Wales Other UK / Ireland topics
Portmerion Gardens (Portmerion, Wales)
Portmerion Gardens PORTMEIRION, Gwynedd, LL48 6ER, Wales The village of Portmerion is located on the estuary of the River Dwyryd, 2 miles south east of Porthmadog. Strangely considering what wet weather we hear happens in Wales this small peninsula has a comparatively mild climate with frosts being very ... unlikely which means plants that are usually not able to survive British winters manage to survive here.
Some of the trees in the Portmerion garden date from the 1850s and are therefore pretty decent sized trees now. There are some great climbing trees and I am so glad we didn't take our grandsons as they would have been up these in a flash and that is probably not something you are allowed to do! These had lots of low lying branches with plenty of horizontal branches to climb on.
Coming down the drive into the village on either side of the drive are stunning hydrangeas. I don't think I have ever seen so many hydrangeas along the side of a drive before they must be an amazing site in September as they were pretty great even in late December as we have had such a mild December all the flower heads were still there.
When Clough William Ellis bought the site in 1926 he mainly worked on the design of the actual village and planting in the village area. There are many Irish Yew trees which give shape to the village around the buildings and several palms which help to create the Italianate feel to the place.
There are lots of plant beds in around the village to help create the winding paths and areas hidden from view until you get to them. Once again all around were many beds of hydrangeas which were all being severely pruned while we were visiting. Although many of the beds were in their winter tidy condition it was obvious that in summer these were full of colour it didn't mean that the gardens were bare, they still had evergreen and hardy plants that gave the structure to the garden and all that was missing was the flower colour. I was able to see what the place looked like in summer when I looked at the lovely coffee table book we had left in our room which I studied when we were staying there.
The trees around the village were huge giving the impression that the village was in the countryside and well hidden from the outside world, which indeed it is. On one night there was a really strong wind and the trees around were doing a lot of swaying and movement so I was a little concerned by their size!
When you walk a little out of the actual village and on the walk around the lakes then this is where Clough made major architectural changes to the grounds. There are two lakes which are not natural but are beautiful with ironwork arbour and sculptures at one end, a lovely Japanese bridge between the two while at the far end there were a couple of benches where you could sit and look back at the bridge and the arbour with beautiful reflections in the lake.
What I liked about this walk and woodland is that it looked really natural as though it had always been there. The woodland area has one main walk way but the woodland part has no paths to speak of but it is possible to walk through the wooden area so long as you find you own way. The woodland is managed and maintained but not in any way unnatural looking.
Some of the larger buildings in the village have small driveways and these are lined with formal topiary conifers and these contrast with the winding upward curving paths with small more natural looking shrubs amidst the rocks and stone walls.
The sad thing about visiting somewhere like this in winter is that you can see these huge rhododendron, camellias and hydrangeas in the gardens but can only imagine what they all look like in full bloom and I kept saying I wish we could seen this all in bloom but of course you do have the summer crowds to contend with and we had none.
Aside from the plants this garden has lots of sculptural surprises which you come across whilst wandering around. The main centre of the village has a formal design with ornate arches and a high wall with small covered sort of arbours overlooking it. A large very regal looking lion sculpture takes pride of place and this was apparently a gift to Clough William Ellis from his friends for his 90th Birthday in 1973.
Not far from the lion statue you will also see another more classical looking statue of Atlas (or Hercules some seem to be calling it) holding up the world. Unlike the lion which is stone this statue is made from weathered copper. He is in a very classical pose with a bowed head and the world on his shoulders and he is down on one knee. He appears to be being hindered in his task by a lion clamped onto one of his arms.
Every corner seems to have a little surprise hidden and as we walked around we found all kinds of quirky things. We found a Buddha which I then discovered was use in the film 'The Inn of the Sixth Happiness' filmed in 1958 nearby and this now lives in Portmerion looking down over the main central area. Somehow even a Buddha does not out of place here as there are so many strange little sculptures around and it is just another interesting find.
Down on the beach front you will find a lawned area and a pool but in order to get there you have to go down closed in stairs and tunnels or through ornate gates. Right by the hotel is the 'ship' which is actually just a concrete extension to the seawall with a mast but from a distance looks like a moored ship. All these oddities help to make the village what it is.
I deliberately have not mentioned the actual buildings as I feel the gardens and the statues within deserve their own attention as they are the wonderful backdrop which allows the buildings to create the full picture which is Portmerion village.
I am so pleased that we had a few days to explore the village and the gardens and walks beyond the immediate village. In the few days we were there we noticed new things each time we wandered around exploring. It is like a sort of magical secret garden with hidden treasures to be found in all sorts of corners and behind plants or walls.
I would certainly recommend that you look beyond the beautiful buildings in this pretty little village as you will certainly not be disappointed. You can see wild wooded areas, what seem like natural lake reflections and more formal planted areas all within a reasonably small area. If you go at the right time you will enjoy a driveway fringed by beautiful hydrangeas in bloom and if you are also better at your timing that we were you could also be lucky enough to enjoy the rhododendrons and camellias as well. Even if you visit in winter like we did you can still thoroughly enjoy the garden experience in Portmerion.
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Starre Gorse Holiday Park (Wales)
Starre Gorse Holiday Park, Pleasant Valley, South Wales Since I was just 9 months old I have been going on family holidays to Pleasant Valley in Pembrokeshire, South Wales. While I was young we had a caravan on one of the many caravan sites there, however when I was 15 my grandparents decided to sell the caravan as it was no ... longer getting enough use to make it worth paying the site fees. This left me with the option of not visiting my favourite place, use B&B's or take up camping. I chose the camping and over the years I have discovered many great campsites in Pleasant Valley and the surrounding areas. The one I will be reviewing today is Starre Gorse Holiday Park.
*** Location ***
Starre Gorse is located in the heart of Pleasant Valley and is approximately a mile from the nearest beach and local pub at Wiseman's Bridge which over looks the beach. Also within a reasonable distance and easily accessible by both car and public transport are the neighbouring towns of Tenby, Saundersfoot and Amroth. There is a bus stop very near the entrance of the site where a regular service is available for getting to these areas.
*** Arrival at Starre Gorse ***
From Birmingham it is around 200 miles and takes approximately 4 hours to reach Pleasant Valley. If you come onto the country roads from the direction of the dual carriage way then the site is quite easy to miss the entrance and drive past as it is located next to a church and just after a slight bed in the road meaning the church blocks the view of the entrance slightly. Coming from the other direction you would have to be blind to miss the entrance though as there is a big sign with the name of the site and also contact details for the site owners.
As I drive through the entrance to the site I notice there is a 5mph speed limit enforced along with many speed bumps to make sure that you really cant do more than 5mph. Following the small road up a hill and over the many speed bumps we came to a car parking area on the right. I usually find a space with ease, however during busier times in the summer months I have had to squeeze in small gaps or wait for people to move.
*** On Site Shop ***
On the car park there is a small shop selling many essential items at the average price of the local shops in town. They also have a small toys section in the shop as well as the usual buckets, spades, children's fishing nets and crabbing lines. The shop is also where you book onto the campsite and pay your fees. I first discovered this site way back in 2001 when the site fees were a mere £5 per tent per night, however as with all things this price has risen and as of summer 2010 was £12 per tent per night. Once you have paid you are given a receipt for the duration of your stay, you will need to keep this just in case of any discrepancies but there is no need to attach it to your tent.
*** The Camping Field ***
The campsite field is located at the top of a very steep hill opposite the car park. You can drive up the hill but it is so steep that it is 1st gear all the way up it so we usually drive up to set up and then leave the car on the car park for the rest of the trip. The field is quite like the road in the sense that it is a big hill, but there are flat areas at both the top and bottom of the hill. I've camped at both ends but I prefer the bottom these days as I'm getting older and lazier! Also the top is a bit of a mission without the car!
The views from the site in one direction are just more fields and nothing special, but in the other direction there is a beautiful view looking out over the valley with all its greenery and in the distance you can see the sea, which on a sunny day looks particularly nice as it sparkles in the sunshine.
*** Toilets and Showers ***
At the bottom of the field there is a small toilet block with just two toilets, I think they are basically for middle of the night emergencies as they aren't separated into male and female and apart from being regularly topped up with toilet roll they're not exactly the most well looked after toilets in the world! They are known for the spiders and daddy long legs that seem to be permanent residents and send small children screaming back to their tents, much to my amusement!
The main toilet blocks are located all the way down the steep hill and behind the shop. As you look at the shop the Gents is to the right and the Ladies to the left. I have never been in the Gents but I have been camping with groups of friends and the males among the group seem to describe their toilet block as pretty much like our girls one. There is a wooden door to enter the block, to the left there are about 10 toilet cubicles, to the right are 5 sinks each with both hot and cold taps and in the corner there are two shower cubicles. The showers are free to use and actually pretty nice and warm, however Wales being Wales its a bit nippy getting out of the nice warm shower into the chilly Welsh air, especially as the building itself is made of the stone blocks that make everything seem colder. Also the floor in the showers is simply concrete and very cold on the feet! This toilet block is better maintained than the one up by the field, it is clear that the shower heads are cleaned and the floor is washed regular, however Boris the spider along with his whole family and many daddy long legs are also residents in this toilet block too so you may have a friend or two sharing your shower with you.
*** Other Facilities ***
There is a laundry area located next to the shop, this has a couple of washer/dryer machines which you can use. There is also an ironing board and iron and an airer for hanging your clothes on.
There is a large heated pool on the site, I have attempted to use this once, however I am a chicken and no matter how heated an outdoor pool is it still felt freezing to me! There are a few sun loungers around the edge of the pool and often random inflatable's for kids to play with that have been left by previous guests.
There is a children's play area on site with the usual swings, small climbing frame and a sand pit... just in case the kids didn't get enough of the sand on the beach!
*** Rent a Caravan ***
Although I have reviewed the camping part of the site it is notable to say that Starre Gorse is not only camping, they also have many caravans on site, some privately owned and others available for rent.
I have never rented a caravan on this site but they do look very nice, I've checked the prices on them (just in case I fancied a treat!) and they range from £230 - £500 a week for a 4 berth caravan and £230 - £520 for a 6 berth also for a week.
*** Opening Times ***
The site is open from the Easter holiday through until the end of October, however the campsite part is only open during the main holiday periods, bank holiday weekends and the main 6 week school summer holiday.
*** Overall ***
I have stayed on this site many times and apart from the toilet blocks I have no issues with this site to complain about. The shop is well stocked and reasonably priced. I would recommend a stay on this site, but if you don't like spiders and cold shower blocks then maybe renting a caravan on the site might be a better idea!
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I loved visiting the seaside as a kid, and to be honest I still enjoy going to see the sea these days but don't get the chance that often. The last time I went to the seaside was about two years ago when we went to Blackpool and ended up in the middle of someone's Hen night. This wouldn't have been so bad but I was with my wife and kids ... and this was at 11am on a Thursday morning, so the screaming, shouting and swearing coming from a group of drunken, I was going to say ladies but that's not quite the right description for them, was a bit out of order. In fact, I wasn't the only one to find these pink fluffily dressed 'chavs' a bit of a nuisance as I was surrounded by other parent with families on a day out who seemed as disgusted as I was.
But then again Blackpool seems to have gone down the road of Stag and Hen parties to keep the money coming in, so visiting Blackpool again for a day out at the seaside was not top of my agenda.
But recently, due to the long summer school holidays, I had to find thing to keep my kids entertained, which was making a bit of a dent on my wallet. Luckily a friend of my wife's offered us the use of her Caravan which is situated just outside Prestatyn, so we jumped at the chance of a few days away from the hustle and bustle of daily life.
When we got there we had to find things to do and as the weather was quite good finding things to do was quite easy due to the lovely area around us.
One of the places we chose to visit was a place I'd been to before, many many many years ago, and it was right by the sea, so I jumped at the chance, grabbing the buckets and spades ready for the sand castles that I was planning to build.
The place I am talking about is the seaside town of Rhyl, which is located in North Wales, a few miles from the town of Prestatyn, Towyn and Abergele
Getting there is a doddle, as the town centre is on the A548, but this is not where the 'action' is, it is the B5118, the Promenade, which offer more of the thrills that a seaside resort has to have. But the sign posts are clear and there are several scattered around so you won't, or shouldn't, get lost.
If you do input the post code into your sat nav it will take you directly into the town centre which, when we went, was covered in road works and really slowed the traffic down, so if you can, you should get onto the B5118 as soon as you can. The best route I found was to turn right at a set of traffic lights with a set of shops on your left, you the coast road is opposite a 'Fosters' Off Licence, just before what looks like a small place of worship, this will take you right along the coast road and avoid the town centre, plus, there is plenty of parking spaces along this road so, if like me, you enjoy building sand castles and the tide's out, then pull up here and grab your bucket and spade.
Anyway, as I said, we came in from the East parade, coming from Prestatyn, but the coast road is straight forwards from either way, so if you come in from the West parade, coming from Kimnel Bay, you still can't go wrong.
Driving in from Prestatyn is quite a pleasant way in indeed, passing by the beautiful view of a grassed verge with the sea trailing away from it, whilst opposite there are some rather nice looking buildings, these being a mixture of hotels, Bed and breakfasts, apartments and some lovely quaint homes, there's also a hospital if anything horrible should happen.
The entire road is littered with car parking slots with more spaces being towards this end, becoming busier the closer we got to Rhyl itself.
As we got closer to the centre, passing a massive building on the right, I think it was a theatre, I realised that this place had totally changed, although why I expected it to be the same as it was when I visited many years ago I don't know.
We passed the first of the main car parks, deciding to get further into the centre in the hope of finding a space in there, and when we came up to a mini roundabout the traffic just seemed to fill then entire area, coming from nowhere as if by magic.
Over this roundabout and we were more or less in the centre of the tourists spot, with the Sea Life, 'seaquarium', centre on the right and White Rose shopping centre on the left.
From here it was a matter of finding somewhere to park, which wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, especially as the area is well sign posted, pointing to every car park and sites to see.
On the right there was an area which looks a little like a funky castle, this is in fact an area containing café's seating areas and, most importantly, a toilet, which, unfortunately, you do have to pay to get into.
Also on this side there is a small fun fair which is great for the younger kids as it has several rides and activities they can go on, including go-carts, a train ride, an inflatable slide and a big bouncy thing that's shaped like a massive clown. You do have to pay to get on them in the form of tokens which can be purchased from the little booths.
It was just passed this area where I managed to park up, mainly due to the fact that I felt it was in the centre and it had a cracking object so that I could remember where I'd actually parked, this object being the Sky Tower, which is a spinning seating area which rises up into the air so that you can get a view of Rhyl and the surrounding area.
At the side of this car park there is a little skate boarding area with ramps and things, which was crammed with teenagers all skimming around, whilst some were falling over much to my amusement.
Then, just passed this, there was a rather nice little open air paddling pool, which was quite busy with many screaming kids all splashing around. My kids wanted to have a dip in the water but as we'd only just got there I told them to wait a while and promised them they could have a dip on the way back. So I asked the life guard how much it cost to get in and what time it closed, to my amazement he told me it was free to use, which, especially these days, was a brilliant way to let the kids run wild for no money at all.
If only more places had things like this for the kids to use without having to take out a second mortgage.
We then decided to head along the road, choosing to walk down the arcade side so my kids could get this out of there system. Crossing the road was a bit tricky, even though there are several designated crossing places. (In fact, actually driving down the road was a task in itself as the stream of people seemed to just stumble into the road, making it a test for both my mind and my brakes).
But once across we tried out a few arcades as we went, with my kids constantly pestering me to 'try and win something', which I failed to do in spectacular style.
The arcades have the usual games in them, if you can call some of them games due to the fact that many of them are designed to take as much money as possible whilst paying out very little. The grabbers are the biggest sinners in my books as the amount of money one could spend trying to 'grab' a Homer Simpson doll or a sponge bob square pants character is astronomical, it would probably be cheaper to buy one straight from a shop. In fact, it would probably work out cheaper if you smashed the glass container open, grabbed one and legged it, as the fine you would get when you were taken to court would be less than the money you'd have wasted popping pound coin after pound coin into the tiny slot, (I'm not telling you to smash up the place to get that Peppa Pig cuddly toy, I'm just going off on one really).
These type of 'games' are really designed to infuriate you so that you will keep putting money in just because on your last go the 'grabber' fingers almost dragged that banana toy with a £5.00 note tied to it into the drop zone, and your child, who's standing at your side, mouth open in excitement, turning to horror as the toy drops from the 'grippers' grasp, starts screaming at you to try again, and again, and again....
Other than these 'games' there are what I call 'proper' arcade games, giving you a chance to test your skills in a racing car, or even see how you'd cope when you're attacked by blood thirsty zombies, (it's worth practicing as you never know when it might happen in real life???). For me these sort of games are a little better value for money, even if you don't win anything, at least you have a bit of fun with your pound coin.
Apart from the arcades there are other things to see, such as the Bingo halls, which all seemed to be busy and, due to the voices shouting numbers out from the speakers, very load indeed. There is also a place which looked quite impressive indeed, with it's scary looking appearance and its sinister 'Terror Tower' name. Sadly though it turned out to be as scary as watching an episode of Emmerdale and was a complete waste of money. I should have realised this when I read a sign on the counter stating that no refunds shall be given, and I know why that sign was there now.
There's also a few nightclubs and pubs along the road, with several pubs off the beaten track, along some of the back roads, but as I was driving and out with the family I didn't get to try these out so I can't comment on them. But suffice to say the amount of people trickling in and out of the doors I'm guessing that they are very busy places.
Further down the road, there's a Fun Centre, which we didn't go in so I can't make a comment on.
Then the arcades fade away and the more series business of the hotels and guest houses are upon you, but this part of Rhyl looked like the part that the council seem to have forgotten about, brushing it under the carpet, but not brushing the streets as they should have done. Seeming to get worse the further you drive towards the roundabout heading for Abegele.
As for something to eat, well, there are many places to sit and get a warm meal inside you, with other places offering a take away feature.
We found a rather nice café on the front, just down from the main car park, which offered a cracking deal on the meals, the deal was a child could eat for free with every adult meal, the adult meals selling for £4.50 at the most, which included drinks, (Non alcoholic of course), so £9.00 for four good size meals was a bargain in my books.
There are other places offering there own deals but some of the premises looked as though a rat would turn its nose up at it, with some looking, and smelling even worse, but these café's from hell are easy to spot as there the ones that are void of people.
If you are the type that likes to do a bit of 'real' shopping, with this I mean looking at clothes, shoes, handbags and the like instead of seaside goodies which will find the bin the instance you leave the area, then there's a rather busy shopping area just off the promenade, in between a B & M shop and an arcade called 'The Bright Spot', you can't miss it.
This shopping centre is vehicle free, so spending money there can be done in the safe knowledge that you won't be run over by a car, but delivery vehicles may make an appearance during the day.
Or, if you don't want to shop or spend endless amounts of money in the arcades, then there's always the beach to sit and relax on, when the tides out of course. The sand is pretty much glass free, although it can be pebbly in parts so flip flops are recommended.
The 'central' beach area of the promenade is the busiest with many people running around, so if you want to get a bit of space for yourself, maybe build a sandcastle or two, then I suggest heading towards Prestatyn and parking along the side of the road as the beach is pretty much deserted the further you get away from the arcades.
But before you leave Rhyl don't forget to buy yourself some rock as there's several places to get it from with a lot of different shapes and varieties on offer.
As for the paddling pool which I mentioned earlier, I did take my kids back to this so that they could have a bit of a paddle before we headed back to the caravan and they loved it, cooling there feet after a long walk up and down the prom. This pool is shallow, the deepest part coming up to my daughters knees, so there's no swimming in it really, and certainly no diving, but it was very popular indeed and was very busy.
It was a great little ending for the kids after what turned out to be a rather pleasant trip.
In all, a fine day out for the family, especially if the weathers good, although it can get a bit expensive in the arcades.
It's not the biggest of seaside resorts but there's plenty to do and quite a bit to see so boredom should stay well away.
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Wales Other UK / Ireland topic
Other UK / Ireland topic / Address: Portmerion, Gwynedd, LL48 6ER, Wales - Beautiful gardens in and around the village of portmeirion.
Other UK / Ireland topic / Wern Isaf Farm, Llangollen, LL20 8DU Tel: +44(0)1978 860632.
Other UK / Ireland topic / Located in Dinlie, near Caernrafon, Gwynedd.
Other UK / Ireland topic / Address: Pleasant Valley, Stepaside, Narberth, Pembrokeshire, SA67 8LR - Campsite and caravan park located in South Wales.
Other UK / Ireland topic / A seaside resort in North Wales.
Other UK / Ireland topic / Caravan Park in Saundersfoot, Pembrokeshire, Wales.
Address: Pendine / Other UK / Ireland topic / Carmarthenshire / South Wales / SA33 4NZ
Location: Blue Lagoon, Bluestone, Canaston Wood, Narberth, Pembrokeshire, SA67 8DE / Other UK / Ireland topic / Blue Lagoon indoor water park in south wales.
Address: St Davids Haverfordwest / Other UK / Ireland topic / Pembrokeshire / SA626QT / Tel: (01437) 720274
Address: Gronant / Other UK / Ireland topic / Prestatyn / North Wales / LL19 9TT / Tel: 0871 231 0888
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