Sunday, 17 September 2017

Star Holiday: Days One - Three

Hello! I'm back from not-so-sunny Wales where I spent a week with the fam-a-lam for our annual family holiday. We stayed in a converted watermill in a tiny little hamlet called Star (nice and easy to pronounce), which was very quiet and peaceful. As always, I love to share my photos of the week with you all, and I've just been wading through over 1700 photos taken on my snazzy new camera, narrowing them down and putting several in mixed montages to make them easier to look through on the blog- I'd probably break the page if I tried downloading them all! So, grab a cup of tea and a slice of cake and find a comfy spot- we're going in!

Saturday (Day One)::
We always try and find a spot to visit during the journey up to our holiday homes (service stations for greasy full English breakfasts don't count) and once across the bridge and officially in Wales, we stopped off at Oystermouth Castle (above montage) which sits high up on a hill overlooking the town of Mumbles. It is a great position for a castle, looming over the whole of Swansea bay, and there are fabulous views through a window in the upstairs chapel, supposedly built by a lady of the house, Aline de Mowbray around the 13th century. Although the original floor at this level has gone, possibly robbed away or built with wood, you can reach the window via a glass floor (which is slightly terrifying) built as part of conservation works by Swansea town council. Pretty spectacular stuff.

There wasn't really anywhere to eat our picnic lunch around the castle, so we hopped back in the car and drove a little way along the coast to Bracelet Bay, a gem of a find with breathtaking views out towards the sea with the lighthouse perched on the edge. The weather was doing strange things with sun and rain, and the sky was rolling with black clouds, as you can see pretty clearly in the below photograph. The weather was variable the whole holiday to be honest and although we could have a couple of hours of beautiful sunshine, it would start pouring down with rain with barely a seconds notice, sometimes a light drizzle, and other times it was as if a bucket of water were being poured directly on top of you.

Once our picnic was finished, it was about the right time to head to our holiday home which was nestled at the bottom of a valley with a stream running right along next to us. Although it is a converted water mill, the water wheel had long gone and we couldn't really see where it would have been situated in terms of where the building sat next to the water. In fact, it had been converted so well, the only real reference to it being a mill at all were two large mill stones which had been set into the floor of the 'games room' (very posh) which was right at the very bottom of the building and could only be reached from the outside. From the front door you walked into a hallway leading into the kitchen with a separate utility room, then you could either go downstairs to a bathroom and the master bedroom, or upstairs to a sitting room which then had a little door leading into an upper landing with a bedroom and bathroom, and up even further to two more bedrooms. The whole building was on different levels and had all sorts of quirky little features to explore. The windows were really deep with wide sills that you could plop a cushion into and settle down for an afternoon of sewing with a view over the stream, there were big fireplace ranges with wood burners installed, and the doors all had old fashioned latches as well as locking bolts on them.

I especially loved the artwork around the building. There were lots of stars in various forms around the house (knitted, felted, wicker, stone, carved wood), tea light lanterns hanging from hooks in the kitchen, bowls of shells or conkers on the window ledges, a wooden dragon which flapped its wings when you pulled the string down, and these beautiful felted pictures. The little house one in the top left image above was about the size of a postcard, maybe slightly larger, but the woodland pathway was much larger and had such fabulous details and colours in it. Whoever Ali S is, they are very talented with felt!

Sunday (Day Two)::
Everyone in our family is a National Trust member, which comes very much in handy on holidays. Sunday and Monday was pretty much a tour of NT places, beginning with Cilgerran Castle, a 13th century fortress looking over the Teifi Gorge and river.

It is a little more unusual than other castles built around the same time, as it has the two large drum towers with an outer bailey, rather than a central keep. The towers would have been taller than they are now, and you can still see the remains of the spiral staircase going up the towers, even though parts of the walls and the stairs themselves have gone.
There is plenty to walk round though and a wooden walkway takes you across one of the upper floors of the two towers, although all of the original floors are no longer there and you can look straight down below to ground level. These Welsh castles are quite a bit different to the ones we are used to, as they are built with strips of shale rock rather than big blocks of masonry. The detail for window and door arches has also been created using these blocks of shale following the line of the arch, and it looks almost how a drawing would if an artist had been asked to draw the castle using only single pen lines.

Having had our fill of castles for the morning, we headed down to New Quay, where we had the best fish and chips- well actually I had halloumi and chips (because I'd never seen it offered before) with sweet chili sauce- from a little place called The Lime Crab. Although it was raining, again, we had these to take away and ate them, piping hot, standing on the harbour wall looking back towards the rows of houses lined up on the cliffs.

It's meant to be a good place to spot dolphins and porpoises but the water was so choppy that we didn't see any even if there were some. You can hire boats from the harbour which would take you out on dolphin spotting excursions but we weren't that fussed, and The Sister hates going on boats.

Monday (Day Three)::
Up bright and early, we were waiting at the door of the ticket office at Dolaucothi Gold Mines before it had even opened! This is a totally recommended place to go, and another on our National Trust hit list. There are two tours on offer, a Roman mine tour (which wasn't available when we went because of the constant rain causing problems with safety), and a Victorian mine tour which we opted for. You get all geared up with hard hats and belts with power packs for head torches- oh you really look the part! Dad wasn't all that impressed because he lives in sandals and was forced to wear a pair of wellington boots which really completed his shorts and t-shirt look.
We were on the first tour of the day and our tour guide, Drew, was brilliant. Very knowledgeable and full of witty comments to make the history, which can be a little dry, more entertaining. The tour takes about half an hour and you get a potted history about how the caves and mines had been in use since the Bronze Age, with little bits of Roman history muddled in amongst the Victorian mining. There is still gold in the mines but there is so much work and effort that has to go into extracting it from the quartz it's deposited in, that it isn't really still worth it, plus not all areas of the mines are entirely stable.
Outside the mines themselves, there is the miners yard with buildings of machinery and information points, and you can go panning for gold! At the reception desk you are given a little bag to put your gold in, although all we could find was Iron Pyrite, or Fools Gold. It's still shiny though and good fun swirling the water out of your panning dish and seeing the sparkle at the bottom.

Nearish to the gold mines is another National Trust property, Dinefwr, a historic house, nature reserve and deer park. A little bit like Scotney Castle in Kent, the house that you visit is a 'new' build, with the original residence a little way away (not owned by the NT). Newton House in Dinefwr was home to the Rhys/Rice family, descendants of the Princes of Deheaubarth who ruled from Dinefwr Castle which is further up the hill. The current house was designed by George and Cecil Rice, who gave the building its Gothic appearance with stone cladding, turrets and the landscape as seen through the arched and decorated windows. There is even a little influence from the landscape designer Capability Brown in the park and garden as he was brought in as a consultant- that man got around everywhere!

The estate is 800 acres, and a protected nature reserve with many different habitats perfect for all sorts of elusive animals. Apparently if you are lucky enough, you can spot otters, pole cats and voles as well as fallow deer and badgers. The deer we spotted straight away from the windows of a lovely little early conservatory-type room overlooking the back garden. What we didn't spot, is the animal that is quite closely associated with Dinefwr, the White Park Cattle. Apparently this breed of cattle is rarer than the Giant Panda, with only about 1000 registered breeding females in the world, and the links with Dinefwr go back over a thousand years to when they were mentioned in the laws of Hywel Dda (Hywel the Good) when he wrote the laws of Wales from his seat at Dinefwr Castle. The estate is fundraising to #SaveTheHerd which currently consists of twenty breeding females and their calves, so if you are interested in helping out, check out the website page here.
The outside of the building was very pretty as the vines are starting to turn from green to red which contrasts beautifully with the silver of the stone work. Unfortunately, the weather started to turn against us again towards the end of our visit, hurrying our feet towards the car and homewards to our snuggly watermill.

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