Black Rock Sands & the Festiniog Railway

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I’m sure the first thing that pops into anyone’s mind when they think of the U.K. is the beach…what with the endless sunny days and the balmy, tropical climate.

On a morning that was forecasted to be sunny and mild, we packed a picnic lunch and headed to Black Rock Sands to lounge about, soaking up the warmth of the sun:

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It’s a wind baby!

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As we walked along the beach looking for a place to have our picnic, I was literally shaking violently from the cold. Not being a very stiff-upper-lip kind of person, I decided I would forgo the picnic and hang out in the car until the rest of my crazy family was ready to leave. I watched them trudge off into the dunes, their bodies bent over at right angles as they battled the winds. I felt ever-so-slightly guilty, but mostly gleeful as I settled down for a nap in the car, which we had parked right on the beach. After just a few minutes, my husband came back to drag me into the sand dunes, insisting that it was  “almost warm” in the shelter of the dunes…IMG_4572

Almost warm? Possibly to an Eskimo! Nevertheless, clad in our finest beach attire, we kept calm and carried on with a picnic on the beach. IMG_4580IMG_4581

Our picnic was a little rushed, because the tide was coming in and we were afraid our car was going to be swept out to sea. Oh, and also because it was freezing cold and had begun to rain.

We drove on to our next destination…a train ride on the Festiniog Railway.

IMG_4599Unfortunately, the driving rain prevented us from seeing anything but the odd cow from our windows. On the bright side, the company was pleasant and we were out of the rain!

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The Festiniog Railway holds a special place in my husband’s heart. During his gap year before starting college, he spent some time working in their archives. They gave him this World War I document as a parting gift:

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Perhaps they gave it to the promising young historian about to embark upon his studies at Cambridge as a reward for his exceptional work in the archives. Or perhaps they gave it to him for pitching in to help with the buffet cart whenever they were short-staffed. My very tall husband makes me laugh every time he reenacts how he would carry trays of scalding hot tea through the aisles of a swaying train, his head bowed to avoid hitting it on the top of the train carriage.

He and his brother were waiting to pick us up at the station at the other end. The first order of business was to find a cup of tea – the sine qua non for life in the U.K.!

As we drove through Canaerfon and past Canaerfon Castle, my father-in-law pointed it out as the place of Prince Charles’ investiture… i.e. where he became the Prince of Wales. That’s when my mother-in-law broke out a story about her own personal encounter with Prince Charles…

My in-laws were living in St. Andrews, close to Gordonstoun, the boarding school in Scotland where the young prince was studying. My mother-in-law was asked to be his external examiner in French and German.

I didn’t know how I should address him…Prince? Your Royal Highness?

Wait a minute…First of all, I can’t believe you never told me this story before! Second: so, what did you call him?

Well, I don’t think I called him anything at all. I just got on with the examination.

And how did he do?!

He was very nervous! His French was not bad, but his German was hopeless! For some reason he got onto the topic of wine-making, but he couldn’t remember the word for grapes in German so he kept referring to them as “little black balls”!

We stopped in a newly-opened café in Porthmadog.

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Hot cocoa for a change of pace!

The proprietor came over to ask us a favor…”I can tell you’re not from around here, and as we just opened today, I was wondering if you could put a pin on our map to show where you’re from.”

So there you go…a little piece of Charlottesville in Porthmadog, Wales. IMG_0921

We’ve been back home in Charlottesville for a couple weeks now. Yesterday our one missing suitcase was finally delivered to our doorstep!

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With the last bit of our belongings safely back in Charlottesville, and my last U.K. story posted, that lovely interlude has now really ended. I will remember the glorious walks, the beautiful scenery, and the ghastly weather. Most of all, I’ll remember the precious time spent with family, who – while far away – are ever close to our hearts.

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