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Land of the tongue-twisters

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“There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing, so get yourself a sexy raincoat and live a little.” Actor Billy Connolly’s words ran unbidden through the mind as I had my first encounter with Wales amidst the pitter-patter of a light drizzle.

The little village of Tal-y-llyn had gone to sleep by the time we arrived at The Old Rectory on the Lake. But it introduced us to the dark, forbidding landscape of our imagination — the Wales of soggy climes.

What came across as distinctly ominous at night — the lake of Tal-y-llyn (pronounced Tal-ee-th-linn) hedged in by the looming Cader Idris (the second highest mountain in Wales) — transformed into a startlingly beautiful view during the day.

There’s something about a good bed & breakfast. It can set the tone for your trip. The Old Rectory On the Lake, which was the vicar’s home in days of yore, did it for us with its perfect setting by the glacial lake.

Our Welsh experience was touched with outdoorsy adventures of exploring ruined castles, skirting the edge of cliffs along the coastline, soaking in the chilly sea breeze and vain attempts at articulating tongue-twisting Welsh words. It was spiced up by a whole lot of pub food and local ale at intervals too.

Our first shave with the Cambrian coastline was along Cardigan Bay, the largest Welsh bay with the largest population of bottlenose dolphins in the UK. The cerulean waters beckoned us to stop at Aberaeron, a colourful, 200-year-old little town with row upon row of pretty Georgian terraced houses and colourful little boats bobbing on the waters.

We took the Dylan Thomas walk along the cliffs that tower above the seaside resort of New Quay. Thomas immortalised it in his poem Quite early one morning. At the very top, the path levelled out to afford us a fine view of the coast to the north.

Two of our last stops in the coastal national park of Pembrokeshire, a county in South West Wales included St David’s and Fishguard. After washing down a snack of fried squids with wine, we strolled around the town of Fishguard, famous for the Battle of Fishguard in 1797. According to local legend, the town was invaded by a group of French soldiers who pilfered local farms and got drunk on the local ale. The event is recorded on a 30-metre long tapestry displayed near the town centre.

Ahead of Pembrokeshire, near Swansea is the first area in Britain to be designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. When we reached the Gower Peninsula that juts from the coast into the Bristol Channel, we knew why it has been dubbed so.

Our top picks were the bays in Mumbles, Three Cliffs and Worms Head at Rhossili. What we enjoyed most was sitting on the edge of the cliff in Three Cliffs Bay, swigging beer and taking in the view of the sheer fall into the blue, blue waters. The other spectacular view was at Worms Head where we dined in The Worms Head Hotel at alfresco tables perched right on the edge of the cliff.

Our outdoor experiences were interspersed with a stay in Cardiff, an urban haunt with its hip ‘’ happening nightlife. It was not uncommon to see young girls and boys indulging in crazy antics at midnight.

But as we moved up to North Wales, we had a taste of its magnificent castles that King Edward I, nicknamed Edward Longshanks, built to inspire terror and awe. One is the Caernarfon Castle, sandwiched between the Menai Strait Snowdonia Mountains, with its polygonal towers and colour-coded stones. The medieval castle, a World Heritage Site, is where Prince Charles received his insignia as the 21st Prince of Wales.

Then there’s Conwy Castle with its eight massive towers amidst the completely walled town of Conwy. We were equally fascinated by the unfinished yet beautifully constructed Beaumaris Castle in Anglesey. Its defences included a water-filled moat, numerous arrow slits, and entrances with murder holes from which hot oil could be poured over enemy forces.

But the most exhilarating point of my Wales trip lay in my first glimpse of the South Stack Lighthouse on the Isle of Anglesey. As we took some 400-odd steps down towards the small island, we were stunned by the sight of the lighthouse against the shimmering sea.

On the way, we sighted big seabirds like guillemots and razorbills as well as the cute puffins perched on granite cliffs. The lighthouse, which has warned passing ships of the treacherous rocks below since 1809, is also supposed to be one of the most haunted places in Wales. According to Richard Jones, Britain’s well-known ghost-hunter, South Stack is haunted by John Jack Jones, who was swept to his death as he battled to reach it in October 1859 to issue a warning to passing ships during a violent storm.

In his book Haunted Britain, Jones wrote: “His footsteps, furious rattling of a door and tapping at the windows are thought to be Jack’s ghost making desperate attempts to find shelter.”

Ready reckoner

Getting there: The National Express provides express coach services linking major Welsh towns and cities.

Staying there: The Rectory on the Lake (www.rectoryonthelake. co.uk) in mid Wales is a winner. Or head for Worm’s Head Inn (www.thewormshead.co.uk).

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