Family road trip Wales: Isle of Anglesey

Beaumaris Castle

Another Sunday, another segment in our family road trip in Wales. Today, it’s all about Ynys Môn, better known as Isle of Anglesey. (If you’re wondering why Cat looks a tad younger, it’s because this is from our first road trip in Wales, when she was seven.)

Immediately after you’ve crossed Pont Britannia from the mainland to Anglesey, you’ll notice a sign for Llanfair. It might even say Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. I wondered if it was the longest place name in the world, but it seems there is a Maori name that’s even longer. The official name for Bangkok is even longer again. However, I’ve yet to hear of a longer name in the English language, so we’ll settle for that.

But there’s of course more to Anglesey than long place names. There’s Kate and William, for example – and now also Baby George. The Cambridges live on the island since Wills works at RAF Valley as a helicopter rescue pilot.

I expect this has brought more visitors to Anglesey the last few years. When we were there, in 2008, it was relatively quiet. The locals I spoke with – all very fond of their island – indicated they preferred it that way.

We spent one day on Anglesey and it wasn’t nearly enough time. The time we did have, we spent mostly in the town of Beaumaris (pronounced Biwmaris locally).

Beaumaris was a Viking settlement, always dear to a Norwegian heart. No remnants of that can be seen, however. My ancestors weren’t too concerned with leaving their footprints, it seems. Not physical footprints, anyway.

In Beaumaris, we visited the interesting old courthouse and the suitably thrilling Beaumaris Gaol. We stopped by the 500-year-old Tudor Rose, and marvelled at the tiny door.

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But first we wandered around Beaumaris Castle in the rain. This is one of four medieval strongholds dotted around Northern Wales built by King Edward in the 13th century. I like how many of the ancient castles have easily accessible playgrounds immediately outside. Playing against this backdrop, perhaps an interest in history will seep into the young minds while sliding down the slippery dip. One can always hope…

Beaumaris Courthouse

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The 400-year-old courthouse is still in use today, albeit only once a year. It’s possible to get a bit theatrical here – and my kids enjoyed both the courthouse and the gaol. Like being in a Dickens novel.

Beaumaris Gaol

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Walking through this slightly spooky building, you get a certain feel for how it might have been to be a prisoner almost 200 years ago. Despite chains and beatings, this was quite a humane institution for its time. My favourite feature is the cradle in the photo above. Notice the rope going into the hole in the floor? Women prisoners worked in the room directly below and could easily reach the end of the rope to rock their babies to sleep.

The Tudor Rose

Tudor Rose, Beaumaris, Wales Tudor Rose, Beaumaris

The Tudor Rose is an old timber-frame house. Looks a bit odd among the tall modern buildings. It’s interesting to think about how this street might have looked in 1480 when the Tudor Rose was built. Presently, this fabulous building houses the offices of an estate agent. Must be a very atmospheric and inspiring place to work. Can’t help wishing it was a tea house, though.

What we would like to see and do next time we’re on Anglesey:

  • Sail around the island. The entire coastline of Anglesey is designated an area of outstanding natural beauty.
  • Hang about the beach a bit, at Rhosneigr, Red Wharf Bay or numerous others
  • Visit the Skerries light house, the windmill at Llanddeusant and the Church in the sea at Cribinau
  • We’ve followed King Arthur in Cornwall, so I’d like to see King Arthur’s Seat.

We need about a week, I reckon.

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Beaumaris practicals

  1. Beaumaris is a short drive from Pont Britannia (Britannia Bridge) which spans the Menai Strait separating Anglesey from the Welsh mainland.
  2. Entrance to Beaumaris Castle is £4.50, reduced rate is £3.40. A family ticket costs £13.50 and admits 2 adults and up to 3 children. A 3- or 7-day explorer pass gives free admission. Opening hours: 10 – 16 in winter, longer hours in summer.
  3. Entrance to Beaumaris Courthouse and Gaol: joint ticket is £7.50, £6 for children and seniors. Opening hours: 10 – 17 between Easter and September.

 

unesco logo

Beaumaris Castle is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd.

Here are more UNESCO World Heritage sites around the world.

 

Family road trip Wales: Llandudno – Conwy

Another Sunday and a new installment on family road tripping in Wales. Last week, we left off in Blaenau Ffestiniog. Today, we continue onwards to Llandudno – Conwy. We’ve been here before, so you know we like it up here on the northern coast of Wales.

Llandudno

Llandudno - Conwy

Llandudno is off the beaten track. It’s a quaint and quiet seaside town with a very long, crescent-shaped promenade with pastel Victorian facades – and a very long pier which could easily be the setting of a period murder mystery, or even a modern one. Llandudno also has numerous places to stay (for all budgets), good restaurants, lots of shops and miles of pretty beaches.

From the promenade, you’ll see the hill Great Orme, reachable by tram, cable car or a good old-fashioned hike. The hike is worth it for the views alone, but if you need another reason to exert yourself, there’s an interesting old copper mine up here as well.

Llandudno promenade
Just a wee bit of the prom in Llandudno with Great Orme in the background

Llandudno pier has the usual array of little shops, noisy arcades and fairground rides (that the little one loves).

I prefer the pier after hours. It’s somewhat of a thought-provoking walk; the pier is lined with benches with memorial plaques and often flowers to dear, departed ones.

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Back in day, the ferry to Isle of Man left from Llandudno Pier. Not anymore (it leaves from Liverpool these days). Today, the end of the pier is a nice place to enjoy the views of the bay with the occasional angler.

Llandudno pier

Conwy

family road trip wales

Just a short bus ride from Llandudno is Conwy. In 2008, we explored Conwy Castle and the well-preserved Elizabethan house, Plas Mawr – and we played with a lovable, local feline. Four years later, we decided a return visit is in order. We just like Conwy.

The rest of the gang decides to ramble about Conwy Castle yet again. Of King Edward’s four castles in Gwynedd, this is the one I like the best.

Conwy Castle

While they’re at the castle, I stroll down to the quay. It’s small and colourful and just the right place to sit and stare out at the water with a cup of tea in hand.

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As I sit there, something makes me turn my head. Don’t know what, I’m really more interested in the brightly painted boats and all that goes on in front of me. But there it is: I turn around and spot… the smallest house in Britain. Right on the quayside.

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It’s not a toy house, it just looks like one. It’s about 6 sq. metres and maybe 3 metres high, covering two floors. And it wasn’t always a tourist attraction. This little house was a residence for 300 years. Ironically, the last owner, one Robert James, a local fisherman, was almost 1.90 metres tall, just 10 cm shorter than Aleks in the photo below.

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In the early 1900s, Robert was chucked out, when the local council declared the house too small for human habitation.

When the kids arrive – after being sidetracked by birds of prey at the quay – we pay the symbolic £1.00 (50p for children) and enter this tiny abode. Inside, there’s a stove and a water tap. We can’t go upstairs, as the first floor isn’t strong enough, but we’re allowed to climb a ladder to have a look up there. There’s barely room for a bed, a small cabinet, a wash basin and a chamber pot.

family road trip wales

I think The Smallest House in Britain is a wonderfully quirky tourist attraction. The child’s verdict: interesting enough, but the birds of prey top it – and everything else.

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unesco logo

Conwy Castle is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd.

Here are more UNESCO World Heritage sites around the world.

 

Family road trip Wales: Portmeirion – Blaenau Ffestiniog

Happy Sunday and welcome back to our family road trip in Wales. This week, we travel the route Harlech – Portmeirion – Blaenau Ffestiniog.

Portmeirion

From Harlech, we carried on towards Portmeirion, a seaside village on the Welsh coast, and one of our favourite places. I won’t say too much about it, since we’ve covered this crazy, beautiful place before. Just one photo…

Portmeirion - Blaenau Ffestiniog

Blaenau Ffestiniog

This is the image I had of Wales before I was ever here: a slightly drab country, grey as the slate industry it relied on for so long, and eternally overcast.

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Or, as Edmund, Lord Blackadder the Third, would say:

It’s a ghastly place. Huge gangs of tough sinewy men roam the valleys terrorising people with their close-harmony singing. You need half a pint of phlegm in your throat just to pronounce the placenames.

Just a ruse, I suspect, to keep people out. What I’ve seen of Wales is every bit as beautiful as Scotland.

But the slate industry was real and Blaenau Ffestiniog was its capital – in Victorian times. These days slate isn’t much in demand. Today, the town relies on tourism, with the Ffestiniog Railway and the Llechwedd Slate Caverns as the main attractions.

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The Ffestiniog Railway is one of Wales’ narrow gauge railways, running through the very pretty Vale of Ffestiniog, between Porthmadog (nearest town to Portmeirion) and Blaenau. Better, I’m sure, than seeing the landscape from a hire car, as we did.

At Llechwedd Slate Caverns you can take the Miners’ Tramway and/or descend 150 m/500 ft underground (via cable car) to explore the quarry and learn about the slate industry and experience life as a miner. Although you’ll have electricity and other mod cons; the miners had candles.

If, like us, you arrive after 5 pm, you’ll have to settle for hiking or biking, checking out the old-fashioned pubs (and hear locals speak Welsh) or just wandering around town, taking in the gorgeous surroundings.

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Blaenau Ffestiniog, unfiltered.

Blaenau Ffestiniog practicals

We arrived in town too late for both the slate mine and the heritage railway. Next time we’re in Snowdonia, we’ll plan better.

Llechwedd Slate Caverns

  • opening times in 2013 from Mid-March onwards: 0930 – 1730 (last tour at 1645)
  • entrance fee: tramway or deep mine tour: £10.50/£8.50/£9.50 for adults/children/seniors and students. £17/£13/£15.75 if you want to do both

Ffestiniog Railway

  • a timetable can be found here
  • fares: £20.20/£18.20 for adults/concessions for a third-class round-trip, all-day ticket – or add £6 for a seat in the first-class observation carriage.

 

Stay tuned for more fab finds in Wales next Sunday