Janette Sykes enjoys wonderful walking and picturesque places on tour in north Wales
Janette Sykes is enchanted by wonderful walking and picturesque places to visit on the Lleyn Peninsula
Gazing at the giant chessboard in Portmeirion, north Wales, was a bit like being transported back in a time machine. Suddenly it was 1967 – the Summer of Love, the release of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles – and the launch of a strange but compelling spy drama on television, The Prisoner. I was only 10 at the time, but Patrick Mcgoohan’s enigmatic cult series made a huge impression on me. Now, random memories flooded back. The show’s ‘Village’ sprang into life, as I visualised the huge white balloon bouncing down its narrow streets and heard Mcgoohan’s character in the drama, known only as ‘Number 6’, insisting: ‘I am not a number, I am a free man!’ I have to confess, I never understood what it was all about, but as an adult, I could appreciate why this very special location was chosen for what became an internationally popular series.
Portmeirion’s architect, Sir Bertram Clough Williams-ellis, devoted his life to its design, resulting in this imaginative, Italianate triumph, nominated by Tripadvisor as the most colourful place in the UK. This unique project, painstakingly created by Clough Williams-ellis from 1925 to 1976, to demonstrate how a beautiful location could be developed without spoiling it, is best explored on foot. This is the perfect way to gain a full appreciation of the architect’s vision and the sheer variety and splendour of Portmeirion’s Grade I- and Grade Ii-listed buildings, surrounded by 70 acres of forest gardens. As well as strolling around and sightseeing in the village, you can also follow the circular woodland walk or the coast walk, each taking 30 to 40 minutes, for a fuller flavour of its idyllic
‘Walking is a priority when we are on holiday, and we were pleasantly surprised to find that we were spoilt for choice on the peninsula’
setting. If your legs become too weary, you can also hop on the woodland train to tour the gardens and stop off at strategic points to take photographs. There are plenty of places to pause for a reviving tea or coffee, snacks, lunch and more formal meals. We plumped for Caffi’r Angel, where Angel Ices gelato is made daily using locally produced milk. Portmeirion was one of the highlights of our caravanning holiday on the unspoilt Lleyn Peninsula, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty between Anglesey to the north, Snowdonia National Park to the east and Caernarfon Bay to the west.
Our base for the tour was The Camping and Caravanning Club’s Llanystumdwy site, close to Criccieth, in the village where the Welsh Wizard, David Lloyd George – one of the 20th century’s most colourful and radical British prime ministers – spent much of his childhood and later life. Visitors to the Amgueddfa Lloyd George Museum can ponder his achievements, such as introducing the first state pensions and votes for women, and his less laudable actions, such as failing to solve the ‘Irish problem’ and facing serious allegations that he had sold honours. More interesting for me was the neat Victorian cottage where Manchester-born Lloyd George was brought up after his father died. Modest by modern standards, it was considered very comfortable at the time, and includes his uncle’s shoemaking workshop, with a fascinating collection of cobblers’ tools and period footwear. A short walk through the small Victorian garden and along a quiet path takes you to Lloyd George’s beautifully tended grave on the banks of the river Dwyfor, whose air of tranquillity is in direct contrast with the Liberal politician’s often turbulent life. Lloyd George’s final resting place is off a quiet back road that leads to Criccieth, known as the Pearl of Wales, with its castle dating back to the 13th century, sandy beaches and views across Snowdonia. Criccieth became a fashionable seaside resort when the Cambrian Coast Railway came to the town in 1867, and it retains an air of Victorian elegance and charm. Arriving on foot from Llanystumdwy, which takes around three-quarters of an hour, it’s a very pleasant stroll along Marine Terrace and the Esplanade. The High Street bustles with family-run businesses of all kinds, and there are lots of cafés and pubs serving morning coffee, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. We made the most of the sunshine and sat outside in the tea garden at Caffi Cwrt in the centre of town, to enjoy a relaxing sandwich lunch. Later, we discovered a friendly bistro-style restaurant, Tiffin, which bases its menu on delicious local produce, including succulent Welsh lamb.
Exploring on foot
Walking is a priority when we’re on holiday, and we were pleasantly surprised to find that we were spoilt for choice. Helpful locals recommended Llanbedrog, between Pwllheli and Abersoch, and Porthdinllaen, on the northern coast of the peninsula, and neither disappointed. We called at Llanbedrog on the way back from spending a morning in Abersoch, where we pottered around the village and harbour, stocking up on goodies such as Welsh-made cheeses and free-range eggs, then lunched outside Blades Café and Deli, famous for its artisan bread. We chose wholemeal granary sandwiches, but
other varieties, including date and walnut, seaweed, and tomato and basil, looked equally tempting. Llanbedrog is a magnet for visitors of all ages. We parked at the National Trust car park near the church and walked down to the beach, where we watched families build sandcastles and paddle against a backdrop of brightly painted beach huts.
Walking, not paddling
Though we briefly toyed with the idea of taking off our walking boots and socks to wiggle our toes in the sea, we decided instead to climb the steep flight of stone steps to the top of Llanbedrog Peninsula, home of the sculpture known by the locals as the Tin Man. Back in the mists of time, the landmark here was a wooden one, said to be the figurehead of a slate boat that sank, but these days, it is made of metal, and is also known as the Iron Man. He certainly has a fabulous view across the beach! Walks at Llanbedrog range from easy beach strolls to challenging cliff-top hikes amid gorse and heather. After our testing climb, we opted for a gentle downhill walk through woodland speckled with delicate dog violets, primroses and wood sorrel. Our winding route back to the village took us past Victorian Gothic mansion Plas Glyn y Weddw, now an art gallery and craft centre, and the open-air John Andrews Theatre, which stages concerts, drama and film screenings throughout the summer. Near Morfa Nefyn, we parked in the National Trust car park and descended to the beach to embark on an easy circular walk past the famous beachside Ty Coch (Red House) Inn, around the headland and back via the grounds of Nefyn Golf Club. According to travel website cheapflights. com, Ty Coch is one of the top 10 beach bars in the world. Originally a vicarage, it became a pub in 1842 to serve local shipbuilders. Today’s customers are lured by its beer, food, music and fabulous views at the heart of the village of Porthdinllaen, now owned by the National Trust. Our final port of call was Pen Llyn Lusitano Stud and Riding Centre at Llaniestyn, where we enjoyed a two-hour mountain hack on sturdy cob-type steeds. Viewing the world from the back of a horse gives you an entirely different perspective, and the panorama across Caernarfon Bay was certainly magnificent. Patrick Mcgoohan may have felt like a number when he filmed The Prisoner, but visiting the Lleyn Peninsula left us feeling like free people, refreshed and relaxed, thanks to the fabulous scenery and the warm welcome we had everywhere.
MAIN Portmeirion is an architectural triumph INSET Janette saddled up for a ride in the mountains
consider Many people Inn the Ty Coch beachside the best Wales pub in CLOCKWISE FROM TOP Llanbedrog is a charming place to build sandcastles and paddle, or simply sit and watch the world go by, with a backdrop of colourful beach huts. More active visitors might like to make the steep climb to the top of the peninsula, to greet the Tin Man sculpture and admire the stunning views. Then pop into the Ty Coch Inn for a reviving drink!