The largest prehistoric mine in the world

By now you’ve probably realised that Wales has three things aplenty: sheep, castles and mines.
Wales was famous for it’s coal mining throughout the 19th and early 20th century and had substantial slate mines but there had been small-scale mining in the country since the British Iron Age. Gold, copper and lead were mined in substantial quantities, zinc and silver not quite as much, until it wasn’t profitable any more.

I finally got to visit the Great Orme Copper Mines properly this year (with my parents in tow). Located half way up the Great Orme in Llandudno, it is the largest Bronze Age mine in the world and was uncovered in 1987 during a scheme to landscape an area of the Great Orme. Since then it has been an ongoing archaeological project of slowly uncovering bit by bit.

On the surface you can tour parts of the opencast mine which is over 4,000 years old and take a look down a deep Victorian mine shaft.


Walking through the 3,500 year old tunnels you get a feel for the harsh conditions copper mining involved in those days and it always dazzles me what the people of that age were able to accomplish using only stone hammers and bone.

The tunnels take you down to the second level which is approximately 60ft below the surface and it gets really cold and damp down there. If you feel claustrophobic easily this might not be the right place fore you. Only 3% of the tunnels are open to the public at the moment so some follow up visits might be required in the future.

And if you feel like you need some open air afterwards just make your way up to the top of the Great Orme with its stunning view.

Wide awake in the ‘City that Never Sleeps’

After fulfilling a life long dream last year and visiting New York City for the first time, I was back this summer – and how much more relaxed I was this time. As I had seen most of the major sights already, I didn’t have the permanent feeling of not being able to linger somewhere and constantly thinking “Got to go, there’s so much more to see”. I still managed to make my feet hurt by the end of each day; I do prefer exploring places on foot, if possible, which means I could end up walking from the upper end of midtown to downtown, on to Brooklyn and back again, crisscrossing the island of Manhattan. This time I also got to explore parts of the other boroughs and even spent a day at the beach, enjoying a refreshing swim in the Atlantic during the heat wave.

Back home while looking through hundreds of photographs I was wondering what exactly to show you. So I’ve decided to go for the places where there weren’t that many tourists around. It doesn’t mean these are less interesting or less beautiful places but sometimes just that extra bit further away. I will try not to bore you with too many details, you can always look things up.

The Cathedral of St John the Divine (nicknamed St John the Unfinished) is located at the north western end of Central Park in the Morningside Heights neighbourhood. Building began in 1892 and, as the nickname suggests, it remains unfinished to this day. But my main reason for visiting: it’s MASSIVE!! There is a dispute whether St John or Liverpool Cathedral is the world’s largest Anglican cathedral and church but it definitely is the fourth largest Christian church in the world. Entry is free, however they ask for a donation. Please give some, so they might be able to finish it one day. DON’T MISS: the Keith Haring tryptich, his last work before he died!

The northern part of Central Park is far less crowded and much hillier than its southern part but doesn’t lack attractions. You can come across several foundations of old forts, Harlem Meer is a nice spot and the Conservatory Garden is one of the hidden wonders of Central Park. It’s the only formal garden in Central Park and is divided into three separate gardens: the French Garden, the Italian Garden and the English Garden.

The Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens is probably best known for its unisphere and the water towers which have featured in many films and movies. Created for the 1939/1940 New York World’s Fair and also hosting the 1964/1965 New York World’s Fair it is the largest park in Queens. The nearby zoo and science museum make a nice addition for a day out and in summer they offer open air screenings of movies. DON’T MISS: the mosaics when you enter the park from the subway station. Where else can you step on a Salvador Dali?!

The Staten Island Ferry offers some spectacular views of Manhattan’s skyline, and it’s completely free! It’s not really a secret anymore and tourists are flocking to the ferry  but it’s not as crowded as on the boats to the Statue of Liberty. Make sure you have enough time for a wander around Staten Island and taking in some of the sights. DON’T MISS: the Battery Maritime Building next door to the ferry terminal. It is being redeveloped now but you can still imagine the old splendour. The Governor’s Island Ferry departs from here.

South Street Seaport and Pier 15 East River Esplanade are a good option if you want to chill out. Pier 15 offers a bi-level recreational space on the water with sun lounges and a nice view over Brooklyn. Next to it you can see the The Peking, a steel hulled 4-masted barque. South Street Seaport is a designated historic district and features some of the oldest architecture in downtown Manhattan. It offers some nice boutique shops and bars. DON’T MISS: the Brooklyn Bridge mural and Fishbridge Park Garden (corner Water St & Dover St), probably the smallest garden open to the public I have ever been to. (Oh, and there is a water taxi IKEA Express Shuttle departing from Wall Street Pier 11 in case you’re in need of some Swedish furniture.)

When you walk amidst all those skyscrapers in Manhattan you easily forget that this is actually an island. Whereas the stretch from  North Cove Yacht Harbour to South Cove Park is less touristy it’s still worthwhile to continue through Battery Park. It’s beautifully planted and offers some interesting monuments too. DON’T MISS: The Sphere that once stood in the middle of Austin J. Tobin Plaza, the area between the World Trade Center. 

If you fancy a day at the beach I’d recommend Rockaway Beach in Queens but the most famous beach resort is still Coney Island. Very colourful, a bit commercial and tacky but the beach is nice and the Atlantic Ocean wonderfully refreshing. DON’T MISS: Eat a hot dog at Nathan’s, the most famous hot dog in the world. It’s celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and the first Coney Island store is still there, though I preferred to eat mine on the promenade.

Obviously architecture and the ‘weird and the wonderful’ are a big part of New York City as well, so here is just a small selection of some other things I came across.

 

There is plenty more to see and do. I can’t recommend the American Museum of Natural History enough; make sure to catch a movie at one of the movies in the park events, (the one in Brooklyn Bridge Park has the Manhattan skyline as a backdrop!), but be sure to protect yourself from those mosquitos; try some food from the original The Halal Guys, there’s usually a queue in front of the carts but worth the wait; The Intrepid Sea Air & Space Museum is great, based on an old aircraft carrier you can see lots of planes, a Concorde and even the space shuttle Enterprise; catch a sunset at Brooklyn Bridge Park and roam the streets of Manhattan at night with all those colourful lights; and get on top of one of the skyscrapers (I like Top of the Rock) for some stunning views (DON’T MISS: look up the elevator shaft when going up and down at Top of the Rock).

The lesser known castles of Wales

Having almost too many castles in one country can pose a bit of a dilemma: which ones do you promote for tourists to visit? What are the criteria? Was it once a real castle or just the architectural vision of a rich family in later centuries?

Considering it was once a proper castle, I suppose you could say there are three main criteria for fame:

  1. Does it look good – obviously if it is almost complete with rooms and gardens etc  (like Chirk Castle or Powys Castle) it is a definite must. And if the walls still stand in the shape of a castle that allow visitors to go around it, climb towers and explore the castle grounds, that’s good too. The visitor needs to be impressed by the craftmanship of the time.
  2. Location, location, location – if the location is right then some walls, gates and towers are more than enough. Spectacular views, strategic position and easy to reach by car ensures it to be an attraction for young and old. Put it on the top of a hill with spectacular views across the Dee valley (Castle Dinas Bran – though you have to climb a hill) or on top of a former cliff (Harlech Castle) and a mention in various leaflets is guaranteed.
  3. Historic importance – if the castle played an important part in the history of Wales or British monarchs, a lack in substance and prime location can be forgiven. But it needs to have some big names or events attached to it. A mention in a Shakespeare play doesn’t hurt either.

If you look at all the castles that fit into at least one of these categories you’ve got a lot covered, especially along the north Wales coast line. But there are the odd ones out – barely there ruins in a not very scenic, easy to reach location where nothing truly important ever happened. These are usually ruins popular with locals who like to go there for a Sunday family stroll. One thing I noticed, while visiting these places, is that they seem to be mostly typical Welsh castles whereas their famous counterparts are usually built by the English to keep the Welsh in check. This might be a result of the Welsh being defeated in many battles over the centuries and the Welsh castles being neglected, abandoned or even torn down afterwards.

But I think it’s time to take a closer look at some of these.

Located in Wrepre Park in a corner of the woods is Ewloe Castle of which you can find a more detailed post here. The castle, which was one of the last fortifications to be built by the sovereign Princes of Wales, was abandoned at the beginning of the invasion of Wales by Edward I in 1277 and given little military value, allowed to fall into ruin.

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Ewloe Castle is tucked away in the corner of the woods

Tucked away on the top of a hill in Caergwrle is Caergwrle Castle which I have visited several times before. Built by Dafydd ap Gruffydd, it was the final castle to be built by Welsh rulers before the loss of independence. But when Dafydd’s forces rebelled against Edward I, the king sent forces to take the castle andDafydd retreated and sabotaged the structure. It was rebuilt and Edward gave it to his wife but abandoned after a fire broke out. Never being reubilt again it was then just passed down the royal line until nothing much was left.

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Caergwrle Castle is set on top of a hill with stunning views but unfortunately not in a tourist attracting area

And then there is Holt Castle. This is probably the one castle that left myself the least impressed so far. It looks more like someone forgot a couple of stairs, windows and buttresses on top of a rock. Shows you how spoiled I am already when it comes to castles.

Holt Castle was a medieval castle built on the Welsh-English border on the banks of the river Dee in the town of Holt. The castle, which was constructed between 1277 and 1311, was shaped like a pentagon and had towers at each corner. It was built from local sandstone on top of a 12 metres high promontory but today only the base remains.

This is just the beginning really, there are many more “forgotten” castles, not only in north Wales but even along the Welsh-English border. After all somebody had to keep the Welsh in check….

But that’s something for another time.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Curve

I like both of these images for very different reason.

In the first one you might wonder where the curve will lead you to and it just shouts “British” to me with the red double-decker bus and the, for me, typical London architecture.

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Selfridges in Birmingham on the other hand presents a steep contrast to the very straight and pointed spire of the church with its smooth curves and rounded surface.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Pure

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A sunny November afternoon on top of Mount Snowdon, the highest peak in England and Wales. Even though there are other people around it feels calm and breathtaking. Like being on top of the world (but not quite as high).  Pure happiness.

A canal and a castle

I smiled that day.

Now you might think “So what?” or “Sad if she has to write about it.” but it wasn’t just any smile (trust me, I do smile a lot). It’s the kind of smile I get every now and again whilst driving through some especially beautiful scenery, just being happy I’m there. Or, as in this instance, I smile because there are finally more green leaves on the trees than bare twigs and spring is taking over. I just love life in these situations.

It was St George’s Day and I was making my way to the Shropshire Union Canal in Waverton, having planned a walk to Beeston Castle and back, when I realised it was spring and everything covered in a light green of fresh foliage.

It was the perfect day for a walk: the sun was shining (though there was a chilly breeze), birds chirping away, bumble bees buzzing around, butterflies enjoying a warm sun bath, the canal floating along slowly and, well, quite a distinct smell of cow manure in the air.

This part of the canal is not quite as popular as the other direction towards Chester, so I had the path mostly to myself. I could see Beeston Castle, my destination for the day, and Peckforton Castle in the distance and had some nice views across the Cheshire Plain.

Beeston Castle is quite a fascinating place. It is perched on a rocky sandstone crag 350 feet (107 m) above the Cheshire Plain and offers stunning views across 8 counties. The site of the castle may have been inhabited or used as a communal gathering place as early as the Neolithic period and there have been found remains of a Bronze Age community and of an Iron Age hill fort.

The castle itself was built in the 1220s by Ranulf de Blondeville, 6th Earl of Chester on his return from the Crusades. The castle saw good and bad times and came back into service during the English Civil War in 1643. It was partly demolished in 1646, in accordance with Cromwell’s destruction order, to prevent its further use as a stronghold. During the 18th century the site was used as a quarry.

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View towards Wales

It is rumoured that a treasure belonging to Richard II lies undiscovered in the castle grounds, but no traces could be found so far. The castle is now in ruins and managed by English Heritage.

If you are interested in another ‘canal and castle walk’, you can walk a ‘Welsh version’ near Llangollen. Castle Dinas Bran offers some stunning views too.