Croeso (wel­come) to Wales

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Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - TRAVEL2009 -

THANK heav­ens the Welsh have ei­ther been thought­ful enough or been forced to de­sign their road signs with an English in­ter­pre­ta­tion un­der the Welsh.

Fail­ing that I am sure that my road trip to Llan­dudno in Wales would have been a dis­as­ter, with me land­ing up in a to­tally dif­fer­ent town.

You can­not imag­ine a sign marked “ Twm­pathau” means “ speed humps ahead”.

It is cer­tainly a lan­guage to con­fuse trav­ellers but well for­got­ten on meet­ing the friendly lo­cal in­hab­i­tants.

I have been told that the feel­ing is not as am­i­ca­ble be­tween the Welsh and the English liv­ing in Eng­land. Al­though I was also proudly told that a large con­tin­gent of Welsh play­ers were in the Lions tour­ing team to South Africa.

Af­ter a six-hour drive from Lanc­ing in Sus­sex, and a wel­come stop along one of the many mo­tor­ways for a quick lunch at – be­lieve it or not – an Amer­i­can-styled diner with old Elvis num­bers pump­ing out of the speak­ers, we ar­rived in Llan­dudno.

It is a typ­i­cal sea­side re­sort and, for­tu­nately, we had ar­rived sev­eral weeks be­fore the UK sum­mer break, when we heard it is nigh im­pos­si­ble to find a bed or even place to walk on the prom­e­nade.

I do not think I have ever seen so many B&Bs in one small town. The quan­tity of ac­com­mo­da­tion is as­tound­ing.

We booked into Ad­cote House, a fine B&B run by hosts Mike and Anne. It was also one we could af­ford be­ing on a fairly tight bud­get thanks to the rand de­valu­ing to 15 to one. It turned out to be re­ally ex­cel­lent and only about 200m from the beach­front and of­fered a re­ally top-class English break­fast.

It was also in­ter­est­ing to meet an owner of a B&B who had spent time in and around Cape Town and who would like to re­tire to Som­er­set West.

Here we were for two days, with a host of things to see and do, in­clud­ing I was hop­ing, a trip up the 1 084m Mount Snow­don, the high­est moun­tain in the UK. It was here that Sir Ed­mund Hil­lary t r ai ned f or hi s s uc­cess­ful as­sault on Mount Ever­est.

De­cid­ing on a cir­cu­lar day trip, we left Llan­dudno early the fol­low­ing morn­ing headed first for Llan­beris vil­lage the gate­way to Mount Snow­don and one of the most beau­ti­ful ar­eas in North Wales.

The vil­lage grew thanks to the quar­ry­ing of slate, but to­day its main source of in­come is tourism, and vis­i­tors from around the world flock to climb aboard the small diesel train that claws its way up and down the moun­tain.

The more en­er­getic walk the route to the sum­mit and hik­ers, hill­climbers and moun­taineers flock to the area.

Un­for­tu­nately we ar­rived on a wet and misty morn­ing and felt it was not worth the trip up Snow­don as we would get to see none of the sur­round­ing coun­try­side.

Af­ter a quick visit to the sta­tion to view the small train and wit­ness the steam­ing up of a small steam loco, we con­tin­ued on the road and through the Welsh hills on a re­ally nar­row moun­tain pass be­tween age-old stone walls.

Most peo­ple in the UK agree that if you can get a car and a cow along­side one an­other then it qual­i­fies as a road.

Through beau­ti­ful val­leys and along­side lakes, the road winds hap­haz­ardly un­til you reach the small coastal town of Porth­madog.

We had been ad­vised, by our hosts in Llan­dudno, to take the cir­cu­lar route and spend the day ex­plor­ing the Welsh coun­try­side and def­i­nitely pay a visit to this small sea­port town where we would see fine ex­am­ples of small steam trains.

Porth­madog came i nto ex­is­tence af­ter William Madocks built a long sea­wall com­pleted in 1811, called the Cob, to re­claim a large pro­por­tion of the Traeth Mawr from the sea for agri­cul­tural use.

The ori­gin of the name Porth­madog is un­clear. Some claim that the town is named af­ter its founder Madocks, and in­deed his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ments show that Madocks him­self re­ferred to the town as “Pen­tre Gwaelod” (trans­lated roughly into English as “Lower Vil­lage”).

The ear­li­est doc­u­mented ref­er­ences to “Port Madoc” emerge in the 1830s, co­in­cid­ing with the open­ing of the Fes­tin­iog rail­way and the sub­se­quent dra­matic growth of the town.

Some main­tain that the place was named af­ter Ynys Madoc (Madoc Is­land) in the Glaslyn Es­tu­ary and its res­i­dent Madog ap Owain Gwynedd, a prince who, ac­cord­ing to leg­end, trav­elled to the Amer­i­cas 300 years be­fore Colum­bus.

The town was of­fi­cially called Port­madoc un­til 1974, when it was re­named to the Welsh spell­ing and pro­nun­ci­a­tion.

Lo­cated on the Ir­ish Sea coast, Porth­madog has a small har­bour where ships used to load with slate car­ried on the many lo­cal nar­row-gauge rail­ways termi- nat­ing there. Th­ese in­cluded the Croe­sor tramway, Ffes­tin­iog rail­way, Gorsed­dau tramway and, later on, and to a mi­nor ex­tent, the Welsh High­land rail­way.

In the sec­ond half of the 19th cen­tury, Porth­madog was a flour­ish­ing port. A num­ber of ship­builders were ac­tive there and were par­tic­u­larly well-known for the three-masted schooners known as the west­ern ocean yachts.

Porth­madog’s role as a com­mer­cial port was ef­fec­tively ended by the First World War. The slate wharves have now been partly built over with hol­i­day apart­ments, and the har­bour is used by leisure yachts.

We sat in the Porth­madog har­bour rail­way sta­tion, the ter­mi­nus of the Ffes­tin­iog rail­way from Blae­nau Ffes­tin­iog, await­ing the ar­rival of the tiny steam en­gine and here tucked into one of the best plates of bat­tered cod and chips dishes while in the UK.

Un­for­tu­nately time was run­ning out and, as we had not pre­booked, had to forego a ride on the train.

We headed for the walled town of Conwy, guarded by the gi­ant Conwy cas­tle, which has been de­scribed as one o f t h e gr e a t f o r t r e s s e s o f Medieva l Europe.

Conwy Castl e and t own ar e s ur - rounded by a well-pre­served wall, which helps t he t own main­tain a Me­dieval char­ac­ter l ost by other Welsh cas­tle towns over the years. Conwy is a town that time has sim­ply cho­sen to pass by. De­spite a few mod­ern shops, it still looks very sim­i­lar to the town Ed­ward en­vi­sioned about 700 years ago. The an­cient

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