2023-05-26 -> 2023-06-03

Flickr Album (yes I still have a Pro account there)

Belfast -> Liverpool (Birkenhead)

Grabbed the 10pm ferry from Belfast to Birkenhead, paying extra for the deluxe cabin for the eight hour trip. The cabin itself was an ok space and layout. Not the best space actually get sleep if you’re not used to the sound of car alarms going off because it overlooked the stern parking area and the motion of the ship would trip the alarms that drivers forgot to disable. The ferry itself was like being in an airport terminal wing, there were a few shops, some entertainment, and a lounge that provided snacks and free drinks if you paid for the fancy class tickets (we had). The lounge is worth the price just for the coffee machines - the boat advertises a coffee shop, but it’s the same coffee machine that you get in the lounge. £18 for a lounge pass and all you can drink coffee and snacks or £4 americanos that someone elses pushes the button for you.

Cabin Photo

Getting off the ferry with a 6:30am arrival worked like this:

  • 5:45 announcements begin to clear out of room by 6:15
  • 6:15 told to get in our cars
  • 6:45 our car finally moving and off the ferry

Downside about the ferry with a 6:30am weekend arrival time: practically nothing is open and our room wouldn’t be ready until 3pm. Heading up to New Brighton we found a mediocre Starbucks by the water to hold us over until another cafe opened.

I do love that near universal art deco style one finds in coastal towns around here, especially when it has the off peak but not yet abandoned vibe to it. New Brighton Arcade

New Brighton also has some great murals in their arts district. The downtown business association vibes are strong here. New Brighton Bear Mural

Notes to future self:

  • Social114 had an exciting menu but we didn’t stick around for them to start serving the vegan brunch options and just had some nice muffins / cupcakes
  • Bidston Observatory looks like an interesting artist project
  • Don’t do the overnight ferry unless you have to, the daytime ferry + cabin to retreat to (doesn’t have to be a fancy one) is just as nice a way to spend the transit

Gladstone’s Library

Having no idea who Malcolm Gladstone was, I went and booked us two nights at his library on a whim. The space was really nice and while the accomodations were basic (you’re essentially staying in dorms since the library doesn’t let people take books off the premises), the cafe and book browsing were top notch.

Gladstones Exterior

Gladstones Library Interior

Gladstones Library Interior

Hawarden wasn’t the most exciting town and the best meal we had was over in Chester from Vegan House Foods: very impressive vegan fish and chips

I did find a Wes Anderson style bus stop: Tilda Swinton would wait for her bus here

Notes to future self:

  • The library is great and vegan meals in the cafe are all suitable
  • Not much else to do in the area without getting in a car

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct + Drive to Hay on Wye

Of course we had to stop for the highest canal aqueduct in the world.

view of the aqueduct from the river under it

Notes to future self:

  • The 45 min canal boat ride was nice to experience the crossing but not worth doing again or with a load of kids whose parents didn’t know what else to do with them on a bank holiday
  • Come back midweek or do a full 1-2 week canal boat rental and check out the whole area
  • Llangollen could be a trip in and of itself
  • Ostwestry is a cute town with a weird Italian Place
  • Fat Rabbit Cafe definitely a visit again

Hay-on-Wye + Hay Festival

We stayed at By the Wye and will likely stay there again when we return next year for the festival. Great location only a 20-30 minute walk to the festival grounds, made easier once we learned of the rail trail we could take.

This is a snapshot of our walks, which took about 30 minutes to cover the ~2.5km walk from our tent to the Hay festival entrance (compliments of my Apple watch asking me if I was working out) Path to the festival from our tent

The Town

Hay-on-Wye lives up to its title of Booktown. I’ll come back here (maybe?) to update with more thoughts about the town, but needless to say there are lots of photos of the books over in the album.

I’ve come back

Bartums & Co epitomizes what Hay-on-Wye is - it is a stationary and pen store that one would find in an academics fever dream. It was the first time I’ve seen objects by Makers Cabinet on a display shelf somewhere. Their basement area is dedicated to pens and they provide many old desks and writing surfaces on which to try them out on.

Fine Pens!

Richard Booth’s Bookshop is apparently the progenitor of the Booktown title. Booth apparently started his shop and kept expanding it, and it now includes a cinema, cafe, and became our first stop each morning if we weren’t heading straight into the festival. Booth’s cafe had a great vegan portabella bun along with some tray bakes that were great.

Interior of Richard Booth

Hay Cinema Bookshop since the Booth bookshop has a cinema, why not turn the cinema into a bookshop? This space was cavernous and confusing. It put Powell’s to shame on how easy it was to get lost while looking for a book there.

Interior of Cinema Books

Addyman Books has spread to multiple store fronts (the murder and horror books are across the street) and an alleyway of books. There’s their primary store, which took over the alley next to it, providing this great color coordinated shelves (how else will you organize the £1 books):

Color coordinated discount books

And their interior display of Penguin titles was equally amazing: All penguins

Cats were a rare sight in town at first and to the best of our knowledge none of the bookstores had shop cats. We did finally spot a few and got to meet this fine fellow on our walk to the festival on afternoon: Orange Guy

Hay Festival

My experience of festivals are limited, but the ones I have been to usually involved a lot of being blasted by the sun and walking around muddy fields. This was nothing like that. They obviously know their target age group is higher than the music festivals I’ve attended and have planned accordingly. There was raised flooring over the field so you had even surfaces to walk around. There was plenty of shade, with all the platforms covered from above, but open at the sides to allow plenty of air through and let people walk out on the lawns around the festival.

Our plan of “get tickets to the things we know we want to definitely ahead of time but don’t overbook” worked out pretty well. Since there is not festival entry fee (unless you become Friends of the Festival, which is worth it for the VIP entrance alone), just tickets costing £4-14 per speaker, it was pretty simple. I knew a little about Rob Delaney’s latest book and he was speaking with Margaret Atwood on our last day there, so that was an easy choice to get tickets to ahead of time. I hadn’t known anything really about Robin Ince and then as I talk about below, we grabbed tickets to his second show immediately after leaving his first.

In short, the festival was the right pace of festival for us. There were 1-2 things a day we’d want to see, which meant we’d wake up, make coffee (and maybe breakfast) in our tent, read for a bit. Then dependning on the schedule either go to the festival and see a speaker or go into town and wander around and browse one of the many book stores. By friday, our fifth and final day there, we weren’t sick of the tent or festival, we missed our cats but we didn’t have bags full of muddy clothes. It was a great time there and we look forward to coming back.

Robin Ince

I probably randomly texted a ton of people about Robin after watching his talks. He’s a “just diagnosed as having ADHD” science educator / comedian / random fact-o-phile.

We got tickets to see his show about his post covid bookstore tour of UK memoir and it was a hilarious and heart warming conversation. This was everything good about those moments where a friend learns a new thing and doesn’t shut up about it. We got tickets to his second talk, a last minute one where he just talked for an hour about stuff and I queued to get his book signed. I had to keep myself reeled in while having a brief chat with him because I knew we’d end up talking about ambergris or similar esoteric topics.


I setup the gopro with a battery to attempt an overnight timelapse of the night sky. Hay-on-Wye is at the edge of a dark sky reserve, so I was hoping to get some good footage. However the clouds had a say in the matter, so I only got a few hours of clear sky condensed to 30 seconds. It would be fun to attempt this again in the winter if a clear night could be found.

Solar & Tent Ramble

I picked up an Ecoflow Delta 2 and used the glampsite as an excuse to try it out. This worked out much better than planned because there was no mains power at the site. While the tents have solar and batteries, those are for the LEDs and powering the propane based on demand hot water for the taps and shower. The only place we could have plugged in something to charge were the two 5v USB ports they had setup in the wall. The Delta2 plus a solar panel were more than adequate to handle keeping our phones and devices charged. It was over kill for this trip, but in the future I might bring something like their Glacier cooler with us just to have a solid cooler option in place - By the Wye just provides ice blocks to put in their Yeti-like heavy duty chill boxes. Maybe I can convince them to switch to the Glacier system in general for their tents. On a similar tangent I’d love to work with them to build out more green / eco options on their campsites:

  • additional solar platforms for folks like myself to put our panels on to charge while there
  • more crazy (adjusts nerd glasses) like configure their solar charge controller to offer a 12-24v dump load over XT-60 connectors

End result being folks like myself could plug easily setup their battery banks to get charged while out for the day and come back to full batteries. The benefit of the XT-60 approach is that same configuration could keep a Glacier like setup charged also.

Ecoflow being charged haphazardly

The tents were from Safari Tents and were nicely fitted out. I would have wanted a better ‘door’ option - just framing in a basic door with a screen would have worked well instead of relying on a canvass flap (doing something creative with a canvass edge around the door to velcro / zip back up with the original tent flap would be cool also). Even just a mesh screen with magnets or similar holding two halves together to make popping in and out without bringing in all the bugs would have been a nice touch.


  • Festival food vegan options were great, obligatory vegan meals at some places not so great
  • Definitely want to come back, do a longer trip (if the Light and Music festival / psuedo rave isn’t going)

Liverpool + Return Home


  • Down the Hatch was a great dinner, vegan food and cocktails
  • Must visit maritime museum / art museums in town
  • Could do a weekend trip with just a backpack and no car to explore downtown