Tag Archives: Wales

What a Wonderful, Wonderful, Wonderful World by Sherrie Hansen

There’s no better way to spend a wintery day than to plan a summer vacation. My home in northern Iowa got over ten inches of snow on Thursday night and Friday. The murder mystery we had scheduled for that night was cancelled due to 40 mph wind gusts and blizzard conditions. Thankfully, we didn’t lose power, because I was busy online, reserving rooms and planning our late May, early June trek through Wales, Ireland and southern England.

england-lamb

Now that Mark and I are both in our 60’s, our goal is to take an adventurous vacation every year for as long as we’re able. Everyone we know says, do it now, while you can. We’re following their advice. We don’t want to be one of those couples who works too hard and waits too long to see the world, only to lose their health, their mobility, or one or the other of them to death.

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Last year, when we were in Scotland, we walked 7 to 10 miles nearly every day of our 2 1/2 week trip in order to see things like the Fairy Glen, the cows grazing on Claigan Coral Beach on Skye, the Fairy Pools, the ancient Standing Stones on Arran, the ruins of Findlater Castle on Cullen Bay, and Dunnottar Castle near Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire.

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In Romania, we went up and down hundreds of flights of stairs  to see Dracula’s Bran Castle. We strained our muscles to the max  to walk down steep inclines to the sea in Cornwall to see Tintagel Castle and again, in Clovelly, Devon. It wasn’t easy because we’re not in the greatest shape, but we did it, and we’re going to keep doing it as long as we can.

Romania - Castle

This year, we’re off to Wales, Ireland and the south of England. We got a great price on our airline tickets, and have pinned down where we’re staying. Our first three nights will be spent exploring the coastal paths, beaches and sunsets of southwest Wales at Cardigan, where we’ll be staying in an restored, 18th century, attic apartment.

airbnb-cardigan-wales

We’ll move on to Northern Wales, where our home for three nights will be Glyn House, in Capel Curig, in Snowdonia in the Welsh mountains.

airbnb-capel-curig-wales

From there, we’ll catch the ferry to Ireland, a new country for both of us. We’ll see the historic area north of Dublin from Hollow Stream B&B in the village of Kingscourt, which boasts a pub with live Celtic music the first Friday of the month. Perfect timing!

airbnb-kingscourt-ireland

Our remaining time in Ireland will find us in a luxurious 1930’s home near Croom village in Limerick, a stone house in Killarney, Kerry, from which we can visit Dingle, on the far southwest coast of Ireland, and a 250 year old Georgian house in Cashel, Tipperary.

After ferrying from Dublin back to Wales, we’ll spend one indulgent night at a Georgian restaurant with rooms on the Llyn Peninsula on the far west side of Wales.

airbnb-plas-bodegroes-llyn-peninsula-nw-wales

On our first night back in England, we’ll be cozied up in a 17th century Cotswold stone farmhouse home in Evesham, close to Chipping Campden and Stratford upon Avon, and more important, my cousin Sarah and her family in Bicester. The B&B is beautiful, but it was the rare Soay sheep they keep that called out to me and said, “Boooook.”

airbnb-sheep

Our second to the last stop of the trip is just north of Devon, near the southern shore of England. If I don’t come home, this is where I’ll probably be…

airbnb-durweston-uk

Our last two nights will be in a sweet Victorian cottage in Kent, somewhat near Gatwick Airport for ease of travel. We tried to think of ease and comfort when making a lot of our reservations… queen or king beds, no steep staircases or ladders leading to loft bedrooms, quiet countryside locations with plenty of parking, pretty gardens for relaxing,  two or three nights per location, and views to the west so I can watch the sun set.

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Even more important, I tried to find places that captured my imagination. As I learned when we stumbled upon St. Conan’s Kirk in Loch Awe, Scotland, an idea for a book (Wild Rose) can spring up from the most unanticipated locales. The same thing happened when I heard “Nathan” playing the pipes in front of Eilean Donan Castle and caught a glimpse of the pirate boat in the cove (Shy Violet and Sweet William).

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It was an old legend on a castle tour that primed the pump for Golden Rod, coming this summer.

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I’m not sure what about, or even if this trip will result in a new book, but it wouldn’t surprise me. My mind is already tantalized after choosing the places we’ll be staying. I can’t wait! If it’s still cold and snowy where you are, I hope you’ve enjoyed thinking about summer for a few minutes. If my quick travel preview didn’t do the trick, pick up a book and escape to a faraway place where the wildflowers are blooming and a summer breeze is blowing across the Atlantic. (Yes, that’s a hint.)

Until then, mar sin leat.

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Filed under photographs, Sherrie Hansen, Travel, writing

Inspirations for Wraithmoor Castle

My readers have asked me to tell them what inspired the appearance and mood, both inside and out, of the fictitious Wraithmoor Castle Inn  in my book, SHE HAD TO KNOW. Having been fortunate enough to stay in and visit many castles and manor homes during my travels, I drew upon their various attributes. My photographs were a great help and luckily, to aid my memory, I saved all brochures collected along the way.

Since my story is set in Scotland, I needed to capture the Scottish architecture of the period or periods in which it was built, so the exterior reflects mainly the Scots Baronial style mixed with some English Tudor. I then created a drawing of my perception of what the castle would look like. Later, when I was looking for ideas for the book’s cover for my publisher, I was fortunate in finding a photo which was very similar to my concept and drawing.

Wraithmoor Castle Inn

Wraithmoor Castle Inn

To complete the exterior, I needed an elaborate iron gate at the entrance to the parklands of the estate. I already had an idea for that. Chirk Castle in Wales had the perfect gate, although I altered its description.

Chirk Castle Gate

Chirk Castle Gate

I needed spiral steps leading from the residence wing to the scullery, and also to the lower regions of the castle. I found them at Dover Castle in England. (My son populates this picture.)

Spiral Stairway

Spiral Stairway

The rose room that Arran stays in was inspired by The Italian Room at Great Fosters, a manor home in England. I changed it as well, but kept the beautiful mullioned windows.

Italian Room-Great Fosters

Italian Room-Great Fosters

Hever Castle in England and Ruthin Castle in Wales provided lots of inspiration for paintings, the library, drawing room and suits of armor.

Anne Boleyn at Hever Castle

Anne Boleyn at Hever Castle

Suit of Armor

Suit of Armor

Elk Antlers in Entrance Hall

Elk Antlers in Entrance Hall

Library at Hever Castle

Library at Hever Castle

Ceiling at Ruthin

Ceiling at Ruthin

My imagination took hold from there, which certainly wasn’t difficult after seeing so many beautiful sights. For those of you who write, have you combined sites in your stories?

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Filed under Art, musings, photographs, Travel, writing

The Fright at Castell Rhuthun by Coco Ihle

Years ago I was driving with my family throughout England, Scotland and Wales. I had spent a year mapping out an itinerary that would include a variety of interesting places and things to do for our three-generation group. Our accommodations varied, too. We stayed in bed and breakfast hotels and homes, historic manor homes and castles, traveling just before the tourist season to avoid the crowds.

Castell Rhuthun Gatehouse

Castell Rhuthun

I was excited as we drove through the ancient entrance gates of Castell Rhuthun, more commonly known as Ruthin Castle in northern Wales, because this romantic getaway set on acres of scenic parkland had over seven hundred years of tantalizing history, with such notable owners as King Edward I, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. According to Arthurian legend, when there would have been no more than a wooden fort on the site, King Arthur disguised himself for a romantic liaison with his mistress at Ruthin. In later years, Reginald de Grey, who according to some, was formerly the Sheriff of Nottingham was tasked with forming the “finest army in the land” to defeat the followers of Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest.  Ruthin is even said to be haunted by the “Grey Lady.” Only a few years before our trip there, HRH Prince Charles visited on his way to his investiture as Prince of Wales. This was definitely a place to see.

We settled in our rooms and then prepared ourselves for the Mediaeval Banquet we would be attending that evening. Joining other guests, we started with a tour of the 13th century part of the castle: the dungeon, whipping pit and the drowning pool and then gathered in the Presence Chamber to await the Court Steward and the Ladies of the Court, all dressed in period costumes. After experiencing the hospitality ritual of the partaking of bread and salt, we were escorted into the lofty, candle-lit Banquet Hall.

Here the romance and color of those early times were revived as guests joined together in the lively atmosphere with harp music and singing, in Welch and in English, a song of welcome, “Hi roes, lechyd da” ( Long life and good health). We were served thick vegetable soup in wooden bowls which we held to our mouths, since we had no silverware. Next was a course of lamb and potatoes that we ate with daggers followed by a leg of chicken. Mead, a drink made of fermented apples and honey definitely enhanced the mood and was very, very good. For some reason, I can’t remember what the dessert was. The whole evening was enchanted.

Mediaeval Banquet

I was sad when the banquet was over and we had to return to the 20thcentury, but there was a plush feather bed to look forward to. I slept soundly and arose early next day to shower and set and dry my hair in rollers.

A gentle mist hovered over the expansive lawns and I eased open the casement window to feel the chill morning air. All was quiet and still, but the day promised to be sunny and calm and I was lost in the memory of the evening before. Dreamily, I went about my hair dressing.

My reverie was suddenly broken by a sound so startling I was momentarily frozen in place. It was only one word, but it pierced the stillness in a high-pitched shriek. Where had the sound come from? I wasn’t sure. The castle room was large and the sound echoed throughout. I listened, afraid to breathe. Long silent seconds passed and I wondered if I had actually heard it? Was I imagining the sound? Would it repeat?

Just about the time I convinced myself I had an over-active imagination, there it was again. “HELP!” Someone was shouting, “HELP.” Had my family heard it? No. I didn’t know what to do. Should I wake them? I glanced out the window, but saw nothing. Maybe someone was hurt or in trouble in the hallway. I rushed to open the door. The hallway was empty. What was happening? My feeling of panic grew.

“HELP!” Now I was certain the sound had come from outside.  I rushed to the window again and leaned out as far as was safe. My eyes darted here, there and everywhere.

Then I saw it. The shrill cry rang out again. At the far side of the castle lawn against a rock wall, a white peacock strolled with feathers spread in all their glory.

The Culprit

I was so relieved, I didn’t know if I should cry or laugh. I was a wreck. That was the first time I had ever heard a peacock make any kind of sound. I couldn’t believe it sounded exactly like someone crying, “Help.” Now, as my heart began its return to a more normal beat, I felt embarrassed. I decided I wouldn’t tell anyone about my early morning scare, but I’m sharing it with you, dear reader. Have you had anything of this sort happen to you?

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Filed under life, musings, photographs, Travel

My Handy Research Tools by Coco Ihle

I’ve found being a pack rat isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some of my trips to the U.K. were family vacations and because these were special occurrences, I didn’t want to forget anything. Taking photos, saving receipts, keeping a trip diary, buying brochures and even audio recording various tours and people became the norm for me.

This collection came in handy while compiling photo albums to share with the family later. I didn’t have to wonder where the heck a certain mystery photo was taken or try to remember an itinerary or timeline. I was so glad I had documented everything.

Since trip planning fell to me, I wanted to make the experience as rich as possible. One year, my (former) husband and I, his parents, and our son went to the U.K., rented a car, and set out touring England, Scotland and Wales on a six-weeks adventure. Since we had three generations in the car, my goal was to include sights that would interest everyone.

We saw battlefields, military monuments and museums, visited Brands Hatch British Grand Prix Race Track and had pints in local pubs to satisfy the guys. Madam Tussaud’s, the planetarium, taking a class in brass rubbing, listening to bagpipers in Scotland and seeing suits of armor up close were fun for our son. Visiting and staying in historic manor homes and castles, attending medieval banquets with the Ladies of the Court in period costumes and strolling in topiary gardens were treats for my mother-in-law and me. We all enjoyed driving through the lush countryside and stopping in quaint villages with their thatched roof cottages; and speaking with the locals gave us different perspectives on the things we had seen and experienced.  At every turn, we tried to make each day interesting and unforgettable.

One night, we stayed in the thirteenth-century House of Agnes Hotel in Canterbury, mentioned in Charles Dicken’s, David Copperfield. Another, in the The Feathers Hotel in Ludlow, a seventeenth-century coaching inn. Lord Crewe Arms in Blanchland was once an eleventh-century monastery and is said to be haunted. Lord Dalhousie at Dalhousie Castle flirted with my mother-in-law during our postprandial cocktails, and she blushed for weeks afterwards. I could go on and on.

To help refresh my cherished memories, I have shelves full of brochures, audio tapes, photo albums, music, artwork, you name it. When I began writing my book, SHE HAD TO KNOW, set primarily in Scotland, I needed details for descriptions of castles and the countryside, on people in the villages, their personalities and their speech patterns. Even though I had Scottish friends at this point, and the Internet, I relied heavily on my experiences and documentation of the many trips I had taken.

I’m so glad I am a pack rat! Any of you, pack rats, too? Has it been good, bad?

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Filed under books, fiction, musings, writing