Exploring the nature and small towns of northern Wales
This post is the fourth in a series we are publishing based on stories from a correspondent in the U.K., Kelly Convey. This particular story is based on an article Kelly wrote after a recent trip to Snowdonia, in northern Wales. The story originally was edited by Brenna Holeman, then adapted here in the United States. We are proud to partner with Visit Britain for this series.
I recently had the pleasure of visiting Snowdonia, a region in north Wales. Snowdonia is about a five-hour drive from London, but trains and bus routes are available from all major cities in the UK. Travelers from London also can take an easy, two-hour, direct train from Paddington Station to Cardiff and rent a car there to set off to explore the beautiful countryside.
During my week in northern Wales, I experienced sunny, warm days as well as gray, mist-covered days. The beauty of the place was unchanged. The air here was pure, the grass a verdant green, and the mountains lightly snow-capped and stretching out for miles. Every day I was blown away by Snowdonia’s amazing display of nature. At night, I was in awe of the brightly shining stars, something I rarely see as a city-dweller.
On our drive, my travel companion and I noticed that when we entered Wales, the road signs changed dramatically: They were all in Welsh! For those who don’t speak it, the interesting Welsh language can be difficult to read and pronounce. If you’ve never seen it written before, the first thing you’ll notice is the lack of vowels and the length of each word. Trying to pronounce some of the road signs provided us lots of entertainment on the route.
Viewfinder Tip: Familiarize yourself with on basic Welsh before visiting Wales, since most of the road signs appear in Welsh.
From the car windows we watched as the scenery changed. Even my dog, Nelson, seemed utterly entranced by the views. The closer we got to Snowdonia, the vast, flat landscapes that line the motorway started to grow into rolling hills and wooded forests. The roads themselves became narrower, and around each bend we caught glimpses of the outskirts of Snowdonia National Park. A huge region of Wales, it encompasses 823 square miles of stunning mountains, forests, and rivers.
I’ve never been anywhere like this in my entire life; I felt so small driving through this huge park. I couldn’t help but be reminded of how big nature is and how tiny we mere mortals are. For the adventurous, there are numerous activities to try in Snowdonia: Hiking, canyoning, zip-lining, horseback riding, cycling, white-water rafting, fishing, rock-climbing, and, of course, walking the numerous trails. The range of things to do has made this region one of the most popular in the UK among nature-lovers.
Home base on Cardigan Bay
After a day of travel, we arrived at our destination of Criccieth. Found on Cardigan Bay, Criccieth was, again, like no other place I have ever been. To one side were the mountains of Snowdonia; to the other was the Irish Sea. We spent a few nights there, and, much to my delight, we were greeted by sheep outside our window every morning. There is no other word to describe this place but breathtaking.
From Criccieth, there are many fantastic road trips to take through the park. One day, we went northbound along the coast up to the two bridges that cross over to the Isle of Anglesey. These two bridges are called the Menai Suspension Bridge and The Britannia Bridge. I recommend driving over both of them! Not only are the views of the bridges incredible, but the bridges are pretty amazing as well. The first bridge we reached was Britannia Bridge; crossing over onto the Isle of Anglesey we turned around at a viewpoint and were instantly blown away by a stunning perspective: the bridges, the Menai Strait running below, and Snowdonia as the backdrop.
After our photo shoot at the viewpoint we stopped in the Menai Bridge town center. The center was filled with cute little shops, and we searched along the main street for a dog-friendly pub for some lunch. We found the Anglesey Arms, where the staff members were incredibly friendly, the food was lovely, and they were more than happy to have Nelson. We spoke to a few locals and they mentioned that we should take Nelson down to the promenade that runs below the pub as it would be a nice walk for him. They were right.
As afternoon came to a close, we decided we wanted to see a bit more of the island, so we jumped in the car and began driving without any sense of direction. You can drive around the island of Anglesey in 40 minutes so our chances of getting lost were very slim! On our little trip around the island we saw many beautiful scenes of the setting sun, and each one seemed more dramatic and vibrant than the last.
Another benefit to staying in Criccieth is that is only a 15-minute drive from the village of Portmeirion. Portmeirion is a place I’ve wanted to visit for a long time, and it was definitely worth the trip. Now owned by a charitable trust (which means you have to pay about US$15 to enter), it was built in the style of an Italian village by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis. You’d never expect such a colorful and unique town smack-dab in the middle of northern Wales! Spend a few hours wandering around the village to take in its fabulous architecture, and if you feel like getting a spa visit in, the Mermaid Spa is a great spot to spend the day.
Although travelling with Nelson meant that I couldn’t partake in many of the activities Snowdonia offers, I did experience the ridiculously fun Bounce Below, which I can highly recommend for all ages. Found in Blaenau Ffestiniog, Bounce Below is a massive subterranean playground comprising a series of bouncy nets to play on. A ticket allows you one hour where you are free to bounce, climb, and slide, and I can guarantee you’ll spend the entire hour laughing and feeling like a kid again. Make sure to make reservations for this activity, as the venue is extremely popular.
When I travel around the UK, I’m usually drawn to places with noted attractions or a lot of historical significance. With Snowdonia, on the other hand, the landscape itself was the appeal. I couldn’t get enough of the picture-perfect villages—I could have spent weeks trying to visit each one, and even more time road-tripping through the gorgeous scenery. Snowdonia truly is an area of outstanding natural beauty and like no place I have ever been before. With so many different activities and spots to explore, I believe it’s the perfect destination for your next vacation.
What are your favorite activities on a nature adventure?
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