A week camping in... North Wales
Snowdonia is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, especially those who enjoy the more active pursuits.
But there’s another side to this part of the world that is often overlooked. From Conwy in the north to the Dyfi Estuary in the south, Snowdonia boasts 200 miles of glorious coastline. You’ll find secluded bays, sheltered harbours and vast open beaches.
The pretty villages and lively resorts are places to enjoy peace and quiet or for action-packed days.
The seaside resort of Porthmadog is the biggest town and is a great base to explore the area. Its biggest attractions are the two heritage steam railways that operate from the town – the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways and the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway.
Just up the coast you’ll find Criccieth, with its own castle perched high above the bay. Carry on from here onto the Llŷn Peninsula and through Pwllheli and you will encounter the popular seaside village of Abersoch.
Close to Porthmadog, the truly extraordinary village of Portmeirion represents architect, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis’s interpretation of a classical Italianate village transported to Wales.
The village of Betws-y-Coed offers a more traditionally Welsh experience in the heart of Snowdonia, as does the picturesque village of Beddgelert. For thrill-seekers, the three ZipWorld centres in north Wales boast attractions including a treetop adventure course with high wires, a ‘plummet from the summit’ drop, the largest zip wire zone in the world and of course the world’s fastest zip line.
A WEEK ON THE NORTH WALES COAST
DAY 1: ON THE BEACH
Wonderful Black Rock Sands Beach, a two-minute stroll from Black Rock Sands campsite, has a vast expanse of golden sand, warm blue sea and mountainous backdrop. You will happily spend a day on this great beach, paddling in the sea, enjoying some beach games and admiring the views. The shallow water makes it ideal for swimming and it has also become a popular destination for water-based activities like windsurfing and kayaking. One of the unusual aspects of Black Rock Sands is that you can actually drive your vehicle onto the beach. This initially sounds bizarre, but the beach is so vast that you barely notice.
DAY 2: TAKE THE TRAIN
The Welsh Highland steam railway offers a wonderful, clattering journey through 25 miles of breathtaking Welsh scenery from Porthmadog to Caernarfon. The line passes through the beautiful Aberglaslyn Pass, alongside the Llyn Cwellyn reservoir and beneath towering Mount Snowdon. On a sunny day there are few places on this island that look better. Look out for Mynydd Mawr, affectionately known as Elephant Mountain (Yr Eliffant in Welsh) because, well, it’s a mountain that looks like an elephant. As well as being a busy tourist destination, Caernarfon is home to the famous castle where the investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales took place in 1969, and you can spend a day here before getting the train back to Porthmadog.
DAY 3: VISIT AN ITALIANATE VILLAGE
Portmeirion has been used as a location for countless TV shows, films and music videos but it is most famous as the place where the surreal 60s spy drama The Prisoner was filmed. Set on its own private peninsula, it is certainly not your typical Welsh village. Designed by architect, Sir CloughWilliams Ellis in the 1920s, it represents his fantasy of a classical Italianate village in the Mediterranean, transplanted to a romantic clifftop location. It was also designed to demonstrate how a naturally beautiful place could be developed without spoiling it. The 50 pastel-painted buildings and the grand piazza are a treat for the eyes, and there are 70 acres of woodland and gardens filled with exotic plants. It’s a wonderful day out.
DAY 4: THRILL-SEEKING
A visit to Snowdonia wouldn’t be complete without an exhilarating day at one of the three Zip World locations, all relatively close to each other in the Snowdonia area. Zip World Fforest (Betws-y-Coed) is a treetop adventure course with high wires, a ‘plummet from the summit’ drop, a toboggan run, a Zip Safari and Europe’s highest five-seater swing – Skyride. Slate Caverns at Blaenau Ffestiniog has Titan, the largest zip wire zone in the world, in which you fly over disused slate miles at a terrifying rate of knots. The views over the village and the valley beyond are amazing, if you are brave enough to open your eyes! There are also subterranean caverns with an underground zip line and an adventure course. And finally Zip World Penrhyn Quarry boasts Velocity 2 – the fastest zip line in the world at more than 100mph and the longest in Europe. You can also take an adrenalin-fuelled ride down the mountainside on a quarry cart or a slightly more sedate tour of the quarry in a truck.
DAY 5: BETWS-Y-COED
Often described as the gateway to Snowdonia, Betws-y-Coed has something of an Alpine feel to it thanks to the surrounding Gwydyr Forest. It’s a popular place for day-trippers, some of whom come to enjoy the numerous trails that start off from here and wind into the surrounding countryside, either on two feet or on two wheels. But if that all sounds too active, don’t panic. Most visitors simply spend a few hours browsing the craft and gift shops before enjoying a bite to eat at one of the numerous restaurants and cafés. And it’s the law that you can’t leave until you’ve had an ice cream concoction from Cadwaladers. On the way back to Porthmadog, pop into the pretty village of Beddgelert and visit Gelert’s Grave, It tells the sad story of Gelert, the faithful hound of medieval prince, Llewelyn the Great. According to legend, the prince killed the dog in the mistaken belief that it had killed his one-year-old son – in reality Gelert had saved the boy from a wolf.
DAY 6: A DAY AROUND TOWN
Sweet treats are big around here. And in the case of the Port Café and Deli in Porthmadog, they are enormous. The lemon meringue pies here are the size of a small country, and have to be seen to be believed. It recently underwent a facelift but the homemade cakes and meals are just as hearty and tasty as before. It sort of sums up Porthmadog, really – its best days seemed to be behind it but look beyond the outward appearance and you’ll still find plenty to entice you. You’ll find lots of little outlets selling quirky gifts, locally brewed craft beers and the like.
DAY 7: HEAD AROUND THE COAST
Follow the coast northwest from Porthmadog and you’ll encounter the pretty seaside village of Criccieth, which has its own castle perched high above the bay. Carry on from here onto the Llŷn Peninsula and through Pwllheli and you encounter the seaside village of Abersoch. With its great beaches and fashionable bistros, this is a popular spot for visitors. The Llŷn is that stretch of land that looks on a map like a crooked finger pointing accusatorily at the southeast corner of Ireland. Rich in Welsh culture, the coastline has been a protected Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty for almost 60 years and its quiet winding roads are a joy to drive on.
ONE TO VISIT
THE CWM IDWAL WALK is a wonderful and popular walking route in Snowdonia, from the Cwm Idwal Visitor Centre up to Llyn Idwal lake. Its accessibility makes it an ideal walk for families or those who want to experience Snowdonia. The visitor centre provides a wide range of excellent facilities, including toilets, baby change room and a shop selling hot food and drinks.
WHAT TO SEE
Minffordd, Penrhyndeudraeth, Gwynedd LL48 6ER
Ffestiniog And Welsh Highland Railways
Harbour Station, Porthmadog, Gwynedd LL49 9NF
Castle Ditch, Caernarfon, Gwynedd LL55 2AY