Newest Review: ... Power Station built inside the mountain. Beddgelert is a lovely village in the Snowdonia National Park with some really nice shops and som... more
Let Your Spirit Soar.
Snowdonia National Park (Wales)
Member Name: QueenElf
Snowdonia National Park (Wales)
Advantages: Wonderful views, lots to see and do, a National treasure.
Disadvantages: Rain can spoil the the pleasure
Put the cares of everyday living aside and stand in silence hearing only the babble of water over stones while overhead a lone bird calls to its mate. Lie down on soft grass listening to the swish of the reeds and the whisper of the wind in the trees.
Now come with me to the mountains where the wind howls constantly sending tiny pebbles bouncing down the sides to the valley below. Fill your lungs with the clear air, let the sun and wind brighten your cheeks with a rosy glow, lift you eyes to heaven for surely this is as near to heaven as you will ever feel.
This is North Wales and in particular the Snowdonia National park, which totals 823 square miles of the wildest land you will see anyway in the world. A mere 26,000 people live and work in this area of unspoilt beauty some making a bare living from the land others practising crafts handed down through generations. Millions of people visit North Wales every year but the National park stays unchanged by time.
Looking at the geology its hard to imagine the sheer age of this area, from pre-Cambrian to Cambrian, Ordovician and Silurian ages spanning over 400 million years, it makes a person feel like a tiny speck in time. The last Ice age lingered a long while here which still shows in the rocks and crag abundant throughout the land and the formation of rocky gorges through which waterfalls abound. Snowden or Yr Wydffa is the highest mountain at 3,560 feet above sea level, second highest to Ben Nevis in the UK. Not far from here are the three peaks Yr Tryfan, Glyder Fawr and Glyder Fach a sombre foreground to the majesty of Snowdon.
Yet there are far more than just mountains to see and plenty of things to do with about 100 lakes and seventeen nature reserves to castles, beaches, mountain railways, mines, slate quarries, historic houses and gardens, tiny villages, larger towns and working craft centres.
For the walker, mountain climber or pothole enthusiast choose from beginner to expert with so many places to offer. For families there are seaside resorts, visitor centres and railways to keep the children happy and also to learn a bit about historical sites. Try your hand at etching on slate, pottery throwing, working a loom at the many woollen mills, itís fun, its reasonably inexpensive and leaves you with a sense of achievement. Anglersí will be in seventh heaven and mums and children can look around the trout fisheries and feed the fish while the men (or women) are occupied with landing that whooper of a fish.
The first thing to do is to choose what type of accommodation you need to suit your budget and happily there is so much choice in and around Snowdonia. Caravan and camping sites offer the best value for money and a place to use as a touring base. Choose from Prestatyn or Rhyl, Colwyn Bay or Llandudno and drive along the coast road passing under the tunnel near Colwyn Bay with the road hugging the coastline. Although this is outside of the National Park its near to the main roads to travel into the park. Visit Conway Castle and the Mountain Zoo, cross the Menai straits into Anglesey.
Try Caernarfon a busy town with its own castle as another base there are plenty of caravan/camping sites around here. Or choose Porthmadog with its many cottages, terraced houses and waterfront flats to stay in. If you can afford a hotel or a B&B Betws-y-Coed is a magical place to stay and the best place to be in the heart of Snowdonia, more later.
As the mountains dominate the landscape, so the roads have to go through the valleys or the mountain passes so the choice of where to stay or what trips to make are important from the start of your stay. Many places offer discounts on main attractions so itís worth looking these up. National trust passes are ideal for the many castles or you can buy railway passes as well if you love trains as much as I do this represents a hefty saving. Most caravan sites and hotels will offer savings or will arrange coach excursions for those that donít want to drive. A car is still the best form of transport if you want to take in most of the sights. There are only about five major roads leading into the mountains so planning is vital to get the most out of the day. These are my own favourite routes. -
1) From Prestatyn follow the coast road stopping at the picturesque bays on route to Conway Castle. The sea-life centre at Rhyl is well worth a visit and with the castle will take up one day.
2) From Porthmadog visit the village of Portmeirion overlooking the Borth-y-Gest bay, itís here that the famous village was made as a setting for an old TV programme, hands up all who remember it? If you have any time left take one of the many railways running from Porthmadog the Ffestiniog Railway will take you into Blaenau Ffestininog where you can see the slate mines which have been producing slate roofs for many centuries now.
3). From Caernarfon take the route to Llanberis visit the ancient Welsh castle Dolbardon built by the Welsh princes to protect the pass of Llanberis from the English kings. From here the famous Snowden Mountain Railway winds through the mountains eventually reaching the peak of Snowden. Lets stop here a while and discover what makes this so special.
Built in 1896 this is the only railway in Britain, which uses the rack and pinion system featured mostly in the Alps. Itís a steep climb rising to within 66feet of the summit, which you can walk to on a good day. At times it feels like you are clinging to the mountainside as the old Victorian steam engine chugs slowly to the top. The trip takes up to an hour so check the timetable carefully or end up being exposed to the elements. Itís not cheap (around £12 per person last time I went) but itís a unique experience not to be missed. On a clear day you see as far as the Wicklow Mountains in Ireland. Sadly the summit building is in dire need of restoration and all contributions are welcome.
Still following the Llanberis pass by car once you reach the top of the pass you can park here and attempt various walks to Snowden something I have never done myself but you really do need to be a seasoned walker to attempt this climb. There is a climbing centre and a Youth Hostel here for the brave (or foolhardy) who wish to attempt the climb.
4). From the small town of Betwys- y-Coed take the road leading towards Capel Curig stopping on the way to visit the spectacular display of the Swallow falls just out of the town. There is a charge but its reasonable and standing at one of the many viewpoints expect to use up half a roll of film itís so beautiful and an experience thatís hard to describe. Stop at Capel Curig in one of the little cafes here for a proper Welsh breakfast or a snack by now your appetite will be ravenous so buy some real Welsh cakes to nibble on as you get back in the car and go on to take one of two routes. The first will take you to the top of the Llanberis pass and through magnificent scenery down to the little village of Bethesda and into Bangor with its large shopping centre. Or turn onto the route that takes you through Llanwrst and through the vale of Conwy back to the sea road.
Betws-y-Coed is worth spending a half day to look around the shops buy hiking boots and woollen goods or just sit on the rocks by the river and drink in the peace and quiet. I stayed here once in an old coaching inn dating back to the 17th century. The choice of rooms were only limited by my budget so I never did get to sleep in a four-poster bed with itís own spa bath and low-beamed ceilings instead I went for the cheaper but still luxurious room built on an extension at the back but awoke each morning to sound of the river and drawing back the curtains saw a forest of trees as far as the eye could see. Surrounded by mountains there was no TV reception which suited me fine, the cuisine was mouth-watering and late night guests could take a drink from the small bar and use an ďhonesty ď box, now thatís what I call a welcome.
5). Another good route is either from Llanrwst or Caernarfon heading towards Beddgelert a tiny village in the heart of Snowdonia. Legend has it that the one and only king of Wales, Llewellyn had his summer camp here deep in the forest and mountains near to Snowden. One morning he left his son in the care of his dog, Gelert while he was out hunting. On his return he found an empty cradle and his dog covered in blood and thinking that the dog had killed his child he slew the dog on the spot. The child was found unharmed but a wolf lay nearby slaughtered by the faithful dog and in a fit of remorse he buried the dog nearby. The grave of ďGelertĒ stands to this day, possibly just a fragment of imagination but enough to draw visitors to this lovely spot. The drive from Caernarfon is along winding roads following the course of the river along the pass of Aberglaslyn into the village. The famous illustrator of the Rupert Bear comic strips Mr Arthur E Bestall MBE lived here for over forty years drawing inspiration from the surrounding countryside. Beddgelert has been called the loveliest village in the country and I recommend a visit to this delightful place.
Nearby is the Sygun copper mines where copper was mined until 1903, now restored as a visitor centre the guide will lead you through the mines travelling high up into the mountainside where young children squeezed into the narrow passages where adults could not go. At one point in the tour the guide will extinguish all the lights leaving you to imagine what it must have been like for these youngsters.
6). For my final route I would choose Trawsfynydd a little further down the National park. I stayed here at a site with log cabins in landscaped gardens offering a lot of privacy. In the mornings my view was that of the distant mountains and the sunrise and sunsets were spectacular. There is a dry ski-slope here and mountain bikes to hire. The restaurant is situated in an old part of a mansion house with little niches to sit in and dine in style on venison, pork, chicken, rabbit, grouse and a good array of vegetarian meals. Just imagine dining here overlooking the mountains or retiring to your own log cabin to sit on the balcony with a takeaway and a bottle of good wine?
Near to the site is the Coed-y-Brenin Forest with 50 miles of forest trails and wildlife including buzzards, otters, polecats and deer. This is also the home of the welsh gold mines where you can look and drool over the pure welsh white gold bought for many a royal finger but out of my league. From here you can visit Harlech castle and on into Porthmadog or turn further south into Dolgellau to visit a very old town. A short run takes you into Bala with white-water rafting and canoeing. I stayed in Bala as well when I raised funds for Cancer Research totalling £100 for doing a group race down the falls (our whole group raised £1000).
To really get the most out of your holiday you need two weeks just to do the main sightseeing and still may feel you have only just touched the surface of this special place. Itís hard not to be sidetracked by the many other attractions, it seems like every route passes through an unspoilt village a mill, a stream, a nature reserve, a pottery, a larger town selling good souvenirs of your stay. Over the years I have visited North Wales about seven times and each time I find a new experience, another walk into the wild, another time to reflect on the brief nature of mankind when I sit by a stream, look at the mountains, soar with the eagles and see myself, a humble person in a land where nature is bigger than petty squabbles. I am proud to be one of the race called welsh and urge you to visit and feel some of this glory yourself.
I could write a poem but what better way to end on a spirit of welcome, a translation of the old song.
Weíll keep a welcome in the hillsides,
Weíll keep a welcome in the vales
This land of song will still be singing
When you come home again to Wales
This land of song will keep a welcome
And with a love that never fails
Weíll kiss away each hour of Hierith
When you come home again to Wales.
(Repeat last two lines). ©
Hierith is a word, which is so hard to describe, itís a longing for oneís home, land, family, and itís a deep sadness in the soul for all those who are away from their homeland and kinfolk. Itís a longing, yearning to be whole again both a sadness and a blessing.
Thanks for reading
© Lisa Fuller 2005.
Summary: A place of timeless beauty.
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