Located 10km from the English border, Abergavenny is referred to as the ” Gateway to Wales“. Originally a Roman fort, today it is a vibrant market town, which hosts several different markets every week. The town is surrounded by mountains and is a great place from which to access the Brecon Beacons. It is also one of the few places in the UK to have a song written about it – Marty Wilde‘s jaunty 1968 hit, “Abergavenny”.
One of the highlights of the Abergavenny calendar is the annual Abergavenny Food Festival. The festival attracts around 30,000 visitors every year and isn’t just about local food and produce. There are chefs from across the UK in attendance, hosting cooking demos, workshops and with some selling food at the market. Award-winning chef Cyrus Todiwala is a regular presenter at the festival and runs a stall selling Mr Todiwala’s splendidly spicy and deliciously hot pickles and chutneys. According to Mrs Todiwala, they have a soft spot for the festival because that’s where they sold their first ever jar of the pickles.
Aneurin Bevan Memorial Stones
In 1929, a politician stood on a hill and gave his first speech to the people of the Ebw Vale parliamentary constituency. His speeches on the hill become enormous gatherings as people crowded around to hear the great orator. He went on to become one of the most important figures in twentieth-century British politics. The site of those speeches is marked by the Aneurin Bevan Memorial Stones. The stones represent Bevan and the three towns of his constituency.
Aneurin Bevan was elected MP for Ebw Vale, a seat he would hold until his death in 1960. In 1945, Bevan became Minister for Health. Growing up in his hometown of Tredegar, Bevan had been inspired by the Tredegar Medical Aid Society. Members of the community would contribute a small weekly sum and then receive free medical and dental treatment at the point of care. The scheme was so popular that by 1933, 95% of the eligible population were members. Bevan took principles of the scheme and it became the basis of his 1946 National Health Service Act, which created the NHS.
On 13th May 2007 BBC3 premiered a new comedy series. That series was Gavin & Stacey and it introduced the world to the Welsh seaside town of Barry. Apart from Gavin & Stacey, Barry is known for its maritime history and being the site of the last Butlin’s holiday camp to be built. Today, it is often used as a TV filming location and is known for the funfair, Barry Island Pleasure Park. There has been an amusement park on Barry Island since 1897 and it remains popular to this day.
Unfortunately, as time moves on some things disappear as they go out of fashion. This was nearly the fate of Bara Brith. Once a popular teatime treat, served spread with a thick dollop of butter, consumption had fallen so much that supermarket chains stopped selling it. Fortunately, it has been championed by celebrity chefs Phil Vickery and Bryn Williams. It also made an appearance in season 4 of the Great British Bake Off, helping to increase its popularity.
Bara Brith literally means “Speckled Bread” and according to cooking legend was invented by a chef adding dried fruit to a bread mix. Whether that story is true or not, the traditional recipe is an enriched dough, using yeast as a raising agent. It is made with butter, spices and mixed dried fruits. Traditionally, the fruit is soaked in tea overnight making it plump and moist. Modern recipes lose the yeast and use self-raising flour instead. They also forgo the soaking of the fruit and just throw cold tea into the mix. For me, the traditional recipe makes the best loaf. Make sure you try it when you visit Wales.
Did you know that Bara Brith is also enjoyed in Argentina? Welsh settlers to the Chubut valleys brought the recipe with them and in Argentina it is known as Torta Negra.
Brecon Beacons National Park
Located in a part of Wales where sheep outnumber people 30 to 1, the Brecon Beacons National Park covers 1,340 km2 of grassy moorland and rolling hills. The park was established in 1957 and stretches from Llandeilo in the west to Hay-on-Wye in the northeast and Pontypool in the southeast. It has four main regions; Black Mountain (which isn’t black and is a range of mountains), the Brecon Beacons, Forest Fawr, and somewhat confusingly, the Black Mountains (which are also not black and are on the opposite side of the park to Black Mountain).
The Beacons are a great place for mountaineering although the terrain can be quite rugged and when bad weather closes in, it can be a dangerous place to be. The Army uses the Beacons for rough terrain training exercises and the SAS and SBS conduct gruelling selection exercises on the range.
Having said that, the park is a fantastic area to explore and there are plenty of activities to enjoy, including walking, cycling, mountain biking, horse riding, as well as sailing, windsurfing, canoeing and fishing and rock climbing. The Taff Trail cycling route runs from Brecon, through the Beacons and on to Cardiff. If you want to walk across the park, the Beacons Way is a 161 km path running from Abergavenny in the east to Llandog in the west.
Once upon a time, Welsh coal was the most important industry in the country and powered the Industrial Revolution in Wales. By 1913, it was at its peak, employing over 250,000 miners. Welsh coal was sent all over the world with the Barry docks becoming the largest coal shipping port in the world. However, from the late 1920’s, coal stocks began to slowly run out, mines began to shut down and the last deep mine in Wales closed in 2008. Although it is all but gone, the mining heritage is most definitely not forgotten. In 1983, the former Big Pit mine in Blaenavon opened as a museum.
As a museum, it’s a unique experience. Big Pit is technically still a working mine, so visitors going underground have to don a plastic hard hat, safety lamp, and a battery on a waist belt (which weighs 5kg). They also have to carry a rebreather on the belt, which will filter noxious gases out of the air for up to an hour in an emergency. The Big Pit National Coal Museum is part of the Blaenavon Industrial Landscape UNESCO World Heritage Site and was the 2005 winner of the Gulbenkian Prize (now known as the Museum of the Year Award).
Cawl can be considered the Welsh national dish. When I was growing up, it was a dish that I always loved eating. Most people today make it with lamb (which both my mum and grandmother did) although the oldest recipes for it use beef. As well as the meat (the best cut is lamb neck, cooked on the bone), cawl also contains swede, carrot, potato, and leek. Using meat on the bone gives the broth a richer flavour. For best results, make it a day before you want to eat it and let the flavour develop.
In North Wales the broth is strained off the meat and veg, then served as a clear soup, with the meat and veg eaten after it. In the south, we’re more likely to eat the whole thing as a stew. It tastes great served with thick slices of bread and chunks of Welsh cheese – yummy!!
Capital city of Wales and county capital for South Glamorgan, Cardiff is home to nearly 480,000 people and gets over 20 million visitors a year. There has been a settlement on the site of modern Cardiff since about 6000 BC, the Romans built a Castle there and the Normans built a new fort on the remains of the Roman one. In 1404 the town that had sprung up around the castle was burnt to the ground by Owain Glyndŵr, who then set about rebuilding it and Cardiff became an important trading port in the Middle Ages. The town continued to grow but only became a city in 1905. Fifty years later, it was chosen as the new capital city of Wales.
Cardiff remained an important cargo port right up to the twentieth century; In the 1900s it was the worlds busiest port. As with many other ports, the volume of freight declined over time and the area around the docks, Tiger Bay, became rundown. However, from the 1980s, the area around the docks has been extensively redeveloped and transformed into Cardiff Bay.
There are plenty of reasons to visit the city. Cardiff Castle is a major tourist attraction where you can take an architectural trip through time from the Roman ruins to Victorian Gothic splendour via the Norman keep. For those in need of some retail therapy, Cardiff has a few large shopping centres in the centre. However, as well as the big chain stores, Cardiff has hundreds of small independent stores, many of which are located in the city’s Victorian and Edwardian arcades, which give rise to one Cardiff’s nicknames – “The City of Arcades”.
Cardiff is home to the National Museum Cardiff, as well as Techniquest, a hands-on science experience where the emphasis is doing rather than seeing. You can take a trip around the Principality Stadium or see how Brains Beer is made at S.A. Brain brewery.
When you’re driving down the M4 towards Swansea, if you look out of the right window just as you pass Cardiff you will spot a fairytale castle nestled amongst the trees on the hillside. A great example of a Victorian folly, Castell Coch looks like it has stood there since the middle ages but was actually built in 1891. The style of the building was influenced by castles in Germany rather than anything traditionally British.
Today, Castell Coch is run by Cadw, the Welsh heritage agency. It is available for weddings (if you have deep enough pockets) and is a pleasant place to spend a day out. The castle is often used for movie and TV filming and has featured in the TV series “Dr Who“, “Wolf Hall” and “Private Schultz”, as well a load of movies.
For a small country, Wales has a heck of a lot of castles. With over 600 of them, Wales has more castles per square kilometre than any other country in the world. It is no surprise that of these castles, many are now just ruins. However, some have remained intact, like Chepstow Castle in Monmouthshire, which is the oldest surviving castle in Britain. Built in 1067, the beautifully preserved castle stretches across the clifftops above the River Wye. The castle was occupied for over 600 years and offers a fascinating glimpse into the history and development of castles in the UK.
There are a lot of other castles in Wales that are worth visiting. Staring in the north on the island of Anglesey is the beautiful Beaumaris Castle. Beaumaris is famous for its size, the fact that it has four concentric rings of walls and is almost perfectly symmetrical. It is referred to as “the greatest castle never built”, due to the fact that money for construction ran out, so it was never finished.
Beaumaris and the castles at Conwy, Caernarfon and Harlech were part of what is known as Edward I’s “Ring of Iron“. Today, the four castles form the “Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd” UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Staying in North Wales, Gwrych Castle is also worth a mention. Though it is not one of the oldest castles in Wales, it is historically important for its role as a temporary home to 200 Jewish refugee children who had escaped from Nazi Germany under the Kindertransport programme. In more recent years it has been used a film location and is open to the public. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the castle was chosen as a new venue for the 2020 series of “I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here“.
Heading down south, Pemboke Castle looks like the castle that you would come up with if someone asked you to draw one. It even has the round towers and moat you would have imagined. On top of that, there is a huge cave underneath it, Wogan’s Cavern. It was the birthplace of Henry VII, the first Tudor Monarch and has been used as a location in numerous films and TV shows.
No roundup of Welsh castles would be complete if it didn’t include Cardiff Castle. The capital city’s biggest visitor attractions is an awesome space where a medieval castle sits happily alongside a Victorian Gothic revival manor house. The castle was originally the site of a Roman barracks and you can still see some remnants of the Roman fort in the grounds. The Normans built a motte-and-bailey castle on the site, which still stands. Finally, the castle was given a complete makeover in the late nineteenth century, with results that can only be described as spectacular. In the twentieth century, the tunnels within the castle walls were used as air-raid shelters during the Second World War. These tunnels are now open to the public as part of a visit to the castle.
There are way more castles in Wales than I can mention here. Wherever you go in the country, you are never far from one, so plan to explore at least one when you visit.
As one of Wales’ most famous sons, Dylan Thomas is one of few modern poets that the general public know by name. Thomas was a man with a reputation as a “roistering, drunken and doomed poet” which could be one of the reasons why he wasn’t popular with the elite of literary criticism. However, his poetry, books, and radio plays remain much loved by the public, which is what really counts.
Two of his poems, “Do not go gentle into that good night” and “Fern Hill” were listed amongst the Nations 100 Favourite Poems. Also, the original recording of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” is listed in the United States National Recording Registry as being ” credited with launching the audiobook industry in the United States”. My personal favourite of his works is “Under Milk Wood“. I remember first reading it when I was in school and falling in love with the poetry of the opening narration. The lines “limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboat-bobbing sea” still bring me out in goosebumps. Set in the fictional town of Llareggub, “Under Milk Wood” shows some of Thomas’ sense of humour, not least in the name of the town itself. (Try spelling it backwards).
If you’re in South Wales, you can visit the Boathouse in Laugharne, where Thomas lived and wrote for the last four years of his life.
The patron saint of Wales is Dewi Sant, or St David in English. He was the bishop of Mynyw (now called St Davids) and was known for his work in spreading Christianity throughout the Southwest of England and Brittany. His most famous miracle happened when he was preaching in the middle of a large crowd at the Synod of Brefi. According to the story, the land he was standing on rose up and formed a small hill, which seems a bit superfluous in a region which already had so many hills and mountains. Anyway, a white dove, which became his emblem, was then seen settling on his shoulder and the small hill later become the site of the town of Llandewi Brefi.
St David’s Day is 1st March and is celebrated in Wales with Eisteddfodau and eating cawl & Welsh Cakes. If you’re in Wales on St David’s Day, you’ll find girls dressed in traditional Welsh costume and LOTS of daffodils.
Dan yr Ogof
Way back when I was in primary school, we would go on a class trip at least once a year. They usually entailed a long coach trip and a tour & packed lunch at some place of historic / scientific / cultural importance. One of the regular spots we would visit was the caves at Dan yr Ogof. Unfortunately, the splendour of the caves was a bit a lost on a bunch on 10-year-olds, who just sniggered at the guide’s “tites come down” explanation for the different types of mineral formations.
Dan yr Ogof is the largest of the three caves at the National Showcaves Centre for Wales, located in the Brecon Beacons National Park. The caves were first explored by three local brothers in 1912 and it was only in 1963 that a woman from the South Wales Caving Club made her way through a tight passageway know as “The Long Crawl” to explore the rest of the caves. Entry tickets for the showcaves include access to the three caves, although only the first kilometre of Dan yr Ogof is accessible to the public. The remaining 16 km are only accessible to bona fide cavers.
The caves are beautiful, so much so that they were voted the “Greatest Natural Wonder in Britain”. Things have changed since my schooldays and today the site offers plenty to keep younger visitors engaged. If you are looking for a wedding venue with a difference, the Cathedral Cave and Dan yr Ogaf are licenced for weddings; imagine how fabulous the wedding photos will be!! The caves hold a special interest for fans of ‘classic’ Dr Who. The fourth Doctor’s serial “The Pirate Planet” was filmed there.
Wales is often referred to as the land of song and what better way to celebrate Welsh music and the arts than with Eisteddfodau? An Eisteddfod (the singular of Eisteddfodau) is a festival of Welsh literature, music and performance. The tradition dates back to at least 1176, when the first recorded event was held in Cardigan. Over time Eisteddfodau went out of fashion until 1792 when the Gorsedd Beirdd Ynys Prydain (Gorsedd of the Bards of the Isle of Britain) was formed by Edward Williams, aka Iolo Morganwg. There’s a whole story behind the founding of the Gorsedd and the historic documents Lolo Morganwg “discovered” and used to structure the Gorsedd but that’s a tale for another time.
Today, there are three main Eisteddfodau in Wales. The Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Cymru (National Eisteddfod of Wales) is held over eight days starting in the first week of August. It is held entirely in Welsh and is considered to be the largest music and poetry festival in Europe. The festival venue changes every year and is held in North Wales and South Wales on alternating years.
The second of the big three is the Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Urdd Gobaith Cymru, Urdd National Eisteddfod, Europe’s largest youth festival. Urdd Gobaith Cymru is a Welsh society for children and young people, aimed at promoting the Welsh language and culture. The Urdd Eisteddfod, like the national, moves venues annually, but returns to Cardiff every four years. Lastly, we have the International Eisteddfod, held every July in Llangollen, Denbighshire. It attracts participants from around 50 countries in a week-long festival of song, dance and music.
As well as the three biggies, there are loads of smaller Eisteddfodau held around the country, particularly on St David’s Day.
Located a few kilometres north of Tenby, Folly Farm Adventure Park and Zoo is 120 acres of fun for all the family. Folly Farm started life as a dairy farm. The owners noticed that people kept stopping to pet and watch the cattle, so decided to open the farm to visitors. In 1988 Folly Farm opened its doors to the public so they could see the cows close up and watch the workings of the dairy.
Over the years, the farm expanded & diversified and today it is home to a zoo with over 200 species of animal, a vintage funfair and indoor and outdoor adventure activities. It now receives around half a million visitors a year and has won the Visit Wales “Best Day Out in Wales” award three times.
According to legend, Prince Llewlyn the Great had a “Faithful Hound” named Gelert. One day the prince went out to hunt but Gellert didn’t go with him. When the Prince returned home he found the place in disarray and Gelert covered in blood. He rushed to check the cradle of his infant son and found it empty. Believing that Gelert had killed the child, Llewelyn drew his sword and killed the dog.
As the dog cried out form the pain of the sword piercing its skin, the cry was answered by the crying of a baby. The prince pulled back a sheet that was on the floor, to find his baby son alive and well, with the body of a large dead wolf next to him. The prince was overcome with remorse when he realised that Gelert had killed the wolf to protect his son and that was why he was covered in blood. Stricken with grief he buried Gelert and had a large stone placed on the grave.
The village of Beddgelert (the Welsh for Glert’s Grave) is claimed to have been named after the hound’s resting place. Near the village are memorial stones, carved with the legend in English & Welsh, that are supposed mark the site of the grave. Beddgelert is a pretty little village and the walk to the stones is pleasant, so it can make for a relaxing day out.
Sitting just on the Welsh border, Hay-on-Wye, often just called Hay, is a pretty little market town with a disproportionate number of bookshops. With over two dozen shops selling everything from the latest best-seller to rare and specialist volumes, the town has the nickname of “the town of books”. As well as the bookshops, Hay has two Norman castles and weekly market that sells everything from artisan bread to woolly jumpers.
Hay is world-famous for the annual Hay Festival, which attracts visitors from around the world. Former US President Bill Clinton once called the festival “The Woodstock of the mind”. It runs over ten days at the end of May / start of June, with a parallel children’s festival, Hay Fever, running at the same time.
Fans of TV series Torchwood let out a collective scream of “Nooo” when the fourth episode of season three aired. The reason for the outcry was the death of the much loved Torchwood office support worker Ianto Jones. Protests started flooding into the BBC, campaigns were started to bring Ianto back and Torchwood fans went into mourning, muttering that they had killed off the wrong character (again). Rumour has it that the BBC received so many email complaints that they had to set up an auto-reply for messages with “Ianto” in the subject line.
The morning after the episode aired, a single letter, expressing grief at Ianto’s death, had appeared at the fictional entrance to Torchwood Three, the Cardiff Torchwood HQ. From there, things snowballed and today, over ten years after the episode aired, the shrine still gets new tributes added and has become a much-visited tourist spot in Cardiff Bay.
Wales has an active music scene, particularly its jazz scene. There are numerous small jazz festivals across the country in the summer months, including events in Swansea, Porthcawl and towns across North Wales. The biggest jazz festival in Wales is held in Brecon every August. The event has been running since 1984 and attracts artist from around the globe.
Records show the town of Kidwelly has been around since at least the ninth century. Kidwelly Castle is a well preserved concentric castle and the town’s church dates back to Norman times. Kidwelly grew significantly during the Industrial Revolution, and the town has an industrial heritage museum, reflecting this.
After St David addressed the Synod of Brefi and his miraculous mound rose under his feet, the village of Llandewi Brefi grew up on the mountain. Llandewi Brefi has two claims to fame. The first one is that it was home to Little Bitain‘s Daffyd Thomas, “the only gay in the village“. Its second, slightly more dubious claim to fame is that in 1977 it was the site of one of the world’s biggest ever drug raids, when over six million tablets of LSD were seized.
In north Wales, on the Island of Anglesey, you will find the town with the longest place name in Europe, llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. It has the distinction of being the second-longest place name in the world and having the worlds longest train station name. Llanfair PG, as most Welsh people refer to it, was once a small fishing village called just Llanfairpwllgwyngyll. Then, according to the story, a local tailor invented the longer name as a publicity stunt to attract more visitors to the town.
The full name translates to “Saint Mary’s Church in the hollow of the white hazel near the rapid whirlpool of Saint Tysilio of the Red Cave”. The town attracts a lot of visitors, who all want to have their photo taken with the railway station sign. Famous former residents of Llanfair PG include actors, Taron Egerton and Naomi Watts.
The town was also the site of the first Women’s Institute (WI) meeting in the UK in 1915 and the Llanfairpwll branch is still running today. The WI started in Canada in 1897 and in 1913 Mrs. Madge Watt, who worked at the Canadian WI headquarters came to London to set up the WI in Britain. After no success in the capital, Mrs. Watt joined the Agricultural Organisation Society as an advisor on food production. In this role, she travelled to Bangor University College, where she met Colonel Stapleton-Cotton. Col Cotton invited her to address a meeting of local women about the work of the WI in Canada and it was following this meeting that the first meeting of the Llanfairpwll WI was set up. Colonel Stapleton-Cotton’s wife became the first branch president and the colonel, along with his dog Tinker went down in history as the only two male members of the WI ever.
There was a time when this little Mid Wales town wasn’t on anyone’s radar. Well, thanks to some innovative thinking – and a keen sense of fun – it’s now a must-visit place renowned for its busy and downright weird events calendar.
Llanwrtyd Wells hosts a variety of unique events, including the Man vs Horse race, the World Stone Skimming Championships, the folk tradition of Mari Lwyd to see in the new year, and The Real Ale Wobble and Ramble (where participants hike or mountain bike along a course with regular breaks to drink beer). And it’s also the location of the Bogsnorkelling World Championships, a truly bizarre event which is often named as one of the strangest traditions in the UK. If you fancy watching – or participating – in some unusual activities, put Llanwrtyd Wells on your itinerary.
Menai Suspension Bridge
High above the Menai Straits, a bridge carries the A5 from the mainland to the island of Anglesey. The Menai Suspension Bridge was designed by Thomas Telford and opened to traffic in 1826. The bridge is now a Grade 1 Listed structure and is on UNESCO list of candidates to become a World Heritage Site.
With streets lined with multi-coloured Georgian houses, the little market town of Narbeth is a little piece of paradise for shoppers. The town is packed with independent shops, selling everything from fine art to high fashion. Many of the shops sell items produced locally and not available anywhere else.
As well as retail, there are plenty of great eateries in Narbeth. In fact, the Guardian newspaper once described “a gastronomic hub for west Wales”. Every September the town holds the Narberth Food Festival, attracting chefs from around the country. It is also the only town in Wales to hold an A Capella singing festival.
According to the stories, Offa, King of Mercia, built an earth wall to demarcate the boundary between the Kingdom of Mercia and the neighbouring Kingdom of Powys. Although that has pretty much been shown to false, Offa’s Dyke follows border between England and Wales. Archaeologists have shown that the dyke probably existed well before Offa was ruling his kingdom, but that doesn’t take away from the beauty of scenery along its length. You can follow the Offa’s Dyke Path, a National Trail which runs along the dyke from Sedbury Cliffs near Chepstow in the south to Prestatyn in the North.
Porthcawl was once an important harbour town. Unfortunately, the harbour is tidal and when the non-tidal docks in Port Talbolt opened, the harbour in Porthcawl went in to decline. Today, Porthcawl is mainly a tourist town. When the South Wales mining industry was at its peak, Porthcawl was THE place for the annual “Miner’s Fortnight” holiday. The mining industry has gone but the town still attracts a large number of visitors.
I have to confess, I have a particular love of Porthcawl; it is where I was born and grew up. My family still live there and I enjoy going back there to visit. Other people born in Porthcawl include the fabulous actor / writer / comic genius and Gavin & Stacey co-creator Ruth Jones and actors Matthew Gravelle, Robert Wilfort and Jason Hughes.
Porthcawl has plenty to attract visitors. There are seven beaches in the town, two of which have been awarded the prestigious Blue Flag. Coney Beach Pleasure Park has been entertaining visitors since 1920. (Like a lot of my contemporaries it also provided me with a source of income during my school holidays as a teenager). Porthcawl is also home to Trecco Bay Holiday Park, the largest static caravan park in the UK.
One of the highlights of the Porthcawl calendar is the annual Elvis Festival. The event takes over the whole town for a weekend in September, with events at the two main venues spilling out into impromptu street performances. It’s a fun weekend and for those of a religious nature, Sunday sees Trinity Church hosting an Elvis themed Gospel service.
It may seem hard to believe that tucked away in a valley in North Wales there is an Italian fishing village. Portmeirion was created by architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis. He took his inspiration from Italian villages he had visited. The result is a charming yet quirky picturesque village that has become one of North Wales’ most visited tourist attractions.
One of the reasons that Portmeirion is so well known is because it was the filming location for 1960s cult TV show “The Prisoner“. The show was a big hit for ITV in 1967. The show introduced us to The Village, a place where people were known by a number and a giant white ball called Rover would round up escapees and asphyxiate them. The show always started with the same sequence that ended with Mcgoohan’s character Number 6, shouting the line “I am not a number, I am a free man”. Portmeirion was only revealed as the filming location in the credits of the last episode.
Portmeirion doesn’t shy away from its connection to The Prisoner. The village is home to the only shop in the world dedicated to selling The Prisoner memorabilia and runs Prisoner themed tours. Portmeirion gave its name to Portmeirion Pottery, which was founded by Williams-Ellis’ daughter. The village sells goods from the pottery in the Siop Fawr and the Seconds Shop. As well as The Prisoner, Portmeirion has been used as film location for music videos and TV programs, including the 1976 classic Dr Who serial “The Masque of Mandragora“.
Now you may feel that where you live is a bit on the small side, but spare a thought for the people who lived in Quay House in Conwy. Built in the 16th century, the bright red house is less than 2m wide, 3m deep and just 3m high. It has two rooms split over two floors (seriously). The house was used as dwelling until 1900, when the council declared it unfit for human habitation. Strangely, Robert Jones, the last occupant fought the decision; he was 1.91 meters tall, so wouldn’t have been able to stand up in the house.
Unlike its neighbour, the national sport of Wales is Rugby Union. It’s thought that Rugby made its way to Wales in the 1850s, with the Welsh Rugby Union being formed in 1881. The first Welsh rugby team was a St David’s College team. The first official rugby club in Wales was Neath RFC, a team that is still playing today. Rugby remains a popular sport in Wales, with the Six Nations touranamnet being the highlight of the rugby year.
Snowdonia National Park
The largest of Wales’ National Parks is the Snowdonia National Park, covering 2,140 square kilometers. The park is the location of Wales’ highest mountain, Mount Snowden. Risingh to 1085m above sea level, the sumit is often above the cloud line. However, on a clear day you can see all the way to Ireland and across to the Peninines in England. You can access the peak on foot or by the Snowdon Mountain Railway, the only rack and pinion railway in the UK.
As well as Mount Snowden, the park has the largest lake in Wales alond with a 100 or so other lakes.
Located at the west of Pembrokeshire, St Davids is the UK’s smallest city (by urban area), with a population of under 2000. At one time, the tiny city was under consideration for capital city for the country. The city was first declared a city in the twelfth century, it the lost its city status in 1886 but it was restored in 1994 at the request of the Queen.
The cathedral that gives the city its name is the last resting place of St David, the patron saint of Wales. The cathedral has its roots in the monastery founded by St David, and is built on the site of its chapel. Today, the Cathedral is a fantastic place to visit with some lovely architecture and religious art. Apart from the cathedral, the city is a tranquil place to explore and has some great historic sites to see, such as the old Abbey.
The picturesque town of Tenby on the south coast of Pembrokeshire is one of the most visited holiday destinations in Wales. Every year a whopping 2.5 million people visit this pretty town to admire its trademark pastel-coloured houses, Victorian esplanades, mediaeval walls, stunning coastline, and bustling town centre.
The reason for Tenby’s popularity is simple: it has something for everyone. Whether you’re looking for beautiful beaches, watersports adventures, vibrant festivals, historic sights, independent shops or child-friendly activities, you’ll find it all here. You can eat, drink and be merry at the many traditional pubs, artisanal cafes, and excellent restaurants. Plus, it’s home to some of the country’s best fish ‘n chips!
Another one of Wales’ most famous sons, Sir Tom Jones, has sold over 100 million records in a career that has spanned nearly sixty years. Although his career took a small dip in the mid 70s, Sir Tom has managed to have hit records in every decade since he started recording. In the last few years Tom has been discovered by a new audience due to his work as a coach on The Voice UK.
In the early part of the twentieth century, Welsh academic Sir Ifan ab Owen Edwards became concernerd that the welsh language and culture were being lost. In particular the noticed that Welsh children knew little about the language and mostly spoke & read in English. As a way to promote the use of Welsh among children and young people he founded the Urdd Gobaith Cymru in 1922. Nearly 100 years later, the Urdd is biggest youth organisation in Wales with over 55,000 members. (Yep, I was a member when I was in school).
The Urdd runs sports activities and organises Urdd Camps across the country at their 5 residential centres. The highlight of the Urdd year is the Urdd National Eisteddfod, Europe’s largest youth festival.
Valle Crucis Abbey
Valle Crucis Abbey was the last Cistercian Monastery to be built in Wales. It was founded in 1201 by Prince Madog ap Gruffydd, with Welsh monks. Although the Abbey started off with very little in the coffers, it soon flourished. It gained a reputation for its hospitality and by the time it was dissolved, it was the second richest monastery in the country. Today the abbey is one of Wales many historic attractions and is home to the only surviving monastic fishpond in the country.
Wales Coast Path
Wales is the the only country in the world that has a path that enables you to walk the entire length of its coastline. The Wales Coast Path stretches for 1400 km from from the Dee Estuary near Chester in the north to Chepstow in the Severn Estuary in the South. The path was proposed in 2006 as way of building on the success of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path and the Isle of Anglesey Coastal Path. The two paths had both been successful in attracting walkers to the areas. The Wales Coast Path officially opened in May 2012.
The path is split into eight sections, which are a mixture of the pre-existing coastal paths along with sections that were built to join up the whole coast. For most people, it would take 10 to 12 weeks to walk the entire length of the path. So, unless you are planning a three month walking tour, you’ll probably just be walkng a section of the path. Whichever part of the path you walk, you find beautiful scenery to make our walking trip a great day out.
My gran made the best Welsh Cakes I have ever eaten. They were always a treat, especially if you went to see her on a day she was making them and could cadge one while it was still warm. Welsh Cakes are a traditional Welsh dish cooked on a Bakestone. Tecnically, a Welsh Cake isn’t actually a cake – it’s somewhere between a cookie and scone. Also, a Bakestone isn’t made of stone – they’re made of cast iron (I once had to restrain myself from leaving an abusive comment for a woman who left a one-star review of a bakestone on Amazon because it wasn’t stone).
Welsh cakes have quite a simple recipe and the dough is easy to prepare. The tricky bit is getting the temperature right for your bakestone and that only comes with practice. When made properly, they are light and melt in your mouth. I still tihnk they are special treat when they are still warm from the bakestone. My home-made ones always taste fantastic, but even though I use her recipe, I still can’t get them quite as good as my Gran’s.
Growing up in a predominantly English speaking part of South Wales, I always assumed that I spoke the “Queen’s English”. However, when I went to university in England, I soon realised that some of the things that I said only made sense to my fellow Welshmen. I, like most people in South Wales, grew up speaking English with a Welsh twist – we all speak Wenglish.
Some bits of Wenglish come directly from Welsh, like cwtch. Many people are familiar with cwtch, meaning to cuddle / hug / snuggle-up, from the TV show Gavin and Stacey. Other Wenglish words and phrases are different ways that we say things in Wales, such as “picking with rain”, meaning it’s raining very lightly. A phrase that still earns me strange looks from my English friends. Another phrase that confuses non-Welsh people is “now in a minute”, which means neither now nor in a minute. It means at some unspecified time in the future (or possibly not at all if it is said in a certain tone of voice). So, if you want to fit in with the locals in South Wales, learn some Wenglish and people will think you know how to “talk tidy“.
The Welsh alphabet has 29 letters. Unfortunately, one of them isn’t X. Fortunately, all is not lost. When I was kid, Saturday evenings made one thing – Dr Who. And like every kid who watched the show, my favourite of the Dr’s foes were the Daleks, as the tried to conquer they universe, yelling out x-terminate. Sadly in 1989 the Dr was killed off, not by one of his old enemies, but by the Director General of the BBC.
Thankfully, in 2005 the series got a new lease of life when Russel T Davies and the BBC Wales production team revived the show. As the show is made by BBC Wales it comes as no surprise that most of it is filmed in Cardiff and around South Wales. As well as Dr who, the spin-off series Torchwood and The Sarah-Jane Adventures were filmed in the area, so you can visit those locations too.
Wales has six Michelin starred restaurants and one of these is Ynyshir. The chef behind Ynyshir is Gareth Ward who serves “alternative British snap”. The restaurant only has five tables plus the pass bench and guests can enjoy a slow food experience of 20ish courses over a four hour service.
if you are a bit of an adrenaline junkie, then Zip World have just the experience for you. Operating from three site in North Wales, Zip World have offering adventure since 2013. As well as zip wire action, they offer the chance to explore underground and play in an underground bounce world in an old slate quarry.
A love letter to Wales…
So there you have it, our A-Z of Wales. Is there anything that you can think of to add to it? Let us know in the comments below.
After a varied career, I now earn a crust by creating digital content as one-half of The Jetset Boyz. I love exploring new places, traveling in style & staying in luxurious surroundings. I have a passion for food, whether it’s enjoying Michelin-starred fine dining at a swanky restaurant or tucking into local street food at a food stall.