Croeso (welcome) to Wales
StoriesofthebeautyofthenorthWelshcountryside,itsfriendly peopleandhistoricaltownslikeLlandudno,Llaneberis, PorthamadogandthewalledtownofConwyenticed RobinBrowntopaythemavisit
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