Beyond the Wall

North Wales – an entirely different animal to its southern counterpart. Taller mountains, longer place names, and a completely unintelligible accent make the north a quite curious place to visit. On the road from the south (there’s only really one), it is every tourist’s duty to stop at Portmeirion. A village built purely on one man’s imagination, it took Sir Clough Williams-Ellis over fifty years to finish his incongruous masterpiece. He took some of his architectural inspiration from Italy, a little from Spain, and some of his buildings wouldn’t look out of place in Moscow’s old town. It is a higgledy-piggledy of eccentric buildings, narrow lanes and open courtyards, and provides a well-deserved respite from the normality of the outside world.

If you look at a map of Wales, the Llŷn Peninsula is the brim of its hat, protruding about thirty miles into the Irish Sea – and is somewhere I hitherto had visited (venturing this far north is very much like heading north of ‘The Wall’). Our destination was the small town of Nefyn, specifically a pub called the Tŷ Coch Inn (the Red House Inn), which we found online in an article named ‘Best Beach Bars, in the WORLD’ – the Tŷ Coch Inn finished third apparently. Whilst I was sceptical of how any beach-based pub in Wales could possibly beat off competition from Jamaica, Greece and Australia alike, I was proved wrong.

The pub can only be reached by foot, and is a good two-mile walk from the village, but once you’ve crawled down the hillside behind it, you can marvel at what you have literally stumbled upon. It sits on an isolated beach, right on the sand, with just a few other houses and fishing boats keeping it company (the photo above doesn’t do it justice as the sun had set and I was several pints down). Whilst it doesn’t serve food, or have any roof on the toilets, I have never had a beer in a more picturesque setting than here (hard to believe I am writing that about Wales). Just be sure to begin your walk back to civilisation before nightfall – not an easy stagger home.

The next day, we headed eastward along the coast to Caernarfon – home to another Welsh castle gem. This one may be our most impressive of all, so much so that Charles (Prince of Wales for what it’s worth) had his investiture here in 1969. But don’t let that put you off, it’s about as perfect an example of a medieval fortress as you could find anywhere in the world. The town itself is a very pleasant, bustling market town, and a good place to base oneself if wanting to visit Snowdonia National Park in the south, or the isle of Anglesey to the north. We very briefly popped over to the island to take a few photos of the second longest one-word place name in the world, which is one of the first Welsh words taught to every schoolchild in the country, before making our way south, to the ‘mountains’.

Welsh mountains may not be the tallest, or be the most isolated that you could find, or have the steepest faces, but don’t let that deter you from going for a hike in Snowdonia National Park. On a fair-weather day, the views on offer challenge any of New Zealand’s Middle Earth or America’s Yosemite. The climb to the highest point in the country, unsurprisingly name Snowdon, only takes a couple of hours (or twenty minutes if you’re feeling incredibly torpid and take the train), and can get quite busy during the summer – especially at the summit. If you’re the sort of person that must get a photo touching the stack of rocks placed at the peak’s of mountains, you may be in for a fight – take a selfie-stick to jostle people out of your way.

We managed to select a day where no amount of selfie-stick-jostling or simple violence could get us to the stack, so we had to make do with a beer in the newly-built summit cafe. Yes, our tallest mountain is so tall that we have a train going up its side and a bar at the top, which actually serves its own brand of lager called 1085 (the height of the mountain if you wanted to know). So, it is at the summit of Snowdon where we finish our whistle-stop tour of Wales. I do hope you feel slightly more inclined to visit than you did previously; and just forget London – too many tourists. Oh wait…


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