The final leg of our journey in the UK was Wales, which we found to have its own distinct culture. As you enter Wales, the signs turn into dual languages and the people began to speak Welsh. It was surprising because we both assumed that English was the main language of the area. We stayed on a working farm in a town called Caernfaron. The culture is quite different and the cultural identity of the Welsh people is very strong. The family that we stayed with had three adult children all living at home and the daughter was studying to become a teacher who teaches only in Welsh. The fact that every young person who we met took pride in speaking Welsh and preserving their culture was refreshingly different from home. The town was right on the coast with gorgeous beaches and a castle in the middle surrounded by shops and pubs amidst the old castle walls.
The main focus of our time in Wales was to explore the beautiful countryside including Snowdonia National Park. Snowdonia includes the highest peaks in Wales and is full of scenic drives among remarkably green hillsides and valleys covered with wildflowers and animals everywhere you look. Given the fact that our legs were quite sore from other hikes and carrying our packs, it was not our intention to hike the tallest mountain in Snowdonia, but we just couldn't help ourselves. Mount Snowdon sits high above the west coast of Wales with views to the ocean on a clear day. In fact, from the farmhouse we stayed in you could see Mount Snowdon as clear as a bell that morning. There are several routes up the mountain and we decided to take one of the more advanced trails. As we started our hike we noticed clouds rolling in and a moody day before us. With the mountain being almost 1,000 feet lower than Ben Nevis and not covered in snow, we thought ourselves free of peril. It was quite scenic hiking around multiple lakes and waterfalls and sheep clad hillsides. A little over half way up the mountain, the trail changed into a rapid ascent disappearing into a thick cloud encircling the mountain. Once we could no longer find our path or any cairns (trail markers) and the winds and rain began, we decided to push straight up the side of the mountain in order to reach the top to get our bearings. We scrambled up the final side of the mountain and upon reaching the top, we were greeted with over 50 mile an hour winds, 50 foot visibility, and temperatures around freezing that were more than we had bargained for. We spent less than a minute at the top and as our legs lost all feeling, we decided it was time to head down. Once again there was no path, so we forged our own and felt an amazing amount of relief when we recognized a familiar landmark of a lake we had passed on the way up. We are learning to never underestimate any mountain and felt some comfort in the fact that we were able to make our way down without the trail.
We enjoyed driving around the rest of the area and made our way over to Cardiff, in the south of the country, on what would prove to be one of our most adventuresome travel days yet. Our plan was to drive to Cardiff, catch a train to Fishguard, hop on the ferry to Rosslare Harbour, Ireland, then catch another train to Waterford where we would grab a rental car for our time in Ireland. Well, it didn't quite work out as smoothly as planned. The drive took about twice as long as expected (those roads are very slow), and once we got into Cardiff, we were misinformed of the train times and had to wait six hours for the next train to Fishguard at 10 pm. Meanwhile, we cancelled our accommodations for the night and headed for Fishguard. When we arrived in Fishguard groggy from our long day, we found out that there was a 3:30 am ferry to Rosslare Harbour and we decided to sleep on the ferry. While waiting for the ferry, we met a guy named Dan, a Brit who lives in Ireland who was taking the same ferry and had his car at the dock to drive to Waterford. He generously offered us a ride and after three hours of questionable sleep on the ferry the three of us made our way to Waterford. Over 24 hours after we started our journey in Caernfaron, we arrived in Waterford! We are learning more and more lessons about traveling and the most recent is, count on transportation taking twice as long as you think it will and prepare to be flexible with your plans and even which country you will be spending the night in. This is what traveling is all about!