Three rivers, the Conwy, Llugwy and Lledr, foam over rocks between beautiful wooded slopes to meet in Betws-y-Coed -a popular touring centre since Victorian times. Its most famous sight is the Swallow Falls, on the Llugwy 2 miles west of the town, where a railed footpath gives fine views of the spectacular series of cascades. The Conwy Falls and Fairy Glen Ravine are also well worth seeing. In the town a picturesque 15th century stone bridge, the Pont-y-Pair (or ‘Bridge of the Cauldron’), crosses the Llugwy, with the strange Miners’ Bridge -sloping from one bank to the other -further west; the Conwy is spanned by Thomas Telford’s iron Waterloo Bridge (built in the year of the battle). Cyffty Lead Mine Trail in nearby Gwydyr Forest takes walkers round the old mine buildings. The Conwy Valley Railways Museum covers the whole railway scene, with special reference to North Wales.
This was the third of Edward I’s great castles, built on a rocky site defended by both river and sea. With its massive battlemented walls and eight commanding drum towers, it is ‘one of the best preserved of all the medieval castles. The old town, situated at the mouth of the Afon Conwy, is still surrounded by medieval walls. Among the few ancient houses that survive are Aberconwy a 14th-century house used for exhibitions of the life of the town, and Plas Mawr, one of the finest extant examples of an Elizabethan town house. The Conwy estuary is spanned by three bridges, the most impressive being Telford’s great suspension bridge, built in 1826. On the picturesque quayside is Britain’s ‘smallest house’ , a Victorian fisherman’s cottage.
The resort of Llandudno, the largest in Wales, lies on a crescent of sandy bay dominated by the huge limestone headland of Great Orme. There are panoramic views from the 678ft high clifftop, which can be reached by Edwardian tramway, funicular railway or modern cabin-lift, and a 5-mile Marine Drive has been cut into the side of he cliff. St Tudno’s Church, on the ribslope of the Orme, dates back to the 12th century (though St Tudno’s mission here probably began some 600 years earlier); the font is medieval, and the roof above the altar bears the Stigmata – the marks of Christ’s wounds. On the lower slopes, overlooking town and bay, are the Happy Valley Rock Gardens and the terraced Haufe Gardens. Llandudno has two museums: the Rapallo House Museum and Art Gallery displays a traditional Welsh kitchen, weaponry and Roman relics, as well as collections of porcelain, sculpture and pictures; the Dolls Museum has over a thousand dolls, representing various eras of fashion, and the same building houses a large model railway. A stone on the promenade depicts the White Rabbit consulting his watch – for Lewis Carroll was here, staying with the Liddells and their daughter Alice when he deicided to write the book.
Llanrwst is a pleasant old market town in the Conwy Valley. Gwydyr Castle, a magnificently furnished Tudor palace, stands in beautiful grounds where peacocks and tropical birds are kept. Gwydyr Uchaf Chapel, once the private chapel of the castle but now used as an exhibition centre, has a rare Welsh Painted roof dating from 1763.
Penmaenmawr was made popular by Lord Gladstone who made it his summer retreat; Although quarrying has carried off the top of the mountain, leaving only a single rocky crag to mark its original height, Penmaenmawr is nonetheless worth climbing up the steep hillside to the Druid’s Circle, one of the best known groups of standing stones in Wales.
A former quarrymen’s village, Penmachno lies in the little valley east of Betws-y-Coed. Its woollen mill has an interesting history, having been set up in 1650 as a fulling mill. Cloth is still woven on 19th century power looms. At Ty Mawr, two miles north west, is the cottage where Bishop William Morgan was born in 1545. He is revered for his translation, the first ever, of the Bible into Welsh.
Here, among the woods of the Vale of Conwy, on the boundary of the Snowdonia National Park, is one of Britain’s most beautiful gardens. Bodnant Garden slopes down over 80 acres of the Conwy valley, with the Snowdonian peaks in the background. It was planned in 1875 by Henry Pochin, a Lancashire industrialist, extended by his daughter, Lady Aberconwy, then by his grandson.