Britain's Other Lake District
Practical Caravan|October 2017
Claudia Dowell discovers a freshwater paradise in a less-travelled corner of stunning Snowdonia.
Claudia Dowell

IT’S EVERY BIT as beautiful as England’s counterpart, so why had I not visited Wales’s lake district, spread across the gentler southern reaches of the Snowdonia National Park, before? The largest gem in the park’s collection of 100 watery jewels is Bala Lake, and it was at its southern end that I secured a pitch close to the water’s edge at Glanllyn Caravan and Camping Park.

Holidaymakers can pay a hefty premium for a room with a view, but from the lounge window of our Coachman Vision 450 Plus I could see boats sailing in the bright sunshine, cattle cooling off in the water from a spit of pastureland and a boathouse where children were clambering out of kayaks, all against the stunning backdrop of Mount Aran Benllyn.

Glanllyn was not my first stop in the area. After the long haul (five hours)from our storage site in Camberley, I made a stopover for one night at the Bala Camping and

Caravanning Club Site, just a few miles to the northeast of Bala. A pretty site, set among hills and with a stream running through h it, it was close to another gem in the national park’s treasure chest that I wanted to visit: Rug Chapel at Corwen.

Chapel of delights 

The chapel was built in 1637 – in the time of Charles I – as the private chapel of Royalist Colonnel William Salesbury, who held Denbigh Castle for three years against the parliamentarians. Rug is important because the interior has not experienced much in the way of renovation, save for its stained- glass windows. The exterior of this Anglican place of worship is in the same grey stone of many old buildings in these parts, but inside is a feast of painted wooden carvings of angels and panels of animals that form a frieze around the interior walls. A wooden candelabrum set with angels hangs from the highly decorated painted rafters of the roof, above rows of wooden pews with beautifully carved ends. The little place is a delight. 

Nearby is Rhug Farm, which has plenty of parking, even enough with a caravan in tow in the unmarked overflow parking. So you could stop off on your way through to Bala for provisions from its excellent deli.

Spot the bison 

Did you know there are bison in Wales? They live here at Rhug Farm and you can spot them if you do the farm walk (half an hour to an hour). They were very distant during my walk and in my photos look more like ants than the huge beasts that roam the American prairies, but it was a thrill to see them. The farm became known for its meat produce and now has a gift shop, the aforementioned delicatessen and a restaurant, and has become quite a destination venue for breakfast and lunch. I bought a pork pie with caramelised onion topping to share with editor Niall, who was joining me at the next site.

The road to Bala is good, if a little narrow in places, so you’ll be playing dodge the pheasant along the way. And don’t be surprised if you come across a few stray cows and the odd sheep or two on the road. I’d like to say the pace is slow, but actually the locals drive quite fast.

There’s plenty of roadside parking in Bala and no shortage of amenities: at each end of the high street are fuel pumps rather than a garage, several hotel-cum-pubs, two supermarkets, and some cafés and shops, not too many of which are touristy. I had a little nose around an antique emporium, bought some groceries and picked up a woollen mat from the wood-turner’s shop.

There’s a statue in the town of a man who, my campsite neighbours irreverently reckoned, looked like he was flagging down a bus. His name was Thomas Edward Ellis, a 19th-century politician and leader of Cymru Fydd, a movement promoting home rule for Wales. He was born near Bala and went to school there. Just outside the town and on the edge of the lake is a chapel and visitor centre dedicated to the story of Mary Jones, a 15-year-old girl who walked from Llanfihangel-y-Pennant to Bala (26 miles) to buy a Welsh bible from the Reverend Thomas Charles. The retelling of her story made her a national icon in the 19th century.

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