We had only three days to spend in Wales and I think we managed to see as much as possible. Here is our experience and some useful tips:
* DAY 1*
We started our trip from North Hampshire and we set as a goal to get to North Wales - in particular, to Betws y Coed at the borders of Mount Snowdon - in one day. We were on a bike and wanted to use only A or B roads in order to enjoy the scenery and see as much as possible of the countryside, so we covered the distance in 12 hours, stopping twice for a meal and getting lost despite the satnav! The main problem was that many B roads in Wales seem to be more of what I call F roads (aka "Farm roads") used apparently mainly by farmers and cattle. So, before you decide to set your satnav to avoid M and A roads, think again, especially in North Wales.
Have a look at maps.google.com to follow our journey:
In England, from Newbury we drove to Chippenham, then to Bristol and Olveston where we took the M48 to South Wales. The view from the bridge to get across was magnificent and bikes go free through the borders! Mind you, Welsh is a language still alive and kicking, so all the road signs are primarily in Welsh and the locals speak the language fluently. They seem to be able to switch from English to Welsh and back to English very casually and without any effort.
From the borders, we headed towards Hereford and Newtown. Although South Wales has some similarities to England in terms of the landscape - open, flat areas for farming - going North is so different! It is full of mountains with conifers and lakes. It's really beautiful and interesting to watch! The houses have stone walls and characteristic pointed roofs with slate tiles. Methodist churches are also very common, all facing the main streets.
After getting lost on B roads around Snowdonia, with the bike having to go through mud and sheep and cattle looking at us with a curious face reading "what are these two idiots doing in the middle of nowhere when it's raining", we managed to get to our pre-booked Guest House named "Gwesty Bryn Parc" (= the Park Hill) at Betws-y-Coed. The owners are a very friendly Dutch couple and the place was very comfortable with a great view to Mount Snowdon (a full review may follow at some point).
For those who love hiking, it is possible to walk up the Mount Snowdon (at 3,560 ft it dominates the landscape of Snowdonia National Park) via six main routes, each of them varying in length, gradient and terrain. Car parks are available at the bottom of the paths. The general area is used for cycling as well. However, the most important thing in Snowdonia is to check the weather. Walking on Snowdon can be dangerous, so our host used to check the weather forecast everyday. You can do so at: www.metoffice.gov.uk/loutdoor/mountainsafety
and get info on the walking paths and the Snowdonia National Park in general, here: www.eryri-npa.gov.uk
You can also go to the mountain peak by train, using the Snowdon Mountain Railway (http://www.snowdonrailway.co.uk/) and they say that the view is stunning. Unfortunately, during our stay the weather got worse, with heavy rain, fog and storms, so we decided to give it a miss as it would be too dangerous and we wouldn't be able to see anything from the peak anyway.
We visited Blaenau Ffestiniog instead, easily approachable by train. Today the town seems "tired", dirty, abandoned and with a very high unemployment rate. But it was booming 150 years ago, when it was founded by the Victorians to house the entrepreneurs of the time as well as the bosses and work force of the slate mining community in the 14 mines and quarries around the town! The landscape is unique, and certainly something I had never seen before: high hills made from pieces of dark slate, the by-product of the slate mining and transportation industry for more than 100 years.
The main tourist attraction today are the Llechwedd (Llech = slate) Slate caverns, located approx. 25' on foot and 5' by bus from the town train station and centre. A Victorian village was built around the caverns to accommodate the workers and the directors, including a pub, a bank, a prison, a tobacconist, a post-office, and the house of David Francis, a famous blind Welsh harpist. The great thing is that many of the buildings are preserved in a very good condition and house modern shops or they are museums providing an insight into the life and history of the mining community. The Victorian pub still serves 'old-fashioned' food, a tribute to the food of the miners, and the whole village provides an excellent day out for the whole family.
In addition, for £15.20 per person, you can take two tours inside the mines. One is by using the Miner's Tramway: visitors go into a 1846 tunnel, entering the mountain boarding a small train with a battery-electric locomotive. Stops at various points of the caverns allow you to learn something about the life, the skills and death of those who once worked there. The other tour is in the Deep Mine: it involves a plunge into the mine and a 25-minute walk through ten underground huge chambers. Health and Safety does not appear to be such a fuss in Wales, so although I saw children visiting both tours, I am not sure if they are suitable for toddlers and young kids. It's dark, slippery, you must wear a helmet and the second tour has around 68 steps at some point, so it is less popular, but I found it more exciting. Don't get me wrong: the cavern tour is an amazing experience and you shouldn't miss it. Don't forget to have a look at their website for more info:
It's a great way to spend a rainy cold windy day underground!
What the town of Blaenau Ffestiniog should do is try and get the tourists to the actual town, since at the moment most people only visit the caverns and then leave. The town is so depressed that it is uninviting and there are no pubs or restaurants to catch your attention. We had coffee and cakes at a small independent cafe run by a friendly local couple. They make all the cakes themselves, including traditional Welsh Cakes and Bara Brith, the famous Welsh tea bread with dried fruit. They also post by mail freshly made cakes on order all over the UK and we found this an excellent idea for gifts to relatives and friends instead of e.g. flowers. A Bara Brith costs £8.75 and the Welsh cakes £7.00.
Contact details: "Ty Coffi", 6 High Street, Blaenau Ffestiniog, LL41 3ES, tel. 01766 831 382 mob. 07513 239 947.
It was raining a lot again, so getting on the bike was not really something we wanted to do. With the help of our hosts we found out that with one bus ticket, costing a mere £4.95 per person from the Gwynedd council area, you can use unlimited bus transport all day, all around Snowdonia!!
(see: http://www.gwynedd.gov.uk/) So, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. We decided to get a bus timetable (our hosts had one) and tickets, and start bus hopping and visiting the main towns around Snowdonia! It was the best decision of our holidays.
The first bus conveniently leaves outside the Betws- y- Coed rail station. We went high up the mount Snowdon at Peny Pass. The bus was warm and comfortable, but the driver was driving like a madman under heavy rain and fog, and despite having faith on his knowledge of the roads, we got scared our adventure might end just there :) However, we managed to get safe and sound to Beddgelert, a lovely town with an organised Tourist Information Office near the bus stop. From there, you can take the steam train to the north western coast. Unfortunately again, there was flooding and the steam train would not run.
So, we had tea at a very nice Inn overlooking the main road, and waited for the next bus which took us to the coastal town of Caernarfon. There is a harbour with a large central square and a beautiful presbyterian church. Part of the old town is built within the Castle grounds, like in the medieval times.
To be honest, the port looked kind of depressing and depressed to me, so from there our next bus took us along the coast, through Bangor, a modern town with its University Campus, to the coastal town of Conwy. This is an exceptionally clean and cheerful place, with a huge castle in a good condition surrounding it. The old buildings are very well preserved and renovated and on the Quay you can visit the smallest house in the UK. (http://www.attractionsnorthwales.co.uk/attractions/britains-smallest-house) Hmmm... on the website it claims that the fee is £0.75 per adult, but I think we paid £1 each. Anyway, it is well worth it, as it is very well preserved today and it is difficult to believe that a couple and a man over 6" tall once lived there!
From Conwy, we took the bus to Llanrwst, where we stayed just for an hour and it was dark by then. And finally we got on the bus back to Betws-y-Coed. The overall daily journey took around 12 hours. We enjoyed it very much and we were impressed by how genuinely polite everybody was: the bus drivers, the pub staff, the shop owners. We had a meal at an Inn in Conwy and the chef came to us to apologise because he ran out of a type of dessert! By the way, many Inns in Wales offer food, just like the pubs, and are open to the public.
We had a great time in Wales and we definitely want to go there again.
Ruthin - Denbighshire
I recently visited the small town of Ruthin to do some shopping at the new Tesco's and meet up with some old friends from school in St. Peter's Square. Ruthin is approximately 7 miles from Denbigh on the A525 and is set in the Vale of Clwyd and overlooked by the Clwydian range and the Hiraethog Moors. The town was built on a hill to provide a strategic lookout over the River Clwyd. The streets of this town are steeped in history as over the centuries it has seen plague, battles and sieges.
Having done the shopping I made my way to St Peter's Square to meet my friends by the Clock Tower which stands proud in the middle of the square. While I was waiting for their arrival I looked around at the different buildings on view and I was very impressed by the different historical architecture this place has to offer. Considering this place isn't far from where I live I thought I would share some of the delights this small town has to offer..
Ruthin has a range of specialist independent retail shops, a small indoor market, plenty of places to eat and drink from cafes, tea rooms and sandwich bars to fine hotel cuisine and of course there is access to some fantastic historical buildings. There is also a craft centre on the edge of the town along with a small retail park.
It doesn't matter where you park in Ruthin because if you walk up hill you will come to St Peter's Square, the focal point of this local community. From here you can see the magnificent Davies' brother gates and St Peter's church founded in 1284 and famous for its carved oak roof. Behind the church is the 16th century almshouses, still fully occupied and the Old Grammar school (1284).
On the square itself is the Myddleton Arms, this has a multi- dormered roof known as "the eyes of Ruthin". The banks are half timbered buildings and the National Westminster Bank building was once the Old Courthouse built in 1401.Walking along Castle Street there is a range of period houses from at least the 16th century.
Nantclwyd House is one of the oldest town houses in North Wales and was once the home of an Elizabethan nobleman. The house is open Fridays to Sundays from 10am to 5pm from April to end of September. It is the oldest timber framed town house and features the seven ages of the house and the interesting inhabitants that lived there from 1435. The rooms are fully furnished and the idea is that you walk back in time from the 1942 hall, through a rector's study dated 1916 to a 1891 school room. This is then followed by a splendid panelled and Chinese wallpapered Georgian bedroom and then the Stuart owner Eubule Thelwell's 1690 cabinet, in a room with elaborate wall hangings and an elaborate plaster ceiling. This is then followed by the vividly decorated Jacobean bedchamber with its hung bed and painted cloths to finally the 15th century business room where the 1435 structure has virtually unchanged.
Adults £3.60 Children £2.50 Family £9.00.
At the end of this street is the entrance to Ruthin Castle which was once a medieval fortress It was built by Edward 1 around 1277 to 1282 and consisted originally of two wards and five round towers that guarded the inner ward. All that remains now are three towers and the double towered gatehouse. In the 15th century the castle was held by Lord Grey who was an enemy of Owain Glyndwr. He captured Lord Grey and imprisoned him and demanded a payment of 10000 marks. The castle also features in the Civil War and rebuilt in 1830. It is now a large hotel which is famous for its medieval banquets and civil wedding ceremonies. The grounds are magnificent as are the peacocks who display their glorious coloured plumage on the drive way and entrance.
On Clwyd Street is Ruthin gaol. This building dates from 1775 but there is a large Victorian block at the back that was built in 1866. The gaol is open all year round and has been the subject on "Most Haunted". It is easy to step back in time in this very spooky place to learn about the harsh realities of early prison life. You can explore the cells, including the punishment cell .
Adults £3.50 Children £2.50 Families £10
Open everyday from 10am to 5pm April to 31st October then weekends and school holidays.
There are so many places to see and visit it is definitely worth a visit. So many holiday makers associate Wales with the likes of Rhyl and Prestatyn and they fail to see the fantastic sites and places inland. For a true taste of Wales you have to get away from the coast road and travel inland to appreciate what is on offer.
However, you do need your own transport as public transport is infrequent in the surrounding areas.
This review also appears on ciao.
Tenby is a beautiful seaside resort in the west of Wales.
The first thing to mention about Tenby is the wonderful beaches which have Blue Flag awards for their cleanliness. The most popular of these is Castle beach where a concrete ramp leads from the lower part of the town to the beach. On the ramp is a lovely cafe (try the soup!), a shop selling beach goods and most importantly the toilets!
The beach is lovely and sandy and the water clear and clean. You can board the boat excursions from this beach that visit the Monk inhabited Caldey Island. There are plenty of other trips to see puffins, seals and fishing trips which can all be booked from a couple of booking huts at the top of the ramp. From Castle beach you can walk to neighbouring South Beach which runs for well over a mile and is partly walled by sand dunes. The popular Kiln Park caravan site can also be accessed from this beach.
The other beaches are worth a mention too. North beach is an long alcove that has a nice cafe at one end and the harbour at the other end. There are clifface steps that lead from the streets above to North Beach but they can be really hard work climbing back up!
The town Centre has a great charm to it and has a good selection of shops, restaurants and pubs. Being a walled town the whole area is quite enclosed and small. The main square has the larger stores such as Woolworths and it is from here that you can get a Horse drawn cart tour of the town. Further along the town towards North Beach is the indoor market that has a handful of stores including a good pet shop. If go through the market front entrance and leave via the rear there is a street with lots of restaurants, Chip shops and pound bargain stores.
Also worth a visit is the museum which is located on Castle Hill and has brilliant views over the coastline. It''s quite a small museum but has some great articles of the past and isn''t too expensive to get in.
There is a multistorey carpark in the town centre or alternatively you can park in a large pay and display car park which is not far from North Beach and has a courtesy bus that runs to the town and Castle Beach.
There''s plenty of other things to do in the area such as visit the reptile museum, Carew market on a Sunday, Oakwood Park, Heatherton Park, Folly Farm and lots of other great Castles and beaches nearby.
When people think of holidaying in Wales, they always think of North Wales with Snowdonia, Rhyl and other seaside resorts.
South Wales, within easy reach of from most parts of the country, has tended to be associated with coal mining and heavy industry. But now, steeped in history and legend, it is a most fascinating place for the visitor.
In this review I intend to take you on a "trip" around my land of my fathers, South Wales. We will explore Cardiff City, the move up around Brecon to the North, travel around to see a little of West Wales, around the Gower Peninsular and back again to Cardiff. Let's go...
In it's history Cardiff, the capital, has been the foremost centre for the exportation of coal in the world. That may give the impression of a dirty coal-mining town, but on the contrary, Cardiff is a very attractive city to the visitor. It is an under-statement to say the architecture is very eye-catching, with it's Norman Castle and Edwardian civic centre, surrounded by flowering trees and ornate flower beds.
The history of Cardiff Castle goes back to the eleventh century. It was built on the site of a derelict Roman fort and many non-Welsh people settled there. This brought about many attacks from the surrounding villages of the native Welsh. In 1158, Lord Ifor ap Meurig, of Sengenydd (near Caerphilly), the Norman Lord of Glamorgan, together with his Countess, was kidnapped from the castle and held for ransom, for certain 'wrongs' he had inflicted on the natives.
In 1865, the castle underwent an amazing transformation by an architect named William Burges. He was doing the work for the third Marquis of Bute. The work can still marvelled at to this day.
The building looks like a fairy-tale creation, that could well grace the pages of the book, Sleeping Beauty. There are guided tours around the castle, and it is full of medieval and ornate decoration, that includes: the 'Chaucer Room', based on Chaucer's works; the richly decorated Arab room; the Summer Smoking Rooms decorated with emblems of the universe, to name but a few. Peacocks inhabit the grounds and screech-like calls can be frequently heard.
It is obvious that money was no object to the Marquis of Bute. Cardiff Castle is a magnificent place to visit.
Cardiff shopping centre is a mixture of the modern with the old. Modern shopping malls sit alongside Victorian Arcades, with the new St. David's centre at the heart of the city. Adjacent to the centre is St. David's Hall. Here, we find a variety of entertainment all the year round, from singing stars like Shirley Bassey and Tom Jones to famous comedians, orchestras and opera stars. A few streets away, one can find Cardiff Ice Rink. Here you can try your hand at ice skating or just settle back and watch others collect a few bruises. Very often there is a professional exhibition of skating like Torval and Dean.
Other attractions in Cardiff are the National Museum of Wales, with it's fine artefacts of Welsh history and other collections and, about five miles to the West of the City, St. Fagan's Folk museum.
St. Fagan's is an open-air museum and has various historical Welsh farm houses erected in the grounds. Here, one can really see how the Welsh peasants used to live. Some of these cottages have only two rooms, one on the ground floor with beaten earth under foot, and a crude ladder leading to cramped sleeping quarters in the attic of a thatched roof.
These buildings have been brought to the museum stone by stone from all over. Wales. Originally these types of cottages were erected very quickly, because the builder would probably be staking a claim on the land that surrounded it. It was his as far as he could throw an axe. He could keep the land providing he could build it over-night and have smoke pouring out of the chimney by daybreak. In the larger cottages, animals often lived inside with the occupants. These were usually built on a slope, so that the animal's waste products could drain away from the living quarters. [For further information on St Fagans see my other review]
About three miles to the west of Cardiff, lies the City of Llandaff. The unusual thing about Llandaff is its size. It only has one main road containing about a dozen shops. Then suddenly there's this huge semi-medieval Cathedral towering above a small village green surrounded by quaint 'olde-worlde' cottages.
To the North of Llandaff, through Whitchurch lies the small village of Tongwynlais. Here stands another fairy-tale castle, Castell Coch.
Looking at the rounded shape of this building, it is easy to imagine a medieval knight in shining armour on a quest to rescue the 'damsel in distress' from its tall tower protruding out of the thickly wooded hillside. In late spring there is a strong smell of wild garlic. Castell Coch, is open to the public all the year round.
A little further North brings us to Caerphilly. A market town, famous for it white-coloured cheese, which surrounds yet another castle. One of its towers leans precariously away from the rest. Apparently this was the aftermath of Cromwell's attack during the civil war in the seventeenth century. Apart from Windsor, Caerphilly has the biggest castle in Britain. Surrounding the castle are moats full of water-foul.
About twenty miles up the A470, lies Merthyr Tydfil which is not renowned for it's beauty. It has been ravaged by every type of industry since it's development in the eighteenth century. But for those who are interested in history...
Merthyr was the most populous town in Wales. It was here that the first steam locomotive in the world conveyed five wagons, full of steal, to Abercynon; about nine miles to the south. The engine was built by 32-yr-old Richard Trevithick, a native of Cornwall, and had a brick chimney stack that was knocked off by a bridge and rebuilt during that first journey. Alals, after a few journeys the whole engine collapsed.
Poor old Merthyr Tydfil was never much loved. A novel written by Anthony Trollope describes how a young curate faints when he learns he is to be sent there to work. Also In the eighteenth century, it was described by Thomas Carlyle as "a vision of hell", when he witnessed men toiling and sweating in the furnaces and coal pits.
Through the centuries, Merthyr has had it's fair share of riots and in the 1930's it was suggested that the town be abandoned and it's citizens be rehoused elsewhere! Fortunately, the town is a much more attractive place to be these days.
To the north of Merthyr is an astonishing contrast with the natural beauty of the Brecon Beacons National Park.
The idea of National Parks came to the UK from America which boasted the first ever -Yellowstone Park in 1872. However, Britain did not catch on to the idea until 1938 when the Standard Committee for National Parks (SNCP) was founded. The Brecon Beacons park was 'born' in April 1957. A national park is not land that anybody can have access to just as they wish. Much of it may be owned by farmers and other landowners. Much of the Beacons is owned by the National Trust.
For the railway enthusiast, the Brecon Mountain Railway has been opened since 1980 and runs throughout the summer months and at Easter. This is the lazier way to view these remarkable hillsides.
The Beacons cover 1,344 sq. km, and is mostly sparsely populated moorland grazed by ponies and sheep. The park is visited by huge numbers of tourists during the summer with pony trekking and hill walking a common sight. At one time, pony trekking became such a popular pastime with tourists and the locals, that many farms devoted most of their resources to it and suspended all their other activities.
The Beacons is abundant in wild life, inhabited by foxes, badgers, polecats, squirrel and a variety of birds. On a walk through the wooded parts of the Beacons, if you are fortunate, you will see wild birds such as woodpecker, tree creeper, stock dove and, on the moors, buzzard and kites may be seen hovering over their prey. There are many fresh-water lakes with Llangorse Lake being the largest in South Wales where many waterfowl breed. Many birds like, great crested grebe, mute swan, sedge warblers and reed buntings can be viewed here in the respective seasons. Occasionally one may see herds of ponies. However, these animals are not wild, but privately owned, registered Welsh mountain ponies, that are bred for their hardiness and abilities to fend for themselves on the bleak Welsh hills. Because they are cheap and easy to keep they are generally broken and sold as children's riding ponies.
If you enjoy camping, there are many sites across the Beacons. If you like rambling or hill walking, you can walk for miles without seeing another human being. Better take a map and compass though, because the only paths available are those etched out by the sheep, and they are not interested in going anywhere in particular, especially to areas populated by humans!
On the north of the park lies the town of Brecon, the capital of the Beacons. It is an attractive market town, surrounded by the mountains. People settled here long before the Norman times. But in 1091, Bernard of Newmarch built a castle and declared himself to be Lord of Brecon. (Bernard was actually the half brother of William the Conqueror). The Norman ruins are now scattered between the Castle Hotel and the residence of the Bishop of Brecon.
There has always been a military presence in Brecon and there is a military museum, of the South Wales Borderers, that displays, amongst other regimental artefacts, sixteen Victoria Crosses, which the regiment displays with pride, because only twenty-three have been won; which means that the South Wales Borderers have attained the highest number by any line regiment in the British Army.
Something that may be considered odd, is the Bronze statue of the Duke of Wellington. This was erected by Evan Thomas in 1856. Thomas, born in Brecon in 1810, created the statue as a mark of respect after the Duke's death in 1852. The Duke had nothing whatsoever to do with the town but was much loved by the whole nation.
Other claims to fame in Brecon are
It's the birth place of Mrs. Sarah Siddons, a famous actress, whose statue is currently in Westminster Abbey. She was born in an inn called The Shoulder of Mutton which was later renamed The Sarah Siddons in her honour. However, according to the sign the back door, the inn is still called The Shoulder of Mutton. Which may get some people a little confused after drinking a few ales.
Here in 1895, Hugh Price was born. Born of humble parents, he became a doctor of law and founded Jesus College, Oxford in 1671. It is said he is buried in Brecon Cathedral, but the grave is unmarked.
Other attractive features in Brecon are the cobbled foreground of Buckingham Place; a seventeenth century town mansion, which can be seen from Glamorgan Street; the Catholic church where Adelina Patti got married and the over-exaggerated name of King Street which is nothing but a steep, cobbled walk-way.
Just to the south of the town of Brecon is Pen-y-Fan. This is the highest peak in South Wales at 2,906 ft. (886m). There is a col between the twin peaks of Pen-y-Fan and Corn-Du just to the south, and this is known as Cadair Arthur (King Arthur's chair). Legend has it that in underground caves, King Arthur and his knights are sleeping awaiting for a summons from Britain in future times of crisis.
A visit to the Beacons would not be complete without seeing Dan-yr-Ogof show caves which are situated to the south, just off the A4067. The caves which are very popular in the tourist season, are amongst the largest in the country, with enormous underground lakes and impressive stalactites and stalagmites and cathedral-like caverns. Exploration is constantly going on by caving clubs, who are constantly expanding the network of caverns and passageways. [For further information please see my review on Dan-yr-Ogof Show Caves]
Just a little way south of the caves, on the opposite side of the road, is Craig-y-Nors. Built in 1842, it was purchased by aforementioned Adelina Patti, in 1878. Madam Patti was a wealthy soprano, who built a winter gardens there, which, after her death in 1919, was dismantled and reconstructed in Victoria Park, Swansea. Now known as the Patti Pavilion, you may have seen this building being completely refurbished on Anneka Rice's television program, Challenge Anneka if you remember that long ago.
Also, in this area of the Park are the Porth yr Ogof and Mellte water falls. Access to these places are really only suitable for ramblers and, on entering the walk, there are sign posts to advise of the correct footwear, as there is a little bit of scrambling over rocks to be done. However, once you have conquered the terrain for about a mile, the spectacular view of the falls make it well worth it. The water cascades down a drop of about 50ft (15m). At the base of the falls you can actually get behind a curtain of water.
West from Brecon along the A40 lies Llandovery, another very attractive market town that has not changed much since the eighteenth century. It's name means 'church among the waters' because it is situated where the Bran, Gwydderig and Towy rivers meet. There is the remains of an old Norman castle and an 'olde-worlde' square occupied by a town hall.
To the south of Llandovery, staying on the A40 we reach another market town of character, Llandeilo. If you visit the tea-shops and pubs, you will notice that the majority of inhabitants are Welsh speaking, which is surprisingly not so common in the Brecon area. Like nearly every other small town in South Wales, Llandeilo has a long history.
Dynevor Estate, a beautiful parkland, can be found at the top end of town. Within the grounds there is the ruins of a ninth century castle, once the main residence of the Princes of Wales; a nineteenth century mansion; and the church of llandyfeisant, rumoured to have been built on the sight of a Roman temple.
Leaving Llandeilo, take the A483 through Ammanford. There is nothing much for the tourist here, unless you are interested in the history of open cast coal mining. The scars of the anthracite coal industry in the late nineteenth century, can bee seen to this day. To the south of Ammanford, is the M4 motorway that leads to Swansea (the town of my birth).
Here is another town (now city) that was severely ravaged by industry in the nineteenth century. Beautiful wooded hills were completely destroyed by the sulphurous acid that was pumped into the atmosphere from the copper works which left much of the Swansea Valley looking like a wasteland. However much of the land has been reclaimed in recent decades and now it is a very attractive city well Im bound to say that!
The city centre consists of the new Quandrant Centre intermingled with long shopping streets that were rebuilt after extensive World War II bombing.
Abutting the eastern edge of the Gower Peninsula, the city has grown more and more as a tourist attraction. Running along the south of the city, is the Mumbles road, that follows the contour of Swansea Bay to Mumbles head with it's pier, which was built in 1898.
Swansea beach, stretches from the south of the city down to the mumbles head, about five miles of golden sands, and, because of it's size, is rarely overcrowded. However, if you like surfing or water sports, being part of the Bristol channel the sea is usually very calm but when the tide's out, you will have to walk about three-quarters of a mile, through mud and sand, to get waist-deep in the sea The beaches of Gower are much more suited to surfing.
If you follow the coastal road past the Mumbles Head, you will enter the Gower Peninsular, and the first resort you come to is Langland Bay. The bay nestles at the base of some steep rocky cliffs. It is typically Victorian with its chalets that border the beach. Here, and at practically every beach along the coastline, surfers ride the waves all year round. Because now, being on the very edge of the Bristol channel you are looking at the blueygreen breakers rolling in from the Atlantic Ocean.
Right next to Langland is Caswell Bay. Slightly bigger. Again surrounded by beach chalets with the Caswell Bay Hotel overlooking the coastline.
Further along the Gower coast are some truly remarkable beaches. Small intimate coves (where I spent many an hour in my courting days), followed by the larger Oxwich Bay, Port Eynon Bay and, as you round the western-most point, you find Rhosilli bay.
But it is not just beautiful beaches and coastline that Gower has to offer..
On the northern side of the peninsular, along quiet country lanes, situated between Llanrhidian and Cheriton is Weobley Castle built in the late thirteenth century. There are variety of towers and old other nooks and crannies to explore. Another point of interest on Llanrhidian village green is an ancient stone circle.
Coming back on the north road you'll pass through Penclawdd, famous for it Cockles. As you look across the marsh, on your left you may see the cockle pickers busy at work picking cockles that can be bought fresh on Swansea Market. In the distance, across the estuary, lies the sprawling town of Llanelli
You can now follow the road through Gowerton, take the signposts for the M4 west, through Port Talbot making back towards Cardiff.
Take the A48, after passing over Port Talbot (Intersection 38) off the M4. This road, once the busy Swansea to London trunk road, is now very quiet, and you can just amble along, rounding off your trip admiring the countryside and attractive villages of Bonvilston and St. Nicholas as you re-enter Cardiff from the West.
I hope you have enjoyed this round trip of my homeland.
Thanks for reading and rating.
My partner and I went on our summer holiday at the end of June to North Wales. we were planning on going to cornwall too the beaches, but due to us having a car accident in llanrwst, we had to reduce our trip to just north wales. most of this review focuses on the snowdonia national park. My first impression of the welsh people was "they're a really nice bunch of people". Imagine being on your merry way on a trip and suddenly this is torn apart and you have no transport. everyone that we met in wales went out of their way to help us and find us some accommodation, take care of my car etc. It was late in the afternoon when we finally found somewhere to stay in Llandudno. we were both really tired and our heads were still spinning after the day's events so we weren't too fussed about how the hotel we stayed at looked. alter on after we had settled down, we decided to do and get some dinner. we had a look at the town and it was a miserable wet day and i really didn't like llnandudno at all. I just wanted to get out of there the next day. we ended up having dinner at the local chinese restaurant in high st. the meal was delicious and the service was great. The next day after being woken up twice between 5 and 6am by the fire alarm we decided to hire a car and carry on with out trip from where it ended in llanrst. I had arranged to hire a vauxhall meriva and collect it at 1pm, so we had the morning to spend in llandudno. we were both feeling a bit refreshed and in better moods, also it was a nice sunny day. i found llandudno to be a very pretty place centered on the sea front. it was a typical british seafront with b & b hotels along it a promenade, pebbly beach and a pier. the town looked quite tidy and it had quite a bit of life and atmosphere in it. we were unable to collect our rental car until 5pm, so we decided to spend a second night in llandudno in a hotel on the sea front. we enquired in one hotel only to b
e given the keys and told to go and have a look at the room (on the third floor). By the time we had gotten to the top of the stairs we decided not to bother going into the rooms as I couldn't see us getting our luggage up very easily. The hotel that we ended up staying in was brilliant. we were made to feel welcome by the owners and their obese Beagle who lived in the kitchen. The rooms were clean and well kept and it was a relaxing stay. If you are staying in B & B Hotels in Llandudno, you need to think about the amount of luggage that you have. If you are elderly person or you do not have a good fitness level, then the first thing you need to ask is if they have a lift because the stairs are very steep. The second thing that you need to consider is where you will park your car. Does the hotel offer car parking? If not, find one that does or be prepared to get a parking ticket. The next day we set off for the camp site we had booked in Garthyfog, Gwynned. It was a beautiful drive down the A470. This road is very narrow and winding in many places, so you need to be careful. I found this road to be heavily populated with Dutch and German cars also. We went through a town called Betws-y-coed. I told my partner that we would have to visit it the next day. The next stop was the Llechwedd Slate Caverns. If you live in a Victorian house and it has a slate roof, chances are that the slate came from the slate mines here. If you are travelling in this part of wales, a visit to these slate mines is a must. They have a tour where you go deep underground and walk through part of the vast network of mines. You will be amazed at what you see and also to imagine that miners dug this out using their own tools, dynamite and sometimes a jack hammer. There was no heavy machinery either, apart from the rail carts that would transport the slate to the surface to be split into shingles. There is also an underground rail tour which to me was not ver
y exc iting. we waited in line for 40 minutes to get on a tour, and the tour only lasted about 25 minutes. The slate caverns also have an old fashioned bank where you can buy old fashioned coins to spend in the complex. The only thing is that these coins can only be spent in 3 places, so I wouldn't bother with them. Don't bother eating in the restaurant there either because the food is average, cleanliness is not good either. We also had to que for 15 minutes to get a meal. When choosing a campsite, make sure that you know what facilities it offers. It is better to pay a little extra per night and get free hot showers, a kiosk, as well as proper washing up, shower and toilet blocks. The campsite where we stayed in Garthyfog had none of these. It had one shower where you had to pay £1.00 for 7 minutes hot water. The toilet and washing up sink were beside each other too, and there was no dry toilet paper. Lucky we brought some. The nearest town was Dolgellau, 5 miles away. Dolgellau is a pretty town with some Victorian and many stone buildings. On our fourth day we took a trip up Snowdon. It was a cloudy day but we decided to go up htere anyway. I wouldn't recommend a trip up there on a cloudy day, as there is no view when you get to the top. Anyway, the Snowdon Mountain railway starts at Llanberis and costs about £20 return. The trip to the top takes about 50 minutes. They have steam and diesel locomotives, I think the steam locomotives give the better experience. If I did the trip again, I would want to walk up the mountain. it is supposed to take 3 hours to get to the top and it is not very steep. On the way back, we stopped in Betws-y-coed. This is a beautiful town which has a European feel. Actually, many of the stone buildings were built in the period when there were many wars going on in Europe and people saw domestic travel to be the safest alternative. Betws-y-coed has been built along a river like most towns that
we came a cross in North Wales. There are many camping grounds in the area as well as hotels to cover most budgets. Don't worry if you don't have a car either, you can get there by train. The final day of our trip took us back to Llandudno to change to a bigger rental car and collect the remainder of our belongings and our bikes from the wreck of our car and back home. I could have taken a route that would have got us home in 4 hours, but I chose to take the A470 again because I really love the scenery, so our trip home took 7 hours instead. When driving in North wales, be careful as the roads are often very narrow and close to the front doors of houses. Also be careful of sheep. we encountered 3 sheep that ran along the top of a stone wall, jumped off the wall in front of the car, continued down the road until they found a track to turn down. Basically, the sheep are everywhere and they don't necessarily know what fences are for. The quality of other tourists in the area is great, you don't seem to get the yobs and louts. People tend to be families, couples or hikers. I would have to write a book to mention everything that North Wales has to offer. I have really only scratched the surface in this review, but I really think North wales is a place worth visiting.
Yet another of my "not so much a guide, but more a list of what I did on my hols" opinions.
Another school holiday comes around and it's time for the N-tribe to get outta town, this time to a cottage in North Wales.
The area we chose was off the beaten track, quite literally, since it was up a two-mile farm track, in between Bala and Llangollen.
We?d both been camping here in "previous lives" as Mrs. N terms our former marriages, she having memories of it having rained every day, and for myself, I still have this image of waking to potentially fine days, but my tent's proximity to the Bala Lake-side shrouding me in a dense mist (or was it just beer fumes from the tent?).
Both Llangollen and Bala are on the old coaching route to Holyhead from London, now more prosaically known as the A5. Once past Shrewsbury, this becomes a bit of a drag, nonetheless scenic, especially if stuck behind a "shed dragger", aka caravan tower.
(I'm reading Iain Banks' "Raw Spirit" at the moment, and he makes the observation that caravans all seem to have swashbuckling brand-names like "Buccaneer, Cutlass or Bandito" when in fact the owner's are more likely to be branded "I know, let'?s pull in for a nice cup'o'tea" than "heave to and avast there ye swabs!")
From west London, and knowing that we couldn't pick up the keys till 3 p.m., I decided on a more scenic route than the conventional wisdom of M40/M42/M5/M6/M54/A5 as it would involve the Birmingham area on a bank holiday Saturday lunchtime.
Therefore, I took the M4 to Swindon (big mistake - queues at all major junctions, Slough, Maidenhead, Reading, Newbury By-Pass etc), cutting across country via Gloucester (somewhat less of a mistake) and Leominster to pick up the north-south "borders" road, the A49 (very nice drive, very scenic in places and not too busy). This intersects the A49 at Shrewsbury and you know the rest.
The nearest village was Glan-Yr-Afon, of which there are confusingly several in Wales (not suprisingly, since it means 'By The River's Bank' and to make matters worse, two of them conspire to be near Bala). Fortunately we'd got step by step instructions from Corwen onwards to finally get to Tudur Farm six hours after leaving home (the return journey over the "normal route" took four hours!). The farmhouse, still inhabited by its owners, had many outbuildings, which had been restored/rebuilt; ours being The Granary.
This was a charming studio flat built two years ago over three levels on account of its being built into the side of a hill. Downstairs was a well fitted kitchen and massive bathroom with "wet-room" walk-in shower. Upstairs was a lounge giving directly onto a decking patio with a REAL water feature, i.e. the sound of a gentle trickle of water from the hillside into a little stone font in the rock face just beyond the deck. Up a few more stairs leads to the bedroom section. The whole upstairs is open plan, and the owners have left their photo album of the place being rebuilt - nice touch as they can be justly proud of what they've achieved here. We weren't short of luxuries either. A TV and VCR complete with a Freeview set-top box and what I'd term a "real hifi" were supplied. For those that really MUST keep in touch, cell-phone reception on both 02 and Vodafone was full strength - rare in such a hilly region.
We also had access to a restored barn where we could play pool for free, use the washing machine/tumble drier, and what luxury, use the sauna!
I had the latter to myself, with the thermometer hovering a mere 10 degrees below boiling.
The farm has its own website at www.acottageinwales.com. Bloody hell, they must have moved fast to secure that one!
Other attractions included their son?s pet Bengal Eagle Owl called Trigger and a Houdini-esque cat called Tibbs who didn't take being locked out as a definite "No". Imagine our surprise, after he'd gone silent from mewing to be let in via the kitchen or patio doors, when suddenly he appears on our FIRST FLOOR window sill, as if to say "Aha, so Engleeesh, you thought you could keep me out, hein?" with a demonic twiddle of his whiskers.
THINGS TO DO WHILST IN THE AREA
CENTRE FOR ALTERNATIVE TECHNOLOGY - Being a Bank Holiday and school holiday, we avoided the obvious like "going up Snowdon" or to go ANYWHERE NEAR the seaside. Anyway, I'm a perverse so-and-so; I'm the one who went to Cairns but couldn't be bothered with the great barrier reef. However, The Centre For Alternative Technology near Machynlleth has long been on my list of "must do's". Having parked up, and paid to go in, (Adults £7.20, but there's a discount if you can prove you arrived by public transport), you ride up to the site on one of those water-balanced cliff funiculars, typical of those found all around our coast.
Given the nature of the site, you can just bet that this one has a twist, and it does. Since the hill has little natural water, except for what falls out of the skies, they are naturally keen not to let all that water powering the lift go to waste once it's dumped at the bottom. This is where technology comes to the rescue. Instead of friction braking merely creating heat, they use pneumatic braking, which charges up large "scuba" tanks, as the cars are slow to a halt. This pressure is then used to pump at least 10% of the water back to the top - not a lot, but better than nothing. Generally speaking, the coastal versions (e.g. Lynton to Lynmouth) have no need of this since they usually tap into a flow of water that was only going to flow into the sea anyway.
This is a big site, and it takes a few hours to look and absorb all the exhibits - kids might get a bit bored with the likes of composting, but the fun bits like being lifted up and down by a wind-powered mill get somewhat more attention, as does the demonstration of wave power, where if you really try hard, you can ignore the instructions concerning gently actions and get soaked into the bargain!
A lot of what's put forward is not too practical for a urban dweller, since you can imagine what the local reaction to every house having a wind-turbine would be, but the newer concept of being an "agent" for the National Grid, by getting your roof-tiles to generate electricity in a more likely starter, especially since any surplus can be made to "make your meter go backwards" in effect. My mum's church hall have just had a grant for photo-voltaic tiles to be added to the new building, and it's not uncommon now for the church to find that, in summer especially, the hall's meter in credit by the time the lights are needed.
There are also lots of demonstrations of raising the thermal efficiency of our buildings - they have a house there that is so well insulated that it only takes one radiator to heat the whole place, and passive heating is also touched upon - south facing conservatories generating warmth from winter sun, smaller windows facing north and the like.
Obviously, for a "green" site, it's not all about getting science to come the rescue, and recycling is also high on the agenda. As well as demonstrations of what can be achieved by composting (I would, but then I'd have to take up bloody gardening!), uses for recycled goods are also promoted. They have new roofing "slates" made from recycled car tyres, and very realistic they are too, complete with fissures and strata marks. Id imagine they'e somewhat easier to nail on without breaking too!
I came away intent on doing at least something extra to save the planet, and in view of recent fuel price hikes, I think yet more cycling in on the cards! Apparently, I'm told that regular cyclists have a body of someone ten-years younger. Mrs. N reckons I lied about my age in the first place.
THE NATIONAL WHITE WATER CENTRE - This is really the reason for my opinion title. My first thought when I heard about this place was "I bet there's only white water in winter", but I was wrong. Thanks to Welsh Water's dam creating Llyn Celyn where there had only been a valley before, white water is available on an almost daily basis, depending on supply conditions. Obviously, in a drought, forget it, but in late May, they were still being profligate with their out-pourings (in fact they have about 200 days of white water per year). In booking a "white water experience" at Canolfan Dwr Gwyn Cenedlaethol (Centre, Water, White, National I think) to give its Welsh name, you are advised to check their "water number" before setting out in case the Water Authority has other ideas. We were in luck though - I rang on Tuesday to find that water was scheduled from Monday to Thursday last week. Getting there from Bala is easy - follow the Ffestiniog road for a few miles to Frongoch and it's on the left.
The Experience costs £24/head unless you have your own wet-suit, in which case it costs £2 less. For this you get instruction and two rides down a seemingly daunting set of rapids lasting about 15 minutes each, although, first time round it seems to take a lifetime. Yes, why do all those rapids have names like Graveyard and Ski-Run?
Yes, you will be expected to paddle like hell when told to, duck down when told to, and yes, you will find out why they're called "wet" suits! Even in May, that water is bloody cold, but to be honest, despite sitting in 6 inches of freezing water for half an hour, it's the most fun I've had in ages. What did surprise me the first time, and my wife even more so, as she happened to have her mouth open (surely not!), was that hitting the backwash at the bottom of rapids actually stops the raft dead in its tracks. This causes the raft to be totally overwhelmed for a few seconds, making it look more like U-571 coming up for air than something that was already on the surface, and anyone who thought that sitting at the back would be drier now knows how VERY WRONG they were! Just to reinforce this, on the second run, we went down the last rapids backwards, right outside the centre with the next victims watching.
All transporting to site, including going for the second run, is done by minibus.
Makes mental note: Never buy a minibus from these people. "One careful owner, several lunatic drivers and thousands of sopping wet passengers".
As you can imagine, warming up is a priority on most people's minds after this, and the hot showers go a long way to restoring the balance, as does the centre's cafe with a roaring trade in bacon baps and a hot cup of something.
Would I do it again? - yes, please, next week, any time you like, why, I might even lash out for the all day jobbie next time.
There was only one minor disappointment - unless you arrange for the official photographer in advance, the whole thing goes unrecorded for posterity, but bear in mind that "yes, your bum does look big in that wet-suit".
Contact www.ukrafting.co.uk or ring 01678 521083. For water updates, ring 01678 520826.
THE REST - After all that excitement, I was ready for bungee-jumping, base-jumping, hang-gliding - anything but a nice walk up a hill or pony-trekking, which we had discussed before we set out. Somehow, the rest of the week felt a bit of a let down even though the weather was far better than forecast, and a lot of it got used up reading Iain Banks' "Raw Spirit" and sweating in the sauna.
We did a half-hearted attempt to ride the Ffestiniog Railway in its 50th year as a passenger train company, which, given my "anorakish" leanings ought to have been top of my list, but somehow, the fact that I'd done it before, the schedules would have meant an almost immediate turn-round at Portmadog and the £14/adult* price ticket, we somehow just kind of ended up driving to Portmadog instead, which at least gave me a view of these magnificent little locomotives, mainly of "Fairlie" configuration, being double ended with two boilers, in fact two of everything except crew. They are the "Pushmepullyou" of the steam train world.
*Is it me, or is that a bit steep for a line boasting a high percentage of unpaid staff? Admittedly, two adults can take two children for free, but given the somewhat stiff penalties for child abduction, it didn't seem worth it.
We spent a rather affable last evening in Llangollen at the Dee-side Old Corn Mill, still with revolving water wheel, sampling guest beers and eating some pretty damned-fine bar food, the sun bathing the decking sticking out over the many rapids below. Arghhh, not rapids again, not while I'm eating please!.
One thing did strike me about North Wales though. Compared to other British areas designated "picturesque", you don't exactly have quaint roadside inns throwing themselves at your feet - there's probably an inverse correlation to the number of chapels hereabouts.
So that was my week in North Wales (well, six days really, we left on Friday to beat the traffic). Hopefully, for anyone who thought that it was all Snowdonia and seaside rock with Pwllheli written all through it, I've given you a couple of other suggestions
Last summer two friends and I went to Llangollen after it had been recommended to us numerous times. We were looking for good food, nice scenery, a tipple or two in pleasant surroundings, and some adventure. We got the lot and came away with change in our pockets. Llangollen is a small Welsh valley town just past the Shropshire and Cheshire borders. It's easily accessible on A roads and well signposted, though you may find yourself stuck behind several tractors and the odd caravan, making your journey slightly longer than you anticipated. That's not really a problem, though, because the countryside and villages you pass through en route from the Midlands are very picturesque. From Stoke-on-Trent it's just under 50 miles. The town itself is lovely and clusters around the River, Dee and is surrounded by lush green hills. Many of the buildings are Victorian/Edwardian and most have been kept in nice condition. Streets are mostly narrow and quaint. One major problem, however, is parking. We found two official car parks and both were small and chokka. We ended up parking in a side street up a hill a few mins walk from the town centre. There are loads of tea shops, restaurants, pubs and hotels, and a variety of gift shops selling a range of goods from tacky souvenirs to new agey crystals, candles and the like. We spent a good hour wandering in and out of the shops and then searched for lunch. We had lunch at a pub called Bensons in the centre of town. There was a good menu, including traditional Sunday lunch and the usual pub grub. Generally, main meals are around a fiver. Our food arrived in about 10 minutes, was very edible, and we ate it on a lovely little balcony hanging over the river. Delightful! We then went off in search of adventure, and a 10 minute walk out of town found us at JJ Canoeing. This place offers canoeing, white water rafting, archery, quad biking, clay pigeon shooting and more. It
also has a snack bar, sportswear shop and dorm-style accommodation. Normally you have to book in advance for these activities, but they managed to fit us in for white water rafting on the spot. The cost was £25 for 2 hours rafting, including your wetsuit and other necessary paraphernalia. It was definetely a beginners rafting session, but as beginners we enjoyed it very much. The instructor was excellent and rescued my mate expertly when she fell in while we were balancing on one side of the boat in some white water. It was brilliant fun, a tiny bit scary and completely exhausting. Well worth the money and we will go again this summer without hesitation. We then walked soggily back to town (we had taken no extra clothes and so had to spend the rest of the day commando and in very wet trainers) and set about hunting for more food. And here we hit a problem. It was 5.15 pm and though there were numerous bistros, cafes and pubs open, none of them would serve us food!!! Eventually we found an Italian restaurant that had opened at 5.30 and leapt inside. I can't remember the name of the restaurant but it's the only Italian one there and easy to find. Here we had an excellent 2 course meal with drinks for about £10 each. Being the only place serving food at teatime, it was packed. We then went back to the pub for a couple of relaxing drinks before heading home, having spent a superb day. There are plenty of hotels and B&Bs in Llangollen, all advertising reasonable rates (£15 for aB&B, £23 for a hotel were just two I spotted), and if you're a camper or caravanner there are loads of sites around the town. There's stuff to appeal to everyone, and the town seems very family-friendly. There are horse-drawn boat trips along the Dee for around £3, a permanent BBC Doctor Who exhibition (!!!), a large domed leisure centre, a small train station, and nearby is the famous and precarious &
#39;Horse Shoe Pass', a very steep drive with sheer drops at each side. I also saw ads for pony trekking, guided hikes, abseiling and various other pursuits. If you're a sporty outdoor type, Llangollen would offer you plenty for a week's stay. For me (who likes to do that kind of stuff now and again), one day was just right. I can't comment on the nightlife and didn't see any clubs, but I'm sure that the town's plethora of hotels and pubs would ensure you a fine old time.
For every summer of the last 10 years I have been to the Lyons Robin Hood Holiday Village, which is half way between Rhyll and Prestatyn. Even though it is quite small I love it there! A family friend owns one of the on-site 'luxury' caravans which is directly behind the chippy and in front of the pool hall, which is absolutely fantastic. Recently the neighbouring caravan site (Lyons) bought the Robin Hood but didn’t close it down, they left it as it was, linked the two sites and shared the facilities, which means that we can use their swimming pool for free. Inn addition to the already mentioned pool hall and swimming pool are two adult clubs, one kids club, a Bingo, two onsite shops, a chippy, a café, a laundrette and a great arcade. I can tell you from experience that some of the staff are very friendly ;) and good for a laugh. I particularly have fun with the bloke in the arcade (who always seems to blame me if an alarm goes off?!?!) and the bouncers. It is a great family resort as parents often leave their kids to run riot here, plus there is a huge adventure-playground-climbing-frame-thingy which has the names of everyone who has ever been there carved into it in one place or another. The kids disco is great too, including dancers on the stage (like Jaz) who guide the kids through all the dances and hold competitions and embarrass parents with their own games (like dressing dads up like fairies!) It is just a short walk from the beach which again is great for kids as it has lots of flat slate rocks to climb all over (making lots of rock-pools to go crab hunting in) plus there are loads of shells and washed up star fish on the beach to pick up and play with. Local businessman Ernie who incidentally owns half the shops and arcades along Rhyll’s high street runs the bingo and arcade. In the bingo you can collect tokens to win prizes and a nightly raffle give you the chan
ce to win hundreds of tokens and go home with whatever you want (my Nan got a colour TV when she won it!!) This is a very popular and friendly resort for all the family and I love it!