NORTH WALES: FROM CHESTER TO CRICCIETH
North Wales - a Celtic land of craggy mountains and deep mines, mediaeval castles and landscaped gardens.
My husband and I began our one-week adventure from the walled city of Chester which abuts the English/Welsh border. Drawn by its rural ambience, we sojourned in the little town of Llangollen which nestles in a deep mountain valley carved out by the River Dee. We wandered across its Gothic bridge and indulged in a poke of hot off-the-griddle Welsh cakes. From the nearby wharf we watched families taking horse-drawn narrow boat trips along the Llangollen Canal.
That evening, as an anniversary surprise, I had purchased tickets for a medieval banquet in nearby Ruthin Castle. On arrival, we were greeted by the guttural call of peacocks that pranced and shimmied around the castle gardens. Minutes later, we were ushered into the medieval banqueting hall where the townspeople don costumes and welcome today's modern pilgrims. With bibs tucked under our chins, a goblet of mead and a dagger in our hands, we dined to the accompaniment of a melodic Welsh choir and harpist. Our 'removes' otherwise known as 'courses' included Welsh lamb and a syllabub of fruit, cream and wine.
On departure, to our chagrin we discovered the heavens had opened and within ten minutes of driving, we were utterly lost. However, there is an angel around every corner and ours turned out to be the local police who were hiding behind a high hedge on the lookout for speedsters. Standing with my soggy map, I asked for directions back to Llangollen. The officer looked puzzled, "Oh, you mean Chlangochlan." Courteously, they sent us on our way with a caution to watch out for the sheep wandering in the mists around Horseshoe Pass.
The next morning we drove north to Llandudno, through Snowdonia National Park which is dominated by Mount Snowdon, Britain's second highest peak. En route, I was intrigued by a sign pointing to a Roman Spa, Trefriw Wells. Reputed to have been discovered by soldiers of the XXth Roman Legion, our self-guided tour took us to the Victorian Pump Room where I partook of the iron-rich waters from inside a golden stalactite-studded cavern.
Later, we sojourned in magnificent Bodnant Garden situated above the River Conwy. Truly balm unto the soul, the 87-acre site boasts formal terraced gardens and water features. A highlight for me was a saunter through the 160-foot long flowering laburnum tunnel.
By evening, we had reached the coastal town of Llandudno. Dubbed the Queen of Welsh resorts, this town was designed by the Victorians and curves between the twin limestone headlands of Great and Little Orme. For a bird's eye view we joined the locals and took the century-old tramway on a mile-long climb up to the summit of the Great Orme. The area is a nature reserve crisscrossed by marked trails frequented by elusive Kashmiri wild goats.
Following the bilingual road signs, we drove southwest to the harbor town of Porthmadog. En route, we visited the Llechwedd Slate Caverns and hopped on the last 45-minute underground tour. We donned our hard hats and climbed aboard a covered tramway which took us along an extensive network of tunnels and hand-hewn caverns. As the damp cold enveloped us, we learned of the hard and dangerous life endured by the miners. "This," wrote one 12-year old miner in 1856, "was the hell the preacher talked about in church" The taped narrative punctuated with harp music and backed by a male-voice choir needed no Disneyland embellishment.
As the evening sun dipped behind surrounding slag heaps, we left the cosy Miners Pub and continued on to Porthmadog. Situated in acres of grasslands and estuarine mudflats, this town is a popular destination for train spotters who can take a narrow-gage train journey or just enjoy the action at the Welsh Highland Railway and Ffestiniog stations.
Before leaving Wales, I wanted to visit the seaside town of Criccieth where I had spent a memorable childhood holiday. I knocked on the door of the house our family had once rented and the owner graciously gave us a tour. Little had changed in half a century.
Blessed with a sweeping sand and shingle beach, Criccieth's shore was dotted with families sheltering behind colorful striped windbreaks, while the more sedate dallied in popular tearooms. Standing on the promontory near 13th century Criccieth Castle, I pondered on the words of Percy Shelley who in 1812 wrote, "Steal, if possible, my revered friend, one summer and come to Wales." It was good advice.
For more Information: www.visitwales.com
PHOTOS by Hamish M. Jackson
1. The promenade in Llandudno
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