Goodbye Ireland! We had a great time!
The ferry from Dublin takes us across the North Channel, back to the UK. We're slowly unwinding our tour of the British Isles. It's a quick jaunt. In less than a couple of hours we're deposited on the shores of Holyhead, Wales. Wales! I checked and it's a new country!
The Welsh countryside. Not that much different from English pastures
I'll be honest, we didn't do any research about Wales. Don't know the history, don't know the culture, food, etc. We're kinda exhausted and we're just passing through. One thing that did catch my eye were all the road signs in the Welsh language. I tried to read the names out loud in my head: Llanllyfnl. Okaaay... and then: Llanfairpwllgwyngyll... My head snapped back as I still hadn't finished reading the sign when we rode past it. WHAAA...!?!
Surely someone in the Ministry of Transportation is playing a joke on all the tourists driving away from the ferry terminal.
Llanfairpwllgwyngyll! How do you even pronounce that?!? At least that name had some vowels in it - 20 letters, 3 vowels. I did some research and that's not even the weirdest name. Cwmystwyth. 10 letters, NO vowels. Bwlchgwyn. Ysbyty Ystwyth. Whadahek?
Did you know Superman had a Welsh super-villain?
After staring at some of these signs, I'm starting to see how the w's, y's and ll's replace the vowels. So the rest of this post will be written in Welsh.
Ww rydll ynwyrds ty llr nyxt dllstynwtyn.
Our route takes us south through Snowdonia National Park, and we take a pit stop in the town of Beddgelert for lunch
Snowdonia is a popular place for vacationers to go hiking. It's based around the Snowdon mountain, so the roads around the area twist and wind around the geography of mountains and lakes.
The Brits love their dragons
Peter, peddlin' his wares
Apart from dragons, Beddgelert is also known as the final resting place for Gelert, Llywelyn the Great, Prince of Gwynedd's faithful hound. It's a popular folk tale that's been retold in many other places, in other forms. Llywelyn came home to find his baby missing, and Gelert's mouth covered in blood. Assuming that his dog killed and ate his child, the prince slayed Gelert. Shortly after, he heard the cries of his baby under the crib, with the body of a dead wolf beside him.
It was Gelert that had battled the wolf and killed it, protecting his child.
Llywelyn was stricken with grief, and he buried his faithful hound here in the fields of Beddgelert, the name means, "Gelert's Grave". Prince Llywelyn never smiled again.
Neda is not smilng either, after reading Gelert's story, which is written on his grave
As dog-lovers, that was such a sad story to read! :(
In times of sadness, ice cream comes to the rescue. That was such a sad story, so...
And Neda is happy again! So onwards we go, further south into Wales.
Along the way, I prepared Neda for our next stop over the intercom:
"Who are you?"
"The new Number Two."
"Who is Number One?"
"You are Number Six."
"I am not a number! I am a free man!"
"Ah hahah hahahahaha!!!!"
When I was a kid, I used to watch an old TV show called "The Prisoner". It was about a secret agent who was about to retire, when he was kidnapped and imprisoned on a secret island to figure out what he knew. He didn't know whether it was his own government who sent him there, or an enemy state. The whole series was about him trying to figure out who his captors were and how to escape the island.
My favorite part was the opening credits, which showed him being interrogated by the Number Two in charge, who was replaced almost every episode because our hero always got the better of him.
Neda's never seen the series, but she thought my recitation of the show's opening credits was hilarious. "Again!", she laughed over the intercom.
"I am not a number! I am a free man!"
"The Prisoner" was filmed in Portmeirion, on the western coast of Wales
When I first saw the series, I always thought that they had built these fantastically psychedelic, elaborate sets specifically for the show. But I found out later that it's a real village! After that, this place definitely went on the bucket list. The village charges quite an expensive entrance fee. But hey... bucket list item...
The designer of Portmeirion, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, based the village on towns on the Italian Riviera
What actually turned out was a strange caricature of an Italian Riviera town, disjointed pastel colours, anachronistic modern design and little flourishes that wouldn't look out of place on a gingerbread house. It totally fit the theme of a 60s psychedelic TV show.
I was surprised to see that the beach from The Prisoner was not a separate set. It's actually the shores of Portmeirion, just outside the village
In the TV show, people who try to escape the island are captured by "Rover", a huge bouncing white beach ball that pounces on the prisoners and traps them inside, to bring them back to the village.
So psychedelic! You have to watch it. It even sounds strange typing the above.
A very strange prison, indeed
Like most 60s TV shows, the themes were about counter-culture, defying authority and surveillance, and mistrust of the government. But the one theme that resonated with me was the expression of individuality. These days, with all our identities being reduced to numbers - Social Insurance Numbers, Drivers License Numbers, Passport Numbers, The Prisoner struggled against the system, rejecting the number assigned to him upon imprisonment.
"I am not a number! I am a free man!"
Groovy. I'm hip to that.
(Ironically, we never learn what The Prisoner's real name is)
It was getting late, so we left the village of Portmeirion ("Be seeing you!") and headed straight east.
This was our destination road: The Cat and Fiddle Run
This is probably the most famous motorcycle road in England. It's also designated as the UK's most dangerous road because of all the motorcycle accidents here. The road surface is smooth, there are clear sightlines around most of the turns and there isn't a lot of traffic. But the scenery and the twisty tarmac tempts most riders to go much faster than their talents allow.
No danger for us, we've got our whole house and everything we own strapped to the back of our motorcycles. But that doesn't stop us from enjoying the rolling hills of the Cheshire Plains, as the sun slowly sets behind us.
It's nearly dark by the time we reach Buxton, at the end of the Cat and Fiddle road. It looks like a dry evening, so we check our maps to find a suitable campsite. There are a couple in town, but when we ride up to the gates, both of them are full for the evening.
Ugh. By the time we leave the second site, it's pitch black. No choice but to book a hotel.
This one was not too expensive. A last minute booking. Double the price of a campsite, but it's a roof over our heads.
Swanky-looking on the outside, but not that swanky inside the rooms...
This is us leaving the next morning. And then taking the roadways straight-shot down to our next stop, all the way to the southern coast of England. We're staying in the Black Hills, between Somerset and Devon. We've got an AirBnB booked, a small, secluded cottage out in the woods. But once again, we have troubles finding it on our GPS. We park our bikes outside where we think it is and I walk up and ring the doorbell. An angry old lady comes to the door and demands to know what we are doing on her front step.
"We're just trying to find this address, ma'am", I asked, pointing at the screen on my iPhone.
"I don't understand you. Wot language are you speaking?", she yelled at me.
"Um, I'm speaking English."
"That's no' any English oi've ever 'erd!"
Dahek? We're having a complete conversation and you're understanding me just fine!
I don't say this out loud. I just back away and we get back on our bikes to try to find the AirBnB on our own. She continued yelling at us from her front door as we rode away.
What a bizarre conversation. I'm not going to infer any kinds of overtones to this weird exchange. Honestly she sounded like she was just crazy...
Hey, we found our AirBnB!
To our relief, our hosts Leonora and David are totally sane and super-nice people. They welcome us to our cottage and over drinks, we talk about our journey. They are also travelers and it's obvious that they're running an AirBnB not to make money, but to meet other travelers. David is from the UK, and Leonora is from Colombia. When she found out we traveled through Latin America and learned Spanish along the way, she immediately turned off the English and we continued the evening en español. This totally endeared us to her and we felt like we were adopted right on the spot!
Oh man, at the end of the evening, my brain was so tired from trying to recall the español. Or maybe it was the wine...
Next morning, we head out to Neda's pick of the day
We each have our list of things we want to see in the UK. Mine are all based on TV shows. Neda likes nature. We're here in Lyme Regis, also known as the Jurassic Coast! It's foggy when we arrive in the morning, but the sun quickly burns off the mist as we walk through town to get to the beach.
Walking through the coastal town of Lyme Regis
Neda heard that you can find fossils on the beach. And there's nothing she likes better than picking up rocks and small dogs and stuffing them into her tankbag!
The beach at Lyme Regis is called The Cobb
I watch as she paces up and down the beach, staring at the ground looking for fossils. No luck. We see a guy walk past us with a small pick and hammer and a bucket of black rocks. They look like fossils. We ask him where he found them. He told us we were in the wrong spot - there's nothing on the beach - but to walk a few hundred meters towards the cliffs just outside of town.
He also recommended we purchase a pick and hammer from in town to go fossil hunting. We thanked him for his advice, but we didn't want to spend the money and then have to carry around a pick and hammer for the rest of our trip.
The real Jurassic Coast!
Everyone around us is carrying the little hammers that they tap against the cliff walls and the large rocks on the ground, looking to crack open a piece of Jurassic history.
Neda does it the cave-man way, bashing rock on rock.
Look what she discovered!!!
Actually, she just found them lying on the ground. Her cave-man skills didn't turn up anything but a couple of sore arms.
Not to be outdone, I show her my find!
Actually, Neda found this one too. I'm just posing with it.
These are super-cool! Obviously we can't take the large pieces with us, but Neda saves a few for her tankbag. She's got rocks, leaves and small animals from all over the world in that thing. It must be like the TARDIS: bigger on the inside...
Even without the fossils, the Jurassic Coast is a beautiful place to visit
Back in town, we grab some lunch. We see that the tourism department is capitalizing on the fossil trade
Outside the bakery, having a Cornish Pasty
The Cornish Pasty is a baked pastry filled with mince meat, onion and potato and is the national dish of Cornwall, which is on the southern tip of the UK, not too far from where we are. It was on the list of things to eat that my cousin in London recommended. Delicious!
However, we are on our way out of Britain, and we've got to find a way to shed the UK-diet-inspired spare tire we're carrying around our waists!
Our next stop on the final farewell leg of England, we set up camp again
We're not drying our tent out this time. Storing it while damp has made it quite smelly, so we're airing it out. Neda's got some anti-bacterial spray that neutralizes odor which works quite well.
Our campsite is just outside of:
We're zigging and zagging all over southern England now, on our way out. Stonehenge is my pick on the list of things to see. Not because it's got any archaeological or cultural significance. It's because I first saw it on an episode of "In Search Of...", a sci-fi documentary series about alien visitations, paranormal activity, and generally kooky pseudo-science. I was enthralled with that show. And it was hosted by Mr. Spock!
Stonehenge is located in Salisbury and it's far from being isolated
Like most ancient monuments, it's now being crowded in by urban creep. You can see Stonehenge from the roadway in the background. A few years ago, you could walk right up to the stones, but due to vandalism and wear, the stones are roped off and you can only walk around the perimeter.
Mr. Spock said that the stones in Stonehenge line up with other sacred sites in the UK and around the world, like the Great Pyramids of Egypt. The type of stones are not found in Salisbury and were carried hundreds of miles to be placed here to harness mystical, magical energies. But for what mysterious purpose? Dun-dun-DAAAAH!
Although not explicitly stated, he seemed to imply alien forces at work. Which is both totally cool and highly logical.
"Quoth the Raven, Nevermore. Nevermore."
I don't know why I'm quoting Edgar Allan Poe. It just seemed like a creepy thing to put in there...
Clouds part above mystical Stonehenge to welcome our alien overlords!