Wanderer at Large: Wales – Snowdonia

A tour guide’s all-time favourite UK places.

Sponsored by Your London Tours.

This September, Visit Britain, the marketing arm of the British tourist industry, is launching its ‘Great British Staycation Campaign’ to encourage people to holiday in the UK.

Soul City Wanderer (aka Frank Molloy) is one of the UK’s most accredited and experienced tour guides. Over three decades he has visited nearly every part of the country, touring many of the places that Great Britain and Ireland has to offer.

In a new blog series, he will list his all-time favourite five places by area (spiralling out from London*). These are personal choices, some obvious, some obscure.

This week, Wales.

Journey to Snowdon Summit .Bert Kaufmann. CC license BY-SA 2.0

The 840-mile square national park of Snowdonia is known as Eryri in Welsh, meaning Eagle highlands. It was formed by ice age glaciation which carved four great ridges that unite in the Snowdon peak.

To see the best of Snowdonia, the advised routes are the A487, A4086 and A498. The easiest approach is to take the North Wales Expressway (A55) and A487 to Caernarfon.

Caernarvon Castle by Andrew_D_Hurley. CC license BY-SA 2.0

Caernarfon has a long history which is worth exploring. Around two-thousand years ago it was a Roman settlement known as Segontium. In 1088, the Earl of Chester built a motte and bailey castle here. The Welsh reoccupied the site in 1115. Then the castle we see today was built by Edward I of England in 1283. In 1284, Edward’s wife Eleanor gave birth to a son. Edward then appropriated the title Prince of Wales which was first acknowledged by the Crown for Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in 1267. Ever since, Caernarfon Castle has been the site of proclamation of the Prince of Wales. The town walls were completed in two years 1287-89, seemingly in imitation of Constantinople.

Dolbadarn Castle

Llanberis Pass
Llanberis is the base town from which most brave (or mad) souls attempt to conquer Snowdon. From Caernarfon, take the A4086 Llanberis Pass. Along the way you will catch a glimpse of Dolbadarn Castle which was probably built by the Welsh prince, Llewellyn the Great. Edward I of England retained Dolbadarn as a royal manor. It was painted by Turner. In the town of Llanberis itself, if Pete’s Eats are still there, they do a wicked bacon butty! Sit by the lake on a nice day to enjoy the butty and the view!

Lake at Llanberis

Mount Snowdon
The 3,560 feet high Mount Snowdon is the highest mountain in England and Wales. It is known as Yr Wyddfa in Welsh, meaning tomb. Legend has it that King Arthur slayed a giant ogre here named Rhita who wore a cloak made from the beards of warriors he had killed. Some very rare plants can be found on the slopes such as Rose-root and Snowdon Lily (note: it is against the law to pick them).

Snowdon may not be as tall as some of the other mountains in the world, but it is steep and relatively treeless, giving it a dramatic look. It might also be noted that the team that conquered Everest practised here, so it is no mean feat to clamber your way to the top.

If you’re not into the whole climbing thing, The Snowdonia Railway opened in 1896. It is a rack & pinion, cog & teeth railway developed by the Swiss for steep inclines. The journey time to the summit is one hour. Today, half a million people use it annually.

At the end of the A4086 Llanberis Pass, take the A498 towards Beddgelert. Above this small village is Dinas Emrys where legend has it the red Dragon of Wales fought the White Dragon of the Saxons. The rebel Owen Glendower was last seen alive in a crack in the cliff above the forest.

Carry on along the A498 for Porthmadog. Dally for a while at Porthmadog Station. It has its own pub! The long embankment near the station is called the Cob, built in 1811 to reclaim farmland from the estuary. It is a sea defence with the railway and two roads. Green Island in Porthmadog bay is made from various European rocks. It was used as balancing ballast for slate ships returning from deliveries. From here you can move onto Portmeirion Village.

Portmeirion village was built by Clough Williams-Ellis. He acquired the site in 1925 for £5,000. For the next 15 years it was ‘pegged-out’ and the most distinctive buildings erected in the Arts and Crafts style. Several buildings were salvaged from demolition sites. From 1954-76, Clough filled in the details with a Palladian design. The last building, the tollgate, was built 1978 when he was in his 93rd year. Many of the older generation will recognise it as the location for the TV series The Prisoner.

For a more traditional way of travelling, the Ffestiniog Heritage Steam Railway will take you along a scenic route from Porthmadog to Blaenau Ffestiniog, centre of the Welsh slate trade. The Ffestiniog railway was built to take slate from the mines down to Porthmadog. Built in 1832, it is the oldest independent railway company in the world. The trains are articulated with powerful double engines to go around the winding hillsides.

Note: All sites mentioned were operating pre-lockdown. Please check relevant websites before embarking on any potential visit. Another recommendation will appear tomorrow.

For the very best in guided private tours of the UK visit www.yourlondontours.com

*Operators in the UK tour industry often separate the areas of the country according to what touring can be achieved in a region in one day. As a London-based operator, my ‘map’ spirals outwards from the capital and is separated thus:

  1. London
  2. Northern Home Counties (Beds/Herts/Cambs)
  3. Eastern Home Counties (Essex/Suffolk)
  4. Southern Home Counties (Kent, Surrey, Sussex)
  5. Western Home Counties (Ox/Berks/Bucks)
  6. South coast (Hants/Dorset)
  7. Western England (Somerset/Gloucs/Wilts)
  8. South West England (Devon & Cornwall)
  9. Wales (north & south)
  10. Welsh Borders (Herefordshire/Shropshire/Cheshire)
  11. Western Midlands (Brum/Worcs/Warks/Staffs)
  12. Eastern Midlands (Northants/Leics/Rutland/Hunts)
  13. Northern Midlands (Notts/Derbys)
  14. East coast (Norfolk/Lincs)
  15. Yorks (all ridings)
  16. North West (Manchester/Merseyside/Lancs/Lakes/Cumbria)
  17. North East (Durham/Tyne & Wear/Northumberland)
  18. Southern Scotland (Borders/Lowlands)
  19. Northern Scotland (Highlands/Islands)
  20. Ireland (Northern/Southern)

Published by Soul City Wanderer

Soul City Wanderer is the alias of London journalist and author Frank Molloy, a writer on the city’s history and culture. Born south of the river, he has an MA in London history (Birkbeck) and lectures at various institutions including the Museum of London and the National Portrait Gallery. He is also a fully-qualified Blue Badge Guide (MITG), Westminster Guide and City of London Guide.

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