Life, Travel

Welsh Rare Bits

We met a man, today, called Ken.

Ken was sitting on the prom admiring the view of the waves gently rolling into Trearddur Bay on Holy Island, off Anglesey. The sun was streaming, in contrast to the forecast, and a few families were ambling along the sand, letting their dogs and toddlers expend their energy.

Ken is 85, and has two neat, vertical scars up his knees where he’d had replacement joints put in. That doesn’t stop him perambulating along the edges of the Irish Sea every morning. He draws little animals on stones and puts them along the pathway for people to find and take home.

Ken was born and bred in this part of Wales, and as a child, he remembers the sand just rising up and merging with the dune grasses. There was no wall or promenading path then, but he’s thankful for the ledge that runs along it now, so he can rest and watch his little corner of the world.

Later on, in the October Half Term, we’ll be coming back to this area with Anne’s kids and the grandchildren. Hopefully, we’ll catch up with Ken again. But, for today, we’re just passing through, pausing only to get a small eyeful of what he looks out on, and it’s beautiful.

We stopped at another coastal spot, on my whistle-stop introduction to Anglesey, or what the Welsh call Ynys Mon. Camaes Bay, which is near the very top of the island, was a traditional fishing village and now partly owned by the National Trust as it is classed as an ‘Area of Outstanding Beauty’. I could have sat and watched the sea from there all day.

Given that I’d run the Caernarfon Half on Sunday, we had decided to stay on an extra couple of days to be tourists in the neighbourhood, and, truth be told, this leisurely strolling around has been good for my legs.

So today, had been a taste of Anglesey, and yesterday, we explored an interesting spot, just south of Caernarfon, called Portmeirion.

Portmeirion is a made up place. Architecturally, virtually the whole place built from scratch. A bit like Milton Keynes, but without the roundabouts and the concrete. So nothing like Milton Keynes then.

The architect, Sir Bertram Clough Williams-Ellis, who happened to have wealthy, land-owning family to help him find a space for his vision wanted to pay homage to a Mediterranean, Italianate style of landscape. The strikingly colourful facades of Portofino are brought to mind, but Williams-Ellis was apparently not trying to copy that village directly, but bring a general feel of that neck of the woods, to this little inlet in Wales.

You do feel like you’re walking through a film set, when you walk among the buildings, especially if you’ve seen episodes of The Prisoner in your youth. I kept expecting Patrick McGoohan to pop out from around a corner, in his black top and jacket with the white piping, looking earnestly for a way out of there.

I didn’t blame him. Around this surreal village, which you have to pay to enter incidentally, there are nice paths to the waterfront, and woodland walks that allow your brain a little respite from the loud paintwork. It’s quite a unique place, and although I can’t say that I loved it, I was glad I’d come to gawp, just the once.

We came back to Caernarfon via Beddgelert. The road took us right through the Snowdonia National Park, and all around us, the mountains towered, including Snowden itself with its trademark triangular top.

River with large boulders in, framed by trees
We stopped at a river on the way to Beddgelert

By the village itself, there is a grave for the famous dog Gelert, supposedly Prince Llywelyn’s favourite hound who was killed in error by his owner. However, the grave is as artificial as Portmeirion, having been created by an 18th Century landlord to drum up the tourist trade.

There are some nice touristy knick-knack shops here, and it is worth coming to in order to travel through some stunning scenery. There are, actually a number of lay-bys for cars to stop and people to safely appreciate the views without crashing into a tree or a river.

I wonder what it’s like to live in a valley village like Beddgelert, that gets flooded with tourists in summer, and is dark in the winter with all the mountains pressing in. I used to live in Todmorden in West Yorkshire, for a few years, and the hills there have a solid, brooding presence, especially in the cold months. But they were as nothing compared to the height of these peaks.

But for this late summer’s day when we passed through, the mountains were majestic, and took our breaths away.

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