In this edition of Travel Trumps, we’ll be pitting Cornwall against Norfolk in a battle of facts and figures...
Have you ever experienced that longing to return to a much beloved holiday spot while sat at your desk in work? Or looked at pictures of past holidays and felt an overwhelming wave of nostalgia for a favourite location? This in a sense, is a feeling of Hireath and North Wales, with its magnificent forests, epic mountain ranges and dramatic coastline is one of those locations that inspire such feelings. This month, we have chosen North Wales as our Inspire Destination of the Month, in order to showcase the romantic beauty of the landscape, the numerous memorable attractions and the fascinating historical sites, all of which will stay with visitors long after they leave this majestic land.
Take a look at our North Wales Inspire Me pages for travel guides, information on the many top places to eat and drink, as well as walks and events in the local area. On these pages we have listed many of the most popular activities and attractions in North Wales, ranging from exhilarating zip-wire rides to interesting National Trust properties. However, there are a number of lesser-known attractions that we felt deserved to be highlighted; from haunted castles, spectacular hidden waterfalls and the supposed resting place of King Arthur’s Excalibur.
Read on for more details on our selection of North Wales’ hidden gems.
Parys Mountain is a curious man-made landscape, forged by thousands of years worth of mining, close to the popular town of Amlwch. The area has been mined for metals since the Bronze Age, but it wasnt until over 1000 years later in the 1760’s that large scale mining took place upon the discovery of a large amount of copper ore. A walk around the Great Opencast nowadays reveals a range of fantastic colours from each level of excavation, varying between browns, reds, purples, oranges, pinks, blacks, yellows, greens and greys. The area has also become a haven for wildlife, including a variety of birds and plantlife hardy enough to survive high levels of copper and zinc.
Aber Falls (or Rhaeadyr Fawr in Welsh) is a magnificent waterfall, situated just off the A55 between Conwy and Bangor. Lying at the foot of the Carneddau mountain range, the falls are formed by the Afon Goch plunging 120 feet over a face of igneous rock to the valley below. The walk to Aber Falls is a beautiful one, offering fantastic views of the Carneddau and surrounding landscape. The route is one of many circular walks along the North Wales section of the Wales Coast Path, a map for the trail can be found here.
Situated in the grave yard of St Dygain’s Church, in the sleepy village of Llangernyw in the North Wales hills, is one of the oldest trees in the world. The Llangernyw Yew is thought to be nearly 5,000 years old, meaning it would have been growing during the later years of the Bronze Age. However, the tree is impossible to date due to the core having been lost at some point during its life time. The tree has long been a part of Welsh mythology, having been linked to ‘Angelystor’ (or the ‘Recording Angel’), a spirit that each Halloween would announce a prophecy telling the names of parishioners who were destined to die before the next Halloween. Due to its cleft trunk revealing a number of gravestones sat behind it, the tree does look very eerie, resembling a portal into the world of the dead.
Sat high on the hill overlooking the Nantgwynant Valley and the serene Llyn Dinas, is a rocky hillock known as Dinas Emrys featuring the remains of a late twelfth century fortification. The site had been occupied well before this fortification was built and is linked to some of the most famous figures in British mythology. The story goes that in the 5th century, the powerful ruler Vortigern decided to build his stronghold in a strategic location at the top of a hill. Each day builders would set about their work, but the following morning any progress would be in ruins. Vortigen was advised to sacrifice a young, ‘fatherless boy’ and sprinkle his blood over the proposed building site. Such a boy was found, but before he was harmed he convinced the King that it was actually an issue with what lay under the ground, namely a pool with two battling dragons living within it. Vortigen’s men dug deep into the mountain and released a white and a red dragon who began to fight. Eventually the white dragon fled and the red returned to its layer. The young boy was called Myrddin Emrys and would grow up to become Merlin, the legendary wizard and hand of King Arthur.
The current Castell Dinas Bran is a 13th century castle thought to have been built by Gruffudd ap Madog, the ruler of North Powys. It was besieged twice by the English and eventually granted to the Earl of Surrey by Dafydd ap Gruffudd in 1282, but was left to lapse into ruin. It is believed that a castle that was linked to the Arthurian legends was once situated on the site. This castle is thought to have been the home of Bran the Fisher King, brother of Joseph of Arimathea and was referred to in the Arthurian romance, Perlesvaus, as a potential hiding place for the Holy Grail.
Located just off the coast of the Llyn Peninsula, Ynys Enlli is purported to be the mythological island of Avalon from the Arthurian legends. There are many such stories surrounding the island, namely that it is where King Arthur is buried or that it is Merlin’s final resting place, that the wreckage of Arthur’s ship sits on the sea floor of Bardsey Sound (the waters between the mainland and the islands), that it may be the home of renowned enchantress Morgan le Fay and her sisters, and that it was the magical location in which the great sword Excalibur was forged. The island was a popular place of pilgrimage for many early Christians and it is rumoured to be the burial place of 20,000 ‘saints’; the remains of a thirteenth century Augustinian Abbey can still be found there. Nowadays, it is a designated National Nature Reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest, with a lighthouse and a smattering of number of other buildings.
Situated on the banks of the River Glaslyn is the picture-perfect village of Bedd Gelert, a name which translates to ‘Gelert’s Grave’. The village is the resting place of one Wales’ most renowned heroes, Gelert, the faithful hound of legendary 13th century Welsh prince Llywelyn the Great. According to legend, Llywelyn left Gelert to guard his son and heir while he went hunting, upon his return Gelert bounded towards him, his jaws and muzzle soaked in blood. Horrified, Llewlyn rushed to his son only to find his cot upturned and the baby nowhere in sight. Blinded by grief and anger he plunged his sword into Gelert’s side and as the dog howls in agony he hears the cry of a baby. He finds his son unharmed, hidden under the upturned cot and beside him the body of a monstrous wolf, killed by Gelert. Stricken with remorse, Llewelyn buries the brave Gelert and is thought to have never smiled again. It is possible to visit Gelert’s grave, which can be found along a path by the river.
Standing resolutely on a rocky crag overlooking Llyn Padarn is Dolbadarn, a Welsh castle built in the early 13th century by Prince Llywelyn ab Iorwerth (also known as Llywelyn the Great). The fortress was important as not only was it a physical symbol of the Prince’s power, but it was strategically placed from a military perspective and allowed Llywelyn to control the passageway into his lands in Gwynedd and Anglesey. After Llywelyn’s death in 1240, his grandson Llywelyn ap Gruffudd (Llywelyn the Last) gained control of the kingdom of Gwynedd by imprisoning his brother Owain Goch in the castle for 20 years. His other brother, Dafydd ap Gruffudd, attempted to evade English rule, but he and the castle were captured by Edward I’s army in 1283 and the fortress was subsequently plundered for building parts for the new castle in Caernarfon.
A 20th century radical and the first and only Welsh Prime Minister, David Lloyd George is a well known figure in the history of Great Britain. After holding a number of positions in government, he became leader of the coalition government in 1916, replacing Herbert Asquith. Under his leadership Britain won the war, the groundwork for the welfare state was introduced and certain women were given the vote for the first time. Although born in Manchester, Lloyd George grew up in the tiny Welsh-speaking village of Llanystumdwy on the Llyn Peninsula. The grave of the former Prime Minister can be found on the banks of the River Dwyfor and the within part of his former family home, Highgate, is the Lloyd George Museum.
Ellis Humphrey Evans, more commonly known as the poet Hedd Wyn, was born and raised at his family’s farm Yr Ysgwrn in the village of Trawsfynnydd in the Snowdonia National Park. A natural poet from a young age, he won a number of prizes for his verses, however it was the death and destruction of the First World War that had a resounding affect on his writing. As a Christian pacifist, he hadn’t enlisted for the army, but with the introduction of conscription in 1916, he joined to spare his younger brother. While on leave he wrote his poem Yr Arwr (The Hero) as a submission for that year’s Eisteddfod. The poem won, but upon announcing the winner no-one came forward to claim their prize. Instead, a black shroud was draped over the ceremonial chair and the Archdruid had to inform the audience that the poet had died in battle six weeks earlier. Ellis Evans had died on the first day of the Battle of Passchendale on the 31st July 1917. Nowadays, his family home is open to the public with exhibitions on his life, works and on the First World War.
At just the young age of 23, artist Rex Whistler was commissioned to create a mural for the Tate Gallery Restaurant, from this point onward he became immensely popular and was constantly in demand for his skills as a muralist, designer, portrait-painter and illustrator. He became a popular fixture amongst the smart set with many celebrity friends and illustrious clients, such as the sixth Marquess of Anglesey, who commissioned Whistler to paint a mural in the dining room of Plas Newydd. Typical of Whistler’s style, the mural has elements of humour and trickery, walking from one side of the room to the other could reveal things not seen at first glance. The largest canvas painting in the UK, Whistler’s masterpiece can still be seen at the property, along with a number of his letters to the Marquess’ eldest daughter, Lady Caroline Paget and his nude portrait of her. It is thought that Whistler was in love with his client’s daughter but any love story was cut short; she married someone else and he died on his first day of combat in the Second World War aged just 39.
The lighthouse at Ynys Llanddwyn (Llanddwyn Island) is one of the most photographed in the UK (it even features on our very own Inspire Me page for Wales), but the island had a turbulent history centuries before the structure was built. Llanddwyn can be translated to meaning ‘The Church of St Dwynwen’, the ruins of which can still be seen on the island today. St Dwynwen is the Welsh patron saint of lovers and her feast day of the 25th of January is essentially the equivalent to St Valentines Day, celebrated by the exchange of flowers and cards. Dwynwen was born in the 5th century and was one of the Prince of Brecon, Brychan Brycheiniog’s, 24 daughters. She fell in love with a man named Maelon, but rejected his advances due to being betrothed to another. She was given a potion to release her from this unhappy love, but it turned Maelon to ice. Dwynwen then prayed for three wishes; for Maelon to be revived, that all true lovers find happiness and that she would never marry. She then retired to Llanddwyn island and lived the rest of her life as a hermit. Her shrine became popular for pilgrimages, so much so that during Tudor times it was the richest in the surrounding area.
St Winefride’s Well is situated in the town of Holywell in Flintshire and has been a popular pilgrimage site for nearly 1,400 years, with many seeking the well’s healing powers. The legend behind the well and St Winefride dates back to a day thought to be in the year 630 AD. The story goes that the chieftain Caradoc had attempted to seduce Winefride, she resisted and ran towards the church her uncle, St Beuno, had built. Caradoc pursues her, cutting off her head once he captures her. Where her head fell to the ground, a spring of water appears and her uncle having found the body, reunites it with the head and prays until she is revived, with just a white scar encircling her neck where it was severed. Caradoc falls to the ground and is never seen of again, Winefride becomes a nun and later an Abbess, living for another 22 years.
The sites above are just a selection of the many intriguing and impressive places to visit in North Wales. For more information on this beautiful and varied destination, take a look at our North Wales Inspire Me page. This section has plenty of information for your next trip, including travel information and location guides.
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