions of the decorated facade.  It was interesting to think about how as people we often try to put on a grand exterior to hide our imperfections or "commonalities" but inside we're all just people just like this house was grand on the outside but inside it was built of bricks just like the rest of the buildings of the time.

One of the gardens has been restored and it looked beautiful.  The grounds really were stunning.  As we walked around and gazed at the once grand building, it was easy to imagine the carriages and the ladies in their dresses arriving for a ball or social event.  It was quite the house.