Evening light on Criccieth Castle. The RNLI Lifeboat Station is on the right.
North Wales is famous for it's castles. Criccieth Castle was built by Llywelyn the Great about 1230 and predates the chain of castles in North Wales built by Edward the First of England. However it was taken by Edward I some 50 years later who undertook to enlarge and improve Criccieth as part of the chain of castles built to subdue the Welsh in North Wales. Caernarfon Castle ais to the north and at Harlech just south of the peninsula [www.cadw.wales.gov.uk]. Caernarfon has been continuously occupied since the Roman invasion and the mediæval castle's symbolic status was emphasized when the first English Prince of Wales was born here in 1284. The town has virtually all it’s mediæval town walls; the main square, surrounded by Georgian buildings, has recently been re-paved. Caernarfon town has some charismatic pubs and streets of small shops — and a Weatherspoon’s for cheap drinks. Harlech Castle, comprising an impressive twin-towered gatehouse and four round corner towers, was built on a dramatic rocky outcrop overlooking Tremadoc Bay between 1283 and 1289. A new visitor centre and access bridge is currently under construction. The town is essentially a single street, hugging the hillside behind the castle. There are some antique shops, a hotel and a pub, a traditional sweet shop and Cae Du Designs, “a fantastic treasure trove of discounted furnishing fabrics” run by designer Dee Bentham. Beyond the main street are imposing stone-clad houses with great views. Some are now small hotels and guesthouses.
Plas yn Rhiw, maintained by the National Trust over looks Porth Neiwgl.
There’s a coastal footpath all round the Llŷn peninsula that takes about 8 days to complete in full or you can access it in bite-size chunks from numerous carparks —don't forget to pay! [www.walkingnorthwales.co.uk/home.php?/walk_details;id=1027].
The Gardener's Cottage at Plas yn Rhiw, rentable from the National Trust.
The National Trust also offers shorter walk suggestions through the coastal areas they administer [www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-vh/w-visits/w-visits-walks/w-visits-walks_wales.htm#llyn]. The National Trust also maintains Plas yn Rhiw, a small manor house overlooking Porth Neiwgl, with attractive gardens and wooded walks. You can rent the gardeners cottage. Another popular National Trust attraction is the easily accessible beach at Llanbedrog. A long, mainly sandy bay, backed by low cliffs with a seafood café/restaurant open during the summer and beach huts rentable from April to September. It’s very popular with families and the yachting fraternity on bank holiday weekends, but far less crowded during May and June, when the weather is often at it’s best. We also enjoy walking from Portmadog to the charming Victorian seaside village of Borth-y-Gest, which surrounds a picturesque bay with great views across the estuary of the Aber Glaslyn to Harlech and beyond. The path continues along the cliffs to a golf course and the expanse of Black Rock sands — at low tide!
A NG G16 Class Beyer-Garratt locomotive hauling carriages on the new
Welsh Highland railway link into Porthmadog.
For narrow-gauge steam railway enthusiasts, and ‘children of all ages’ Llŷn boasts two — The Ffestiniog, ‘the oldest independent railway in the world’ climbing up from Porthmadog Harbour to Blaenau Ffestiniog and the Welsh Highland Railway from Caernarfon, also to Porthmadog Harbour [from 20 April 2011]. Both offer an unhindered view of the dramatic scenery of the Snowdonia National Park. The Ffestiniog Railway passes near Plas Tan y Bwlch, the Snowdonia National Park Environmental Studies Centre — a huge stone house overlooking the Afon Dwyryd and nearby Plas Brondanw, the family home of Sir Clough Williams- Ellis, the creator of Portmeirion. Both have gardens and woodland walks open to the public.
The 'Town Hall' Portmeirion, very popular for weddings.
Portmeirion [www.Portmeirion-village.com] is the Italianate holiday village, created between 1925-1939 and from 1954-1976 on a hillside overlooking an arm of Tremadog Bay and celebrated as the location for ‘The Prisoner’ — Patrick McGoohan’s cult 1960’s TV series. It comprises two hotels: the original Portmeirion Hotel at beach level and Castell Deudraeth, rentable cottages and apartments, shops and cafes, formal and informal gardens and woodland walks. You can visit virtually for free in winter by completing an on-line season ticket. Both hotel restaurants maintain a very high standard. After a winter walk through the village, onto the sands and through the woodlands, we particularly like sitting round the huge open fireplace in Castell Deudraeth or just having a drink in the garden during summer. You can buy some very attractive reproductions of Clough Williams- Ellis’s original architectural drawings and some original woodcut illustrations of the village on post-cards and Prisoner memorabilia too!
The imposing church of St Bueno at Clynnog Fawr.
The local style for domestic building is the stone and slate farmhouse or terrace, either rendered or with pointing and of varying quality of masonry. These are complemented by the numerous churches and non-conformist chapels, which often seem out of scale to the surrounding buildings. Churches of note include St Bueno at Clynnog Fawr — 'cathedral-like in scale' rebuilt from the 15th century in a fine Perpendicular Gothic style — it appears to consist essentially of windows. Clynnog Fawr was one of the northern starting point for pilgrimages to Bardsey Island.
Penlan Chapel on Gaol Street, Pwllheli.
St Cawrdaf, Abererch is another large church in a small village. Originally 15th century, this Perpendicular style church was repaired in 1850 by Henry Kennedy of Bangor. Two charming but redundant churches on Llŷn are cared for by the 'Friends of Friendless Churches' — St Brothen, Llanfrothen near Penrhyndeudraeth and St Mary at Penllech [www.friendsoffriendlesschurches.org.uk]. Numerous non-conformist chapels, generally covered in low-relief render, include a number that have recently been repainted to good effect, for example Penlan Chapel on Gaol Street, Pwllheli.
Plas Glynllifon, near Llandwrog.
The largest property of architectural merit on Llŷn is Plas Glynllifon, near Llandwrog south of Caernarfon. It was completed in 1846 and stands on the cellars of a previous 18th century house, with cement render facades and a central portico of Anglesey limestone for the 2nd Lord Newborough, who also commissioned the seven miles of high stone wall that surrounds the mansion and park . The mansion now functions as a wedding venue, the surrounding parkland and woods — Parc Glynllifion — featuring a mill and a sculpture trail areopen to the public.
View of Porthmadog Harbour looking North to the Britannia Bridge.
The Ffestiniog Railway terminus is on the right.
The main street of Penrhyndeudraeth and the small town of Tremadog are good examples of early/mid 19th century townscape design. The latter was created by William Maddocks, who also built The Cob barrier across the Afon Glaslyn estuary at Porthmadog*. Look out for the recently refurbished 'Cambrian Pill Depot' in Tremadog, on the corner opposite the, currently unused, market hall. Up a track overlooking the valley is Maddocks' own house: Tan-yr-Allt, it was visited by the poet Shelley in 1812-13. Attractively renovated in 2002/5, it is now has rooms available to rent on a weekly, or long-weekend basis [www.tanyrallt.co.uk]. The creator of Portmeirion, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, designed and built a large number of community, domestic and memorial buildings on Llŷn. A good example is the Moriah chapel in Llanystumdwy, the village was boyhood home and final resting place of early 20th century Prime Minister, David Lloyd George.
Moriah Chapel, Llanystumdwy built to a design by Clough Williams-Ellis in 1936.
Examples of contemporary architecture on Llŷn are less celebrated, but interesting examples include the Snowdonia National Park offices close to Penrhyndeudraeth, designed by Gwynedd County Architects, project architect Dylan Roberts. Built using all local materials: granite and limestone walls, slate roofs and stained wood window frames, it's rugged style reflects the nature of the national park. I had personal experience of the new community hospital on a raised 'platform' just outside Portmadog — Ysbyty Alltwen — a sparkling creation by Nightingale Associates of Cardiff. It comprises a V-shaped atrium on 2 levels between upper and lower blocks of administrative offices, consulting rooms and small wards. The atrium has various contemporary artworks, reflecting the local environment, leading to a cafe/dining space with views over the valley below.
The office of Dobson:Owen, architects based in Pwllheli, have designed and built commercial, community, domestic and educational projects across Llŷn. Recent notable buildings include a dramatically sited house with a sedum covered roof, perched on the cliff overlooking Abersoch harbour and Neuadd Dwyfor, the refurbished cinema/theatre and library in Pwllheli.
The main venue for Llŷn arts is Oriel Plas Glyn-y Weddw, Llanbedrog, a high Gothic mansion designed as a dower house by the ubiquitous Victorian architect Henry Kennedy of Bangor in 1856 for Elizabeth Love Parry-Jones and subsequently developed in 1896 as a public gallery by entrepeneur Solomon Andrews. Today, Oriel Plas Glyn-y Weddw Arts Centre, overlooking the beach, has charitable status, stages a number of exhibitions for individual artists each year, an annual group show and concerts. It has a very popular cafe, with tables on the lawn in summer, self-catering accommodation and is a popular for venue for weddings [www.oriel.org.uk]. The new open-air theatre space has proven popular for small-scale performances during the summer. The Rob Piercy Gallery on Snowdon Street, Porthmadog is a very attractive conversion of an old warehouse by the eponymous artist to display his own work plus a range of crafts and jewellery [www.robpiercy.co.uk/]. The cinema/theatre in Pwllheli: Neuadd Dwyfor [see above] has a weekly schedule of films, aimed mainly at the younger age group, plus regular live performances covering a wide spectrum — a recent show was by comedy, film and tv star Ricky Gervais [I think]. Porthmadog has lost the 'almost Art Deco' Coliseum Cinema, built 1931 with a virtually unaltered original interior. It is now scheduled for demolition. It was used to screen the 'rushes' of each day's filming for 'The Prisoner' TV series when on location at Portmeirion during the 19560's.
Lily Rose on Gaol Street, Pwllheli.
Three supermarkets in Portmadog: Tesco, Lidl and Aldi, plus Iceland, Lidl and the Co-op in Pwllheli and a weekly market at both towns cater for basic needs. The farmer’s market at Glasfryn Park once a month has local artisan produce: goats cheese, meat products and vegetables. JE and D Povey the butcher in Chwilog has a great reputation for Welsh black beef, salt marsh lamb and really excellent pies — expect to queue on Saturday mornings! The Pwllheli SPAR owned by Conrad Davies won the BBC Radio 4 Food and Farming Awards 2008, with many local products prominently displayed with 'food miles' proving their provenance. Adjacent on Y Maes, Llŷn Seafoods has home-made seafood dishes in addition to a variety of fresh fish and Llŷn Wines offer a wide selection of quality wines from around the world — and Wales. Pwllheli has some charming décor shops; TE Hughes and Son is an excellent painting and decorating shop and R Gwynedd Evans and Son, is a traditional ironmongers with a surprising range of contemporary crockery and cookery utensils upstairs. If you want a boat, the dockyards at Porthmadog, Pwllheli and Abersoch have a vast range.
The Crab Monster at the National Trust beach event at Ty Coch, Porth Dinllaen.
As sea conditions in Cardigan Bay are relatively benign, there is a lot of sailing during the summer season including regattas and racing. The biggest ‘cultural’ event on Llŷn is Wakestock!!! A long weekend of wakeboarding competitions in Pwllheli harbour and a big music festival — and fun fair — near Llanbedrog. Recent headline bands include. . . the TingTings! Earlybird tickets on sale soon!
A more subdued event is the Criccieth Festival: musical and theatrical productions, talks and — our favourite — garden visits to see what can grow in a seaside environment.
*Porthmadog is the birthplace of TE Lawrence [Lawrence of Arabia] in a double fronted house on Church Street, it is now called Snowdon Lodge, a hostel for groups of 'all outdoor people'.
Gwynedd Council has Tourist Information Centres open all year round at Caernafon, Porthmadog and Pwllheli, plus a number of Information Points including Abersoch and Criccieth. Full details of locations and opening hours lots of other information is on the Visit Snowdonia website: www.visitsnowdonia.info.
Llŷn Coastal Path, a full-colour 24 page booklet, published by Gwynedd Council; Walks on the Lleyn Peninsula by Carl Rogers, 16 Circular Walks, published by Mara Books 2006; Walks on Llŷn, four full-colour booklets, illustrated by Kim Atkinson, published by The National Trust; Gwynedd, The Buildings of Wales by Richard Haslam, Julian Orbach and Adam Voelcker, Pevsner Architectural Guides, published by Yale University Press 2009.
Llŷn Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty: www.ahne-llyn-aonb.org/home-1.aspx. Special Area of Conservation: http://www.penllynarsarnau.co.uk/home.aspx.http://www.theunmutual.co.uk/coliseum.htm
Porthmadog By-Pass opened Autumn 2011
The A487 through Porthmadog will be less of a bottle-neck at bank-holiday and summer weekends now the new road is opened to by-pass Minfford, Porthmadog and Tremadog, crossing the Afon Glaslyn estuary on a new bridge parallel to the Network Rail Cambrian Coast route. The contractors have installed a total of 8 new bridges including spans taking the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railway lines over the new road and the new road over the historic railways. [www.porthmadogbypass.co.uk]
Visualisation of the exterior of the new Welsh National Sailing Academy and Event Centre.
[Image by courtesy of EWA — Ellis Williams Architects]
The Welsh National Sailing Academy and Event Centre [The Plas Heli centre] at Glan-y-Don, Pwllheli is well on the way with steelwork erected in late 2014. The design is by Ellis Williams Architects, based in Preston Brook, Warrington, Cheshire. It is an exciting curvaceous design featuring decks and wrap-around stone clad walls and sets a precedent for contemporary design in the region.
The new venue will be hosting a number of events in the forthcoming months: Pwllheli Triathalon on 5 April, the All Wales Boat Show 8-10 May and Llyn Land and Seafood Festival over the Whitsun weekend 23-25 May.