his mainly mountainous region of Gwynedd, from its border with Anglesey (Ynys Mon), south to the Traeth Bach estuary and east to Llan Ffestiniog is endowed with extraordinary beauty, both natural and man-made. The landscape of high mountains, deep glacial gouged lakes, waterfalls and forests was so accurately depicted by the romantic artists and poets of the 19th century that tourists were quickly drawn from afar, to admire the beauty for themselves.
At the region’s axis, stands Mount Snowdon, (Yr Wyddfa), the highest mountain in England and Wales and one of the most beautiful in the world, with a curious ancient geology. Visitors are keen to ascend its 3560ft and marvel at the panoramic views. Its peak easily conquered by passengers on the Snowdon Mountain railway, which has grunted its way to the summit since 1896, from its base in the lakeside village of Llanberis. Nearby are 14 other peaks above 3000ft, enough to satisfy the most ardent hill walkers and mountaineers.
It was during the 19th century that the quarrying of slate became a major industry and Communities at Blaenau Ffestiniog, Bethesda and Llanberis, blossomed as their workforce extracted this natural commodity. The quarried slate was transported by railway down the hillsides to the ports at Porthmadog, Bangor and Caernarfon, for export across the world. Some of these railways still operate, such as The Festiniog Railway and The Welsh Highland Railway, carrying passengers, on steam or diesel trains on narrow gauge railway through incredible scenery. A vulgar display of the wealth brought to the owners of the slate mines, can be found at the opulent Penrhyn Castle, near Bangor.
With the fast-flowing Menai Strait at its northern border, separating the Gwynedd mainland from the hinterland of Anglesey, and the formidable mountain ranges of Snowdonia at its heart, this region of Gwynedd has, over the centuries, proved to be a formidable stumbling block for successive invaders and a place of refuge for when things got tough. Each wave of settler has left their mark as a poignant reminder of their existence. Fortifications such as the Roman ruins at Segontium, near Caernarfon, or Vortigen’s dark-age hill fort at Dinas Emrys, near Beddgelert, show the importance of the region. Later castles include the 13th century Dolbadarn Castle, built to defend Llanberis Pass, by Llywelyn the Great and Caernarfon Castle built for Edward 1st, to impose his will on the Welsh.
Not surprisingly, legends and tales of valour have entered the annals of history in these parts. It seems that every village and every valley has its own tale of giants or fairies or dragons and other mystical happenings. The famous red and white dragons were supposedly released by Merlin at Dinas Emrys. Arthurian legends also suggest that Arthur himself met his death near Snowdon and that his knights lay awaiting their next call to arms in a cleft nearby. Llyn Llydaw, a deep lake on Snowdon, is reputed to be the final resting place for Excalibur. Beddgelert has the tale of Prince Llywelyn’s favourite hound Gelert, slain because his master mistakenly thought Gelert had killed his child. The tale has since been found to be an elaborate 18th century hoax.
The regions main populations are centred along the Menai Strait. Bangor, a university city, with a cathedral founded 70 years before Canterbury and Caernarfon, the county town of Gwynedd, with its mighty castle and walled town. The Menai Strait, once feared for its tidal race and swift currents was tamed by 19th century engineering feats of genius, Telford’s Graceful Menai Suspension Bridge and Stephenson’s Britannia Bridge, rebuilt after a disastrous fire in 1970.
Smaller communities include Abergwyngregyn, famous for the nearby beauty spot Aber Falls and once the ancient court of Welsh princes, Tremadog an early example of town planning and childhood home of T E Lawrence, “Lawrence of Arabia”, and Llan Ffestiniog, home to the picturesque waterfalls, Rhaeadr Cwm and Rhaeadr Cynfal.
Northern Snowdonia and the Menai Strait have many attractions to keep the visitor happy, spectacular natural beauty, mountains, lakes, waterfalls and forests as well as castles, railways and historical sites, all waiting to be explored and enjoyed.