Day 1: Caernarfon castle and Llanberis
The Caernarfon castle is right out of the pages of a fantasy book! The King’s Gate marks the entrance to the castle built by King Edward I of England in 1283. Its gigantic octagonal towers are believed to be inspired by the architecture of the Byzantine Empire in Rome. Similar to other medieval fortifications of that era, a curtain wall surrounds a magnificent courtyard, joining the four storeyed towers made from coloured stone. On the western side, the Eagle tower with its three turrets, is one of the finest exemplars of Edwardian designs. Completed in 1287, this castle celebrates the triumphant victory of King Edward over the Welsh princes.
It was the end of September and I had come to North Wales to explore the Snowdonia National Park. I was staying at Caernarfon, a traditional Welsh settlement in the north-west region of the country. Caernarfon is a walled town situated on the eastern side of the Menai Strait. The River Seiont flows past the castle and is an important source of fishing for the local inhabitants of the town. Caernarfon is a perfect base for exploring the National Park and is only a 30 minutes drive to the idyllic village of Llanberis in Snowdonia. On a clear day, one can see as far as Anglesey island to the west and Snowdonia to the east.
The Caernarfon castle is a good place to get acquainted with the medieval history of Wales. According to the local legend, the Roman emperor Magnus Maximus had a dream where he met a beautiful princess who lived in a castle by the sea. Convinced of her existence, he sent out messengers all over the world to look for her. After searching far and wide, the messengers found Elen, the daughter of a king living at Caernarfon. The emperor traveled to Britain and married Elen. The pair led a happy married life and started a dynasty that gave rise to Constantine the Great, King Arthur and the Welsh princes. When King Edward I of England defeated the last prince of Wales, Llywelyn the Last in 1282, he choose this auspicious town to build his castle.
The castle houses a terrific exhibition narrating the tale of Eleanor of Castille, wife of Edward I. An English queen, Eleanor was devoted to her husband and had accompanied him in many of his journeys, including the Ninth Crusade. A patron of literature and gardening, queen Eleanor was known for her diplomatic skills and had established herself as a successful businesswoman. The museum of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers is located in the Queen’s tower; an impressive collection of uniforms, guns and medals is displayed inside large glass cases. In the courtyard, the mythical Welsh dragon welcomes the visitors to the castle.
Around mid-afternoon, I drove towards Llanberis, hoping to catch the Lake Railway around Llyn Padarn. The Llanberis way in Llanberis or Yr Wyddfa, is one of five routes to reach the summit of the Snowdon mountain. The glistening waters of Lake Padarn enter into River Seiont that flows past Caernarfon into the Menai Strait. It wasn’t the best of days; the wind was cold and a dense white fog had descended on the low-lying hills around Lake Padarn.
The Lake Railway starts from the Llanberis village and ends at the western edges of the Padarn Country Park, Pen-y-Llyn. Built in 1848, the Padarn railway was used to transport slate from the nearby quarries. After the closure of the quarry in 1961, it was converted into a tourist attraction. The 60 minutes journey offers wonderful views of the surrounding mountain ranges, the Dolbadarn castle and the deep blue lake.
LLyn Padarn is a glacially formed lake; it reaches a depth of 30 metres and is the sixth deepest lake in Wales. Surrounding the lake is a 800 acres country park that boasts of an exotic collection of flora and fauna. It was autumn and leaves from the aspen, oak and birch trees floated on the lake. Wild mushrooms were starting to grow; the Fly agaric mushroom known by its red colour and white spots were scattered all over the fields and hedgerows.
Owing to its glacial origins, Llyn Padarn is a natural habitat for the Arctic Charr, a fish that has survived the ice-ages. The Sessile Oak woodland is native to the park and in late fall, Mountain Ash, Hazen and Holly trees display their bright autumnal colours. The Dolbadarn castle rises above the lake and guards the entrance to the Snowdonia National Park.
The Dolbadarn castle, built in the later half of the thirteenth century, is one of the most beautiful castles in the United Kingdom. Built by the Welsh prince Llywelyn the Great, the 50 ft tall round tower is simple and elegant in design. It overlooks Llyn Padarn to the east and Llyn Peris to the west. The castle’s stunning location and historic significance has inspired poets and artists throughout the centuries. J Turner, the famous eighteenth century landscape artist, has made marvellous sketches of the ruined castle against the backdrop of the picturesque Snowdonian peaks.
I followed the directions to the castle and climbed up to the tower where Owain Goch was imprisoned for more than 20 years by his brother, Llywelyn the Last. After his death, Dafydd ap Gruffudd rose to power but was unable to proclaim victory over Edward’s English army. In 1283, the castle was besieged by Edward I and all of North Wales came under his direct rule.
Llanberis is home to the Snowdon Mountain Railway which takes passengers all the way up to the summit of Snowdon, the highest peak in Wales. I followed the road behind the station and noticed a sign pointing towards the Ceunant Mawr waterfall. The Ceunant Mawr waterfall or the waterfall of the great ravine is one of highly rated waterfalls in North Wales. It was a moderately steep climb with wonderful views of the mighty hills at a distance. Fall was beginning to set in and the road leading to the waterfall was covered with wild flowers and coloured leaves.
The waterfall tumbled down the mountain, tripping over rocks and pebbles before falling into a deep and narrow gorge. The water falls for over a hundred feet before plunging into a crystal clear water pool at the base of the waterfall.
It was already dark by the time I headed towards my hostel in Caernarfon. The sun began to disappear beyond the hills; it was time for repose.
Day 2: Beddgelert and Dinas Emrys
The following morning, I visited the Snowdonian village of Beddgelert, situated at a distance of 14 miles from Caernarfon. Beddgelert is named after Prince Llewelyn ap Iorwerth’s faithful dog, Gelert. It is believed that the Welsh prince had left his infant son with his dog when a giant wolf attacked. Unable to find his son and seeing the dog covered in blood, the prince mistook the dog to be his son’s murderer. Angered, the prince attacked the dog but soon heard the cries of an infant behind the bushes. The baby was safe and the slain wolf lay by his side. Filled with remorse, the prince gave his dog a grand burial. Today, two round stones in the middle of a green meadow marks Gelert’s grave.
The Crawflyn Hall is a short walk away from Beddgelert. River Glaslyn flows through the Nant Gwynant valley deep into the Snowdonia National Park. In Welsh, Snowdonia is known as Eryri and the Eryri mountains appear in Welsh literature dating back to the ninth century. The Crawflyn Hall is the beginning of a walking trail that leads to the legendary Dinas Emrys.
I followed a twisted woodland path that went through Oak forests, along gushing waterfalls and over pretty stone bridges and stiles. Llyn Dinas is rooted in ancient myths and medieval legends. It is believed that King Vortigern, a fifth century warlord was unable to build his castle on top of Dinas Emrys. Merlin, the wizard, was of the opinion that two dragons were engaged in a tumultuous battle underneath the hill which led to the repeated destruction of his castle walls. Once the dragons were released, the red dragon defeated the white dragon and this led to the emergence of the well-renowned red dragon in Welsh culture.
From the top of Dinas Emrys, I received breathtaking views of Llyn Dinas and the surrounding valley. Except for the rustling of leaves and the unceasing wind, the valley was immersed in a profound silence. I was alone; I was at peace.
Snowdonia is a place where imagination runs wild. Epic battles and war heroes come alive in the vast reaches of the national park. It is hard to bid goodbye to a place as captivating as Snowdonia. Wales, the land of the red dragon is dear to me. I know I’ll be back, hungry for more of its fascinating folklore and enchanting scenery.
Cymru am byth, Wales forever!
To follow me on my journey, check out this interactive map below.