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
In the British Isles 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, foreign. Bilingual signs across the country like "Araf" (Slow) and "Ysgol" (School) serve to give Wales a distinct 'whiff of the foreign'. In fact, for a person searching for a little respite from England, this all comes as welcome relief. There is something soothing and relaxing about Wales which is only matched by the warm, melodic accent of the Welsh people themselves. 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 establishment of the new Welsh National Assembly. At times it is a colour palette which begins to wear a little thin. Okay I get it - I'm in Wales! Added wilderness factor comes from Wales' rugged landscape and valleys which contribute towards patchy radio and mobile phone coverage. A stone's throw from home and it's not hyperbole to say that you feel like you're in the middle of nowhere. This is a land of dark jagged cliffs and seagulls, lighthouses and castles, dramatic bridges and vibrant coastal life blessed with some of the best beaches in the British Isles. It's also a land of wooden spoons and the ubiquitous sheep.
Frequently our base for exploring Wales was a little caravan in Moel-y-Don on the oft-windswept Isle of Anglesey in north Wales. There is something about caravanning which unlocks the childhood spirit of adventure in even the most unadventurous of people. The rudimentary nature of the facilities in our caravan unleashed a bit of the old boy Scout in me and, for some reason, a caravan - despite the cold - feels even cosier than your actual home with all the mod cons. Indeed, the cup of tea made with water boiled in the petite kettle tastes better; the beans on toast made in the miniature kitchen the best you've ever tasted and the jumpers you brought with you the most comfortable and warm they've ever felt. This is what I call 'the caravan effect'. From the little caravan we'd head to the beach for a (bracing) swim, go kite flying, walk in the woods or drive to a nearby village for fish and chips. What more could one wish for on a weekend away?
This page celebrates my many visits to the Land of the Red Dragon, from Anglesey in the north to Cardiff in the south and many places in-between. Welcome to Wales - or should that be Creosi i Gymru?
The wonderful South Stack lighthouse on the North west coast of Anglesey. North Wales.
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.North Wales.
A Welsh icon: the textual fascia of the Millennium Centre in Cardiff. South Wales.
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 filming location for the iconic 1960s TV series 'The Prisoner'.
- Wales is renowned, even in summer, for its inclement weather. It likes to rain in Wales - a lot. Pack your weatherproof, windproofs and rainproofs. And don't forget the umbrella.
- Mobile phone coverage is very patchy outside of the main centres - with data roaming even more unreliable. Plan accordingly.
- Wales is an opportunity for adventure outdoors: climb mountain, explore the woods, walk along some of the best beaches in the Isles. Go to Cardiff - and miss the lot.
- The Welsh heart can be found beating at its strongest in the villages and rural areas. Wales isn't the kind of place you'd visit for big city urban experiences. Keep it rural and you will leave with a more accurate sense of Wales and her people.
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