On May 4, 2017, more reinforcements arrived for Team Hubbard — Cassie’s and Lydie’s grandparents, Juda and Giga. (Technically, they are my parents, but I think they’ve abdicated those titles in favor of their grandparental role.) They arrived on Thursday (5.4.17), and we spent the day relaxing in Woodstock. By Friday, Juda and Giga had gotten over a bit of their jet lag, and we set off for northern Wales.
On our way, we skirted past Birmingham, where Juda and Giga lived for six months in 1996 during one of Giga’s sabbaticals. Around 1:30 p.m., we finally reached our first destination: Bodnant Garden. For those of you who don’t know my dad, he is an avid gardener — fanatical even.
It was an unusually sunny and warm day for Wales, and the garden was in full bloom. Lydie and Cassie loved all of the flowers. And of course there was ice cream.
Lydie accidentally dropped her ice cream, so Cassie wasn’t taking any chances. She held on to her ice cream tightly and eventually tried to eat it all in one bite. Giga meanwhile taught the girls the difference between formal and natural gardens.
Belly now fully aching, Cassie tried to rebalance her innards.
Equilibrium restored, it was time to see the rest of the garden.
Before we headed further into the garden, we met twin girls from India. Julie and I both felt like our girls were that age just moments ago.
Bodnant is an exceptional garden, undoubtedly one of my favorites. It’s mostly a natural garden, made to look as if the plants have grown here by chance. But the quality and scale of the plants is anything but natural.
The garden is roughly the shape of huge triangle, with two sides being defined by streams that come together at a corner of the garden. In the foothills of the Snowdonia mountains, these streams are a mixture of pools and waterfalls, making for wonderful (better-than-natural) views. Giga enjoyed teaching the girls about gardens during the brief moments when the girls were close enough to talk to. For instance, he taught them about “borrowed views,” which he said are things you can borrow but don’t have to return.
We walked down one of the streams, with Lydie and Cassie racing ahead. Every once in a while, we would spot them far in the distance. (They are in the center of the picture below.)
As Lydie and Cassie raced ahead, Julie and I struggled to enjoy the beautiful scenery, the gentle breezes, and the the phenomenal weather. It was hard to hold back the tears. Oh wait. No it wasn’t. It was awesome.
After reaching the junction of the two streams we started walking up the second stream, occasionally catching up to the chicklets when they got distracted by a particularly pretty spot.
Eventually, the calming atmosphere of the garden started to have an effect on the girlians. Still silly, but a calm sort of silly.
We reached the top of the second stream, where it entered the garden. Further up in the Welsh countryside we could see sheep, and the garden too became more natural.
Lydie and Cassie did their best to find the headwaters of the stream that we had been following, but ran out of path. They nevertheless tried to continue their exploration, but their (terribly mean) parents pulled the plug because the garden was going to close soon.
We started heading back towards the entrance to the garden, passing a large pond. Part of the purpose of the pond was to slow the stream before it continued into the garden so that the silt would drop out of the water. With less silt, the stream through the garden was clear and rocky.
With time running out, we headed back toward the entrance along the diagonal part of the triangular garden, which cut across a field clearly designed for livestock, though it looked like the sheep and cows had been kept out during bluebell season.
The bluebells were magnificent, with everything in the garden slightly better than nature could have made without a little push.
Since Juda was with us and the chickadees were starting to run out of gas, we even got a family picture in the bluebells! *gasp*
The miles finally caught up to Lydie and Cassie. They were both tired, so naturally they thought it would make sense to carry each other. Riiiiight. That always works. At least they had fun trying.
We left the garden around 5 p.m., and headed off to find the cottage we had rented through Airbnb. It took us about another hour to get there (in part because we were driving two cars and managed to get separated).
We eventually found the cottage, which is worth mentioning in a bit more detail as it was a bit of a mystery for a while.
It was a large stone cottage, with four bedrooms and four bathrooms. The stone on the exterior was crenelated like a castle in spots, and there was a massive stone roof deck.
The roof deck also had a small cannon on it. Yep. A cannon.
The deck could only be reached via stone steps in a minute courtyard, which could only be accessed through a locked door.
The interior living spaces were beautiful but eclectically appointed. There were old guns above two of the doors and the horns of big game on the walls.
There was a massive fireplace and pictures of some guy all over the place. There were also books on antique Welsh furniture. There were racks for holding something large, which we guessed to be saddles for horses. There was a large gun safe, as well as a locked door to another part of the cottage.
The cottage was also in a beautiful, secluded location. From the roof, we watched the sun set over the estuary and in the other direction we could see the mountains of Snowdonia.
What did all this mean? Clearly this was not a typical cottage. Our guess: smugglers. The truth was perhaps even more surprising: the cottage was owned by the First Earl of Snowden.
The First Earl of Snowden started as a commoner named Anthony Armstrong. He became the Earl by marrying Princess Margaret, who was the only sibling of Queen Elizabeth. The marriage was troubled for years, with highly public fights that scandalized high society. Wikipedia says that “[w]hen high society palled, Snowdon would escape to a hideaway cottage with his lovers.” The Earl and the Princess divorced in 1978, leaving him outside of royal circles. He died recently in January 2017. The first-born son of the Earl and the Princess is the second Earl of Snowden, who among other things is also a high-end furniture maker. We later learned that after the divorce the Earl remarried, and that his family regularly visited the cottage.
We’re pretty sure that they were all smugglers, too.