Planning a camping or touring trip to Gwynedd? Here is a bit of back ground on towns and their attractions to stay and visit.
The name of this cathedral and university town derives from a protective fence that surrounded a local monastery. The town’s bishopric was established during the 6th century and is the oldest in Britain older than that of Canterbury. The 12th-century Cathedral of St Deiniol was considerably restored in the 1860’s by Sir Gilbert Scott, architect of the Albert Memorial in London. Near the cathedral is Gardd yr Esgob, a garden containing all the trees, shrubs and plants mentioned in the Bible which can survive in the Welsh climate they are laid out in the order they appear in Scripture. The Museum and Art Gallery here includes traditional Welsh costume and furniture and also contains a few items relating to America, including a collection which belonged to Dr Griffith Evans, a veterinary surgeon who visited American field hospitals in the Civil War, where he met Abraham Lincoln. The original Penrhyn Castle, 1 mile east, was built in the 12th century, but the present castle is 19th century. It contains a large collection of dolls, stuffed animals and birds, and a slate bed weighing four tons; the grounds contain a wide range of exotic plants and a display of railway relics.
Bardsey Island, off the beautiful Lleyn Peninsula, is now a bird observatory; previously it was a place of pilgrimage. Early Celts built a monastery here and Bardsey became known as the Island of Twenty Thousand Saints. It is also said that the Welsh wizard, Merlin, lies here in an enchanted sleep, with the golden throne of Britain, awaiting the return of King Arthur.
The narrow-gauge Ffestiniog Railway which originally used horses to pull its wagons was built to carry the slate from here to Porthmadog, a thriving slate-exporting centre. However, at the turn of the century other roofing materials were introduced and the slate mines became unprofitable. Now they have taken on a new lease of life as a tourist attraction, for both the award-winning Llechwedd Slate Caverns and Gloddfa Ganol Slate Mine give a fascinating glimpse of the old days of slate mining. The Ffestiniog Railway has been re opened, too; the final section of line was restored in 1982.
The name means ‘Fort on the Shore’. The Romans were the first to build a fort here, and finds from the excavations can be seen at the site museum. The castle built by Edward I in the 13th-14th centuries is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Wales, especially since the Investiture of Charles, Prince of Wales in 1969. The frst English-born Prince of Wales, the son of Edward I, was proclaimed here, and he is said to have been born in the Eagle Tower in 1284. It was here, too, that Edward I issued the Statute of Wales, bringing the country under the sovereignty of the Kings of England. Opposite the castle balcony stands a statue of Lloyd George. Also in Caernarvon Castle, the regimental museum of the Royal Welch Fusiliers testifies to their role when, as the 23rd Foot, they defended the British position at Yorktown unsuccessfully in 1781.
A very pleasant and unspoiled little resort, with the Lleyn peninsula providing shelter from northwesterlies, and Snowdonia supplying a dramatic backdrop to the north. The Welsh royal line of Llywelyn had already built a castle before the arrival of Edward I: the English king merely had to strengthen it, but over the centuries it crumbled into ruins. David Lloyd George, who lived nearby at Llanystumdwy, married a Criccieth girl.
This town of steep narrow streets and granite~built houses above Tremadog Bay is popular with tourists. Built by Edward I on the site of a Celtic fortress, the castle has survived repeated attacks. The beloved Welsh Chieftain Owen Glendower, or Owain Glyndwr, was beseiged here by Henry V. The song ‘Men of Harlech’ commemorates Dafydd ap Einion who held the castle in 1468 during the Wars of the Roses; Harlech was the last British fortress to hold out against the Yorkists, and also the last to stave off the Parliamentarians during the Civil War. However, the song dates only from the 18th century.
To the north is a National Nature Reserve, Morfa Harlech.
This little town is the starting point for the easiest walk to Snowdon’s summit and also the terminus of the Snowdon Mountain Railway established in 1896 to carry tourists to the top of the mountain, and the only rack and pinion steam railway in Britain. Llanberis Lake Railway, by contrast, uses the old line from Dinorwic Quarries to Port Dinorwic, following the valley along Llyn Padarn. The huge Dinorwic slate quarries were once the world’s greatest, but they were closed in 1969 because of the decline in demand for the material. The Welsh Slate Museum contains much of the original machinery used in the workshops, together with the 54ft waterwheel that provided the power to operate it. Llanberis was the birthplace of Thomas Jefferson’s mother. Jefferson himself was brought up to speak his mother’s native tongue. Just outside the town the ruins of Dolbadarn Castle (AM), a native Welsh fortress with a three-storeyed, 13th-century round tower, overlook the valley.
The birth place of David Lloyd George. The Lloyd George Museum holds a copy of the Treaty of Versailles.
Cyffdy Farm Park is the rare breed centre of northern Wales. There is a museum of old farm implements, but the real attraction is the animals among them llamas and goats as well as traditional old breeds of sheep, cattle and poultry.
A mile-long embankment along which a toll road runs, built in the early 18005 by William Madocks, created the safe harbour that made Porthmadog one of the best ports on the Welsh coast and ensured its prosperity. Extensive sandy beaches, such as Black Rock Sands have made it a popular tourist resort. It is also the start of the famous Ffestiniog narrow-gauge railway, which runs from the Harbour Station to the old slate quarry town of Blaenau Ffestiniog. There is a Railway Museum at the station. Porthmadog Pottery offers visitors guided tours. Borth-y-Gest, 1 mile away, is said to be Prince Madog’s point of departure on his voyage of discovery to America in the 12th century. 1 mile inland is Tremadog.
The inspiration for this delightful fantasy, created by the architect Sir Clough Williams Ellis, who died in 1978, was the Italian fishing village of Portofino. On his return to Britain he searched for a suitable site, and finally found the ideal setting on a wooded, rocky promontory between Porthmadog and Harlech. Graceful, Italianate buildings, dominated by an elegant campanile, surround the main square, and all manner of exotic plants flourish in the picturesque streets. All the cottages are let as holiday homes, and there are also hotels, restaurants and shops. The famous and controversial American architect of the “Prairie School’, Frank Lloyd Wright, was a close friend of Williams Ellis and a frequent visitor to Portmeirion. (Day visitors must pay an entrance fee.)
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 (NT) 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.
Snowdonia National Park
The Welsh name for Snowdonia is Eryi -‘the haunt of the eagle’, and though the eagles have gone, the grandeur remains. Snowdon itself dominates the area, at 3560ft it is the highest mountain in Wales. The Park covers 845 square miles of mountainous countryside stretchng as far as the coast of Cardigan Bay. This is superb country for the walker and rock climber. The mixture of mountain, lake and deep valley creates some of the loveliest scenery in North Wales, and noted beauty spots such as Betwsy-Coed attract visitors in their thousands.
One of the oldest narrow-gauge railways in the world, the Tal-y-llyn runs 8 miles up the Fathew Valley from Tywyn to Nant Gwernol beyond Abergynolwyn. Built in 1865 to serve Bryneglwys slate quarry the line was closed in 1947 but rescued from oblivion by the first British railway preservation society in 1951. The wayside halt at Dolgoch gives access to the spectacular 125ft waterfalls nearby. 3 miles north east of Abergynolwyn is the hamlet of Tal-y-llyn situated on the shores of the magnificent Tal-y-llyn Lake which lies beneath the slopes of Cadet Idris.
Tremadog and its larger neighbour Porthmadog lie at the coastal end of the Glaslyn valley. William Maddocks the rich MP for Boston, Lincolnshire, built Tremadog in the early 19th century on reclaimed land behind the Cob, an embankment he had built across the mouth of the river. He intended it to be a key point on the route to Ireland but Parliament voted for Holyhead instead. Maddocks received help from the Shelleys, who stayed in the town. Tremadog was designed as a model town in a classical style, with neat stone buildings, a broad main street and a square headed by the former Market Hall. The sheer cliffs behind the Hall included the Coed Tremadog National Nature Reserve, rich in oak trees and in plants profiting from the exclusion of sheep.
Lawrence of Arabia (T E Lawrence) was born here in 1888.
A seaside town with miles of sand. Tywyn is situated on the edge of Snowdonia National Park at the foot of the Cader Idris range. The headquarters of the Tal-y-llyn Railway is at Wharf Station, adjoining the Railway Museum. The church of St Cadfan founder of the Bardsey Island monastery originally 6th century, but rebuilt in the 19th century, preserves its early Norman nave. Inside, St Cadfan’s stone is inscribed with perhaps the earliest example of written Welsh. Tywyn’s church, Vicarage and school are the distinctive work of the Victorian architect G E Street.