Sunday, July 25, 2010

Wales: Day 17 When It Rains, Our Group Tours

Tuesday (July 20) was the wettest day we've had yet. It rained almost constantly for the duration of the day. Regardless of our preparedness (or lack thereof), blistering feet and dripping hair, we came, we saw, and, after 3 castles, a museum and a priory, we finally dried off.

Coity Castle was first, but was closed so we detoured to our second stop - Margham Cross Museum. Here we found lots of tombstones and cross-shaped marking stones from 9-16th Centuries. It was pretty cool to see the synergy of Celtic and Britonic design and the new Christianity spreading across the world.

Soon we were back to Coity Castle, now open. We were given a lecture and tour by a sweet little Welsh man, who stood patiently in the pouring rain and delivered his entire speech and history of the castle to us. We should have been more attentive to him. We just stood, huddled under umbrellas, water soaking our pantlegs, and rushed to the keep and towers to get out of the downpour when we had the chance. Let me just say that climbing spiral staircases is always dangerous, and even more so when your shoes are wet and slick.

Next we went to Ogmore Castle. Much like the "Three Castles" (White, Skenfirth and Grosmont), Coity, Ogmore and later Newcastle are joined together in purpose, location and style. They are Marcher Lord castles begun as hill forts or walled enclosures in the mid-to-late 1100s, castles being built, first wooden then stone, in the 1200s. They aren't really anything special, and I hate to say that they are becoming somewhat dull and routine for us now. We've seen so many castles that these smaller and by some definitions - average - castles are easy to forget.

This one was funny because we, against our better judgment, climbed out across a small river next to the castle for one of Tom's ubiquitous "Panoramic Shots." The rocks were slick, we were cold and wet, and the river looked both gray, icy and threatening. Still, we slowly meandered out over the shining rocks and laughed nervously as we posed and carefully climbed back. This castle is now inhabited by loud sheep, so we had some fun with the bleating and baahing, and then hit the road.

By this point, we were all completely soaked. The day had just been so bizarre, because nothing we had done had worked out exactly like we'd planned or hoped for, and yet we were still just pressing right along. This culminated when we arrived at the Priory. Eweeny Priory is supposed to be an awesome 12th Century structure. Unfortunately, the public lands were privatized for a funeral, and after getting stuck on narrow hedged roads, being shut out of the priory grounds and trying to find the other group, we found ourselves standing in this tiny stone room without the walls of the priory grounds. We all of a sudden just looked up at all of the group standing there, hunched over as you do when you're uncomfortably wet, and just started laughing like crazy. I literally cannot describe how ludicrous the situation was. We couldn't stop. It had just been the weirdest day ever, and yet we were still there and still pressing on, and even having a moderately good time at that. Haha good times.

At least the gardens outside the priory were pretty!

After a brief Tesco stop for bathrooms and food, we made our final stop at Newcastle. There were one or two more places we had hoped to see, but Tom mercifully cut the day a little short so we could dry off. Newcastle was pretty, but again somewhat generic at this point. We were all so delirious and excited to be going home that we had a fun little photo shoot and then sprinted and fell down the slick grassy hill to the vans.

If you guessed that I peeled off my soaked clothes and jumped in a hot shower right when I got home, you're right. The most bizarre part is that we had on jackets and used umbrellas the entire day, and somehow we all still ended up dripping. Oh well. It wouldn't be Wales without a good day of wet touring. :)

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