We were recently presented with a dilemma, with 6 days between house sits we didn't know what to do. Neither Dean nor I had been to Wales before so we thought 'why not?'. For us busing around and booking into a hostel or B n B was not in our budget so we decided to rent a van and sleep in it around the country.
We plotted out a vague route to make sure we would arrive at our final destination, Manchester, on time and set to the open road. Here is out 5 day itinerary:
Day One - Cornwall to Glastonbury
First stop on our road trip was the charming, and commercialised, town of Clovelly. Famous for its englishness, epitomised by its cobbled streets, small shops and idyllic seaside setting. Set in the shire of Devon I have been told, by my grandfather who loves Clovelly, that you can spend all day wandering around the gardens, tea rooms and shops.
As luck would have it we turned up shortly after Clovelly had closed for the day. It's trading hours are 9 am until 6:30pm in the summer and closing around 5:30pm during the other seasons. We arrived at 5:30pm to discover the information centre closed but there was a gate around the side open. See, Clovelly is actually a living breathing town so people come and go all the time. If you arrive after hours you can still look around, just keep in mind all the attractions will be closed, for free.
If photography is the main reason you are visiting Clovelly I would highly recommend visiting after hours as it is chock-a-block with people during trading hours. It was a lovely experience to wander the town as people were cooking their dinner and smoke was billowing out of fire places. Be prepared to walk up and down steep hills, there is no car access within the town.
After Clovelly we drove on, through Dartmoor National Park, and stopped for the night in Glastonbury.
Day Two - Stonehenge, Bath, Bristol and New Port (Wales)
After spending the night in Glastonbury, and whirling past the Abbey, we got back on the road bound for the A303 to grab a glimpse of Stonehenge. Unlike paying £17 to walk around the stones at some distance we drove past two times for free. Of course, I know it's not the same thing, but like I said, we were on a budget.
Next stop was Bath, situated in the county of Somerset and famous for its roman baths built in the early first century. Though you cannot take the baths in the old roman baths complex you can use the facilities at a more modern facility for around £30 but it has mixed reviews and numerous complaints about the water being too cold.
In addition to the baths there are plenty of free sights to take in, including; the Royal crescent, Abbey, The Circus, and let's not forget the town itself.
On our way into Wales we stopped at the Clifton suspension bridge just outside of Bristol. Impressive and over 100 years old, cars can still go across for £1 a pop.
From Bristol it was a quick jaunt across the toll bridge that links the two countries (for a fee of £13.40 for a van, cheaper for a car) and we found ourselves in New Port. Surprisingly, for us, there are quite a few roman sights in the relatively modern port side town, including; barracks, amphitheater and baths. The best part of it all is that it's free!
Inside there is a great museum about the roman baths, outside there are several roman sights to explore- which we did in the rain and wind.
Day Three - Caerphilly and Cardiff
Before Wales had woken up we were on our way to Caerphilly, Wales' largest castle and second largest in the UK. It is most stunning from the outside, surrounded by its mote. The moody wet skies provided even more interesting pictures.
The town of Caerphilly is also worth a walk around while you are there. Next it was off to Cardiff, we were in the mood for castles so why not add Cardiff Castle to the list. for £15.80 you get entrance into the castle grounds and a guided tour of the apartments, it's worth the extra money. Inside the grounds is a keep and a fantastic museum where you can learn a bit about Wales' involvement in the world wars as well as dress up in historic uniform.
The tour of the apartments lasts for about one hour and explores bedrooms, bathrooms, libraries and a garden on top of the clock tower. Each room is stunningly decorated with either; biblical verse, Norse gods, depictions of time, or, as is the case with the nursery, children's stories and nursery rhymes.
The rest of our evening was spent driving up north through the Brecon Beacon National park. I became convinced during our journey that Wales is just one stunning country everywhere. The windy and wild wales trope is certainly true!
Day Four - Devils Bridge, Caernarfon, the town with the longest name, Anglesey, Beaumaris and Conwy
After spending the night in our van in the southern part of Snowdonia, we decided to swing by the Devils Bridge to have a look. But, as was the general theme of our road trip, it was wet and windy and far too dangerous to take the steep decent down to the arches. If you do happen to get good weather it's only £1-2 for either the waterfalls or the bridges combined.
We stopped briefly at Caernarfon to see the castle and wander around the town. If you had more time you could spend a few hours walking but with winds whipping up to 150km/h we were not so keen.
Something we were very keen on, despite the bad weather, was the town with the longest name- Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. This is where we heard the most Welsh spoken, in fact in the 2011 census over 70% of the inhabitants spoke Welsh fluently.
We drove onto the island of Anglesey but were almost swept away in the wind and rain. I wanted to visit because when I worked at the army base in Tasmania, during University, and my favourite retired office was Welsh from Anglesey and he told me to go. We got there but could not see much as by this time it was bucketing down and the van could barely stay within its lane on the highway.
We drove through Beaumaris on our way to Conwy. It's a castle town by the water that also boasts the UK's smallest house that seems just about the right size for me.
Day Five - Betwsy-y-coed, Tyn-y-coed, Snowdonia and Denbighshire
We spent the night in Snowdonia with winds reaching over 200km/h, and I thought the van was going to be swept off the side of the cliff. Needless to say I barely got any sleep. We woke up and drove around Snowdonia for 2 hours taking in the beauty of the national park. If you have the time and weather on your side I would recommend doing a hike.
There are stacks of small charming towns in Snowdonia, one of the most popular is Betwsy-y-coed. A small market/shopping village its parking lots are full before lunchtime. It's a great place to pull over for a coffee.
A perfect place for lunch is the Tyn-y-coed Hotel, or for short the tyn-y. My friend worked here for 10 months in her early twenties and loved it. She recommended the sticky toffee pudding which I have to agree was really scrumptious.
We drove around for a while longer stopping every km or so to take yet another picture of the stunning Snowdonia, seriously you need at least a day to explore Snowdonia and the towns even if you are not hiking.
The last stop for us in Wales was Denbighshire, a nice little town with some crumbling ruins of castles. This town was destroyed during the Wars of the Roses and after the English Civil Wars the town walls fell into disrepair. Even though it may be in ruins it is still beautiful especially in the setting sun.
Day Six - Chester and Manchester
The last day of our road trip, and sleeping in a van hooray, we went to Chester the most western town in Cheshire,England and very close to the Welsh border. It is a cohesive tutor town full of artisan shops and amazing architecture. I bought a huge bag of fudge and it was amazing, don't worry I shared it.
You can walk around the town walls for free, there is also a falconry (which is not free). Four to five hours should be enough to adequately explore the city.
Once we reached Manchester, to meet up with my brother, we dropped off our van and were back to our regular two legged mode of transport. We loved our little UK roadtrip and had a lot of fun.