Frank's travels around Britain 2010.
Its been a long time since I managed to get away for a proper break and I'd booked the Travelodge at Caernarfon months before & felt I may loose it again due to illness .... but no, I was well enough & fit enough to travel from Chester, through Llandudno to Caernarfon & then take in in Portmeirion, Betws-y-Coed & Llanberis. It was a lovely trip!
Once again my luck held out & the sun shone for most of the time.
I took my first lunch break in Chester, a most beautiful city. It manages to combine Roman history, great individual shops & fabulous architecture while accommodating thousands of tourists. Originally the fortress site of the 20th legion (Valeria Victrix) it was charged with suppressing the uprising of the army led by the warrior queen, Boadicea, the town being known then (c. AD70) as Deva, and soon became a major trading port. By the Middle Ages, Chester had become an affluent and prosperous port. It was during this time that the famous Rows were built. These are the most distinctive medieval feature of the city. These are double-level walkways with a continuous line of balconies and with shops at street and first-floor levels. The Rows are unique and were certainly in existence in the 14th century. Even a man like me, who seldom shops, finds it a pleasure to see all that's on offer from a huge mixture of outlets.
Of course, as usual things had to go wrong! I forgot to pack any jumpers, so I got two items from the Edinburgh Woollen Mill outlet. The next day I found the security tag was still in one of them & I had not been caught as I left as potential shoplifter. I returned the garment on the Thursday, to have the tag removed, of course I was caught going into the shop, as the alarm went off! At least the staff saw the funny side of it!
I had lunch at a Spud-U-like cafe & found you now ate with plastic knife & fork off a soft plastic plate! Its amazing how difficult that is. The food was lovely but I doubt if I'll ever go through that again!
Llandudno still remains a well attended seaside resort. Its long curved promenade & beach with its pier & the Great Orme in the background makes it a real pleasure to visit. It has kept its Victorian and Edwardian elegance and splendour, despite a huge shopping complex being built. It's now possible to live there & shop at normal outlets like ASDA & Debenhams. The town has been transformed into a normal liveable place that just happens to be by the seaside!
No trip to Llandudno is complete without a trip up the Great Orme on the cable tramway. Yes, I know you can drive up there but its such a novelty & dates back to 1902. The only surprise I got was that you couldn't see Llandudno from the top! There's the ubiquitous gift shop & cafe at the top but the surprise, for a man of my era, there is the reminder that the 1952 champion middleweight boxer, Randolph Turpin became the resident licensee until 1961. The Llandudno Urban Council bought him out when he got into financial difficulties with the Inland Revenue. Sadly he ended his life with a single bullet in 1966.
Now we come to the bad bit! The Travelodge in Caernarfon is not to be recommended! As you know, it can rain in Wales .... (quite a lot!) & there is no parking at the lodge itself, the nearest free car park is some distance. When your old, recovering from illness & dragging your bags, you can end up wet through, out of puff & a nowty old man when you finally reach the first floor reception. (Lovely staff, they must be trained to deal with a LOT of this!). The first room offered was so dark you needed a torch! The next room was OK but due to health & safety, you couldn't use the balcony provided as it was locked! It's one of the "pared down to nothing" lodges. There is nowhere large enough to put your glasses, cup, phone watch etc. What ever happened to the bedside table? No cupboards to put your clothes in. I think the designer had broken his stick & his dog was sick! Once you find the bed gives back ache, the toilet seat is broken & the bathroom fan doesn't work, you get disillusioned very quickly!
The town of Caernarfon is strange. It has a world heritage castle, a huge central square, an attractive harbour but is just scruffy! There is litter everywhere. Apart from some good pub grub outlets, there is nothing to attract a visitor wandering around in the evenings. The good thing about it is that its central for visiting North Wales!
If you love photography, then you must visit Portmeirion! It was designed and built by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis between 1925 and 1975 in the style of an Italian village and is now owned by a charitable trust. Portmeirion has served as the location for numerous films and television shows, most famously serving as The Village in the 1960s television show The Prisoner. No matter which way you turn there is a place waiting to be photographed. Painted as if it was designed to be seen only with Kodachrome, it is quite magnificent! It is artificial, different, a unique vision of one man and looks like Italy was transplanted into the ruggedness of North Wales.
The grounds contain an important collection of rhododendrons and other exotic plants in a wild-garden setting, which was begun before Williams-Ellis's time by the previous owner George Henry Caton Haigh and has continued to be developed since Williams-Ellis's death. Portmeirion is now owned by a charitable trust, and has always been run as a hotel, which uses the majority of the buildings as hotel rooms or self-catering cottages, together with shops, a cafe, tea-room, and restaurant. Portmeirion is today a top tourist attraction in North Wales and day visits can be made on payment of an admission charge.
Like historic re-enactment societies, the cult of the Prisoner television series continues. There was a convention in April 2010 where it seems, all the props were used & many dressed as characters, re-enacting scenes from the series.
Of course if you spend a day here, you'll need feeding watering & your well catered for, with many outlets at any price to suit your pocket. It was at the back end of the season but the hotel had to stop accepting visitors for lunch unless you had an appointment booked!
The next surprise was the popularity of the steam train the goes up Snowdon from Llanberis. Priced at a staggering £25 per person, I was amazed to find out that while I was there, every seat for each trip, every 30 minutes was fully booked. I realise that the cost & maintenance of such a line is huge, but I am so surprised that, at the back end of the season there wasn't a seat available at that kind of price! Someone has some money in today's hard times!
Betws-y-Coed is a tourist village. There are the lovely Swallow falls but it seems that lots of buses turn up, unload their passengers to shop & visit the cafes in the village's special shopping complex. Its made to cope with lots of people who are whizzing their way around the tourist trail in North Wales.
It rained very hard on Wednesday afternoon & I made the mistake of going onto Anglesey. It could be me not appreciating the finer points of this very large island, but I shouldn't have bothered!
There's the two bridges, one by Robert Stephenson, son of the locomotive pioneer George Stephenson, the Britannia Bridge. He faced the challenge of building a bridge rigid and strong enough to carry a heavy train of many carriages. This was done by making the bridge out of two long iron tubes, rectangular in shape, through which the trains would travel. And the Menai Bridge by Thomas Telford. One of the design requirements for the bridge was that it needed to have 100 feet of clear space under the main span, to allow for the passage of the tall sailing ships that plied the strait. This was done by designing a suspension bridge, with sixteen massive chains holding up a 579 foot length of road surface between the two towers. Before the Menai bridge was built the crossing to Anglesey was very hazardous. One of the most tragic occurred in 1785 when a boat carrying 55 people became stranded on a sandbar in the middle of the southern end of the strait. Attempts to refloat the boat left it swamped. The alarm was raised and rescuers set off from Caernarfon. But, the combination of high winds, nightfall and the fear of also running aground meant that the rescuers could not approach the sandbar. Night fell, the tide rose and those stranded on the sandbar were swept away. Only one survived.
The other attraction is the village of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. The village is really only known for its name, the longest place name in Europe and one of the longest place names in the world. It is translated as St Mary's Church (Llanfair) in a hollow (pwll) of white hazel (gwyngyll) near (goger) the swirling whirlpool (y chwyrndrobwll) of the church of St Tysilio (llantysilio) with a red cave (gogo goch).
The other town to visit is Conwy. The A55 by pass cuts off the town & you see nothing. Once you peal off at the sign for Llandudno junction, you approach the town with the castle in front of you & the harbour to your left. It is very impressive! Conwy Castle and the town walls were built, on the instruction of Edward I of England, between 1283 and 1289, as part of his conquest of the principality of Wales. The town walls are still there to walk around. The castle is inexpensive to visit & this small town seems to show the way to do it. It is much better to visit than Caernarfon.
The connection with Stephenson & Telford is here too. Conwy Suspension Bridge was designed by Thomas Telford to replace the ferry, was completed in 1826 and spans the River Conwy next to the castle. Telford designed the bridge's supporting towers to match the castle's turrets. The bridge is now open to pedestrians only and, together with the toll-keeper's house, is in the care of the National Trust. The Conwy Railway Bridge, a Tubular bridge, was built for the Chester and Holyhead Railway by Robert Stephenson in 1849. The bridge is still in use on the North Wales Coast Line, along with station, which is located within the town walls.
North Wales is so worth a visit. Being lucky with the weather definitely helped. An afternoon on Anglesey in heavy rain shows how awful it could be!
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