Welsh Wonders
Practical Motorhome|October 2017

Looking to explore Welsh legend and storytelling, Caroline Mills tours the Snowdonia National Park and the spectacular North Wales coast

Caroline Mills

Roaming through the jungle of sessile oaks, azalea bushes and sky-high pines with burly trunks, I stepped back, camera poised, and almost stumbled over a crocodile. Jaws agape, the timber sculpture in Portmeirion’s woodland momentarily caught | me unawares as I focused on the brilliant carmine of a flourishing rhododendron. Beneath a sultry sun and the startling floral pinks and striking reds, the environment felt more Mediterranean, or even tropical, than North Wales Coast.

My trip to Wales would, I had hoped, be the stuff of storybooks. It had begun the previous day, at one of Wales’ most significant ‘legends’, the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. The work of Thomas Telford, and a masterpiece of the Industrial Revolution, the aqueduct is the longest in Britain and the highest in the world. Together with an 11-mile stretch of the Llangollen Canal, it is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I followed the four-and-a-half miles of canal towpath towards the monochrome world of Llangollen.

If the houses of the town are black and white, the countryside of the Dee Valley, in which the canal runs, is anything but – it’s a pastoral idyll of verdant hills topped by ruined castles, gentle pastures with dozing sheep and an extravagant catalogue of wildflowers, crowned by canalside bluebells and showy ramsons. The canal journey, punctuated by bridges in multiple architectural styles, is a particularly attractive and gentle walk. With a hard standing towpath all the way to the Horseshoe Falls (Telford’s engineering masterpiece west of Llangollen, and a water source for the canal), the route is also suitable for pushchairs and wheelchairs.

My arrival in Llangollen coincided perfectly with lunch in an old railway carriage at the heritage train station where, over soup and a sandwich, I could watch adventurers plunge through the white-water rapids of the River Dee. There was also time for me to join a horse drawn canal barge for a 45-minute journey. The whisper-quiet equine excursion is one of two short narrow boat ‘cruise’ options in the area – the more daring might prefer a crossing of the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.

After my return walk, I was ready for rest at my first site in nearby Carrog. This is Owain Glyndwr territory, where the last Welsh Prince of Wales (and national legend) drew arms against the English. His reputed stronghold, Owain Glyndwr’s Mount, was just about in view from my riverside pitch.

Picture-perfect Portmeirion

By coffee time the following morning I reached Portmeirion, where the Lleyn Peninsula begins its protrusion into Cardigan Bay. The Italianate village was designed and built between 1925 and 1975 by architect Clough Williams-Ellis as a tourist attraction, and to show how a beautiful site could be developed without spoiling the landscape.

Some may see it as pastiche; but there is great charm in the buildings (all Grade I or II listed) and the setting.

Most visitors venture no further than the village centre, but there are 70 acres of woodland gardens to explore. I took the coastal trail for memorable views of Dwyryd Estuary, Tremadog Bay and the Lleyn Peninsula. Empty beaches and the colourful Azalea Trail lured me deeper through the trees.

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