2019 is the Year of Discovery in Wales, and it’s all about discovering things out about the country and the region of North Wales you didn’t know, or if you’ve been before about rediscovering it and finding new reasons to visit.
Our series of discovery articles will take a different topic each week where we’ll delve into an array of exciting and sometimes little known things about the region together with things you can see and do to find out more, which we hope will make you want to visit and explore for yourself while at the same time create long lasting and happy memories of your time in North Wales.
Wales offers visitors a variety of experiences whether it be a passion for the great outdoors, a place to kick back and relax or the opportunity to try something new, this country has it all and it’s unique with its own fascinating culture that is steeped in myths and legend so our first two blogs are about Discovering North Wales’ Heritage.
Wales is renowned for its magnificent castles – in fact there are over 600 and 32 are in North Wales. King Edward I constructed or rebuilt many of these impressive fortresses in the 13th Century when he launched two military campaigns to defeat the Welsh princes and bring the country under English rule. After each campaign he built a castle to maintain a hold of the land that he’d captured and as Snowdonia was seen as the heartland of the Welsh he surrounded it with a ring of castles. Most of these were on the coast or by a river so that the building supplies could be easily brought in, and as his castles developed so did the designs and the construction of new walled towns were built alongside the castles at Caernarfon, Conwy, Denbigh and Flint.
Worth a Visit:
Four of King Edward I’s castles are now the most famous in Wales and are World Heritage Sites - Beaumaris, Caernarfon, Conwy and Harlech.
Beaumaris Castle was the last castle to be built but unlike all the others it was never completed yet it is still rated as being technically perfect. Flanked by fields, the castle is a classic walls within walls plan with 12 tall towers with symmetrical wall and two gatehouses which are overlooked by an inner ward with two large D-shaped gatehouses and six massive towers, plus a water-filled moat as an extra line of defence.
Conwy Castle took four and a half years to complete and is one of the finest surviving medieval fortifications in the UK. It has two imposing gatehouses, soaring curtain walls and eight enormous round towers which overlook the river Conwy. The fortified town walls are three-quarters of a mile long and guarded by 22 towers.
Caernarfon Castle was the venue for Prince Charles’ Investiture in 1969. Another of King Edward I’s construction feats this was built in colour co-ordinated stones in bands and has polygonal rather than round towers. It had accommodation for the King’s household and family and is now home to the Royal Welch Fusiliers Museum.
Harlech Castle is spectacular as it sits majestically high on a rock above a sea cliff and was built to keep an eye on Snowdonia. It boasts two rings of walls and towers and has a 200ft long stairway which still leads from the castle to the cliff base giving direct access to the sea. A floating bridge has recently been installed which connects the castle with a brand new visitor centre making it accessible to everyone.
The Industrial Revolution led to silver mining in Flintshire, metalworks at Holywell, potteries in Buckley, cotton mills in Holywell and Mold and a proliferation of lead and coal mines, as well as a copper mine at Amlwch on Anglesey which briefly produced more copper than any other mine in the world. The result was that by 1851 Wales became the world’s second leading industrial nation behind England.
The existence of Wales’ slate industry dates back to the Roman period when slate was used to roof the fort at Caernarfon but the Industrial Revolution led to Wales having the two largest slate quarries in the world – at Penrhyn near Bethesda and Dinorwig near Llanberis, and the largest slate mine in the world at Blaenau Ffestiniog with over 100,000 tons of slate a year coming from this area alone. The growth of this industry led to the introduction of steam trains with the world’s oldest narrow gauge railway running from Blaenau Ffestiniog to Porthmadog which was constructed between 1833 and 1836 to transport slate from the quarries to the port where it went by ship to roof most of the world.
Worth a visit:
The greatest copper mine can be seen at Parys Mountain on Anglesey and although it closed in the 1880s, a walk around the area will reward you with a colourful landscape of vibrant reds, purples and browns before you visit The Copper Kingdom in Amwlch which has a small exhibition about the life of being a miner as well as plenty of rock samples. There is though an even older copper mine which is right on our doorstep – the Great Orme Bronze Age Copper Mines which date back over 4,000 years to the Bronze Age. These mines which are now thought to be the largest prehistoric mine in the world are one of the most astounding archaeological discoveries of recent times.
The slate quarry at Penrhyn is now famous for Zip World Velocity 2 which is the world’s fastest and Europe’s longest zip line taking you on the ride of your life over the disused quarry at speeds of up to 125mph! There’s also a quarry tour where you can submerge yourself in its rich history while you’re driven around in a truck.
Enjoy a scenic train journey along the old slate route on the Ffestiniog Railway which takes you from Blaenau Ffestiniog to Porthmadog, or hop on the Llanberis Lake Railway which is a narrow gauge steam train using vintage steam engines rescued from the Dinorwig Slate quarries which stops at Gilfach Ddu so you can visit the National Slate Museum. The museum is housed in the 19th Century industrial workshops of the disused slate quarry that once serviced and maintained the enormous Dinorwig slate quarry above it which once employed over 3,000 men. This is a unique opportunity to glimpse the lives of the slate workers and their families with slate splitting demonstrations, a giant waterwheel and visits to the Chief Engineer’s House, the Quarrymen’s Houses and the workshops.
Our second blog on Discovering North Wales’ Heritage will be out next week and it’ll cover the Welsh Language and our reputation for being the Land of Song.