exploring wales  

adventures in the Land of the Red Dragon
journey profile

Where: Anglesey, Caernarfon, Cardiff, Beaumaris, Benllech, Holyhead, Bangor, Conwy, Barmouth, Porthmadog, Portmeirion. 
Wales, United Kingdom, Europe
When: 2006 onwards.
Highlights: Menai Bridge, Cardiff Bay, Holy Island, Millennium Centre at Cardiff, South Stack Lighthouse, Climbing Mount Snowdon, Puffins & Butterflies, Snowdon Mountain Railway, Conwy Castle, Benllech Beach Sunset, Longest Placename in Europe, Kite-flying, Welsh Folk Dance, Llyn Lladaw, Caravanning at Moel-y-Don,Cardiff Tower, The Pierhead Building.
Counter: 1 country



Wales has the almost unique quality of being both near and far from home. So near that you can visit for the weekend but so far in terms of it feeling a little, well, abroad-like. To appropriate a phrase from the Russian Federation, Wales is England's 'near abroad'. Bilingual signs across the country like 'Slow' / 'Araf' and 'School' / 'Ysgol' serve to give Wales a distinctly welcoming 'whiff of the foreign'. In fact, for someone searching for a brief escape from England, this all comes as a bit of a relief. More often than not our base for exploring Wales was the loan of a little caravan at Moel-y-Don on the oft-windswept Isle of Anglesey.

Added wilderness factor comes from Wales' rugged landscape and valleys which have the knock-on effect of frustratingly (or hearteningly depending on your opinion) patchy radio and mobile phone coverage. A stone's throw from home and you're in the middle of nowhere. You suddenly feel rather far away. Entering Wales reduces my heart rate by about half. There is something soothing and relaxing about Wales which is only matched by the warm, melodic accent of the Welsh people themselves.

The land of the red dragon is one characterised by grey slate-clad churches, winding country roads (which unfortunately are attractive to hordes of motorcycle enthusiasts who use them are their own personal race track at weekends), dramatically-perched castles and a familiar whiff of fish and chips. But it's not all sheep and countryside: Wales also has some surprises up her sleeve too. Europe's longest place name, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, is here, as is the strangest village you will ever travel to: Portmeirion, a place which is a cross between folly and Willy Wonka's chocolate factory and was the backdrop of the psychedelic 1960s sci-fi TV series 'The Prisoner'.

Expect to see the tricolour of red, white and green of the country's flag everywhere, the proliferation of which undoubtedly made more bounteous by a resurgent Welsh nationalism in light of the new Welsh National Assembly. This flaunting of the national flag feels like something which could never happen back over the border in England - even at a St George's flag convention. At times it is a colour palette which begins to wear a little thin: there is only so much dragon-covered bunting I can stomach. Okay I get it - I'm in Wales! Enough already.

I like Wales a lot and, to go some way to exemplifying the reasons why, here is a choice selection of photographs from my many trips to the land of the red dragon, from Anglesey in the north to Cardiff in the south. Welcome to Wales - or should that be 'Creosi i Gymru'? 


The wonderful South Stack lighthouse on the North west coast of Anglesey.


South Stack Lighthouse with rotating lamp alight and, right, the lighthouse's stone spiral staircase. As far as lighthouses go this is pretty perfect.


The dramatic soaring rock behind characterful housing in Barmouth, Mid Wales.


The craggy coastline off Holy Island in Anglesey. 


A seagull relaxes on a hillside on Anglesey surrounded by flowering daisies. I love the way the daisies imitate the colours of the gull. North Wales.


Wales is a country stuffed full of animals andwildlife: a washed-up jellyfish at Barmouth, a peacock on Anglesey, a Blue Morpho butterfly at Pili Palas and the obligatory sheep.


A woodland walk complete with flask of hot coffee. Beaumaris, Anglesey.


Boats and buoys in the harbour at Barmouth.


An ever ubiquitous Welsh flag looks out into the bay at Portmeiron.


The breeze off of the sea means some of Wales' beaches are perfect for flying a kite.


The dramatic Conwy Castle. North Wales.


Conwy Castle basks in the sunshine foregrounded by a variety of rooftops and chimney stacks and encircled by a hilly green landscape. North Wales.


The rather wonderful Portmeirion, a cross between folly and Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. It is well-known for being the location where the 1960s television series 'The Prisoner' was filmed.


Some of Portmeirion's outlandishly playful architectural details. Is this what you think of when you think 'Wales'? It's not all sheep you know...


The view of Benllech beach at sunset. I love the pastel hues of this photograph. North Wales.


The stunning view if the Llyn Lldaw on the ascent up to the top of Mount Snowdon. Capturing views like this on camera made the hard work worth it.


Anglesey's dramatic Menai Bridge crossing the Menai Straits. I love the turquoise waters in this photograph, caused by algae.


A Welsh icon: the textual fascia of the Millennium Centre in Cardiff.


The red brick Pierhead Building at Cardiff Bay and, right, the ornate decoration of Cardiff Castle clock tower.


Traditional Welsh culture: Cwmni Dawns Werin Caerdydd is the official Welsh folk-dance company of Cardiff which here is seen parading through the capital and, right, traditional Welsh wooden spoons for sale in a Cardiff shop.


A pleasant and peaceful Conwy Harbour.


Getting the Snowdon Mountain railway to a very wet and windy summit of Mount Snowdon. Right, at the summit point.


The longest place name in Europe: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.


Overlooking the cliffs at South Stack with bilingual signage warning of the danger.





A West Highland Railway steam train makes its way through Barmouth.

Inside the lighthouse at South Stack.



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