Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Adventures in Wales: of Castles and Kings in the town of Conwy

Time was way too short. An afternoon was not enough, but it would have to do....for now. Wales was breathtaking. History was everywhere we looked, and the town of Conwy was our first exposure. We had arrived in Wales from London midway through a blustery day this last May and checked into our Hotel. After walking the grounds of Bodysgallen Hall, we ventured out to Conwy to see the Castle....one of many built by Edward I....(also known as Edward Longshanks....but that is another very long story. )

Suffice it to say that Edward was determined to hold sway over Wales after his invasion in 1282. To fortify his positions, he built a string of castles to help protect his colonization efforts. UNESCO considers this string of castles to be " the finest example of 13th and 14th century military architecture in Europe."

Conwy Castle and the walled town have withstood the tests of time long enough for us the scale the walls and imagine what it much have been like at the beginning.....

Tim has family in Wales in a town called Beaumaris on Angelesy Island. This is why we came to Wales and why we began our month long European expedition in England.  London was out first stop (I will do my best to get those photos out to you soon!) and we spent a few days there taking in all of the sights and eating our way through town. Then it was off to Wales! When we first started to plan this trip, we thought it might take too much travel time to get to Wales, but with the high speed train, it only took 3 hours to get here. 

I cannot tell you how happy I am we took the time to visit Wales. Out of all of the places we visited through the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Italy, it is perhaps my favorite. Perhaps we were lucky with the time of year and the weather, but I cannot describe to you just how beautiful it was. I hope the photos can do the slightest bit of justice.

Perhaps it was the time of year....a little early for "the "season"....or maybe Wales is off the beaten track from the larger tourist attraction cities of Europe. Whatever the reason, we found Wales in general to be wonderfully "far from the madding crowd". It was part of what we enjoyed so much and what made this place so easy to love. Not once did I find myself dodging a waving selfie stick, waiting in any sort of queue, or jostling my way through a crowd to see a view or famous piece of art.  It was inspiring, invigorating, allowing for imagination to expand, and yet peaceful, nostalgic with a bit of magic tossed in.

So....on with a bit more of Conwy Castle......

Tim has always been one to scale the highest point possible wherever we go. The panoramic views are his "thing". I am always game too, so you will be seeing many photos in the coming days from the "highest points" in every town we visited.  In Conwy, it is from the tops of the walls surrounding the town.....

The town walls stretch from the castle, all the way around the town, about.81 miles in all. They were built around the same time as the castle....1283-1287.

Once back down to earth, we walked through the streets of Conwy. The town is beautiful, holding all of the charm and history one would expect. Fish and Chips, Ice Cream and local pubs were very easy to find, and we took full advantage....

We stopped on this street to have some ice cream and were heading outside again, cones in hand, when we heard a scream.....a couple rushed by us back into the ice cream shop with alarmed faces and then broke into laughter as they warned up not to go outside! There seems to be a renegade seagull at large that had swooped down and grabbed the girl's ice cream cone out of her hands! We decided to eat ours inside. There was an older couple in the shop who decided to brave the dive bomber regardless. After we were finished, we passed the couple sitting on a bench just waiting for the kamikaze gull to try and take their ice cream. The gentleman was ready with his camera to catch the offender in action.....but we did not stay much longer so did not catch a second attempt.

We pressed onward to see what we could see, and found Plas Mawr....

Plas Mawr, or "Great Hall", is considered the "finest surviving town house of the Elizabethan era to be found anywhere in Britain". It was built by Robert Wynn, a member of the local gentry and a wealthy merchant. I just discovered that the hotel where we stayed, Bodysgallen Hall was also a Wynn property built by Robert Wynn's father, John. (Next time, I will tell you about Gwydir Castle, another Wynn property we visited. I did not know until today that all three properties were owned by the same family. Apparently, they were quite wealthy and influential!)

By the 20th century, the house had fallen into disrepair, but its architectural significance was quite valuable. It underwent a huge restoration in later 1990's with the plaster work, which was largely intact, repaired and repainted to resemble the original appearance of the 1600's. Much of the furniture is original or was replicated due to the very detailed inventory of household contents that existed from the original house.

The original kitchen

Fireplace in Robert Wynn's bedchamber

The bedchamber of Robert Wynn

Original paneling and plasterwork showing many of the symbols, badges and heraldry of the Elizabethan era.

The Great Chamber

The servants quarters in the floors above the main living quarters.

The attic shows the arched braced collar trusses with "double pegging"

Views of Conwy Castle from the windows of Plas Mawr

Views from Plas Mawr

From the top of the house back down to the gardens

The gardens were replanted and restored to what they may have been in Elizabethan England. They are thought to have been planned to resemble those of Bodysgallen Hall.

It was time to move on.....we had dinner plans back at Bodysgallen Hall and had to be going.......

Only to return another day......

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Adventures in Wales: Bodysgallen Hall

Bodysgallen Hall
Two years ago, we started saving. We knew it would take a bit of time to save up enough. We were dreaming of getting away, of having an adventure. So we said....if we can save enough, we will go....for a few weeks....or better...a month. So we saved...and when we saved what we thought was enough to start making a plan, I took to planning with a passion. I had not been to Europe for many many years, and we thought it was long overdue. So where to go? We could go anywhere, but knowing how to narrow it down was the challenge. To fit as much in as possible without feeling too rushed is a balance. Adventure is not about rushing but having time to take it all in, after all. 

Tim has family in Wales. We had been in touch over the years with Christmas cards and letters (yes, actual letters! It is very satisfying to see an airmail letter in the mailbox.) We decided that Wales was definitely on the list. The family lives in beautiful  Beaumaris which is in North Wales on Anglesey Island. We wanted to stay close by to see them and also see the surrounding countryside. Some of the castles built by Edward I are very close by in the towns of Conwy and Caernarfon

On this trip, I wanted to sleep in places that were just as memorable as everything else we came to see. I wanted something that perhaps fit the fairytale I had in my head. I was not sure it was possible with our budget, but I will let you in on how we did it in a little bit. To be clear.... I thought that maybe what I was looking for was just a fantasy.....I was thinking a little Downton Abbey, a little Secret Garden, a little Jane Austin and throw some green fields, sheep, rock walls, gardens overrun with boxwood and kitchen herbs....maybe a Gothic ruin or two. Could I find it? I did a little digging and and yes....it was amazingly easy to find.......thanks to Trip Advisor. 

I am speaking of Bodysgallen Hall. One always takes things with a grain of salt when seeing a place for the first time on the internet. A second opinion is always a good thing. We really had nothing to worry about. Bodysgallen is breathtaking. It is a National Heritage Hotel with quite a history. It is believed that the original tower may have been a lookout for the castle in Conwy (built by Edward I in the 13th century) It grew over the next 600 years and was eventually refurbished in the mid-1900's. After that, it fell into disrepair until it came under the umbrella of the National Trust becoming the hotel and Spa it is today.

We spent as much time as we could possibly fit in roaming the grounds, and we still did not see everything we wanted to. We totally missed the Gothic tower on the hilltop above the manor house.  But I hope our glimpse might be enough to tempt you to explore this part of the world yourselves. 

The interior was as captivating to me as the exterior. When we arrived, our bags were taken to our room and we were offered tea in the front hall, tea sandwiches and all. It was a lovely way to start our first afternoon in Wales. It took me very little time to start taking pictures....

The Bar was perfect for an evening cocktail

I was half expecting Lady Mary Crawley or Mr. Carson around every corner. Just the feeling I was hoping to find.

As soon as we had our fill of tea and cucumber sandwiches, we headed back outside....more exploring.....

Peonies the size of my head were in bloom

The formal garden

A wander in the woods

And here were just a few of the sheep we came across

Notice the headstones?

If you look closely, you can see Conwy Castle dead center in this view from Bodysgallen Hall

If you are thinking of visiting Wales.... and I strongly recommend that you do....Bodysgallen is an amazing place to call home base. The hotel itself has a very good restaurant as well as a cafe, a very well equipped Spa/Gym building with sauna and indoor pool, garden tours, and amazing grounds. The staff were very attentive and kind and helpful with everything we needed, even when we returned very late one evening. They helped us order a wonderful in-room breakfast which came just when desired the next morning since we had to get up early to leave. 

There are any number of tour companies that can pick you up in the morning, give you a private or group tour of the Northern Wales area and bring you back in the evening for a very reasonable price. We had arranged for a private tour and were able to see everything we were hoping to see at a very leisurely pace with the knowledge we had Bodysgallen Hall to come back to at the end of the day. It was amazing how much we were able to see in one day! (I will show you soon, don't worry!)

Originally, Wales was not going to be on our itinerary. It seemed a bit our of the way and hard to get to. We were basing that belief on dated information since high speed rail has cut travel time to Northern Wales to about three hours from London. I am so very glad we came. It turned out to be perhaps my favorite leg of our month long adventure. Whether it was my longtime interest in English History, or a girl's fascination with castles, kings and queens..... this place exceeded my great expectations. It was a bit of magic staying here that I will never forget, and hope to relive soon!

More about Wales very soon!

Hwyl fawr am nawr!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Taking a Break: India Hicks Island Style

So, my friends..........I have been away! From the blog. I am sorry I did not give a warning, but a break was needed. Nothing earth shattering.....just things to attend to. Children to send out into the world. Business to work on. Trips to plan. In short......I needed to let go of the blog for awhile and figure out a new type of life with kids gone from the nest. It was not easy to take the blog break. It was like moving to a new town...saying goodbye to old friends.....for awhile. But I hoped I could come back at some point, or try to if any of you are still here. Are you?....still here? I hope so. I hope you understand. 

So, the thing I have come to understand is that we all need a break now and again.......and again.....and perhaps again. But if something is important, we make the effort to come back around and restart. Begin again.......and what better way to begin.....than by taking a break.  
India Hicks and her dreamy new book, India Hicks Island Style..... what a fabulous break!....

It is full of images that will let your body stay right at your desk, but will take your mind away on a relaxing vacation. It might even get you thinking that perhaps it would be a good idea to move that desk to a new location altogether. The Bahamas perhaps?

Many of you know of India Hicks and her fabulous life. But for those who do not......Her father was David Hicks, iconic decorator...... She was a flower girl in the wedding of her godfather Prince Charles and Princess Diana...... Her grandfather, Lord Mountbatten, was the last viceroy to India. Quite a background! India Hicks grew up in Oxfordshire, England, but lives now on Harbour island in the Bahamas with partner David Flint Wood and their five children.

This book is about her life, where it started and where it is now in the Bahamas. It is about how she got there and what life is like on an island paradise. It is about the connection between her past and present and the things in her home that tie the two together. Mostly it is a journal about how her home has become what it is today......casual, care-free and beautiful.

A beautiful life makes for a beautiful book! The images throughout this book are inspiring. There are many of the island itself and more about the house that India built with her many memories showing up in every corner.

Now....just a word on the quality of the book......I always like to know, and maybe you do too! really nice coffee table size book about 9.25" x 11" x 1.25".....nice matt finish to the cover.....and nicely formatted full bleed photos as well as framed.....more photos than prose, but prose are very interesting! Because the style of India's home is so classic, this book will be a keeper pretty much for the life of your library. 

India's concluding words in this book must be true for pretty much everyone....
"In those moments of silence I realize that my house is simply a series of rooms. What makes it a home are the memories, the objects, and, above all, my family."

It is certain that each object in this home calls forth a memory worth keeping.

So, with that said, it is time for me to make more memories of my own! I am planning a trip, and will be walking the old stomping grounds of India Hicks by starting off the trip in England. We will be traipsing across the country from London to Wales, and then off to Netherlands, Belgium, France and Italy over 4 weeks in May. My husband and I are celebrating our 25th anniversary. Celebrating 25 years of amazing memories and looking forward to many more.....

It is time for adventures.....

Real and imagined.....

And India Hicks knows how to imagine a life and make it reality.

My wish is for us all to do the same!

India Hicks Island Style , Published by the wonderful folks at Rizzoli, is available now!