It’s been 8 years now since we moved to the British Island, and in all these years most of the island was sort of neglected by us. Life in London is full of downsides, but a major upside was always cheap flights anywhere in Europe and the rest of the world. Literally every country wants to have a flight to London for some reason. So when it was time to pick a holiday destination, it would be anywhere but the UK. Short ride on a tube, short ride on a plane, and you’ve got a whole new country to explore.
Past couple of years somewhat disrupted this glorious routine, thanks to ever changing traveling restrictions - and we’ve turned our gaze inwards. And yes, while it is much more expensive to travel UK vs almost any other European country, there’s still a lot to explore. Being a lucky owner of an EU driving license, renting a car is a breeze - even though you have to endure a few first days learning how to drive on a “correct” side of the road. This becomes less of a problem once you travel further - most roads turn single track once you venture far enough from Central London.
So far I drove from London across England all the way to Scottish islands of Orkney and Outer Hebrides, explored Cornwall and North of England. This December me and my wife decided to drive to Wales and unlock a new country (of a United Kingdom) we never been to.
I mean, how different can be Wales from the rest of England? It is (relatively) small, just outside of Birmingham, and you can get there by car in about 4 hours from London (2 of which you will be stuck in traffic on M25).
Wales got its own language and they are not afraid of using it everywhere. Sure, Scotland got Gaelic, but it is rarely visible, and almost no one speaks it. Welsh on the other hand is everywhere. Road signs are Welsh first, English maybe. Street signs, tourist boards, banners and directions are all in Welsh. Book shops are selling plenty of Welsh books, and people are actually speaking Welsh to each other. Welsh is using the same Latin alphabet, but words are not read as they are written. Many words look like a bunch of random consonants without a single vowel. The place we are staying at is called Cwtsh. And yes, you can learn Welsh on Duolingo - likely part of the plot by Welsh government to have a million speakers in the next 30 years.
1000 years old barn
Our stay is a barn conversion. This one is particularly ancient - dating all the way to around 11th century, which was a long time ago. Built with huge stones, two floors, living room and a kitchen full of appliances including a dishwasher. This barn feels more reliable than most of London flats. On the first night storm Arwen hit this place with winds up to 100 mph. The barn had no problem with that. There’s a burning stove too, which is somehow heating the stone floor. Make some fire, burn some wood, and this place is incredibly warm and cosy to walk around barefeet.
Milk vending machines
We have a farm with fresh milk a short drive away. On the very first day we decided to top up our milk and were up for a surprise. The whole milk vending process is completely automated, vessels are provided, and if you bring your own bottle then you only have to pay for the milk. Contactless payments are accepted. Ah yes, also fresh eggs if you like.
But that’s not all. There’s also a line up of syrups to make your own milkshake. Cappucino flavoured? Sour cherry? They’ve got them all.
As it turned out, milk vending stations are all around Pembrokshire. You are never too far away from a fresh cold milkshake.
Symbol of Wales is a huge fire spitting red dragon. How cool is that? Probably too cool, since Wales is not represented on the UK flag in any shape or form. I totally get it - a red dragon would dominate the rest of the shapes there, which is completely unacceptable.
You can buy a dragon to take home too. A cool metal dragon would set you down for about £200, but it will also withstand all the storms for the next few centuries and be an eternal object of envy from your neighbours.
Or you can buy a sack of Welsh potatoes with a dragon on it.
Wales may look like a tiny area tuck away between Birmingham and Liverpool, easily explorable in a week. In truth we ended up spending a week just around Pembrokshire on the coast and a tiny bit inlands. On the very last day we drove across Wales to the North, across Snowdonia to the town of Llandudno. That was an epic drive, and I can imagine spending couple of weeks in Snowdonia alone, with a bunch of medium format slide film and a trusty Hasselblad.
Things to do next time
Being a fan of heritage railways, there are a bunch of these in Wales - mostly closed down this time of the year. We’ve been to the restored station at Aberystwyth, and I’ve had a glimpse at the railroad at Porthmadog. Is this just the tip of the iceberg? Do we need to come back during spring and visit them all? They also seem to be a narrow gauge type of trains, which makes them very special. Is narrow gaugage a Wales thing? So much to discover.
We’ve completely skipped Brecon Beacons national park, and Snowdonia was also mostly an afterthought - a scenic ride and short stop to marvel at the snowy top of the mount Snowdon. So much to explore, so little time.