Isle of Anglesey and North Wales, UK - August, 2022


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Europe » United Kingdom » Wales » Isle of Anglesey
August 1st 2022
Published: August 4th 2022
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I once spent a summer holiday on the Isle of Anglesey in my pre-teen years, so my memories are somewhat hazy about this location. On the bright side, it will be as though I’m visiting for the first time and will view it thru adult eyes. When looking at a map of the United Kingdom, Anglesey strongly resembles a head with lots of long hair and an open mouth, sitting atop a body which is the country of Wales – it isn’t just a royal title for Prince Charles. This “head island” can be condensed down to two essentials: castles and coasts……yes, there are plenty of castles all over Wales, but few of these attract more admiration than the glamorous trio of Caernarfon, Conwy, and Beaumaris, which is why they are recognized as World Heritage Sites. The coastal city of Llandudno has been crowned the “Queen of Welsh Resorts” and stands in stark contrast to the wild edges of this rugged land.

Any ancient history buffs reading this will be thrilled to know that the region has a number of both historic and prehistoric sites, including burial chambers and a church in the sea at Porth Cwyfan, the site of one of the most powerful and charismatic Welsh medieval princes, has been discovered near the village of Newborough. The Maritime Museum in Holyhead is well worth a visit, with displays relating to more than 100 shipwrecks that have taken place in the vicinity.

My new journey begins at the port of Holyhead (a name which has existed in English since at least the 14th century), a major ferry port mainly serving Ireland. It is the largest town in the Isle of Anglesey County with a population of approximately 12,000 people, of which 47%!s(MISSING)peak Welsh as well as English. I had pre-arranged a full-day coach tour to explore the region and joined this guided by a self-proclaimed completely mad Brit by the name of Shelley (and yes, she did live up to her introduction). Not a Welsh girl, she hailed from Lancashire in northern England with an accent to prove that fact.

A fun fact:

In the fictional world of Harry Potter, The Holyhead Harpies is an all-female Quidditch team that plays in the British and Irish Quidditch League.

Leaving Holyhead, we weaved our way along 2-lane highways for over an hour, crossing the Isle of Anglesey and entering mainland Wales via the Porthaethwy Menai Bridge. As expected, the scenery was spectacular with rolling hills, soaring mountains and endless fields, many populated with sheep. Climate was a repeat of the last two days: heavy overcast, windy and cool but occasionally, the sun would break thru and cast pools of golden sunlight across the landscape, highlighting small stone-built cottages and well-tended gardens.

Our first stop was Llanberis, the starting point for many who plan to climb Mt. Snowdon (Wales’s highest peak) in Snowdonia National Park. Unfortunately, not able to view Mt. Snowdon – all thanks to a thick white mist covering the summit – but at least I saw a few hardy folks headed up the mountain pass, proving its existence. The Snowdon Mountain Railway (one of the most scenic railway journeys in the world) departs daily from Llanberis to Clogwyn Station, located about ¾ of the way up Snowdon. You can choose from either the traditional diesel service or the heritage steam experience. Didn’t have sufficient time to do this but I would have certainly opted for the heritage train. There is a discounted “early bird” offer but only on a pre-booked 9am departure for the diesel train. More info available at snowdonrailway.co.uk

A quickie stop for a bathroom break, a welcome cup of coffee and a photo opportunity, before heading out once more, enroute to Betws-Y-Coed, where enough time was granted by Shelley for lunch and exploration of this picturesque village.

A Little Bit of History:

Stone age man lived in the area and was responsible for the Neolithic Burial Chamber at Capel Garmon. During the Bronze Age (around 2000 BC) the Beaker Folk who originated from Spain sailed into Britain, bringing with them metalworking, although they didn’t penetrate the mountainous areas which remained the preserve of the Neolithic people. The Celts arrived from Central Europe about 600 BC introducing the use of bronze and later ironworking. They developed tools bringing improvements in agriculture and during this period the roots of a distinctive Welsh life and culture can be detected. These Celts were known as the Britons.

The Romans invaded Britain in 43 AD and by 78 AD the conquest of Wales was complete. The lives of the Celtic peoples were not greatly affected in the area, as the Romans were largely confined to their hill forts and roads. However, the Romans left a legacy of improved agricultural practices (including the introduction of sheep) and mining technology when they left Wales in 383 AD, as well as introducing Christianity. After the Romans left, much of Britain was overrun by the pagan Anglo-Saxons and others from the continent, and the Picts of Scotland and the Irish also attacked the Celtic Britons. This was the period of the Arthurian Legends, but the area around Snowdonia remained a Celtic stronghold, although the Welsh became separated from their Celtic cousins in Cornwall and Cumbria.

The area was part of the Kingdom of Gwynedd which covered northwest Wales, although its borders changed depending on the fortunes of its ruler at the time. Although England was conquered by the Normans in 1066, Wales was not successfully conquered for over 200 years, and it was during this period that many castles were built, for example Dolwyddelan by the Welsh and Conwy by the Normans.

The local economy was based on agriculture, and in the 19th century slate quarrying and woolen mills were developed. The slate quarries are now shut down, but agriculture continues to be the mainstay of the economy along with tourism which developed in Victorian times.

Betws-y-Coed is North Wales’s most popular inland resort. It is where the river Conwy meets its three tributaries flowing from the West. Much of it was built in Victorian times, then renown as an artist colony and it is the principal village of the Snowdonia National Park. Set in a beautiful valley in the Snowdonia Forest Park, it is ideal for outdoor activities. Numerous craft and outdoor activity shops are in the village with the popular Swallow Falls nearby. The main street, Holyhead Road, has many inns and bed-and-breakfasts accommodation. Shops specialize in outdoor clothes and the tourist center provide maps and advice on day trips in the area. Right in the middle of Holyhead Road is the railway station with a museum and a miniature railway, a shop and restaurant. The 14th century church of St Michael’s is one of the oldest in Wales and is certainly worth viewing. It was here that I decided on a chicken and mushroom pie ($4.86) served piping hot and stuffed to the pastry lid – I took this outside and perched under an umbrella to watch the world go by.

Of exceptional interest are the many bridges in the area. Pont-y-Pair (Bridge of the Cauldron), built in 1468, is buffeted by foaming water after heavy rain. Many sign-posted walks in the surrounding countryside start near this bridge. A mile or so away is the Miner’s Bridge, on the road to Capel Curig, where the miners crossed the river on a steep ladder to their work. Thomas Telford’s iron Waterloo Bridge built in 1815, carries the main highway across the river Conwy, bears the cast iron inscription “This arch was constructed in the same year the battle of Waterloo was fought”. Also worth visiting are the awesome Conwy Falls and the stunning Fairy Glen where the river Conwy flows through a narrow gorge – both should be on your “must see” list. A short hike away from the village center is Swallow Falls, considered to be one of the loveliest spots of North Wales. Here the river rushes down from the mountains. Crags and jagged rocks divide the stream into many foaming cascades, and its where the Llugwy River hurls itself into a spectacular chasm.

Visitors to Betws-y-Coed, as with other towns in North Wales, will hear the locals speak the Welsh language. This warm welcome is itself part of the Welsh culture – expressed through the bilingual signs that greet tourists in every small town. In the past the English outlawed the Welsh language, but it lived on through the singing, reciting, and storytelling that are a big part of Welsh daily life. The recent development of the National Assembly for Wales had produced a heightening sense of national identity, allowing foreigners a greater opportunity to experience Welsh culture.

Back on the bus with Shelley, she regaled us with the myth of Llywelyn and Gelert, which goes something like this: one day Prince Llywelyn went out hunting, leaving his most faithful hound Gelert to guard his baby son, sleeping in his crib. An enormous wolf entered Llywelyn’s camp and Gelert attacked in defense of his master’s child. The two animals fought in the baby’s son, smashing furniture and knocking over the crib. Gelert dragged the beast to the floor and eventually killed it. When the prince returned, he found Gelert with blood dripping from his mighty jaws, the room in shambles and no sign of his son. Enraged at what he believed had taken place, he drew his sword and stabbed the dog. As Gelert lay dying, Llywelyn heard cries and upon lifting the crib he found the infant unharmed and lying close by, was the torn and bloodied body of the wolf. Filled with remorse when realizing his mistake, Llywelyn buried and honored as a worthy hero. One of the greatest things about Wales, Ireland and Scotland are the myths which endure thru the centuries.

Heading north we arrived in Conwy as the last stop of the tour. Across the street from where I left the tour bus, I saw the town’s visitor information center – one of the best sources of information available, anywhere I go. Alongside this building was a small garden area where planter boxes were visible with miniature signs stating “pick me, eat me”…..intriguing to say the least! The visitor center custodian informed me this was for the town’s children to learn about edible plants and spices, and to understand that their food just doesn’t come out of a can or a fast-food store – it is actually grown. I saw Welsh leeks, garlic, fennel, sage, and a host of others – novel idea.

Conwy is a town rich in history, much of it still preserved within the walls and traditional structures of its buildings. In its heart is the mighty 13th century castle, whose walls encapsulate this remarkable medieval town. Hint: don’t waste your time and money obtaining a ticket to explore the castle’s interiors – really not much to see – instead go the freebie route and just walk along the castle walls for incredible view of the coastline and the village. Surrounded by lush Welsh countryside and watched over by the mighty mountains of Snowdonia, it’s an awesome place to visit. The Quay is host to a number of amenities and is a particularly stunning place to visit during warm summer months. Whether sitting with a refreshing drink outside of the cozy quayside pub, taking an exciting boat tour around the coastal area or hiking upon the many surrounding mountains – it’s all possible in the quaint town of Conwy.

The town offers a whole host of places to eat and drink. Fine dining restaurants, traditional pubs and snug cafes can be found throughout the town. It’s also host to many hotels and B&Bs – many of which are located incredibly close to the castle itself. It’s not every day that you wake up five minutes away from a medieval castle – but in Conwy, it’s the norm for some. With its traditional and quaint appearance, it’s easy to be fooled into thinking that this town is hard to access. It’s just over an hour’s drive from two major airports – Liverpool and Manchester. If travelling by train, there are no problems catching a train from major cities in the UK over to Conwy. If you’re looking for somewhere to explore that is full of adventure and has also managed to maintain its rich history within its walls and buildings, Conwy offers its guests (and residents) all of this and more. So….if its myths, legends and fairytale surroundings is what you seek, northern Wales is the place for you.


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5th August 2022

Glad you are back on the road (and the sky)
Very helpful. Now I know about the Isle of Anglesey and North Wales, UK. Thanks.

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