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One-Day Road Trip Through Wales - Seeking Ancient Ruins, Dragons, and Castles

I  have been sharing about our journey to seek some family and personal history in the U.K. (see these fabulous things to do with kids in London, and read about our idyllic weekend in the countryside in Devon).  Over the coming weeks I will continue detailing recommendations from our trip, but today we are focused on our one-day drive exploring Wales!

I hadn't been to Wales since I was a baby, and had no memory of it, so this part of our trip was totally new to all of us.  We only had a day to get from our hotel in south Wales to our next hotel in Liverpool, so we tried to pack in as much history, scenery, and family fun as we could.  Our goals as a family were to see a castle (my idea), hunt for dragons (Grayson's idea), and see a lighthouse (Sawyer's idea) in the mythical land of King Arthur, Merlin, and fire-breathing dragons.  

After driving up from Devon, we spent the night in Newport (not too far from the Welsh border and Cardiff) at the Hampton by Hilton Newport/East.  We love Hampton Inns in the US, and Hampton by Hiltons in the UK have the same good, clean quality and complimentary breakfasts that we expect from Hampton Inns.  After a good night's sleep, this is where our Welsh road trip began the next day. 

It was a cool coincidence that this was the name of the restaurant and bar in our Hampton by Hilton hotel.  Also a coincidence that Sawyer's middle name (Rhys) is Welsh?

We had planned to spend some time visiting the coast and having some fun at the Roald Dahl Plass (yes, named for the author) boardwalk.  It was rainy when we departed our hotel in Newport, so we decided to just push on the road instead.  

Caerleon Roman Fortress and Baths.  Our first major stop on our road trip through Wales, this free attraction was really cool, and easy to see in a short amount of time.  It is an ancient Roman fortress and bathhouse that has been well-maintained, with a great bit of information throughout for a self-guided visit.  You could almost picture what it would be like as a Roman soldier stationed nearby and enjoying some R&R in the baths.  We also picked up some small dragon stuffed animals ("cuddle buddies," as my boys call them) at the gift shop here to commemorate our brief time in Wales. 

Much of the exhibits at the Caerleon Roman Fortress and Baths were hands-on and kid-friendly.

Dryslwyn Castle.  Driving towards the western coast, we stopped at the ruins of Dryslwyn Castle near Carmarthen.  We were really fortunate to have had a perfectly-timed break in the rain for this part of our day.  The medieval castle is associated with the rule of Lord Rhys (Sawyer's middle name) and heirs before falling to the British in the late 13th century to be used as a fortress.  It eventually fell into ruin around the Middle Ages.  Entrance to the castle is free, and is accessible from a small hike from the parking lot at the base of the hill.  The hike was steep, but not long, and our young boys could handle it just fine.  It was a pretty cool experience to wander the castle ruins, as well as take in the incredible view from where Dryslwyn sits atop the hill.  

We saw lots of sheep on our hike up to Dryslwyn Castle

The views from Dryslwyn Castle are gorgeous and worth the hike alone

The remains of what were likely elaborate windows in a great hall or master suite at Dryslwyn Castle

Dragons.  So, we didn't actually see any dragons, but the boys had a lot of fun imagining them.  We read up on some of the myths of dragons (some surrounding the legends of Merlin and King Arthur), and how The Red Dragon (Y Ddraig Goch) became a symbol of Wales.  No matter what, it was fun to engage the kids in these kinds of stories and learn something new about the culture while we were at it.

As we got back onto the road, we drove through or near some national parks.  Wales is beautiful, and the roads were all very scenic.  Many were windy, but in a way that was fun to drive in our Kia Optima Sportswagon, and not nearly as narrow as some of the country roads we saw in Devon, Scotland, or Ireland.  

The only trouble we had in Wales was trying to pronounce anything.  Like, we couldn't even attempt to pronounce a lot of the city names we passed through.  Our hosts in Devon told us there was a city in Wales with the longest name in the world (turns out it is the longest city name in Europe, but second longest in the world).  Now this was something we needed for a photo opp!  We curved up the northern coast of Wales to the city of Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch on the island of Anglesey.  Just don't ask me to try and pronounce it.  

It was starting to rain a little harder, but we had one more goal to reach: seeing a lighthouse.  On our route from Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch was the Point of Ayr Lighthouse in Talacre.  It looked like a fun beach community, but it was starting to get dark, on top of being wet, so we did a very quick and soggy walk (run) from the car park to snap a quick picture of the lighthouse before continuing our journey towards Liverpool.  

While one day is surely not enough to have done justice to Wales overall, I was grateful for the cool things we got to do in our short time there.  Dryslwyn Castle was a really cool experience that I will never forget.

Stay tuned for my next post on our recommendations for what to do with your family in Liverpool and Manchester, and don't forget to pin this post when you are planning your own U.K. road trip! 

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