Road Trip Wednesday – Day Three: Doctor Who Experience, Freshwater West, & Scotland
Day 3 of our wonderful journey across the UK began in Cardiff. While Kat and Alex visited the Doctor Who Experience, I spent my morning enjoying Cardiff Bay (pics 1-4). It was a beautiful, cool morning and very relaxing. Afterward, we journeyed westward into Wales, all the way to the coast and Freshwater West. Here, we were in for quite the visit.
The coastal scene here was absolutely stunning. Clear, beautiful waters stretched for miles from the beach, with grassy hills rolling in both directions. But why was this stop so important for our Potter Path? It was where filming for Shell Cottage was done!
The cottage is sadly no longer there, but being very well-versed in the films, we were able to determine the likely spot upon which Shell Cottage once stood. We ran up the sandy hills, following the path Harry, Ron, and Hermione took outside Bill and Fleur’s home.
We also took a long moment to mourn the loss of the beloved Dobby, seeing as his grave is right outside of Shell Cottage. While there is no marker there now, we made our own makeshift memorial, spelling out the message from the books. We might have gone a bit overboard with our show of emotion, but it was truly a heartfelt moment for the fallen house elf.
Though we would have been happy to stay on the beach all day, we did finally depart, with a long drive ahead of us. We were aiming for as close as we could get to Fort William, Scotland, for the next day’s adventures.
What unfolded on that very, very long drive was something very dark, very troubling… very terrible. We thought we would never escape Wales. We laughed about it. We cried about it. We sang about it. Finally, we did escape, but good fortune was not quite on our side, at least as far as lodging of any kind is concerned. So we ended our night, asleep in our rental car, just shy of the Scottish Highlands.
After a very relaxing night on Cardiff Bay, Alexandra and I awoke and made our way to something we were both very much looking forward to – The Doctor Who Experience! We found out about it by chance when my friend Kelly just mentioned that it was too bad Cardiff was too far from London for us to visit the attraction. It wasn’t until I Google Map’d it that I discovered we would be driving right by it! That made it a must-visit on your road trip – and the only other non-Potter stop, along with Stonehenge.
Since I am sure a lot of you are Whovians, I will briefly speak about the experience – and that’s just what it is. They have built it so that it is as if you are working with the Doctor to try and find the TARDIS. You walk through an actual TARDIS control room, get ambushed by a group of Daleks, and even walk through the crack in time. It’s a great, fun experience, and I would recommend it to anyone in the area who is a Who fan! Plus, it has what is most likely the most amazing painting of Matt Smith – ever. (pics 5-10).
We had about a two-hour drive to our next location, Shell Cottage and Dobby’s final resting place. The drive there, through the Welsh countryside, was absolutely stunning. The beach itself is part of a coastline beach that runs along most of the southwestern shore of Wales. Freshwater West, where we were headed, and Pembrokeshire itself is known to have some of the best surfing beaches in the country, some say the world. We knew that we were in for a nice location, aside from the Potter association, but man were we surprised.
The road to the beach is narrow, very narrow, and has seagrass flanking both sides of the road, higher than the car in most places. It bends up a little hill, to a sharp crest, and suddenly, there it is. Gorgeous waves and sand that looks like it goes on for miles. There is dune after dune covered in flowing grasses, the water looks more blue than believable and the sun seems to shine a little brighter. You think I am being a little dramatic, but I am not. I hadn’t stepped foot in the sand yet, and already this was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen.
We parked the car and immediately ran right up the sand dune closest to us so we could get a better view. After snapping a lot – and I mean a lot (pics 11-12) – of photos, we clumsily made our way back down and headed towards the sand. The group in front of us was actually talking about when the Potter cast & crew filmed here, and we asked them if they knew what sand dune was used for Dobby’s burial. They didn’t, so we sighed and kept moving towards the sand.
The first thing we did was run down and put our feet in the water (pic 13), then and only then did we look up and stand in awe of the beauty in front of us (pics 14-15). There were jellyfish in the water, so Alex stayed out (she has a long, bad history with jellies), but Caleb & I frolicked in the water for a bit (pics 16-19), then made our way back up onto the beach. Unluckily, at the time, I had forgotten the little container I brought with me so I could snag some sand and bring it back to the states. So I ran back up to the car, grabbed my container, and on the way back down, was lucky enough to meet someone who in fact DID know which dune was used for Dobby’s burial. So I went back to the sand, and after scooping up a little bit for home, I told my travel mates where we could find the blessed site and we made our way back up to the dunes – only after leaving our mark in the sand, of course (pic 20 – #PotterPath13, still searchable on social media, FYI…).
It took us only a minute to find the place where Dobby was laid to rest. We all stood and pictured Harry bending over his tombstone, Ron & Hermione with Griphook ready to break into Gringotts. We all said a few little words, then held a vigil for our fictional friend. None of us had a sock, so we laid our shoes nearby, wrote “Here lies Dobby, a free elf” in the sad, then stood there and silently sobbed. It was a touching moment, and none of us wanted to leave, but we were already over an hour behind schedule and had a long, loooong night ahead of us. (pics 21-24)
We finally departed the beach at 4:30 PM, 90 minutes after we had planned to. Most of the trip was timed like this to ensure that we would arrive before a location closed for the day, but this was such because we had an eight-hour drive up to Glasgow – and another 2.5 hours after that up to Fort William. That drive, evening, and eventual dead of night is one that the three of us do not like to relive. It was long – Wales is MUCH bigger than you think, especially driving north – full of way too many signs we couldn’t read, tiring, and eventually…almost an all-nighter. That night we made our first and only incredibly bad decision. We slept in our rental car, after over two hours of failing to find accommodations for the night, in front of a hotel, on the side of a road, in a downpour, just 45 minutes south of our final destination. Thank goodness for that little slice of parking lot, because without it, we would have been far too tired to experience the absolutely magnificent sights – and sites – that were to come the following day. For that day, Saturday, August 3rd, we were going to ride the Hogwarts Express.
You can find more pictures from the trip here.