North Wales: a voyage of ‘re-discovery’

Harlech Castle
Harlech Castle

Where do you take a six-year-old who’s mad on King Arthur and all things ‘knight’ related and an Australian with a penchant for castles?

It’s easy ... North Wales.

Ffestiniog Railway

Ffestiniog Railway

Not having been to that part of the world (even though it’s literally on our doorstep - a less-than-three-hour drive from home in Lancashire) for 30-odd years, it was always going to be a voyage of ‘re-discovery’ for me.

And with North Wales there really is something new to discover round every corner.

No trip would be complete without visits to some of the finest castles you can find and we managed to pack in Caernarfon, Conwy, Harlech and Beaumaris. All have their own individual character and appeal - the sprawling mass of Caernarfon proved an ideal spot for some impromtu sword-fighting by an over-excited six-year-old; Harlech (my personal favourite) provided stunning views and a day of medieval re-enactments; Conwy was quaint and compact while Beaumaris offered the perfect picnic venue (but watch out for the hungry seagulls).

Edward I certainly wasn’t messing around when he built these impressive fortifications which have stood the test of time and still manage to stir the soul. With perfectly manicured lawns and informations boards, they’re a ‘must’ on any tourist’s agenda and you can spend hours wandering round, enjoying the view from the ramparts or simply enjoying the scenery. The ticket allows you to come and go as you please, so it’s easy enough to take a break from your history fest to grab a meal in town and then return for more.

Ready to go underground at King Arthur's Labyrinth

Ready to go underground at King Arthur's Labyrinth

From the heights of the castle ramparts, to the depths of a disused slate mine - Wales has it all. We ‘plunged the depths’ at King Arthur’s Labyrinth where you can explore the myths and legends surrounding the mysterious king of yesteryear. The whole site has a magical feel to it.

With something for young and old alike - this attraction at Coris really did tick all the boxes for all members of our party. Taking a boat to the underground caverns, led by our hooded guide, where the King Arthur story is revealed in tableaux really dramatises the whole story and is truly atmospheric (but make sure you pack a jacket as it’s chilly below ground, even though the sun was cracking the flags above).

There’s also the Lost Legends of the Stone Circle at the site, too - a maze featuring seating areas and tableaux telling animated Welsh folklore tales. A guaranteed way to keep the youngest member of the party quiet as he listened eagerly for the answers to a quiz which earned him a medal on his exit.

You could spend a full day at Coris - the attraction has a great cafe (which serves the obligatory Welsh Rarebit, which we had to sample!), as well as a playground and some fab little craft shops. We watched glass blowing; bought a herbal potion and even brought home our own dragon (wooden, of course!)

Heading towards Puffin Island

Heading towards Puffin Island

Wales is reknown for its stunning scenery - both coastal and countryside - so we simply had to fit in a couple of leisurely trips to enjoy the views. There’s no better way to take in the countryside than on the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways through Snowdonia.

Our trip on the Ffestiniog line from Portmadog to Blaenau Ffestiniog (on the world’s oldest narrow gauge railway) took us on a trip through 200 years of history on the 13.5 mile journey. The view from the steam trains - original locomotives and carriages - are out of this world, climbing 700ft into the mountains, through forests and past lakes and waterfalls.

It’s a relaxing trip back into yesteryear, whether you’re a steam train buff or not, you can’t help but be spellbound by the engines and the dedicated staff who keep this gem of a railway running so efficiently.

To take in the coastal scenery, we joined the Starida team on their pleasure cruise to Puffin Island, off Angelsey. And yes ... we did spot a couple of puffins, along with guillemots, cormorants, kittiwakes. The 75-minute cruise is a great way to see more of the island’s sights and find out a little of their history, from the Penmon Lighthouse to a ruined abbey and old semaphore signalling station.

Conwy Castle

Conwy Castle

A week’s hardly enough time to re-discover Wales ... I’ll not leave it 30 years next time!

Here’s where to find more info:

Castles - http://www.castlewales.com and Cadw

King Arthur’s Labyrinth - www.kingarthurslabyrinth.co.uk

{http://www.festrail.co.uk/Ffestiniog Railway - www.festrail.co.uk}

Starider Cruises - www.starida.co.uk

Caernarfon Castle

Caernarfon Castle

Beaumaris Castle

Beaumaris Castle

Ffestiniog Railway

Ffestiniog Railway

Lost Legends of the Stone Circle

Lost Legends of the Stone Circle