Enchanted by Northern Wales
Text and Photos By Sandra Scott
You might say it was love at first sight. After checking into Trearddur Bay Hotel we took a relaxing stroll along the sun-splashed, blue-flag beach next to the hotel. The next morning we hopped into our rental car to explore Anglesey Island. Beaumaris Castle, begun in 1295, was the last and largest of the castles built in Wales by King Edward I. King Edward is not the most popular person as his takeover of Wales was the end of their independence. Even though the castle was never finished it is considered to be one of the most technologically perfect castles with an inner ring of defenses surrounded by an outer ring making it nearly impregnable but it was never put to the test. We took notice of the "murder holes" above the huge wooden gates. If attackers made it through the rain of heavy crossfire of arrows they would have been welcomed at the gate by being doused with boiling oil from the “murder holes.” War never has a pretty face. Today swans and ducks serenely glide along the waters of the moat.
We made a quick stop at Llanfair PG, which is the shortened way to refer to the town that has the longest place name in Europe and continued on to Penrhyn Castle. The neo-Norman castle was built in the early 1800s covering earlier structures save for the spiral staircase. The owners made their money, in part, from mining slate from the nearby mountain. One of the interesting items is a one-ton slate bed made for Queen Victoria. The view and grounds are lovely.
Not too far away was the impressive walled city of Conwy also built by Edward I. He brought in English settlers and instituted English laws showing no respect for Welsh culture. In fact, the local Welsh people were forbidden to enter the castle walls except at the bidding of the English inhabitants to deliver goods or to work. Our hotel, Castle Hotel, was on a cobbled street within the walls. Just a few steps from our hotel was Plas Mawr, an Elizabethan Town House built between 1576 and 1585. It is one of the best-preserved town houses of the era in Great Britain. It sports surprisingly bold red and white décor in the main rooms. The wealthy always live well regardless of the time period.
The next day it was off to Portmeirion, a fantasy village that was designed and built by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis to resemble an Italian village. Today there are shops, a spa, a beach, a pool, excellent dining and delightful accommodations - all of unique design. Surrounding the village are 70 acres of exotic woodlands with easy to follow trails and coastal walks. Pontmeirion is a popular attraction for day visitors but to really savor the ambiance of Portmeirion one needs to spend at least one night. During the day the village is bustling with activity. We loved the special hush that descended over the village when the day-trippers left and it became “our” village. Our room was in the center of the village overlooking the main square. It was magical.
Nearby we visited Bodnant Gardens considered one of the most beautiful gardens in the UK and Trefriw Woolen Mills that has been in operation since 1859 making traditional Welsh bedspreads, tweeds and tapestry. In Llanuwchllyn we took a ride along the lake to the town and back on the narrow gauge steam train. I was impressed with the loving care the volunteers lavished on their train. The conductor had polished the brass to a fare-thee-well.
In Ruthin we stayed in the Ruthin Castle Hotel that started out as a Welsh wooden fort in 1277 and over the years was altered to become the large red fort-like castle of today. According to legend, King Arthur disguised himself for a romantic liaison with his mistress at Ruthin. Unfortunately he was recognized by an old adversary. Arthur had him executed on a stone block now displayed in the Town Square. It is just one of the romantic legends associated with the castle. Walking through the gardens where the peacocks put on their proud display we tried to conger up images of what it may have been like in years gone by. After dinner we went into the village to listen to a rehearsal of the famed, award-wining Ruthin Choir. It was the end of another perfect day in Wales.
In the riverside town Llangollen there are several canal trips. We took the two-hour motorized canal boat trip that crossed the awe-inspiring Pontcysyllte Aqueduct 126 feet above the Dee River. The trip was beautiful as it passed through the countryside where people were hiking, biking, and kayaking. Only one canal boat can cross the aqueduct at a time as it is extremely narrow. It is an amazing 1007 feet long supported by 18 stone pillars. It was built between 1795 and 1805 and is a World Heritage site.
We loved the small, quaint town of Llangollen where we checked into the Cornerstones B&B in the center of town with a beautiful view of the River Dee. For dinner we walked to the Corn Mill Restaurant where flour was stone ground for seven hundred years - until 1974 when it was turned into a restaurant. The restaurant, located on the River Dee has huge exposed beams and a working waterwheel that can be viewed behind the bar or through floor windows in the upper dining area. The menu features many locally sourced items such as lamb and trout. All of our meals in Northern Wales were outstanding. The Welsh take great pride in promoting local products and we enjoyed eating them.
John and I were impressed with the diversity of things to do in Northern Wales – all within a short drive. Driving was easy with little traffic and gorgeous scenery. Northern Wales is truly enchanting. Only one problem – not enough time to see and do everything. For more information on travel in beautiful Wales log on to www.visitwales.com.
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