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Castles, Trains and Long Sandy Beaches

Gwynedd is a large county, full of wonderful scenery and places to visit.  So we are dividing it north/south roughly along the A470 at Porthmadog, saving the south of the county for another article.

Let's start with a castle!  Caernarfon has grown up around its castle.  It is thought that a fortification of some kind has occupied this site since Roman times.  The castle is one of the most complete and dominates not only the waterfront but also the town centre.  Built for Edward 1, it features polygonal towers and is a formidable bastion detering invaders from all sides. today the castle enjoys World Heritage Status.  The castle is open to the public throughout the year, but times vary, so check here before your visit.

If your visit does not allow time to do justice to the castle itself, take an hour or so to wander around the town walls and to explore the wealth of historic buildings, perhaps enjoying a cold drink whilst you watch the boats on their way to and from the harbour.  Just outside the castle you will find a square to sit and soak up the atmosphere of the town.  Cafes and bars surround the square giving plenty of choice of refreshment.

A visit to Criccieth Castle, literally just down the road (A487) from Caernarfon tells a different story.  This castle, located on a headland just outside the town, was originally built by Llywelyn the Great and was later captured and burnt by Owain Glyn Dŵr.  Check opening times and prices here before planning your visit.  There are days when entry is FREE!

Just a stone's throw away is Harlech Castle - renowned by the anthem 'Men of Harlech' which commemorates the seige from 1461 to 1468 during the War of the Roses.  This is another example of Edward 1's 'walls within walls' model of castle building, and stands proudly between the sea and the mountains of Snowdonia.  Again the castle is open to the public, and times and prices can be found here.

Time to go in search of a beach, and in this part of Wales, there are many long sandy beaches to choose from.  Starting as far west as we can go, we find the village of Aberdaron.  Vehicle access is interesting with the narrow roads and hump-back bridges at the entrance.  The simple solution is to park on the National Trust car park and enjoy the village and its beach on foot.  There are miles of lanes and pathways to explore - so bring suitable footwear, although you won't need a picnic as there are plenty of places to enjoy fresh local food within the village.

Head east around the headland to the well-known resort of Abersoch. There is always something happening here.  The bay is popular with water sports enthusiasts of all ages and abilities.  The calm waters and gently sloping beach are ideal for novices, whilst the experienced sailor is able to venture further afield, investigating the coastline. There is plenty to do in and around Abersoch, from fishing trips and wildlife cruises, to horse riding and angling.

Just a little further around the coast is the town of Pwllhelli, the main market town of the Llyn Peninsula.  Markets are held on Wednesdays throughout the year and on Sundays in the summer.  This bustling town has a host of independent shops along its atmospheric narrow streets.  Here you will find a choice of Blue Flag beaches, close to the town, and a bustling harbour with over 400 berths.  The coastal path, which runs for 870 miles along the entire Welsh coastline can be accessed from Pwllheli, whether you intend a long or short walk, the views are stunning.

Turn north from Pwellheli to complete the circumnavigation of the peninsula.  On the north coast, you will find the towns of Nefyn and Morfa Nefyn, with their own secluded beaches and water sports opportunities.  Morfa Nefyn is home to the famous Ty Coch public house located, quite literally on the beach.  Please check opening times as it is a long walk across the golf course and down to the bar.  Both beaches are ideal for swimming and just walking along the waterfront.

This part of Wales is famous for its little trains, so from Pwllheli, turn left and follow the coast road through Criccieth to Porthmadog where you have a choice of two trips. Before you dash to catch a train, take a little time to visit the town, perhaps enjoy a coffee in one of the coffee shops on the main street.  Wander through the harbout and relax watching the boats, you might even see the train as it pulls into the Harbour Station.

The Ffestiniog railway is the world's oldest narrow guage railway and has been the model for similar railways all around the world.  Some of the historic locomotives and rolling stock are 150 years old, and still going strong thanks to the expertise of the staff in the engineering sheds.  Children will love the 'push-you pull-me' engines  (OK its a Fairlie, but that just does not sound quite so romantic).  The scenery is stunning as the line meanders through woods, and along a lake up into the mountains.  You can get on and off the train at any of the stations along the route and make a real day out.

At the end of the line in Blaenau Ffestiniog you will find a typical Welsh slate mining town, with a welcoming pub of course.  Walk out of the station, up the steps and through the imposing slate columns to the car park where you can catch a shuttle bus to the famous Slate Mines where you can learn about the life of the miners and how slate is used.  Children will love wearing hard hats and riding on the underground railway.  Make sure you have plenty of enjoy your visit.

Last updated on 23/07/2015 10:11am by
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