Weekend in South Wales

We visited South Wales this weekend. It’s incredible actually – after 2.5 weeks in the UK, this was the first rainy weekend we had. But the wet hardly dampened our moods; South Wales is incredibly beautiful and has coasts that rival that of its namesake, New South Wales in Australia.

Our base for the Saturday was at a bed and breakfast in the town of Swansea. After we arrived in the afternoon, we took a stroll through Singleton Park and the University of Swansea to the promenade where we picked our way across the wet flat banks of Swansea Bay towards Mumbles. It was low tide, and the beach seemed to stretch for miles; we could hardly see the finger of water beyond.

Walking the promenade, Swansea to Mumbles
Walking the promenade, Swansea to Mumbles

It was close to 6pm by the time we finished the walk, but daylight was for another 3.5 hours and the rain clouds had parted. So we picked up some sandwiches and drove to Three Cliffs for a hike to Pennard Castle.

It’s a stunning walk. We clambered across steep sand dunes to access the beach…

…And up another series of sand dunes to get to the 12th century Pennard Castle, from where we were afforded a bird’s eye view of the entire Three Cliffs Bay.

We weren’t paying attention to the tides though. By the time we got back down to the beach, the fast rising waters had already covered most of the sand, completely blocking our path back to the carpark.

We approached a guy pulling along a fishing kayak on the opposite bank, to ask if there were an alternate path back – and also in hopes that he would give us a short lift back across the other side of the beach. While he didn’t offer the lift (ah well), he did point out a rather circuitous route back towards the castle ruins we had just clambered down from.

Hiking Gower Peninsula
Our high tide route back up to the car park from Three Cliffs Bay, through the woods

It was raining when we awoke on Sunday – drizzly with intermittent downpour. We kitted up and drove out to Rhossili Bay, reputed as the most beautiful bay in South Wales. Even in the mist and rain, it was stunning. Long, even sets of waves rolled into the bay below us, where dozens of surfers trekked down to surf.

During low tides, one could hike down to Worms Head, seen in the background in our photo below. But after our near mis-adventures the day before, and given that it was still mid-tide, we turned back around at the top of the cliff before the descend down.

View of Worms Head from Rhossili Bay

Driving back towards London, we stopped by Cardiff to visit Cardiff Castle. The site has stood through history from Roman times to the age of the Normans (when the keep was built) to the Victorian era where the sumptuously decorated rooms still stand, and then to WWII where the townsfolk of Cardiff sought refuge between the thick city walls during air raids.

Arab Room in Cardiff Castle
The stunning Arab Room in Cardiff Castle. At the top and centre of each stained glass window are crystal balls to better reflect the light streaming into the cosy room
Cardiff Castle
Cardiff Castle

Day hike of Seven Sisters – Seaford to Birling Gap

I checked off the iconic walk of the Seven Sisters down by Brighton on a brilliantly blue early summer day.

Headed down to Seaford by train, an easy 2 hour ride from London. From the train station, I walked across the small town to the Seaford Head Golf Course, where the sight of the imposing white chalk cliffs falling into the ocean took my breath away.

Seven Sisters - Seaford to Birling Gap2

For a short way along the trek, I walked alongside a local, an old man who is a regular plyer of the walk, often with a sandwich bag in hand. We chatted about the unusual but welcome spell of sunny and cool days in Britain (jet streams that veered off the island carrying rain instead to Bordeaux); the wildflowers that sprouted up on the path through the different seasons; the geographic significance of the coast during WWII etc.

Seven Sisters - Seaford to Birling Gap3

Seven Sisters - Seaford to Birling Gap4
The kindly old man I walked a distance with pointed out the WWII Spitfire that flew overhead. “You can always tell a Spitfire by the purring of its Rolls Royce engine”, he said, reminding me of the character of the civilian captain in the movie Dunkirk

Seven Sisters - Seaford to Birling Gap5

The official Seaford to Birling Gap walk has the walker turning back inland along the Cuckmere River when they reach Cuckmere Haven, the stretch of beach that connects to the actual Seven Sisters walk. But I was lazy to wander back inland and to the town of Exceat just to cross the river stream. It was mid tide, and the channel at the mouth, although fast moving, looked shallow enough. So I bid farewell to my lovely companion, took off my socks and shoes and rolled up my pants, and waded across the pebbly stream.

Seven Sisters - Seaford to Birling Gap6
There are WWII bunkers that dot the beach. But, as the old man I walked with said, Hitler was not a student of history and did not learn from Napoleon’s mistakes. Instead of landing and attacking Britain while he could, he instead turned the German army against Russia. Thank goodness for that.

Seven Sisters - Seaford to Birling Gap7

Seven Sisters - Seaford to Birling Gap9

Seven Sisters - Seaford to Birling Gap10

Seven Sisters - Seaford to Birling Gap11

Seven Sisters - Seaford to Birling Gap12

Seven Sisters - Seaford to Birling Gap13

Such a gorgeous stretch of coast. 😍 Though the hills looked tiringly steep from a distance, I felt like I got up and over each “sister” in no time at all, distracted as I was by the lush green fields and blue ocean beyond.

Weekend in Stonehenge, Bristol, and Bath

Another weekend, another road trip outside of London. This time we headed to Stonehenge, Bristol, Bath and Lacock, all conveniently clustered close to one another 2.5 hours outside of London.

Getting out – and back in – of central London was the annoying bit, especially since sitting in start and stop traffic in a manual car. But once we hit the highways, our spirits were up. The skies were blue and the early summer air cool and fresh.

Our first stop was the pre-historic pile of rocks that is Stonehenge. It was pretty cool seeing these close up; my most enduring earliest memory of it was oddly enough from the Smurf cartoon. That said though, it was during this same period in time when the Egyptians were constructing their pyramids!

We rolled into Bristol in the afternoon, and had a lovely time wandering along the River Avon, visiting the historic steamship SS Great Britain and getting a glimpse what luxury passenger travel looked like in the 1850s. In the evening, we strolled over to the icon suspension bridge to watch the sun set.

View of Bristol from Cabot Tower

Sunday morning, we traveled back in time again, this round to the Roman period when we visited Bath. Pro tip – pre-purchase tickets to the Roman Baths for when it first opens, before the crowds come. We got in early, and had a leisurely time wandering around the premises, listening to the comprehensive and entertaining audio guides. When we left nearly 3 hours later, there were long lines of people waiting outside.

Before we drove back to London, we swung by the small historic town of Lacock, known as the backdrop to many popular movies such as Pride and Prejudice, Downton Abbey, and Harry Potter. The main attraction in the town is the 13th century Lacock Abbey, which was then converted into a private mansion in the mid-16th century, during the Dissolution (when Henry VIII disbanded monasteries and abbeys after his break with the Catholic Church). It was fascinating wandering through the mansion, as bits of the original 13th century structure still stand, next to mid-18th century Gothic Revival style, and then again through rooms decorated in early 20th century design. From the 18th century the mansion belonged to the Talbot, and in 1835, then lord of the manor Henry Talbot took the world’s first photographic negative of one of the windows in the house. So cool!

Lacock Abbey – the window where Henry Talbot took the world’s first photographic negative

Lacock Abbey – the backdrop to a couple of the Harry Potter films. 🙂

Enjoying London and its surrounds

I’ve been enjoying life in London and its surrounds, with mini excursions during the week and explorations further afield on the weekends. For most of trips, I’ve been content to leave my bulky DSLR behind, trusting instead in my much less conspicuous phone camera to capture the memories.

The delightful thing about the UK, however, isn’t so much the photo opportunities, but the ability to immerse in whatever period of history catches my fancy for the day, and to explore in-situ the architecture and read about events of the past centuries that have so shaped current affairs today.

London – Strand
St Paul Cathedral at Dusk
London – St Paul Cathedral
Sunflowers in London
Royal Opera House in London
Playing a game of canoe polo at the London Tower Hamlet
Horse Guards in London
Churchill War Rooms

One of my favorite day trip was to Hampton Court Palace, where Henry VIII consorted with (and then disposed of) his many wives. It’s beautifully kept through the centuries, and expanded upon during the Stuart, and Georgian periods.

Hampton Court Palace
Hampton Court Palace Gardens
Hampton Court Palace Gardens