To make the most of having a hire car, any road-trip we have we enjoy planning the next day by spending an hour or the previous evening planning our stops for the next day. We knew we wanted to explore a little of the Llŷn Peninsula south of Caernarfon.
Mora Nefyn and Porthdinllaen
Just under an hour’s drive from Caenarfon we arrived at the bay at Mora Nefyn. It is a long bay between two headlands. We parked near the golf course and headed down to the beach. The weather was fabulous and the view stretching along the two mile beach towards the few buildings at Porthdinllean was fantastic. One of those small buildings is the Tŷ Coch pub. What I love is that there is no vehicle access, apart from residents, to Porrthdinllaen so a walk along the beach or across the golf course on the top of the headland past the Iron Age hill fort is the only way. I am convinced the food and drinks taste much better after such a walk. We felt like it was one of those hidden treasures of Britain, although I am sure it is a popular day trip location. What a great start to our day – the bench mark had been set rather high.
Crossing the 12 miles from the north of the peninsula to the south, we arrived at Abersoch. Supposedly the playground of the Cheshire set, we were a little worried about what we would find. What was originally a fishing village is now a go-to place for water sports. The surf at nearby Porth Neigwl is also a real draw. We had a long walk along the beach and a wander around the shops, most of which were designer beach wear chains rather than independent ones. I think because we were slightly off season and early in the day it wasn’t too busy but I am sure it has a totally different feel a the summer progresses when what you are wearing and driving are more important than enjoying a day at the seaside.
Two or three miles further along the peninsula is somewhere that is more my type of place. It was called Llanbedrog. There was so little there that I am sure it gets overlooked in favour of Abersoch. We parked near the church as opposed to the all day car park and walked down the narrow track to the sea. On the beachfront is a fabulous bar/restaurant called Aqua Bar. It had a large outside terrace with stunning views across the sea to the mountains of Snowdonia. Apart from this bar and a few little old fishing cottages on the beach, there was nothing to be seen although we did discover later that there is a quite famous arts centre there.
The sun was still shining and there were various families setting up camp on the beach for a bucket and spade day. We enjoyed the spectacle of one family trying to retrieve their drone from a tree. Unfortunately they managed to retrieve it and started zooming around the beach, to me it feels very intrusive let alone the whirring whizzy noise they make. I must just be getting a grumpy JWalker. I preferred Llanbedrog to Abersoch although Jonno liked the buzz of Abersoch but they are close enough to spend some time in each.
By the time we had walked along the beach and marvelled at the retrieval techniques for the drone, the bar had filled up so our planned drink stop would have to take place somewhere else.
We continued along the peninsula towards Criccieth passing Pwllheli, the largest town on the peninsula. The name always rings a bell with people of our certain age because there was a large Butlin’s holiday camp there which has now been taken over by Haven. One of my friends, Wendy, was at Butlins as a Red Coat (for overseas readers that means an organiser/entertainer) and I bet her holiday makers had a great laugh.
At one time there was a horse drawn tram that ran from Pwllheli to Llandbedrog mostly along the beach but that all came to an end after a big storm in 1927 washed the majority of the track away. We didn’t stop in Pwllheli and pushed onto Criccieth.
This is a seaside resort on Cardigan Bay. Perhaps it is most famous for the castle ruins which have great views over the town and beyond.
There were a few sight-seers looking over the castle on what had turned into a fairly blustery day but whilst walking through the town there was quite a gathering of people and as we got nearer we could see they were waiting for ice creams from Cadwalader’s Ice Cream Parlour. This is Welsh ice cream that since 1927 has been produced with a top secret ingredient . Initially made by the Cadwalader family in their small general store on Castle Way, Criccieth, to this day the recipe is a closely guarded secret. The ice creams coming out of the store looked enticing but having been so good so far on our healthy eating we just admired them. Who is that guy with two ice creams??
We liked the feel of Criccieth very much but we had one more stop planned. One that I knew very little about and had not bothered researching, partially in fear that it wouldn’t be “my thing“. I decided to go with an open mind and not pre-judge.
My thinking is that this needs a bit of a back story otherwise it all looks a bit weird and disneylike. A Welsh architect called Clough Williams-Ellis bought a private estate called Aber lâ (Ice Estuary). He didn’t like this name so he changed it to “Port” (being on the coast) “meirion“, meaning from the county of Meirionydd. What followed was a major transformation of the original estuary properties to a hotel and rental cottages but it didn’t stop there. Between 1925 and 1975 he designed and constructed a village in the style of a Mediterranean fishing village on the Italian Riviera.
All the houses are brightly painted and include fragments of demolished buildings that he had been offered to save for posterity. Thankfully he knew when to say no and it somehow all works although you do have a feeling that you are either on a film set or are under the influence of some sort of narcotics (not that we were, of course!).
It has obviously captured the imagination of film directors and musicians alike because several music videos have been filmed here as well as featuring in a Doctor Who episode and Cold Feet but it is probably most famous for being the set for a 1960s television drama called The Prisoner. Now it you really want to feel you are on the wacky baccy watch an episode that that on You Tube.
There was a coastal walk and a woodland walk signposted which we followed to get great views of the estuary. We also managed to hop on the last trip that the land-train was making which was bumpy but good fun. There are odd coffee shops dotted around, a small shop selling The Prisoner branded items and a large kitchenware and ceramics shop.
An association I have, via my Mum, with the name Portmeirion is pottery. Me being me I wanted to find out the connection because there was obviously never a pottery on this site. Unfortunately the information generally in the village was poor, unless we had made the effort to see an audio-visual presentation in a small theatre we would never have got any details on the inspiration for the village. To be fair, it would have spoilt the atmosphere and feel of the place to have notices everywhere. So after leaving I did some research and found that Portmeirion Pottery was designed by Susan Williams-Ellis, the daughter of the architect who designed this little bit of Italy in Wales. She commissioned designs to be sold in the gift shop in Portmeirion and now the distinctive designs can be seen all over the world.
Descriptions range from fanciful, enchanting, absurd and irrational. It is all of these and that is what makes it so fascinating. If you are in North Wales, it is well worth a visit and if you can stretch to stay in the hotel or one of the buildings that are also accommodation, do it – it will be an experience you will never forget.
A B&B in Harlech was our last destination of the day. We saw Harlech Castle looming above us as we approached the town (another one of Edward I ‘s castles of course). It is built on a cliff face that originally bordered the sea but the coastline has changed and it is now 800m inland. It is another impressive fortress and during a seven year siege in the 1400s the inspiration for the song and military march, Men of Harlech.
As of July this year, it has another claim to fame having stolen the accolade of the World’s Steepest Road from Baldwin Street in Dunedin, New Zealand. The road is Ffordd Pen Llech. Go Harlech!
This brings me to the end of this part of our North Wales trip but I can’t sign off without mentioning Llandawg which is a small village just behind the dunes east of Harlech. Originally just a collection of small cottages it now has a few holiday homes and caravans but the dunes, beach, small cafe and nature reserve where a great find to spend a couple of hours. The icing on the cake for me was finding a tiny little church almost hidden in the sand dunes. It is the medieval parish church of Saint Tanwg, parts of which have been dated back to the 5th century. Most of the churchyard is buried in sand with one or two headstones visible. A real hidden treasure.
30/06 – 01/07/2019