7.11.10

Devil's Bridge, October 2010


Devil's Bridge (Welsh: Pontafyrnach, meaning "the bridge over the Mynach") is a funny place. Enchanting and very quaint, it has an eerie feel to it, and is a must if you live in the Aberystwyth-area. The summer is obviously the best time to go there, especially if you're travelling from Aberystwyth. The Vale of Rheidol steam train travels from Aberystwyth to Devil's Bridge from Easter until the end of October (adult return fares £14), and is a great way to get there. The train takes about one hour (making a short stop halfway there to refill the coal), and you can choose to sit in the open aired carriage or the closed one. Either way, it's a scenic and very enjoyable ride.


Scenic views from the train.


In Devil's Bridge, there's a small hotel and a couple of non-descript diners, and that's about it. The hotel was built in the last century to accommodate all the tourists who came to see the bridges, and has a very cosy country-feel to it. Great place to stop for sandwiches after the nature trail!

You can see the bridges from the road, but the best way to see the surrounding woodlands and the wonder of the old bridges is to do the one-hour nature trail. Sensible shoes, please. And shorts, if you've got the legs:)

Walking the nature trail, you will see:

Friendly birds

Ruined iron-age fortresses.

Robber's cave (see main blog for full story).

An impressive waterfall.

"Jacob's Ladder", a set of very steep stairs leading down into the valley.

And of course the three bridges (the top one out of view, it was covered due to maintenance work).

So why is it called Devil's Bridge?

There are several legends, but the most popular one goes as follows:

Many centuries ago, there was an old woman walking in the woods, looking for her cow. She found it on the other side of the ravine, and had no way to retrieve it. Suddenly the Devil appeared, and told her that he could build a bridge so she could go get her cow. In return he wanted the first soul that crossed the bridge. The Devil was sneaky, thinking that he'd get the old woman's soul, but she was too clever for him. The next morning, the bridge was built, and the woman came to see it. She threw a piece of bread onto the bridge and her dog ran to get it, thereby becoming the first soul to cross the bridge. The Devil was furious, because he didn't want the dog. He dissappeared in a rage and has never again been seen in Wales.

The bottom bridge, supposedly built by the Devil, was actually built in 1070-1200 by the monks of the Strata Florida abbey (now in ruins). The second bridge was built in 1753, and the last bridge in 1901.

It's all water under the bridge now anyway...

What's not water under the bridge is the fantastic award I got from Michelle Teacress! This is the first award my travel blog has gotten, and it's very happy about it (it gets jealous at the big sister, you know). Thanks so much, Michelle! Anyone who likes journeys of any kind may have this award:)

22.9.10

Denmark + The Faroe Islands, August 2010.

Many Norwegians go to Denmark to buy cheap food and visit Legoland. Most opt for a ferry instead of flying, and the ferry company Color Line has a ferry that uses 4 hours from Larvik to Hirtshals. It's a nice, clean ferry with modern furniture and lots of shops. Jylland, the peninsula we visited, has two large cities; Aarhus (stop here is you have the chance) and Aalborg (don't bother with this one). On the very tip of the peninsula lies Skagen; a summery seaside village that used to attract bohemian artists and the like. Very cute, and definitely with a stop. But that's not where I went on this trip. I went to:

Denmark:

Do stop by:

Løkken:
Stopped here on our way back to Norway, and was very pleasantly surpised. I had expected a tacky, commercialised place, but found cobbled streets, old buildings, nice restaurants and sweet shops. Definitely worth a stop if you need a rest from driving, want to go swimming, or have a nice meal in one of the many eateries.

Don't bother with:
Aabybro:
Stopped here on the way to Hanstholm, but if you don't need to, don't. There is really nothing to see here.

Thisted:
Lacks personality, but is famous for being one of those villages that Norwegians stay in during the summer. Larger than Aabybro, but just as uninteresting.

Hanstholm:
Smyril Line's ferries to the Faroes and Iceland depart from this miniscule village, so during the summer months every guest at the two hotels are people who are taking the early morning ferry. We were no exception. Stayed at the Hotell Hanstholm, which was very nice, and they had a pool table for the kids, and free Wi-Fi. Hanstholm city centre is very small. Ate at «La Pizza» in the shopping centre, which was decent and cheap.


The Faroe Islands:

M/S Norröna:
Had a nice cabin with a window (or is it port-hole in ship-speak?). Rather large ship, with lots of bars, restaurants, a cinema, swimming pool (icy water!), kids' show and more. When it comes to eating, you have three options for lunch and dinner: Cafeteria-food, buffet in the buffet-restaurant, or the á la carte restaurant. I'm not a huge buffet-fan, because I always find the food poor quality and never eat enough to accommodate the price. But I tried having lunch in the cafeteria. Not recommended, unless you like tasteless, boring food. Dinner in the á la carte-restaurant was very nice, but rather expensive.

Tórshavn:
Stayed at the «Hotel Hafnia», which was very central and really, really nice. Free Wi-Fi, large, light rooms, friendly staff. The breakfast was fantastic; homemade jam and müesli with chocolate and walnuts, croissants, eggs and bacon etc. On the whole, a really great hotel.

Tórshavn is very small, but very pretty. Take a walk in Vidarlundi; a rather grand park in the city centre. There are lush lawns, sparkling rivers and boulders there.

Above Vidarlundi is the city's only shopping centre; «SMS». This has all the usual shops, a Burger King and a decent coffee shop.

Eating: Etika sushi restaurant opposite Hotel Hafnia has fantastic sushi, Kusmi tea, imported beer, sake, and everything you could ever desire (if you like sushi). This is probably the one «hip» restaurant in Tórshavn, so it's often fully booked i the evenings. Prices are reasonable, and they have a fantastic childrens' menu.

Etika sushi restaurant. Yummy!


Tòrshavn harbour.


Boulders in Vidarlundi.


Vidarlundi main path.
House overlooking Vidarlundi. Such a serene view!

Kyrkjebøur:
We met up with a couple of Faroese friends we met in Cornwall (of all places), and after a coffee at Baresso in SMS shopping centre, they showed us this little place with great historic importance.

Kyrkjebøur used to be the capital of the Faroe Islands. Tòrshavn was where they held their ting; a parliament of sorts, but was only used once a year or so. Gradually, however, shops popped up, and people started living there. Soon Kyrkjebøur became a deserted little village, much like it is today. But a thousand years ago, the place was thriving. The Bishop had his seat here; in a house that is still inhabited, making it the oldest house in the world that is still lived in. The roof on this house was actually brought from Norway, and is a thousand years old! On the hill behind the Bishop's house is a small cave, which is where one of Norway's greatest viking kings was supposedly born (on the wrong side of the blanket, of course). The ruins of a cathedral still remains, and there is a picturesque little church there that is still in use.

Our friends live in a village called Skarvanes, though I don't know if they can actually call it a village, seeing as they're the only ones who live there:) Talking to locals really upped my impression of the Faroe Islands; you get such a different view of a place, so this is highly reccommended!

The Bishop's house. See the little red circle? I made that:) It shows the entrance to the cave that Sverre (great viking king mentioned above) was born in!


Gjògv (pronounced Jugf):
This small fishing village is very representative for all other villages on the Faroe Islands, we were told. The reason this village is «famous» is because it has a guest house, unlike many of the other villages. Located on the island of Eysturoy, and is relatively easy to find (not many roads on the Faroes). Nevertheless, you should definitely hire a car. The distances aren't huge (spent approx. 2 hours from Tòrshavn to Gjògv, including stops), but the bus service isn't great. Stopped by Kollafjørdur and Eidi on the way, but they were so small that you didn't have time to stop until you were out of the village. Many of these villages are along a street, usually only a couple of block long.

Gjògv is a picturesque little village, and looks very much like small Norwegian villages did 50 odd years ago (I imagine). The Faroes didn't get electricity until the 60's, and television came in the 80's.

Detail from Gjògv.


View of Gjògv on the way down.


A sheep along the highway.


And another one...


... Faroe (Før in Faroese, Får in Norwegian) means sheep, okay? If you were to translate the word, instead of giving it an English name, the country should be called the Sheep Islands. There are twice as many sheep on the island as there are people. Most of them live around the towns, running free on the green fields and all that.



Still interested? Here are some other posts on the Faroe Islands from «Friends & Crocodiles»:

Once Were Vikings

Under the Dog Star Sail

North North-West the Stones of Faroe

25.8.10

England, July 2010.

I tried to think of a catchy title for this post, but there wasn't one. As I wrote in my Cornish post, I drove from London to Cornwall and back again, but I didn't stop by every village I wanted to. One of my favourite places in the UK; Salisbury, was bumped off at the last minute. But I've been there lots of times, so I decided to check out some new places instead. And here they are:

Make a stop:

Windsor / Eton:
It's purely for bragging rights, I'm afraid. They sound like the archetypical English village, but they're not. All posh boys who look down their noses at you and not a single good café could be found for love nor money. By all means, the school in Eton is beautiful, and the two villages are very pictueresque, and Windsor even has an impressive castle, but there's something missing – a quaintness perhaps. That may sound ridiculous, but it simply lacked the charm that I look for in the English country village.



Dartmoor (Princetown & Postbridge):
We drove through this moor on the way back from Cornwall, and although it's not as misty and eerie as Bodmin Moor, Dartmoor has nice scenery. Stopped by two villages; «Princetown» and «Postbridge». The former was built as a village for the staff at Dartmoor Prison, but is mostly uninhabited now. Postbridge isn't really a village; there's an Inn and an old bridge (hence the name).




Budleigh Salterton:

Stopped here because of the name, because I heard that Kate Bush stays here during the summer, and because I love Blackadder (The Budleigh Salterton Twilight Rest Home For The Terminally Short Of Cash, anyone?). It was a typical Regency sea front-village, although it didn't have a proper promenade. By all means worth a stop, but the nicest Regency-village is Lyme Regis (see below).


Sidmouth:
Much cuter than B.S, we stayed at the Elizabeth Hotel on the waterfront, where a family room with sea-view set us back £140. The hotel was full of pensioners, and when I say pensioners, I mean Miss Marples galore – lot's or ancient, fluffy haired ladies who could easily have solved a murder or two;) Sidmouth boasts of its shopping area, and even compares itself to London, which is ridiculous. There are shops here, but they're not interesting, that's all. The promenade and the Jurassic rocks are really the only sights worth seeing in this village.




Lyme Regis:

Absolutely beautiful little village. The coastline is Jurassic, so there are lots of fossils to be found here, if you're into that sort of thing. I wish I'd spent the night here instead of in Sidmouth, but it will have to be another time – that's right, I'm coming back here!




Arundel:

This is an absolute must, even if you don't want to pay the ridiculously high entrance fee to the huge castle that dominates this Tudor village. The Duke of something-something still inhabits the castle, which is why he charges a small fortune to enter – someone has to pay for his heating, right? The rest of the village is interesting, though – lots of antique shops and Tudor houses to look at.




Brighton:

Brighton is beautiful. Really, really, beautiful. I can see why so many people like it there, including the Prince Regent George IV (the one who ruled Britain pre-Victoria, and famously portrayed by Hugh Laurie in «Blackadder»), who built the eccentric Royal Pavilion. Situated in the middle of the city, this palace is decorated in the Chineois style, and is marvelously decadent in every way. I've never seen anything like it, and probably never will.
- The shopping area is known as «The Lanes», where there's a couple of nice restaurants and a Starbucks. The Café Rouge is nice if you're in the mood for French. Also, remember to take Afternoon Tea (£20 per person) at the Grand Hotel if you get the chance. The luxurious Olde Worlde-feeling you get when sipping proper Earl Grey and eating cucumber sandwiches is life-changing!
- And of course, let's not forget the Pier. The whole pier is one big amusement park, where there are roller coasters, houses of horror, and pinball machines. There are also several restaurants and pubs, if you need a break while the children are sailing along in the teacups-ride. The only negative thing about this pier is that it's too noisy just to have a relaxing stroll, but you can always have a walk on the promenade, if you're desperate for some quiet time.







Battle:
Made famous as the battle field where Harald Godwinson lost his life and throne to William the Conqueror in 1066. After the battle, William the Bastard (as he was known before he became king) built an abbey to commemorate the battle, and the village flourished. The village is very commercial, and as usual, the National Trust charges high entrance fees to have a look at the battle grounds and the ruins of the abbey. The historical significance is purely what makes this village with a stop.

The infamous battlefield where William became the conqueror.

Drive by:

Slough:
How on earth do you pronounce this? «Sloff», «Slow», what? Close to London, but that's pretty much it. I had trouble finding anything to say about this place at all, at best it's non-descript. Stayed at one of those chain-hotels; the Copthorne Hotel, where you get a family room for £74.

Andover:
Why stop here, you ask? Really, it was en route to Cornwall, and Poirot had been there in «The A.B.C Murders» (Mrs. Ascher get's murdered in Andover, remember?), so I wanted to stop there. No trace of Poirot, though. Slightly better than Slough, but not much. A small shopping centre and an attempt of a town square. Boring boring boring.




Hayling Island:
Hayling Island apparently used to be the place to be in Victorian times, but now the only ones going there are staycationers with caravans andtrack suits. During the summer, there's a carnival there, with cheap but exhausted rides.




Portsmouth:
What a dump! I was really dissapointed, actually, because this used to be such a historically important place! This was where Nelson set off to fight, where the deportation ships to Australia sailed from, where Charles Dickens was born, and where Henry VII built an impressive fortress that still stands today. But sadly, apart from the fortress, nothing is left of that old grande spirit. The city appears grey and bland, to say the least.

Rye:
Lonley Planet said this was the best Tudor village in England, but I was really dissapointed. Sad and grey was the impression I got.


Next post will be on the Faroe Islands, after that I fear this blog will be very Wales-centred for some time. But there's lots to see there, so I'm looking forward to share it on Very Special Places!

19.8.10

Alexandra Crocodile's guide to Cornwall.

I was very unsure about how to arrange this post - I made so many stops along the way, both in England and in Cornwall, so I decided on doing two general posts, one for Cornwall, and one for England. There might be some more detailed posts later - this is more of a summary of the place:)

Do stop by:

Jamaica Inn:
Jamaica Inn, dating from 1760, is perhaps best known for being the setting of Daphne du Maurier's book with the same title. Although the dodgy landlord has checked out, the Inn still retains an air of mysticism and rough buccaneers out for a spot of smuggling. It's situated on the middle of Bodmin Moor, and used to be one of the stops for smugglers who would take goods through Cornwall from France and sell them on to the rest of England – and several of them are said to haunt the Inn. The Inn has a good restaurant, a shop, and a smuggling museum, all worth a stop. Although not as desolate as it was in the 1700's, it still has that lonesome, slightly creepy feel to it. Stay a night or two, if you dare!




Bodmin Moor:
A walk around the Moor is a must, even if you're not familiar with Wuthering Heights or du Maurier's books. The eerie feeling of seeing «The Hurlers»; 4000 year old standing stones, or an abandoned mill, is unparalleled. There are also semi-wild horses, as well as several lakes there; Siblyback Lake is rather large and nice, and Dozmary Pool is where Lancelot supposedly threw Excalibur after Arthur's death. I had a closer look at the latter, but sadly, no watery tart in sight.




Slaughterbridge:
Such a cosy name, isn't it? This is where Arthur was killed, according to legend.There's a visitor's centre there, from where you can take a walk to the battle field and see the bridge that gave the place it's name. There's also «King Arthur's Stone»; a supposed tomb-stone, that dates from 500 A.D.



Tintagel:
Anyone familiar with the legend of Tristan and Isolde will have heard about this place, because this is where everything happened. Tintagel Castle was built by Richard something-or-other in 1230, and was originally a complete castle set atop two cliffs – but the tides have made one of the cliffs a separate island and thus parting the castle in two. The walk up to both parts is steep and rocky, but absolutely worth it. Beautiful ruins with a great view.



Truro:
The administrative centre of Cornwall; a rather large town with all the usual shops and cafés (although no Starbucks or Costa, fantastic!). Stop by the Tilly Mint bakery by the bus station if you're in the mood for cupcakes – they're delicious:) They also make all kinds of cakes, so even if you don't want to eat anything, stop by and have a look! There is also a nice cathedral in Truro. Worth a stop, but don't make it too long, as Cornwall has other more interesting gems on offer!


St. Ives:
Pretty village that I suspect only comes alive during the summer months, when tourists flock here to surf and enjoy the beach. But it is one of those characteristic Cornwall-villages; rough landscape, and steep, narrow streets that all end up by the harbour. It can perhaps get a bit too tourist-y, so if you want to experience the true Cornwall, either go there out of season, of visit one of the smaller villages (like Port Isaac; se below).


Land's End:
Pretty much what the name says; Land's End is land's end, as it's the most Southern point in Blighty. There's no village as such, but there's a visitor's centre, tea house, museums and shops there. This is the start (or finish) of the Land's End –> John O'Groat's trek that goes from the far South to the far North in the UK. Might have to try that one of these days!



Mousehole:
Just the name makes you want to stop, right? Really, really small village that doesn't have anything spectacular to see, but it's got that charm that comes with old places, and most of this village dates from the 1600's. Also, Dylan Thomas said it was the loveliest village in Britain, so that must be something:)

Kestle Mill / Trerice:
Anyone familiar with Inspector Lynley?, You know, the dark, handsome, aristocrat plod? If so, you'll know he owns a manor house in Cornwall, and Trerice is used as location in the series. It's originally a Tudor mansion, now owned by the National Trust. The facade and gardens are breathtaking, but the N.T. dissapointed me with the interiors, which seemed to be a hodge-podge of furniture from different eras just thrown into the place, with no regard to continuity or interior design. Get an overpriced ticket for the garden only, I would't be bothered with the interior.
Kestle Mill is the closest «village» to Trerice, if you consider a couple of houses and a petro station a village:)


Port Isaac:
My absolute favourite spot in Cornwall! You MUST go here, even if you're not a Doc Martin-fan (I am, and I even saw his house!). «The Victoria Café» has amazing pizza and hummus, and «The Harbour Restaurant», which is the oldest house in the village, also has the best meringe roulade in the world. I stayed at «The Ship Way» on the harbour, which is a charming building dating from 1527. Every Thursday, there's a travelling brass band playing on the waterfront, so be sure to catch that. The whole villages gathers to dance and sing, and there's a general feeling of joy throughout the village.




Looe; East & West:
Very quaint villages situated on opposite sides of a small river. Although pretty sight-less, the ambiance alone is worth a stop, if only to buy an ice cream. But be careful if you do, I did – and a seagull robbed it from me. Traumatic experience, I can tell you.


Polperro:
After Port Isaac, this is the best place in Cornwall. Instead of the characteristic steep streets that end up by the arbour, Polperro is flat. The streets are still narrow, but the harbour is not the centre of the village. You park a mile or two outside the village, and if you can't face the walk into town, you can ride a horse-drawn carriage for £3. There are tea houses galore, and lots of little shops selling fossils, crystals, and post cards. Lots of tourists, but still worth a stop, because it's quite different from the other villages.



Don't bother with:

Newquay:
Our Lonely Planet guide said that this is a place you either love or loathe – and they were right. Crappy place, pardon my French – but this place is as uninteresting as it gets. It's big, chaotic, unfriendly, has no charm or personality whatsoever, and cars seem to own the place. What a waste. Unless you love surfing - then it's Utopia. There is also a nice zoo right outside the city, which is fun for the kids. If on your way, make a stop there, if not in the city itself.