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A Jaunt around Wales

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A Jaunt around Wales
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Jaunts around Europe - Exploring Wales

    After enjoying three trips to Wales during the last three years, our family of four agrees that the country of Wales is probably the most underrated region in Great Britain. Having done mid-Wales and south-Wales, we decided this year to head north to possibly the most spectacular part of the country, the Mount Snowdon area(www.visitsnowdonia.info).


Hafod y Gwynt
(House in the Wind)

    As usual, I trolled the internet to find the ideal place for us to stay, with the added requirement of finding a house with the right combination of rooms for our family of four, my parents, and our friends, the May family of four. We lucked out with Hafod y Gwynt (House in the Wind), a large, converted Victorian coach house situated just five miles from the base of Mount Snowdon, Wales’ highest mountain (www. hidays.com). The house includes five bedrooms (2 doubles, 2 family rooms with Morgan, Chris, John, Cerys and  Duncan enjoy a walk in the hills near  our rental house in Snowdonia.doubles and bunks, and a room with two bunk beds), three bathrooms and a downstairs cloakroom, dining room, living room, conservatory (where the children liked to eat), a laundry room, and a well-equipped kitchen. Some of the living room furniture was a little run-down, but we were all very comfortable and we felt quite at home. The great thing about this coach house was the price. It cost less than £850 for the week for all 10 of us, which made for a very inexpensive stay, by British standards. The rental at Hafod y Gwynt is Friday to Friday, and you will need to bring at least one day’s worth of food, as the nearest store is a few miles drive away.
   The coach house is located midway between Llanberis, at the foot of Mount Snowdon; Capel Curig, home of the National Mountaineering Centre; and, Beddgelert, a quaint mountain village. Although the house is on a reasonably busy road, there is only daytime traffic, and nighttimes are quiet. Hafod y Gwynt is built on 15 acres, which includes a lake and plenty of hills for walking. Its only neighbours are a climbers' hotel, a few mountains, and lots of sheep. It’s a little windswept, as the name suggests, but that’s half its charm; the area is rugged and rather magnificent.
    My husband Andrew and friend John May spent the first day walking in the hills with the four children. There was no shortage of choice and our boys Morgan and Duncan, along with the May children, Chris and Cerys, were in mountain heaven. Morgan declared it the best day of his life.
    For the rest of us, Saturday was spent settling in, part of which involved a 20-minute drive to Betws y Coed for lunch and a little Welsh shopping. It’s a pretty little town, where you can visit Swallow Falls (for a nominal entrance fee), the supposedly “Ugly House” (which we found rather quaint), and a lot of stores selling wool, leather items, and an enormous variety of outdoor gear – definitely aimed at weekend hikers and mountaineers. We even managed to find a real Welsh rugby ball for sports-mad Duncan.

Potty about Pottery  or Mad about the Med?

    On Sunday, we headed south through mountains and valleys, to the Mediterranean-style resort village of Portmeirion. Designed by architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, and built on his own private peninsula between 1926 and 1975, Portmeirion is an oddity that seems to work. AppareThe Mediterranean-style resort village of Portmeirion.ntly Williams-Ellis wanted to show that “the development of a naturally beautiful site need not lead to its defilement.” He financed much of the building by opening up the main house as a hotel. It still remains a popular destination, and prices are quite reasonable (www.portmeirion-village.com) There are lots of coastal walks and all sorts of little places to discover, and the four children had a busy day exploring this little piece of Italy located in northern Wales.
    One thing that really struck us about Portmeirion was the abundance of glorious,enormous blue and purple hy-drangeas. The entrance to the resort is a lovely avenue of color-ful hydrangeas.
        The name Portmeirion may be familiar to pottery collectors, and there are several shops selling Portmeirion pottery seconds at good prices, but the village is also known as the location for 1950s TV series, “The Prisoner.” We learned that Noel Coward wrote his play “Blithe Spirit”
here while he was a guest at the
Portmeirion Resort.

Going Underground

   Monday’s big excursion was to the Llechwedd Slate Caverns just outside the rather bleak-looking village of Blaenau Ffestiniog (www. llechwedd-slate-caverns.co.uk). Welsh mining villages seem very gray and atmospheric and this helps us understand the rather morose nature of much of Wales' literary output.     
      Llechwedd has two underground tours, one of which includes a ride on the steepest passenger railway. Both tours take you through vast caverns that are cold, dark, and rather awesome. We enjoyed the tours thoroughly, but were happy to return to the relative warmth above ground. And we were even happier to visit the Victorian village built alongside the caverns. Our favorite part was the old-fashioned sweet shop and its old-fashioned sweets, which you could buy using old-fashioned coins. We all left with bulging cheeks and empty pockets.

Climb every Mountain

    Tuesday was mountain day, and we headed for Llanberis to go on the Snowdon Mountain Railway, Britain’s highest rack railway (www.snowdonrailway.co. uk) up Mount Snowdon. Wejoined the long ticket line before 10am and the earliest available train was at 2pm. So, be warned, book a day ahead (0870-4580033), or get there early and enjoy an early bird special. Weather should never deter you, however, as it’s pretty much an unknown quantity at all times. Take a chance!
    Because we had several hours to kill in Llanberis, we headed off to the Welsh Slate Museum (www. nmgw.ac.uk), where you can see demonstrations of the dying art of slate-splitting by hand using some of the best slate in the world. The demonstration was interesting and the children were given a chance to  Hafod y Gwynt (above) is the building on  the right. Its water  supply comes from the  waterfall seen above the house flowing from Mount Snowdon.  The lake in front belongs to the owner,  Harvey Lloyd (an avid mountaineer). In all, there are 15 acres to explore.have a go at the process. The museum also included a display of four quarrymen’s houses, and showed how they changed from dark, bare hovels to comfortable and relatively sophisticated modern homes over the years.
    Then it was time to head up the mountain. We took the one-hour train journey up to the top, and enjoyed magnificent views until around the last half-mile, where it was completely fogged in. This suited me fine because the fog allowed me to hike down the mountain trail without getting nervous about the heights.
    We followed the Miners  Track down the mountain, which was steep and fairly difficult to start with, but happily became a bit of an amble by the time we reached the bottom. Morgan pranced down the track like a mountain goat, fuelling his new-found passion for climbing. It was a great experience accompanied with stunning views and sometimes with rain.



 

Where was Solomon born?


This is Solomon, a new born Humpback whale. He provided hours of entertainment for our group of whale watchers. Where was Solomon born? Click here to find out.

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