Gaelic Adventures in the Land of the Red Dragon
Where: Anglesey, Caernarfon, Cardiff, Beaumaris, Benllech, Holyhead, Bangor, Conwy, Barmouth, Porthmadog, Portmeirion.
Wales, United Kingdom, Europe
When: 2006 onwards.
Highlights: Menai Bridge, Cardiff Bay, Holy Island, Millennium Centre at Cardiff, South Stack Lighthouse, Climbing Mount Snowdon, Puffins & Butterflies, Snowdon Mountain Railway, Conwy Castle, Benllech Beach Sunset, Longest Placename in Europe, Kite-flying, Welsh Folk Dance, Llyn Lladaw, Caravanning at Moel-y-Don,Cardiff Tower, The Pierhead Building.
Counter: 1 country
Wales has the almost unique quality of being both near and far from home. So near that you can visit for the weekend but so far in terms of it feeling a little, well, abroad-like. To appropriate a phrase from the Russian Federation, Wales is England's 'near abroad'. Bilingual signs across the country like 'Slow' / 'Araf' and 'School' / 'Ysgol' serve to give Wales a distinctly welcoming 'whiff of the foreign'. In fact, for someone searching for a brief escape from England, this all comes as a bit of a relief. More often than not our base for exploring Wales was the loan of a little caravan at Moel-y-Don on the oft-windswept Isle of Anglesey.
Added wilderness factor comes from Wales' rugged landscape and valleys which have the knock-on effect of frustratingly (or hearteningly depending on your opinion) patchy radio and mobile phone coverage. A stone's throw from home and you're in the middle of nowhere. You suddenly feel rather far away. Entering Wales reduces my heart rate by about half. There is something soothing and relaxing about Wales which is only matched by the warm, melodic accent of the Welsh people themselves.
The land of the red dragon is one characterised by grey slate-clad churches, winding country roads (which unfortunately are attractive to hordes of motorcycle enthusiasts who use them are their own personal race track at weekends), dramatically-perched castles and a familiar whiff of fish and chips. But it's not all sheep and countryside: Wales also has some surprises up her sleeve too. Europe's longest place name, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, is here, as is the strangest village you will ever travel to: Portmeirion, a place which is a cross between folly and Willy Wonka's chocolate factory and was the backdrop of the psychedelic 1960s sci-fi TV series 'The Prisoner'.
Expect to see the tricolour of red, white and green of the country's flag everywhere, the proliferation of which undoubtedly made more bounteous by a resurgent Welsh nationalism in light of the new Welsh National Assembly. This flaunting of the national flag feels like something which could never happen back over the border in England - even at a St George's flag convention. At times it is a colour palette which begins to wear a little thin: there is only so much dragon-covered bunting I can stomach. Okay I get it - I'm in Wales! Enough already.
I like Wales a lot and, to go some way to exemplifying the reasons why, here is a choice selection of photographs from my many trips to the land of the red dragon, from Anglesey in the north to Cardiff in the south. Welcome to Wales - or should that be 'Creosi i Gymru'?
The wonderful South Stack lighthouse on the North west coast of Anglesey.
The dramatic soaring rock behind characterful housing in Barmouth, Mid Wales.
Conwy Castle basks in the sunshine foregrounded by a variety of rooftops and chimney stacks and encircled by a hilly green landscape. North Wales.
Anglesey's dramatic Menai Bridge crossing the Menai Straits. I love the turquoise waters in this photograph, caused by algae.
A Welsh icon: the textual fascia of the Millennium Centre in Cardiff.
A seagull relaxes on a hillside on Anglesey surrounded by flowering daisies. I love the way the daisies imitate the colours of the gull. North Wales.
travel tips, links & resources
- Outside of the main centres, Wales is almost exclusively rural and public transport limited in areas. If you want to explore the real Wales then hiring a car is the only way to go. This will also give you the opportunity of pulling over to see some of the sights which will inevitably appear by the roadside.
- Wales is as interesting as it is varied. Seek out some its more unusual sights, including the bizarre but wonderful Portmeirion - the filminglocation for the iconic 1960s TV series 'The Prisoner'.
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