People rave about the scenery of North Wales. Does it live up to all the hype?
I crossed over from Birmingham into North Wales, and the landscapes are instantly impressive, distinctive and enchanting. Beautifully verdant valleys, towering mountain ranges, fast-running rivers and waterfalls, mysterious forests and charming market towns and medieval villages. Whether its for history or the outdoors, North Wales is well worth a side-trip from England.
Where’s a good place to base yourself?
The Conwy Valley is a great launch-pad, because it’s so well geared for the tourist trade, with excellent transport links, superb hotels and a great range of pubs and restaurants, at prices to suit all pockets. The two main bases are Llanwrst, which has the most sublime arched stone bridge, and the neighbouring village of Betws-Y-Coed.
What is Betws-Y-Coed acclaimed for?
The entire village is built in granite and Welsh slate, so its exceptionally photogenic and its flanked by the Gwydir Forest, which throngs with mountain bikers and walkers. The natural beauty of the village lured Britain’s best painters to the area in the 1840s, including J M Turner. In fact the village was regarded as the UK’s first artist colony.
It’s surrounded by national park, right?
Yes, Betws-Y–Coed is the gateway to Snowdonia National Park, which has Britain’s loftiest peaks, south of Scotland. And even in mid-April, many of the peaks are still snow-capped. If you are an intrepid walker, the national park is laced with awesome mountain treks with monstrous views across North Wales.
What about Conwy?
Conwy is a sure-fire hit with history buffs. It is one of the very best medieval walled towns, left in Britain. The seven hundred year old walls, built by the English invaders to keep the Welsh out, are very much intact, and you can walk the walls,right around the town.
It has a great castle right?
Conwy Castle is a stunning medieval fortress, awash in turrets and towers. The castle is a World-Heritage site, built for Edward the 1st in 1283. Remarkably this massive castle was built in four years, which historians still consider as an engineering triumph. An absolute must-see.
I hear there are some amazing mountain train excursions?
Yes, as you know, I’m always up for a good long walk. But if you want to just kick-back and take in the scenery, North Wales is encircled by a range of mountain railway excursions, that give those Swiss alpine trains a run for their money. Here are some rail links. www.snowdonrailway.co.uk www.festrail.co.uk www.talyllyn.co.uk
How easy is it to get to North Wales, and what about getting around?
Chester and Birmingham is only an hour away, and you can train to London in 3 hours, so even though it feels escapist and remote when you are here, it’s not actually that far from the beaten track. On this trip to the UK, I have thrown myself at the mercy of the British rail system, and much to my surprise, it has proven to be fast, efficient and unfailingly reliable.
Royal Oak Hotel is in the heart of Betws-Y-Coed. www.royaloakhotel.net
Glyntwrog House is just outside the village with fabulous river and forest views. www.glyntwrogsnowdonia.co.uk
( Travel notes from Mike’s chat about North Wales on Newstalk ZB’s Jack Tame Saturday Morning Show.