Yesterday we travelled to the north of Wales for a two-night stay near Conwy. Today, we pottered around this area in almost continuous rain and drizzle. We keep finding interesting places. We drove through Dolgellau which is reputed to have the largest number of heritage listed buildings in Wales.
Just out of that town, we came across an historic toll bridge. I didn’t realise that a toll was needed to be paid and I was ready to drive straight across but I needed to reverse back to the beginning of the bridge to allow an oncoming car to pass. The toll collector then caught me and I had to pay my 70p for the crossing.
Yesterday, our first stop was at the Italianate tourist village of Portmerion. It was designed by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis and sits on a private peninsula overlooking some impressive coastal scenery, It consists of a cluster of colour-washed buildings around a central piazza, with scenic surroundings and extensive woodlands. It has two hotels, historic cottages, gift shops, cafes, spa and award winning restaurants. Some people haver said that it is modelled on the Italian village of Portofino but Sir Clough insisted that this never part of his plan.
The concept of a tightly grouped coastal village had been envisaged by Clough Williams-Ellis years before he found the site, close to his own home in North Wales, on which he managed to realise his dream. Portmeirion has become known as one of the most successful British architectural projects of the twentieth century. Using an eco-friendly approach, he designed his architectural vision around a Mediterranean piazza. Endangered buildings and unwanted artefacts from all over the globe were transported and rebuilt to create a nest of loggias, grand porticoes and tiny terracotta-roofed houses, painted in bright colours.
In Caernarfon, we stopped at the castle for a look at the place where Prince Charles was invested as the Prince of Wales. Like all castles, it has seen some wear over the years but it is in quite good condition. Caernarvon is architecturally one of the most impressive of all the castles in Wales. It’s defensive capabilities were not as overt or as powerful as some other castles as itt was instead intended as a seat of power – and as a symbol of English dominance over the subdued Welsh. The investiture of Charles did not go down too well with many Welsh people.
I might have given then impression in previous posts that all the roads in Wales are very narrow with grass growing in between the wheel tracks. To correct that, I have included a photo of the A55 road that goes to Holyhead where the ferries from Ireland arrive. The speed limit on this road is 70mph, although if you travelled at that speed, you would be the slowest car one the road. British drivers travel very fast!
This route took us past the town with the longest named in Ireland which is on Anglesey Island. (Ken if you are looking for places with long names – this one takes the cake). I found its name on a sign written on a car dealership and I assume that the sign writer spelled it correctly. Apparently, this translates as something like: “St Mary’s Church in the Hollow of the White Hazel near a Rapid Whirlpool and the Church of St. Tysilio near the Red Cave”.
We reached the end of the road at South Stack where again the carpark was crowded and there were lots of people. The path towards the lighthouse view, went down a few steps and then became a gravel path. It ended abruptly in front of a vey high drop over the cliff and down to the sea. I can’t work out why I am terrified in this sort off situation, yet I can stand in the basket of hot air ballon over 2000 feat high and feel quite comfortable.
The South Stack Lighthouse is built on the summit of a small island off the north-west coast of Holy Island. It was built in 1809 to warn ships of the dangerous rocks below. This 28 metre-tall lighthouse was designed by Daniel Alexander and the main light is visible to passing vessels for 44 km.
I walked around the coast track for a few minutes and found some spectacular views.
It took us about 40 minutes to drive to our accomodation for the night. We are staying at the Tyr Y Coed Country House in Rowen, just south of Conwy. It was a difficult place to find as the direct road from Conwy was closed with roadworks. The detour took us to the village, but the location of the Country House was inside the closure and it took us some time to find it. It’s a delightful place with a beautiful garden. The rooms are nicely equipped and our hostt, Sandra, is very gracious.
This morning, we woke to find it raining and drizzling. The entire day turned out to be the same. After a scrumptious breakfast, we set off for the town of Llanberis we had pre-booked some tickets for the little train up Mt Snowden. It turned out that I had mistakenly booked them for yesterday. They were non-refundable so we accept that we have just made a donation to the railway. Yesterday, we would never have been able to get to Llanberis by 1.00 pm anyway, even through the weather yesterday would have been perfect for a trip up the mountain.
Not being able to do anything about it (and all of today’s trains were completely booked out) we set about Plan -, driving to some interesting nearby places.
The Bodnant Gardens are world famous and their environment is quite stunning. We were surprised that already at the end of May (end of Spring) the Azaleas have already lost their flowers and some of the bedded ;plants were already being replaced. We had expected plenty of colour, but obviously, we are too late.
Founded in 1874 and developed by five generations of one family, Bodnant was gifted to the National Trust in 1949. The garden spans 80 acres of hillside and includes formal Italianate terraces and informal shrub borders stocked with plants from around the world, The outstanding attraction is the long Laburnam Arch which is in flower until the end of June.
At Llanrwst, a one-lane stone bridge crosses the River Conway and the little tea-rooms on the other side provide a very scenic view.
Along the road, we came across the Swallow Falls. They are right across the road from the very impressive Swallow Falls Hotel. The reason for their name is a bit tenuous. It may have been that the English name arose from a mis-hearing of the Welsh word ewynnol (foaming) as the similar-sounding y wennol (swallow).
We drove along the A5 and saw some of the foot hills of Mt Snowden. It made us feel much better, that although I messed up the date for our train trip, it wouldn’t have been worth doing it today anyway as the view at the top of the mountain would have been very limited.
We stopped in the very popular town of Betws-y-Coed which is one of the honeypot locations in Snowdonia. It lies in the Snowdonia National Park, in a valley near the point where the River Conwy is joined by the River Llugwy and the River Lledr. It was founded around a monastery in the late sixth century. It is to Snowdonia, what Castle Combe is to the Cotswolds.
The village grew very slowly with the development of the local lead mining industry. It became a major coaching centre between Corwen (to the east) and Capel Curig (to the west) on the Irish Mail route from London to Holyhead. The village has a large village green which is the playing field for the local football team. On the A5 (the main road through the town) is the Church of St Mary. Otherwise. The town has many times more outdoor equipment retailers than it has pubs.
Just north of the town we came across a little bridge with beautiful views of a little stream. This is the stuff that fires up poets and artists who are much more capable of being expressive about the beauty of nature than me.
We read about a nearby Nation al Trust property that seemed to be with a look. It was a 16th century farm house called Tŷ Mawr Wybrnant. After a few tries, our Sat Nav finally found its location and directed us up a very narrow road for about 4 kilometres. At first, it looked like someone’s driveway but it actually was a road, although very undeveloped. Jill shrieked at every blind turn, pothole and bump.
When were were almost there, we came across a closed gate, but as there was nowhere to turn around, we decided to open it and drive on. There were two more closed gates and finally, we were there.
This old stone house is set in the heart of the beautiful Conwy Valley and it turns out that it was the birthplace of Bishop William Morgan, the first translator of the Bible into Welsh
It didn’t seem nearly as far to get back to the main road as it did while going and we drove back to our Country House, still in gentle rain.