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Report 2053: A Nostalgic Return to North Wales

By Eleanor from UK, Summer 2013

Trip Description: Four days spent revisiting old haunts in Gwynedd.

Destinations: Countries - United Kingdom; Regions/Cities - Wales

Categories: Hotels/B&Bs; Day Tours; Garden Visits; Sightseeing; Independent Travel; 2 People

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Page 1 of 14: Introduction

photo by MAW

Criccieth and the hills of Snowdonia

We love the LLyn Peninsula and for 25 years used to spend two weeks there every Easter, self catering on a farm near Nefyn. It was a great place for a family holiday with castles, narrow gauge railways, beaches and plenty of walking.

It is about 10 years since we were last there. Withdrawal symptoms were setting in and knowing we had nearly four days free of grandparent responsibilities it seemed too good a chance to miss. We booked three nights at the Travelodge in Porthmadog, found out the maps and began to plan. 

We decided to visit the Rug Chapel near Corwen with its glorious painted and carved interior, on the way across and Bodnant Gardens near Llandudno on the way home. Both of these have been on the ‘to do’ list for many years and were rewarding visits. 

 Top of the list was a trip on the Ffestiniog Railway followed by the Welsh Highland Railway. We also wanted to spend a day revisiting old haunts in the peninsula. Porthmadog would be a good base and the Travelodge provided clean, no-frills accommodation.

Porthmadog has benefitted from having a bypass, which keeps through traffic out of the town centre. The arrival of Tesco, Lidl and Aldi on the edge of town doesn’t seem to have had much effect on the high street, which is busy and many old names are still trading. Harbour Station is the terminus for both the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways.

Criccieth has hardly changed at all and many of the family run shops have been there for fifty years. It has retained its ambience as a Victorian holiday town with its castle high above on a hill. We had forgotten how steep the climb was up to it.

Aberdaron at the end of the peninsula looks unchanged. The church has had a lot of money spent on it and although it may be more comfortable for worshippers, has lost a lot of its character. The soft boulder clay cliffs are subject to erosion and the sea wall has been strengthened. To our delight the small baker on the road into the village was still there although they had sold out of scones and we had to make do with Welsh Cakes. We couldn’t sit on the church wall to eat them either as this now has railings along the top.

We drove up to the coastguard hut on Mynydd Mawr at the end of the peninsula for the views across to Bardsey Island. There is glorious walking here but my dodgy knees and a strong wind meant that walking along the cliff path and over Anelog to Porth Oer were out, especially after a particularly strong gust of wind blew Michael over into a gorse bush...

Porth Oer is still my favorite beach with its rock pools at low tide and National Trust Cafe.

Nefyn on the other hand has been hit badly by the years. The garage and petrol station have gone and Spar and the chemist have moved in here. The only shops left in the village are the electrical shop, Post Office and Fish and Chip shop. There are many empty shops which give it a rundown feel. Morfa Nefyn has managed to retain its shop as has Edern and the butcher in Chwilog is still there.

Over the years many of the small family farms have disappeared and field boundaries have been grubbed out. In-comers with horses have bought some. Others are now holiday accommodation. The increase in number of caravan sites throughout the peninsula struck us. Many farmers are finding this a valuable source of income. There are fewer sheep and cows in the fields although South Caernarfonshire Dairies at Y Ffor has grown in size.

We had forgotten how narrow some of the sunken lanes were and how slow they were to drive with their blind corners and poor visibility. It was also strange to see the trees in full leaf and they did restrict views in places. At Easter the leaves were only just beginning to appear. Bluebells were still flowering on the banks, although there was less gorse around than we remembered.

We visited the old medieval hall of Penarth Fawr, now licensed for weddings and followed the pilgrim route to Bardsey Island visiting the churches at Pistyll, Llangwynnadl and Aberdaron as well as the tiny church at Llanfealrhys. The Friends of Friendless Churches now care for the redundant church at Penllech and it was nice to see it has been sympathetically restored.

We didn’t have time to visit Portmeirion but did go to Plas Brodanw Gardens, designed by Clough Williams Ellis using the same architectural gimmicks used at Portmeirion but with trees rather than buildings.

We also visited to Plas Yn Rhiw, a small 17thC manor house lovingly restored by the Keating Sisters and untouched since their death. Set high on the hillside it has delightful secret gardens. The only sounds were the crows in the tall trees.

The weather wasn’t as kind as it could have been and low mist often obscured the tops of the hills. We had to sit out a couple of heavy rain storms but the sun did manage to appear at times. In Early June it was still relatively quiet with mainly older visitors although there were a few families with young children.

It was a nostalgic visit to old haunts. The Ffestiniog Railway is still my all time favorite although I have to admit that the newly reopened Welsh Highland Railway does run it a close second. Some places were as evocative as ever. Others hadn’t changed for the better. Over the years we have climbed all the hills and walked much of the coastal footpath. Now we sat and remembered previous holidays and happy days.

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