Wales: The Cambrian Coast
The Cambrian Coast: in Wales
Travellers may be aware of many of the beauty spots in Great Britain, places like the Cotswolds, Cornwall, The Lake District, the Highlands, Lowlands and Islands of Scotland, and, of course, the cultural meccas of London, Stratford and Bath but, try venturing west of the Industrial Midlands and then continue even further west passing through Shropshire and the Marches. The hills become more rolling and significantly higher. You will notice hillsides covered with heather, bracken and gorse and more and more sheep becoming little white dots as your eye looks up to the top of the hill. You can feel a certain expectation of wonderful things to come and that you are getting closer to the gem that is the coast of West Wales, the Cambrian Coast.
Update : See photos of the storm that struck in January 2014 below.
The Storm of New Year's 2014
In early January we had very high Spring tides along with gale force winds. The west coast of Wales, along with many other areas of the United Kingdom, were devastated. Aberystwyth seafront sustained considerable damage. We only had a taste of this severe weather when we made our way down to the seafront the morning of January 3. The waves were coming over the sea defences and the wall of the promenade spilling out onto Marine Parade and part way up Neptune and Pier Roads. Stones, rocks, and sea detritus were being picked up and hurled onto the pavements, roads and front gardens. A recycling truck became stuck in deep water in one of the caravan parks. It was extremely difficult to stand up against the winds gusting at over 90 miles per hour.
Little did we realize how much damage had been done until we headed to Tywyn Railway Station to catch the Cambrian Coast Arriva Train to Birmingham International Airport for our flight to Portugal. There apparently was a train early in the morning before the high tides but after 9 a.m. all trains were suspended and then cancelled as the railway embankments were destabilized and rubble covered the tracks. Needless to say, we took our car to the airport and, as I write this article on January 23, the Cambrian Coast Train between Dovey Junction and Barmouth isn't expected to be up and running until February 10, 2014 and, the line between Barmouth, sometime in mid-May 2014.
A prehistoric landscape is exposed
After the storms of early January along this part of the coast in West Wales, people started to emerge from their homes to walk along the beach which stretches between Tywyn and Aberdovey. At low tide there is usually a wide strand of sand skirted by high sand dunes however, over the last few weeks many of the dunes have been flattened and a secret world under the sand has been revealed. There has been some evidence of raised areas of peat in the past but the fierce weather has uncovered a vast area of ancient forest dating back 4000 to 6000 years at the time of hunters and gatherers when deer and other forest animals roamed. Antlers from deer have been found among the Dark brown roots and trunks of mighty oaks. The forest also stretches across the estuary to Borth
The area’s World War Two military history was also revealed. Tire tracks from an amphibious tank called, ‘Water Buffalo’, have been seen and spent shells by the dozens have been found.
The sand is starting to encroach once again with the ebb and flow of the tides but I wonder what the upcoming high tides will reveal?
The Talyllyn Railway: 150 in 2015
The World's First Preserved Railway
The Talyllyn Railway, a preserved narrow gauge steam railway, which celebrated the 60th anniversary of preservation in 2011, runs from the seaside town of Tywyn at Tywyn Wharf through the mountains, to the terminus at Nant Gwernol and the remains of the Bryn Eglwys Slate Quarry.
It is possible to alight at any of the stops to take advantage of the mountain walks that take you past cascading waterfalls or choose a special spot for a picnic. The pace is unhurried and the air is wonderful. For the energetic it is worth exploring the disused Bryn Eglwys Slate Quarry which is located above Nant Gwernol Station.
The Quarry was opened in 1866 for slate mining and the narrow gauge railway was used for it's transportation. It employed 300 men and the still habitable slate cottages in the village of Abergynolwyn stand as a memorial to the hard working quarrymen of days gone by. The quarry closed in 1946 but fortunately the railway was saved by the volunteers of the Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society.
You may also be interested to know that Rev. Wilbert Awdry who wrote the 'Thomas The Tank Engine' series was a volunteer guard in the early days and the 'Skarloey Railway' in his books was based on the Talyllyn Railway. The museum at the Talyllyn Railway at Tywyn Wharf station has one room as a recreation of his study.
The Talyllyn Railway will be celebrating its 150 birthday in 2015 and many celebrations are planned. There will be special trains running, several gala weekends and a big birthday bash taking place on July 5.
For more information go to www.talyllyn.co.uk/150 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org or use snail mail: Talyllyn Railway, Wharf Station, Tywyn, Gwynedd, LL36 9EY.
Reverend Wilbert Awdry's Study
The writer of 'Thomas the Tank Engine'
Reverend Wilbert Awdry's family kindly donated the Reverend's study complete with his own books, his desk, typewriter, some of his model railway items and his map of 'The Island of Sodor'.
The Cambrian Coast
The Magic Lantern Cinema
The Magic Lantern Cinema is located in Tywyn in the old Assembly Room of 1893. It was opened as a cinema in the 1940s and has become an important feature of the town. It shows first run movies and some older films. It is going through a renovation which will include a cafe, bar and stage for live events but a grand reopening is planned for around the end of October 2011.
The updated Magic Lantern Cinema
As an update, the Magic Lantern Cinema had its grand opening and has become a focal point of the town. It has been painted a rich burgundy and the inside murals have been updated. Paintings of Alfred Hitchcock, Marilyn Monroe, Marlon Brando, Sean Connery , Uma Thurman, The Star Wars characters and Wallace and Gromit grace the walls. Due to the installation of a stage and a seating area in the lobby, they now offer live entertainment and open mike evenings along with a place to meet friends for a drink. They will soon be purchasing a digital projector and sound system thanks to a few generous grants which means a greater choice of movies and live streaming of events such as opera and ballet. Visit their website by in the useful links section below.
'Oh I do love to be beside the seaside'
Cardigan Bay: Aberdovey to Pwllheli
The Cambrian Coastline on Cardigan Bay has been blessed with long stretches of sandy beaches and sand dunes. The Bay is also home to porpoise, bottle-nose dolphins, seals and many species of birds.
Aberdyfi (Aberdovey) is located on the Dyfi River Estuary where the river meets the sea. This beautiful little village has meant a lot to myself, my husband and our respective families. The village, once a thriving port in the 19th century, is now a popular destination for tourists. It has a champion links golf course located amongst spectacular mountain and coastal scenery. The first Outward Bound School is based here along with three pubs, several cafes and restaurants including an Indian restaurant, many clothes, gift shops and B&B's, a yacht club, a butcher shop established in 1861 and an award winning fresh Fishmongers.
Tywyn , as mentioned previously, has the benefit of the Talyllyn Railway, the Magic Lantern Cinema showing 1st run films, a secondary school, a Norman church and two supermarkets which serve the town and the surrounding area. Tywyn is also the home to Halo Foods best known for its granola bars that are distributed throughout the country and its delicious honey ice cream. Every August Tywyn hosts, 'Race The Train' which attracts runners from all over the world.
Mid-way along the Cambrian Railway Line you will come to the bustling seaside resort of Barmouth (Abermaw) It has a large beach perfect for a family holiday but also offers wonderful walking/cycling trails which use the former railway line and those that climb up into the hills above the town. It has many facilities and is a perfect departure point for exploring the Mawddach Estuary and, Snowdonia National Park . It has a 186-seat traditional theatre/auditorium and the Fairbourne Steam Railway is close by. By the way, you will notice a very large wooden Easter Island-type carving sitting on top of one of the sand dunes which was donated by a Midlands couple who saw it being carved at Powys Castle. It has become quite a tourist attraction.
The acclaimed novel, 'Megan's Game' by Tony Drury, which uses Aberdyfi as one of its settings, is to become a feature film. Filming is projected to start in the Autumn of 2013 with a release date in 2014. The backdrop of Snowdonia and, particularly Aberdyfi and the surrounding area, will feature predominantly in the film.
The new 'Bailey Bridge'
The old 'Bailey Bridge,' which connected two military camps at Tonfannau, was dismantled in the 1960s when the two camps shut. It meant that walkers had to walk an extra eight miles to Bryncrug to join up with the 'Wales Coastal Path'.
However, to the delight of residents on both sides of the Dysynni River the new 'Bailey Bridge' was lowered into place in the early morning of Sunday, January 6, 2013 with a grand opening expected in February 2013.
An Italian village in Wales?
Portmeirion is an Italianate village set in the mountains two miles south of Porthmadog on the Cambrian Coast. It is the creation of Clough Williams-Ellis, an architect with great vision, who dreamt of creating a peaceful respite from the crazy world outside. In Mr. Clough Williams-Ellis's own words,
'Why?' (this village) "Because the building of such a place to my own fancy on my own chosen site had been a dream at the back of my mind since the age of five, and had never left me. Throughout the years of my war service abroad I had to dream of something other than the horror, destruction and savagery - and what more different than to build with whatever serenity, kindness and loveliness one could contrive on some beautiful unknown site."
The village opened in 1926 making his dream come true.
I am always reminded of that scene from the James Hilton book, 'Lost Horizon', when the weary travellers emerge from the snowy mountains into the beautiful valley of 'Shangra-la' with its swaying tropical plants, and sweet smelling flowers. As one enters through the main gate and archway at Portmeirion you will be immediately enchanted by the layout: the pastel coloured buildings, the piazzas, the brightly coloured flowers and the paths leading down to the estuary. There is a fine hotel, a campanile, a reflecting pool, shops, tearooms, restaurants, self-catering cottages and miles of beautiful woodland walks. In the Spring the colourful display and smell of the rhododendrons is a feast for the senses.
'The Prisoner' series from the 1960s starring Patrick McGoohan and Leo McKern was filmed here. His character, Number 6, was held in the village against his will and each episode revolved around his efforts to escape. It has become a cult series and avid fans of the series, dressed as their favourite characters, meet each year in Portmeirion. It is also famous for the Portmeirion china and pottery designed by Susan Williams-Ellis, Clough William-Ellis's daughter. There are a few shops in the village selling her designs and there are a few shops in Porthmadog that also sell her world-famous china.
For more information go to the website at www.portmeirion-village.com
In 2012,'Festival Number 6', so named after the number given to the Patrick McGoohan character in 'The Prisoner' series, was created. Its headliners were, 'New Order', 'Primal Scream', and Richard Hawley, just to name a few. The beauty of it is that it is not just a rock festival but a cultural festival with film screenings, stand-up comedy, poetry and book readings and much more and it has gone on to win "The Best Small Festival" award as voted by readers of 'NME Magazine'.
Due to its great success it will be taking place again in 2013 over a three day period starting on Friday, September 13 and concluding on the Sunday, September 15. It is very exciting because this year some of the headliners, that have committed so far, are Wales' own, 'Manic Street Preachers', James Blake, 'I Am Kloot', Laura Mvula, and 'Everything Everything', who appeared at last year's festival. It should be a truly memorable occasion.
For more information see the link to 'Festival no. 6' in the' link section' included in this article.
Porthmadog has the mountains of Snowdonia as its backdrop. It has the advantage of being a town with many independent retailers including Kerfoots , a quality department store. The town has it's own award winning micro brewery called the Purple Moose Microbrewery and offers scenic paths in and around the town.
Borth-Y-Gest is a picturesque village located a short walk from Porthmadog along the Wales Coastal Path. We have walked this route several times now but recently, on a sunny January day, we decided to see what lay around the bend. The path stretches for over 850 miles in total so we are exploring it in little steps. Our final stop on this excursion was Black Rock Sands and Morfa Bychan, know for its challenging golf course. The Powder House, which once housed the gunpowder to be used in slate mining, stands on a rocky outcrop.
Tremadog , within walking distance to Porthmadog, is an early 19th century village with a cobbled square that was the birthplace of T.E. Lawrence (|Lawrence of Arabia) and St. Mary's Church is one of the earliest 'gothic revival' churches in Wales dating from 1811.
Festival No. 6 2014
The Castles of the Cambrian Coast and Pwllheli
The town of Harlech is dominated by Harlech Castle built by Edward I in the late 13th century. The castle, at one time, had easy access to the sea but 700 years later it is now separated by a significant tract of land and the Morfa Harlech Sand Dunes. The famous song, 'Men Of Harlech' is said to describe the longest siege in British History (1461-1468) which took place during 'The War Of the Roses'.
Criccieth Casle,built by Llywelyn The Great is another impressive castle perched on a headland. It was taken by Edward I and then by Owain Glyn Dwr who burnt the castle in the early 15th century. This was to be the last major Welsh rebellion against the English.
Pwllheli , the main market town on the Llyn Peninsula , is the place where Plaid Cymru , the political party advocating an independent Welsh state within the European Union, was founded and it is the birthplace of poet, Albert Evans-Jones 'Cynan', the Welsh poet , who was considered one of the foremost First World War poets. He later became a well-loved preacher.
Machynlleth and beyond
The market town of Machynlleth, with its impressive town clock, is where the railway line branches to take you to either to the terminus of Pwllheli or to Aberystwyth. Mach, as it is know locally, was given a charter by Edward I to hold a market every Wednesday and the market is still held each Wednesday on Maengwyn Street, the main street in the town, come rain or shine. The Royal House, now a fine tea room and delicatessen, is said to date back to the 1300's and King Charles I was reputed to have stayed here in 1644. Mach is also famous for the Gwyl Machynlleth Festival, an arts festival, held each August. The Festival attracts top of the line artists from the fields of music, art and theatre. Three miles north-east of Mach is the Centre for Alternative Technology, seven hectares of hands-on-displays.
If you follow the A487 from Mach you will pass by the Dyfi Osprey Project and Ynis-hir RSPB Nature Reserve which hosted Springwatch this past Spring. They are both well worth the visit. On the way there is a turnoff for Borth, on the coast, which has some lovely estuary walks and has The Borth Station Museum, a new and fascinating community heritage centre on a working station platform.
Continuing on the A487, or at the end of the line on the railway, you will reach the City of Aberystwyth, a bustling centre with a first rate University, many of the major shops, a Cliff Railway(the longest electric cliff railway in Britain) and an impressive pier. Between late-October and March at either dawn or dusk you can experience a wonderful spectacle called 'the starling murmuration'. Thousand of starlings gather to put on an aerial display beyond compare as they move as one, swooping, weaving and swerving before settling to roost under the pier. It is like watching an aerial ballet.
Further along the coast you will come to Aberaeron, a Georgian seaside town and the picturesque seaside village of New Quay where you can embark on a pleasure boat trip along the 'Ceredigion Marine Heritage Coast' to see the nesting sea birds, seals, dolphins and porpoise that inhabit this area.
New Quay is also believed to be the inspiration for the village of Llareggub in 'Under Milkwood' written by Dylan Thomas who lived in the village in the 1940s. There is a Dylan Thomas Trail you can follow as you walk through the village.
Starling murmuration over Aberystwyth Pier
The murmuration takes place either at dawn or dusk between late October and March.
Barmouth: - A Coastal Playground But So Much More
Barmouth, in Southern Snowdonia, on the Mawddach Estuary has been a favourite location for beach side holidies since the Victorian times. The railway made it possible for VIctorian families from from the Industrial cities in the Midlands and the North to have easy access to miles of beaches, magnificent mountain scenery and clean air. The more prosperous Victorians built grand houses here that are still standing tall.
We have been condescending about Barmouth in the past due to its popularity. It can be tacky with its amusement park and fast food restaurants and it is particularly crowded during the summer holidays, but we have discovered many of its secrets over the past few years. The Panoramic and Precipice Walks, which run above the town, offer views over the whole Mawddach Estuary and, on a clear day, to Bardsey Island and the Preseli Hills. Recently, we have been leaving our car at Morfa Mawddach Station and walking one mile across the Barmouth Bridge into the town. It is a part of the Mawddach Trail which stretches for miles.
Barmouth itself has many interesting historical buildings. Ty Gwyn, on the harbour, is a medieval stone building which is now the Shipwreck Museum and Ty Crwn (The Round House) from the 1800s was a prison for drunkards and ne'er do wells. It is divided down the middle to separate the men and the women. There are also more contemporary buildings like the Dragon Theatre and the R.N.L.I. Lifeboat Station where you can see the volunteers go through their exercises.
The Cambrian Railway runs over the Barmouth Bridge and a walking and cycle path, part of the 50 kilometre Mawddach Way, runs alongside the railway and also curves off around the coast. The walk is spectacular giving you views of the estuary, the mountains, the flora and fauna of the area. It is highly recommended.
Harold Godrey Lowe:
5th Officer On The TItanic
Harold Godfrey Lowe was born in Conwy, North Wales on November 21, 1882 and lived in Barmouth. He went to sea at a very early age and worked his way up to become an officer on the White Star Line in 1911.
He is famed as being one, of the officers on the Titanic, to help keep order and get the panicked passengers into lifeboats. He also tried to rescue those in the water. He survived the ordeal and went on to serve in World War One in the Royal Navy. He married and lived out his last years in Wales. He died on May 12, 1944 and was portrayed by Welsh Actor Ioan Gruffudd in James Cameron's 'Titanic' movie.
There is a plaque dedicated to Harold Godfrey Lowe's heroism on the harbour wall in Barmouth.
Penmaenpool Bridge And Toll House - And For Sale
Books of Interest
If you ever get the chance, it is well worth walking or driving across the wooden toll bridge at Penmaenpool. It costs 60p, which is handed to someone at the Toll House near the George III Inn. The bridge was built in 1879 as a replacement for the ferry service and now connects the A493 to the A496 on the north side. It saves a few miles of road travel and it gives you a unique view of the Mawddach Estuary.
There was a train station at Penmaenpool up until 1965, which is why a preserved signal box still stands on the site. The old railway line is now the Mawddach Trail used by thousands of walkers and cyclists.
Sadly, the wooden bridge and toll house, which are Grade II listed, are up for sale for the price of Â£350,000. Let's hope it will be purchased by someone who will take good care of this most precious piece of history in Gwynedd.
The town at the foot of Cader Idris
Dolgellau , known as 'Dol' by the locals, stands at the bottom of the tallest mountain in the area called, 'Cader Idris' (height: 893 m). It is a dominant feature of this county town of Gwynedd . The street plan is higgledy- piggledy and the buildings have been solidly built with local slate and hard, grey dolerite.
Dolgellau , was a thriving centre for handmade woollens in the 18th century but the industry went into decline with the advent of large mechanized woollen mills in the 1800's. There was a mini gold rush in the area but the town became increasingly interesting as a tourist attraction due to its unique position at the foot of 'Cader Idris'. Guides were employed to take tourists up Cader by mule and later, with the extension of the railway it became more accessible to the public. The rail line was closed in the 1960s under Lord Beeching but has still continued as an important centre in Gwynedd.
One of our favourite buildings is T.H. Roberts (c. 1886), a former ironmonger's ,which still has its original fittings, and is now busy coffee shop with Wi-Fi access. By the way, I can highly recommend their welsh rarebit with sauteed leeks added to the cheese mixture and their scones and cakes. The glass cabinets, that once would have held tools of the trade, now display crafts made by local artisans and the upstairs is used as an art gallery and meeting rooms.
'Cymraeg' The Welsh Language
Here are a few guidelines to help you make some sense out of a language that seems daunting but really isn't.
The Welsh Alphabet
a as in ambulance
b as in bed
c as in could, but never as in cease
ch as in the Scottish 'loch'
d as in da
dd said as the th in heather
e as in hen, but not demand
f as in the v in very
ff as in different
g as in gone, not general
ng as in sing
h as in hot
i like the ee sound in meek
j like 'jaune' in French
l as in like
ll prepare to say 'l', then blow really hard making a sound like a dentist's suction pipe, but blowing out! ( alternatively think of the sound in the English word 'antler' and you will be close )
m as in man
n as it no
o as in orange
p as in pen
ph as in physics
r as in car but rolled much more than English - think lawn mowers and old-fashioned phones
rh it is a more breathy 'r', without the voice
s as in soap but the word ' siop' (shop) is pronounced as an 'sh' sound
t as in tea
th as in things
u a sound in between ee like tree and the 'i' in pimp
w as in blue or cool
y as in up but in llyn (lake) it sounds like the 'i' in tin
I hope I haven't lost you. You do get the hang of it after awhile and it does help you to read some of the place names on the signs.
Useful words and expressions:
Bore da - Good morning; Pnawn da - good afternoon, noswaith dda - good evening, nos da - goodnight
S'mae (pronounced 'sim-eye')- How are things/you?
Araf (pronounced 'arav') - slow (as seen on the roads in Wales)
Hwyl (pronounced 'who - ill') - Goodbye
popty ping - a microwave (I love this one)
wedi blino - tired
da iawn, diolch - fine, thankyou
croeso - welcome/you're welcome
Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (the longest place name in Welsh) which means: 'St. Mary's Church in the hollow of the white hazel near to the rapid whirlpool and the church of St. Tysilio of the red cave'
- The Talyllyn Railway
The site for the Talyllyn Railway located at Tywyn Wharf.
- The Dyfi Osprey Project
The Dyfi Osprey Project is located at Glandyfi, Machynlleth. Follow the progress of the three osprey youngsters, Einion, Dulas and Leri, hatched in June. They fledged in August and are now in Africa.
- Transport for Wales | Buy Cheap Train Tickets & Check Train Times
Transport for Wales manage rail services across Wales and West England. Buy cheap train tickets and check train times for Wales and Borders services here.
An introduction to the history and layout of this must visit attraction.
- Festival Number 6 in Portmeirion
Festival Number 6 first took place at Portmeirion in Gwynedd in 2012. It was such a great success that it is becoming a yearly event.