Towns / Cities Visited: 108
Countries Visited: 20
Steps Taken Today: 10,682
Steps Taken Around the World: 2,954,688
We awoke to a damp morning, but we had places to go, so it was raincoats on and into the car with us. A short drive saw us arriving at our first stop for the day, and our final stop in Wales; Conwy. Like most places in Britain, this city has the remains of a medieval castle, and, unsurprisingly, it was what we were here to see. This imposing medieval castle was built in the late 13th century, and was used several times by historic monarchs as a refuge during times of war over the several centuries after it was built. It was originally constructed by order of Edward I, and held by the English for the majority of its use, aside from a short period in 1401 where it was captured by two brothers who were Welsh rebels. They cunningly waited for a feast day when almost all of the inhabitants of the castle were absent, and then pretended to be carpenters there to do some repairs, at which point they killed the two guards left on watch, before an army of rebels attacked and captured the rest of the walled town. They held out for three months before negotiating a surrender; an impressive feat considering the vastly larger force held by the English. The castle was later surrendered in 1642 to the Parliamentarian Army during the English Civil War, and by 1665 it was stripped of the lead in its roof and left to ruin. It underwent restorations in the 19th century, which have left it with a complete outer wall, however the interior still sits in varying states of decay.
We bought our tickets and headed on into this towering relic, which looks down over the city it was built to defend. As you pass through the gates though, its like stepping into another world; a feeling that was only enhanced by the fact that we were virtually alone in our visit, and the rain was gently falling, darkening the stones around us. Aside from the walls, stairs, doors, and windows, there is very little to help figure out what each room or area had originally been used for. Luckily, though, there are a few information boards to help discern the bakery tower from the prison tower, and the grand hall from the King’s chambers.
Some of the rooms are also home to some rather fascinating art installations, from a tall pile of armour inspired metal sheeting topped with a sword and crown; and a single strand of wire twisted into the shape of a king’s head. Three of the four towers are able to be scaled, leading up to the walkways along the ramparts, giving a stunning view of the city, the inner courtyard, and the three bridges which cross the river just beside the fortification. The forth tower interior lays in ruins, its stairs little more than nubs of stone poking out from the walls. The chapel in one of the other towers may possess new stained glass windows, but the crumbling carved stone decoration around them sings of historic hymns and followers of an era when God’s word was law. By the time we neared the end of our visit, a foreign school group, I’m guessing from Spain, was making their way through, albeit rather rowdily, and thus we took our leave, bidding farewell to this stunning, if somewhat scant, castle.
Agreeing that it would be a travesty to leave the land of dragons without indulging in their national dish, we ducked out of the rain into a nearby café, and ordered ourselves some Welsh rarebit. I must admit that it has always amused me that their country’s signature dish is essentially a slightly more complicated version of cheese on toast, but lets be honest, why mess with a good thing for the sake of having a more complicated symbol of your country. Not to walk away without completing our meal, we ordered a Welsh cake and a scone to finish off the feast, before heading to the small shop downstairs and snagging ourselves some absolutely delicious and local choc mint liqueur.
Fed and happy, we darted around the corner. You see, thanks to a tip from the waitress at the café, we had discovered that the historic guild hall, which houses the council chambers for the city, just happened to be having its one day of the year of free entry, and we figured we might as well check it out before we headed on our way. Despite the fact that the current guildhall wasn’t built until 1863, there has, however, been some form of civic building on this site since the 13th century. Our visit was brief, and but the interior houses a few interesting pieces, including an old chair from the Jackdaw Club, which was a club of people who were born within the walled city of Conwy, named after the jackdaw, a kind of bird which nests in the city ramparts. Unfortunately the club closed a number of years ago, as hospital births outside of the walls meant that there was no new members; a slight flaw to the system I think. The council chambers also has photos and portraits of the the former mayors of the town, dating back into the 1800's.
The time had finally come to bundle back in the car, and bid a fond farewell to Wales, before we made our way across the border and back into the realm of England. Wales had both had rarebit and been a rare bit, and we wished we could have lingered a little longer, but there were places to go and things to see. Our day was not over quite yet, and before too long we were parking the car, once more pulling our jackets tight around us to keep out the constant stream of rain, and heading off to explore the historic town of Chester. Much like Conwy, Chester is a walled city, but unlike its Welsh counterpart it has been one since it was under the control of the Romans in 79 AD. It was so well defended by its Roman wall, the restored and strengthened version which still encircles the town today, that it was actually one of the last places to fall to the Normans as conquered the country in the 11th century.
The town echoes its long history, and the four main streets which radiate out towards the points of the compass from Chester Cross are home to quite a number of Victorian era, and Tudor style buildings, including the famous Rows; a series of covered walkways on the first floor, which allow for two storeys of shopfronts. The Rows are thought to have been first built in the 13th century, although today’s versions are from a much more modern time, as they have been thoroughly restored. A stunning view down the street can be obtained from a small pedestrian bridge which spans above the street, and is topped by a stunning gilded clock from the late 19th century. We paused under the shelter of the timepiece and heard a group of people below preaching to the masses about their inevitable eternal damnation should they not choose Jesus as their saviour. Rolling our eyes, we carried on until we found ourselves atop the town walls. Passing around the edge of the town gave a somewhat different perspective, and it felt strange to see the ruins of Roman pillars in a town which looked otherwise so quintessentially English; even if some of the houses were a little preachy as well.
Passing by the stunning gothic, stone Anglican church, in its rather alternative aged ochre colour, we took a little while to stop into some of the equally as alternative nerdy comic and collectible stores which feed the fandoms of the local young geeks who seem to have a foothold here. Not that we are complaining, in fact, we came away agreeing that if the wages weren’t so atrocious in the hospitality industry in the UK we would probably be more than happy to live here. These were our kind of people, in our kind of place. It was time to make our way to our accommodation though, not far down the road in Merseyside near Liverpool.
As I replayed the day in my mind, I couldn’t help but hear the echo of the preachers under the clock in Chester. I find it truly abhorrent that despite the fact that Christianity, like all religions, teaches compassion, that there are still people who choose to cherry pick their beliefs in order to victimise others. People who stand in the middle of the street yelling about the fact that ‘Jesus loves us all’, but apparently not if you are gay, or believe in another god, multiple gods, or no god at all. So basically what they should be yelling is ‘Please see the terms and conditions to see if you are eligible for Jesus’ love’. The problem isn’t with religion as such though, but rather the people who follow it. Even as an atheist I can see the immense importance and positive attributes of religion; its potential to do good. It can give much needed hope and comfort to people in difficult circumstances, and it can help remind people of the need to be kind and forgiving even when the way ahead is treacherous. The idea of another life after this one, especially if this one has not treated you well, is an undeniably tempting idea, but all I can think when I hear these intolerant preachers shouting, is that even if there is a heaven, if its filled with people like them, I’d rather spend eternity with all of the fabulous gays, and non believers, even if I am damned for it. I may not believe in God, but I do believe that if there is in fact one, unless he is a psychotic sociopath, that he would not have created us to stand on street corners and look down at those with different coloured skin, or verbally abuse people who call him by a different name, or condemn someone for showing pure love to another of the same sex.
There are many people who believe that going to church, and following the multiply translated rules written down by men based on hearsay about an event which may or may not have occurred some 600 years prior, makes them a good person; that their belief in God absolves them from their cruelties as long as they convince themselves that they are doing it for the ‘glory’ of God. These twisted people who labour under the false pretense that they are saying hurtful things to save our souls, while denying the fact that they really just want a justification for their prejudices. The truth is though, that you don’t need to believe in a higher power, and you certainly don’t need to go and sit in sanctified walls and talk to some omnipotent being, to live a moral existence, and to love thy neighbour. As science evolves and gives us the answers to questions which in the past could only be explained as the will of the gods, fewer and fewer people are finding the need to turn to religion at all. As our quality of life improves, and our hardships diminish, we lack the need to convince ourselves that there is a bigger plan being dictated by some omnipresent game master, and that our pain will be rewarded if we can just hold on.
I was once told by a religious friend that I don’t believe in anything, simply because I had told him I don’t believe in God, but the fact of the matter is that I believe in many things; I believe in science because of its innate ability to alter and adapt when presented with new evidence and data, an ability that religion has often been slow at or unable to do entirely. I believe in myself, and the fact that doing the right thing regardless of the consequence, and despite no offer of eternal reward for doing so, is what makes a truly good individual. I believe that we don’t know where the universe came from, and maybe we never will, but that’s okay. We don’t have to have all of the answers, all of the time. To those of you who, like me, are condemned by these conditional Christians, let it be known that if Jesus doesn’t love you, I still do. Know that if we end up in the underworld together, I can’t wait to toast marshmallows over the flames of hellfire, while we look up at those sanctimonious and intolerant preachers playing harps in heaven as we fallen angels dance with harpies in Lucifer’s realm, and laugh to ourselves about how an eternity of being prodded with a trident is still more appealing than spending it with them and their acid tongues.