Category Archives: Gwynedd

Barmouth

Barmouth Bridge, by Eifion. Picture used under Creative Commons licence, click pic for link to photo

Barmouth Bridge, by Eifion. Picture used under Creative Commons licence, click pic for link to photo

Cue the standard blogger apologies for delays in posting – I have all sorts of reasons/excuses that I shan’t bore you with. One of them at least was a short break in North Wales (our first proper YHA break which was, let’s say, an interesting experience), and here we are. I don’t really know what normal people do on holiday. In our heads, we pack waterproofs and walking boots and stay at the foot of Snowdon, and spend all our time driving miles and miles through the awesome countryside between tiddly towns, visiting their charity shops. It’s not a bad lot, and it’s definitely something of a treat these days – once upon a time, in car ownership days, this was our weekends: it was no big to drive 100 miles in a day visiting our favourite towns. Nowadays, we’re all eco and that, and getting rid of the car has been a big help in saving us money, precisely for that reason. 

But, that means that a holiday spent roving the towns of a fresh part of the country is a grand treat, and we definitely made as much of it as possible this time round, revisting Porthmadog and Beaumaris as well as a number of other places that we visited last time we were in Snowdonia. One of these, perhaps the furthest flung, was Barmouth. According to Wikipedia, Barmouth is geographically one of the closest seaside resorts to the West Midlands “and a large proportion of its tourist visitors, as well as its permanent residents, are from Wolverhampton, Birmingham, Dudley and other parts of the Black Country, and Telford, Shropshire.” As a geographer that makes me twitch – closest is not as straightforward a term as you might like it to be. If we’re talking crows a-flying (82 miles) or caravans a-towing (109 miles), Barmouth is pretty much the first big patch of wet that your average yam yam will hit if he heads due West. You’ll see what I mean though: Weston-super-Mare is further as the crow flies (89 miles) but closer on the road (104 miles).

Academic arguments aside, there was certainly a preponderance of Midlands accents in Barmouth, although not in quite the density of Scousers in Llandudno. There’s plenty to attract them for their hols from the big city though, not least the wonderful journey to get there. A visitor by rail will get used to the rolling Welsh names of the stations they pass: Caersws, Machynlleth, Llwyngwril, Morfa Mawddach, then Barmouth; the train ride through the Dovey valley and along the Cardigan Bay coast has got to rank as one of the finest in these isles. A visitor on the roads can take their pick of equally lovely routes: the most direct has its fair share of Welsh as the driver passes through Llanfair Caereinion, Dinas Mawddwy and Dolgellau, before following the Mawddach estuary through the cliffs to Barmouth, loomed over by Cadair Idris on the southern banks. Beware the caravaner after Dinas Mawddwy mind – I’ve been there myself, pedal to the metal in second gear, attempting to coax an old Escort into dragging a little ‘van up the Ochr y Bwlch.

When you get to Barmouth, most will be heading for the extensive beach. Not us, of course. You can park in town and have a wander. There’s a fair selection of kiss-me-quick hat shops and the like, but actually there’s a wider range of boutique than most equivalent seaside resorts, including actual ethnic restaurants beside chippies and pubs, and some vast, crowded antiques shops. This time, we came away with a pair of school tins for catering-sized baking, and at a steal; but not all goodies are so reasonable. The charity shops are, in fact, not all that spectacular. Save The Children is fine but fairly uninspiring; close by, Tenovus is the same. Freshfields is probably the pick of the bunch – maps make this man happy, but it’s more of an emporium feel than some of today’s bland chain stores.

Charity shop-wise, Barmouth doesn’t score highly. There’s nothing here to mark it out in distinction to any other seaside town, or in fact anywhere else. The charity shops are fine, neither good nor bad, just un-memorable. Tourism-wise, Barmouth pretty much has the lot: mountains, seaside, boat trips, miniature railways, cliffs, seagulls, chips on the harbour, ice cream. Wordsworth, that incurable romantic, felt the same: “With a fine sea view in front, the mountains behind, the glorious estuary running eight miles inland, and Cadair Idris within compass of a day’s walk, Barmouth can always hold its own against any rival.” That’s all I ask for, too.

Find: Barmouth @ Google Maps
Get there: I’d recommend coming on the train: a wonderful route in with the station bang in the middle of town.
Consume with: we’ve ended up eating chips on the harbour, under the shadow of the viaduct, both times we’ve been here now. Can’t go wrong, really.
Visit: Barmouth’s shipbuilding history heads back a couple of hundred years, but Barmouth has been a port for way longer than that even. Plenty of heritage-y visitor things: try Ty Gwyn, Round House and Lifeboat Museum.
Overall rating: three sheep mugs

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Filed under 3/5, Gwynedd

Porthmadog

Roddy at Beddgelert

Roddy at Beddgelert

The above picture is Roddy, our not-so-new Cosalt Piper 1100 (you get the name?). Since acquiring Roddy earlier in the year, it would be fair to say that we haven’t had the chance to make a ton of use of him. However, now everything’s been tarted up a bit (a lick of paint; some new soft furnishings), he’s very much usable, and we’re currently getting the hang of this caravanning lark. Each time we go, we learn. On our first trip, to a little site near Alcester, in March, we learnt: March is cold; a hard pitch is better than a soft, wet grassy one. For our second trip, near Ledbury, we learnt the same lesson again, after being covered in mud. Now, finally, we are ready to make a week of it, so off we headed to the Beddgelert Forest site at the foot of Snowdon, and did we enjoy? You betcha.

Porthmadog is the closest town of any size for Beddgelert, home to the all-important Aldi, Wilkinsons, petrol station and  caravan repair shop (the latter necessary after the epic potholes on the way in to the camp site did our tow hitch in). It’s situated in the crook of the Llŷn Peninsula, at the mouth of the Afon Glaslyn which flows through Beddgelert from its source high up on Snowdon, and it’s this river which was the making of the town. Prior to 1811, there was no settlement here, just a marshy polder known as Traeth Mawr – this all changed when William Maddocks built the town cob and drained the surrounding land. This formed a new harbour, enabled more agriculture on the former estuary and kickstarted the foundation of Port Madoc and the nearby planned village, Tremadog. Today, the evidence of the resulting industry is all around. The remains of the Tremadog barge canal (for carrying copper) follow the path of the Welsh Highland Railway (slate) into town, where it meets the Ffestiniog Railway (also slate) – both of these have been restored, but will set you back more than was in our wallet on this holiday. Porthmadog has become a hub for the region, and most importantly, throws up numerous charity shops.

The main shopping street in Porthmadog is home to all the charity shops here. Some are familiar: Barnados and British Red Cross are a familiar sight all over the country. Tenovus now have shops around the UK, but started in Wales – most towns we visited on our hols have one of their shops carrying the usual charity shop fun, plus a selection of Welsh language books. More locally-minded, Freshfields Animal Rescue carries on the tradition of animal-based charity shops being generally ramshackle; and Age Cymru and St David’s Hospice make up the cohort. I should really say Hosbis Dewi Sant – this is after all a stronghold of Cymraeg, the Welsh language. I’ve picked up some roadsign grammar   (add a wch to make it imperative (arafwch = slow down!)) and vocabulary (mountain pass = bwlch). I hope to work on this.

Porthmadog isn’t a massive town, and it’s not the big city of North Wales by a long shot (this would be Bangor, I’d say), but it certainly fulfils it’s role. It’s a locus for the area, with all the facilities that tourists staying at Criccieth, Harlech, Beddgelert or anywhere else in this part of Snowdonia could hope for. It’s also a really nice little town, with steam railways, boats, beaches, delis and supermarkets, convenience shops and more specialised emporia. I’d cheerfully recommend  a visit if you’re in the region.

Find: Porthmadog Google Maps
Get there: Porthmadog is very handy to reach without a car (or caravan). If you really want to arrive in style, come by boat, but if not then you’re well served by a mainline station from Shrewsbury and Birmingham (this must be one of the finest train rides you could hope for), or even better, the Welsh Highland Railway from Caernarfon and the Ffestiniof Railway from Blaenau Ffestiniog.
Consume with: some local Welsh cakes, I’d suggest, from a local becws
Visit: You’re just around the corner from Portmeirion here (£10). For the cheapskates, walk in the hills for goodness’ sake! You have some of the most beautiful mountains in the land here.
Overall rating: four llyfrau

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Filed under 4/5, Gwynedd