Tuesday April 5th, 2022 in Betws-y-coed:
What a fascinating old town! I’m so glad we had this morning to explore, at our own pace, the grounds of the hotel, the village, and a bit of countryside beyond. Our group of 24 has coalescing (as it always does by Day 5 or so) into companionable clusters of friends. After breakfast we all left the hotel in bunches of twos and threes, with occasional solo trekkers. A few had shoulder bags like my sketching messenger bag, but theirs contain expensive DSLR cameras, extra lenses, and field notebooks. I have never gotten into formal ‘nature journaling’ because my eyesight just doesn’t allow it, but I love watching other people take notes and make quick diagrams to describe their experiences. The benefits of combining images with words are endless: as soon as I pick up a pen to sketch a scene, I am also ready to write about an unexpected bird call, or the sweet whiff of air from a nearby bakery, or comment on the softness of the moss on the rock beside me. I’m blissed out, can you tell?
I knew we might like a mid-morning snack, so at breakfast Ellen and I filled our thermoses (“flasks”) with tea, and used two cloth kerchiefs to pack up extra teacakes. Stashed-away ‘picnic food’ tastes so much better than food ordered out anyway, right? Of course I filled my water bottle too, essential for anyone armed with watercolors.
The morning was overcast, but reasonably warm. Ellen explored the village, while I found a comfy spot on the far side of the bridge, and did this sketch in ink first, then added the watercolor. I chuckled when I finished it, because the people crossing the bridge look like the ‘school’ of girls in the Madeline children’s books: the only things missing are their yellow hats!
We enjoyed a tea-break about 10:30, then Ellen and I walked over to the Sappers Suspension Bridge. She stood at the middle of it for quite some time, getting hypnotized by the River Conwy flowing below her. I thought of starting another sketch, but decided against it, and just used the time to look around, noticing all the little things that you overlook when walking to get somewhere. Suddenly I smiled, “Oh-my-goodness, I am in Wales!”
Around 11:30 a.m. we headed back to the hotel to enjoy a welcome luncheon and a delicious cup of coffee. Such simple pleasures!
A quick after-lunch freshening up in our room, then off we went on our coach, up the A5 toward Bangor, then crossing the bridge over the Menai Strait to the Isle of Anglesey. Our itinerary led us first to Penmon, where we explored the ruins of the medieval priory. As Americans, it is hard to wrap our heads around dates like “the 12th century” in describing the church near the monastery. The original wooden building of the church was destroyed in 971 and was rebuilt using stone 150 years later. About 400 years after that, the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536 was the death knell for these repositories of church wealth, and thus began the decay of the hundreds of monastic stone buildings, churches, and abbeys that dot the British landscape today. Penmon Priory experienced a decline in the number of its members even before the Dissolution. I was grateful there were still some tumbled-down stone buildings left to admire and sketch.
From there it was a quick drive to the community of Beaumaris, and its very photogenic Beaumaris Castle. Edward I of England left his mark yet again by ordering the building of Beaumaris Castle in 1295, part of a chain of fortresses along the coast of Wales. Built on marsh land (not ideal I would think, but then again, look at Back Bay in Boston!), the name of the castle is derived from the French “beaux marais” or “beautiful marshes.” We also passed a sign for the famous tongue-twisting town spelled with 58 letters, the second longest place name in the world. Phew, glad I didn’t have to type that one. And in Welsh, it would have been hard to spot typos!
After about two and a half hours total on the coaches today, we were all glad to arrive back at the hotel and have a little bit of time to relax in our rooms before dinner. I used the time to add a bit of brown tint to my priory sketch above, and to take a very quick shower while Ellen went downstairs to visit with our travel-mates.
Tomorrow will be our last full day in this history-rich hotel, and I want to be sure to carve out time to learn what I can about it, as well as its connection to David Cox and the “Golden Age of English Watercolour.”
As usual, dinner was great (I must say, restaurants everywhere are getting much better at accommodating us vegetarians.) I spent the rest of the evening dashing off these notes, and heading for a very early bedtime. Another wonderful day completed.