Wales & PortmeirionMonday, 14 August 2023
Milan was the end of my Madrid, Barcelona, Gent, Tarn River, Cassis, Monaco, Genoa European circuit, most of my European travel by train. I flew back to London with ITA, the latest out-of-bankruptcy recreation of Alitalia, Italy’s multi-bankrupted airline. Never have I had more trouble booking what should have been a totally straightforward flight! Afterwards there’s a survey enquiry from ITA which gives me the opportunity to rip into them! It was a very expensive flight – absurdly difficult to make an online booking – repeatedly informed no seats available when there were – attempted booking multiple times with multiple booking sites and directly with ITA – unable to book 2 tickets if they were not identical, ie one with luggage, one without – stupid stupid stupid. What should they be doing better? Sort out their online booking
▲ Ironbridge, Shropshire – we’re back in London for less than a week before we set out to drive north-west to Wales, first stop Ironbridge which has been described as ‘the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.’ That’s down to its pioneering cast iron bridge, built in 1779-81, in fact there was a lot of industrial development going on all over the UK around that time, but the Iron Bridge is certainly a pretty fine symbol for the era and its design, construction and subsequent history is quite a story. There are a number of museums clustered around the bridge and if there was more time this would be an excellent place for an overnight stop and more sightseeing.
▲Ironbridge, Shropshire – the attractive town beside the bridge. We had pub lunch at the nearby Woodbridge Inn in Coalport which also has a rather fine, but a few years younger, iron bridge right beside it. This one you can still drive over.
▲ Castell Deudraeth – at Portmeirion we stay in this fantasy castle just outside the fantasy village
▲ Portmeirion Village – Portmeirion is an amazing place, a ‘village’ created between 1925 and 1975 by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis as a sort of Welsh-Mediterranean fantasy – ‘no it is not copied from Portofino in Italy.’ It’s fantasy village, more Disneyland than anything else because there’s an adult entry fee of £18. There are tourist shops, cafes, ice cream places and even the Portmeirion Hotel, actually in the village as well as the one we’re staying at just outside. Assorted places in the village are rented out as ‘self-catering’ accommodation although presumably you’d have to drive to nearby Penrhyndeudraeth or Porthmadog for supplies. Whatever it’s a rather wonderful fantasy.
◄ Portmeirion Village – Part of the Portmeirion attraction is the strange 1967 TV series The Prisoner. There were 16 or 17 episodes and it’s vaguely science fiction and totally crazy, many of the outdoor scenes were filmed at Portmeirion, the main character is a ‘prisoner’ in the village. Everything looks totally unchanged more than 50 years later and the series has a cult following who come to Portmeirion for an annual gathering. There’s a Prisoner shop in the village which sells Prisoner clothing and other memorabilia from the series.
▲ Dogs’ cemetery in Portmeirion – I get up early and walk up to the dogs’ cemetery, past the Portmeirion village, and on to the viewpoint, it’s quite a stroll. The dog’s cemetery has a surprisingly large assembly of dog graves, nearly all of them with very neat gravestones extolling what wonderful, faithful hounds they were and detailing their date of birth and death to the day. There’s also a Chinese pond, the Japanese bridge, a collection of noted trees and a lighthouse.
◄ Caernarfon Castle, Caernarfon – We spend quite a while looking around the very interesting Caernarfon Castle. There are lots of lookouts, lots of towers, clearly lots of money has been spent on making it a big tourist attraction. There’s also a very extensive military museum. ▼
◄ Lloyd George statue, Caernarfon – a local boy, he was British Prime Minister from 1916 to 1922. In fact he was born in Manchester, but grew up and was buried in Llanystumdwy, now there’s a good Welsh name.
We have a pub lunch in The Black Boy Inn in Caernarfon, but unfortunately I don’t check the ‘controversial’ sign carefully enough – a black boy on one side of it, a black buoy on the other. And a menu which warns us that food can take up to 1-1/2 hours to prepare and a very helpful waiter who tells us that is not going to happen and obliges us by repeating the news in Welsh.
After departing Caernarfon we drive half way back to Portmeirion and detour to Dinas Dinlle which has a coastal iron-age hillfort, or at least half or two-thirds of the fort, the sea has eroded away the rest of the hill. Only a couple of us make the climb to the top.
▲ Beach huts – we drive to Llanbedrog where two of us do a lengthy – well about three km plus the ascent to the start of the circuit – walk around the headlands, starting with an excellent lookout with an iron man statue. We look down on the long beach with its lineup of brightly painted identical little beach huts. The circuit walk features more excellent views and lots of purple gorse and other bright wildflowers.
Mora Nefyn is also on our itinerary and a walk past the lifeboat station with an impressively powerful looking, very bright orange and very shiny clean lifeboat ready to launch. Then on to the headland with cormorants and a little group of lounging seals. Then on past the headland to a Coastwatch lookout where the two coastwatchers report the lookout is staffed for five hours every day (a bit shorter in winter) and the watchers record every departing and arriving boat. This still means there are 19 hours every day (and more in winter) when nothing gets recorded? But interesting.
▲ Snowdonia Mountain Railway – we drive to Llanberis, the bottom station for the Snowdonia Mountain Railway which climbs 7.5km from the bottom station at 122metres to the summit just below 1085 metres. It’s a rack and pinion railway, the little engines, a couple of veteran steam-powered locomotives, the rest rather more efficient and easy to operate diesels. The only problem for us is – or rather the three problems for us today are – weather weather weather. Which is to say it’s pissing down and at the top it’s really wet and wild.
Still we’re not walking the whole way, which would take at least a couple of wet and wild hours. At the top station shelter, shop, café there are a lot of very unhappy (well resigned, forbearing, long-suffering, healthy) walkers. Jane Hobbs, Nick and I venture out and make the final climb up to the summit, you really are in serious danger of being blown off from the trig point at the top. We both get back to the shelter rather damp, I dry my jeans off on the heated towel rail in our bathroom when we get back to the hotel. Nick awards us ‘I Climbed Snowdon 1085m’ badges, which is really a cheat, we only climbed the last few metres. Maureen, of course, does not approve.
Back at the bottom we watch a drone-filmed movie about the railway, a good job we did or we’d have had no idea what it all looks like. The weather really was appalling, we could not see a thing.