Back to Haarlem

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Last week we were back in Haarlem, to visit our daughter while taking a few days break. As usual, we managed to pack a lot into the week – spending some time exploring the small, historic city, watching some live music acts (the Haarlem Jazz Festival started towards the end of our little holiday), taking in some art in Amsterdam and even managing a short walk on the dunes.

We caught the plane from Manchester. Unfortunately there was a dealy which meant we were sat on the plane for over an hour and a half before it took off. Not the greatest experience, but it could have been worse. So we arrived in Haarlem a couple of hours late. It’s quite easy to get to the city by catching the Number 300 bis that runs from Schipol airport to the train station in Haarlem, a 40 minute journey with buses about every 10 minutes during the daytime. We’d rented a house a few minutes walk from the station, so after picking up the keys we were soon settled in.

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The next morning we spent the morning wandering around Haarlem. The Single canal was just a couple of minutes walk from our little house. The canal was built as part of the city defences and the northern section zig zags – a defensive arrangement. The city walls used to stand on an embankment to the south of this section of the canal but they were dismantled many years ago as the city expanded northwards and a park created where they used to stand. We followed the path along the canal bank through the park.

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We spent the rest of the morning mooching around the pleasant streets in the city centre before grabbing a bite to eat in the cafe on the top floor of the Hudson Bay department store

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from where there are good views over the city.

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The building that the Hudson Bay store occupies was built in the 1930’s for the Vroom en Dreesman store. It’s architecture is modernist in style with Amsterdam School and Art Deco influences. It’s something of a Marmite building – you either love it or hate it – I fall into the former camp! V and D went bust in 2015 and the building was unoccupied the first time we visited Haarlem, but it was taken over by Hudson Bay (a Canadian company) who opened there in 2018.

There are some rather nice stained glass windows in the stairwell and on some of the floors

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After we’d eaten we wandered through the shopping streets down to the Spaarn and made our way to the Tyler’s Museum. Our visit there warrants its own post so to finish this one, here’s a few photos I took around the town (some taken later in the week).

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Parys Mountain and the Copper Kingdom

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In my line of work you almost inevitably become something of a nerd, unable to resist an industrial site, especially a historical one, even when on holiday. So the last day of our stay in Anglesey we drove over to the north east of the island toward the small port of Amlwch , which at one time was the site of a major copper mine.

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Copper has probably been extracted in the area since the Bronze Age, 4000 years ago, but most activity took place from 1768 after The Great Discovery when Roland Pugh a local miner stumbled on a large deposit of copper ore at Parys Mountain,  a couple miles from the small port. His reward was a bottle of whisky and a rent-free house for the rest of his life. That would have seemed like a great deal at the time, no doubt, but it pales into insignificance compared with the amount of money made by owners of what became, for a while, the biggest copper mine in the world.

We parked up in Amlwch and walked over to The Copper Kingdom Centre, in a converted copper ore store on the quayside. This small museum told the story of copper mining in the area. The high point of the industry in the area occurred during the 1780’s when it dominated copper production in the UK. The copper from the mine was used to “copper bottom” the Admiralty’s wooden ships of war, to prevent the growth of seaweed and barnacles and to protect the wood from attack by shipworms.

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Originally the ore was extracted from surface pits and shallow shafts, then by open cast mining, from underground adits. The ore was broken into small lumps by hand, the and shipped to Lancashire or to the Lower Swansea valley in South Wales. The ore was sorted by women – the Copper ladies – which sounded similar to the Pit Brow Lasses who used to be employed in coal mines, particularly in the Lancashire coalfield.

The small harbour expanded due to the need to export the ore Other industries grew up in Amlwch alongside the mining – chemical processing and ship building and repair. The small port becoming a hive of industrial activity. Inevitably the mine became worked out and the other industries also declined, so Amlwch is today a quiet backwater. However, there is thought to be a reserve of about 6 million tonnes beneath the old mine workings. There’s been some thoughts about working the reserves but it’s not currently economic.

After looking round the museum we had a stroll around the harbourside, visited the small maritime museum and had a brew in the cafe, both in the old Sail Loft building. Then it was back to the car to drive the few miles over to Parys Mountain where we were able to wander around the old mine workings. There’s a guided trail, but we didn’t follow it, preferring to wander round on our own.

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It’s a desolate industrial wasteland, and due to the high level of soil contamination, little life can survive here. But it has it’s own strange beauty. With a range of colours it was rather like a 3 dimensional abstract painting.

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the old ruinded windmill standing on top of the wasteland
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Bangor Pier

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Whenever we looked out of the windows at our holiday apartment we couldn’t miss seeing Bangor pier. There it was sticking out into the waters of the Menai Strait directly across from us. We could see people promenading up and down the deck and we thought that sometime during our holiday we should go and have a closer look. So, after our visit to Carnarfon castle, as we were on the right side of the water, decided to take the opportunity before we drove back across the bridge.

The pier was opened on 14th May 1896 and is typical of Victorian leisure piers, with cast iron columns, a wooden deck, wrought iron gates, ornamental “street lamps” and a series of octagonal kiosks along its length, which have been rented out to local small businesses, including cafes and an artist’s studio. At 458 metres long it extends right into the middle of the Straits.

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The pier is actually at Garth, a small community on the edge of Bangor, separated from the main part of town. It’s often referred to as “Garth Pier”.

We made our way to the pier, parked up and went for a walk, dropping some coins in the “honesty box” for the requested donation.

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The pier has being undergoing renovation work in recent years and the far end was still closed off.

Looking over the water, not surprisingly, we could see Bryn Mel Manor. I used my zoom lens to take a photo.

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At one time steamers would dock on the pier taking passengers to and from Blackpool, Liverpool and the Isle of Man. But that stopped many years ago.

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Nyth y Fran

After we left Ruthin we drove down the Vale of Clwyd to St Asaph where we picked up the A55. The holiday traffic had died down by then so it took less than an hour driving down the coast road and over the Britannia bridge onto Anglesey. It was only a short drive then over to our apartment which was about half way between Menai Bridge and Beaumaris.

Nyth y Fran (Welsh for bird’s nest) was on the very top floor of Bryn Mel Manor, a large house that had been built in the late 19th century for William Imrie of the White Star Shipping Company (owners of the Titanic).

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We’d chosen well. The house is sited on top of the hill overlooking the Menai Straits and being on the top floor we had particularly good views over the water towards Bangor and its Victorian pier with the mountains of Snowdonia stretched out behind.

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Our apartment occupied the left hand half of the top floor (effectively in the attic) and the windows from the living room, kitchen both bedrooms and the en-suite bathroom all looked over the water and the mountains.

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I never tired of the view which changed with the weather and the time of day.

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The apartment was beautifully fitted out with all mod cons – you just had to be careful not to bang your head where, being in the roof, the ceiling sloped down.

We had two very hot, sunny days during our stay, otherwise it was cloudy and, sometimes, quite windy. But we didn’t really have any rain. So we were able to get out and about. Although we filled our time, there was a lot more we could have seen and done. A week really wasn’t long enough.

Ruthin Gaol

So, after having a look around the small town of Ruthin, it was time to go to gaol (or is that jail?)

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Fortunately, it wasn’t going to be an extended stay as Ruthin Gaol, which is at the bottom of the hill on Clwyd street, is now a popular tourist attraction. There’s been a gaol here since 1654 – previously prisoners were kept in the Old Court House on the town square. The current building is a Pentonville style prison built in 1878 , although there are some remnants of the older building from 1775.

The Gaol ceased to be a prison in 1916 when the prisoners and guards were transferred to Shrewsbury. The County Council bought the buildings in 1926 and used part of them for offices, the county archives, and the town library. During the Second World War the buildings were used as a munitions factory. It opened as a museum in 2004.

The tour is self guided with one of those audio guide thingies that you point at electronic labels located at various points of interest. Rules of entry were quite clear.

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We started in the cook house, where we learned about the diet of the prisoners – not very appetising!

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Then it was down into the cells down in the basement. We were able to look inside various cells and learn about life in the prison.

It was bathtime once a week and the prisoners had to take their turn in the same bath water. Don’t think I’d like to have been at the back of the queue!

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The gaol originally housed both male and female offenders, jailed for various offences, some quite petty and sometimes simply due to poverty. Prisoners had to work to earn their keep – men picking oakum and women sewing an knitting. Prisoners may also have had to break up boulders or walk on the treadmill . If they were badly behaved they may be put in the punishment cell where they would be in the pitch black, or in a padded cell if they were violent. I think our new Home Secretary would approve. She’s probably working out how to re-introduce these practices (for those she doesn’t send to the noose!)

After looking round the basement we took the steps upstairs into the newer building.

The Prisons Act of 1865 set new standards for the design of prisons, which the old gaol, not surprisingly, didn’t meet, so a new four-storey wing was built in the style of London’s Pentonville Prison. It had a familiar look as we’d previously stayed in a similar style (but larger) prison in Oxford (not as inmates – it’s now a fancy hotel!).

A good part of the building is used by the Denbighshire County archives, but we were able to look inside a number of the cells.

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The cells were a little more spacious and the building was a lot more hygienic, with natural ventilation, a water supply in every cell and gas lighting.

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Life wasn’t exactly cushy, though. The food consisted of thin gruel, bread and scouse.

Capital punishment was still legal, but there was only one execution at Ruthin. William Hughes. a miner from Wrexham was hanged in the prison in 1903 having been convicted of the murder of his wife.

We also learned about a local Dick Turpin character (i.e. a criminal who won some public celebrity for his exploits) John Jones, also known as Coch Bach y Bala (the little redhead from Bala) who escaped three times, from Caernarfon and Ruthin Gaols. He escaped from Ruthin by burrowing through his cell wall and climbing down a rope made from his bedclothes! The authorities caught up with him after only 5 days when he was shot in the leg, and subsequently died of shock and haemorrhaging due to his injury.

We spent over an hour looking around the prison but, unlike Coch y Bala, we didn’t have to burrow our way out!

It was time to make our way back to the car for the drive over the Anglesey. Only about an hour away and the time spent in Ruthin meant that the traffic had died down so it was a relatively easy run down to St Asaph and then the along the A55 and over the bridge to Ynys Môn !

Moel Hebog

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The last day of my break in Snowdonia promised to be fine and sunny. I weighed up my options and decided I’d tackle Moel Hebog, the 2,569 foot high mountain to the south west of Beddgelert and which had dominated the view for a good part of my walk the previous day. It wasn’t an easy option as it was tough going both up and down – but in different ways.

Climbing Moel Hebog can be combined with the adjacent mountains of Moel yr Ogof and Moel Lefn for for a longer walk. But as this was my last day and I had a fairly long drive home, I thought it would be enough to tackle one of them

After I checked out of the hostel, I drove the few miles to Beddgelert and parked up. The small village is on the West Highland tourist railway line and my route took me past the station

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and then under and then over the line, which meanders around. I carried on along a track until I reached a gate and, going through, was at the beginning of the path up the mountain.

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After a short flat section it began to climb up towards the summit. It started steep and got steeper and height was gained rapidly. It was a good sunny morning with little cloud about and although it was a little hazy in the distance, good views of the Snowdon range and nearby mountains soon opened up.

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Looking west towards the Nantile ridge
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Moel Siabod in the distance

It was a clear path up a grassy slope with a few rocky outcrops at first, but as I got nearer to the summit the route became more difficult. There was rocky ground and scree ahead and it wasn’t so easy to work out the line of the path. Unlike when I climbed Snowdon a couple of days before, there were very few people around. I’d passed a lone walker, a similar age to me, although he wasn’t very chatty. But as I reached the more difficult part of the climb, there was a ground of youngish women ahead of me. They were locals, mainly young mothers taking a day out together before the schools broke up for the summer holidays. They were friendly and as they’d been up the mountain before (this was an annual trip for them) they had a good idea of the line of the route, so I followed them! Avoiding a head on assault of the crags on the north face of the mountain, the route went round to the left and then turned right. But it was far from clear on the ground and it would have been difficult to work out where it was going without tapping in to the local knowledge!

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After a good bit of scrambling and struggling up sections of scree, I hit a grassy ridge which made it a much easier walk up to the summit.

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I stopped for a while to take in the views and grab a bite to eat, as did the group of young women and the other lone walker. What a difference to the top of Snowdon!

On a sunny day the views were outstanding in every direction – better than even from the top of Snowdon. We could see across to Snowdon itself and other mountains, the Llyn peninsula, Anglesey, and right down to the sea.

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Looking towards Snowdon
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I could have stayed longer, but it was time to start heading back down. I’d decided on a circular route, and it certainly wouldn’t have been much fun working my way down through the scree if I returned by the same route I came up. so from the summit I followed the wall leading down to the North West and Moel yr Ogof .

It was a steep slope (it would have been particularly difficult if it had been wet) but I used my walking poles to keep me from stumbling down head over heels. Reaching the bwylch between Moel Hebog and Moel yr Ogof.

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Looking back up to Moel Hebog

I crossed another wall and turned right, taking the path that ran beside the wall and descended down towards Beddgelert forest. I could see the other lone walker making his way up the path to Moel yr Ogof as he intended to tackle all three mountains.

There were superb views of  the Snowdon massif as I descended

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Getting close to the forest, I missed a turn off the path which would lead me into the forest, but I realised I’d gone wrong and after a little while I managed to locate a ladder stile. The path continued on down through the forest. It was boggy and hard going in places, but I persevered. The route eventually turned off onto a forest track

The track continued on out of the forest and onward towards Beddgelert, eventually retracing my steps from the beginning of the walk. There was a train standing at the platform as I passed the station

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It pulled out as I passed

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I dumped my rucksack back in the car boot and wandered into Beddgelert to find myself a brew and a couple of Welsh cakes.

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Refreshed, I had a little wander around the pretty little village and bought a few presents

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and had a last look at the mountain I’d climbed from the path beside the river

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and then it was back to the car for the drive home.

Llyn Dinas, Craflwyn, Hafod y Llan and Llyn Gwynant

On the third day of my Snowdonia break, after a strenuous day climbing Snowdon, I decided I’ d do something easier. That’s a relative term, of course, but I was going to stick to the valley and lower level slopes. I’d seen a route recommended by the National Trust that started from Craflwyn, where I’d parked up for my walk on the Monday. But as I wanted to avoid driving I adapted the route by starting at the door of the hostel.

After a short walk along the road I went through a gate, crossed a field and then a clappergate bridge over the Afon Glaslyn and then took the track past the National Trust campsite at Hafod-y-llan, and then on to Bethania.

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The old cottage owned by the National Trust, by the Hafod-y-llan campsite

Along another short stretch of road before turning down a lane and then a right turn down the track past Llyndy Isaf Farm with great views down the valley to Moel Hebog and the other mountains near Beddgelert.

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Looking across to the west I could see the summit of Snowdon

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A close up shows the difficult steep scree covered path at the end of the Watkin path

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Carrying on, I took the path that skirts the south shore of Llyn Dinas. It was a beautiful, sunny morning with little wind, so the surface of the lake was like a mirror reflecting the nearby hills and mountains

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At the end of the lake I took the path beside the river and followed it to the Sygun Copper Mine. It was only a short distance then to the Craflwyn car park.

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Crossing the car park, I took the footpath leading up through the woodland. and started to follow the black way markers that would guide me up the hill and on through the foothills of Y Aran towards the Watkin Path.

There are several shorted routes through the woods, all way marked.

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Early on along the route, after a steep climb I reached the Giants Chair which was sited at a viewpoint overlooking the small hill, Dinas Emrys. There’s evidence that there was an Iron Age hill fort on top of this modest hill and there are a number of legends associated with it, including the tale of Merlin and the two dragons. It’s said that a chieftan called Vortigern wanted to build a fort on the hilltop. Every day his men would work hard to build the fort but when they woke the next day the walls had collapsed into piles of rubble. Vortigern was advised to seek the help of a young boy called Myrddin Emrys, who told him that beneath the hill was an underground lake containing two dragons, one red and one white. The dragons were fighting each other and it was this that was causing the fort to collapse. Vortigern ordered his men to dig into the hill and the two dragons were released. They continued to fight each other until the red dragon was victorious.  And this is the reason why there is a red dragon on the Welsh flag. Oh, and Myrddin Emrys grew up to become a wizard named Merlin!

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Well I didn’t spot any wizards or dragons, but there were fantastic views to soak up.

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looking towards Moel Hebog
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Looking across to Cnicht
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A close up of Dinas Emrys
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I carried on up the hill onto rougher ground

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Unlike the day before I didn’t encounter many people along this fine route that took me across farmland and rougher mountain territory and past former mines and quarry buildings and workings. In places the ground was wet and boggy but the National Trust had worked on creating paths that largely kept my feet dry. The route was well way marked and it was easy to navigate by following the black arrows.

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I also passed several herds of Welsh Black Cattle

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Reaching the high point of the route there were more outstanding views, back towards Moel Hebog to the west

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and Moel Siabod to the north east

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After a short break to take in the views I carried on along the route which now started to descend towards the Watkin path with Y Lliwedd coming into view

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After joining the Watkin path I turned my back on Snowdon and started to descend down through the woods to Bethania

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Ready for a break I stopped off at Caffi Gwynant, a pleasant café in a converted chapel just by the start of the Watkin path. I rested with a cup of tea and a slice of Bara Brith

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I’d completed the National Trust’s route, but it was only early afternoon, so once I’d refuelled I decided to follow the path back towards Llyn Gwynant and make a circuit of the lake.

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Looking back across the lake. I could see the youth hostel over on the opposite side
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The campsite at the end of the lake
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Looking down the lake towards Y Aran
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Looking back across the lake from the grounds of Bryn Gwynant

Well, my easy day wasn’t that easy as that was quite a long walk on a warm day. but it was thoroughly enjoyable. You don’t have to climb to the top of the big mountains to have a good days walking. This walk had plenty of variation – riverside, lakes, woods, hills and moor side and lots of interest . A good day and I was ready for a cold drink when I got back to the hostel.