Travel Jottings

Celebrating the best bits and bobs to be found while exploring Britain, Ireland and beyond. Much is inspired by real outings, whether they were walking, cycling or photographic in nature, while virtual blundering in the name of planning them has turned up some gems too. Regardless of how they were found, I hope that they keep coming so I can continue to share new things with you.

Some Locales to Explore

Carneddau from above Capel Curig, Conwy, Wales

For those considering a visit, I have to say that Wales has much to offer. I haven't made sections for every part of Wales where I have been but these are the ones that I know best. North and mid Wales has been the recipient of the bulk of my attention thus far but sections are in place for Pembrokeshire, Monmouthshire as well as Swansea and the Gower. The intention is that these will grow.

Wales plays host to a few national parks with the most famous of these being in the northwest of the principality. That's Snowdonia in English or Eryri in Welsh and the park is shared between Conwy and Gwynedd. Powys has the possibly oddly named Brecon Beacons National Park looking after the numerous mountain ranges within its boundaries (the Brecon Beacons are just one of these). The proximity of this park to the cities in the south of Wales doesn't mean that there aren't any quieter parts though you can expect to meet a fair few folk around the highest hill in southern Britain on a sunny day. After those, there's the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park with its National Trail facilitating the exploration of the stunning coastline to be found around there.

There is more to Welsh countryside than what you find in its National Parks and the number of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty serve to prove that point. One that comes to mind is the Clwydian Range in Denbighshire but it too is not alone. With Wales being as hilly as it is, there are plenty of peaceful spots for those liking to wander through isolated hill country.

All of this should tell you that I have much to add yet. Hopefully, more visits to Wales are in the pipeline for me so that I can build on what already is to be found here already.

Cardiff & Vale of Glamorgan

Of all the capitals in the U.K., Cardiff appears to be one of those that can be overlooked with London being a world city and Edinburgh's architecture and setting guaranteeing it fame. Also, it is easy to forget that there is countryside and coastline to the south of the city that needs exploring too. So far, there has only being one night's stay in the city for me and other occasions have seen me passing through the place. Maybe it deserves better than that.

Cardiff Castle

The Welsh capital city is another city a castle and it has its fair share of history too, even extending up to shelters from the time of World War 2. On the site, there's a Norman keep, a Gothic mansion house and a bit more. The entry price looked steep when I last looked but locals can apply for free entry; for outsiders, it sounds like spending a day there would be best for getting value for money from the site. The high prices come as a surprise given that it is owned by the local council nowadays after the then Marquess of Bute handed it over in 1947.

The area around the most southerly point in Wales may not come up that high on my list of visitor destinations but that can be advantageous too. Cardiff isn't far away though so I wouldn't be surprised to find that the coastline and the area's towns and villages aren't enjoyed by residents of the Welsh capital too.

Both of these websites extend their remit beyond Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan so they are a good starting point for looking at visiting options that include the aforementioned areas along with those such as the Valleys (to the north of Cardiff) and those of the Wye and the Usk towards the east.

Carmarthenshire

So far, I have only passed through Carmarthenshire apart from an overnight stay in Carmarthen at the start of June in 2006. Looking at the slide show on the Visit Carmarthenshire website, there are plenty of castles to visit, coastline to savour together with a part of Brecon Beacons National Park. After all that lot, there is Aberglasney House and Gardens and I may find more to add here too. Maybe I ought to go spending some more time here sooner rather than later.

Ceredigion

Depending on whether you use the anglicised or Welsh version of its name, this part of the world is either Cardiganshire or Ceredigion. To my ears, the latter sounds nicer and more authentic and that is why this section has that name in its title.

Discover Ceredigion

A search for information on cycling was what led me to this official guide to the attractions of Ceredigion and its portion of the Cambrian Mountains. That I only can claimed to have passed through this area on the way back from Pembrokeshire means that I should that balance on the basis of what's featured on this website. It should make for easier trip planning too, especially with the sensible of places to stay and what to see and do.

Cardiganshire Coast and Country

Lurking on Twitter brought my attention to this independent visitor guide and it is populated with plenty of alluring photos too. That there is a need for this to complement the official one probably goes to show how overlooked this part of Wales can get.

Pumlumon

Also known as Plynlimon (the anglicised version of the name for those who don't know the vowel sound rules for Welsh), this was an area of hill that I thought would have been in Powys. However, it is Ceredigion that gets the highest hills in mid-Wales and this website is promoting the sparsely populated area around them. Looking at a map now, this is wilder country than is found in other parts of Wales and where two major rivers rise, the Severn and the Wye. That should allow for escapes from stress and strain and I only hope that those possibilities remain in this part of Wales.

Conwy, Gwynedd & Anglesey

Northwest Wales is where you will find some of the best known scenery in Wales. After all, this is the land of the Welsh 3000's, mountains over 3,000 feet in height. Most of it is within the same National Park and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty add to the amount of protected land. With a mix of hill country and coastline, there is much to experience here and, well known though it is, there remains plenty of space for everyone that seeks a spot of peace and quiet.

Northwest Wales is dominated by the Snowdonia or Eyryri National Park so here are a selection of websites telling more about the place, especially regarding those useful services that anyone needs on a break away from home. First on the list comes from Gwynedd and Conwy councils. Next is one with the added attraction of a photo gallery containing pictures by locally based photographer Dave Newbould. Lastly, we have one with plenty of information and some photos by Derek Fogg too.

Each of these is part of the Beautiful North Wales stable of website and they complement their parent with their focus on their individual areas.

Aberdaron

The Llŷn Peninsula is one of those parts of Wales that I have yet to really explore and, though the name is reminiscent of somewhere located in another part of Wales, Aberdaron is but one of the places you'd find there. There are boat rides to nearby Bardsey Island, once a centre of Christianity and still home to a great array of seabird life. There are beaches to be savoured along this part of the Welsh coastline too. All in all, there seems to be a lot to savour around Aberdaron and the website covers the very things that anyone needs to visit an area: places to see, to eat and to stay as well as things to do. Maybe I should go myself.

Visit Anglesey

For many, Anglesey is that place through which you pass on your way to/from the ferry port of Holyhead. These days, it is trying to promote itself as a destination in its own right. Nevertheless, a reference on the website to Ireland's capital, Dublin, proved unavoidable. After all, it is probably Anglesey's nearest city.

Betws-y-Coed

A website of the Betws-y-Coed and District Tourism Association containing useful information on this picturesque village.

Beddgelert

It never seems to amaze me why a village so pretty needs a tasteless myth in order to draw the visitor. Is it a poor reflection on us that such fripperies have to be created? After all, the village is in the heart of fine hill country and that should be enough reason to go there and enjoy what's on offer. That the local tourist association has gone to the bother of creating this website should make the task of planning a visit so much easier.

Capel Curig

The little village is blessed by being in the middle of rugged countryside even if that does mean that wet days are made common by this situation. Nevertheless, that should make the occasional fine day all the more memorable if spent around there and it's handy to have somewhere on the web where you can get the information needed to organise and enjoy a stay.

All of these came to light when I went looking on the web for walking ideas within the vicinity of Dolgellau. the town is not far either from the scenic Mawddach estuary or from the rocky Cadair Idris so it certainly is well situated. Not only do these websites cover outdoor activities but two of them also cover what you need to plan a visit to the area and the one those is an information service for locals too. All in all, there should be something here for anyone.

Llanberis

Though surrounded itself by the effects of slate mining, this remains a base for exploring hills that mercifully were untouched by such attentions. Snowdon is but one of these and the Glyderau are at hand too. There is easy access by bus so private transport is not needed and both accommodation and eateries are available for those who need them.

Llandudno

A personal site introducing the charms of the area around Llandudno.

Llŷn.info

This long peninsula has long been outshone by its near neighbours, the mountains of Snowdonia, in awareness if nothing else. Now it is trying to emerge from those shadows and here is the website to prove it.

Denbighshire

For ages, I overlooked this part of Wales as I am sure that many do. With the delights of northwest Wales, it is all too easy to pass on through it but you are missing out on so much if you do. After all, there are quieter hills to be explored and Llangollen is a quieter spot apart from the appearance of day trippers and its annual eisteddfod. Other places are even quieter if that's what you are needing and who doen't need an occasional escape from this frantic modern world?

llangollen.org.uk

This is the website of the Llangollen Tourism Association and very comprehensive it is too.

Llangollen Museum

Not just a museum but a useful repository of the town's history too.

Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod

Unless you are heading to this international celebration of music and culture, it is better to give Llangollen a wide berth when this takes place in early July. Apparently nominated for the 2004 Nobel Peace prize by none other than Terry Waite.

Llangollen Fringe Festival

Not a one festival town, Llangollen, and this is the website for another of its July festivals. At time of writing, it has still to be updated for 2006.

Royal International Pavilion

If you are going to host international festivals, then you need venues to host them. This venue is year-round facility but it is a major boon to the Eisteddfod.

Llangollen Wharf

Another of Llangollen's many attractions is its canal. This site is dedicated to hire of horse-drawn and self-propelled canal boats. Also featured is a virtual tour of Llangollen itself.

Llangollen Railway

Llangollen used to be a stop on the Ruabon to Barmouth railway line but the line was mothballed in 1968 following withdrawal of passenger services in 1964. Clearly, it was another casualty of the drift towards the private car and is a major loss to this part of Wales; it would be very useful in July when the festivals are running. However, in 1975, a group of enthusiasts began to restore the line starting from Llangollen and continuing west. Progress has been slow but they have gone beyond Carrog and hope to reach Corwen. Steam and diesel services run most weekends and on weekdays from late spring to early autumn.

Llangollen Railcar Group

The Llangollen Railway not only plays host to its own steam locomotives and associated carriages, but it also is home to a group of railcar (or DMU) enthusiasts. This is their site and some of the rail services are run using their restored railcars.

Hiraethog

As if to prove that Wales is far more than its better known spots, here's an area to the west of Ruthin that looks enticing in its own right. Now, all that needs doing is figuring out how to get there.

Monmouthshire & The Valleys

There will be some who think that putting the former industrialised valleys of South Wales together with more bucolic Monmouthshire is a strange move. For now though, that is my tack until things bulk out a bit more. After all, the de-industrialisation of the Valleys is making them more of an outdoor enthusiast's destination, especially for anyone living in places like Newport or Cardiff. Even Merthyr Tydfil has plenty of places worth exploring between the town and the Brecon Beacons National Park and Caerphilly's Llancaich Fawr Manor could offer a day out to someone interested in how things were in the past.

Blaenavon

This former mining town in the council area of Torfaen now highlights its attractions as a walking destination. After all, it is on the doorstep of the Brecon Beacons National Park and has seen a lot of environmental remediation work over the years. This now is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its industrial heritage so it manages to combine both the attractions of that and its location to make it somewhere worth visiting.

Visit Monmouthshire

This is the introduction to this southeastern part of Wales by Monmouthshire's local authority. Given that the scenic lower reaches of the Wye Valley (Tintern Abbey of the Wordsworth poem is to be found hereabouts) are to be found here and that it is on the doorstep of the Brecon Beacons National Park, then it should be a surprise that there is something to be promoted to any interested visitors. For those interested in walking through alluring countryside, there's the Offa's Dyke Path and the Wye Valley Way trails too.

Neath Port Talbot

Both of these websites are provided by the local council and extol the attractions of their local area, especially since this is the waterfall country on the southern edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park. Escapes like this are well needed since this also is an industrialised part of Wales and the juxtaposition looks strange until you realise that it was what lay under those nearby hills that powered heavy industry in the south of Wales. The decline in such endeavours has allowed places to green up again and we can enjoy them in a much cleaner and more natural state than was the case not that long ago.

Pembrokeshire

Pembrokeshire's many attraction is its stunning coastline and that has been the cause of my visiting the place on two occasions. Those were long weekend affairs so many unexplored parts remain, especially on the south coast. There's a National Park and a National Trail around these parts so that says something very good about the countryside and coastline that you will find if you take the trouble to spend some time there.

This is the official visitor website from the area's county council and it looks fairly comprehensive too. Unsurprisingly for an area with a coastal National Trail, there's information for walkers too but there are more activities featured than that one. Quite a few land and water based ones get a look in too, particularly on the council's activity and cycling subsites above. Of course, information of places to stay is part of the offer too as is a listing of events for those fancying the idea of attending one or more of these.

Pembrokeshire has some impressive coastline so that's why there's a national park for its preservation for future generations. The Preseli Hills near Newport and Ceredigion (or Cardigan) in the north also fall within its sway so its not all about the coast either. Antiquities such as St. David's Cathedral, Carew Castle (& Tidal Mill) and a fort dating from the Iron Age period are under its care too. Also, it offers information for those wanting to enjoy the scenery in a more active way (walking, cycling, surfing) and has a subsite specifically for this purpose.

Manorbier Castle

This is a privately owned antiquity that is open to the public from spring to autumn and is very well preserved from any photos that I have seen. It was the birthplace of the scholar and chronicler Gerald of Wales or Gerald de Barri. There are Irish connections too and I am left wondering if this is linked to the Barry family name that pervades parts of Ireland today.

Pembroke Castle

It today is owned by a charitable trust and is open throughout the year but this was the birthplace of the Tudor King Henry VII. The latter fact guarantees its historic appeal and it looks to be well preserved too. That's not to say that additional effort hasn't been put into extras for luring visitors. After all, events are hosted, tours are given and displays have been installed to add to the sense of history that is here.

Powys

The main reason for Wales not having an internal north to south railway line like other countries is how hilly it is at its heart. That disconnection can make the northern coastline utterly detached from its southern counterpart. However, these hills have a lot to offer and Powys is where you will find most of them. The Brecon Beacons, Black Mountain and Black Mountains are found within a National Park but there are many others like the Cambrian Mountains that are lesser known. Though some might like guided walks like those offered by companies like Dragon Trails, its makes for plenty of quiet spots for discerning hill walkers who seek out restorative silent solitude.

Brecon Beacons National Park

Wales is home to more than one national park and this is the website of the authority that looks after the Brecon Beacons. In spite of the name, there are three ranges of hills here and the central ones are what gives this national park its name. They also are the busiest and the others offer plenty of wilder country if that's what you need. Well, it's not for nothing that British armed forces have been training in this part of Wales.

Powys Tourist Board

There is much more to Powys than the Brecon Beacons National Park so this website is a useful port of call. For instance, much of the countryside surrounding the Heart of Wales railway line is not protected in such a way and still remains worth visiting. It is best not to fooled into thinking that countryside isn't worth savouring if not in a National Park so anything done to promote all hill country has to be a good thing.

Abergavenny

This town is one that I have visited a few times due to its being on the doorstep of the Brecon Beacons National Park. It also is surrounded by numerous hills like Sugar Loaf, Ysgyryd Fawr and Blorenge so the place is a good stopping point for a walking weekend. That there is a railway station helps for accessibility too and that is not all as you will find by looking at the website for it has a food festival too.

Crickhowell

This village is found to the west of Abergavenny and is surrounded by hills on the east of the Brecon Beacons National Park. The name of the place comes from one of these, otherwise known as Table Mountain in English because of its flat top. There are historic features like the bridge over the River Usk and a long established coaching inn to go with the various arts and crafts shops and eateries.

Elan Valley

While Manchester turned to the moors to its east for its water supply, Birmingham seems to have looked towards hill country in the heart of Wales instead. Though it's a pity to see steep-sided valleys getting flooded as a result of the construction of substantial dams, it has provided its compensations in the form of an estate of 70 square miles in size that welcomes walkers, cyclists and other recreational users keen on enjoying the delights of the countryside that is to be found there.

Hay-on-Wye

Not only has this Welsh border town (even if it confusingly gains a Herefordshire postal address that suggests otherwise) a bucolic situation but it also hosts a world renowned book festival every year. The town's bookshops are featured on this town council website along with the other information that you need for a stay in the area.

Llanidloes

It bills itself as the first town on the Severn and could be the nearest one to Pumlumon too, though it is about ten miles away. There are other possibilities for walking and cycling around there and the website collects whatever is on offer while featuring the services of local businesses such as Mucky Weekends. With an apparent lack of Sunday services, a company like this could come in very handy for getting about this area.

Rhayader

This is the primary urban centre near the Elan Valley but that is not the only attraction of the place. Its name in Welsh is Rhaedr Gwr: the Cataract on the Wye. Sadly, that waterfall was destroyed in 1780 during the building of a bridge. However, looking at the photos on the website gives a good impression of the place so it might be worth a visit and there's the surrounding area to be explored too.

Pistyll Rhaedar

It is reputed to be the highest waterfall in Wales and you will find it not far from the border with Shropshire. You get the sense that the website is the brainchild of a local tea room custodian but it is none the worse for that since various walks are described too. Otherwise, you get the information for planning a stay in the area, albeit for one establishment but this possibly is a quiet part of Wales. That may explain not only their efforts but also the real attraction of the area.

Swansea & Gower

Swansea and the Gower could not be more different. Even with some regeneration, the former could be seen as somewhere that has seen better times while the latter has pretty countryside and coastline that makes it something of a genteel world away. The Gower was the first Area of Outstanding Beauty and fully deserves that designation. So far, I have made three visits to the place and there was plenty to remember even if skies had more cloud than was best on both visits. Only the surface was scratched so there always remains the possibility of my going again.

In spite having the Gower nearby, Swansea never stuck me as a base for a walking weekend until recent years. It's the coastline that is the main attraction too, especially when there's Worm's Head for anyone partial to a spot of landscape photography too.

2014 marked the centenary of the birth of Dylan Thomas, poet and playwright. Events were held around Swansea to celebrate ones of its most famous sons and that memory remains now. In the city itself, there is the Dylan Thomas Centre while the boathouse near Laugharne when he did some of his writing is another location to explore his life and output.

Gower Heritage Centre

Everywhere need its attractions so here's a heritage centre drawing upon the framing heritage of the area. It's open all year round too though seeing pictures of Santa Claus in a brochure that's available in the middle of the summer is more than strange. Nevertheless, there seems to a good deal to see and Three Cliffs Bay isn't that far away either.

Gower Coast Adventures

With a dramatic coastline that plays host to a good deal of bird life, taking up the offer of a boat trip sounds appropriate and this seasonal operation is based in Port Eynon on the south coast of the Gower. Last year's prices didn't make it cheap but it's quality assured by the Wales Tourist Board so I suppose that quality has its cost.