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Northern Wales: Aug 30-Sep 2, 2019

Updated: Jan 31, 2021

Activities/locations included in this blog:

  • Conwy Castle

  • Hike Devil's Kitchen

  • Pant Yr Ardd Pub

  • LLanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerycuwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch Train Station

  • Portmeiron Village

  • Llechwedd Deep Mine Tour

  • Snowdon Hike

Day 24

It was a 3-hour drive from York to our Airbnb in Tregarth but we stopped to walk around Conwy Castle.

Conwy Castle

By 1272 Edward I of England had conquered most of Wales except for the northern region. Heavily outnumbered and under equipped the Welsh forces were pushed backwards in the very heart of Snowdonia, a terrain that was too difficult for the English to safely pursue. As part of his efforts to dominate and intimidate the Welsh, Edward I undertook a massive campaign to build an 'iron ring' of castles in northern Wales to provide military strength, quell the rebellion, and provide a towering symbol of English authority. One of these northern fortifications was Conwy Castle.

Conwy Castle curtain fortress walls Nothern Wales. Built in 1280s buy Edward I

Work began on Conwy Castle in March 1283 after Edward defeated the Welsh armies of the region and took control of the River Conwy crossing. The castle perched high on a rock ledge above the river was a perfect location that could be easily defended. The first phase of work between 1283 and 1284 focused on creating the exterior curtain walls and towers. The towers were massive, well over 30 ft in diameter with walls up to 15 ft thick and reaching to 70 ft tall. When completed Conwy Castle was a big, powerful and intimidating structure. It is widely regarded as one of the finest castles of the 13th century.

Conwy Castle towers over 30 ft in diameter; 15 feet thick walls; 70 feet tall

In the second phase, from 1284 and 1286, the interior buildings were erected and work began on the walls for the neighboring town. By 1287, the castle was complete. It had taken 1,500 laborers just 4 years to complete the massive construction project. A diagram of the castle layout is provided below.

Courtesy of Ancient Castle History

A view across the Outer Ward looking toward the castle opening and gate. The Outer Ward contained the Great Hall, main chapel, kitchens, other domestic buildings, and barracks for the castle’s garrison.

Conwy Castle Outer Ward contained the Great Hall. Chapel and other domestic buildings. Built 1280s

The view looking toward the wall that separates the Outer from Inner Ward.

The wall that separated the Outer Ward from the Royal Inner Ward in Conwy Castle bult by Edward I

Looking down into the Great Hall from one of the towers. The hall was primarily a place for feasts, ceremonies, hearings, and meeting guests. Interestingly, the Prison Tower (center right) was located adjacent to the Great Hall.

Looking into the Great Hall in the Inner Ward of Conwy Castle. Prison Tower of Conwy Castle in the center of the picture

The central archway of the over 100-foot long Great Hall.

The central arch of Conwy Castle Great Hall was over 100 feet long

What remains of the decorative stonework of the fireplace in the Great Hall. Below the fireplace are the post holes used to support the floor of the hall.

Decorative stonework of the fireplace in the Great Hall of Conwy Castle. Post posts in the stone work that supported the floor

The Chapel was used by the general castle population. There were still fragments of the window tracery still visible.

The main chapel of Conwy Castle was used by castle general population. Fragments of window tracery remain

The Outer and Inner Ward were separated by a wall with a small gate with a drawbridge. This design provided additional protection for the royal apartments.

In the picture below you can see a person standing by the gate. Although the drawbridge isn't visible, you can see the moat-like ditch between the two wards. High above the wall was the Bakehouse Tower and watchtower protecting the Inner Ward

A great stone wall separated the Outer Ward from the Royal Inner Ward of Conwy Castle. Bakehouse Tower of Conwy Castle in center of the picture

The Inner Ward was the heart of the castle, containing the multi-story apartments built for King Edward I and Queen Eleanor of Castile. Unfortunately, Eleanor died having never seen the castle. In the picture below you are looking into what would have been the King's Great Chamber. The Chamber, the largest room in the Ward, was were the King received guests and held private meetings.

Despite spending an astronomical £15,000 on Conwy, Edward I only stayed here once. In 1294, a Welsh rebellion trapped the king inside. He and his men survived on supplied delivered to them by boats. Ultimately, they survived long enough for reinforcements to arrive six months later and quell the rebellion.

Royal Apartments in the Conwy Castle Inner Ward built by Edward I in 1280s

Huge fireplaces were used to heat the Royal Apartments.

Outline of huge fireplace in the Royal Apartments of Conwy Castle Inner Ward

The Chapel Tower located in the Inner Ward contained private worship areas for the King and his guests. The tower also had commanding view of the river and estuary.

Chapel Tower in Conwy Castle Inner Ward for the King and his guests

You can climb the top of the towers or walk along the castle walls for spectacular views of the town and coastline. It was easy to see why this location was chosen for the castle.

Towers in the Inner Ward of Conwy Castle built by Edward I
View of the Harbor for Towers in Conwy Castle

After the 1294 standoff by Edward I, the next royal visit occurred in 1301 when the future Edward II stayed at the castle several months to receive homage as Prince of Wales. The last monarch to visit was Richard II who stayed during tense negotiations with his rival, the future Henry IV. During the 14th century Conwy fell into a pattern of disrepair. By the 16th century the castle was being used as a prison, a depot and as a potential residence for visitors.

In addition to building the castle, Edward also built walls to enclose the city. The walls were completed in 1286 and were quite imposing. They are on average 5 ft thick, 30 feet high and form a 3/4 mile long triangular circuit around the city. After the walls were completed, Edward moved English settlers from nearby towns to occupy Conwy. For a long time Welsh natives where banned from entering the walled town and the English lived as an effective garrison town. Even today the walls are unusually well preserved.

Stone walls enclosed the Village of Conwy built in 1280 by King Edward I

Imagine back in the 13th century when Conwy Castle dominated views from within the walled city even more than today.

View of Conwy Castle from the village

After leaving Conwy, we headed to Tregarth where our Airbnb for the next 3 days was located. It was a short drive to the village through mostly narrow single lane roads.

Narrow single lane road in Tregarth Wales

The farmhouse was visible from the 'main' road.

Farmhouse Airbnb in Tregarth Wales

The cottage was actually a converted barn space. It was much larger than we needed but it was too nice to pass up once we saw pictures.

Farmhouse Airbnb in Tregarth Wales

These were our views from the front and back windows.

Farmhouse Airbnb in Tregarth Wales
Farmhouse Airbnb in Tregarth Wales

One of the main reasons for visiting Northern Wales was to hike Snowdon. Just like in Scotland, weather conditions favor rain and wind during this time of the year. Fortunately, I discovered the Met Office website that provides weather forecast for locations including mountain summits. I was able to see extended forecast and chose which of the next 3 days provided the best weather for us to complete the hike. It looked like the best chance would be our last day (September 2nd) in Northern Wales. I didn't like planning the hike with no buffer in case the forecast changed but I also didn't want to spend the day hiking in wind and rain.

We learned a driving lesson very quickly ... in small Welsh villages do not blindly follow Google Navigation. We needed to drive to a grocery store and asked Google for directions to the nearest Tesco. Google told us to take a right on to this road.

Narrow single lane road in Tregarth Wales.  Lon Hafoty

The road was more narrow than usual but since it was a direct route back into town we decided to follow the directions. By the time we reached the small white trailer on the left of the picture, the road had begun to narrow significantly more. I kept driving thinking how much worse could it get. The answer was 'a lot worse'! Within minutes the remote sensor on both sides of the SUV began chiming; a tree canopy began to block out the sunlight; tree trunks and stone walls were so close we couldn't open the doors; and tree branches were scrapping the sides. Since I'd never be able to back out of this 'road' without hitting trees I had no choice but to continue inching our way for a 1/2 mile before joining the main road. This was without a doubt our worst driving experience of the trip. It was also the last time we blindly followed Google navigation. To make the story even better, the next day we found out that Lon Hafoty is not a one-way road so we could have encountered a car coming from the opposite direction.

Narrow single lane road in Tregarth Wales.  Lon Hafoty

Day 25

  • Hike Devil's Kitchen

  • Pant Yr Ardd Pub

Our day started out with a 5.6 mile hike of Devil's Kitchen in Snowdonia National Park. The weather for the early part of the day was questionable but we decided to risk a short hike in the Park. Click on the link to navigate to the hiking blog

Pant Yr Ardd Pub

After a great hike we showered up and then walked to the neighborhood pub, Pany Yr Ardd.

Pant Yr Ardd Pub in Tregarth Wales

We were greeted by the bartender who was smoking on the front porch. She told us to take a seat; she'd be back inside after her smoke. The locals patrons inside advised us to follow their lead and serve ourselves. Luckily, the bartender showed up a few minutes later.

Beer at the Pant Yr Ardd pub in Tregarth Wales
Beer at the Pant Yr Ardd pub in Tregarth Wales

We joined the 5-6 other people in the bar who were watching the 1985 Live Aid Concert video and debating who gave the best performance. It was a friendly crew and we got tons of advice on where to eat and all the weekend events in the area. It was a great afternoon. Once again Dave managed to get a free beer glass from the bar.

Pant Yr Ardd Pub in Tegarth Wales

That evening we cooked dinner and spent the rest of the night relaxing with drinks and our books. Wales had that same 'chill and relaxing vibe' that we had experienced in the Hebrides and we were enjoying it immensely. The sunsets were pretty amazing too.

Sunset in Tregarty Wales.  Sunset Northern Wales

Day 26

  • LLanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerycuwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch Train Station

  • Portmeiron Village

  • Llechwedd Deep Mine Tour

LLanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerycuwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch Train Station

After yesterday's hike, we decided to spend the day checking out local sights and attractions. Llanfairpwllgwyngyll or Llanfair Pwllgwyngyll is a large village on the island of Anglesey. The long form of the name, with 58 characters split into 19 syllables, is the longest place name in Europe and the second longest official one-word place name in the world.

LLanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerycuwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch Train Station sign the longest place name in Europe

Yes, it was a tourist haven. While we were at the train station at least half a dozen tourist-packed bused pulled up to the souvenir shop. Hey, sometimes you gotta do the touristy things just for the fun of it.

LLanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerycuwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch gift shop the longest palce name in Europe

Portmeiron Village

Portmeirion is a tourist village in Gwynedd, North Wales on the estuary of the River Dwyryd. It was designed and built by the Welch architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis between 1925 and 1975 in the style of an Italian village. Many believe it was based on the fishing village of Portofino on the Italian Riviera.

Portmeiron Village entrance in Gwynedd, Wales. Built by Welsh architect Clough Williams-Ellis

In 1925, Welsh architect Clough Williams-Ellis acquired the site which was to become Portmeirion. He had been searching for a suitable site for his proposed ideal village for several years and when he heard that the Aber Iâ estate near Penrhyndeudraeth was for sale, he did not hesitate to make an offer.

Portmeiron Village in Gwynedd, Wales looks like an Italian resort. Built by Welsh architect Clough Williams-Ellis
Portmeiron Village on the shores of the River Dwyryd in Gwynedd, Wales
Walking along the walls of Portmeiron Village on shore of the River Dwyryd  in Gwynedd, Wales

Portmeirion was built in two stages: from 1925 to 1939 the site was 'pegged-out' and its most distinctive buildings were erected. From 1954-76 he filled in the details.

Portmeiron Village in Gwynedd, Wales looks like an Italian resort. Built by Welsh architect Clough Williams-Ellis

Portmeirion has served as the location for numerous films and television shows, most famously as 'The Village' in the 1967 television show 'The Prisoner'. 'The Prisoner' has become a cult classic.

Portmeiron served as filming location for 1967 tv show The Prisoner

Llechwedd Deep Mine Tour, Blaenau Ffestiniog, North Wales

Slate has been quarried in North Wales for more than 1,800 years but it was not until the Industrial Revolution that demand surged. During the height of the Industrial Revolution, North Wales was the largest global producer of slate.

By 1840 the slate that could be easily accessed by surface quarrying was exhausted, so the quarries began underground mining. In 1846 John Whitehead Greaves and his partner Edwin Shelton leased pasture in Llechwedd convinced that there was a massive amount of slate underground in the area. He was correct and in 1847 miner located the 'Old Vein' of blue-grey slate. Llechwedd Slate Quarry soon became one of the largest and most efficient quarries in North Wales. At its peak in 1884 it produced 23,788 tons of finished slate per year and had 513 employees.

More recently, Blaenau Ffestiniog has become a hub for adventure-seeking tourists seeking access to the quarry. After some negotiations, I got Dave to agree to take the Deep Mine Tour and experience mine conditions up close.

Llechwedd Deep Mine Tour, Blaenau Ffestiniog, North Wales. Llechwedd Slate Quarry . The Deep Mine Tour in Wales
Llechwedd Deep Mine Tour, Blaenau Ffestiniog, North Wales. Llechwedd Slate Quarry . The Deep Mine Tour in Wales

The mine caverns located 500 ft below ground are reached via a steep cable railway car.

Steep cable railway car descends into Llechwedd Slate Quarry 500 feet below ground
Steep cable railway car descends into Llechwedd Slate Quarry 500 feet below ground

Once at the bottom, a guide leads you through tunnels to 10 massive chambers carved out by generations of slate mine workers. In each chamber audio-visual special effects explain what life was like as a slate miner back in the 1800s. A large portion of the 'show' tells the story of a 12-year-old boy, Sion, who starts working at the quarry in 1844.

Walking through old chamber with rusting ladders where slate was mined in Llechwedd Slate Quarry

Physical conditions in the mines were harsh, cold, and involved a very high degree of danger.

Mining dangers were many - crushed to death at any time by the falling roof; burned to death by the exploding of gas; or blown to pieces by a premature blast. The work was so dangerous that even in the 1960s, miners were excluded from purchasing ordinary life insurance.

When the miners needed to open a new section of a chamber for mining, they would bore into the surface with a heavy weighted iron pole. Pounding and pounding the slate surface until a large enough depression was made. The hole would be filled with gunpowder and then the blast set off. Miners would return the next day after the dust and rocks had settled and begin working the chamber.

Guide demonstrating use of heavy hand tools used to make holes filled with gunpowder to open up slate chamber in Llechwedd Slate Quarry

There was no scaffolding available at the time. As the slate removal continued higher into a chamber, miners would dangle from the heights by a chain or rope wrapped around their leg. These techniques resulted in large numbers of miners losing one or both legs due to circulatory issues.

Guide demonstrating how workers used chains to secure themselves to slate chamber walls in Llechwedd Slate Quarry

Oh, did I forget to mention that all this work was done by the light of a candle that each miner had to buy with their money from mine-owned stores? Working in almost complete darkness also resulted in vision problems for aging workers. Underground chambers in Llechwedd quarry extend down 1,500 feet, but only the top 500 feet have been pumped dry of groundwater for the Deep Mine Tour.

The slate extracted from the 'Old Vein' was over 500 million years old and of such high quality that it can be split into layers less than 1mm thick.

The slate extracted from the 'Old Vein' in Llechwedd Slate Quarry was over 500 million years old

Some old machinery still remain in the now abandoned caverns. Boys, over 8 yrs old, would be paid to push small rail carts full of slate to the surface. In total there were over 32 km of tunnels and rail tracks above and below ground at the quarry.

Old abandoned machinery left behind in the slate mines in Llechwedd Slate Quarry

As late as the early 1900s, over 10,000 men and boys were killed and 25,000 injured in the mining industry. The saying is, 'Not many old men are found in the mines'. The average age of those killed was 32.

Although several surface quarries remain open, the last underground slate mines in Wales closed in the 1960s. An industry that once employed more than 17,000 now supports 400 jobs in the region. Villages like Blaenau Ffestiniog now rely on quarry-related tourism to remain viable communities.

With views like this, even the drive back to our Airbnb was enjoyable. Northern Wales was an amazing destination.

Mountains in Ogwen Valley in Snowdonia in Wales

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