Wales is a pretty amazing country.
While based in Llangollen, we went on a day trip through Snowdonia National Park, visited a castle, a steam railway, a slate museum, spotted fields of bluebells and more sheep than we could count.
Neil from Tours by Locals picked us up from the Tyn y Wern B&B in the morning. He is a local from Liverpool. Not a qualified guide. Just a local with a passion for the place where he grew up and lived his whole life.
We drove through the beautiful green landscape, appreciated slate quarries that starting with the 19th century 'roofed the world', and finally, stopped at Blaenau Ffestininiog steam railway. There has never been a nation that loved their steam trains more than the British. The narrow gauge Welsh railways used to transport the slates from the mines, however, many of them have been transformed into touristic attractions. But the slate roofing tradition in North Wales dates all the way back to Roman times.
Neil gave us the option to take the train and meet us at the end of the ride. However, we preferred to continue by car and listen to his stories. It was interesting to have a different kind of guide, one that wouldn't talk about dates and history, but rather tell us about childhood memories and family holidays in the area.
Following my recently discovered obsession with bluebells, we spotted quite a few beautiful blue carpets along the way. We jumped at the opportunity and asked Neil to stop so we could take some pictures. It was quite cool that we could stop whenever we wanted. This was one of the best features of such a personalised tour. This and the fact that we could tailor the route to our own needs and interests, as Neil was quite flexible.
Our next stop was at the grave of Gelert, the faithful hound of the medieval Welsh Prince Llewelyn the Great. Neil told us how kids in Wales are brought up with this moral tale. One should never be quick to judge!
Here's the story as written on the stone.
"In the 13th century Llewelyn, prince of North Wales, had a palace at Beddgelert. One day he went hunting without Gelert, ‘The Faithful Hound’, who was unaccountably absent.
On Llewelyn's return the truant, stained and smeared with blood, joyfully sprang to meet his master. The prince alarmed hastened to find his son, and saw the infant's cot empty, the bedclothes and floor covered with blood.
The frantic father plunged his sword into the hound's side, thinking it had killed his heir. The dog's dying yell was answered by a child's cry.
Llewelyn searched and discovered his boy unharmed, but nearby lay the body of a mighty wolf which Gelert had slain. The prince filled with remorse is said never to have smiled again. He buried Gelert here".
At the National Slate Museum in Llanberis we learned the story of the Welsh slate mining industry. Built in the shadow of the Dinorwig Quarry, the museum is a trip into the past. The row of four quarrymen houses from different time periods talk about the everyday life, but throughout the whole museum stories of strikes and suffering are told. The largest waterwheel on mainland Britain is to be found here, as well as UNA, the century old quarry locomotive.
Next stop was Caernarfon. Build by Kind Eduard I, Caernarfon Castles is an architectural marvel. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it boasts hexagonal towers and intimidating looks.
The nearby River Seiont, with its pretty, colourful boats is just as attractive.
And the proud Welsh city offers some amazing shopping opportunities.
We passed gorgeous scenery, with rugged mountains and clear streams. Snowdonia National Park is the first out of three national parks in Wales. It is an area of outstanding beauty, and far in the distance we spotted Snowdon, the highest point in the British Isles outside the Scottish Highlands.
We found even more bluebells in the courtyard of Mt Michael's Church, in the picturesque village of Betwys-y-coed. The pretty, small stone church is considered to be the original prayer house in the wood.
Next to the church, this little pedestrian wobbly bridge connects two communities that for a very long time had almost no contact with each other. We crossed it back and forth and had a good laugh at how dizzy go got.
On the other side of the road lays the Conwy Valley Railway Museum with its extensive miniature railway.
Back to Llangollen, Neil took us to see the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, a navigable aqueduct that carries the Llangollen Canal over the valley of the River Dee. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the highest aqueduct in Britain, and to be honest, it is an jaw-dropping piece of architecture.
Around 6PM, Neil drove us back to our hotel. We sayed our good-byes, happy to having made a new friend and smitten by all the beauty seen during the day. North Wales is gorgeous and we would come back to see more of it in the blink of an eye.