Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Castles and Cousins

Today began somewhat surreally with four men dressed in identical red tabards jogging down the path beneath our cottage with a photographer in tow. No explanation was forthcoming. Our destination this morning is Harlech, just a short drive away – or it should be. The toll bridge is closed and diversions are in place to the next bridge up which adds considerably to our journey.

Arriving in Harlech we are lucky to find a space in the car park. We explore the castle, which is on a rocky outcrop that used to be on the coast but is now someway inland although still exposed to the wind which is out in force. The walks along the top of the castle wall are too blustery to enjoy so we confine ourselves to the inside of the castle and its defensive wall. It’s not a large castle but considered important by Unesco, which has declared it a World Heritage site.
Leaving the castle we explore some of the surrounding streets which drop steeply down to the level of the new coastline. There are great views of the castle from below and some pretty cottages, one of which enjoys both a stunning view of the castle and a graveyard in its garden. We buy some cheese for dinner – Simon’s cousin Jonathan and his wife and children are coming to dinner, as well as Jonathan’s mum and dad. Returning to the car we realise that the traffic in the direction we need to go is stationary and everybody is turning round. We decide to follow them and find a route that skirts the bottom of the castle and avoids the blockage.

We make a brief stop at Portmadog to see The Cob, which was built to enable land to be reclaimed. We are fortunate that a steam train is in the station when we arrive – the line runs along The Cob and then down the high street in the strangest level crossing I have seen. We are searching for proper Caerphilly cheese, which we finally find in a little deli, then we stop at Tesco for the ingredients for tonight’s dinner. We have 9 to cater for, in a cottage designed for 5, and given the cooking equipment on hand we’ve decided to make a chicken and leek pie – there’s a huge rectangular Portmeirion dish we can use.

We have a couple of hours before our guests arrive so we go for a walk in the part of Portmeirion known as The Wild Place. We follow the paths along the coast as far as the lighthouse and then inland through the woods, taking in the Dog Cemetary and the Ghost Garden as well as the Chinese Lake. Alex is most impressed by the enormous ferns that are taller than him, and many of the trees that are spectactularly twisted and misshapen. On the way back we stop at the gallery and Alex and I both admire a picture of the village with the island and mountains in the background. Simon says we should have bought it, so we go back and get it.

Jonathan and co arrive about 6 and we have a walk in the village before dinner. We manage to find just enough chairs for everybody, by re-purposing a towel rail with attached seat from the bathroom. The evening goes well; Jonathan and Alison’s two girls are delightful and chat very confidently. They are on holiday in Caernarfon, so it’s great to have the opportunity to meet up with them.

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